Brian Kelly says he isn’t interested in “buying players” after missing out on transfer targets

Brian Kelly came in at No. 5 in Sporting News' college football head coach rankings.

LSU football head coach Brian Kelly has made one of his biggest offseason goals clear: signing defensive tackles.

It’s the biggest area of concern for LSU and it’ll need to sign at least two players on the defensive interior to feel comfortable with its depth there.

But the Tigers have struck out on every big name recruit they’ve targeted in the transfer portal so far. Their two biggest targets, Damonic Williams and Simeon Barrow, both paid visits to Baton Rouge and both elected to commit to different schools. Williams went to Oklahoma and Barrow headed to Miami.

“I think I made it pretty clear in a number of the press conferences that I had that we were in the market in recruiting and the transfer portal looking for defensive lineman,” Kelly said in an interview with WAFB’s Jacques Doucet. “It hasn’t fared very well, quite frankly, because we’re selling something a little bit differently. And that is, we want to recruit, we want to engage, build relationships, we want to develop, retain and have success.”

LSU has so far only been able to bring in Gio Paez from Wisconsin at the defensive tackle position. Billy Embody from On3Sports said the team will have to pivot quickly to different defensive tackle targets after struggling to bring in the guys it wanted so far.

Adin Huntington from ULM an alternative target in the portal for the Tigers. Former Kent State defensive tackle CJ West could’ve been an alternative target for them after Kelly and his staff extended him an offer last month, but he committed to Indiana on Wednesday.

“They’re going to have to get creative as of now, because they did miss on two big names,” Embody said. “They’ve got to find players that they can rotate because even if they would’ve gotten a Dominic Williams or Simeon Barrow they needed another defensive tackle to just kind of take the weight off those other guys that are in that room.”

In a recent interview, Kelly spoke about NIL and how he isn’t interested in “buying players.” The recruiting landscape has completely changed over the last few years since the NCAA allowed athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness. NIL collectives and the pay checks that come with them have changed how teams recruit and how players select their schools.

“We’re not in the market of buying players and unfortunately right now, that’s what some guys are looking for,” Kelly said. “They want to be bought. And I understand that NIL is part of this, and we have an incredible collective, we have very, very generous opportunities around the greater Baton Rouge area for NIL opportunities. So they are here, but we’re not going to go out and buy players. That’s not what this is about, this was never about that.”

Kelly said that the value in coming to LSU lies in what comes after players leave the school. Former LSU players have had plenty of success in the NFL draft and gone on to have great professional careers.

The Tigers tied with Alabama and Washington with the most first rounders in this year’s draft and have had the fourth most players taken in the draft over the last five years. Players should come to LSU for the future paycheck and not the current one, according to Kelly.

“We will develop you. We will get you ready for the next step,” Kelly said. “But if you’re just looking to get paid, you’re looking in the wrong place. If you like all the things that we do here in developing our players, bringing you into a championship program, playing in front of the best fanbase in America, playing for championships and having an opportunity for NIL, you should be a Tiger. But if you just want to get paid, this is not the place for you.”

Even with Kelly saying he isn’t interested in buying players, LSU has still offered big money to players to try and build its roster this offseason.

Matt Moscona, host of “After Further Review,” said that LSU’s goal this year was to increase the NIL money spent on its roster. According to Moscona, LSU spent around $4 million on its team last year while teams like Texas spent closer to $9 million.

The goal for the Tigers this season was to bump that number up to around $6 million, and Moscona said the team ended up going over $7 million. LSU offered money to big name players like Brian Thomas Jr. and Malik Nabers in addition to the money offered to new signings, according to Mascona.

“In the portal, they made very strong offers both to Domonic Williams and Simeon Barrow from TCU and Michigan State respectively and both ended up at other places,” Moscona said. “LSU is probably sitting on a couple million dollars that they earmarked to spend on this roster that they haven’t been able to get players to accept.”

According to Moscona, LSU didn’t offer the money that Williams wanted, and he went elsewhere. LSU came back with a bigger offer to Barrow to make sure it didn’t miss out on another big target but missed out on him likely over concerns with LSU’s past NIL issues, Moscona said.

“I think what we’re all learning is that there are so many layers to recruitment,” Moscona said. “Which has always been the case it’s just a lot more of them now are above board that we all see when a lot of this had just been whispered about for years.”

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Will Nickel

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