The NFL is the most physical sports league in the United States, and it’s also the league where players have the least amount of protection in the event of an injury. Thanks to a lack of guarantees for contracts in the league, a player is putting his financial future at risk every time he steps on the football field.
The NFL is the only league of the five major American sports that does not provide guaranteed contracts for its athletes—and for these five players, the gamble didn’t pay off.
Mike Golic Goes From The Training Room To Unemployed
Most NFL fans know Mike Golic for his broadcasting career these days, but he was once a solid defensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Miami Dolphins. In 1993 with the Dolphins, he played through a partially torn knee ligament, then opted for surgery after the season to try to fix the damage he’d done through 16 games.
But the Dolphins didn’t want to risk having Golic come back and not be the player he was. They drafted two defensive tackles in 1994 and were ready to move on from Golic. However, they couldn’t yet cut him, because he was technically hurt—and NFL rules forbid cutting a player who was injured in a football activity without an injury settlement.
So what happened? The Dolphins had Golic meet with the trainer, who gave the player a form that said he wasn’t injured, so he could practice… or so he thought. Once Golic signed it, the Dolphins were free to cut him without paying him his $650,000 salary for 1994. That’s exactly what they did.
LeCharles Bentley’s Leg Infection Costs Him The Rest Of His Career
When the Cleveland Browns brought LeCharles Bentley in from the New Orleans Saints in 2006, they seemed to be ready to turn a corner and become a playoff contender in the NFL. The move made sense on many levels. Bentley was a proven NFL star, one of the best centers in the league, and he had played his high school ball in Cleveland.
But Bentley never played a snap for his hometown Browns. He broke his leg in 2006 and never recovered, developing a staph infection while trying to rehab at Cleveland’s facility. Bentley never saw $20 million of the $36 million contract he signed, and he never played football again.
Jermichael Finley: “It Felt Like A Hundred Bees Stinging Me”
As he neared age 30, Jermichael Finley was set to have a productive football career for a long time. He played in a great offense led by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and the Packers always seemed to have enough touches to go around for everyone. But one hit that he described as nothing unusual struck him in the wrong place, and he suffered a spinal cord injury.
As he sat in the hospital recovering, his five-year-old son told him, “Dad, I don’t want you to ever play football again.” His son got his wish. Finley tried to play for Seattle and New England, but could not pass a physical. The one positive was that Finley had the good foresight to take out an insurance policy on himself in 2009, and he recovered $10 million from that planning.
Finley isn’t the only Packer to see his career cut short. Take a look at the rookie who never played.
Adrian Coxson: The Next Hit Could Be The Last
As a rookie receiver from a small school, all Adrian Coxson wanted was a shot to make it in the NFL. His body wasn’t on the same page. In his first training camp, Coxson suffered a Grade 3 concussion, the most severe concussion possible. His symptoms didn’t go away quickly, and he retired before he could ever play an NFL game.
Coxson wasn’t a highly paid player, but the Packers still tried to cut him without paying by claiming he’d failed to disclose his history. He received only a small settlement and a signing bonus of $5,000 for his NFL career.
Check out the pair of Jets receivers who ultimately couldn’t return after suffering concussions.
Al Toon and Wayne Chrebet: One More Catch, One Catch Too Many
New Jersey National Guard
In 1992, Al Toon was the New York Jets’ top receiver and one of the best pass-catchers in the league. But nine concussions in eight years meant that he knew he was putting himself at risk, and despite being just 29, he called it a career in 1992, starting a downward spiral for the Jets that led to them bottoming out at 1–15 in 1996. For Toon, his spiral would follow the same path, as he took three years before starting to show some signs of improvement away from developing the CTE disease that has claimed many NFL players.
Soon after, Wayne Chrebet would be next Jet receiver to see a promising career cut short. As an undrafted free agent, Chrebet would always say he was okay unless he couldn’t, no matter how hard he was hit. He simply couldn’t take the risk of losing his job. In 2005, however, he didn’t say he was okay—because he couldn’t. One hit too many had knocked him unconscious and his final appearance came on Nov. 6, 2005. He didn’t recover that season, and he left football behind.