NFLers: if talents are in regression and salary's in ascension, watch out
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was 'asked' by the Broncos to delete $4 million off his 2015 base salary of $19 million. (Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY Sports)
A harsh reality exists for so many veteran NFL players who sign huge new contracts: they aren't going to see all that money.
In many cases, not even close to it. Call it the cruel new circle of life in the NFL.
With shiny giraffes, zebras and lions singing happily in the background, it starts when a lucky group of established NFLers cash in with huge new deals at the start of the new league year. That is, in the second week of March.
Now you can buy that house for mom! Or that chromed-up pickup truck you always wanted to drive to your new vacation mansion!
But you'd better only spend guaranteed money, not promised money. Because odds are, in the new NFL, money that ain't guaranteed ain't gettin' deposited.
Two years ago, for instance, ESPN's John Clayton reported that in the two weeks leading up to the new league year, clubs dumped 73 players for savings of $288 million.
With ever greater frequency, after the hands are shaken, the hard feelings forsaken and the joyous signing-day news conference is held, the lucky player eventually is told he isn't quite that lucky. He isn't going to earn all the money.
Abruptly, prematurely, it all often ends as soon as 51 weeks later -- or a year and 51 weeks later, if you're lucky. Or two years and 51 weeks later, if you're more fortunate.
Why the 51-week intervals? Because it's 51 weeks into the new league year, and one week before the start of the next free-agency period and team salary-cap deadline, when teams usually ask you to restructure your monstrous contract. Or reduce it. Or even eat it, if they cut you.
That week is this week.
It happens with few exceptions if you haven't lived up to your big money. Sometimes even if you have.
It's in this way that the NFL's cruel circle of life concludes -- with annoying hyenas laughing and gnarly outcast lions licking their chops.
The start of the 2015 new league year and advent of another round of crazy free-agent signings starts next Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.
As a fan, you're no doubt hoping your team signs a big-name free agent, right? Just don't bother poring over the lists of availables yet.
Plenty more names are sure to be added to those lists, as clubs continue to whack high-priced veterans with talents in regression and salaries in ascension.
If you're an NFL player, you're only sleeping well right now if you're still worth what you earn.
And that's their dilemma. Established, productive starters always want to be shown the money after their rookie contracts expire. It's what they play for, what they live for.
But the inescapable conundrum is, the richer the deal you get, the better you'd better perform -- in every year of that contract.
You must always be worth it.
The moment you're not, you'll be asked to take a pay cut. Or restructure your deal to move a chunk of the money you had coming this year to next year. Or your team will just make like David Spade's old SNL character and give you a brusk "BUH-bye."
No players are immune. This week we saw two of this decade's most prolific performers at their positions -- running back LeSean McCoy and quarterback Peyton Manning -- affected.
Peyton Manning, fercryinoutloud -- one year after throwing 55 touchdowns, and after throwing 131 TDs in three years in Denver -- was 'asked' by the Broncos to delete $4 million off his 2015 base salary of $19 million, but giving him the chance to earn it all back only if he leads Denver to a Super Bowl win.
Broncos general manager John Elway wanted Manning to eat even more, Mike Klis of the Denver Post reported.
As for McCoy, the Eagles traded him to Buffalo on Tuesday. His production tailed off as last season dragged on. In two fewer carries than he had the year before, McCoy gained nearly 300 fewer yards, and caught by far the fewest passes (28) of his six-year career.
Significantly, McCoy's salary is slated to zoom to a fully guaranteed $10.5 million this year, with unguaranteed salaries of $6.9 million and $7.6 million thereafter.
Informed speculation in Philly is that coach and football-ops boss Chip Kelly might have just cut McCoy this coming Tuesday if he couldn't have found a trade partner.
As teams throw more money at players, their patience grows thinner.
Two years ago this month the Dolphins dropped $100 million to sign WR Mike Wallace and LB Dannell Ellerbe. Who'd do that today? Think they'll see all that money?
Three years ago this month the Bucs spent $141 million ($72.5 million guaranteed) on WR Vincent Jackson, CB Eric Wright and G Carl Nicks. Wright and Nicks were out of the league by last summer.
Last March, under a new regime, the Bucs spent like crazy again: $10 million over two years on QB Josh McCown, $44 million over five years for DE Michael Johnson, $26.5 million over four years for CB Alterran Verner, $30 million over five years for OT Anthony Collins and $12 million over four years for DT Clinton McDonald.
The good it did: Tampa Bay finished last overall in the league, McCown was a bust and was cut, and reports say the Bucs might dump Collins or Johnson or both if they can't trade them.
Know that high-priced veterans unaffected aren't exactly singing Hakuna matata.
Because, as the song says, that means no worries for the rest of your days.