NFL Labor Pains: The Spending Problem

Ultimately, all the legal wrangling and courtroom football of this lockout may defer to the core reality of a good number of players needing to start receiving their checks.
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Having been both a player agent and team executive, there are great challenges in convincing players to defer major purchases and save their money.

Most players have not had access to large sums of money and with a stroke of a pen, they do. The urge to spend is strong, especially with what I call the "whisper crew" -- friends, relatives, hangers-on, etc. -- surrounding them.

Players generally have a very short-term outlook on life. They are concerned about the next workout, the next practice, the next game and, most importantly, the next contract. They see a car they like and they want to buy it. For young players, especially, short-term gratification is the norm.

I once had a client determined to invest a six-figure amount into his brother's "record company". I knew his brother was an addict and the money would go toward his brother's addiction. I advised against it verbally and in writing but could not stop it. As expected, the money was flushed away and the player was out of football a couple years later wishing he had that money.

Fall earnings vs. year-round

Having seen this problem, I tried to address it from the team side with the Packers.

Players are paid their salaries during the season from September to December. For instance, if a player made $1.7 million, he would receive $100,000 for each of the 17 weeks of the season.

This payment schedule, I thought, allowed for overspending and left players vulnerable in the offseason. Although the NFL advised I that I could not mandate it, I strongly encouraged players to take a full-year payment schedule over 52 weeks instead of 17. Of course, their checks during the season would be smaller but they would have income all year.

I pushed this payment program out to our players and participation was respectable - on average 15-20 players participated - but not what I had hoped.

Some of the pushback came from agents, knowing players would not receive their full salary by December when they sent invoices for their fee. And many asked about interest on the amounts, which we would not provide (as that would have been a Cap violation).

Typically, the players that availed themselves of full-year spending were the ones that were careful spenders. The ones that did not needed to.

Relevant to labor situation

As the NFL is now in the early phases of Courtroom football the issue of savings will become much more essential in coming weeks and months..

Despite funding for players of up to $60,000 and many warnings from the NFLPA to save, many have not. The NFL knows this. The longer the labor battle ensues, the more advantage the Owners have in the battle of attrition towards resolving the dispute and negotiating a CBA on favorable terms.

The NFL is counting on the NFLPA solidarity of March and April to ebb in June and July largely because of concern about finances.

Cautionary tales

When I was in Dallas for the Super Bowl, a player I knew from his time with the Packers sought me out to talk. He was a high draft pick, played many years in the NFL for a few different teams and made tens of millions of dollars. After the pleasantries, he told me his stark reality: he is broke and living day-to-day. His money was gone as he faced the rest of his life, now in his early thirties. I worry about him.

Unfortunately, this is too often the case. Mark Brunell was one of the highest paid players in football a decade ago. Michael Vick was the highest paid player in football five years ago. Both are in bankruptcy.

Professional football is a small slice of life for even the best of players. As I tell every player I meet, playing professional football is a head start on a career, not a whole career.

Ultimately, all the legal wrangling and courtroom football of this lockout may defer to the core reality of a good number of players needing to start receiving their checks.

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