Highly-Paid Athletes Paid Not to Play

It's Great Work If You Can Get It

Highly-Paid Athletes Paid Not to Play
August 26, 2015

Let's say your boss shows up and decides he's had enough of you. You're not helping the company anymore and you've become a distraction, so he offers you millions of dollars just to go away. Who wouldn’t take that deal?

There are only two professions where that scenario can happen: CEO of a corporation or professional athlete. It is not even the case for all athletes, as NFL football contracts are not guaranteed as most baseball (MLB) or pro basketball (NBA) contracts are.

Sometimes athletes get paid to sit when their skills expire quicker than their guaranteed contracts. Other times, teams have to include all or part of their pay when they trade them to other teams, in which case the recipients are trying to beat the guy who pays their huge salary!

Brian Wilson falls into that first category. The Los Angeles Dodger pitcher did not have a good season in 2014, but he had a good agent. He astutely exercised an option in his contract guaranteeing him $10 million for 2015 six weeks before the Dodgers released him last year. Ka-ching!

Former Dodger teammate Matt Kemp’s salary for this year is a cool $21 mill, part of an eight-year, $160-million contract he signed in 2011. When they traded him to the rival San Diego Padres in the off-season, the Dodgers agreed to pay his new team $18 million of his salary this year.

The Dodgers have replaced the NY Yankees as the champion big spenders. Not only do they top the list at nearly $300 million in payroll (plus an 8-figure luxury tax they’ll have to shell out), that figure includes about $60 million paid to players NOT to play for the Dodgers this season. When Dan Haren, for example, was traded to the Miami Marlins, the Dodgers gave his new team $10 million to pay his salary. (He has since been traded again.) As the Yankees learned the hard way, all that spending does not guarantee victory; as of this writing, the Dodgers have lost 5 games in a row.

Here are some more examples of athletes being paid not to play.

  • Allan Houston – The New York Knicks signed Houston to a six-year, $100-million deal but Houston's knees began to give way after the first two years. He did not play in the final two years of his contract, but racked up $19 million in the 2005-2006 season, giving him the second-highest paid salary in the league while not playing a game.

    He officially retired the next season, taking the Knicks off the hook for his salary. In an interesting twist, Houston's contract led to the NBA's "Allan Houston" rule allowing teams to release a player and take his salary out of consideration for the luxury tax. Since Houston retired the year the rule took effect, the Allan Houston rule did not apply to Allan Houston.

  • Alex Rodriguez – Do you think A-Rod (pictured above) didn’t get any money when he was suspended for the 2014 season for using performance-enhancing drugs? He lost most, but not all of his $25 million seasonal salary, but the suspension only covered the 162 game days in the 183-day regular season. That means A-Rod still got paid $2.9 million for non-game days, not to mention $3 million in leftover signing bonus. They should have made him clean the clubhouse to earn his cash.

  • Bobby Bonilla – The Mets slugger received an unusual offer on his release prior to the 2000 baseball season: deferred payments on the $5.9 million he was owed. Talk about deferred — the checks started coming in 2011. In all, Bonilla will end up with $29.8 million, getting annual checks that are a bit less than $1.2 million until 2035. (Presumably Social Security will take over then.)

  • Steve Young – The Super-Bowl-winning quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers is still cashing checks — but not from the 49ers. Many people forget that Steve Young started his career in 1984 with the Los Angeles Express of the USFL, the upstart rival to the NFL that lasted only a few years before folding due to massive financial failure.

    In a move that makes the Bonilla contract look sensible by comparison, the Express offered Young a deferred, guaranteed $40 million, 43-year contract. That's not a typo. Young will be getting checks until 2027 because the owners of the Express guaranteed the contract even if the USFL folded or Young left for the NFL. Both came to pass within a few years.

These are but a few of the examples of "pay to go away" in professional sports. Time to teach my five-year-old how to swing a bat!

Photo by gbrunett on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

  Conversation   |   35 Comments

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Sara | 08.26.15 @ 14:06
To be honest it is pretty sad that professional athletes get paid big bucks to play sports. Its even worse when people get paid to warm a bench. That money could be used for something better.
Britt | 08.26.15 @ 14:06
I don't really think that's nice... I mean, I get it, they're paid a lot... but if that's their job, let them do it,
Elaine | 08.26.15 @ 14:24
That is a lot of money to sit in the bench but hey, if the team agrees to that kind of salary then I feel they must honor it.
Daniel | 08.26.15 @ 14:26
I do not even want to get started on athletes and entertainers getting the money they do. There are REAL important people in our world that help, educate, protect that scrape by yet these people get paid crazy money to play a game . or as this says to not paly
Chrisitna | 08.26.15 @ 14:53
So ridiculous to pay athletes to do nothing, when teachers do SO MUCH and yet get so little.
Crystal | 08.26.15 @ 15:02
Where do I sign up? I'd like to do nothing for just a day and get paid!
Rindy | 08.26.15 @ 15:05
We waste so much in this country and paying people astronomical figures to play sports is one of those. Yes pay them but be reasonable, everyone just wants more and more. Makes no sense to me.
Nancy | 08.26.15 @ 15:12
As an older Dodger fan, this entire situation makes me ill. I became a fan back when the Dodgers won pennants the hard way... they worked for them. The farmed their team, they didn't buy it. As far as getting paid to do nothing? There is a third profession... Congress.
Sarah | 08.26.15 @ 15:16
Well, that is how the game is apparently played. Best not to stress over it, not like I'd ever be in that spot.
Angie | 08.26.15 @ 15:21
If that's what the teams agree to in the contracts, that's their business. It does seem sad, like Christina said, when workers such as teachers get paid minimal salaries for such valued work - more important than sports entertainment!
Erin | 08.26.15 @ 15:22
Sign me up. I can warm benches for a fraction of the money these people are getting.
Kamie | 08.26.15 @ 15:38
The numbers are just amazing.
Victor | 08.26.15 @ 15:40
I think they would like to play , i mean this are people with a lot of passion for what they do they dont want to sit there, they want to win
Blake | 08.26.15 @ 15:45
They need to stop paying these kinds of wages, especially if the player isn't actually playing. Make contracts that expire when the player's usefulness does. They don't need or deserve that kind of money for throwing a ball around a field.
gracie | 08.26.15 @ 15:49
I already think they get paid a huge amount for what they do and what they do is play a season of their game and spend some of the off time practicing for that season during which they already get some down time that other careers don't even get in vacation time. It would be nice to know that they are actually playing for all that pay. It is a let down to all the fans that are thrilled and anxious to get out there and support them if they aren't out there playing.
Beverly | 08.26.15 @ 16:23
I'm always surprised that contracts don't have clauses that cover payment for things like suspension, unable to play, arrests, etc.....As an owner I sure don't want to pay for someone that can't play........especially with the amount they are shelling out in the first place. If I'm going to pay that much money for you, you better darn well earn it!
Zanna | 08.26.15 @ 16:37
It's a racket, but it's one we support with every ticket purchase, every tv broadcast we watch and every pricey commercial we sit through while those high paid spokes sportspeople pile on the bucks even higher. It won't change until we stop supporting it.
trish | 08.26.15 @ 16:44
Wish instead of paying an athlete to not play, that money could go to teachers...even just a portion of it...
Christina | 08.26.15 @ 16:45
This is sad. It makes a lot of people question what the world is coming to pay someone that kind of money to sit when there are people breaking their backs to put food on the table.
Steffanie | 08.26.15 @ 16:49
Their salary is mind boggling and somewhat sickening. The just play sports people!
Crystal | 08.26.15 @ 17:21
I feel if they are being paid they should be playing!
Bobbie | 08.26.15 @ 17:37
Sports is big money, and with that come contracts. I think the money is crazy but given the ticket prices people are willing to pay, free market at work.
Chelsey | 08.26.15 @ 17:39
Huh. I never quite understood, how sports players made all their money. Guaranteed money versus whatever's else its called. Either way, way too much money!
Heather | 08.26.15 @ 17:45
Professionals and CEOs should not be given that kind of money to walk away from a job they've done poorly. The rest of America would be just out of luck.
Andrea | 08.26.15 @ 17:48
They should be paid by games played. not to sit on the bench.
Alec | 08.26.15 @ 18:30
Once again I'm disgusted by how much one person can make for such a useless job. If I'm ever able to afford it, I'll be donating to charities and organizations to better our schools and our people. I'm not saying that althletes are bad people, just that they shouldn't make that much money for literally sitting on their tush watching the games when other people are struggling to pay bills working 2 jobs.
Joni | 08.26.15 @ 19:16
The amount of money that athletes get paid is isnt worth what they do. Really does it take 40 billion to sit on the bench or throw a ball into a hoop or hit with a bat? I dont think so. If that money was allocatted to the american people to help some get bak on their feet that would be a cuase that would be nice. Not everyone has a talent to hit or throw a ball.
Donnie | 08.26.15 @ 19:20
They should bring back the old days. Some of the best players had a real day job because baseball didn't pay enough to support a family
Debbie | 08.26.15 @ 20:30
Professional athletes get paid too much money as is as far as i'm concerned. Now I find out they get paid to do nothing. Wow
Apryl | 08.26.15 @ 20:44
I'll be an amazing bench warmer and I'll do it for half!
Ron | 08.26.15 @ 22:26
More power to them. This is all entertainment, but big business. They get paid huge sums because of merchandise, ticket sales, endorsements. And all for playing a kids' game.
Carla | 08.26.15 @ 23:01
Why not put that money somewhere that it is needed? Seems such a waste to pay someone you know is not going to play.
Rychana | 08.26.15 @ 23:47
Why do athletes get paid to not play but other profession like police barely have sick time.
Vaughn | 08.27.15 @ 01:01
I never understood why they get paid so much. Insane.
Leah | 08.27.15 @ 02:47
Such large amounts of money. Its insane.
$commenter.renderDisplayableName() | 12.03.20 @ 19:03