NFL Contracts Are The Best

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NBA star and Los Angeles Laker, Steve Nash, admits that despite his current injury he will stick around for the final year of his contract because he wants the money.  A cool 9.7 million.  I appreciate his honesty.

After a cousin of his passed away from heart disease, MLB pitching star and New York Yankee, CC Sabathia, decided to lose weight.

Some speculate and are concerned that CC’s weight loss may be responsible for his loss in velocity and have an adverse affect on his performance.  For the sake of this blog, let’s assume that is true.

Both of the above are examples of why the National Football League salary system, though not perfect, is the best we have.

Football players have to continually earn their pay.  Baseball and basketball players have to earn their contracts.  Once a player and an owner sign on the dotted line, maybe they will live up to the contract, maybe they won’t.  Either way, owners and entire fan bases have to cross their fingers.  Robinson Cano just signed a ten-year, two hundred and forty million dollar contract with the Seattle Mariners.   Speculation is that on the back-end of the deal (if even the front end) Cano won’t be playing well enough to earn that money.

Back to Steve Nash and CC.  Perhaps with few exceptions, I agree with Nash when he says anyone would do what he is doing as far as collecting the money on the final year of a contract even if he can’t play or play well.  But just because most people would do it, that doesn’t mean it is not a flaw in the system.  Both team and fan base will suffer if Nash cannot give value in return for the compensation he is receiving.

With Sabathia, I fully understand the effect the death in the family can have. (I recently lost my mother.) Health should come first.  I respect Sabathia’s reasoning for wanting to lose weight.  However, assuming it is affecting his ability to perform, he is making this choice on someone else’s dime.  I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but if CC were an NFL lineman, would he make the same choice?

I’m guessing NFL linemen make all sorts of unhealthy dietary choices to keep their weight and strength up.  If they didn’t, and they lost weight and their performance suffered, they could get cut and lose their job.  If an athlete like CC made the choice to quit baseball recognizing he couldn’t do his job at the lower weight and chose health over the game I would have huge respect for that.

If football were like baseball, a lineman could gain weight, get the big contract, lose weight for health reasons and not be of use to his team.  Now, the NFL could encourage health by putting weight or body fat limits on players, but that is a blog for a different day.

A question I have often heard asked when a free agent in the NBA or MLB is being considered for a big money long-term contract is, “will so and so remain incentivized once he has the contract?”  While there is some guaranteed upfront money in the NFL, you don’t have to have this concern near to the same degree.

I think changing contract structure to something similar to the NFL is an issue worth exploring and fighting for when collective bargaining comes up again in the NBA and MLB.  If the owners paint it to the fans as wanting to put the best product on the field and as a fairness issue, public support would be on their side.  After all, most of us have to earn our salaries or we get canned.  And if we get injured on the job there is workman’s compensation.

Maybe the give back is shorter rookie contracts so players can hit free agency quicker.  And or contract escalators for performance included in rookie contracts.  But locking in dead weight to a franchise and not allowing them to make personal moves that would improve the franchise is not game or fan friendly.

The system in football does punish team with “cap hits”, so there is  “punishment” for mistakes or personal decisions that don’t work out.  Peter King of Si.com gives a good explanation here.   But it also offers some relief in terms of being able to restructure contracts or cut players not performing to market, that enables franchises to attempt to put a better team on the field.

Like I said.  Not perfect, but I’ll take.

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