Gentleman,I am 100% behind the fight for the rihgts of players from years past being remunerated with appropriate benefits (including extended health insurance and increased pensions) However, I don’t believe this is the way to get it done. We (retired and current veteran NFL players) were all rookies at one point in time. My question to everyone is “was there a rookie salary cap when you were drafted, or signed as a free agent?” The answer is an obvious NO! The other question is “did you and/or your agent negotiate the highest level contract you could get monetarily at that time?” Therein, I’m sure the answer is YES! Everyone who enters the NFL does so knowing that there are many intrinsic risks to playing the sport of football. Throughout the years one of the only protections any of us has had against these risks has been the singular area of guaranteed benefit we knew we would receive upon signing our “contracts:” that being whatever signing bonuses or guaranteed money we were able to negotiate. Nothing else is promised to us within the mythical contracts that we signed to play in the National Football League. I use the term mythical because we do not have bilaterally guaranteed contracts as the other professional sports leagues do. The papers we agree to sign as National Football League players would be termed better as Agreements IF! In other words, you will receive whatever you were able to negotiate IF the team feels you have performed up to the potential of your draft position; IF you don’t get hurt; IF your skills don’t wane too quickly; IF you don’t engage in conduct deemed detrimental to the league (from as simple as taking weight-loss pills to as controversial as dog-fighting); IF no one comes along whom the team evaluates as better than you are at your job; IF you’re still considered worthy of your weekly check each Tuesday at 4PM EST during the season; etc. These unilateral deals are heavily loaded in the favor of NFL teams for the exact purpose for which the current Rookie Salary Cap proposal is purposed: To mitigate the potential economic damages of a mistake with a player signing.As a player who left the game having suffered several of the injuries for which I knew I was at risk when I first donned the shoulder pads and helmet as a bright-eyed 5 year old, I’m here to say that a Rookie Salary cap is NOT the answer to the failure of the NFL owners to take care of their past employees. For these are the men who set the groundwork to make the industry what it is today… During my NFL career I persevered through a knee reconstruction (ACL, MCL, and meniscus); a broken leg; many ankle sprains; chronic hamstring pulls; several (unreported) concussions; and finally a fracture to my C5 & C6 vertebrae that forced me to retire under the ridiculously inferior Line-of-duty disability benefit. My signing bonus as a 6th Round draft pick (#156 overall) in the 1993 draft was $36,000. The salaries that followed for the next four years were $100,000; $135,000; $178,000; and $215,000 respectively. Therein, besides my share of playoff money during my rookie year in which I was able to enjoy a trip with the Kansas City Chiefs to the AFC Championship game, that signing bonus was the largest single check that I received. In the 2009 NFL Rookie Draft the equivalent pick (#156) signed a deal for 4-years that totaled $1.93Million; with a $180,600 signing bonus. This increase would amount to about a 10.5% APY over the 16-year period. Now, with the increases in league revenue being exponential I’d venture to say that this rise in bonus money is appropriate. There are a number of factors that went into why I didn’t get MY big payday. But the primary one that makes the biggest difference is that I suffered that knee injury requiring reconstruction during my second year in the league. Prior to that injury I had prototypical speed and explosion to go along with my unique 6’3” and 220lb. frame. Prior to the draft I had some of the best college production and measurables for the safety position. But choosing to go to Howard University instead of a football powerhouse was enough to raise doubts; or at least provide excuses. That is until of course I got on the football fields in the NFL and proved to be quite the talent. So much so that just prior to the injury I had taken over the starting Strong Safety duties going into the first game of the 1994 season. However, wouldn’t you know that the career changing play occurred on the opening kickoff and I never got to enjoy the fruits of the labor that had earned me that starting job. This, my friends, gives me perspective that the young men who are able to get larger contracts up front HAVE earned the rihgts to them just as we did; because they have the same intrinsic risk of it all ending any day on any play that we did as well. I was able to play on as a journeyman for several more seasons and observe guys careers end before mine who were drafted before me; while watching others drafted after me go on and play extended careers while enjoying the rewards of a “Big” contract or two. I applaud the men who were able to set themselves up to be drafted higher than me; as well as the ones who were able to overcome the odds from lower entry levels. To me this speaks of how the chips fall in such a dangerous sport. Not whether or not someone is more deserving.I certainly don’t understand how we would use the other sports leagues as a barometer for instituting a Rookie Salary Cap; unless we’re going to seriously consider, and ask for, the other “benefits” of their contracts. The most important being that these ARE actually contracts that the owners must adhere to whether or not the player pans out to be whom/what they expected him to be. I share this facetiously; as I know it will never happen under the current “system.” The NFL is the ultimate “Good Ol’ Boy” network made up of many owners, administrators, coaches, and scouts who have never even put on a football uniform at a high level. Not to mention having a sense of relativity to the demands of doing it in the National Football League. So the current way of doing business with non-guaranteed contracts allows them to continue on without the level of practical expertise employed by the other sports leagues (i.e. the NBA, MLB, and NHL). It’s unlikely that you will find a coach or scout in either of these leagues who hasn’t played his relative sport at a high level. Conversely, in the NFL, it’s unlikely to find one who has. So in order for the NFL to continue the system of hiring brothers, sons, friends, and friends of friends, they need the contingency of the non-guaranteed contract to make up for their inability to evaluate and/or develop talent properly.We have been hoodwinked into fighting our war on the wrong battle fields. A few years back I was commissioned to speak to football players at several colleges on the importance of taking advantage of their opportunity for an education; and how important it would be to their futures. There were statistics gathered during my research that opened my eyes to just how rare and special a place NFL veterans hold in the football annals. Additionally they serve as the catalysts for the passion with which I share this post. The information uncovered was as follows: Of the 20+ million kids playing on the youth fields annually, only 1.2 million make it to high school football. Of this number, only 54,000 make it to college football. And from this group of athletes, only 1,800 grace the NFL fields annually. Though a startling sifting of the talent pool, these numbers were not the most enlightening to me. The ones that stuck out the most were that of the 15,000 men who had played in the NFL over the past 20 years only 631 did so for more than 3 seasons. So it is extremely important that players are able to have guarantees in their first contracts, as chances are they won’t get another one. This whole situation appears to me like we (NFL players current and past) are once again being treated like “dumb jocks” and pitted against each other to fight on different sides of what should be the same argument: BETTER BENEFITS FOR US ALL. However, we are allowing wealthy businessmen who have made hundreds of millions of dollars (and in some cases billions) to defer the responsibility of taking care of their legacy employees by taking away from their current ones. Did anyone bother to ask how much of an increase the owners have enjoyed over those years? It is not the responsibility of rookies to give up the same opportunity we had to negotiate the best deals just because WE realize that we were represented poorly on the other side of the negotiating table (by past players association leadership). The deal we need to negotiate is between us and the billionaire owners; not us and the current millionaire athletes. When we are able to gather all our troops on the appropriate side of this battle, I promise you that the scales will then be tilted to win the war.God Bless,TimPhil 4:13
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