Aren’t NFL players rich enough?

DeAndre Hopkins held out of the first day of Texan’s Training Camp over a contract dispute (Picture courtesy of CBS)

Let me quickly begin by addressing the size of the salaries that professional athletes receive. Professional athletes are paid very well (unless you’re a woman, but that is for another time) because of the popularity of their sports. If everyone stopped watching American Football, salaries would decrease as a natural market correction. Whether you believe NFL players get paid to much is irrelevant to the point I’m about to make, but if you think athletes are paid too much, stop watching their sports. You actively involving yourself in the viewing and merchandising of sports is contributing to the eye-watering salaries of the athletes you watch receive. Now that is out the way, on to the more substantive stuff.

It was reported earlier this week that DeAndre Hopkins, the Houston Texans’ star wideout, was planning on holding out of training camp over a contract dispute. This is not an uncommon phenomenon around this time of year. Training camp starts and players use this to leverage their contract negotiations. Players have been known to sit out weeks and months over contract disputes. Hopkins however ended his holdout after just 24 hours, but is still unhappy with the contract he has.

When I first began watching American Football, the notion that players would refuse to train over contract issues made me mad. I couldn't understand why players who already made heaps of cash (Hopkins has $1m in base salary this year) were demanding more money from their teams. Occasionally you’ll get players who hold out for all the wrong reasons and you have to judge each case on its own basis. But over time, the issue has become clearer and I find myself more often than not siding with the player in contract disputes. This comes down to a number of different factors.

Firstly, NFL players have a very short shelf life. The average NFL career is just 3.3 years. Even the best players can only expect to play in the NFL for 15 years at a push (although this is increasing due to better conditioning and injury treatment). This means that players can expect to spend about a quarter of their ‘working life’ in the NFL. Although there are a plethora of options open to players after football, most will use this time to ensure their financial security for the rest of their lives. That’s why for many players its important to make as much money as possible in the limited time of your career. Also, the added worry that one bad injury and your career is over will play into players mindsets. This short life span and constant threat of being injured drives the price of players up.

Antonio Brown is reportedly unhappy with his contract but has reported to camp nonetheless (photo courtesy of Fox Sports)

Now, given that NFL players don’t have the longest career span, players need to make as much money as possible while they are at their peak. Herein lies the second factor; NFL players want to be paid fairly for the service they provide. This is a very simple concept that is often over-complicated because of the huge salary packets these players receive. Ultimately, it boils down to the fact that players want to receive a wage that reflects their value to a team (this should always be approached from the most objective way possible).

Lets try and approach this from a different perspective. You want a bespoke piece of furniture made and you have the choice of two carpenters to make it for you. The first is an apprentice who has the rudimentary skills required to make said piece of furniture. The 2nd is an artisan carpenter who will use their years of experience and the finest materials to make you a better product. Both will eventually produce the same end product but to varying qualities. In this situation, it wouldn’t be unfair to pay the artisan carpenter a lot more for their service compared to the apprentice. The same is true of NFL players; why would an artisan players want to play for a team at an apprentice salary?

This simple point often gets lost in the huge salaries that these players command. But this coming season, DeAndre Hopkins, an player who has proven he can produce to an exceptionally high level in the NFL is going to receive a lower base salary Will Fuller, the Texans’ first round pick (both players are wide receivers). This is unfair.

This issue was incorporated into the 2011 CBA agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA. Players who had never stepped onto an NFL field were being payed many times more than NFL veterans who had year in year out performed to the highest standards across the league. This wasn’t a fair system and a new rookie wage scale was introduced to compensate for this. But this issue still lingers and reemerges around training camp. Players simply want to be paid a fare wage reflective of their impact and skill set, which is not unreasonable.

It is difficult as fans at times to see players squabbling over the contracts they receive. As most of us scrape a living, NFL players complain about how many millions they’re going to be paid next season. But if you try to imagine the situation as it could pertain to you, its easier to sympathise. If you thought that your place of employment was massively underpaying you, you’d complain about it. The situation is same with NFL players, just scaled up a lot more.

The whole point of this exercise was to reflect an often lost point of view in contract negotiations. As noted earlier, its difficult as fans to watch players squabbling over sums of money most of us can only dream of. But if you applied the same situations to our own work, we’d be aggrieved too. Most of the time, players and teams negotiate contracts to their mutual benefit. But in the few cases where people hold out, try not to immediately assume that the player is selfish.