The moment Giancarlo Stanton put pen to paper (2015) on his enormous 13-year, $325 million contract with the Miami Marlins, his financial future was set. That’s because Stanton, now with the New York Yankees, knew that 12 of the 13 years were fully guaranteed.
That means if he tears both Achilles tendons on the baseball diamond and never plays again, he will have had no less than $300M direct deposited into his bank account by 2028. (The final season is a club option at $25 million.)
Similarly, when James Harden inked a six-year, $228 million extension with the Houston Rockets, he is entitled to every cent owed to him. Harden’s contract also features an player option during the final season, meaning he controls whether he wants to collect on the final year, or opt-out to become a free agent.
In the NFL, big number contracts are often doled out and make SportsCenter breaking news. The difference in, the large contract numbers often reported are nothing more than fools’ gold.
When the Carolina Panthers’ QB Cam Newton signed a five-year, $104 million contract in 2015, only $60 million was guaranteed. That means less than 58 percent of his salary was guaranteed. Pittsburgh Steelers’ WR Antonio Brown, generally regarded as the best receiver in the league, signed a four-year, $68 million extension in 2017. Only $19 million was guaranteed, a lowly 27.9 percent.
For some reason, non-guaranteed contracts in the NFL have been always accepted. Even though football is the most physically taxing major sport in America, the money promised today will not necessarily be paid tomorrow. When players become injured or less-productive, they are often cut with little-to-no financial consequence to the team. When we ask why, people usually shrug and say, “Just because.”
It’s as if NFL contracts were like potato chips. Sure a new family bag takes up the entire back seat. But once you get home and open it, you’re elbow deep in the bag before you reach the chips.
After years of watching their MLB and NBA counterparts collect full bags, it seems that the NFL is coming around.
First, the Minnesota Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract. The reverberation around the league was seismic.
Seattle Seahawks’ wide receiver Doug Baldwin tweeted, “Kirk Cousins is a hero for all the young players that will follow after him. Now we need more players to bet on themselves until fully guaranteed contracts are the norm and not the exception.”
Most people realized that Cousins’ contract would indeed be an exception and not the norm, yet it still seemed to push teams in the right direction when it comes to taking care of players.
Tuesday, Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley signed a four-year, $60 million extension with $45 million guaranteed. That means 75 percent of his deal is guaranteed money. Considering the high rates of concussions, serious injuries and CTE risk, Gurley and his agents were smart to demand his paper come F.D.I.C. R.A.M.S. insured.
His deal is basically a four-year deal, with the fourth being a club option. That’s more in line with what professional basketball and baseball players have been receiving for a long time.
The Rams also signed WR Brandin Cooks to a five year, $81 million contract with $50 million guaranteed (61.7 percent).
The franchise is still working to sign Aaron Donald to a long-term extension. Expect his team to demand a fully- or mostly-guaranteed contract as well.
Right now, the trend of guaranteed money will likely be reserved for star-caliber players. However, the more common it becomes with stars, the more likely it will become a reality for the everyday players as well.
Furthermore, the deals by Cousins and Gurley are already emboldening players to speak out and organize for more guaranteed money during the collective bargaining process.
Los Angeles Chargers OT and NFLPA Executive Committee member Russell Okung is working hard to rally the troops.
“It’s up to us, the players, to decide if we want league ownership to finally respect us as partners,” Okung tweeted. “Truth is, there is NOTHING preventing agents from negotiating a fully guaranteed salary for an NFL player (see Kirk Cousins deal).”
Okung made a long thread explaining why and how the players should fight to earn fully-guaranteed contracts. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) ends after the 2020 season. According to SBNation, the NFLPA is warning players to start saving now to prepare for a lockout in 2021.
Considering how the NFL has treated its players in the wake of the kneeling saga, there should be no surprise that the NFLPA is prepared to fight tooth and nail for everything. Hopefully the players will stand together and fight for their worth.
The NFL generates a ton of money. It is due time the players who put their bodies on the line every Sunday earn their fair share.
Follow Ishmael and In the Clutch on Twitter @ishcreates.