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Sports & Gaming

Is Odell Beckham Jr. Getting Paid What He Deserves?

It's been almost three years since Odell Beckham Jr. reached his arm to the heavens on a nationally televised Sunday Night Football game, coming back down to the turf with a football miraculously still in his grip. His feet somehow stayed just inches inbounds, as he used his left hand to balance his fall. The result was one of the most miraculous single plays in sports history, and a moment that, to be literal, single-handedly made him a household name.

In the years since, Beckham’s career has been a mishmash of injuries, superstar breakout moments, on-field scuffles and dancing. Lots of dancing. Beckham is now one of the main faces of the NFL and has just secured a massive contract—worth upwards of $95 million over five years—widely celebrated by Beckham’s peers as a win for a major star.

And it’s a troubling sign for the NFL.

A few hundred miles west of Beckham’s New York Giants facilities, in a much smaller market—Cleveland, Ohio—there’s the Cavaliers’ Kevin Love, a player who would barely be considered a top-20 NBA star, and he's earning a contract that dwarfs Beckham’s. This summer, Love signed a four-year contract worth $120 million. Fully guaranteed.

Love isn’t even in the same stratosphere as Beckham when it comes to popularity—after all, Beckham is the one buddying up with Drake, doing Head & Shoulders commercials and dominating headlines every NFL season. But Beckham’s contract, conversely, isn't in the same stratosphere as Love’s. In fact, Beckham's isn’t guaranteed—“only” $60 million for the first three years are secured. The rest are based on incentives and team options. I know this sounds silly, but that’s chump change compared to the NBA.
Odell Beckham’s contract—$20 million a year on average—is the most any NFL receiver has ever been paid, and it would barely crack the top 50 NBA players, right below Jabari Parker, who has never made an All Star game. The message is clear: In comparison to NBA players, NFL players are fighting for scraps, even though their sport earns more money and brings vastly higher TV ratings. Now, there’s the obvious fact that there are more NFL players (53) on rosters than NBA players on their respective rosters (15), so there is less money to go around. But that logic will only go so far, and NFL players are going to be more strident than ever in demanding more, especially as the players become more aware of the danger they put themselves in on a weekly basis.
It's only a matter of time before the dancing and celebrations over contracts stop, and the Odell Beckhams and Antonio Browns of the world lead a charge for money that matches their popularity.
This may all seem like inconsequential complaints from a bunch of rich people, but players have a right to demand what they are worth, relative to the revenue they bring in. Right now, in the NFL, the owners have all the power of hard-salary caps, a commissioner who enforces the law with an inconsistent and iron fist, and the ability to cut players whenever they want with little consequences. It's only a matter of time before the dancing and celebrations over contracts stop, and the Odell Beckhams and Antonio Browns of the world lead a charge for money that matches their popularity.

The NFL is facing a new collective bargaining agreement and a potential lockout in 2021, and it’s almost guaranteed to result in a work stoppage of some sort. And as long as the league’s top stars are looking at other leagues and seeing the discrepancy in pay, they’re going to be harder to convince there needs to be a compromise on their end. Odell Beckham’s new contract is certainly cause for celebration for him and his family, and also a recognition that the player’s talents have far outweighed the criticisms of him in the media as someone too concerned with antics to be a great player. But the personal victory is guaranteed to be fuel to the impending fire that threatens to burn down the NFL in the negotiation battle over the horizon.

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