Saints rookie WR Brandin Cooks balancing school, playbook _lowres

Advocate file photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Saints first-round draft pick Brandin Cooks stretches during rookie camp May 17. Cooks is back at Oregon State in Corvallis, Oregon, taking classes and learning the Saints' playbook online.

The leap from college football to the NFL can be fulfilling, humbling, overwhelming and exhilarating in one fell swoop, in addition to being quite profitable.

Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the top pick in the 2014 draft, is slated to receive a whopping $14.518 million signing bonus as part of his fully guaranteed four-year, $22.272 million contract with the Houston Texans. He turned 21 in February.

Wide receiver Brandin Cooks will pocket a $4.5 million signing bonus as the 20th overall selection by the Saints. He’s 20.

Even undrafted rookies who sign as free agents can earn a base salary of $420,000 in their first season.

With that money and sudden jump in status come high expectations and new responsibilities. Johnny Manziel and others like him must be good pros on the field as well as off.

That’s easier said than done.

The NFL and NFL Players Association will attempt to provide a blueprint for success at their annual rookie symposium June 22-28 in Aurora, Ohio. Call it NFL 101: an orientation for all drafted rookies based on the four principles of NFL history, total wellness, experience and professionalism.

Players will be provided with resources and best practices to assist them in an attempt to identify off-the-field challenges in the transition from college to the pros.

Several Saints veterans offered their two cents of friendly advice in advance of the symposium.

“Save your money,’’ said center Jonathan Goodwin, a 13-year veteran of three NFL teams who’s now in his second stint in New Orleans.

“Be humble,’’ nine-year right tackle Zach Strief said. “Embrace the moment.’’

“Be smart with your money,’’ said 36-year-old cornerback Champ Bailey, a 16-year veteran who joined the Saints in April. “Be conservative with investments. Don’t think everything is as good as it looks.’’

“Double-think everything you do,’’ said linebacker Ramon Humber, now in his sixth season. “If you do something illegal, you’re going to get into trouble.’’

“Be quiet, learn what to do and do it hard,’’ said 11-year veteran tight end Ben Watson, now in his second season in New Orleans.

Watson, 33, offered a unique perspective as a player rep for the Saints and as a newly elected member of the NFLPA’s executive committee.

His message perhaps carries more weight with a 23-year-old brother, Asa, being an undrafted rookie free agent tight end with the New England Patriots. The elder Watson played six seasons with the Patriots after being selected in the first round of the 2004 draft.

In 2005, two things happened in Watson’s life — one that he still regrets.

“I purchased a home in New England, and I got married,” he said. “I definitely wouldn’t change getting married. But I wouldn’t have bought a house after my second year in New England. That was a mistake because the housing market fell apart up in New England in 2008. When I left New England for Cleveland (in 2010), we had to take a loss on the house. Fortunately, God blessed me to be able to recover from it and it didn’t sink us.

“The hope is you learn from your mistakes and you don’t do them again. We learned from that. Now we’ll wait until we get done with my career to purchase a house where we want to live.”

The symposium includes presentations, videos and workshops that deal with player health and safety, decision making, mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence prevention, non-discrimination and maintaining positive relationships.

“The union spends a lot of time trying to educate guys about protecting their money,’’ Strief said. “How guys handle their money is a huge problem. Guys shouldn’t change their whole life because they think they’ve arrived. Getting here is not the goal; it’s staying here.’’

“When I came out, they said save 75 percent of your money because it goes by fast,’’ Humber said. “Guys don’t need to be going out and buying expensive jewelry and cars and houses. Save your money. Get yourself established because it can end in one play. Plus, the older you get, the quicker your physical gifts diminish.’’

Watson said, if taken seriously, those seven days spent at the rookie symposium can provide invaluable life and careerlessons.

“But it comes down to guys in the locker rooms — me, Drew (Brees), Luke (McCown), guys who are veterans and respected,’’ he said. “It’s important that we take time to speak life into those guys.

“There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the fruits of your labor, but it’s also about being responsible and, as a community, that’s what we try to do.’’