How NFL Players are Taking Back Power from the NFL

Illustration by Steck Von

Nile McNair, Contributing Writer

This NFL offseason could be one of the best of all time, as many star players are switching teams and signing new record-breaking contracts.

Some of the more notable moves this offseason were: Odell Beckham Jr. being traded to the Cleveland Browns and Antonio Brown being sent to the Oakland Raiders. In addition, Le’Veon Bell signed with the New York Jets to return to football after sitting out the entire 2018 season.

The reason this offseason has been so exciting is because stars are starting to control their own destinations in a system set up for players to never have leverage.

For years, NFL players have been getting the short end of stick in terms of the respect and power they deserve from NFL owners. Even other athletes have noticed how much more power they have in their sport compared to NFL players.

Last year, NBA superstar Lebron James said “The difference between the NBA and NFL is what we believe a player can be, the potential. In the NFL it’s what can you do for me this Sunday, Monday or Thursday, and if you ain’t, we moving on.”

When drafted, rookies sign four-year contracts, and first-round picks get a fifth year option on their contract. So, after the first four years, teams can decide whether to keep the player for another year or let him leave for free agency.

Another factor that hinders the power of players is the franchise tag, a one-year deal that can be placed on a player up to three times. Players are powerless against this, because if they choose to sit out, they can miss out on millions.

The franchise tag has a set dollar amount for each position that changes annually. There is no negotiating the amount of money players receive when they are given the franchise tag designation.

Moving forward, the NFL Players Association needs to negotiate the removal of the franchise tag in order to allow players to hit free agency quicker. They would not have to wait a year to hit free agency because of the franchise tag that was applied to them.

Bell fought against the franchise tag last season by sitting out the entire year instead of playing under the $14.5 million franchise tag placed on him by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It was about protecting himself, limiting wear and tear, and making sure he didn’t suffer a major injury before hitting free agency,” NFL reporter Ian Rapoport said of why Bell sat out.

Bell’s decision was rewarded with a four-year $52 million contract from the New York Jets, with $35 million guaranteed.

Guaranteed money is a huge issue in the NFL. Unlike other major sports leagues like the MLB and NBA, players with the NFL contracts are not fully guaranteed to be paid the entire value of the contract. This is outrageous, considering the NFL is a very physical and dangerous professional sports league.

Players should be paid all of the money written on their contracts like is done in the MLB. Three baseball players recently signed contracts exceeding $300 million, all guaranteed. This shows that professional sports teams are capable of paying out large contracts instead of relying on incentives for a bulk of the payment.

Gripes against the lack of guaranteed money were shown when Brown demanded a trade from the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason. Despite having three years left on his contract with the Steelers, Brown had no guaranteed money.

After being traded to the Raiders, Brown is now the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL at $19.8 million per year and has $30 million guaranteed.

Over the past two seasons, new contracts have started to reshape the markets for players, giving them the compensation they truly deserve. Both quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers got contracts last offseason that were fully guaranteed.

In the non-quarterback market, safety Landon Collins signed a six-year $84 million deal with $45 million guaranteed. This signing sparked many players to praise Collins for raising the market.

One of them was all-pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey who tweeted “So a “box safety” getting corner money now?, it’s time to keep moving this market! Ballers get paid!”

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