Sleight of hand

It was reported today that Denver Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning will take a four million dollar pay cut for the upcoming season. The move was made to provide the Broncos with more financial wiggle room to pursue free agents. Manning was scheduled to make $19 million in base pay in 2015, so that number now drops to $15 million. Manning could make some or all of that money back through various incentives. No one needs to feel badly for the guy, of course. He’s an exceptionally wealthy man.

But it’s kind of amazing when you think about it. The NFL is making money hand over fist, presiding over a set of properties that explode in value from one year to the next. The Broncos, according to Forbes magazine, were valued at $1.4 billion at the beginning of the 2014 season. That was a 25% increase in value from the previous season, somewhere north of a quarter billion dollar jump in dollar terms. And yet they have concocted an economic model that regularly compels players – including superstars – to take *less* money because the system makes it exclusively incumbent upon players to sacrifice for the good of the team.

Let me repeat something I’ve said before. When we’re having these discussions about players salaries, the relevant question isn’t whether a quarterback should be making roughly 300 times what your typical school teacher makes.The question is how the economic pie generated by the NFL should be divided among its stakeholders. And I’m just using Manning as an example. I am well aware that he showed signs of decline last year. Other players in their prime have agreed to make less than they previously did, however, because the NFL salary structure requires it. This would state of affairs would be viewed as simply bizarre and in defiance of all logic in a world where sports media didn’t simply take billionaire owners’ prerogatives for granted.

But because they do, we’ll hear nary a peep from ESPN and other media precincts about the oddity of an elite performer taking a significant pay cut for a business that’s never been more profitable.

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