by Jack Bechta
July 16, 02014
Playing NFL football is truly an insecure job. Sure, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and just a handful of players feel secure about their paychecks. However, the vast majority of NFL players have sleepless nights about the fear of being seriously hurt, released, beat out, asked to take a pay-cut, traded, demoted and/or all of the above. Why do they feel this way? It’s simple; the lack of guaranteed contracts gives the team the ultimate power to swing the axe at any time. Having that axe over your head leads players to do some unorthodox things, mostly to their body.
The ripple effect can be a painful one
Keeping the body moving at all costs: In my 27 years as an agent there has always been a major consistency for all my clients; that’s managing, dealing with, hiding, and nursing injuries. The fear of being cut leads to players making sure they don’t miss games and even practices. In case you missed it, the DEA is investigating how medication/painkillers/pills are and have been distributed to players. Is this problem so bad the DEA has to get involved? I don’t know, but it’s obviously big enough to get their attention.
The bottom line is that players are going to over-medicate to practice and play. Making a half million dollars to ten million per year is an incentive to do so. Being cut at any time is incentive to do so. Having job insecurity is incentive to do so. Having your dream taken away because you are physically beat up is incentive to do so. Thus, players are doing what they can to keep their train (body) moving down the tracks.
Playing in the NFL is a painful business. Short recovery times between practices and games do not help matters either. Trainers and team doctors are paid by their respective NFL teams. Their job is to keep the players on the field. The end goal of their job is not aligned with the long-term best interests of the players’ health. (As a side note, medical care in the NFL is growing up and getting better).
The use of alcohol and marijuana are also used in dulling the daily pains and insecurities of the game.
So the big question is, if more players had guaranteed contracts would those players medicate less? Both current and former clients I spoke to recently all said “yes", they would definitely be more patient in letting their bodies heal, miss more practices and/or even games as opposed to medicating themselves to get on the field.
Would NFL players “cruise” with guaranteed contracts? There may be a very small handful that will. Those same players are cruising now with and without guaranteed contracts. Hockey players, baseball players, soccer players and other athletes don’t cruise while under guaranteed contracts. I would say some NBA players do but they have longer seasons, it’s a different animal.
The NFL owners have it made right now with a carrot and stick contract philosophy. If the majority of contracts were guaranteed, teams would just have to do a better job in scouting and evaluating the players they sign to a contract. Teams would also just do shorter-term contracts for players they have suspicion of cruising and/or not giving maximum effort. Teams can also choose to incentivize players in addition to a guaranteed salary. The bottom line is that, hard working players will keep working and playing hard.
Under the current system, there are signing bonuses of course and the top ten to twenty percent of players in the league are scoring nice ones. But the rest are working off piece-meal deals and are still under their rookie deal (four of five years). A third or fourth round pick scoring a signing bonus between 600k and 450k is way under paid if they become a starter in the first two years of their contract. You don’t ever see NFL teams ripping up a contract of an underpaid player and giving him a fair market deal. On the flip side, they are frequently asking players to take a pay cut when he gets north of thirty, hurt and/or they have another player who can fill his shoes. They get their cake and eat it too.
The NFL Players Association has to make guaranteed contracts a priority in the next CBA. Guaranteed contracts will take pressure off players to put their bodies at extreme risk. Players will manage their bodies better and will have longer careers. Teams will also be incentivized to give their players the best medical care possible to protect their investment.
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