Marcus Santos-Silva’s door into football opened only one month after his basketball door closed.
Santos-Silva, who spent his entire college athletic career as a basketball player, signed a contract Monday with the Browns as an undrafted rookie. Thirty-nine days prior, he played his final college hoops game as a power forward at Texas Tech — a Sweet 16 loss to Duke in the NCAA Tournament. At 6-foot-6 and 260-pounds, Santos-Silva had NBA aspirations when he transferred to Texas Tech in 2020 after three seasons at VCU, hoping the bigger stage and tougher opponents would draw calls from pro teams when his final season concluded.
Pro teams did indeed call Santos-Silva, just not from the league he expected.
Numerous NFL teams reached out to him when he officially announced his aspirations to join the league as a tight end April 25. He was in Cleveland a week later after the Browns were one of nearly a dozen teams to contact him and were the only team to offer him an individual workout. Santos-Silva completed the session and, to his surprise, was offered a contract before he could leave CrossCountry Mortgage Campus.
“I was just like, ‘Wow,'” he said. “I honestly thought I was going to go home and they were either going to give me a call or not give me a call. I just didn’t expect things to happen so fast. It’s still hitting me.”
Santos-Silva, a native of Taunton, Massachusetts, hasn’t played football since his freshman year of high school. He played a variety of positions that season, including defensive end, tight end and kicker, but a growth spurt that year led him to focus on basketball for the rest of high school and college. He was a three-star recruit and began his college career in 2017 at VCU, where his rebounding and blocking abilities were among the best in the Atlantic 10 Conference by his junior year. He transferred to Texas Tech in 2020 and received an extra year of eligibility — giving him two years in Lubbock — after the NCAA granted an extra year to student athletes after the pandemic.
Santos-Silva averaged 15 minutes, 4.7 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game last year at Texas Tech. Those numbers were good enough for a rotational role with the Red Raiders, but the dream Santos-Silva had of playing in the NBA was struggling to come to fruition. He had no interest in playing a professional league overseas, either, after he lost his father due to COVID-19 in 2021 and wanted to stay closer to his mom and two siblings.
A few days after Texas Tech fell to Duke, Santos-Silva received a call from Sammy Morris, the Assistant Director for Player Support Development for Texas Tech’s football program. Morris informed him that he was receiving calls from NFL teams asking if he’d be willing to play.
Initially, Santos-Silva said “no.” He wasn’t ready to give up on the NBA just yet.
“I was blessed for it,” he said, “but I told them I was going to let it be and still focus on basketball.”
Santos-Silva watched Texas Tech’s football pro day, however, and his interest in switching sports began to grow. He saw how the tight ends ran routes and caught passes, and he believed he was athletic enough to do the same. Sure, his playbook knowledge, football IQ and blocking skills were going to need major improvements, but Texas Tech coaches and NFL agents told him he could make the transition if he committed to the sport.
In the weeks that followed the pro day, he completed several workouts with friends who played football in college to build himself into proper shape for a tryout. He inked an agency deal with The Sports and Entertainment Group and officially announced his NFL aspirations three days before the draft.
Adam Al-Khayyal, the Browns’ Assistant Director of Pro Personnel, heard about Santos-Silva through Branden Francis, one of the Browns’ Pro Scouts. Francis heard through Santos-Silva’s agency that it had signed a 6-foot-6 basketball player looking to play tight end in the league, and Francis passed his name to Al-Khayyal, who then watched Santos-Silva’s basketball highlights on YouTube.
The highlights were the only visual evidence Al-Khayyal could use to evaluate him. Al-Khayyal had been in scouting with the Browns for six years, but he also had a sharp eye for the skills of the forward position, which he played at the AAU level in Atlanta. That experience gave him an appreciation for the handwork, footwork and lateral agility necessary for playing forward, and all of those traits were evident at a high level in Santos-Silva’s game.
Al-Khayyal sent an email about Santos-Silva to Director of Player Personnel Dan Saganey, VP of Player Personnel Glenn Cook and Executive VP of Football Ops and GM Andrew Berry. They told him to bring Santos-Silva in for a workout.
“There was enough intrigue here, and he was worth exploring further,” Al-Khayyal said. “With basketball, you have guys who are pretty athletic but not always big enough or tough and physical enough to play football. But there’s also guys with length, ball skills and the overall foundation that’s hard to come by regardless of where you’re looking.”
Santos-Silva worked out for one hour in front of Al-Khayyal, Berry and other Browns coaches and scouts and ran a variety of drills and routes on air. His route-running looked crisp for an athlete who hadn’t played organized football in over eight years, and he also did not drop a pass.
“You could see he was obviously raw,” Al-Khayyal said, “but in talking with him and doing research, it wasn’t like this was totally foreign to him. In that workout setting, you could see he had the size, length, strength and physical traits you look for at that position, particularly in a developmental player.”
Al-Khayyal told Santos-Silva after the workout that the Browns were signing him. Initially, Santos-Silva believed that only meant he was invited back for rookie minicamp, so his reaction was subdued.
The news actually meant he was signed to a real NFL deal. The Browns were giving him a chance to develop his skills under Coach Kevin Stefanski, who greatly appreciates tight ends, and spend the offseason with the same team rather than bounce from one opportunity to another across the country — if more opportunities came.
Santos-Silva’s jaw dropped when Al-Khayyal explained what the contract really meant. For now, he was locked into Cleveland and was officially an NFL player.
“I was just laughing,” Santos-Silva said. “I was in shock, like, ‘Oh my God.’ I didn’t think it was going to happen that fast.”
Santos-Silva said he plans on learning as much as possible from the top tight ends, David Njoku and Harrison Bryant, with the hope of cracking a 53-man roster, although he acknowledged that he has a lot of work ahead of him to reach that goal.
“My goal this year is to make the 53-man roster and be a second-string tight end,” he said. “I know the plan is probably having me start on the practice squad, but I’m just going to work and grind the whole time so I can get up there.”
Santos-Silva has also been in constant contact with Colts tight end Mo Alie-Cox, whose career started on the same trajectory as Santos-Silva. Both of them attended VCU, which was how they met, and Alie-Cox signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2017 after his college basketball career. He also had not played organized football since his freshman year of high school.
Alie-Cox was waived multiple times and spent time on the practice squad before he became a more prominent player in the Colts’ offense. He’s caught a combined six touchdowns in the last two seasons and was signed to a contract extension in March.
“I’ve asked him, ‘Hey, what were the biggest struggles for you?'” Santos-Silva said. “He told me that the thing that would be hard is learning the playbook and learning to block, but once I nail that down, everything else will be good. That’s going to be my main objective when I get there.”
Santos-Silva knows he has countless hours of work ahead of him over the offseason toward learning how to play in the NFL. The challenge is a steep one, but he’s already learned enough over the last month and displayed the athletic tools necessary for a team to give him a contract.
Because of that, the football door for Santos-Silva is wide open, and he’s hoping he can walk through it in Cleveland.
“When I got home, I just thought, like, ‘Wow, I’m really in the NFL. I’m really a player for the Cleveland Browns,'” he said. “I’m not satisfied, but I feel really blessed to be in this opportunity.”