There was a time back in the day when NFL player salaries were not a big issue.
Pro football wasn’t a billion-dollar business even in the 1970s and players didn’t have agents, didn’t know what other players made and even the teams didn’t know what other teams paid. As late as the 1970s some undrafted rookies didn’t make $20,000 a year.
Finally in that decade, the NFLPA negotiated a deal with the owners for them to provide the first salary surveys for the players. Although no names were mentioned, the list included the high and low salary for each position each year with a median and average salary.
The startling figure was that O.J. Simpson was making $733,000 a year at a time when the second highest paid player, Archie Manning, was making in the $400,000 range.
Considering the fact that what O.J. made was close to double what the second highest paid player made, it may be the best contract ever. One owner told me that when reports came out of Buffalo, that O.J. got $2.1 million over three years, he thought the figures were hyped and not true.
The salary survey showed the figures were accurate.
Meanwhile, everything has changed now. NFL salaries are virtually a matter of public record. Almost all players have agents and they know the numbers for all the other players.
That is why it was quite surprising that Lamar Jackson decided not to hire an agent and negotiated with the Ravens himself.
The negotiations dragged for over a year without him getting a new deal. Jackson got a lot of flak for not having an agent. It didn’t help his cause that he was injured the last two years, doesn’t have a good playoff record and reports are that he wanted a fully guaranteed deal like the $230 million deal that Deshaun Watson got from Cleveland.
The owners were adamant to not let the Watson fully guaranteed deal set a precedent. It may be collusion but the NFL tends to get away with holding the line.
In the end, Jackson didn’t get a fully guaranteed deal, but he got so much money — $260 million for five years and $185 million guaranteed — that he couldn’t turn it down. At $52 million average a year, it is the best deal ever.
Granted, it will be topped soon, but Jackson got the last laugh. He got a great deal and won’t pay agent fees of several million dollars.. It could be argued that an agent might have gotten the deal earlier, but Jackson now has generational wealth.
Now the question is whether Jackson can take the Ravens deep into the playoffs or even to the Super Bowl. And since the entire league know the deal he got, it will be a target for agents representing star quarterbacks in the pipeline.
But with big money comes big expectations. We’ll see if he can live up to them.