Commentary

Taking money now pays off later

By making the tough choice early, Leon Hall secured his financial future

Originally Published: November 15, 2011
By Ross Tucker | ESPN.com

Right now, the Cincinnati Bengals' Leon Hall must be the happiest guy who has ever torn his Achilles tendon. Or at least he should be. After getting hurt in the second half of the Bengals' 24-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, the fifth-year cornerback was placed on season-ending injured reserve.

Why exactly should Hall be happy about that? Unlike many other NFL players who decline overtures from their current team to extend their contracts in order to play out their existing deal and maximize leverage in unrestricted free agency, Hall elected to extend his pact with the Bengals on Sept. 2.

Talk about a life-changing decision. Hall received a four-year, $39 million extension that included $14 million in guaranteed money, $9 million of which came by way of a signing bonus. Hall could have decided back in September to roll the dice and play this season under the terms of the last year of his rookie deal, thinking that after the season he could get closer to, if not more than, the $23.5 million guaranteed that his former teammate, Johnathan Joseph, received from the Texans.

Instead, Hall went the conservative route, and after this injury, he has probably been thanking his lucky stars every hour on the hour that he made that decision. You know how much guaranteed money Hall would get if he had to go into free agency this offseason coming off a torn Achilles? Zero dollars and zero cents. There are very few examples of players at elite movement positions such as cornerback coming back from Achilles injuries and ever being the same player.

Hall made a choice that probably wasn't easy, but one I believe more players should make. It's a decision which likely changed the course of a number of lives in Hall's extended family. Think about that for a second. Several lives have been affected, in this case in a positive manner, by his decision.

Too often players turn down these extensions before their existing rookie contracts are up because they don't feel as if they are being offered market value. They think the offer amounts to a slap in the face. Just this year, Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte, Cleveland Browns RB Peyton Hillis and Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson have all reportedly turned down contracts in order to roll the dice and try to get more later. That's their personal choice and I don't fault them for that. I hope they have really surveyed the landscape and thought about the potential consequences should they suffer the type of injury that Hall did. Too often I think players are influenced by agents who don't want to be seen as having one of their players sign a below-market deal.

Maybe all of those players should talk to Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels or Seattle Seahawks RB/KR Leon Washington. Both were offered lucrative contract extensions by their teams heading into the final year of their rookie deal. They both declined those offers and went on to suffer significant injuries. Now, both have subsequently signed contracts but not for the money they could have gotten.

The fact is the injury rate in the NFL is 100 percent -- meaning every player has some sort of injury at a point in his career. Leaving a lot of money on the table in search of more down the line is something only the biggest risk-takers among us should do. When players make that decision, all of the injury risk falls squarely on their shoulders.

One time, I made a similar decision on a much smaller scale. The Buffalo Bills offered me a decent three-year extension in 2004 and I took it, even though I could have been an unrestricted free agent after that season. I ended up playing a lot and playing well that year and could have potentially signed a bigger deal after that season had I been a free agent. As it turned out, I played with a herniated disc in my back late in the season that required major back surgery. I would have gotten nothing in free agency.

Instead, I was able to make more money in that fourth year than I made in my first three combined and I think often about how glad I am that I did that. You never really know when or how you are going to get injured in the NFL, just that at some point you probably will. Ask Leon Hall.

From the inbox

Q. Hey, Ross. Love your insight as a former player. When a player gets injured, say a pulled hamstring and misses 2-3 weeks, does he come back fresher since the rest of his body gets some extra time to heal?

Bryce from Dallas

A. There are two schools of thought on that. One is that the player will feel fresh and may look quicker than usual as compared to the other guys. In fact, players often refer to this as "fresh legs" and will joke about it openly the first couple of days after he returns. This is especially noticeable during the dog days of training camp. Those players, however, are usually not in quite as good a condition from a cardiovascular perspective. That could lead to fatigue and maybe even another injury late in games.

Q. Hi, Ross. I'm a NFL fan from the UK and I wanted to ask your opinion on the idea of a London based franchise being formed. Personally, I am strongly against the idea. I don't think the UK can support a full-time team. Playing one (or maybe even two) games a year at Wembley Stadium is one thing, but a full schedule? No way! People travel from all over the UK to support the International Series game. With the costs involved in attending games more regularly, I think the NFL will struggle to consistently sell tickets, particularly once the novelty factor has gone. This doesn't even take into account the scheduling and travel problems the league will have, particularly with the West Coast teams like Seattle. The NFL will expect British fans to all get behind the team, but I am a Jets fan and this isn't going to change. Also, a lot of people from the North of England will openly dislike a London based franchise. I wanted to get your thoughts on all this, as well as the general opinion currently held in the U.S.?

Ben from Liverpool, UK

A. Interesting perspective, Ben. I've heard similar things from other NFL fans across the pond. My view has always been that if you look at the situation with a long enough time frame in mind, there will be both a Super Bowl and a franchise in London. It doesn't seem like either one of those will happen anytime soon, but at some point, the NFL will pretty much max out all possible domestic revenue streams. Like all businesses, it is looking for big growth opportunities. With popularity in the States already at an all-time high, sooner or later, the NFL is going to have to take bold steps to grow the game internationally.

Q. What were you fined for and, with benefit of a few years cooling off period, was the fine deserved? Do you think the NFL is being consistent with their fines? I think that would disturb me the most if they weren't consistent.

Fred from Tampa, Fla.

A. I was fined $5,000 for a late hit against the Patriots while I was playing for the Redskins in the 2002 preseason. I appealed the fine and got it reduced to $2,500 because they hadn't even blown the whistle yet when they threw the flag and I explained that I was taught to play through the echo of the whistle. I still don't think it merited the fine, to be honest with you. Getting penalized was bad enough. Plus, I could use that money! As for the consistency of the fines, I think they are making every effort to keep the amount the same for the same infraction, but since salaries are so varied in the league, it will have a much bigger impact on some than it will on others. That is something I think the league should look into.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams in a seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams during his seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com. Tucker, who also hosts ESPN.com's Football Today podcast, graduated from Princeton.