It has been nearly nine years since the Seattle Seahawks made left tackle Russell Okung a first round draft choice out of Oklahoma State in 2010, officially becoming the first player drafted by the Pete Carroll and John Schneider regime. Since that time Okung has played out his original, six-year rookie contract, spent time in Denver on what was effectively a prove it deal and then became, for a short time, the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history.
Okung is well known for representing himself in contract negotiations, not just once, but twice, as a free agent. Both times he ended up signing lucrative deals, first with the Denver Broncosa and then with the then San Diego but now Los Angeles Chargers. In any case, he has become a vocal proponent of player's rights, and is now starting to weigh in publicly on some of the issues that the players will face in the next round of CBA negotiations. Specifically, following the announcement of Mike Trout's mega contract, Okung authored a lengthy thread on guaranteed contracts. Here it is for your reading pleasure.
The majority of contracts in the MLB, NBA, and NHL are guaranteed… but not in the NFL. This means a football player can sign a 4-year contract, buy a house for his family, and get fired shortly after. Why does this happen? (GUARANTEED CONTRACT THREAD)— Russell Okung (@RussellOkung) March 19, 2019
It can’t be due to lack of money. The NFL is the most lucrative sport in the world. We bring in 1.5x more revenue than 2nd place (MLB), which seems like an important stat on the day that Trout inks a 10 yr $430M deal, most of which is guaranteed.— Russell Okung (@RussellOkung) March 19, 2019
"Risk of injury is highest in the NFL" is an illogical argument against guaranteed contracts. In fact, the risk we take is exactly why a baseline guaranteed income is justified.— Russell Okung (@RussellOkung) March 19, 2019
We help create billions in revenue, but if we get hurt and miss work, we don’t even get @Aflac type coverage. We miss work due to injuries incurred on the job -- a risk we all sign-up for, but if this is to be a sustainable partnership, that risk must be shared equitably.— Russell Okung (@RussellOkung) March 19, 2019
The average NFL career is 2.6 years. A 22-year-old could suffer a career-ending injury instantly. Even if he had already made millions for a few years, quick math reveals he's not exactly “set for life.” Nevermind the fact that MOST players don’t make millions per year.— Russell Okung (@RussellOkung) March 19, 2019
Many owners cite an antiquated ‘funding rule’ that requires all guaranteed money to be locked into an escrow account. This well-intentioned rule began in the 1980’s when teams were struggling with cash-flow, but clearly this is no longer needed. Just ask the @Chiefs.— Russell Okung (@RussellOkung) March 19, 2019
The funding rule has become a go-to excuse for owners in negotiations for why they can’t guarantee contracts, as they don’t want to freeze their liquidity. Well, it seems that owners and players both agree: Let’s axe this rule. Easy win.— Russell Okung (@RussellOkung) March 19, 2019
Some say, “Guaranteed contracts are becoming more common.” But only for very few star players. Bench players in the @NBA have more financial security than the average NFL Pro Bowl player. We need a baseline that protects everyone; that is the point of our union.— Russell Okung (@RussellOkung) March 19, 2019
Owners understandably need ways to hedge against unforeseen losses. But the current arrangement places a disproportionate burden of risk on players. Owners enjoy the peace of mind of being able to cut losses without having to worry about making that mortgage payment.— Russell Okung (@RussellOkung) March 19, 2019
This is not equitable by any stretch and our approach to guaranteed contracts must change. #KnowOurWorth2021— Russell Okung (@RussellOkung) March 19, 2019
I’d love to hear what reasonable solutions people have to make this work. Maybe “dead money” doesn’t have to hit the salary cap? An injury insurance fund for players? Let’s hear it.— Russell Okung (@RussellOkung) March 19, 2019
Now, obviously, the idea of dead money not hitting the cap has been bandied about here, but that is such an easy loophole to exploit that it would effectively eliminate the salary cap. A team looking for a competitive advantage would simply sign all its players to minimum salary contracts and give huge signing bonuses. There would be no downside to cutting underperforming players because of the simple fact that there would be ample cap room due to the fact that former players wouldn’t count against the salary cap.
In short, the New England Patriots could sign Tom Brady to a one year, $50M deal that is $49M signing bonus and $1M base salary. Then, the team cuts him after OTAs and gives him a couple of weeks off before bringing him back before the start of training camp. His cap hit would be $1M, and fans would be in even more of an uproar about that than they are about the Patriots’ contract with TB12.
That said, what are some alternatives? What kind of proposals should the pmayers put forth to earn themselves more guaranteed money in future contracts.