Two of the NFL’s top free agents signed contracts this offseason that would allow them, if they so chose, to put their money in a simple savings account and in theory be set for their lives.
Not more money, necessarily. But more knowledge of how best to put it to use.
We all know that the NFL deals in funny money. To wit: A five-year, $50 million deal isn’t worth 50 mil proper — how much of that is guaranteed? And also, there’s the painful truth that the majority of the players in the league will have blown most of whatever they have earned, or perhaps all of it.
Ware and Beadles were two of 28 current and former NFL players who attended last week’s NFL Business Management & Entrepreneurial Program at the University of Notre Dame. The program was designed to help players of all strata — from the Wares of the world down to league-minimum players, and even those no longer earning a league paycheck — to help better manage their funds and perhaps even invest them properly.
In fact, most of the players who attended were not on Ware’s or even Beadles’ level of fame or talent. They either were fringe players, or currently out of the league.
The pro athlete is a potential victim for myriad pitfalls when signing big-money deals: poor management, friends and relatives seeking handouts or loans they never intend to pay back, or even bad investments. But players also can get caught up in a lifestyle that drains their accounts because of bad spending habits.
Patrick Kerney was not one of these players. The former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks defensive end signed two big contracts in his NFL career but always was smart with his money and always keeping an eye not only on his own bank accounts, but also seeing how frivolous some of his teammates over 12 years in the league were. Kerney twice attended this program when he was still playing, and right after his career was over he earned his MBA in Finance from Columbia University.
“That’s what took me to Columbia: My desire to work with players,” he said. “Helping them understand the vernacular a little bit. Understanding what asset class is. But more than that, helping them not miss out on the right opportunities. I have seen too much of that over the years. It’s tough to watch.”
Kerney now serves as the NFL’s Vice President of Player Benefits and NFL Legends Operations, and his mission is to help open players’ eyes not only to the potential dangers of a large portfolio but also open their minds to the possibilities — the smarter ones — of what that money can mean for them and their families.
“The first thing is to understand appropriate risk,” Kerney said. “What kind of a cap you want to put on your investments, what your nest egg should look like. As [former NFL receiver] J.R. Tolver said as a speaker the other day, ‘Before you start this, come up with a number and how much you’re willing to lose on a venture. If you hit that number, you’ve got to walk away.’”
But for Kerney, this approach is not simply about money and investments. It’s also about securing quality of life and meaning.
“There’s the fact of, OK, you get to the end of a solid NFL career, and you’re 34,” he said. “You still need some meaning, some purpose, every day. The way I look at it is that there are multi-billionaires who still get up and go to work every day.”
That’s why for Kerney, this isn’t just a forum about how to turn a player’s $1 bill into $2. It’s about planning the next stages of their lives, and about the myriad challenges they’ll face — during and after their careers. And for him, it’s a no-brainer for any kind of player to attend the program and enrich their lives. In fact, he’d pitch every NFL player on it if he could.
“It doesn’t cost you a dime. It’s just about human capital, and the economic return you will get from that human capital is absurd,” Kerney said.
Ware said he thought about his place in football and life after it following a serious neck injury in 2009. Since then, he has been very proactive about planning out the stages of his post-football life, knowing that his time in the NFL can end in an instant.
If that reality wasn’t clear before, it was the minute the Dallas Cowboys — a team he thought he always would play for — cut him. Despite the fact he was signed by the Broncos very soon after, Ware hasn’t slowed down thinking about his next move after playing, and it could involve something in the safety field in relation to sports.
“Guys are suffering a lot of injuries these days, so I want to focus more on that at some point,” Ware said. “Not just football either. Sports in general. I am really passionate about that. I am trying to figure out what my niche might be in it.”
Ware said he hasn’t had any specific discussions about starting a business venture in that field yet, but he hopes one day to get involved in maybe forming his own line of protective sports gear.
“It’s something I have thought about a lot,” he said. “I’ve wanted to give back to the game. This is not just a money-making thing. It’s a way for me to take my personal experiences and put them to good use as well.”
Beadles still has several seasons left in his prime but imagines a post-career career that could involve assisting players with money.
“I could see myself working as a financial analyst or vetting out different investments for people,” Beadles said. “I have a passion for sports, obviously, and I enjoy the mental side of sports. I am trying to use my time in the NFL as a launching pad for my next career. I absolutely could see myself working with players on their portfolios one day.”
Beadles first heard about the program his rookie year but never had gotten involved until this year. A mechanical engineering major at Utah, Beadles certainly is smart enough to understand complex concepts, but he only really started getting a taste for business-related things the past few years. And yet he gets why the number of players attending the program is limited.
“I think it’s extremely intimidating,” Beadles said. “You’re coming in and trying to comprehend very complex things. I don’t think, even with formal training, you’re ever fully comfortable putting your money in other people’s hands and not feeling entirely comfortable. If you’re like me, you want to know where it is at all times.
“As you go on, it becomes less intimidating, but there is so much to it. But I feel a lot more enlightened [having gone through the program] now, and it’s giving me more ideas of the possibilities.”
Ware was a business information systems major at Troy, so some of the complex concepts were not entirely foreign to him coming in. But he very much knows he has a lot to learn when it comes to finance and business and understands why many players are intimidated by attending such a forum.
But both players say they also have looked around them and watched teammates waste their money or fail to come up with a post-football life plan, and it depresses them.
“You always hear the statistics, that like 75 percent of the guys are broke within five years of being out of the league,” Beadles said. “I don’t want to be a statistic. I don’t want to be that person.”
“More guys need to take advantage of this stuff,” Ware said. “It’s there for their benefit. There’s something for everyone to learn, whether it’s business or entrepreneurial or whatever. It can help players narrow their focus as far as what they want to do after their careers.”
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