The player who made the single most significant play in the modern era of TCU is, at the moment, healthy with a wife, three kids, and no job.
Former TCU linebacker Tank Carder continues to work out in hopes of landing just one more contract; one more deal to play the game, and leave it the way he wants.
He continues to run into one major problem for a return to the NFL.
“I know the coaches and the GMs say I could do everything the other guys in the league could do, but I don’t make any of it look easy,” Carder said in a recent phone interview. “I am the ‘Try Hard White Guy.’ Other guys look so smooth doing it, but I can do everything they do. I can run the defense. I can make plays, but the other guys just look better doing it.”
Seven years have passed since Carder knocked down the potential game-tying pass with the “Immaculate Deflection” in the 2011 Rose Bowl that allowed TCU to secure a 21-19 win over Wisconsin.
Since that day both TCU, and Carder, grew up.
Since the Rose Bowl, TCU joined the Big 12 and became a nationally relevant program in college football’s highest division.
Carder went on to become an adult with a job and responsibilities.
Carder knows exactly what the NFL is, and he knows that anyone who says it does not matter where you are drafted is lying worse than a campaigning politician.
“When they draft you, they are using a pick on you and if they use a high pick on you they are going to give you a better shot to develop,” he said. “If you are drafted in the first three rounds, you are expected to play. After that, they are filling in rosters.”
Carder was a “fill in the roster” player as a fifth round pick of the Buffalo Bills in 2012. He was cut, and, for reasons known only to God, sentenced to play for the Cleveland Browns. Carder became a special teams standout, but, just as he was about ready to become a regular linebacker for the Browns, he suffered a torn ACL in August ‘17 and missed the entire season.
In March ‘18, he signed a one-year, $790,000 contract and had a shot at becoming the Browns’ starting linebacker. Less than three months later, he was cut. They had a third round pick, Christian Kirksey, they wanted to develop.
“When I got released, I talked to the coaches and they were saying, ‘This is a (bleep) deal.’ I said, ‘You don’t have to apologize; this is a what-have-you-done-for-me lately league, and I haven’t done (bleep) lately,” he said. “I really wasn’t even mad. I know that’s how it works. I didn’t know it was coming, but I did know I hadn’t done (bleep). I had not played in more than a year. I was limited in OTAs, and we had a new general manager.
“It’s all about timing, and people liking the way you play.”
Carder says the knee is healthy. He flew to visit the Jacksonsville Jaguars and Detroit Lions earlier this offseason, but did not sign with either team.
He hopes, when NFL rosters shake out in the next 10 days, that his phone rings and a deal is offered.
“I ain’t done, yet. I don’t want to go out on that note, not on an injury,” Carder said. “I don’t want to give up. I want to go out on my own terms.”
Having been in the NFL for six years, he is a vested veteran who has made plenty of money. He’s been around long enough to last in the league, and, at the time of his release, he was the longest-tenured Brown on the roster.
For a team that continually cut players in hopes of finding a superior alternative, that he lasted so long in Cleveland says something about him.
He understands the game.
He wants to play because he wants to play in the NFL, not because he is desperate for NFL money.
“I know it’s cliche, but I see so many guys who are making (bleep) money for the NFL and they are spending it on jewelry and cars,” he said. “I had a teammate, who after two years he made $1.65 million and he was asking me for money. He was about to lose his house, and he was driving around asking me for $10,000. I’m like, ‘Dude, find your purpose and don’t drive around asking people for money. That money won’t last you a month.’ He wasn’t putting it away.
“My rookie year, I fell into that trap with money I had versus what I made. Then I started saving it. I don’t need to play financially, but I want to prove I am where I was at when I got hurt.”
Whatever happens he will always be the player who secured TCU a Rose Bowl trophy, and accelerated its growth spurt.
And while he is grateful for that, he wants one more shot to make that type play in the NFL.