the Reese’s Senior Bowl, has the potential to be a top-50 selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. But suddenly, he might have to defer his dream of playing professional football because of a new agreement in the United States military’s annual budget, which was passed by Congress on Thursday.
A small section of the defense bill contains language that now prevents service-academy athletes — namely those from Army, Navy and Air Force — from deferring their mandatory two years of active-duty service after graduation. It reads, in part: “Agreement by a cadet or midshipman to play professional sport constitutes a breach of agreement to serve as an officer.” Once signed into law, the change would take place, effective immediately. The bill has now passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, landing it on the desk of President Joe Biden. It could be enacted soon, pending President Biden’s approval.
“We are proud of Andre for developing himself as a future leader for our Army as well as into a legitimate NFL prospect through his hard work and dedication,” Army athletic director Mike Buddie said in a statement to NFL.com. “He has done all that we have asked of him and more. Hopefully, he will have the opportunity to pursue both dreams: playing professional football and then serving his country as an officer in the U.S. Army.”
Many people connected with Army football were blindsided by the possible change in legislation. Carter’s parents, Andre Sr. and Melissa, first caught wind of the situation last week while waiting to board a flight from Texas to Philadelphia for the Army-Navy game.
Carter’s family declined comment on the bill’s passage through Congress.
President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Mark Esper that opened the door for athletes at military academies to delay their active-duty service after graduation in order to play professional sports, pending approval from the defense secretary. Once those players’ careers were over, they were required to fulfill their outstanding military obligation or repay the costs of their education. But if the new bill is signed into law, deferment will no longer be allowed.
Service-academy athletes are fairly rare in professional sports, including the NFL. Since the start of the 2020 NFL season, only five former Army players logged at least one game of action, including former Steelers and Ravens offensive tackle. Only three former Air Force players (most notably, tight end, who spent six years with the Saints and is now on the Lions’ practice squad) and four former Navy players (including Patriots long snapper saw NFL action in that same span.
Carter hopes to be only the third Army player drafted into the NFL — and first taken higher than Round 7 — in the common draft era, which began in 1967. Air Force has had nine players taken in the NFL draft during the common draft era, including 2022 sixth-rounde. Navy has had eight players drafted into the league in this span, including.
Whether Carter’s family has any real recourse on the matter isn’t clear. The three major military academies are scrambling to get on the same page, sources in the athletic departments of two of the schools told NFL.com, and plan to meet in the coming days to discuss their options.
This new ruling would be especially painful for upperclassmen athletes at military schools, as their options to go elsewhere to pursue their professional dreams in sports are more limited. According to Army’s athletic department, after two years at these schools, service-academy students must “affirm” their commitment to serve prior to the start of Year 3.
It’s considered a binding agreement at that point, dramatically increasing the penalties for dropping out of the schools early. In the case of Carter, who had his breakout season with 15.5 sacks for the Black Knights as a junior in 2021, he had not yet emerged as an NFL prospect, so leaving prior to his affirmation wasn’t a realistic option for him.
Adding to the frustration for Carter and Army is that he unofficially reaffirmed to the Black Knights this season, with the understanding that the existing policy on service-academy athletes pursuing pro sports careers would remain the status quo for the length of Carter’s stay on campus. Army coaches told NFL.com — and Carter confirmed — that several big-name college football programs made overtures to Carter through back channels to try to lure him into the NCAA’s transfer portal this past summer following his All-America season, Army’s first in football since 1990.
Carter could simply leave the school, hoping for a high draft selection — and sources close to his decision-making process tell NFL.com that all options are on the table. But that strategy would carry risk, with Carter potentially being forced to pay back six-figure tuition costs to the U.S. Military Academy.
Carter is roundly viewed as an early Day 2 (Rounds 2 and 3) prospect, but two NFL scouting directors told NFL.com earlier this fall that a strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine possibly could push Carter into the latter part of Round 1. Now, however, his immediate NFL future is in real doubt.
“This is kind of an unprecedented story for everybody involved, especially Andre,” Army director of athletics communications Eric Szczepinski told NFL.com.
Carter didn’t match his 2021 statistical brilliance this year, missing parts of three games with injury and seeing extra attention from opponents. Following the Black Knights’ dramatic overtime victory over rival Navy last week, Carter finished his senior season with 3.5 sacks.
Senior Bowl director of football operations Matt Kelly told NFL.com that Carter remains on the event’s roster and that they are “acting as if nothing has changed” at the moment. Practices for the Senior Bowl begin the week of Jan. 30, with the game (broadcast on NFL Network) being held Feb. 4 at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.