Brandon Copeland’s eighth NFL campaign is ahead. Contracts with the Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans, Detroit Lions and New York Jets are in the rearview for the University of Pennsylvania product.
A step towards the Arena Football League and an email from the veteran combine are back there, too.
“It’s been like the stock market. It’s been a roller-coaster ride the entire time,” Copeland said Sunday on the Double Coverage Podcast alongside teammates Devin and Jason McCourty.
The New England Patriots signed Copeland, 28, to a one-year pact that qualifies for the salary benefit this spring.
Copeland had been a defensive lineman dating back to elementary school. His hand had been on the ground in a three-point stance, going forward. That changed when the Maryland native signed with Baltimore as an undrafted free agent in 2013. The Super Bowl XLVII champions informed him of a switch to linebacker.
“I’m thinking, ‘OK, outside linebacker. Try to trim up and get some abs,’” Copeland, currently listed at 6-foot-3 and 263 pounds, joked.
The task was middle linebacker instead. Uncharted territory for a three-time All-Ivy League selection who had posted 11 sacks and 26.5 tackles for loss as a Quaker.
“I remember my rookie year trying to do hook-curl drops, Cover 3, all of that,” Copeland told the McCourty twins. “I was thinking about the little colored bubble on ‘Madden’ like, ‘OK, I got to get to this spot.’”
The Ravens retained Copeland on the practice squad as preseason became regular season. His release soon after led to an autumn trip to Nashville – and a move from inside to outside linebacker. On the Tennessee scout team Copeland stayed for 28 days. Following a week away in November, he returned. A futures pact for 2014 followed.
“Next season I go into it and I’m like, ‘You know, if I’ve been practice squad, I got my foot in the door. Undrafted free agent from an Ivy League school,’” said Copeland, who graduated from the Wharton School with a Bachelor of Science in economics. “... I figured I’d at least have a chance. I knew what to expect.”
But the Titans, transitioning to a 3-4 scheme under then-defensive coordinator Ray Horton, cut Copeland early on in his sophomore season. He would sit out the remainder.
“I thought it was going to be a time where it’d be similar to the previous season – where a couple weeks out, you get another shot,” reflected Copeland. “However, it didn’t come. But I remember the entire time just staying focused, staying in shape. I remember ‘Sunday Night Football,’ ‘Monday Night Football’ literally on the treadmill just watching it and just pissed off. Just trying to figure out a way.”
By Jan. 1, 2015, Copeland had it on the calendar. He planned to give himself one year to get back.
“A lot of guys go through this. At a certain point, you have to provide for your family. At that time, it was just me as a single man. I didn’t have a wife or child or anything like that,” he said. “But you still want to start building that life and that career or whatever it is for yourself. I’ve seen people get caught in the trap, so to speak. I view it as a trap – I don’t want to necessarily put a negative tone on it – but where they’re 30-something years old and still never had their shot and they’re chasing it.”
Copeland briefly agreed to terms with the Orlando Predators. Three days after unpacking his bags in Florida, the NFL’s veteran combine shifted his itinerary to Arizona.
“Literally they’d never had it before, hadn’t had it after,” Copeland said of the March 2015 event. “Literally the initial invite, I did not get invited. Like 2,000 guys applied and they only took a hundred. It was like Brady Quinn – guys who had had a shot in the league and were out. I get down to my place in arena football, move into my place in Orlando, and I get the little email message sound.”
Copeland paid his way to the Cardinals’ Tempe practice facility after paying a $400 entry fee.
“All in. All chips on the table,” he said. “I went out there to Arizona and the first day the scouts said, ‘Hey, we’ve already seen you guys. ... We’re just going to do a 40 and work out because guys have already seen you. If any of you were any good, you’d be in the league right now.’”
The 40-yard dashes were laser-timed. Copeland ran his in 4.51 seconds. A line of scouts reached out at the end of the session, according to the well-traveled linebacker, including one from the Titans organization.
“Went from zero offers to half the NFL,” Copeland said. “Since then, been active. Went to Detroit for three years, the Jets for two years and now, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
Copeland arrives in New England having appeared in 60 career games and started 14. He tallied 107 tackles, seven sacks, two forced fumbles and four passes defensed between his post-combine tours with the Lions and Jets.