Ryan Leaf has admitted he was a jerk when he was growing up in the NFL. He’s considered one of the league’s biggest busts after the San Diego Chargers selected him with the second overall pick in the 1998 NFL draft just behind Peyton Manning. Leaf struggled mightily in his brief professional football career that saw him start just 21 games and compile a 4-17 record. His performance on the field was well below the expectations of others, but it was his attitude off the field that helped contribute to his downfall.
Ryan Leaf’s struggles in the NFL
The hype was there. Ryan Leaf had all the tools to be the next great quarterback in the NFL. Leaf was a 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback with great arm strength and mobility. The choice between selecting Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf with the No. 1 pick in the 1998 NFL draft was a toss-up. Leaf was considered the more athletic quarterback with a higher ceiling, while Manning was the more cerebral and more mature quarterback.
Leaf struggled from the very beginning, starting nine games in his rookie season. He threw two touchdown passes and 15 interceptions while compiling a 3-6 record. While he was struggling on the field, he found a way to distance himself from the media, teammates, and fans. “Guys can be jerks, but I’ve never seen a guy that worked harder at alienating his teammates,” Former Chargers GM Bobby Beathard said to ESPN. “Junior Seau, Rodney Harrison, they came to me and said, ‘Bobby, this guy is killing me.'”
Leaf played just two seasons in San Diego after he wore out his welcome. With the Chargers, he threw 13 touchdown passes against 33 interceptions. It was an ugly marriage both on and off the field. Leaf left San Diego and played one year with the Dallas Cowboys. In Dallas, he didn’t fare much better. He started three games, going 0-3. He added three more interceptions to his collection while throwing one touchdown pass.
Leaf’s substance abuse and recovery
Life after football was where Ryan Leaf really hit rock bottom. Leaf was arrested in 2009 on drug and burglary charges stemming from an incident where he broke into a house and attempted to steal Hydrocondone, a painkiller he had become addicted to, according to stltoday.com. Within a four-day span in 2012, he was arrested twice on burglary, theft, and drug charges in his home state of Montana.
Leaf spent time in prison where he learned to reshape his life. When he was released, Leaf began working at Transcend Recovery Community as an ambassador. He remained sober while working at Transcend and was going around as a motivational speaker, telling his life story and being honest and taking responsibility for his actions.
In a 2017 article titled Letter to My Younger Self in The Players Tribune, Leaf admitted that he was the problem in San Diego. He admits he was young and brash and didn’t care about what anyone else thought. Leaf wrote, “Years later, you’ll look back and realize that the Chargers hadn’t just given up on you. They did try to help you and groom you. Whether that was because they had invested a lot of money in you or because they actually cared about you, you’ll never know. But they did try … which is more than you’ll be able to say for yourself.”
Leaf’s latest trouble
Ryan Leaf continued down the right path when he founded the Focused Intensity Foundation which helps raise money for scholarships for those who can’t afford mental health treatment. He also was working in the sports media field as a college football analyst for ESPN.
On Friday, however, that path did a quick 180 when Leaf was arrested in California for one count of domestic battery, according to foxnews.com. Leaf, 44, was taken into custody around 2 p.m. and then booked into the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility on one count of misdemeanor domestic battery. There were no further details on the arrest, but Leaf was later released on $5,000 bail.