Athletes' Big Post-NFL Paychecks Are Rare

By Prine, Carl | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 6, 2008 | Go to article overview

Athletes' Big Post-NFL Paychecks Are Rare


Prine, Carl, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Fame on the football field doesn't necessarily equate to fortune in later years.

Only one in 20 retired professional players makes money on his lingering popularity, and the big bucks from royalties and sponsorships often go to jocks more popular on today's tube than they were on the gridiron, a Tribune-Review analysis of two years of federal filings by the National Football League Players Association found.

More than $117 million in annual sponsorship and licensing deals by corporations seeking to cash in on players' names and likenesses streams into the association and its marketing subsidiary, Players Inc. When the union cuts reimbursement checks to active and retired athletes, the amount is reported on U.S. Department of Labor forms, called "LM-2s."

In 2005 and 2006, NFL career-rushing titleholder and "Dancing with the Stars" cha-cha champ Emmitt Smith led all comers with nearly $757,000 in compensation. He was trailed by quarterback- turned-broadcast analyst Norman "Boomer" Esiason, with $637,000; Broncos great John Elway, $616,000; and Mon Valley native Joe Montana, $556,000.

Esiason wasn't the only former player buoyed by TV popularity into the upper ranks of player association compensation. Retired Giants passer Phil Simms, Redskins QB Joe Theismann and Heisman winner Desmond Howard cracked the top 30 on the payroll. The quartet shared more than $1 million, which doesn't include their pensions, network paychecks and other income.

"I deliver the goods," said Esiason, the pitchman for the FedEx NFL campaign. "I give clients what they want, and the amount of work actually is a lot. FedEx really works you!

"I remained very involved in the NFL after I retired. I've stayed around the game, but I always knew that football wouldn't last forever so I saved and prepared myself for another career."

Like other players the Trib contacted, Esiason said that much of his earnings go to charity, fees for agents and taxes. Since he's no longer on the FedEx promotional tour, he predicts he'll fall "near the bottom" for endorsements next year.

The Trib analyzed association payments to Esiason and 1,206 other ex-players who reached the NFL before the 2000 draft but quit by 2006. About 65 percent of all check recipients earned $5,000 reimbursements for annual union dues. With those reimbursements subtracted, 698 former NFL players averaged about $31,750 in endorsement payouts over the two-year span.

The Trib found:

The man who worked inside the pocket tends to put more in his pocket after retirement. Averaging nearly $105,000 each, QBs garnered more than three times the typical association payout. Tailbacks averaged $54,000; kickers were lucky to earn $14,000.

Rabid fans make the Steelers the most valuable franchise for a select few seeking union endorsement deals. Stripping away dues reimbursements, a player who wore black and gold made $51,000 over the two years, about one-third more than those who played elsewhere.

Ninety-eight Hall of Famers -- about half of Canton's roster -- split $8.5 million in association royalties and marketing fees, paced by Elway's $616,000. Former Steelers standout John Stallworth tied with retired Raiders lineman Ron Mix and Eagles wideout Tommy McDonald at the bottom, with $5,000.

Ten dead players combined to rake in more than $510,000, paced by Bears legend Walter Payton's sweet $267,000. He remains the most popular legend on football souvenir jerseys, according to Adidas/ Reebok subsidiary Onfield Apparel.

Old pros like warm weather. Sixty-seven percent of checks were posted to California, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada and 12 states in Dixie. Florida, home to 172 former NFL athletes, was the most popular residence.

Most former football greats the Trib interviewed said they realize they'll never get rich on their gridiron feats after they exit the game. …

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