This past weekend, 224 young men had their life long dreams come true as they were welcomed into the NFL. With that welcoming comes a fat paycheck that has these 20-24 year olds licking their chops. For some, it may give them the opportunity to build their parents a house or their purchase their dream car, which is fine to an extent. As a recent college graduate I’m always excited to see these young men my age achieve their dream, but it also worries me knowing that they immediately become multi-millionaires. As a young man, I would love to have millions of dollars, but I also don’t know how I would handle it. How would I manage it? Would I be responsible with it? For some NFL prospects, the signing bonus alone might be more money than both of their parents have earned in their lifetime. Learning how to handle that money is the key setting these draftees up for the long run and a life-time of financial security.
In the 2018 NFL Draft, Baker Mayfield was selected 1st overall by the Cleveland Browns. Now, I want you to take yourself back to how you were as a 23-year-old. What were your priorities? How would you have handled fame? Did you make smart money decisions? Now, if you were like most college students, you probably made some poor financial decisions and didn’t have your priorities as straight as you would’ve liked. Baker Mayfield’s SIGNING BONUS was just a tick over a whopping $23,800,000. Think about that, a 23-year-old was handed $23,000,000 and was expected to be responsible. That’s just silly. Following Mayfield was New York Giant running back, Saquon Barkley with a total contract value of over $31,000,000 ($20,700,000 signing bonus) and fellow New York star Sam Darnold of the Jets with a contract value of $30,000,000 (20,000,000 signing bonus). From the first round, all the way to the beginning of the 3rd round (nearly 70 players), players will sign contracts with signing bonuses over $1,000,000 and contract values over $4,000,000 (over four years). Even the final pick of the NFL draft will earn a contract of over $1,000,000 and a signing bonus over $60,000.
With young men immediately becoming millionaires, hanging around other multi-millionaires, it’s hard to draw up a greater recipe for disaster. Living a luxurious lifestyle can be tempting, but setting yourself up for the long haul is right decision. Hall of Famer and former Baltimore Raven offensive tackle, Jonathan Ogden iterates in an article with Fox Business explaining, “It’s important to live well within your means. This game does not last forever. You’ve got to plan for the future.” Former NFL tackle Orlando Pace also spoke with Fox and said, “Learn how to say no. There are going to be a lot of people asking you for a lot of favors. The first words you really need to learn is how to say no.”
Learning how to say no is one of the main points of the NFL Rookie Symposium. At the symposium, rookies are taught and introduced to life as professionals and are briefly prepared for the next chapter of their life. Former players commonly will come and share stories and advice on how they can make the most out of their young careers. Ryan Matthews shared with the LA Times after being drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 2010, “I’ve had people hit me up on Facebook, Twitter, everything like that, saying they’re my cousin, all kinds of stuff like that.” He continued with, “I’ve had brothers and sisters that I haven’t seen since I was like two hit me up and I don’t even remember them.” Matthews hints at keeping your friends and family close is key in saying no, elaborating saying, “It’s strange how they see your name up there and they want to be part of your life again. I’ve already got my small circle of family and friends that are close to me. I’m not going to shy anybody away, but that main circle is going to be the ones that I help and take care of.”
Sports Illustrated reports that 78% of NFL players go bankrupt or are under severe financial stress within two years after retirement. Former Minnesota Viking signal caller Brooks Bollinger is out to change that. Bollinger has exchanged his playbook for a balance sheet and now works as a private wealth adviser with NorthRock Partners in Minneapolis. His role? He provides wealth management assistance to professional athletes in the NHL, NBA, and NFL to set themselves long after their playing days are over. About the draft process and signing a multi-million dollar contract, Bollinger says, “It’s a situation you have never been in before, and that nobody around you has ever been in,” said the former Viking. “Everything moves so fast, and your world changes overnight.” When Bollinger says “your world changes overnight”, that doesn’t even begin to explain the drastic differences these players have within a 24-hour span.
“The first check I got from the NFL was $1 million. I thought ‘What is this?’ Obviously, I had already signed my contract and knew what to expect, but when I was working in the summer in college, the biggest check I had ever received was for maybe $300. The check just looked fake. I really didn’t know what to do with it.” This was Donte Stallworth’s reality and this is the reality for many NFL Draft picks. In the same interview with Vox, Stallworth admitted that the money gets to you. He explains, “You get these checks and they’re $60,000 or $80,000. That messes with you, mentally. You don’t understand that once you’re done playing, these checks will stop.”
Knowing that the checks will stop was something that Stallworth, the 10-year veteran understood, and took ownership of. Many players don’t quite understand what Stallworth is explaining until it’s too late, and they too become apart of the 78% of former NFL players that experience financial stress years just two years after their career. Stallworth explains, “A lot of guys live like they’re going to be making $5 million for the next 20 years. The smarter guys would say that you want to put yourself in a position where you don’t have to work when you’re done. Live like a prince now if you have to, so you can live like a king later.”
So what would the 10-year NFL veteran say to up and coming draft picks? “I would advise the young guys to take some type of business course to help them understand their finances better once they make it to the professional level, or even if they don’t make it to that.” The NFL and “The Shield” also do their help with helping rookies and younger players manage their money. “The NFL does a pretty good job. They have preseason symposiums where they’ll bring in all the drafted rookies. They give you advice on a wide range of things you need to be aware of as a young adult coming into the world of the NFL: on-the-field issues, financial issues, legal stuff.”
With the average NFL career only lasting about three to five years, making the most of the millions while you have them is a key towards a plentiful life after the athletes choose to “hang ‘em up”. The next time you hear ESPN’s special draft day tune, and the announcer say, “the pick is in”, not only is that player’s football career on the field changed forever, but their wallets are as well.