With NFL training camps opening up, the signing season is drawing to a close. Not familiar with it? That's the five-month period beginning in early March in which most players are signed to new contracts. As usual, the end will be characterized by a flurry of signings as rookies look to get their deals done in time for the start of camp workouts. With that in mind, we're going to take you inside the standard NFL contract. Just about everything you'd want to know - from how and when players are paid to the impact of an injury and a team's ability to restrict a player's outside activities - is covered.
HOW ARE PLAYERS PAID?
Next to Sunday, Friday is probably every NFL player's favorite day - payday. But, because players are paid every other week and only during the regular season, there are only nine paydays per season. On eight of those, players get paid for two weeks. On one, they are paid for one week.
Every player on the roster gets paid, even if he doesn't play.
Just like anyone else, players have deductions taken from their paychecks. The government takes its share, of course, and there are subtractions for insurance and benefits plans. Still, the checks can be quite sizeable.
Cornerback Ronde Barber, for example, will earn $3 million in base salary this year. That means each two-game paycheck will be a gross payout of $176,470.58.
"I've been at this a long time, so I've gotten used to living off the few paychecks we do get for the entire year," veteran defensive end Kevin Carter said. "It's never been a problem."
Players do have the option of having their salary doled out over the course of the entire calendar year. According to the Bucs, though, no current member of the team takes that option.
WHAT IF A PLAYER GETS HURT?
When Cadillac Williams went down with a torn patellar tendon last year the paychecks kept coming. It's the same for any player injured in the line of duty - be it a game, a practice, even the workout room. The standard player contract calls for all injured players, even those such as Williams, who was eventually placed on injured reserve last year, to be paid in full through the end of the season in which they are injured. Williams, still recovering from his injury, will be paid as long as he's part of the team and under contract.
Players injured during training camp continue to be compensated as well, but such a player who is subsequently released can file a grievance against the club with the Players Association, up to 25 days from the termination date. To avoid a months-long grievance process, teams often reach injury settlements with players injured during training camp.
The signing bonus is arguably the most important part of the contract because the money is guaranteed. Unless the player runs afoul of the law or breaks the contract terms in some way, that money is theirs to keep, even if they never play a down in the league. It is also just one of several forms of guaranteed payouts players receive.
Others include the "roster" bonus, which calls for the player to be paid a specified amount if he is on the roster on a specific day, and a "workout" bonus, which calls for the player to be paid a specified amount if he works out with the team for a certain number of days during the offseason.
Finally, there are incentive bonuses, paid to players for reaching specific performance goals based on playing time and statistical achievements.
LIFE ON THE ROAD
Players on the road are treated just like any other person traveling for business. That means everything from hotel rooms to transportation is provided by the employer. As you might expect, most NFL teams stay in the nicest hotels. The team covers that, but when it comes to incidentals, such as a jar of cashews from the minibar or an in-room movie, that's on the players.
Transportation costs to and from the airport, hotel and stadium are covered, too. Any meals not provided by the club are paid for via a per-diem system. For 2008, the per-diem rates are $18 for breakfast, $27 for lunch and $45 for dinner. Oh, and meals served on team-chartered flights are not considered to be furnished by the team.
When an NFL player signs a contract, he often signs away some of his freedom. For example, Paragraph 3 of the standard player contract prohibits NFL players from playing football or participating in activities other than football that present a significant risk of personal injury.
Paragraphs 2 and 15 require NFL players to always conduct themselves in a way that shows they are in recognition "of the fact that the success of professional football depends largely on public respect for and approval of those associated with the game."
Finally, Paragraph 4 grants the league, the player's union and the player's club "the authority to use the player's name and picture for publicity and the promotion of NFL Football" in everything from newspapers to movies.