The rising costs of keeping NFL players happy


The NFL is a business and it’s a business for the players as well. It’s a business for the agents and everyone else from the stadium owners to the marketing department. It’s not a business for the fans. At least not in the same vein. Now with the rising costs of player salaries it’s understandable that fans are getting a little upset and the players may not like that or understand it.

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Earlier today I was trolling Twitter when I read an exchange between MattyI formerly of Bleacher Report and Brian Hartline, formerly of the Miami Dolphins.

Initially I thought screw the players, quit whining over making millions of dollars. Then I realized that’s not entirely fair so I sat back and sipped on some coffee and pondered this exchange. I reflected back on the lockout and how some wives of NFL players openly spoke out about the NFL’s business of not caring about their players, about not paying what they deserved to make, and that made me realize that to answer Brian Hartlines question, you have to dig a little deeper for the answer.

Fans are not against players getting paid. In fact more often than not they say, “Good for them!” but in reality it’s a simplistic reason that fans would rather see NFL players making far less than they do. And it’s not jealousy.

Fans love the teams they follow. You are a Miami Dolphins fan for life. You are a Brian Hartline fan for three or four years and while you say you follow a players career after he leaves you don’t really follow his career. You might even be a little bitter. Consider Cameron Wake for a moment.

Wake has made millions of dollars playing for the Dolphins. Yet now when he is not performing up to the $9.5 million dollar cap hit and coming off an injury well over the age of 30 as a fan you can and deserve to get a little upset that he won’t restructure to help the team. Why? For two reasons. One, he is going to chase the money that will likely amount to about a $2 million dolllar difference. Two, you are going to stay and eat up a ton of cap space that could be used to make the team better in other areas.

The bigger issue is that players typically don’t play up to their contracts. There are exceptions but can anyone honestly say that Ndamukong Suh will made a $28 million impact on the Dolphins defense in 2016? Of course not.

On the other side of that coin is the argument that teams make money off the players name. Jersey sales and ticket sales and yada yada yada and that is true. What the players union should be pushing for is more money to the players for the use of their name. That’s a union problem.

Another issue that many fans have is the fact that a player will play hard to earn a big contract and then never play that hard again in their career. This is what Matty I was referring to in the above exchange with Hartline. Vernon played very well, in fact the best of his entire NFL career, in the last 8 weeks of the 2015 season. Did something just simply click in his head or did he talk with his agent about his next contract?

My guess is the latter because the defense really didn’t change a whole lot. The flexibility did but the system pretty much remained the same. How do you root for a guy to get “paid” when he is sapping the team that you love of valuable cap space? Should fans of the Dolphins root for players like Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler to get paid when they came nowhere close to matching the dollar amount vs. performance? Setting the team back another year or two?

Sure it’s the Dolphins fault because they paid for it but it’s the players fault for not playing at the same level. There is no excuse for that. If the system changes, sure we understand but when it doesn’t?

Players need to take advantage of a short window in their career and when a player can get paid, fans should root for them to get that contract, but players owe the team and their fans a performance equivalent to that contract and more often than not, they come nowhere close to that level of play.

In a perfect world the NFL would cap salaries by position. If you are a QB you are automatically paid “X” amount each year with increases based on years in the league and on the team regardless of who you are and what you have done. Same for every single other position. Then each team is mandated to spend all of their salary cap. If the cap is $155 million for the year you need to spend it. Obviously you can’t do that with fixed positional spending.

At the conclusion of each season the remaining per team cap number is then handed back to the players based on a performance incentive that each team can negotiate with the players or an incentive based program mandated by the league. Either way the players get the money. In addition, players should get a portion of the money that the league and teams make off of their name.

It’s not a perfect system but it eliminates disparity between players who get paid less and perform better than other players and keeps the teams spending to the cap without question.

Fans do not hope players won’t get paid they hope that their team can get better and that requires cap money and certain commitments by the players. It’s not easy to replace players with free agency each year and the draft is as big of a question mark as anything else but the system is flawed and while some players are making a lot of money most of those players will never fully reach their potential once that deal is signed. And that’s why fans don’t typically root for players to get paid.