Future NFL careers lasting only 1-3 seasons

The abrupt halftime retirement of Vontae Davis, and Chris Borland retiring from the Niners after just one season has me thinking that it might be a smart move for future NFL athletes to deliberately have super-short careers.

Nowadays, a first-round NFL rookie can snag several million dollars per year even on their first contract, and if one has a frugal mindset and good financial acumen, one could consider oneself to be “set for life,” financially, with $5 million in the bank just as much as if one had $50 million. And with the increasing concern over concussions and the awareness that one could theoretically be paralyzed or maimed or even killed on any given play/down in the game, it would make more and more sense for future athletes to pull a Vontae Davis.

Sure, you probably couldn’t win a Super Bowl if you only play 1-2 seasons in the league, but if all you want is enough money to be set for life and to have an intact brain and body, you could play just one or two seasons, avoid injury on the field as much as you can, and then cash in and get out of the game in a hurry while you can. Might more athletes be interested in this sort of approach in the NFL in the future?

It’s happened before, but those quick retirees are going to be outliers.

The average length of a career in the NFL is already about 3 years. Most people on the bottom end of that range probably aren’t choosing to end their career. Their careers are ending for them because the contracts aren’t coming.

Rookie wage scale is a bit less than $500K. The teams that pay more are largely doing it in bonus money. Without without reading the NFL salary rules and a given contract, I would assume that a high level draft pick retiring after a single year may not get to keep his entire signing bonus. But most of the players that leave early are the late round draft picks and undrafted players who make relatively close to the rookie minimum. Practice squad is about $125K (if you’re on the practice squad the whole season). That’s hard to retire on at age 25.

The superstars in virtually all areas are interested in more than money.

If these players were concerned about concussions they wouldn’t have played in high school and college.

some of these guys could make very good money in other sports that don’t have nearly as many injuries such as hoops or baseball.

Most of these guys love football. Which I understand – it’s a helluva game, and the bond with the team can be amazingly rewarding. I’m sure the money is a big part of it, but I think a lot of these guys stay in because it’s just so much fun and so rewarding to be part of a team.

I don’t think that’s quite true; the diagnosis of CTE as a distinct condition isn’t quite that old.

Plus, on top of that, it’s not concussions which are the major danger; it’s the repeated accumulation of sub-concussive blows to the head. In other words, what linemen and linebackers do every play is more dangerous than the occasional concussion sustained by a receiver or quarterback.

I mean, I wouldn’t have played football in high school had I known about CTE; at the time (late 1980s/early 1990s) the only real dangers were the normal orthopedic ones, and there was a vanishingly small chance you might suffer some kind of neurological problem, and either die or end up paralyzed. Nobody ever mentioned (or knew)that you could end up mentally messed up from football, even if you wore your helmet.

The men starting in the NFL today are just a hair too old to have known about CTE in high school.

I think what we’ll see is that in the near future (<10 years), a much smaller participation in football by middle class and higher athletes; since it’s not seen as a ticket to really get anywhere, you’ll see parents forbidding it, and those kids going on to play basketball, soccer, baseball, etc…

we have local high schools that are not small cancelling FB due to a lack of players. One suggestion is to move to 8 man FB teams which need smaller rosters.

The people who get to the level of the NFL are driven to play football. It’s been the center of their entire lives since they were young children. For people like this, ending their football career is a major life trauma, like a divorce.

And that’s ignoring the money, which is a pretty big factor by itself.

So I don’t see there ever being a general trend of professional football players retiring early. I’m going to assume the vast majority of them will continue to hold on to football as long as they can.

I think this is definitely the wrong way to think about it.

As bump points out, the connection between football and long-term brain damage has become much more clear and well-known recently.

Additionally, people do a lot of maturing well into their 20s. Most people do lots of stupid self-destructive things in high school and college, and start growing up and taking care of themselves later.

Societally, we’re still figuring this out. It’s not like everyone woke up one day and agreed on how dangerous football is to the players. People are starting to keep their kids from playing it. Kids who have played it in high school are starting to switch sports. And professionals are deciding it’s not worth it. I don’t think it’s going to be a flood of early retirements, but I think the rate will increase.

We’re all figuring this out in real time. The way we behaved 4 or 8 years ago doesn’t dictate what we do now. We were different people then. And we knew different things.

Absolutely so. While certainly some people are good at showing wisdom and not taking foolish risks from a young age, my experience has been that they’re the exceptions to the rule. Most young adults feel that they’re pretty much invulnerable / indestructible, and have a hard time assessing the risks that underlie their choices, particularly if those risks are things that won’t materialize for years, if not decades.