If the NFL moves a franchise to London, as Commissioner Roger Goodell sees as a future possibility, that team may be at a decided disadvantage when it comes to free agency.
Although NFL free agents typically go to the team that offers the most money, Bengals offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth, the team’s union representative, says he wouldn’t go to London. And he thinks a lot of other players feel the same way.
“I would hope that I was financially able to quit,” Whitworth told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “That’s what I would hope because if I was, my papers would be the first one in. . . . I don’t see any players that would enjoy that. Sure, you may find a handful of guys that say, ‘Oh hey, that’d be cool,’ but the rest of them wouldn’t.”
Quitting is an extreme reaction, and if an NFL team moved to London, the vast majority of players would suck it up and go, even if they wouldn’t like it. But that London team might have to overpay to convince free agents to uproot their lives and go live across the Atlantic, especially considering the higher tax rates that high-income earners pay in the United Kingdom. And overpaying for free agents isn’t a good way for a team to build a strong roster. So the London team could be at a competitive disadvantage.
There are ways that the NFL could mitigate those issues. A London team could be given extra salary cap space to compensate for the higher tax rates, or players could be given relocation stipends to pay the costs of moving to another country. Or if the Jacksonville Jaguars became the London Jaguars, they could keep a facility in Jacksonville and continue to do offseason work and training camp there, and even use a Jacksonville practice facility during the regular season so they wouldn’t have to fly back to London when they have back-to-back road games in the U.S.
But the whole point of the NFL going to London would be to build a solid fan base in England, and that’s going to be a lot harder to do if everyone on the London team treats going to London like a chore. The NFL doesn’t want to come across like a bunch of greedy Americans who will gladly take the British fans’ Pounds but don’t want to be a part of their community.
The bottom line is that there are a lot of potential obstacles to moving an NFL team to Europe. And a big one is that a lot of players wouldn’t want to go.