Unforeseen circumstances—a key injury, a bad official’s call, a penalty at a inopportune moment—often decide games in the National Football League. The college draft system and revenue sharing agreements tend to keep rosters filled with players of about equal ability.
Circumstances also can affect player compensation. Two intriguing pay situations currently involve underemployed performers. One is a star member of the Green Bay Packers; the other is a former Packers second-stringer.
The Packers are paying wide receiver Greg Jennings about $7 million this season for his work. Unfortunately, Jennings hasn’t been working very much. He was on the sidelines recovering from a concussion much of the time teammates prepared for the season. In the first regular game, Jennings suffered a groin injury. He hasn’t played much since, and a fourth of the season is history.
Many observers think Jennings is the best of a very talented group of Packers receivers. So what’s the problem? Won’t they just wait until he gets healthy, rejoice when he’s back on the field, and be happy to pay him another $7 or so for a full season of activity next year? The problem is Jennings is in the last year of his contract. He’ll be a free agent next year.
|Greg Jennings may take a hit in the wallet next year|
The circumstances are that the Packers have been busy signing three of their other star players to hefty multi-year contracts. There probably won’t be enough spare cash available to resign Jennings. As a star free agent, he normally would sign with another team, probably with a long-term deal paying him even more that his current $7 million a year. His recent injuries, however, make the situation abnormal. They devalue his worth on the open market.
It’s unlikely Jennings will be able to amass impressive statistics this year playing only a partial schedule. NFL teams worry about committing a lot of money to players who seem to be injury prone. Jennings’ recent history may place him in that category. These circumstances could cost Jennings millions of dollars in the future.
Matt Flynn probably has the best job in the league—at least at the moment. Flynn served at a Packers’ backup quarterback for four years starting in 2008. He played in only two complete regular season games during that time. But he made a huge impression in the last one, the final game of the 2011 season when the Packers rested their regular quarterback for the playoffs. Flynn threw six touchdown passes against the Detroit Lions, and suddenly everyone decided he was a great quarterback.
That incredible performance came at the end of his Green Bay contract, and made him a hot item as a free agent. The Packers decided a backup quarterback was not worth big money, and reluctantly let Flynn go. After negotiating with several teams, he signed a three-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks for $19.5 million including bonuses, and $10 million of that is guaranteed to be paid no matter what.
The “what” came along quite unexpectedly. Seattle drafted Russell Wilson, a University of Wisconsin quarterback, in the third round. Wilson had performed brilliantly at Wisconsin, but was considered too short to have a good chance to do well in the NFL. He fooled everybody by beating Flynn out in training camp, and the ex-Packer once again is a backup unthreatened by huge charging linemen intent on crushing quarterbacks.
Flynn now draws his paychecks by taking only a few snaps in practices. There he wears a red shirt to ensure that no one will put dents in his $10 million body. On game days, he safely walks the sideline with a clipboard and helps relay plays to Wilson. Flynn’s chances of grabbing another high-paying contract next time around are not looking good.
Both Jennings and Flynn are fine young men as far as I know, and I wish them well. In fact, Jennings is a local hero. He played college ball at Western Michigan University, has a foundation that funds worthwhile activities for youths in Kalamazoo, and is a family man who serves as a positive role model for kids who need one.
Nevertheless, I shed no tears for professional football players who face future cuts in compensation. As a group, they are some of the most overpaid of those who make up that privileged one percent Americans are becoming less and less enamored with.