NFL: No Free Lunch

In the time that I have been writing for JagNation and various other sites, I have done hundreds of stories about players, team analysis, and injuries, as well as doing some stories about the business side of the NFL, such as the salary cap and player conduct.

The player and team stories are pretty easy for many readers to get on board with, even if they don't necessarily agree with the opinions stated by the particular authors. The business stories usually are a little bit tougher for the average reader to relate to, mainly due to the lifestyle differences of most readers, as compared to team owners and professional athletes. In this article, we're going to explore the not-so-popular topic of contracts, holdouts, and loyalty.

A pretty good football writer by the name of Vic Ketchman has repeated about a thousand times, "it is always about the money," when referring to the NFL and football players in general. Truer words have never been spoken. Whereas the NFL is a form of entertainment for millions of people worldwide, it is the life's work for most of the players and executives, and many people don't understand when the players quibble over a few hundred thousand dollars, when many already have multi-million dollar contracts. I've heard it hundreds of times when "civilians" say, "these guys are arguing over half a million dollars, let's see them try to live off of what I make?" With most NFL contracts non-guaranteed, and the average NFL career spanning less than four years, most of them will have to "live like everyone else" sooner than later. In 2006, the average NFL salary was $1.4 million, which sounds like a lot of money (and it is). When you take out taxes, agent fees, and players association fees, the actual take home figure becomes certainly less than half of that. Now multiply that number by 3.6 years (average NFL career), and most players have right around $2 million to live the rest of their lives on. That's assuming the player made the NFL average of $1.4 million, which about 65% of the players on a team do not. If the "average guy" has a job that pays him approximately $60,000/yr., and he keeps himself employed from his early 20's until retirement, his earnings (with raises) will have far exceeded the earnings of your typical NFL player.

What does it actually cost these NFL athletes to live these high-end lifestyles? Well, along with the Ferrari's, mansions, and popularity (assuming they are not the minimum salaried guys) comes the physical abuse that it takes to play the game. The toll it takes on a players body is almost criminal. Most players have had multiple surgeries on many different areas of their bodies. Players like Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, who have never spent a day on the injured reserve in their careers, are the exception, not the norm. Studies show that the average lifespan of an NFL football player is just 55 years. The average lifespan of a male is currently 75 years. So when you sign that first contract right out of college, you are, in essence, signing away 20 years off your life, assuming you're not a kicker or punter.

Some fans see it as an act of disloyalty when a player moves on to brighter horizons for something as "tedious" as money. If the company you work for was offering you a $60,000 salary, would you leave to go somewhere else for $80,000? Most likely you would, especially if your current company has the right to fire you if they find someone younger who can do the job cheaper. The idea of loyalty in football is nice, but the only real loyalty players should have is to their wallets, and taking care of their families. If the Detroit Lions, for example are offering Bobby McCray $15 million in guaranteed money, and the Jaguars were offering him $10 million, how could you blame him for taking the extra cash? I would do it, and so would most fans, if put in the same position.

The NFL is simply a business. Teams are always trying to replace guys with younger, more inexpensive players. When players have any kind of leverage to get a better deal, I'm all for it. The window for these guys to earn money to last them their entire lives is so small, they need to get what they can, when they can get it. Even if it means skipping a few OTA's and signing with a franchise like Detroit.

Jags Illustrated Top Stories