An NFL player walked away from a $925,000 salary to pursue his 'passion' — here's what he's doing now

Jedidiah Collins.
Courtesy Jedidiah Collins

"The stars of my financial journey are aligning in a horribly beautiful way — I wrote an at-home financial literacy book and published it the week everyone was told to go sit at home," says Jedidiah Collins, a certified financial planner, educator, and author of the recently published book "Your Money Vehicle."

It's a little past 7 a.m. in Bellevue, Washington, where Collins, like many people in America, is hunkered down at home with his family. He's been up since around 5 a.m., as is usual for him: Getting out bed early allows him to get in a workout, start writing, and work on other projects before his two daughters wake up. 

This type of self-discipline has helped him throughout his career. Though he now identifies himself as a financial educator, he spent seven years playing in the NFL before walking away from a $925,000 salary and working to become a financial advisor.

Now in his 30s, Collins looks back at his unorthodox path from the NFL to the world of finance and is able to pull out some of the valuable money lessons he's learned along the way — lessons that he's eager to pass on to a new generation.

'Nobody in my family understood money'

Money wasn't always on Collins' mind. In fact, until he made it to the NFL, he didn't pay much attention to it at all.

Collins grew up in Orange County where his father was an attorney: He grew up in "a bubble, around people with a lot of money." Still, he felt disconnected from the topic and didn't learn much about it.

"Nobody in my family discussed money. Nobody in my family understood money," he says. "My dad's financial plan was, 'Get a good job and avoid debt.'"

Jedidiah Collins.
Courtesy Jedidiah Collins

How Collins made it to the NFL

Collins' family loved sports, though they mostly played and watched basketball. When he got older, the football coach at his high school in Mission Viejo thought he should try football, instead.

The coach wasn't wrong: Collins joined the team as a linebacker and proved to be a good enough player to earn a Division 1 scholarship, the highest echelon in college sports. So, after Collins graduated from high school, he packed up and went to go play at Washington State University in 2004.

At college, Collins switched to be a fullback and his skills on the field were enough to gain him attention from NFL scouts. Although he wasn't selected in the 2008 NFL Draft, he received an offer to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent as a fullback.

Dodging the Great Recession

The NFL, Collins says, was a "beautiful distraction," especially in 2008 and 2009, as the financial crisis was taking hold. Effectively, football gave him the chance to dodge the Great Recession: It didn't directly affect his finances.

That doesn't mean his early football career was smooth or easy, however. Collins was cut from the Eagles in 2008 and bounced around to several different teams' practice squads. He still earned a sizable paycheck — around $5,000 per week — but not a chance to get on the field on Sundays.

Those years helped him "build up a thick skin, and a thick sense of desperation," which helped him tremendously going forward. An NFL career generally doesn't last long; the average pro football player only lasts for two or three seasons. Making it as a professional athlete is incredibly difficult, and it can take a toll both physically and psychologically.

In response, Collins shifted his mindset. He realized that football was "a game of inches" and that he wasn't focused on his primary function on the field. His job, as a fullback, was to block opposing players, and he needed to focus on doing that and only that. 

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That realization helped him become a better player, and he finally got a shot to get on the field in 2010 during a preseason game while playing for the Tennessee Titans. He made the most of it, playing between 30 and 40 plays, against the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints were impressed and called Collins up after the game. They eventually signed him, and he spent four years playing for the team alongside NFL superstar quarterback Drew Brees.

'I got my first check in the NFL and spent every dollar of it'

A key lesson Collins learned from his time in the NFL is that "more money doesn't solve your problems," he says. "You give somebody that doesn't understand money $100,000, they're going to lose it all if they don't learn to use it the correct way."

He learned that lesson the hard way: "I got my first check in the NFL and spent every dollar of it before I even opened the envelope." Even his business degree hadn't prepared him to figure out how to handle his own money.

Recognizing that he was making poor financial decisions, Collins had an "awakening." One night, as a 22-year-old rookie living in a hotel in Cleveland, he saw an ESPN documentary called "Broke," about professional athletes who quickly burn through all of their earnings and eventually end up bankrupt. It made an impression: Later that night, he woke up in a cold sweat, agonizing over his poor spending decisions. The next day, he went to a bookstore and bought some personal finance books.

"That documentary shook me. It made me scared," he says.

You give somebody that doesn't understand money $100,000, they're going to lose it all if they don't learn to use it the correct way.
Jedidiah Collins
Certified financial planner, former NFL player

Around the same time, Collins and other NFL players started learning more about emerging research on the physical and psychological toll that football takes on the body. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease resulting from repeated head injuries, has become a topic of serious worry for many football players in recent years.

For Collins, that knowledge underscored the point that he couldn't play football for long without risking serious, long-term injury, and that he likely only had a few prime earning years in the NFL. He had to make the most of them.

"I was hit with the realization of how physically damaging the game can be, and I was afraid I was going to walk away without any money to show for it," he says. "It was fear that led me to education, and education which eventually led me to my passion."

So, in 2015, Collins — who was then 29 years old, married, and a new father — called his agent and told him he was ready to retire. At the time, after playing in the NFL for seven years, he was earning $925,000 per year.

Fixing the 'systematic issue' of financial literacy

During his time in the NFL, Collins had already been teaching his teammates, family members, and friends about personal finance — helping them wade through tricky financial terminology, explaining their benefits to them, and more. Financial literacy, he'd learned, "wasn't just an NFL issue. It's a systemic issue."

After leaving the League, Collins set his sights on becoming a CFP, or certified financial planner. He landed a job as a financial advisor with Brighton Jones, a Seattle-based financial firm, and started studying for his certification.

He started going to high schools and universities to teach financial literacy courses and workshops, and then started putting together financial education materials to teach Brighton Jones clients about 401(k)s.

"I love and get energy from educating people," Collins says, which propelled him to teach more often.

I love and get energy from educating people.
Jedidiah Collins

Launching a business during the pandemic

At the start of 2020, Collins left Brighton Jones and ventured out on his own under the "Rookie to Veteran" banner, with his new company focused on financial education. "I wanted to reach beyond the wealthy," he says.

The pandemic has presented him with some significant obstacles. He's had to cancel in-person workshops and pivot his business model to adjust. Overall, Collins says, things are working out. He's at work on the followup to his book, "Your Money Vehicle," which he hopes will help others shift their behaviors and attitudes toward money.

Going forward, he's planning new online courses, books, a podcast, and online virtual training courses designed to be used by schools and businesses to teach students and employees to make wise financial decisions. That's what gets him up in the morning: He's passionate about teaching and improving financial literacy so that other people don't wake up in the middle of the night, like he did, plagued with a sense of existential and financial dread.

So Collins — a former professional football player, a wealth manager, and now a teacher — has found his own personal end zone. "This is my new world, he says. "My mission is to teach."

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