Follow the Money—Sports

Why Guys Are Getting Paid Big

NFL Rookies—The Search For More Money

Have you seen some of these contracts going out to NFL rookies the last several years? It’s almost out of hand what some of these kids are making. Here’s a few examples…..

1.) Jake Long–#1 pick, Miami Dolphins, 2008–five years, $57.5 million

2.) JaMarcus Russell–#1 pick, Oakland Raiders, 2007–six years, $61 million

3.) Vince Young–#3 pick, Tennessee Titans, 2006–six years, $58 million

4.) Michael Vick–#1 pick, Atlanta Falcons, 2001–six years, $62 million

And here’s where the fun part kicks in. It’s not so much the incredible amount of money rookies have been getting paid in the last decade, but how much GUARANTEED MONEY they’re getting. In ’01, Vick got a $3 million bonus just for putting his John Hancock on his new contract. Of Young’s $58 million, $25.74 million–almost half of the total amount–was guaranteed. Russell currently has $31 million (just over half of his total contract for those of you keeping score) guaranteed to him. Long has around $35 million coming his way, too. And these are only some of the higher profile examples. There are guys like Brady Quinn, a late first round pick, who cashed in on deals similar to the aformentioned and are receiving loads of guaranteed cash.

And these increasingly large contracts, despite the examples I gave, are not position specific. Long is a left tackle. Calvin Johnson, a receiver with the Detroit Lions, is making a lot of guaranteed money. There are running backs such as Darren McFadden who are inking similar contracts. The overlying fact here is that guaranteed money is a fairly new phenomenon in the NFL, and it’s really dividing people within the league.

There are pros and cons to all of the guaranteed cash floating around the NFL universe:

1.) It helps the players because football is a brutal sport that will take years off of lives and could leave players injured for life. The guaranteed money could help a high-profile pick out in the event that he gets severely injured and can’t play for a really long time or ever again.

2.) It shows a sort of commitment from the franchise to the player. A rookie contract to a high draft pick that contains $30 million in guaranteed money kind of says to that player “we’re committed to you wearing our uniform and helping bring us a championship.”

3.) In a way, it shows a commitment from the franchise to the fans. If your owner/general manager is willing to heave $60 million at a player who’s never played a single down in the NFL and gaurantee $31 million of it to said player, it shows in a way that management is committed to putting a winning team on the field. It’s a bit of a good PR move.

Here’s where the guaranteed cash hurts teams:

1.) If a player gets severely injured, he gets paid. In return, the organization and its fans get nothing.

2.) If a player doesn’t live up to the hype and underperforms, he gets paid. In return, the organization gets nothing on the field, and fans will grumble that the player wasn’t worth the money and the team isn’t getting things right. This happens all the time. Just listen to any sports talk radio show.

3.) These contracts to unproven players could cause some dissention among teammates. Veterans who have proven their worth to the team and the league as a whole and are currently in a contract that pays less than what these rookies are making surely will not be happy. Some have even came out and said so. These people include Tennessee’s center, Kevin Mawae.

And here’s another dangerous part of all the guaranteed money going out. Just like in the NBA and Major League Baseball, the rookie contracts are getting bigger with each passing year. It’s almost becoming the ultimate game of one-upsmanship. Jake Long’s agent probably said in April, “if JaMarcus Russell could get $31 million guaranteed without playing a single down, I’ll bet I could get Jake $35.” This is the mentality that agents use. It helps get them a larger cut, and it also gives their clients more security in such an unsecure sport. Indeed, rookie contracts are only going to get bigger. How much longer until a rookie QB gets paid $50 million in guaranteed money?

There are players in the NFL, and I’m talking very good players, who are making less than current rookies.Here’s a blog from 2007 showing that Tom Brady, a guy who has won three Super Bowls, makes less than Russell, who’s won all of about three or four games in two years. The lists of player earning disparity goes on and on.

Basically, NFL rookie contracts are getting out of hand. And the trend is only going to continue and get worse. While it’s good for player security, it can ultimately be very destructive for the teams. Money is being doled out to these youngsters under the premise that they’ll be “franchise players” in the near future. If they don’t pan out, nobody wins.

Here’s a more current story from Yahoo Sports about Long’s contract and the trend as a whole.

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October 6, 2008 Posted by | NFL | | Leave a comment