Bruce Arians extends camp invite to Air Force LB despite 2-year duties

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians does not like a rule implemented by the Air Force on the day of the first round of the NFL draft that prevents Academy cadets from postponing their two-year active-duty military commitment so they can play in the NFL.

"I think it's dumb," Arians said after Friday's rookie minicamp practice.

Arizona invited Air Force linebacker Ryan Watson to its three-day rookie minicamp this weekend, knowing they wouldn't be able to sign him to a contract. Arians said he wanted to give Watson a "good look and give him the opportunity."

"He's earned it," said Arians, who added that Watson could impress enough that the Cardinals could circle back to him in two years.

Watson veiled his frustration with the new rule, saying it was "above his pay grade."

The rule, which the United States Air Force handed down to the Academy on April 27, according to The Denver Post, requires all Cadets to serve their two years of active duty before receiving "ready reserve" status, which would allow them to join a professional sports team.

According to The Post, some Air Force football players weren't aware of the rule change until the third day of the draft.

Watson said the timing of the rule "could've been better," but he felt he was given enough time "before too many things happened." When he heard about the rule change, Watson was surprised and "a little upset" but said he understood it.

"It is what it is," he said. "You got to make the best of your situation.

"It's a lawful order, so they want me to serve, so I'll serve. That's what I came to the Air Force Academy to do: be a lieutenant in the United States Air Force."

Before Watson reports to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in the fall to work on acquisitions for two years, he'll spend three days trying to leave enough of an impression with the Cardinals' coaching staff that they remember him in 2019.

"That is the goal," Watson said.

After experiencing a taste of the NFL, Watson knows the next two years away from the field won't be easy.

"That'll be very tough," he said. "Anything worth it is pretty difficult, pretty hard. It's not the easy road. I went to the United States Air Force Academy, so I'm not used to easy in the first place, so it'll be fine."

As fine as Watson believes he'll be, to be an NFL player for a few days gave him a glimpse of what he'll be missing out on -- and what will potentially be awaiting him in two years.

"Oh, it's definitely a tease," he said. "But I'd rather be here than not be here, so I'm blessed to have the opportunity. I will never be upset coming in here and leaving."