Don’t Believe Reported NFL Contract Numbers


The NFL free agency period always generates some eye popping contract numbers. Too bad they are almost never real.

I suggest that you simply don’t pay attention to the total money in any NFL deal. The sad truth is that the player almost never sees all of that money, and the bigger the number, the less the player usually sees.

For example, there have been 14 contracts in NFL history that were over 100 million in total value. The most any player has seen from one of those contract was Brett Farve, who actually managed to get $54 million. This isn’t MLB or the NBA where the contracts are fully guaranteed.

The vast majority of “big money” deals are constructed in a way that make it impossible for the player to see the end of the contract. Joe Flacco’s big 6 year, $120 million deal is really a 3 year, $65 million contract. In year 4, he has a $29 million cap number. There’s 0% chance he plays under that contract in that year. He’ll get a new deal at that time. I’m certain of it.

That’s still a lot of money, but the overall money that he’ll see is still about half of what is reported. That is true for many of the big money contracts that you might have seen handed out in the past four days.

Sam Baker’s six year, $48 million deal is actually more of a four year, $34.3 million contract. Dashon Goldson’s five year, $41 million contract is actually just two years and $18 million. He might play a third year on that contract, but I doubt it.

That’s just the way NFL contracts are. You’ll hear or read people who have been around the league for a while say that only the guaranteed money matters, and they’d be correct. It’s the guaranteed money that is keeping Chris Clemons on this team right now, and it’s the lack of guaranteed money in Ben Obomanu’s contract that allowed him to be cut yesterday.

Why tack on the extra year and money if everyone knows the player will never see it? Good question. There’s lots of reasons for it.

The teams like it because it helps them generate headlines and get the fans fired up to buy season tickets. The players like because it strokes their ego (it’s true) in a league where their “talent” is often measured by the size of their contract. Agents like it because it helps them recruit new clients. (“I got him $42 million. Imagine what I can get for you.”)

Luckily, there is some sanity at work here as well. All the craziness mentioned above only applies to the longer deals. Anything that’s a one or two year deal is almost certainly reported correctly. For instance, Michael Bennett’s deal really is one year and $5 million. There’s no way to tack on phony money in a deal like that one.

I’m just saying that not all thing are what they appear to be in terms of NFL contracts. Don’t be fooled by headlines with big numbers.