NFL should fully guarantee contracts

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During what has been an undeniably wild NFL offseason, paying particular attention to the guaranteed value of player contracts being given out around the league highlights the relative failure of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA).

After the NFL lockout of 2011, during which the NFLPA won the small victory of $1 billion in benefits for its retired players, much more attention has been paid to the compensation of football players who sacrifice their bodies for their own financial profit and that of their teams and league. When evaluating the big-money deals doled out to football players, the most important number to note is the guaranteed dollar figure.

Even the biggest football stars switching teams in free agency receive monetary guarantees that look paltry when compared to salaries in other, less financially valuable American sports. Darrelle Revis, the star cornerback who signed on to return to the New York Jets, is reportedly receiving a $39 million guarantee on a five-year contract, although the sports media widely reports the figure of $70 million, a sum Revis will almost assuredly not receive in full. By comparison, veteran baseball third baseman Chase Headley, by no means a star player, received a $50 million deal from the New York Yankees this offseason, fully guaranteed—as is the standard in that sport.

But Revis’ superstar football contract is an outlier. Most veterans signing with teams in the NFL receive guarantees which do not correlate at all with the value of their contribution to the financial success of their teams. Even a star veteran like Frank Gore, the former Pro Bowl running back who signed with the Indianapolis Colts, signed a three-year deal with a $7.5 million guarantee. For a player of his caliber in the biggest sports league in America, that figure seems low, especially when considering the physical toll the game can take on a running back.

With the NFL as popular as ever, dominating in television ratings and maintaining fan interest despite the storm of negative publicity surrounding the sport, the NFLPA could have used its position to demand more from the league in 2011.

Between now and 2021, the next chance for a renegotiation of the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA, undoubtedly more evidence will surface, casting football in a negative light with regard to player safety and the danger of playing the sport at its highest level. If the NFL is to continue to exist as the nation’s most popular and successful league, it will require the complicity of the NFLPA. The union should recognize its bargaining power in this regard and push for fully guaranteed contracts which would protect its members and ensure their fair compensation relative to the profits of the sport.