The hard-hitting reality of salaries in the NFL

Lucero Del Rayo-Nava

The NFL made history in March of 2018 when they paid quarterback Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings a fully-guaranteed three-year contract.

Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings warms up before the preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on August 18, 2018, at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Unlike NBA, MLB and NHL athletes, NFL players are not guaranteed all the money that their contract offers. This causes a dilemma between the current Collective Bargaining Agreement and the players that clearly notice the difference of what money makes it in their paycheck compared to their original contracts.

On July 3, 2018, Russell Okung from the San Diego Chargers took his concerns to Twitter creating a thread about his strong stance against the current Agreement. He heavily focused on how the salary cap did not help any player and was only used to benefit owners in the league, disregarding the toll that players’ bodies take by playing the game.

Boston University published a study in July of 2017 that shockingly showed that 99% of former NFL players having traces of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, but the NFL turned a blind eye when players in the league concerns grew.

“When you think about what we do for our organizations, the injuries and the pounding that we take, you would think that there would be more appreciation for your players,” Adrian Peterson said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Running Back Adrian Peterson of the Washington Redskins runs with the ball in the third quarter against the Carolina Panthers at FedExField on October 14, 2018, in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Peterson was scheduled for an $18 million salary in his final contract with the Minnesota Vikings franchise. Even with his tremendous performance as their all-time leading rusher, there was no realistic way of him earning a fully guaranteed contract because of his age and position.

Alongside Peterson and Okung, most if not all players share their sentiment against the non-guaranteed contracts. Franchise owners, managers and league officials do not know about an NFL without a salary cap, which takes up a large percentage of an athlete’s Bargaining Agreement, which makes it more difficult for players to become partners rather than just employees in their eyes.

Former Cleveland Brown general manager Phil Savage said that he did not support the removal of the salary cap because he believes that it motivates the athletes to prove themselves. That the players will work harder to ensure the most profit because of the instability of the contract.

He also said that the guarantee of a full contract would give athletes comfort and they would not perform to their maximum potential. It would also mean that even if a player were to get severely injured and not be able to play for a season or two, the Franchise would still have to pay them.

When last evaluated the NFL made $14.2 billion in just revenue which was an increase of $900 million from 2016. Commissioner Roger Goodell predicted that by 2027 the league will reach $25 billion. This is a drastic leap from the $4.3 billion the league was making in 2001.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during a press conference during Super Bowl LIII Week at the NFL Media Center inside the Georgia World Congress Center on January 30, 2019, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

The rapid increase in revenue for the league reinforces the athlete’s point of the need in a guaranteed contract and the removal of a salary cap because they see less than 50% of that profit.

But in reality, there is little hope on the salary cap vanishing from the Agreement anytime soon. First off, the market that each franchise has to work with varies. Without the cap, the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be hindered in offering competitive contracts. These franchises would have to continuously catch up with the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and New York Giants, the most profitable franchises in the league.

But besides the older policies and beliefs that officials hold there is a notable difference in the number of athletes the NFL has in the whole league compared to the NBA, MLB and NHL. The large numbers of players in the league warrant a salary cap removal because it will make it more difficult to continue growing their large amount of revenue.

As the current Bargaining Agreement remains valid going into the 2020 season, there have only been rumors of a possible change. This will continue to be a tug-of-war because league officials do not seem eager to change the current Agreement and athletes are aggressively urging for the shift toward stability in their contracts.

Lucero Del Rayo-Nava can be reached at [email protected] or @del_rayo98 on Twitter.