NFL Players Wallow in Free-Agent Money

Article excerpt

NFL players call it "new" money. Thanks to a rising salary cap, teams are spending freely and without conscience with no end in sight.

Monopoly money meets the NFL.

This year's free-agent explosion has produced eye-popping contracts despite a shortage of impact players.

Money is no object. What's more, it's the object of the players' affections:

Cornerback Nate Clements (eight years, $80 million, $22 million guaranteed).

Guards Derrick Dockery (seven years, $49 million, $23 million over first three years) and Eric Steinbach (seven years, $49.5 million, $17 million guaranteed).

Offensive tackle Langston Walker (five years, $25 million).

Linebackers Adalius Thomas (five years, $37.5 million, $24 million over first three years) and London Fletcher (five years, $25 million, $10.5 million guaranteed).

Cornerback Fred Smoot (five years, $25 million).

The only losers are players who aren't free agents.

"New" money has opened a whole new world for NFL players. It's forcing some teams to re-evaluate their spending habits and personnel decisions.

The salary cap is up 27 percent the past two years and will likely continue its steady rise.

It's a major reason why linebacker Joey Porter didn't engage in serious negotiations with the Steelers to extend his contract before the team released him last Thursday. Porter wanted to explore the free-agent market.

Porter is gambling that there's enough "new" money to go around. He believes he can earn more as a free agent than if he had accepted "old" money to remain with the Steelers.

If Porter is correct and he hits the jackpot, it could send a message to some of his former teammates that while playing for the Steelers is a privilege, they have an option when they become free agents to play for more free-spending teams where the financial reward could be greater -- perhaps much greater. …