Money is surely a factor in “early retirements”

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Last year’s surprising decision by 49ers linebacker Chris Borland to retire after only one year (and to pay back a significant chunk of his signing bonus) sparked a new narrative for the NFL: The early retirement.

Since then, plenty of media members who would like to see football diminish or disappear along with some media member who presumably have a vested interest in its continued existence has crammed plenty of square-pegs into the round hole of “early retirement,” harping on the notion that the player chose health and safety over fame and fortune. Lost in this narrative (probably because it undermines the narrative) is the reality that, for plenty of players who are choosing to leave football before football leaves them, they’d still be playing if they were getting more money.

The latest example of this dynamic comes from Vikings tackle Phil Loadholt, who is opting for retirement over $2 million for another season in Minnesota. If he hadn’t been squeezed to drop his pay from $5.4 million, would Loadholt be walking away? My guess is that he wouldn’t be.

So, basically, Loadholt agreed to a pay cut and then decided that he wouldn’t be agreeing to a pay cut.

For other players who have opted for “early retirement,” would an enhanced financial offer have changed their minds? If someone were offering tackle Eugene Monroe $10 million per year, would he still be playing? Monroe didn’t retire until after the Ravens cut him, and then he had a chance to explore the market.

With former Jets left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, the answer is more clear. If the team hadn’t tried to reduce his salary for 2016, he would never have walked away.

Which brings me to the biggest name from the 2016 “early retirement” pool. Receiver Calvin Johnson. In a recent interview with ESPN, Johnson suggested that, if the Lions were contenders, he possibly would have kept playing.

He also possibly would have kept playing if the Lions weren’t intent on reducing his cap number of $24 million and his salary of $16 million, amounts that clearly overshoot what his value would have been to the team in 2016.

That’s not to say that every player who retires early definitely would choose to stay if the pot were a little sweeter. However, for many guys who opt to walk before they’re chased off, “early retirement” wouldn’t happen quite so early if more money were on the table.

30 responses to “Money is surely a factor in “early retirements”

  1. I find it difficult to believe that someone would retire rather than take a pay cut from $5.4 million to $2 million.

    There’s another factor too–if you’ve saved enough money you can retire earlier.

  2. I feel the early retirements are more related to the DECLINING Dollars to BRAIN Damage ratio.

  3. Loadholt is almost assuredly retiring for physical reasons — his achilles injury was aggravated during training, not to mention other aches and pains that have also arisen during training. That and he basically received millions the last two years when he didn’t play due to a torn pectoral in 2014 and the torn achilles in 2015. Might make more sense just to take a year off and see — his body just couldn’t take it this year regardless of the amount he was to earn in 2016.

  4. Excellent point Mr. Florio, but it seems most people would stay “unretired” if offered enough money, even if it is detrimental to their health. It is not unique to NFL players, nor does it discount the danger they choose to play through.

  5. There’s a salary cap. All teams have to spend at least 89% of the salary cap on player compensation.

    The salary cap is calculated based on the player’s share of NFL revenue. Under the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the NFL, the players are guaranteed 47%-48.5% of total NFL revenue.

    This means that one player’s gain is another player’s loss. When Florio says that Dez Bryant, Von Miller, or Andrew Luck should get more and more money, Florio is also arguing that Eugene Monroe and Phil Loadholt should get less money. The pool to pay the players is fixed in size. If Von Miller gets more, that means his teammates get less.

    While it is exciting to watch JJ Watt, Antonio Brown, and Julio Jones play, there are 21 other players on the field besides them. If the other 21 players are really awful and boring to watch, then fan interest will decline. Go back to the 1987 strike year. Some star players crossed the picket line and played. Lawrence Taylor, Steve Largent, and Ozzie Newsome all played. But the 21 players around them were of much lower talent and viewership of the games in person and on TV was very low.

    The NBA deals with the problem of making sure teams can have a competitive roster by having a maximum salary per player. That makes sure that Lebron James doesn’t have 11 teammates who came out of a weekend recreation league.

  6. Unless these guys have same serious cash in reserve they may regret this. Not playing since he’s “only” being offered $2M is beyond understanding for 99% of the people in this country. Even if you have a really good job, you would have to work TWENTY YEARS to make that much money. With the average income being $40k, that pushes that up to 50 years. In other words, this guy would still make as much in one year as most people will make in their lifetime.

  7. The other part of the equation is players are making way more money than they used to. If Megatron had made the same amount of money that Jerry Rice did in his first 9 years in the league, he wouldn’t have retired either.

  8. Money is also a narrative in the ‘I won’t let my kids play football’ trend.

    A lot easier to say after you’ve used football as a means to escape poverty and providing a wealth to pass on to your kids so they won’t be poor.

  9. This article seems to “insinuate” that the players choosing early retirement are mainly motivated by money or success on the field, rather than concerns over their future health.

    Obviously there are pro’s and con’s to every decision that are factored in. Offer any of these guys $20M to play for one more year, and of course most will take it because they’ve decided the reward is now greater than the risk.

    Pay cut or no, these are players leaving multimillion dollar salaries on the table for significant reasons. If a player states that health concerns were a significant part of their decision-making process, then there’s no reason to put quotes around their “early retirement.”

  10. All these early retirements are different. Borland retired before he made any big money because he wanted to maintain his health. Johnson retired after making more money than he’ll ever need. Loadholt retired because he’s coming off two season-ending injuries and wasn’t up for a camp battle that he thought he would likely lose for a mere $2 million. Loadholt made a good amount of money so there’s no reason to keep putting himself through the punishment. The NFL needs to worry about young guys quitting early in their careers because that isn’t about money at all.

  11. It’s the law of diminishing returns. Eventually the utility you receive from an activity is no longer worth the energy you expend during the activity.

  12. “Money is also a narrative in the ‘I won’t let my kids play football’ trend.”

    I think political correctness plays the biggest role it has become such a disease in this country.

    In this day and age where noone is supposed to be better than anyone else that also means parents don’t want other parents saying their kid is better even if its just at a sport.

    This country used to thrive on competition, now its trying to act like there’s something wrong with a game that makes people winners and losers. Wait till these kids get into the real world and find out what’s waiting for them.

  13. You must work for the NFL. Maybe these guys don’t want their brains turned into mush. Go watch “Concussion”

  14. harrisonhits2 says:
    Jul 25, 2016 1:18 PM

    I think political correctness plays the biggest role it has become such a disease in this country.

    In this day and age where noone is supposed to be better than anyone else that also means parents don’t want other parents saying their kid is better even if its just at a sport.


    Give it a rest with the PC meme. It doesn’t apply to everything.
    It has nothing to do with being ‘PC’ to have respect for people, not engage in name-calling, not denigrate an opponent, not belittle another, and being tactful.

    It’s now trendy to accuse someone of being overly PC because they object to someone being a loud-mouthed, foul-mouthed, inconsiderate, ill-mannered boor. Somehow, behaving like a spoiled 4-year-old who just learned how to swear is considered praiseworthy.

  15. In Teddy We Trust says:
    Jul 25, 2016 12:56 PM

    Loadholt retired because he’s coming off two season-ending injuries and wasn’t up for a camp battle that he thought he would likely lose for a mere $2 million.

    Ah yes, a “mere” $2 million. The lifetime earnings of a middle class professional and about double the lifetime earnings of your average american.

  16. Where’s the evidence that Lions wanted to Calvin Johnson to take a paycut? The media talked about it a lot, but to my knowledge there was never any indication that the team was talking about it, and they were not under any significant salary cap pressure.

  17. The Jets didn’t want to pay Ferguson (never missed snap) and then brought in a player with injury history. Why the Patriots win their division every year. Can’t blame them for not paying Fitzgerald. He choked away a playoff game. The Bengals hate them for it.

  18. He did still have to make the team. Kalil and smith locks. clemmings, beavers, Shepard, bykowski, loadholt. Youth had the upper hand in this one with big Phil playing on a repaired Achilles.

    These guys need a new life coach if 2 million is not motivation at 30 yrs old. Enjoy 8-5 work, we’ve been saving your spot.

    Big Phil was a good Viking but personally I didn’t see beavers or clemmings getting cut with Rick needing those kids to pan out.

  19. Two of those players mentioned, Ferguson and Monroe are smart guys and are UVA grads.. They will likely do well in the business world and should be able to make the money they earned do the work for them. I envy guys who work hard, make a nice chunk and are able to enjoy it while they are still younger..

  20. nobody was going to pay Calvin $24M, and he knew that;

    his contract and Suh’s sabotaged Detroit’s cap for years and almost cost them another generation of good core players;

    the last vestiges of the Millen Morons were removed not a moment too soon;

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