It's time for the NFL to ensure all players possess contracts.

The National Football League likes to project a certain image of itself to the world, like every billion-dollar American company. There are TV ads that celebrate adorable Super Bowl babies and proclaim that football is a family sport. Every season has its share of initiatives with catchy names, like Play 60 and My Cause My Cleats. Roger Goodell, the commissioner, stated in front of the audience, “Black lives matter.”

What’s missing from this story is how the NFL treats its players and the precarious situations it repeatedly places them in. The most recent instance occurred a few days ago when it took a widespread Twitter protest by players to compel the NFL to provide more information about its plans to protect players during the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems absurd that the NFL leadership believed the players might simply show up, but that belief is consistent with how the league consistently treats players. After all, even contracts aren’t guaranteed by the NFL.

Of course, NFL contracts seem secure. Every time they are announced, agents make sure to highlight all the impressive-sounding dollar sums dispersed over a number of years. NFL reporters then broadcast those sums to fans. Except for rookie deals, the fact that NFL contracts after their first year are, in the words of former NFL executive Andrew Brandt, more of a suggestion than a promise, is frequently overshadowed by the big numbers. In name only, they are long-term contracts.

Football, the sport with one of the highest injury risks and the shortest careers, lacks guaranteed contracts, which seems morally repugnant given the league’s estimated USD 15 billion in annual revenue. And that’s before you take into account this year’s pandemic that the league is asking players to play through.

In the most recent collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the players, the owners made the slightest advancement on the subject. However, the language that the owners cling to from the most recent CBA as justification ignores the bigger picture. Guaranteed contracts are not prohibited by law, and the league currently has hundreds of millions of dollars available that they could use to make contracts.

I want every NFL player to have this. In addition to the cornerback, tackle, safety, kicker, and punter, I also want it for the quarterbacks. The inherent value of guaranteed contracts is currently being realized as quarterbacks use their negotiating power to demand higher guarantees and more control over their futures. In professional sports, what’s good for the stars frequently benefits everyone. All players’ wages increased as a result of free agency. In the NBA, the players who came after LeBron James adopted his contract innovations to give themselves more power.

The same factors that so many American employers use to justify paying their workers less are what have prevented the NFL from offering guaranteed contracts: tradition and greed. However, some agreements are encouraging NFL owners to make bigger commitments. Kirk Cousins, the quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, signed a fully guaranteed contract worth USD 84 million in 2018. Russell Wilson, a quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, agreed to a contract extension in 2019 that came with a sizable USD 107 million guarantee. And just a few weeks ago, Patrick Mahomes, the quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, agreed to a 10-year contract extension that is thought to be worth USD 450 million, with USD 141 million guaranteed.

Young Black starting quarterbacks are dominating the league and are set to become free agents soon, including Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens, Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans, and Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys. They are in a position to contribute to the beginning of yet another revolution, one that spans from football Hall of Famer Reggie White’s class-action lawsuit that won football players free agency to Curt Flood giving up his career to force Major League Baseball to grant players free agency to Freeman McNeil’s antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. Black athletes have a history of seeking just and fair compensation for their contributions to the league’s enormous wealth.

First, it’s important to note that the non-guaranteed contract is a long-standing tradition that has a strong management bias and is challenging to end.

This is the reason why so many sports contract experts paused what they were doing to dissect Mahomes’ contract extension. The sheer amount of money that is guaranteed and the degree of control Mahomes will have over his future with the team are exceptional, even though it’s likely that he won’t receive the entire USD 450 million contract that was advertised as worth USD 503 million. The Mahomes deal does demonstrate one route to guaranteed NFL contracts, according to Michael Ginnetti, co-founder and managing editor of the sports contract website Spotrac.

Even though successful quarterbacks can request large contracts, the majority of NFL rosters are made up of players who earn much less. Half of the players union’s members, according to George Atallah, their spokesman, work for minimum wage. Because of this, increasing the minimum wage is still a major issue for discussion when it comes to guaranteed contracts. The most recent CBA, which is valid through the 2030 season, increased the minimum wage once more. In order to get them guaranteed contracts, it is necessary to address a talking point NFL team owners have used for ages: football injuries are too common. All of those guaranteed contracts are too expensive for them.

First of all, this ignores the owners’ presumption that it is acceptable to transfer the financial risks of owning a football team to the players, a group of men who are already taking significant risks by participating in the sport. Years later, when discussing the 1992 lawsuit, Stanford economist Roger Noll, who testified on behalf of the players, said it best: “The absence of guaranteed contracts transfers the risk of injury or deterioration of skills from the team to the player.” Each NFL team transfers the risk of potentially losing money due to injury from the team — for instance, the Green Bay Packers took in more than USD 506 million in revenue last season — back onto the player by upholding a tradition of non-guaranteed contracts.

The owners can afford to pay players more guaranteed money right away, even with the salary cap in place. The salary cap is a bogeyman that teams use to set a ceiling on player salaries in the name of parity (it does not).

The fully funded rule is one tool that does make it more difficult to draught a guaranteed contract. It is an antiquated phrase that has been part of the CBA for many years. Teams are required to deposit guaranteed funds into escrow, less a specific amount. Given the NFL’s abundant resources, it is unnecessary, and other sports leagues manage just fine without it. The league agreed to allow a USD 15 million credit in 2020 that wouldn’t go into escrow as part of the most recent CBA. Depending on whom it is asked, the NFL may or may not need to do away with this. Moreover, the viewers could argue that these teams shouldn’t be required to put millions of dollars in escrow, and teams have a history of using this rule as leverage when negotiating contracts.

Football players are thus placed in the unfortunate situation of having their contracts guaranteed but limited during their early seasons due to the rookie salary scale, and then, once they have the opportunity to test the free-agent market, the fully funded rule enters to cap their earnings once more. NFL players experience wage suppression at every stage of their careers, and their future financial security is far from guaranteed.

Why don’t the players just bring this up in collective bargaining? This is a poisonous talking point that team owners and their management like to make. This option appears to be straightforward, but only if you overlook the NFL players’ decades-long, arduous fight for ownership rights that other athletes in other sports take for granted. The best illustration is free agency, which was granted to NFL players nearly two decades after baseball players and only after a protracted legal battle involving a class-action lawsuit and the decertification of their union.

In order for players to receive fully guaranteed contracts through CBA negotiations, according to football historian Michael Oriard, a renowned professor emeritus at Oregon State University who also played in the NFL and lost his job after striking in 1974, the following scenario would be necessary: A strike would first fail, he claimed, “because the NFL will just dig in, it will not accept this.” Instead, the players would have to attempt to negotiate it, fail, decertify their union, then appear in court and claim, “Hey, look, a contract’s a contract. Since a contract must be mutually binding, it would undoubtedly prevail in court. But this would come at a high cost to the players.

In the interim, chaos would reign. financial disarray And it would benefit both the owners and the players, he said. Football players lack this fundamental labor right, and they could only acquire it at great personal and financial expense to the owners. And it’s simply not going to happen.