Most players don’t make it to Year 3 of a multi-year deal

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NFL contracts are often not what they seem.

Many contracts signed in the NFL last week were referred to as three-year deals and four-year deals and five-year deals, but most of them don’t last that long.

Peter King writes this week in Football Morning in America, using data from, that the majority of contracts that are initially reported as lasting three years or longer actually last only one or two years: In 2015 and 2016, there were 197 contracts of three years or more signed by free agents, and 121 of those players never made it to the third years of their deals. So 61.4 percent of those long-term deals weren’t so long-term after all.

Multi-year contracts are sometimes structured with later years that neither side expects to materialize, solely for salary cap purposes such as spreading the cap hit of a signing bonus into future years. Other times, the player wants to fulfill his contract but the team cuts him. And still other times, as was the case with Antonio Brown, a player signs a long-term deal but forces his way out of it and gets a better deal from a new team. Whatever the reasons, most of those multi-year contracts don’t make it to the end.

12 responses to “Most players don’t make it to Year 3 of a multi-year deal

  1. With most NFL players, ‘fit to system’ is the difference between bad and good or good and great — either because of skill set or even the supporting cast who cover your flaws or enhance your skills. When you succeeded in system A and you’re hired as the savior on a team running system B, you aren’t going to meet the expectations, especially because Team B hired you because they usually need a lot of help (the kind of help one player can’t give alone). Add in the high dollar amounts involved and teams get antsy about dumping ‘under-performing’ players.

  2. The years don’t mean anything. To the players it’s all about the signing bonus and the guaranteed money. For the teams it’s all about the cap hits. The rest is just fluff that can be restructured or scrapped depending on the dead money. Sometimes it works if you bet the house to win now and do, and sometimes it’s a nightmare.

  3. Which is why the owners will realize that shorter-term deals(for more per year)are the way to go. At least for better players/stars. Players might realize that trading years for dollars makes sense for them because, as you say, they never play through the full term of their contracts. Players make more money over a shorter time and teams get more flexibility.

  4. The big pain of free agency. Nobody knows what to expect other than game tape. There’s usually a reason players get let go, just saying.

  5. It’s common sense why that happens. The number of years of a contract determine the number of years the upfront money can be divided equally and added to the player’s salary for salary cap purposes.

  6. Players are compensated by the guaranteed money/signing bonus and getting a big chunk of it upfront. Their fine. It’s fair compensation. Players need to learn to use their upfront money wisely. Not the owner’s problem.

  7. But if those contracts are front-loaded not getting to the later years is advantageous to the players because they usually get a big signing bonus.

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