Millions of dollars next year or a Big Ten Championship and run at a BCS title?
The pride of playing for the Michigan Wolverines lasts a lifetime, but a career with them does not.
Taylor Lewan had to know that Wednesday when he announced that he'd stick around Ann Arbor for his senior year with the Wolverines, whose 8-5 season ended with a 33-28 Outback Bowl loss New Year's Day to the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Sure, Lewan probably missed the boat on a top-15 draft pick NFL contract. He was projected as one of the first offensive lineman—and of the most NFL-ready—to be taken off the 2013 NFL draft board, but Lewan chose to go one more year.
And former Wolverines superstar tackle Jake Long helped Lewan make that life-altering decision. Long, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2008 draft, gave the following advice to Lewan, according to MLive.com:
"When I first started this process, you just want someone to give you the answer. Nobody wants to make this big of decision, especially at the age of 21. But he told me the same thing everyone else did -- it's your decision.
"I asked him why he stayed, and it's funny: Every single thing he said about staying at the University of Michigan went through my head countless times. It's kind of interesting to think we had the same mind-set going into this thing."
According to Sports Illustrated, the average NFL lineman makes just over $1.4 million per season. And that's average linemen, not guys like Long, an annual Pro Bowler who signed a five-year, $57 million deal with the Miami Dolphins as a rookie.
Lewan isn't Long.
But he's been compared to the Michigan great in more ways than one.
At 6'8" and 302 pounds, Lewan has the reach and size—eerily similar to that of Long—that NFL offensive coordinators love. He's great on the pass block, moves laterally with ease and has an undeniable "football" mentality.
For Lewan, it wasn't about money, playing on Sundays or anything else. No, his choice was about a commitment he made to the University of Michigan when he was recruited—the logical choice for him personally, but perhaps not the wisest financially.
Another "program" player, Lewan showed that a lot of green—at this point, anyway—doesn't trump Maize and Blue.
“The one message he mentioned to me early was, the offensive linemen here, they stay,” Wolverines coach Brady Hoke told MLive.com. “There’s been a tradition of that. From Jake and (Jon) Jansen, you can go back through it, (Steve Hutchinson) and all those guys. I think that’s all something that’s part of it.
"The depth of the linemen that have played here and a guy that’s mentioned with those guys is important.”
Why It Was Wrong
NFL careers aren't guaranteed. Even the most athletic specimens are subject to football-ending, professional-money taking injuries.
Lewan is a big boy who's taken his share of beatings in college. Supporting a 300-pound frame on a bum knee would be a challenge. Shifting around and blocking some of the league's most ferocious linebackers and defensive linemen would only add to that difficulty.
Lasting more than a few years as a pro is an accomplishment in itself. Lewan, a surefire future staple on an NFL line, essentially cost himself one year as a pro and millions of dollars.
Obviously, financially-speaking, going to the NFL as a red-hot junior is a better-case scenario than entering the draft as a year-late, further banged-up senior.
Why It Was Right
Lewan should be applauded for his strong character and commitment to the Wolverines. Juniors often entertain jumping to the pro ranks, only to find that another year would improve their stock. That will probably be the opposite for Lewan, whose stock is at or near his peak at this very moment.
Finishing off a stellar collegiate tenure means something to Lewan. The Wolverines remained in the chase for a Big Ten Legends Division title until a season-ending loss to Ohio State knocked them out of it. Lewan wants to claim a Big Ten title. That's his collegiate football goal.
Michigan loses offensive linemen Patrick Omameh and Ricky Barnum, and replacing Lewan this fall would have been a monumental task. Having Lewan as a senior adds leadership and skill to a relatively young and in-construction O-Line.
How does that song go? Two out of three...never mind.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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