When free agency opened last week, several teams immediately began throwing money around as if they printed it themselves. While the top names were getting paid however, others were and have been in recent years, left by the wayside.
The Ringer’s Kevin Clark published an interesting expose on the subject on Thursday, illustrating the wage gap that exists in the NFL, digging into why it exists; discussing how, for many, the fear of the “Not For Long” adage ringing true is enough for some players to take less than they are actually worth.
According to former agent Joel Corry, franchises started inserting per-game bonuses for frequently injured players around 2001. Since then, they have begun to do it more and more. The teams put the onus onto the players to stay healthy, financially incentivising something that the players really don’t have much control over.
“NFL contracts allocate the most risk to the player of any sport,” said former Green Bay Packers vice president Andrew Brandt, who now works for ESPN.
One player that was faced with this reality was former Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman. Running back has emerged as perhaps the most devalued position. The position in which the changing dynamic between team and players might be most apparent.
After leading the team in rushing en route to a victory in Super Bowl 50, Hillman took a deal worth $2 million to remain in Denver, only to be released prior to the start of the season. Two weeks in, he signed with the Minnesota Vikings for the league minimum; a deal that had an “injury split,” meaning a trip to injured reserve could cost him six figures.
“[Teams] are going to try to keep their money in their pockets as much as possible,” Hillman told Clark. “The league is cheap, man. And you kind of learn they don’t really take care of you like that.”
Hillman was claimed by the San Diego Chargers after being waived by the Vikings. He believes more should be done in the CBA to protect veterans looking for another shot.
“There are lots of things you’d want to change about the CBA,” Hillman said. “But for me, it’s definitely how they handle players out of the league, trying to get another [team]. I can’t complain about that because I got picked up, but just hearing how other players struggle to get back in, or look to the [National Football League Players Association] for help, it just sucks to see your friends go through it.”