What has been the easy opinion to give over the past several weeks with NBA free agency going berserk? “NFL players are way underpaid, do you see what NBA players are getting paid!?” And why the pure fact that NFL players aren’t compensated the way they should be can’t be denied, how we have gotten to this point is often ignored.
What NBA players did, and continue to do, is use their leverage against the teams. More specifically, the top players in the league: LeBron James, Steph Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, go down the line. Players started to become more willing to take one or two-year contracts that pay them more than a long-term deal would. Guys like James, were willing to have a less secure future for a more wealthy currently. This forces owners into positions were they had to set the market. You really think the owners want these short-term, player friendly deals? Of course not, but because of the players using their leverage, it has been done with relatively ease and success. This strategy, along with the over flow of money in the league, has led to the current pay structure which is way more than the NFL.
I will remind you yet again, that the NFL made more than double what the NBA did last year. Why can teams get away with underpaying these guys? Because they have all the leverage and the top players in the league continue to fail to do anything about it. But maybe we are starting to see that change. Kirk Cousins, a top 15 (in my mind top 10) quarterback, used his leverage to earn a one-year deal that pays him one million dollars less than the top paid QB in the NFL even though he isn’t there close to that. However, because Washington would be back to ground zero without him, he was able to use that leverage to earn the franchise tag with the same thing likely being repeated next year.
So now you say, “Nick that is great, but what does this do for the league as whole?” Great question. The market is now set at an unprecedented level for someone of Cousins’ ability which is very good, but not great. Oh and by the way, go look at the top paid quarterbacks in this league right now:
Three out of the five guys on this list used their leverage effectively. Someone who didn’t was Andrew Luck who despite his cap hit, will only make 18 million dollars next year by deciding to go the safe route with a long-term deal. Oh and by the way, Derek Carr made the same mistake by taking a contract that has almost 17 million dollars less in guaranteed dollars than Andrew Luck even though he currently he is the better quarterback. Meanwhile, Carson Palmer, Drew Brees, and Cousins used their leverage to get paid like top five quarterbacks even though they aren’t. Why? Look in the ‘years’ category and notice that they are all one-year deals.
While Carr and Luck will probably make more because of the long-term nature of those deals, Cousins has the potential to make more if he stays healthy on a series of one to two-year deals. And that right there is what makes this so hard for NFL players; the health part. Compared to any other sport, the NFL has the highest risk of your career being over tomorrow if someone lands on your leg, head, or arm the wrong way. While that can happen in the NBA, it is extremely rare.
Oh, as a sidenote, if you don’t think Cousins actually wanted this one-year deal structure, listen to what the President of the Washington Redskins had to say about his contract:
“Kirk has made it clear to me that he prefers on a year-to-year basis. He feels comfortable doing that”
In order for NFL players to get paid closer to what they want, they have to follow in Kirk Cousins footsteps. Will others actually do it to set the standard for other professional football players? Who knows, but one can hope, right?
-Article by Nick Friend