We haven’t spent much time analysing the spin that comes out of the NFL and the NFL Players union, because most of it is harmless nonsense that doesn’t get us any closer to solving the lockout.But the NFL’s recent attack on the “myth” of the career length of football players is so outlandish that we couldn’t let it pass without comment.
The myth they are referring to is a commonly repeated statistic that the average length of an NFL career is 3.2 years. It’s a favourite talking point of union head DeMaurice Smith.
Well, the NFL issued a press release today with these numbers that are intended to blow your mind:
- The average career length for a player who makes a club’s opening-day roster (active/inactive roster and/or injured reserve) in his rookie season is 6.0 years.
- The average career length for a player with at least three pension-credited seasons* is 7.1 years (*a player receives a pension credit for each season in which he spends at least three games on an active/inactive roster and/or injured reserve).
- The average career length for a first-round draft pick is 9.3 years.
- The average career length for a player who is selected for or plays in at least one Pro Bowl is 11.7 years.
To which we respond: How dumb do you think fans are?
Instead of bolding the numbers, how about highlighting the ridiculous qualifiers: “opening-day roster” and “rookie season” and “first round draft pick.”
Commissioner Roger Goodell says that 3.2-3.5 number is a “misrepresentation.” But that does a disservice to real misrepresentations, like the one being done by the league. Goodell says it “adds a lot of players who don’t make an NFL roster and it brings down the average.”
So their response is take away players who do make an NFL roster and drive the average up? And pump up bigger, bolder numbers that are completely irrelevant to the discussion?
First-round draft picks are, by definition, not average. I know Commissioner Goodell normally leaves after the first-round, so maybe he doesn’t know that there are seven rounds in an NFL draft.
If you make an opening day roster as a rookie, you’re already better than a lot of players. Many late-round picks (and undrafted free agents) take a year or two to catch a regular job on a team.
In the meantime, they toil on the practice squad working just as hard (probably harder) than the superstars, for less money (while giving up the chance for steady income at another job) and without the same level of insurance or retirement benefits that the union wants to secure for them. They could get promoted as soon as Week 2, and not be counted in the NFL’s numbers.
If they get hurt, they get cut and no one thinks about them again. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t play in the NFL.
Yes, many, many players — including most of the ones you see on the field on Sunday — last more than 3.2 years. (And by the way, 6 years is still not long enough for that person to enjoy unrestricted free agency.)
But when a union fights for benefits, they aren’t worried about the Pro Bowlers who play 11 years. They aren’t worried about first-round rookies who get huge bonuses and 2-3 years of automatic job security.
They’re looking out for the little guy. The guy who works just as hard, lifts just as many weights, devotes just as much time from his week, gets just as many concussions … and then still gets cut after one bad game. That’s who the NFL needs to look out for.
So yes, NFL. The average length of a career in your league six years… but only if you don’t count anyone who is below average.