Fully-guaranteed contracts could cause problems for teams, players

It’s easy to say that NFL contracts should be fully guaranteed. In theory, every player should want that.

In practice, fully-guaranteed contracts could create plenty of problems, both for teams and for players. Especially for younger players trying either to get a job or to get paid a fair salary.

Assume, for example, that Adrian Peterson’s contract were fully guaranteed through 2017. With $12.75 million committed this year, $14.75 million committed next year, and $16.75 million committed in 2017, the Vikings would have far less flexibility to pay other players under the hard-cap system the NFL uses.

And if Peterson’s skills were to suddenly decline in 2015, the Vikings would be stuck with a guy who is no longer earning his keep, but in turn unable to properly compensate the player(s) who would be carrying the load on his behalf.

The truth is that if the NFL had fully-guaranteed contracts, the Vikings never would have loaded so much money into the last two years of the Peterson deal. The contract either would have been shorter in duration, or it would have paid out far fewer dollars beyond the running back witching hour of his 30th birthday.

Having NFL contracts that aren’t fully guaranteed ensures that the game will remain closer to a meritocracy, with the best players getting the most money and earning the playing time. If/when those players are no longer earning the playing time, they’ll no longer be getting the dollars. Which is how the system currently works.

Already, too many players who don’t deserve to be in the starting lineup up get those spots at least in part to justify their contracts and/or their draft status. Fully-guaranteed contracts would give teams another reason to keep trotting out a player who may no longer be better than his backup, because if the highly-paid player with the guaranteed contract isn’t playing, the fans and the media will have another reason to lobby the owner to fire the guy who signed the player to that contract in the first place.

In a cap-driven system, fully-guaranteed contracts can become as problematic as the pre-2011 system for paying guys taken at the top of the draft. Previously, unproven players who never became contributors sucked millions out of the system that could have gone to players who deserve it. Fully-guaranteed contracts would potentially do the same thing on the back end of a career, allowing a player who isn’t what he used to be to coast to the finish line, collecting checks that otherwise should go to the guys who are getting the job done.

With an ever-growing cap and a spending minimum that keeps pushing higher and higher, the players will get paid. It’s better for the players who are contributing to get paid. Fully-guaranteed contracts could keep that from happening.

With fully-guaranteed contracts, some teams would likely insist on shorter-term deals. And that would give players more flexibility to change teams or to get more money. But it also would make it harder for players to receive a major, multi-year, life-changing contract, because teams won’t want to put huge dollars into a contract if the team has no way out if the player isn’t earning money that could otherwise go to someone who is.

Non-guaranteed contracts give players who have gotten past the guaranteed portion of the contract a clear reason to keep working hard and to keep fending off the guy who is trying to take his job. If every year of the salary is guaranteed, the player at some point could lose his edge — and the team would be paying a lot of money to a guy who simply isn’t earning it.

67 responses to “Fully-guaranteed contracts could cause problems for teams, players

  1. So maybe the answer is to only allow one year contracts, all guaranteed, but highly incentivize renewals through rewards back to teams and players to re-sign so you limit the churn of players.

  2. If you like competition & good players getting the best pay, guaranteed contracts are a bad thing. Especially in a salary cap league. In baseball, whatever. But it sucks in basketball & hockey. Plenty of guys get huge paydays & then tank.

    The only argument you really need against guaranteed contracts is Albert Haynesworth. Although it would put the onus on teams to do some homework & not reward lazy players with huge contracts.

  3. And this is why a player has every right to hold out if his play exceeds his contract. Essentially almost every player is one a year to year deal (maybe a bit more with signing bonus money).

    If the team can cut him at anytime for any reason, then he should maximize his value at every turn. Especially RB’s as they have the shortest shelf-life.

    What’s good for the goose…

  4. Completely agree. The system works the way it is for the best interest of the fans and owners. It works for players that are good. It doesn’t work for players that aren’t good. It is only unfair to players that outperform their rookie contracts. NFL players are worth a lot of money because of how well they can perform, when they no longer can perform, they’re no longer worth a lot of money. It is that simple. Playing professional sports (especially football) should not be seen as a career. If a player is lucky enough to avoid injuries and good enough to have a long career, that is great but he shouldn’t assume that his NFL playing days will be enough to support him for the rest of his life. It should be seen as a way to make a lot of money quickly and make as much as possible before moving on to the players next stage of life.

  5. Guaranteed contracts in conjunction with a salary cap have ruined MLB, the NBA, and the NHL. One mistake can hold you back for years. The NFL has it right. There is no need to change it no matter how much AP whines about it.

  6. Guaranteed contracts are ruining baseball

    I’d rather see them end long term contracts.

    Let em get paid for what they did the previous year PERIOD

    You have a great year, you get paid a lot.

    You have a bad year, well the next year’s pay reflects it.

  7. Well written piece. With a salary cap in place, gauranteed contracts would negatively affect the quality of the game. Parity is what makes the NFL the best sport to watch. Look at MLB. Small market teams rely on locking up star players. And when their performance drops off, their salaries are an albatross around their neck. Same teams go to the playoffs every year. Which sucks for 20 or so cities.

  8. One word:

    A-Rod.

    His ridiculous contract has been an anchor on three teams now. That is why you don’t go fully guaranteed.

  9. Peterson doesn’t give a crap about players, he only cares about one player. He knows that he is going to be cut at the end of this next year, and NO other team is going to give him anything close to what was on the table for those last years. That is where all of this is coming from. He doesn’t care about all the other players, he cares about himself. If he doesn’t like it, he should take up baseball.

  10. Guaranteed contracts would mean saying goodbye to large signing bonuses. The signing bonus is guaranteed. That is the compromise. These players always seem to forget about that signing bonus they got in year 1 and 2 when it’s year 5 and they claim to be underpaid.

    Guaranteed contracts would make jobs less secure as well. Most players over 30 would probably be signing 1 and 2 year contracts.

    No way guys like Flacco, Dalton and Tanneyhill are getting huge contacts if they have to be guaranteed. They got those because their teams are hoping they get better. None were proven when given big money.

  11. harveyredman says:
    May 29, 2015 10:06 AM
    And this is why a player has every right to hold out if his play exceeds his contract. Essentially almost every player is one a year to year deal (maybe a bit more with signing bonus money).

    If the team can cut him at anytime for any reason, then he should maximize his value at every turn. Especially RB’s as they have the shortest shelf-life.

    What’s good for the goose…
    __________________________________

    The problem with that is most players are pretty replaceable.

    “You’re not happy getting $6M and want $8M? Okay, lets see how a rookie getting $675K plays first…oh it’s more or less the same?

    Yeah, you can see yourself out.”

  12. 1) Fully-guaranteed contracts may not be the answer but neither is a “contract” that 1 party can rip up when they feel like it but the other party needs to adhere to. That was the crux of Adrian Peterson’s diatribe.
    2) If fully-guaranteeing contracts leads to smaller (pay wise) contracts, then that means that the contracts now reflect the true value of the contracts. Current contracts do not reflect actual value.

    As mentioned by posters above, 1 year or similar smaller fully guaranteed contracts may be the best solution.

  13. Guaranteed contracts would be good for certain individuals, and bad for everyone else. Fans, teams, you name it. If you ask me they’re horrible. There is so much dead weight sloth-ing around the NBA it isn’t funny. The regular season of the NBA is less intense than a pickup game at the park. The players run the joint, and the joint stinks until the playoffs. They don’t care and they don’t have to.

    Anyways, it is guaranteed that NFL teams pay players a certain percentage of the cap. So who are we crying for exactly? If you can’t play, you’re gone. I can relate to that. Sounds like my career. Somebody out there will earn the money, and I have to perform if I want that person to be me.

  14. Well it’s not very efficient for everybody associated with the business of the game if players that bust out early or due to off-field concerns are walking away with substantial amounts beyond what their teams intended for them to receive in exchange for their services. That just limits the pool for those that perform well and have stronger cases for deserving more pay.

  15. mikeyhigs says:
    May 29, 2015 10:16 AM

    Guaranteed contracts in conjunction with a salary cap have ruined MLB, the NBA, and the NHL.

    ———————-

    MLB doesn’t have a salary cap, but rather a luxury tax which the big market teams have no problem paying since they make billions off the regional TV contracts and more big-dollar free agents = higher ratings = windfall profits for the club.

  16. And if Peterson’s skills were to suddenly decline in 2015, the Vikings would be stuck with a guy who is no longer earning his keep, but in turn unable to properly compensate the player(s) who would be carrying the load on his behalf.
    —————
    So, basically it would be like the MLB and NBA?

  17. Best decision the NFL has ever done is not have guarantee contracts, which ruins other leagues like the NBA, MLB.

  18. Guaranteed base salary with incentives the rest of the way. You want a full $16 mill this year? You have to get to the Pro Bowl and/or have a certain amount of yards. If a player sucks…doc his pay. Gives him incentive to pick it up.

  19. The players union would love guaranteed contracts. They could just sit back and collect dues.

  20. Your position would be validated by applying these standards to Head Coaches and General Managers as well as players. Otherwise… What Peterson was arguing (poorly) for is quid pro quo, which should be the standard for any contractual arrangement.

  21. Just make the max contract length 2 years and a max limit on each player position. QB Max is 10mil with incentives for TD and passer rating. DE max would be 9mil with incentives for sacks/fumbles/TFL..
    This would allow the players to max their potential and a team wouldn’t be crippled with an flash in the pan player.

  22. The NBA, MLB and NHL have no problem paying contracts. This sounds like something the NFL would have written.

  23. Can you imagine an NFL where a team like Washington signs a guy to a huge money deal, realizes it’s a mistake, and then has to trade a draft pick and/or cash considerations, along with the player, to a non-contender like Cleveland, just to keep the books clear?

    Oh right, that’s how the NBA works.

  24. I don’t get the people who argue that it is unfair for the player to have to honor his contract while the team can cut him. No team is going to cut a player who is worth his contract. It is the guys who can’t or won’t play up to the money that are affected. Guaranteed contracts are legal in the NFL. It’s just that no team is willing to bet their future on a guy like AP, who gets himself in trouble and is a malcontent in any case. The Vikings should cut him on the last day before the season and then we’ll see how many teams will step up for $12.75 mil.

  25. People forget that in the early days of free agency, teams did offer a few guaranteed contracts. It worked out great for Pierce Holt, not so great for the Falcons.

    Teams are following the Contracts they signed, which includes the CBA that was negotiated by the NFLPA. The NFLPA has a chance to revise the part of the CBA with each new CBA that is agreed upon.

    That doesn’t mean the situation is fair, but it is the terms that the NFLPA continues to ratify!

  26. This would cause a short term decrease in salaries, but look at baseball. Teams will still over pay in both years and dollars for the stars.

  27. randomcommenter says:
    May 29, 2015 10:23 AM
    Guaranteed contracts would mean saying goodbye to large signing bonuses. The signing bonus is guaranteed. That is the compromise. These players always seem to forget about that signing bonus they got in year 1 and 2 when it’s year 5 and they claim to be underpaid.
    ==========================================

    The last sentence hits it on the nose. Maurice Jones Drew and Revis are the prime examples of not understanding this very simple math. Revis would get paid $16 million the first two years and then whine he was woefully underpaid the last few years when the salary was $8 million.

  28. The system works just fine. AP just wants more of a guarantee before he plays this year, because his skills may have diminished after a year away from the game.

    in 2011, no on placed a gun to his head when Peterson AGREED to a contract extension with the Vikings that includes $36 million in guaranteed money and as much as $100 million over the seven years if he plays that long with Minnesota. Peterson will received $40 million over the first three years of the deal and the cap hit was spread out so the Vikings could build a team.

    No sympathy for this child beater. He should be in jail, not about to make $13 Million

  29. I don’t like the idea of having the same base salary for everyone and then paying bonuses based on incentives. Guys would be going all out to maximize their personal stats rather than doing what’s best for the team.

  30. Why isn’t there more concern about recycling Head Coaches and General Managers? If the risk of poor performance is a factor in non-guaranteed contracts, there are many coaches and general managers who should never be seen or heard from again. Also, an underperforming HC or GM can do a lot more damage to a team/organization than one player.

  31. Contracts should be guaranteed, but only count against the cap if the player is on the roster.

    Teams could cut bait if a player is not living up to their deal and pay them anyway, just like in baseball. But contracts and teams would still have to be constructed under a cap system.

  32. Goodell’s contract appears to not only be fully guaranteed, but also impervious to performance requirements, personal behavior, basic competency, and backed by the full faith and credit of Old Scratch hisself.

  33. I mostly agree with the current system. As someone above mentioned, players should have the right to hold out if he feels he deserves more money. Every time a player holds out for money, people argue it’s his fault for agreeing to contract in the first place. Well the system favors the owners a little too much.

    Why should a team have the option to cut a player to save money but a player who out performs his contract can’t renogiate his contract to get more money?

  34. Maybe if you don’t like the the way your contract looks on the tail end maybe have your agent work something out with the team…. and if they don’t make the changes that you desire, then don’t sign it….. there were probably other teams out there, that would have been glad to try to land AP and give him what he wanted, before he and Minnesota worked out that deal.

  35. a contract by definition is a legally enforceable agreement between at least 2 parties, so Adrian it appears you’re misunderstood because the team can’t just decide not to honor a contract they signed

    you (or your agent) knew exactly how much $ was guaranteed to you at the time of signing and that the last 2 years of this deal (like most long term NFL contracts) wont be played out

    you chose to accept that deal and were paid handsomely for it, so stop complaining

  36. Sorry players the NFL is a “What have you done for me lately” league. The winning teams need players to perform to keep seats in stadiums filled and NFL gear selling.

    There are too many examples of players who get the “Big” contract with huge up front money or years of guaranteed money and then the team is in salary cap hell with a “Cutler”, “Haynesworth” or “CJ2K” getting paid to play at a mediocre level at best.

    I hope for the day that contracts to all players are a league minimum with bonus and escalators for performance playing. Set a touchdown to interception percentage against QB’s and make them earn it. Receiver’s better catch those easy balls and stretch for those harder ones cause your money depends on it. Running backs better step it up and hit that gap or no cash. Lineman protecting that QB will be getting docked for sacks and hit hard for letting someone thru the line unabated to the QB.

    On a final note ALL player contracts should have a “Personal Conduct Policy” that ends their career for beating women or children no matter what they plead out to even ONCE, DUI offenders get one more chance then gone and you robbers, rapists and criminals in NFL uniforms hit the street.

    It is a privilege to play in the NFL not a right and if a player doesn’t like that they can always get out there in the job market using that degree….and no I don’t want to upsize that value meal Adrian Peterson…..STOP HITTING CHILDREN!

  37. The contracts are like contracts in every business, they protect the people paying the contract more than the people earning the contract.

    I don’t forsee a time when the owners will cede control to the players. How many of you would sign a contract with a vendor that says that they don’t have to perform but you still have to pay them? Not many.

  38. So the teams that give out huge guaranteed contracts that players tank on would do poorly and the teams that judged talent wisely and gave out sensible contracts would do well.

    Winning is winning and the cap is the cap whether you guarantee contracts or not. The teams don’t have guns to their heads.

  39. Mike, I think you miss the point a little. Adrian was saying, if the team and can cut bait and run anytime they feel like, a player should have the same right. If a team can lock a player into 3, 4, 5 years, (however long the contract) giving that player no option in that time, then the team needs to be on the hook as much as he is. Otherwise, let the contract be voidable on both ends, thereby no one has an upper hand at the table. Maybe the player, after a year in the system has had enough of a particular coach or locker room culture and wants to leave. He should be able to leave without hindrance since the teams can just as easily cut him for the same reasons

  40. Shh, don’t tell Moron Peterson that as he wouldn’t understand. I am sure in AP’s mind, players should get huge guaranteed multi year deals and then be able to bitch and moan within a year or two looking for a rise BUT they should never be required to take a paycut if their performance worsens. In Moron Peterson’s mind, payers should have everything work their way with no downside and knowing they can phone it in since they’re going to get paid no matter what. Given how today’s athlete is so selfish, clueless and acts so entitled, do people actually think all these players will give their all once they got a big guaranteed contract?

    This is the type of idiocy you get from people who have never worked a real job and by people who have been brainwashed by unions. I am all for employees being treated fairly but there has to be give and take rather than employees getting to run everything and that only negatives and risk should be for employers/owners/management.

  41. all of the major sports pay their talent roughly 50% of revenues, and NFL, despite its “one way” contracts and absence of fully guaranteed deals, is one of them. The upside, it rewards continued performance. You can get paid after 3 years instead of 6 in baseball. Imagine baseball with team revenue sharing and salary cap and all of these bad long term deals for players like Josh Hamilton or Ryan Howard (or Stoudemire in the NBA) are siphoning away the earning potential for young stars. The pies are all roughly the same in pro sports, the NFL gives players the quickest path and most rewarding path to backing it up on the field.

  42. Mlb and nba are far worse than NFL in part because of their guaranteed contracts. It stifles rebuilding enormously. Besides being more exciting to watch, Nfls biggest plus is its ability to generate hope each off season that any team can go from worst to first. None of the other sports can do that

  43. Desperate teams sign players to long term contracts with large guarantees (e.g., Jets, Dolphins).

    Some players live up to the expectations and others don’t.

    Teams with young quarterbacks still on their rookie deal are facing salary cap and guaranteed contract hell. We all saw what happened to the Ravens when they had to sign Flacco. The Seahawks and Colts will feel that same sting soon. I expect the Colts are feeling the pressure to win now and won’t. Those blowouts losses were not aberrations. Belichick taught the rest of the league how to beat the Colts and Bill O’Brian was watching and listening.

  44. if it ain’t broke don’t fix, keep it the way it is but the NFL needs to put a clause in all contracts that if your are arrested and charged for a felony crime (regardless the outcome) your contracted is void and you are suspended for two seasons and then may only resign with the team you were on at time of incident unless they pass.

  45. “If NFL was fair all players would get the same contract. Bonuses based on performance.”
    =================================
    And who would determine what performance gets what pay? The team? The league? The NFLPA? Goodell? The next collective bargaining agreement? Neither side has enough lawyers for the chaos that would ensue.

  46. MLB and the NBA are 100x better than the NFL come playoff time.

    With MLB, The game can change on every pitch. There is pressure on every pitch.

    What do u see in the NFL, 3 and 13 a run up the middle. Gee thats exciting.

    NBA is so much better than the NFL. Hell 3 of the 4 first round playoff games in the NFL were unwatchable.

    Gimme MLB and NBA over the NFL anyday of the week.. imagine that those 2 leagues reward the players not suspend them every chance they get like the NFL.

  47. A player declining during a contract is no different than a team declining during the contract with an all pro player stuck on a crappy team. I don’t feel sorry for the players, but let’s be real about the situation on both sides. These owners are never threatened with their livelihood like this. Just sayin

  48. As a fan of a fiscally responsible team, I’d like to see a combination of guaranteed/non-guaranteed money on contracts. And not the current accelerated bonus phantom guarantees.

    First, you know your guy will be there for ie 50% of the years he signed for and secondly, poorly run teams that sign guys to terrible deals are tethered to the player for so much time that they can’t keep taking the dead money hit and scooping up the next player on the FA market, which drives up the price for teams that max their cap by extending home grown talent.

  49. ” NFLs biggest plus is its ability to generate hope each off season that any team can go from worst to first. None of the other sports can do that”

    The NFL has tried to manufacture parity but it hasn’t really worked. The cream still rises to the top, so Belichick and Brady have been to the super bowl 6 times and the AFCCG 9 times in 14 years (including the year Brady was out the whole year with an injury). And that’s the real reason why the NFL went after the Patriots in a ginned up Deflategate case. Taking away picks, changing rules to help other teams, and letting other owners tamper with their players wasn’t working. They needed to get Brady off of the field (just like Pollard did). Goodell is no better than Tanya Harding.

  50. Id like to see a soft cap for teams to be able to utilize for home grown talent, essentially allowing teams to match market offers at a discounted cap hit.

    This would reward teams that draft and develop well and reduce the decision making of which starting OL to keep.

  51. Anyone saying a player should be able to up and leave his team is missing the reality that their contracts are basically with the NFL, not that specific team.

    Adrian can choose to “cut” the Vikings (NFL).
    Retire, quit, cut, leave. Whatever you want to call it.

    He could then choose a different employer. Canadian Football League… etc.

    But, if he wants to continue to work for the NFL, he has to honor his contract with the NFL by playing for the team that has his rights.

    Unless that team chooses to cut him and give up the rights to that player. Then he may choose a new team.

  52. trashymenace says:
    May 29, 2015 12:31 PM
    Anyone saying a player should be able to up and leave his team is missing the reality that their contracts are basically with the NFL, not that specific team.

    __________________
    I don’t think anyone is missing that point all. At least what I am saying is that It shouldn’t be that way. The NFL isn’t cutting the player. The team is. So if the team has the latitude of cutting a player in year 3 of a 5 year deal, in all fairness, the player should be able to cut the team in year 3 of a 5 year deal and go to whichever team he wants and will sign him. I know this wouldnt make fans happy but fair is fair. The current system is heavily in favor of the teams and the NFL.

  53. while not having guaranteed contracts is good for fans and owners and the game in general, to argue that its good for players is much less apparent, and appears to merely parrot the nfl management council line.

  54. Silliest article I have ever read. It assumes that players would get the same contracts if they were fully guaranteed. Everybody would be on a year to year contract with team options for extended years.

  55. I’d say guarantee the contracts…under the following conditions-

    The pay will be reduced if the outlined expectations are not achieved (starting lineup by such/such date).

    The pay will be reduced in the event of injury and player cannot play.

    The pay will be suspended in the event of a incident involving the player in a non-football action causing the player to miss time.

    Seriously….the contracts ALREADY are guaranteed. The guarantee is the “guaranteed money”. The rest is optional. If a player under performs, and a club releases them…so be it.

    Peterson, if you don’t like your contract, you shouldn’t have signed it in the first place.

  56. While I’m sure that nobody wants to see NFL contracts end up like NHL, NBA, or MLB contracts, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Just because the other leagues have given way too much power to the players instead of the owners, that doesn’t mean the NFL system where the owners have all the power is “good”. It’s just not “as bad” as the others (at least from a fan perspective)

    Under the current system, if a player overperforms he has zero leverage and the team reaps all of the benefit.
    If a player underperforms, he is cut or forced to take a pay reduction. That hardly seems equitable to me.

    NFL players also suffer injuries at a much higher rate than the other sports leagues, possibly greater than the other 3 combined. Very often it is these non-disabling but skill-diminishing injuries that put players in these situations where they are forced to quit or take a pay reduction. At the very least, the contracts should be guaranteed against this type of situation (perhaps through an insurance mechanism).

  57. armyravensterpsstrong says:
    May 29, 2015 11:07 AM

    My job isn’t fully guaranteed.

    ———————————————————–

    Yes BUT, you’re allowed to quit that job whenever you want and go to work for whomever you choose. A job that isn’t guaranteed should also not be mandatory.

  58. If you’re worried about a player deliberately tanking after he gets his contract, structure his deal around incentive bonuses. Or better still … sign someone else!

    What’s wrong with short-term contracts that are guaranteed? Isn’t that more honest and above board than a long term contract the team has no intention of honoring? It’s dishonest to sign a player to a six year deal, knowing that you’re probably going to dump him after three. There’s a lot of that going around.

    If you don’t want pay an older player big bucks, then don’t write a contract saying you’re going to pay him big bucks when he gets old. But if you want the privilege of tying up a player for an extended period, then you need to pay him everything you promise.

  59. This reminds me of the Nick Fairley situation in Detroit. Last year, in his contract year, the Lions had to bench Fairley to get him up off his butt. That motivated him to play.

    Thankfully, the Lions had the good sense not to expect him to be motivated in after he signed a long term deal. The Rams signed him to a 1 year “prove it” deal. If he plays well, he’ll be paid like a superstar. If he doesn’t … he’s gone.

  60. The NFL should change the cap rules to where cut players’ don’t count against the salary cap…teams could then give out more guaranteed money, it wouldn’t necessarily count against their cap if the player is no longer valuable at the back end of the contract and the team wants to cut them, and it will leave more cap space for younger, better players.

  61. anonymousdolfan says:
    May 29, 2015 6:08 PM
    armyravensterpsstrong says:
    May 29, 2015 11:07 AM

    My job isn’t fully guaranteed.

    ———————————————————–

    Yes BUT, you’re allowed to quit that job whenever you want and go to work for whomever you choose. A job that isn’t guaranteed should also not be mandatory.

    ————————————————————–

    Thats not actually true. In my job, im not allowed to work for a competitor because i signed a CONTRACT saying such. To add to this, Peterson can quit and get hired at walmart, mccdonalds, or anywhere else that is not a competutor to the vikings.

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