Redman's roller-coaster ride through NFL makes stop at top

ATLANTA -- It is a story of persistence and patience, of fulfillment and frustration, of good breaks and bad.

We all have something to learn from Chris Redman's career as an NFL quarterback.

Yes, that Chris Redman. The same guy who was watching his television on April 26 when his employer, the Atlanta Falcons, used the third overall pick of the draft on a new quarterback. The same guy who was watching TV again on May 20 when it was announced the Falcons had signed that new quarterback to a six-year contract worth $72 million. The same guy who is, for all practical purposes, keeping the Falcons' No. 1 quarterback job warm until multi-millionaire rookie Matt Ryan is ready to fill it.

So what, you ask, is the lesson we can take from Redman's NFL experience? Humility? That's one, for sure, but there's more.

Here's a brief breakdown of Chris Redman's journey in and out of the NFL, and back again with the Falcons.

1999: Finishes college career at Louisville after being a three-year starter for the Cardinals.

2000: Drafted in third round by Ravens.

2001: Backup for Ravens; had limited action in two games.

2002: Started the first six games of the season, earning a 3-3 record in first season as a starter before being sidelined the rest of the year with a back injury.

2003: Backup for Ravens; had limited action in two games.

2004: Out of football.

2005: Signed by Patriots on Jan. 6, then waived by the Patriots on June 1. Signed by Titans on Aug. 23, then waived on Sept. 4.

2006: Out of football.

2007: Signed by Falcons, starts four games.

When one considers the hills and valleys and twists and turns of his journey through professional football, it's easy to understand that Redman has a different perspective than most other players. After all, he has felt the satisfaction of being a starter and the physical and emotional pain of injuries that cost him his job and ultimately drove him out of football. He has felt the joy of getting another opportunity to play in the NFL, followed by the euphoria of being a starter again, followed by the uncertainty that comes with the arrival of a new coach and new general manager ... and new, $72-million quarterback.

"If I can get through everything that I've gotten through in my career, I think I can get through just about anything," Redman said. "What I probably learned most of all -- which is a great story for everybody -- is you can be outside the ropes as easily as you can be inside."

At times, the past eight years must have felt like he has been jumping rope.

It all started in 2000, when the Baltimore Ravens made Redman a third-round draft pick from Louisville. He spent his first two seasons backing up Trent Dilfer and Elvis Grbac.

In 2002, Redman made his first six NFL starts before suffering a season-ending back injury.

"That was disappointing, because you finally get your chance," he said. "I never had that breakout game, but I was doing okay. We were 3-3 and things were going halfway decent. I felt I was getting close and getting comfortable out there and then you have an injury that puts you out the rest of the year."

The following year, the Ravens used a first-round pick on a quarterback, Kyle Boller, and Redman returned to a reserve role. He ended up playing in two games while backing up Boller in 2003. In the second, Redman suffered a torn labrum in his right (throwing) shoulder.

After undergoing surgery, he was done for the season, done with the Ravens ... and done with football for the foreseeable future.

"I'm sitting there, thinking to myself, 'I know I have football life left, but at the same time I don't know if I'm going to get that opportunity again,'" Redman recalled.

He missed all of the 2004 season. He was invited to minicamp with the New England Patriots in 2005, but was cut soon thereafter. That summer, Redman went to training camp with the Tennessee Titans, but was released shortly before the regular season.

Redman wanted to continue to pursue his NFL career, but with no paychecks coming in and no desire to wait for a phone call that might never come, he took a job selling insurance in his hometown of Louisville.

"I was knocking on doors, out in the real world," he said.

Redman, who has a degree in sport administration, quickly discovered that he wasn't a very good salesman. Rather than starting slow and building a client base, he focused on trying to immediately land the big deals. That isn't how it works in the insurance business. "Those (big deals) are (the result of) 20- and 30-year relationships," Redman said. "I'm not that good."

In 2007, the Austin Wranglers of the Arena Football League signed Redman to a contract. His goal was to take advantage of whatever showcase the AFL could provide for his skills and perhaps convince an NFL team to give him another chance.

However, before Redman ever set foot in Austin, he received a better offer -- the chance to return to the NFL with the Oakland Raiders. His agent thought there might be an even be a greater opportunity in Atlanta, because the Falcons had traded backup quarterback Matt Schaub to the Houston Texans and because Bobby Petrino, the Falcons' new coach at the time, had been the offensive coordinator during Redman's junior season at Louisville. Redman ended up signing with the Falcons to serve as an understudy to Michael Vick.

"There wasn't any doubt in myself," Redman said. "It was just about an opportunity for me. I knew, if I got an opportunity, I'd make the best of it."

For Redman, the next opportunity resulted from the Falcons experiencing a series of problems at quarterback. The first was Vick's suspension and ultimate conviction stemming from his involvement with dogfighting. After that, D.J. Shockley suffered an injury during the preseason. The Falcons then signed Byron Leftwich, but after he got hurt, they were left with Joey Harrington and Redman as their quarterbacking duo.

On Dec. 2, Redman replaced a struggling Harrington and threw two touchdown passes in the Falcons' 28-16 loss to the St. Louis Rams. Redman took over as the starter for the next game, and the Falcons continued their downward spiral.

With three games left in the season, Petrino, the man who brought Redman to Atlanta, suddenly resigned to become head coach at Arkansas. Interim coach Emmitt Thomas decided to keep Redman in the starting role for the rest of the season. Redman's two best showings came in the final two weeks. He threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-27 overtime loss to Arizona, and came back with four scoring throws in a 44-41 win over playoff-bound Seattle.

After the season, when the Falcons named Thomas Dimitroff as their new general manager and Mike Smith as their new coach, Redman refused to be discouraged by the impending winds of change sweeping through the organization. He stuck to a basic principle that had served him well up to that point.

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"The harder I work, it seems like the better things happen for me," Redman said.

The Falcons' new brass promptly recognized the value of having someone like Redman on the roster. Besides what he might be able to contribute as a player, he certainly had plenty to offer younger teammates as an example of what it means to never give up.

"It reinforces the passion he has for the game, and he's going to tell his story to the rest of the team," Smith said. "I think it's very important that the younger players understand what the older players have gone through before them."

Sure enough, Redman signed a two-year contract with the Falcons, creating hope that he would have the chance to build upon his performance at the end of last season.

But then along came Ryan, who is the Falcons' franchise quarterback. Whether he becomes the starter by the first game of the season will depend on how quickly he grasps the Falcons' offense, but sooner or later, he will start.

And Redman will be a backup. Again.

"I think it's great to be pushed, and I feel like I'm always being pushed," Redman said. "I'm going to help Matt out as much as I can. I know what it's like to be a rookie in this league. It's tough, and I want to be there as much as I can for him.

"I'm always going to try to make the best of it."

Somehow, he always does.

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