Atallah points to “basic math” in explaining difference between NFL and NBA contracts

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With a slew of NBA players (most of whom aren’t household — or even recognizable — names) making millions over the past week, plenty of chatter has emerged regarding the differences between NBA and NFL player compensation.

PFT explained the differences over the weekend. NFLPA spokesman George Atallah, appearing on Wednesday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio (with Jon Stashower sitting in for the normal host, whose name is neither household nor recognizable), explained that the differences primarily flow from roster size.

“I think frankly that’s the end of the discussion right there,” Atallah said. “It’s a good opportunity when these types of issues come up and that media want to talk about it, especially in the offseason, to describe some of the nuances but it’s also good to describe just straight up economics. One business has fifty-three employees; it’s the NFL. One business has fifteen employees per team, and that’s the NBA. So by definition the smaller business is going to be able to pay their employees more money per employee than the bigger business is . . . . I wish more of the certain members of the sports media would just do some basic math before they popped off.”

Here’s the basic math, as explained in Saturday’s article: With the NFL’s salary cap at $155.27 million and the NBA’s at $94 million, the average cap space available per player is $2.92 million for the NFL, and it’s $6.26 million for the NBA. So all NBA contracts are going to be larger, and there’s going to be even more money available to pay the best players in the sport.

So why and how did this even become an issue? Atallah sees it as a natural consequence of players choosing to use their voices, and of some echoing those voices without explaining the basic differences between the sports.

“I think players react on social media [and] the rest of sports fans react,” Atallah said. “I think sometimes it’s good to remind the rest of the people following this business that athletes have their own voice, athletes have a way to communicate directly with fans, and obviously Twitter is one way that they do that. So I don’t think it’s any different than the average sports fan who watches and follows NBA free agency to look at this stuff and react in kind of a natural way [to the fact that] these contracts are huge. . . . So from my end this is a sort of made up controversy by a handful of people who have taken what some of the NFL players have said and kind of turned it around and made it something into it’s not.”

On difference between NFL and NBA contracts is that, in the NBA, teams have adopted the custom of providing full guarantees at signing. In the NFL, that hasn’t happened, yet.

“Well, we’d love to see that,” Atallah said. “I mean certainly we’d love to see more guaranteed contracts in the NFL but once again I think this type of discussion provides us with a great opportunity to share with anyone who’s interested that we are reaching more guarantees than we’ve ever had before in the sport.”

Atallah pointed out that, on average, more than 60 percent of a given contract is currently guaranteed at signing, whether in the form of signing bonuses, guaranteed salaries, or other guaranteed payments.

“That’s something we’re proud of and we’re trending in the right direction but look again back to your original point about comparing apples to oranges in one sport. Our average career length in the NFL is less than four years,” Atallah said. “In the other sport the average career is well beyond that and so guaranteed contracts in each sport are by design factoring in some of those things that are unique to NFL players.”

In other words, with wear and tear and a constant supply of highly-skilled college football players continuously providing competition for roster spots, NFL players become obsolete more quickly than players in other sports. If all contracts were fully guaranteed, all contracts necessarily would be shorter, especially for older veterans who are, according to the statistics, playing on borrowed time. Otherwise, teams would be forced to risk carrying on the books expensive players who simply don’t have it any more, simply because their salaries are guaranteed.

It’s money that could go to younger players who are in better position to help teams win. While some positions, like quarterback, necessarily have longer careers, the size of their annual salaries makes it even more important for teams to retain flexibility on the back-end of big-money deals, in the event that age, injury, or ineffectiveness makes the player less desirable than he was.

Ultimately, it’s a zero-sum game among all current and prospective players. Someone is going to get the dollars each year, especially with a spending minimum. Having fully-guaranteed contracts across the board enhances the risk that the money will go to players who no longer deserve it, at the expensive of players who do.

28 responses to “Atallah points to “basic math” in explaining difference between NFL and NBA contracts

  1. NFL players make more per game but I’d love to know how many days NFL players are required to “work” a year vs their NBA counterparts.

  2. “I wish more of the certain members of the sports media would just do some basic math before they popped off.”

    Which was pointed out by many posters here when NBA contracts were brought up in a recent Von Miller article.

  3. In your last sentence, that should be “…at the EXPENSE of players who do.”

  4. Part of the basic math also includes the fact that NBA rosters go 12-deep, while NFL rosters – by the nature of the differences in the game – run 53-deep with 10 man Practice Squads.

    So the NFL has substantially more “mouths to feed.” By a factor of roughly 500%.

    More basic math: The NBA can trot out 82 game regular seasons and four sets of 7 game series(es) in their post-season. Due to the punishing level of the sport and the corresponding extended recovery times, the NFL can roll out “only” 16 game regular seasons, with single-elimination playoff games.

    MLB is so comparatively light on the physical demands of their sport that they glide through 162 game seasons.

    So the NFL, by the nature of the differences in the sports themselves, is dramatically different in terms of how much the NFL can compensate its players relative to their NBA/MLB counterparts.

  5. Well, really you have to figure out each league’s total revenue. What is the TV money and stadium/arena money for 16 vs. 80 games and etc. etc.

    To make it simple with exaggerated stats:

    If the NFL makes $100 billion a year they could easily pay a 53 man roster a lot more than the NBA could pay a 15 man roster if the league only made $10 million a year.

  6. Why are we still talking about this, different sport, different salary structure. 82 games, 16 games, different levels of physicality etc. If NFL players are jealous hey they have the option in their next CBA, until then it is what it is.

  7. The other point being ignored is how many games played. If you take the highest paid in each sport, the highest paid Football player makes more per game (as they should because of the physicality) than the highest paid Basketball player.

    Even if you took them averages up there….

    2.92 million per 16 games is 182.5K per game

    6.26 million per 82 games is 76.35K per game roughly

    So the average NFL player makes more per game than NBA player….. Again, as they should, but if NFL players are so worried about the lower tier guys that maybe would have to be googled getting paid like the lower tiered NBA players that a couple NFL players mocked they had to google to find out who they were…… Anyway, maybe they should be open to playing more games then. Therefor, the NFL Cap should go up and the money can be spread to the lower tiered players more.

    Although, what really would happen is the top tier players would just demand more, and still give less to the lower tiered players. Which brings up another point about why NFL players shouldn’t cry….. In the NBA, there are a such thing as max contracts so the wealth gets spread out more, because the top tier players are only allowed to make so much. Would the top tier NFL players be ok with a max contract? I highly doubt it. Maybe NFL players should worry about NFL players and stop worrying about what players from another sport make because it’s not really comparable.

  8. It is more than just the amount. The NBA/MLB contracts are guaranteed. If the NFL’S contracts were guaranteed, there may be less to complain about. Until the NFL owners address this issue, the complaints should and will continue.

  9. The LACK of guaranteed contracts is one of the best parts of the NFL.

    ALSO Basic Math also proves Fire Goodell!

  10. The more TV revenue vailable makes all this less risky for owners and we the seat buying fans less relevant. unless the bottom falls out of TV revenue.

  11. The more TV revenue available makes all this less risky for owners and we the seat buying fans less relevant. unless the bottom falls out of TV revenue.

  12. This is the free market economy in action, with the billionaire owners and the millionaire players, and the thousandaire fans are paying for all of it.

  13. This is a reflection of the poor level of education in the US these days.

    Heck we have an NFL commissioner who can’t understand 5th grade science, does anyone really expect the players to understand basic math and economics ?

  14. Maybe a more apt comparison would be a look at player compensation as a percentage of the amount owners and the NFL make annually? Oh, you say the NFL goes out of its way to hide the finances of ownership?

  15. I’m so glad to finally see someone publicly point out that converting to fully guaranteed contracts in the NFL wouldn’t get the players any more money, it would just shift it around.

  16. NFL players get around the guarantee thing by negotiating signing bonuses and roster bonuses — not exactly the same, but they offer additional financial protection.

  17. bleedingfacemask says:
    Jul 7, 2016 4:32 PM
    There are five NY Yankees who have a salary between $21M and $25M this year.

    Just something more absurd to think about…

    ________________________

    Mm not really much to think since, Yankee is #1 most cap penalties for centuries and they pay HUGE luxury taxes for it.

    By the way, excellent story Mike Florio. It has answers all I need to know the differences between NBA and NFL caps.

  18. The problem with guaranteed contracts in football is too many players would suffer a drop off in performance.

    Guaranteed contracts = either:
    Lower contracts
    or
    Shorter contracts, that would still not pay top dollar, because they need to make sense for the teams as well.

  19. They why do you keep advocating for fully guaranteed contracts?

    >> Ultimately, it’s a zero-sum game among all current and prospective players. Someone is going to get the dollars each year, especially with a spending minimum. Having fully-guaranteed contracts across the board enhances the risk that the money will go to players who no longer deserve it, at the expensive of players who do.

  20. Play more games, expand the league and playoffs, create a developmental league, trim your rosters, attend your PA and CBA talks (just look at how the superstars of the NBA get involved in the talks), have an active player as the head of your PA, work WITH the commissioner and owners, police yourselves. The NBA did that, MLB does it, result: More money.

  21. Add this in to the equation. NFL teams have a huge staff of assistants. Most teams, after you have added in trainers, assistants on offense, defense and special teams, strength coaches etc. etc., have a minimum of 40 or more extras to pay. Also, look at the cost of equipment. Helmets, cleats, pads etc. An NBA player can damn near stuff his equipment in a carry-on.
    Guaranteed contracts just will not work in the NFL, if only for the fact that nearly every player will, at some time, find himself missing games. Sometimes a lot of games. And if that injury is ongoing, then the player becomes expendable. Sorry, but that is just the way it works.

  22. Maybe a more apt comparison would be a look at player compensation as a percentage of the amount owners and the NFL make annually? Oh, you say the NFL goes out of its way to hide the finances of ownership?

    ————————————————————-

    this is exactly how the salary cap is calculated- it is a percentage of revenue (50% or close to it i believe) of the 9 billion or so in revenue gets paid out in salaries

    and can we stop talking about guaranteed contracts? the players are free to hold out for fully guaranteed contracts and im sure some owners and GMs would be willing to sign them, obviously at a reduced rated, but players are willing to gamble on productivity and not getting cut

    IMO then NFL has the perfect compensation system

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