NFL OPT OUTS ARE PERSONAL AND BUSINESS DECISION
BY ADAM GREENE
If you peruse the current opt out list, as of this writing, one fact should leap out at you; the New England Patriots have a lot of them. The Pats lead the league in coronavirus opt outs by a wide margin, with six players opting out. No other team has more than two and 11 teams have zero players opting out.
The NFL’s opt out rule allows a player to sit out the 2020-21 season and receive $150,000. The contract terms they would have played at this season, will accrue next season. Players that are deemed high risk (with a diagnosis listed by the Centers for Disease Control), can earn $350,000.
Are more opt outs to come? Possibly. The NFL has set the deadline for opting out and taking the cash deal for Aug. 4.
For some players, opting out is an easy choice. They have the health issues described by the CDC or, like Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, newborn children at home.
But it’s obvious looking at the opt out list that some players are making a personal, financial decision. Most of the guys opting out are bubble guys, at the bottom of rosters and in real danger of getting cut before the season actually starts. Guys like De’Anthony Thomas of the Baltimore Ravens and Kyle Peko of the Denver Broncos.
Others, like the New York Jets’ Leo Koloamatangi and Seattle Seahawks Chance Warmack didn’t take a single snap last season.
The life of an NFL free agent in 2020 has been tough. With travel being restricted by the league, no one has been able to come in for personal workouts and medical evaluations. Now that teams are in training camp, they’ll be creating their own bubbles as best they can as the health of their squad all season long will have a lot to do on their ability to compete for a championship. They aren’t going to be eager to bring in a new guy off the street, out of someone else’s bubble, and possibly infect their team. It’s going to hard enough to play games and keep infections down.
So these guys, the bottom of the roster players, are looking at their prospects in 2020 (and even the possibility of a cancelled 2020 if it gets bad) and taking the cash payout. It’s not dumb.
A team like the Patriots, who always seems to be a little smarter (or more devious, as it were) than other teams, seems to be taking that to the extreme. You see, a player opting out removes his salary from the team’s salary cap. New England, with its surge of opt outs, has picked up $17 million in cap space. They went from the No. 25-ranked team in the league in available cap (out of 32) to now having the eighth most in available space.
There’s reason to believe that head coach and HMFIC Bill Belichick approached these players with the same scenario I spelled out. A dead free agent market and a likely cut scenario and informed them that opting out would be in their (and the team’s) best interest.
Safety Patrick Chung, for instance, would count $8.966 million in dead cap if the team cut him this preseason. If released, he would make nothing as that was all prorated bonus. Now, he’s making $150,000 and the team doesn’t have to eat that charge this year.
Is that what the Pats are doing? Obviously I don’t know, but it would be smart. And it would be especially smart for other teams in cap trouble like the Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers and Las Vegas Raiders to think about emulating it.