The reasons why NFL players make less than their NBA counterparts
Thanks to new, extremely lucrative television deals, the NBA essentially handed out $24 million to every team in the league to spend on free agents this summer.
The way that money is being used has many in and around the NFL irked.
NFL players are complaining, claiming they picked the wrong sport. Football-leaning media members are bewildered at the value of the deals being tossed around. People are really mad all around the internet.
It’s hard to blame anyone for being up in arms about the NBA’s spending. Matthew Dellavedova is set to sign a four-year, $38 million deal, and Timofey Mozgov is poised to put pen to paper on a four-year deal worth $64 million. Neither soon-to-be former member of the champion Cavs played a minute in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
But you can’t fault any player for taking a big ol’ contract if it’s offered, and if a general manager and owner want to spend $64 million on a frequently injured, not-exactly-versatile center who was relegated to the bench for the second half of last season, that’s their prerogative.
That kind of stuff happens in the NFL too, lest we forget.
So NFL players and media members complaining about the NBA’s spending spree should channel their frustrations and bewilderment into fixing a problem that has been exposed instead.
Yes, NFL players are underpaid. But that’s their fault.
The NBA’s salary cap was $70 million last season. It will go to $94 million next season, and will likely level off at to $107 million for the 2017-18 campaign. The NBA is a closed economy — increasing the available money by 50 percent over a short span (three years) while maintaining the same supply (players, 15 on each of the static 30 teams) is a textbook definition of inflation. Contract values were going to go up dramatically; there was no way around it.
The NBA didn’t want it to be this way. They wanted to spread out the increase in the cap over five — or, better yet, 10 — years. The NBA Players Association pushed back.
"[The dramatic salary cap increase] is not something that we modeled for," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said at February’s All-Star Game. "There will be unintended consequences from all this additional cap room this summer. I just don’t know what those consequences will be."
The NBAPA got what it wanted. But ultimately, it will have to face internal political backlash, as the short-term increases in the cap threaten to disproportionally aid those on the free agent market this summer. Spreading out the windfall could have prevented a situation where Mike Conley receives the largest contract in NBA history.
The most expensive NBA contracts are done by percentage of the salary cap — a "max" deal is worth between 25 and 35 percent of the salary cap, depending on how long the player has been in the league. On top of that, the league has a "soft" salary cap, where teams are allowed to go over the cap to re-sign their own players.
These two factors are huge positives for players: It puts more money in their pockets, and it came about through tough negotiations over the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
NFL players could also have salary-cap percentage deals — and a soft cap, too — but they’d have to fight for them in their collective bargaining agreement.
CBAs are incredibly complicated, but their most critical component is the divvying up of league’s revenue pie. The money all goes into the owners’ pockets to start. And they give the players their slice of the pie, mostly through player salaries.
That’s why when the NBA signed a nine-year, $24 billion (with a "b") television deal, the salary cap spiked. The revenue pie became much larger and the players negotiated to receive roughly 50 percent of that pie.
NFL revenue doubles the NBA, even with the hoopers’ new TV money. The NFL salary cap is $155 million — 60 percent higher than the NBA’s.
But considering that NFL rosters are 3.5 larger than NBA rosters (53 to 15), that 60 percent difference is paltry.
If you cut up the NBA salary cap 15 ways on all 30 teams, each player would make $6.25 million. Next year, that number will go above $7 million.
If you split up the NFL’s salary threshold equally — $155 million, 53 ways — you get an "average" salary of $2.9 million. You can do the math — that’s less than half the NBA’s number.
NHL "average" salaries exceed the NFL’s, too. Split up the NHL and every player gets $3.17 million. The last time the "average" NBA salary was less than $3 million was 2005.
So absolutely, NFL players are underpaid. But that’s in large part because of the deal they signed.
NFL players get — at most — 48.5 percent of the league’s revenue, as agreed upon in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. In 2016, the player percentage is 47.2. But not all of that $6 billion-plus is translated into the salary cap. The players have to use a good chunk of that money to pay for pension and health costs, as outlined in Article 12 of the CBA. The remaining sum is more or less (it’s some complicated stuff in that 301-page document) split up 32 ways to determine the salary cap.
Even if NFL players had a 50 percent cut, they’d only be seeing a 3 percent increase in pay. The NFL would have to double its revenue to pay players as much as the NBA pays theirs.
That, or the NBA could double the amount of players in the league.
Neither seems likely.
The NFL’s CBA runs until 2020, and there are no opt-out clauses for either side included in it. This is the deal the NFL players signed.
And while it’s highly unlikely that "average" NFL player salaries will be able to match NBA player salaries in 2020, there are things that the NFL Players Association should be looking to have included in the next treaty that NBA players have.
Things like guaranteed contracts for players who have been in the league for a few years. Currently, NFL players can have their contracts canceled at any time, for any reason.
Things like a soft salary cap. A hard cap artificially limits player salaries and hampers earning potentials — that’s why the NBA owners wanted to implement one in 2011.
NBA players fought for both guaranteed contracts and a soft salary cap and won, and now they’re reaping the benefits.
NFL players might have fought the same battles, but they clearly lost, and now they’re only left to complain. They’ll have a chance to actually something about it in 2020.
Until then, they need to remember what then NBA commissioner David Stern said during his league’s lockout in 2011: "From where we sit, we are looking at a league [the NFL] that was the most profitable in sports, that became more profitable by virtue of concessions from their players."