With NFL free agency starting once again this week, we tend to take it and the NFL we see today for granted. Being a bit of an old fart, I have been a big sports fan since the late 1950’s. Not only have I seen many legendary players in all sports, some of them first hand, but I have also seen the various sports leagues grow and watched the progression of player compensation.
The NFL was joined by a competitor, the AFL in the early 1960’s. TV rights at that time were about $6.5M, split between the NFL $4.7M and $1.8M. Competition for top players was leading to higher salaries, which the owners detested.
To put things into perspective, in the 1960s, QBs like the legendary Johnny Unitas made about $100,000 annually. Average salaries by 1969 were around $27,000, while the median wage for most American was about $6,900. Compare that to an average for NFL players of $2.7M today and what you are making. Yeah, I bet your paycheck is not anywhere near 100X higher.
In 1966 the two leagues merged and a common draft brought salaries back under control. The new expanded league started to develop and it has slowly grown into the massive multi-billion-dollar industry that it is today.
There were three events in sports history that brought us to where we are today with free agency in the NFL. It has seen a slow development that has transpired over the last half century. The first revolves around a great baseball player who risked and ultimately forfeited his career to challenge the reserve clause, a part in the MLB contract of that era that effectively bound players to one team for an entire career, with no recourse to leave a team and play elsewhere.
In 1969, Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals had a contentious meeting with owner August Busch (the Budweiser magnate) over a contract at about the $90,000 level. After the season, the Cardinals made a multi-player trade with the Phillies that included Flood. He refused to report and instead he sued MLB seeking his release from the Cardinals.
Many think he won his case, but he did not. In 1972 he lost the appeal of his case with the Us Supreme Court. The only immediate result of his efforts was that he was now blackballed by baseball and never played again.
But, in 1975 two pitchers, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally played without a contract. Their grievance to seek free agency went to an arbitrator named Peter Seitz who nullified the restrictive reserve clause. This marked the beginning of free agency in professional sports. We have seen top contracts explode in MLB from the $100,000/year level 50 years ago to the $25-30M mark today.
Finally, in 1993, the NFL adopted the free agency system that along with a few tweaks over the years, has brought us to the way players can now move from team-to-team and maximize their earnings, as their counterparts in other major league sports do.
Many look back at the NFL and other sports and say that players today are not as “loyal” as they were 40-50 years ago. It is not that they were so dedicated to a city, or a fanbase then. They were actually indentured slaves of sorts.
Imagine going to college and earning a law degree. As graduation time approaches, 100 firms in your area hold a draft. They control where you work and more importantly, how much you make. And with that being done, there is no way you can go elsewhere for a better job for your entire career.
With the NFL draft today, that is somewhat mitigated. A 100% free player market would cause the good teams to be better and the disparity between top and bottom team would grow, the competitiveness would diminish and the whole NFL empire would collapse.
So, as we go down the 2019 free agency road, let’s enjoy the start to another season. A lot of people have sacrificed to make professional sports what it is today. Whatever we confront in life there has been an historical progression to get us to where we are today. Do not always just accept statements of so-called fact without confirming then yourself. As I always say, knowledge is power, not only in fantasy football, but also in life.
Good luck in your 2019 championship battles. All of us here at Big Guy Fantasy Sports are intent on helping you become the champions you want to be. With our poignant articles and being the home base for the Consistency Theory, a sound, mathematically-based alternative to ADP, we will be with you every step of the way throughout the entire 2019 season. This will be my 35th year playing and my 19th season writing about our passion for fantasy football.
Just in case you were wondering how I did in 2018 and want to know if I know what I am talking about, how about this? Five of my six teams made it to their league playoffs. With a cumulative 53-29 record (65% wins), I won fantasy championships in two formidable experts’ leagues, FanEx and FFWebmasters, as well as in my own Couch Tomatoes Invitational Auction league. Yes, that is three fantasy championships in six tough leagues, with two of those three teams having dominating 12-1 regular season records.
In the Fantasy Index Magazine annual experts’ scoring projection contest, I ranked #6 out of 20. In the similar public Fantasy Index Open, out of 583 entries, I was #2 in projecting QB, RB, WR, TE, PK and DST Top 20 scoring. These entries were submitted before the first preseason games. I just barely missed winning my second title in this contest (won in 2014). I lost by a heartbreaking 43 points at a scoring level of about 310,000 points. In 2018, using a combination of the Consistency Theory and my own knowledge of our game, I had my best year ever.
Good luck! Have fun!