Trinity Rodman Signs Record NWSL Pact Amid D.C. Ownership Battle

Fresh off her rookie season, Washington Spirit forward Trinity Rodman has agreed to a new four-year deal with the embattled club, making her the highest-paid player in NWSL history. With $1.1 million guaranteed in her contract, Rodman hopes to set a precedent for better wages within the league.

The 19-year-old, who took home 2021 Rookie of the Year and First Team honors while leading the Spirit to the franchise’s first championship in November, had two years remaining on her rookie agreement. Her new deal is structured as a three-year contract with an option for the fourth year, which will be exercised immediately upon Rodman appearing in her first game this season.

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“The way she performed in her first year allowed us to go to the club and push to get a new deal done,” Mike Senkowski, director of North American soccer at Octagon and Rodman’s agent, said in an interview. “And credit to the team: They understood it. They agree they have a generational talent [in Rodman], and they wanted to reward that.”

Rodman, the daughter of NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, became the youngest player drafted into the league when she was selected as the No. 2 pick in 2021.

The new deal comes on the heels of the NWSL’s first Collective Bargaining Agreement, a five-season pact that will run through 2026. After almost a year of negotiations, drawn out by a league-wide abuse scandal that broke amid the 2021 season, the CBA was ratified the evening before players were to report for the NWSL’s preseason on Feb. 1. It includes the introduction of free agency in 2023, a jump in the league’s minimum salary and other increases in player compensation, as well as the expansion of additional benefits and the possibility of revenue sharing.

The announcement of Rodman’s historic contract also comes amid the Spirit’s ongoing ownership saga, which began when Washington head coach Richie Burke was implicated in the scandal last fall. Burke faced allegations of abuse, which sparked an NWSL investigation that led to his departure in September and a request from the league that the team’s three co-owners—Steve Baldwin, Y. Michele Kang and Bill Lynch—sell. Baldwin, the club’s controlling owner, announced plans to sell his stake in October.

“What our team has been through was insane and what the league’s been through has been crazy, but [my team in] D.C. has been amazing,” Rodman said in a phone interview. “The growth that I’ve had here—I don’t even know the words to describe it. I’m just so grateful for what I’ve learned and the people I’ve been around throughout the season. The league is growing every single day, and the players are the biggest part of that. We’ve worked so hard, and we deserve the world. And I hope this deal shows that.”

While the future of the franchise on-field is now locked in for the next few years, the Spirit’s off-field future still remains uncertain. The sale process has been contentious, with Baldwin at one point facing a threat of legal action from some of the club’s investors after engaging in exclusive talks with a group led by Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly for a bid worth $25 million despite having a higher offer on the table. Kang, who had public support from Spirit players, upped her initial bid for controlling ownership to $35 million in December. She then convinced a number of the team’s debt holders to convert their notes to equity and to vote alongside her against a sale to Boehly. She also made a deal to acquire and convert some of those shares herself, making her the team’s largest equity holder (though her stake is still below 50%). The NWSL board approved both moves earlier this month, ostensibly paving the way for Kang to purchase the franchise at a league-record valuation. In response, Baldwin penned a scathing letter to the club’s investors, characterizing Kang’s maneuvers as “an endless stream of lies” and “a coup attempt.”

An attorney for Kang called the allegations in Baldwin’s letter, which questioned both her character and business practices, “false and inappropriate” and said Kang intends to move forward with her purchase of the team. A vote on the future of the franchise will come next, but it is unclear when that will happen.

Senkowski said the impending ownership change did not affect Rodman’s discussions with the club.

Rodman’s on-field earnings will average $281,000 annually, a higher payday than many of the league’s other stars, including Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, whose $250,000 salaries were supported by U.S. Soccer (the Federation had previously paid the NWSL salaries of U.S. Women’s National Team players, but the end of that subsidy policy was announced in December as part of contract negotiations with the players’ union) and are supplemented by substantial endorsement earnings. The contract is in part a result of the introduction of allocation money in 2020, which NWSL teams can purchase from the league to spend beyond the salary cap on transfer fees or, in Rodman’s case, to provide additional compensation. The NWSL salary cap last season was $682,500, with another $400,000 available in allocation funds.

In 2021, the maximum salary for an NWSL player was $52,500, though approximately one-third of players took home the minimum of $22,000, according to the players’ association. In the new CBA, minimum player salaries will jump to $35,000 for the 2022 season. According to the league, increases in salaries across the board and better benefits will push average total compensation to $54,000, up more than 30% from the 2021 season.

And while Rodman will now be the league’s highest-paid player on the field, she is also optimistic about what opportunities await off of it. She already has a sponsorship deal with Adidas.

“How many teenagers, in any sport, come into the league in Year One [and] rip up their rookie deals after doing all the things she did from an athletic standpoint and become the highest-paid player in the league?” Senkowski said. “Nobody could script that.”