After the stadium lights turn off, what’s next? Oftentimes, an NFL player’s first full-time job is playing professional football. But, what’s next? It’s a well-known fact that the average NFL career is 3.5 years. The NFL minimum rookie salary ($495,000 in 2019) is almost 10 TIMES what the average college graduate receives for an entry-level salary!1 The average person in the workforce with a college degree earns about $2.25M in their lifetime, or at least what NFL players will earn over the life of their rookie contract (first four years).2 So, why is it that the average ex-NFL player doesn’t look, financially at least, like your average retiree?

A few key things come into play:

  • Taxes: The average college graduate making $50k per year is going to benefit from paying less taxes due to lower tax rates. The IRS doesn’t consider how much you made last year or will make next year when determining how much you owe THIS year. That benefits lower-earning taxpayers and greatly impacts NFL players. By the time a player receives $500k in one year, he will have been hit hard with taxes. The average person receiving $500k over 8-10 years will pay less in taxes because that income is spread out over multiple years, and they get to start from $0 each year.
  • Budgeting: Coming out of college and making $500k means NFL players can spend money on things that other people their age can’t afford. That’s not necessarily a good thing. If a college graduate making $50k wants to buy a $100k car, a bank likely won’t lend them the money because they don’t project to have enough income to be able to make the monthly loan payments. NFL players, on the other hand, should have no problem qualifying for a $100k car loan if that’s what they want. There are literally roadblocks that stop the average college graduate from making certain financial decisions. NFL players likely won’t be told no, which means the decision to buy a $100k car has made it further into their decision-making process than most people can even dream of. This easy access can make it extremely hard to budget wisely.
  • Career Trajectory: In most careers, more experience means more success and progression in your chosen field. Employees are, oftentimes, most valuable to their business when they are in their mid-50’s to early 60’s. In the NFL, players are most valuable in their mid to late 20’s. If a player is fortunate enough to play into his 30’s, he is considered old by NFL standards. While the average working person is just starting to hit their stride, an NFL player is making a complete career change and may be significantly behind his peers in terms of experience for more “traditional” jobs.
  • Ego: This might be hard for most guys to admit, but it’s undoubtedly part of why NFL players struggle with transitioning to a second career. A player has proof that he is worth at least $500k per year. His paychecks from the NFL say so! That should be the starting salary at his next job, right? After making that much in a player’s first job out of college, why would he ever want to take a job earning anything less? Unfortunately for NFL players, their pay scale doesn’t equate to the business world. Not even the best doctors and lawyers are likely to make $500k in their first year out of school. After earning a college degree, doctors and lawyers invested another 3-7 years and significant money continuing their education before they can even begin making a living. Depending on what a player studied in college and his work experience, he may have an inside track to a new career path. But, if the player doesn’t have any leads, he is going to be in the same position as a 22-year old right out of college. Remember what they make per year?

Truthfully, most NFL players will not retire on their own terms, and therefore will likely not be prepared to look for a new career. Once it sets in that their NFL career is over and they begin to explore other options, the idea of a new job paying less than what they’ve already earned is a major punch in the gut. Athletes we’ve talked to said they viewed this as an insult and stopped their job search, saying, “I will wait until someone realizes my value and pays me the $500k/year or more that I am worth.” And, they wait…and wait…and wait. Because, the truth is, that’s not going to happen unless his brand is so incredibly valuable that a company must have him.

What does all this mean?  Can NFL players do anything to level the playing field with taxes and ensure that they keep more of their money for the long-term? What about getting a jumpstart on their second career during the offseason, while leveraging their current increased visibility? Do players think a successful business person will really turn them down for an internship if they want to learn about that person’s business?

First, players should start thinking about what they MUST have in their life when they leave the league, and what they would LIKE to have when they leave. Ultimately players will most likely need to make some lifestyle changes if they want to let their savings continue to grow and work for them. Guys should determine what’s most important, what they can’t live without, and see where they are from there.

Second, NFL players should take advantage of the connections, access, and visibility they have now.  Simply meeting the right people could help put them in the best possible position for a career change when they leave the NFL. And, they likely won’t know who can help them if they don’t use their status to open doors now. It may be significantly harder to get connections when they’ve been out of the league for a few years without a lot to show for their post-playing career.

Thirdly, players should surround themselves with people who truly care about them and will still want to be around when they leave the game. Life doesn’t end when their NFL career does, but some people will view them differently. Players should know that the rest of us are able to sleep just fine at night knowing that we never had fame, fortune or glory on the field. Life is about relationships and experiences, and guys should make sure they spend time with the people who will always make time for them.

Finally, players should get started with a wealth manager who is integrated with all facets of their off-the-field activity early on. Managing and growing a player’s wealth responsibly during his football career will help ensure the best financial transition when he leaves the game.

NFL rookies and veteran players have worked hard and been coached by experts to get to where they are today. Succeeding off the field is also possible with the combination of hard work and coaching. If players are willing to put in the work and effort to develop an off-the-field plan, SignaturePRO can help them succeed.


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