Pretty much every time an NFL player signs a new contract, you will often see interested league observers tell you that the contract is not actually worth the reported dollar value. That’s because a significant portion of NFL contracts are not guaranteed.
The real value of a player’s contract is his guaranteed cash flow; but the number that comes out first is often the absolute maximum a player can earn, rather than what he will earn regardless of performance and/or injury issues that arise down the line.
On this front, Kirk Cousins may have shifted the market in an interesting direction this offseason. Cousins signed a three-year contract with the Vikings that will pay him $84 million — every single penny of it fully guaranteed. It is extraordinarily rare for a veteran player to receive a 100 percent guaranteed contract. In fact, according to the contract tracking site Spotrac.com, Cousins is the only active veteran in the league on a multi-year deal that is 100 percent guaranteed.
The reason NFL contracts are structured this way is largely because that’s the way it has always been done. If Chargers left tackle Russell Okung gets his way, however, unguaranteed contracts will become a thing of the past as soon as 2020, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires.
Okung made an impassioned Twitter argument about guaranteed contracts on Tuesday, noting that it will be up to the NFLPA to insist on making fully guaranteed contracts a negotiating point in the next round of CBA negotiations.
Of course, Okung also noted that the NFLPA is likely to meet significant resistance from the owners if it insists on making contracts guaranteed. The owners have major incentive to continue the system as is — they are essentially printing money right now and they share less than half of it with the players, whom their teams can often cut ties with at a moment’s notice with little to financial penalty. That’s a pretty favorable system for ownership.
Let Okung explain.
Okung continued to another subject that affects how much players can be compensated: dead money.
During the 2017 season, NFL teams combined for an incredible $501,175,192 in dead money charges on their books — just south of 10 percent of the league’s entire salary cap outlay, which checked in at nearly $5.2 billion. Without those roster charges, there would have been significantly more money available with which to pay free agents and other veteran players.
There’s only one way to change this system, according to Okung.
We’ll just have to wait until 2020 to find out if the players take his advice.