Ann Arbor — Lions defensive end Jason Jones knew who Stephen Ross was because the Dolphins owner was front and center when his team signed Jones' former teammate, Ndamukong Suh, last month.
What Jones didn't know was that Ross earned his billions as a real estate mogul. And on Friday night when Ross gave a speech to about 20 current and former NFL players, Jones said he took about four pages of notes, hoping he can find success in the business field after his football days end.
"Once I get done, I don't know if I'm going to go in the 9 to 5 world," Jones said. "I kind of want to be my own boss."
Along with Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Falcons return man Devin Hester, Jones was among the players who participated this weekend in an NFL "boot camp" about franchising at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.
In addition to Ross, the players heard from former Michigan and NFL running back Tim Biakabutuka, a franchisee of eight Bojangles restaurants, as well as franchisers from other businesses like Papa John's, Jersey Mike's, 7-Eleven and the Michigan-based TITLE Boxing Club.
The NFL has hosted several similar events in recent years to help continue to education of its players. Some of the other topics have been entrepreneurship, finance and broadcasting, and the seminars are held at some of the top universities in the U.S., including Harvard, Stanford and Penn. The event at Michigan cost $1,000 and featured four days of presentations from business leaders.
"In so many cases, I think the biggest thing that we struggle with in the NFL is our player transition," Brees said. "When they're done playing football, that's been their life for such a long period of time, but even though they're still young men, it's kind of like starting over. It's trying to figure out what they want to do."
Brees began considering life after football five years ago when he looked into opening franchises for Jimmy John's. Now, Brees has six sandwich shops open in the New Orleans area and plans to increase that to 20 over the next five years.
One of the former players in attendance was cornerback Ron Bartell, whose nine-year career finished with his hometown Lions in 2013. A graduate of Detroit Renaissance, Bartell has multiple business ventures, including Kuzzo's Chicken & Waffles in Northwest Detroit, which opened in January.
For Bartell, this week's seminar provided a reminder of the importance of teamwork when starting a business.
"Being an athlete, your whole life has been a team concept," he said. "We're a Type A personality. We have big egos, and we think we can do it by ourselves, but even when you're done playing, the next step in life you need a lot of help. So, it just makes me feel good about the direction I've been going and feeling confident about the team I've surrounded myself with."
Jones doesn't know exactly what he plans to do after his NFL career ends, but now that he's older (28), he wanted to attend one of the league's educational programs that he dismissed as a younger player. Jones attended the seminar with his girlfriend, too.
One day, the Southfield Lathrup graduate hopes to start businesses in Detroit because of his ties to the city.
For now, though, Jones said he's planning on starting classes again at Eastern Michigan in May to finish the 20 credits left on his business management degree. He hopes graduate within a year or two.
"Basically, that's something that my parents will be proud of," he said. "I have a son now, so I definitely want to lead by example and get that degree."