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Pet tigers and Bentleys: How NFL players mess up money from the start

Pet tigers and Bentleys: Two investments that don't offer much opportunity for return. Getty Images

Smooth rides, sharks, tigers, iced-out watches and fish tanks. Those are just a few examples of what guys in the NFL throw money at. And for the young players, the rookies, it can drain that bank account quickly.

I get it. That first check from the NFL is nice. Even mine as a sixth-round pick out of Iowa back in 2000 wasn't too bad: $48,000 signing bonus -- which dropped to about $26,000 and some change after taxes. I thought that was big money coming out of college. Drinks for everyone at the Sports Column, right?

But the stories I've heard from players, agents, trainers, equipment guys and financial planners should serve as a warning for these rooks when they sign their contracts. That money can vanish when you try to live the NFL lifestyle like a 10-year veteran.

Here are some common financial pitfalls for NFL players:

1. The rides

Bentleys, a new Benz, BMW 7 Series, Audi A8. The players' parking lot on game days is loaded with high-priced rides. Heck, it can look like a luxury car show if you play in places like Miami, Atlanta and Dallas. Up north in Green Bay and Buffalo? You are going to see more F-150s and Chevy Tahoes. You can't ride around on 22-inch rims in the snow. The salt is going to eat those things up.

Now for the eight-year vets making a couple of million a season, with millions more in the bank? Yeah, they can afford it. But for the rooks? Nah, man. I've seen a seventh-round pick pull up to the stadium on game day in an Escalade. Looks sweet, right? Sure it does, until that rookie gets blown up on special teams and finds out he got cut.

A financial planner told me one player came in and wanted to buy three Escalades -- one each for his mom, his girlfriend and himself. Another player started buying cars -- and RVs -- for the family. Those aren't cheap, either. And all these expensive rides (or Winnebagos) lose value the minute you drive them off the lot. So does painting a Mercedes G Wagon with green chameleon paint. (True story.) That's a tough trade-in there.

2. Pet tigers

You can't have tigers, the same ones you see at the zoo, hanging out in the backyard. Those things can eat people. But one player I know of bought a tiger cub and let it walk around the patio. These suburban neighborhoods that surround pro football facilities aren't ready for tigers to get out and stroll down the street. Animal control felt the same way when it took that tiger away.

3. Houses

I love when pro players reward their parents or grandparents with a new house after getting drafted. Give back to the family. That's awesome. But when you start buying houses for your friends and your uncle, it puts you in a hole. One player didn't like his parking spot at a townhouse he owned, so he bought the place next to him. Why? He could park his truck there, and his friends could use the place too.

Around 2004, a few years before the housing bubble burst, guys in the league were buying property everywhere. Investing, they said. But that all went south. And it's hard to flip minimansions when the market is soft. Pools, guesthouses, garages loaded up with rides -- that stuff will get you. And foreclosure is no joke.

Here's a tip for the rookies: Rent in the city where you play. It's much easier to turn in the key when you get cut than lose big money on a house. Just change your forwarding address at the post office, pack up and leave town without a mortgage to worry about in a place where you don't want to live.

4. Car accessories

New rims are one thing, but you'll also see guys trick out rides with a bunch of electronics. One player had TVs installed in the headrest of the third-row seats on his SUV. Why? Well, he thought it would be cool if the people behind him could also watch the movie at a red light. OK. Another guy had a fish tank installed in his van. Yeah, I don't know. Louis Vuitton interior in the car? That's another. Start tricking those rides out and the money is going to add up.

5. Bad investment choices

Iraqi currency, Florida banks, floatable furniture in flood areas (seriously). You can invest in anything, right? And a lot of players take the bait.

Investments and start-up companies looking for venture capital money are discussed all of the time in the locker room. One player buys in and more start to follow. Easy, easy way to get burned. That Iraqi currency? Players were investing $40,000 and getting absolutely zero in return. All gone.

6. Shark/fish tanks

Players who buy sharks need a place to put them; you can't just drop those things in the bathtub. So you buy a tank -- and we aren't talking about a little goldfish bowl here. These are the kind of tanks you see at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Massive. They fill up a whole room. Throw in some eels, exotic fish and turtles, and all of a sudden the standard fish tank has turned the house in the suburbs into a tropical coral reef.

7. Jewelry

When I went to the combine as a rookie, a first-round pick rolled in with diamonds all over. The chain, the earrings, the watch -- iced out from head to toe. And he played only a couple of seasons before washing out of the league.

It's cool to reward yourself with some nice jewelry. Get some for your wife too. But that Mr. T look? Slow down ...

8. Dogs

Dropping $50,000 for an army-trained German shepherd. Perro de presa Canario breeds from Spain. Air-conditioned doghouses. Pet shop receipts for $5,000 -- just for the dog. I like dogs too. But you've got to draw the line somewhere.

9. Home theaters

They didn't have flat-screen TVs when I first got into the league, but when they came out, guys were dropping $8,000 on these things. Now it's more about the home theaters. And those are legit. The seats, the sound, the screen that takes up the entire wall -- it all goes in the big house that you eventually have to sell after you get cut. You can't take the theater with you. Maybe the seats, I guess.

10. Jordans

I'm talking about closets filled with just Jordans. And they are clean too. Never worn, really. Floor to ceiling. Just packed with J's.

11. Suits

Rooks don't have to get the custom suits like the vets, but again, this is a major issue with young guys. They want to look like the vets or compete with the vets, but they are trying to do that on a first-year budget. Yikes. Go grab a suit at Macy's and call it a day.

12. Rookie night

This is a long-standing tradition in the NFL, when the rookies take the vets out to dinner. And the tab can get ultra-expensive. One agent told me his client, a fourth-round pick, had to shell out $14,000 for the rookie dinner. That's a ton of cash for a rookie making Day 3 money.

I had it easy as a first-year guy. Dinner at J. Buck's in St. Louis. I split the tab with fellow rookie Jacoby Shepherd. It was around a grand total. But we had some cool vets, man. Todd Lyght, Keith Lyle, Devin Bush. They didn't want to make us panic.

Other rookies aren't so fortunate. But that's on the vets, and there's always a guy or two in the group who wants to see the rooks pay up. And it starts with the booze. That stuff fills up the tab. Bottles of Cristal, shots of Louis XIII. Forget about it. Now you are talking about a bill in the thousands.

That was never my thing as a veteran player when we went out with the rookie defensive backs. But I also drink Busch Light.

13. Vegas

Everyone loves Las Vegas. Play some blackjack, shoot dice at the craps tables. Fun times, right? Sure. But that doesn't include bottle service every night at the clubs ($20,000 cognac) and markers at the casino. Or the tab for partying all weekend. One player ran up a $250,000 marker at the Palms, and he found the FBI at his door after signing a contract down the road. That signing bonus he just got? Poof.

14. Rifle insurance

An agent told me he once wired $15,000 to pay for insurance on an AR-15 rifle for one his clients. Yes, $15K!

15. Boats

Miniyachts worth $300,000, WaveRunners for the entire family, 20-foot fishing boats to go catch muskies up north. These are money pits. Agents cringe when their clients drop down thousands for boats and water toys that they use a couple of times a year.

16. Family

Talk to any agent or financial planner and they will bring up family when the topic is big spending in the NFL. Players who are drafted sometimes feel the need to help out family. That's a tough spot to be in. I talked to a few agents who stepped in and put a stop to it before the money ran dry.

17. Luggage

Seventh-round picks and undrafted free agents showing up at the airport for road trips with designer luggage. Real or fake, it's a brutal investment for guys making the rookie minimum.

Remember, state and federal taxes are real and the agent fee is 3 percent. You don't really have as much money as you think you do. Go make some plays and stick in the league for more than a year before you start spending like a five-time Pro Bowler.

ESPN.com NFL analyst Matt Bowen played seven seasons as a defensive back in the NFL.