The Disappearing NFL Middle Class
The news media in this country typically remind us about once a fiscal quarter that the rich continue to get richer while the poor continue to go nowhere. Of course, this stands to reason as long as the axiom stands that it takes money to make money.
If it makes the average fan feel any better, the NFL is no different.
The 2011 collective bargaining agreement lowered the players’ portion of the revenue pie from 58 percent to, essentially, 51 percent. This is why projected revenues for 2012 may have increased, but the salary cap did not — basically holding steady at $120 million.
However, you may have noticed that the deals for the top 2012 free agents hardly reflected this new economic reality. A smaller chunk of the overall pie didn’t stop Calvin Johnson from signing an asinine $150 million extension or Drew Brees from turning down the biggest contract in NFL history. So, if the stars are going to keep on signing bigger and bigger contracts, who pays the price for the new agreement? Well, the answer is simple: everyone else.
The 2010 Green Bay Packers had the standard 53 roster players on their roster, with an additional six on the practice squad. Of those 59 players, 24 made the league minimum while the other 35 made more.
Just two years later, the 2012 Packers are likely going to see those numbers flipped, with 24 making above the minimum and the other 35 being paid only what the CBA requires. If you think that quick turn might only be an aberration, just take a moment to peruse the other 31 NFL rosters. I did, and I was shocked at the measure of uniformity. It’s like there’s a general manager playbook out there listing 25 as the maximum number of “money” players.
Expect this trend to continue as contracts for the top players continue to rise. And if the top players are still getting their money and the number of bottom players continues to grow, then the difference can only come from the middle. The Packers currently have 65 players under contract. Fifteen of those are contracted to make between $1 and $5 million. That’s 23 percent of the roster. I expect this “middle class” of players to settle between 15 percent and 20 percent for most teams in the near future, assuming that it does eventually settle.
With the big-money players likely constituting between 10 to 15 percent of the roster and swallowing up as much as 70 percent of the salary cap (sound familiar?), this will leave the other 70 percent of the roster making minimum wage.
So, the next time you hear someone in the media say you can’t compare your job or industry to playing in the NFL, don’t believe them. The players who gave up that 7 percent of the pie? They weren’t the richest or the poorest. Not at all. It was the middle-class players who made the sacrifice.
It’s the same all around.
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