The idea that players are not making any money during the NFL lockout is not exactly true. As you might expect, many NFL players are not seeing a dime right now for various reasons. Some are in that middle tier of players that don't sign big contracts and some are in free agent limbo. However, some players have continued to receive a paycheck since the lockout started, including St. Louis Rams offensive tackle Jason Smith.
According to Liz Mullen from the Sports Business Journal, Smith has received $3.837 million since the lockout began. How can this be? Paychecks for Smith and other players are coming from deferred signing bonuses and option bonuses. Smith, the second-overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, signed a six-year deal worth up to $61.775 million with $33 million guaranteed. He had a second-year option bonus of $16.3 million.
Like I said, Smith isn't alone. Sam Bradford, with the biggest rookie contract in NFL history, is due a $17.974 million signing bonus this year, an interesting twist on the lockout.
Listen, I don't begrudge the players for this; that's not the intent of this post. I think rookie salaries are ridiculous, but, like the lockout, I don't have any control over that. We the fans support the game, buy the tickets, merchandise, watch the broadcasts, etc. If you really, really don't like the salaries, the best thing you can do is turn off the TV and walk away from it all. Yes, it reflects some messed up societal priorities, but I've made my peace with the fact that the world's a rotten, unjust place.
On the other hand, when the NFLPA says that players aren't making money right now, don't believe it. There's a class system among NFL players, which the NFLPA has tried to highlight, most notably in their opposition to the NFL's version of the rookie wage scale that would effectively freeze out those middle- and lower-tier players. Those are they guys that aren't making money right now, and paying a high price physically through average careers of 3 to 4 years. I realize they still make a lot of money compared to you and I, but it's not quite Albert Haynesworth money.
Those deferred bonuses are also outgoing expenses for teams that will need revenue eventually too.