The Lack of Fairness in NFL Contract Negotiations


Maliik Cooper , Sports Editor

NFL teams are refusing to sign their star players to long-term contracts. This is a trend that’s affected many over the past year, and now it’s affecting an alumni of South Pointe High School. 

JaDeveon Clowney, the 3x pro bowl defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks, recently had to force a trade from the Houston Texans because they were unwilling to sign Clowney to a long-term contract extension. The Texans tried to franchise tag their star defensive end, a move that would put Clowney on a one-year deal. But if you’ve performed at an all-world level as Clowney has (his 53 tackles for loss rank third in the NFL since 2016), you should have the leverage to command the job security of a long-term extension where you get the superstar salary you deserve.

Unfortunately, the problem extends far beyond JaDeveon and the Texans.

Le’Veon Bell, Aaron Donald, Michael Thomas, Ezekial Elliott, and Melvin Gordon are just a few examples of superstars who’ve held out for new deals over the last year. Some players are successful as Aaron Donald’s six-year contract for $135 million ($87 million guaranteed) is the highest contract signed by a defensive player in NFL history. Ezekial Elliott also set a record and became the highest paid running back in NFL history ($90 million with $50 million guaranteed). Other athletes however don’t enjoy the same level of respect from their franchises. 

Le’Veon Bell’s holdout lasted the entire 2018 season, and throughout the course of it, he had his character questioned and his value diminished. Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin even stated that his team needed “…volunteers, not hostages,” in regards to Le’Veon’s holdout. Despite being ranked by his peers as the best running back in the NFL in 2018, the Steelers refused to give Bell the contract extension he wanted and deserved, resulting in them releasing him to free agency. Le’Veon signed with the New York Jets this offseason for four years, and $52.5 million dollars ($25 million guaranteed).

This is a problem, a widespread one that is costing people their jobs. Le’Veon Bell was able to find a job after a year out of the league, at a rate below his value. But, what about lesser players?

While Melvin Gordon is a 2x pro bowler, he isn’t seen as a premier, top five running back. Because of this, the Chargers have been perfectly content letting backups Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson fill in Gordon’s role, leaving him as a discontent player fighting a losing battle. 

When asked about the current trend of NFL players holding out for new contracts, South Pointe head football coach Devonte Holloman responded, “NFL contracts are different than NBA and MLB in the sense that injuries play a factor, the market for the position plays a factor… you never know what the owners or the GMs of these teams think.” 

Coach Holloman, of course, is a former NFL player, so he seemed to be a bit more understanding of the business side of the league.

When asked about a potential solution to this problem, Coach Holloman answered, “I think that it’s something you’ll see for a couple more years until the players and the owners sit down and come up with a new way to negotiate contracts.” 

Holloman, of course, is referring to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement set to be negotiated after the 2020 season. The players will need to take a stand during these negotiations if they expect any change to take place. And with the NFL bringing in $15 billion a year in revenue, there’s plenty of money to go around. 

Can NFL stars gain the respect of their owners, and command salaries comparable to NBA and MLB athletes? Or will the leverage remain on the side of the owners, who’re currently more comfortable replacing their stars than paying them? Only time will tell.