Name, image and likeness money was always going to be a sticking point as it filtered into college athletics. It may be the reason Tennessee Football suffered its first big blow in the transfer portal Friday since the end of Josh Heupel’s first season as head coach.
Tyler Baron, a three-year starter at edge rusher for the Vols, has entered the transfer portal. This is the second time in three years entered the portal, as he also entered it at the end of the 2021 season but decided to come back just a few days later. Chris Hummer of 247Sports tweeted out the news.
Among all the transfers from Tennessee Football this offseason, Baron is the most impactful, evidenced by his stats above in the tweet. It could be a concerning sign for the Vols going forward. However, developments elsewhere suggest this was all about NIL money.
Just two and a half weeks ago, three days after UT lost to the Georgia Bulldogs, Baron liked a tweet that criticized the program’s NIL initiative. Specifically, it targeted Nico Iamaleava, without actually naming him, and the $8 million he allegedly received.
Given this fact, it’s pretty clear Baron is not happy about NIL money, and it’s not the first time NIL has allegedly hurt Heupel’s team. Remember the Jeremy Banks fight with Hendon Hooker? That split the team in 2022 and had a huge hand in its road loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks.
It’s an uncomfortable truth, but this is going to be a factor going forward. To be fair, Heupel and co. could be applying that same NIL money to land other players in the portal, maybe even Walter Nolen. If we’re being honest, the Nolen pickup would outweigh the loss of Baron.
As far as what this means for the Tennessee Football roster, well, James Pearce Jr. has emerged as a superstar opposite Baron. Meanwhile, Joshua Josephs is emerging as well. There are four more edge rushers committed to the Vols’ 2024 class.
Now, Baron can stand with the best of this group, as he would’ve been even greater this year if refs actually threw the flags all the times he was held. He’s also the most experienced. However, the Vols should have the depth now to offset this loss. Don’t count out the possibility of him returning either.