Ten-Point Stance: Mike Freeman's NFL Notebook Heading into Week 1

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Ten-Point Stance: Mike Freeman's NFL Notebook Heading into Week 1

Every week, the Ten-Point Stance takes a look inside the NFL. This week, the insider news, notes and quotes cover player financial planning (or lack thereof), early injuries and hyperbole, Merton Hanks' good example and more.

 

1. Think about the future

There's the NFL player who wouldn't create a will because he seriously believed that doing so would cause him to die.

There's the offensive lineman from a Big Ten school who made it to the NFL, was put on a budget by his financial advisers but kept exceeding said budget with nonsensical purchases and excessive spending. He was called in for a talk with his advisers, who told him he was going to go broke. The player said he would make up all the lost cash with his next contract. There was no next contract. He was out of the league. Broke.

There's the line from Saul, the attorney in Breaking Bad: "Some people are immune to good advice."

It goes on. Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen played in the NFL from 2000 to 2006. He remembers a teammate telling him something rather shocking one day. The teammate "didn't trust banks" and would take his game checks, cash them, put the money in a suitcase and stuff the suitcase under a bed. This happened not so long ago.

Bowen also remembers players not taking part in the NFL's 401(k) plan, for which the league offers a generous two-to-one match: A player puts in 10 grand, for example, and the league contributes 20. 

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"Players don't see the end coming," Bowen said. "But unless you are Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, you don't get to decide when you stop playing the game. Whether that is injuries, lack of production or being replaced by a young rookie with a signing bonus, the NFL will tell you when it is time to find another line of work."

And many players aren't thinking of the future, which leads to this shocking number: An expert who works with retired NFL players estimates that five percent of active players do estate planning.

Five percent.

The moral of the story is that despite the best efforts of the NFL and union, indicators remain that a high percentage of players still aren't preparing sufficiently for life after football.

This is an old story, but the estate planning wrinkle is yet another indicator that it continues to be an issue.

Estate planning is basically planning for one's death and often involves setting up a will and certain trusts to ease tax liabilities. There are few professions where it is more important, considering there are potentially a legion of NFL athletes who could suffer from dementia due to concussions.

The core issue remains the arrogance of youth and the cruel monster that is the daily rigors of NFL life. Players don't think they'll ever get seriously hurt. That's the other guy. There will always be another contract. Always mo' money. Always a rainbow. The farthest they think down the line is a handful of years, not 10, and 20 years seems like science fiction.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Players union executive DeMaurice Smith and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, during labor talks in 2011.

The NFL has a solid pension program, but players can't collect until they are 45. They can't touch their 401(k) plans until they are 59 1/2. Most careers end after about four years, and even if a player is lucky enough to last a decade or more, they are still only in their early 30s. That means they may have to wait decades to get their money, and the money may not be that substantial.

"The big problem you see is that players focus on football and nothing else," said Eido Walny, whose clientele includes retired NFL players and other former professional and Olympic athletes. "They don't think about it. They don't trust people to do it, or have other superstitions, and before they know it they're out of the league and struggling financially."

Walny said data shows that among the general population, approximately 30 to 40 percent do estate planning. He estimates 20 to 25 percent of retired NFL players estate plan. That number, Walny said, drops to around five percent for active players.

The NFL and union both say there are a number of programs to help players plan for retirement or get their estate issues in order. This is true. The problem, Bowen said, is that players don't always take advantage of those programs.

If things don't change, we may see a number of broke retired players. And not in 50 years, either. Maybe much sooner.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

 

2. Niners buzz

There are some in the league who believe the 49ers won't just be better than last season, but that they are leaps and bounds better than everyone else.

 

3. Reggie Williams

If you want a great example of what the violence of football does to the body, and what some ex-NFL players go through, please read this.

 

4. Men down

There were 55 players as of August 17 who had undergone season-ending surgery. Think about that. Fifty-five. That isn't a hamstring pull. That's out for the season. Simply an astounding number. The real season hasn't even started yet.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Numerous explanations are being given privately by union and league officials. One of the more prevalent is that less hitting in camp, mandated by the new CBA, means the body isn't adapting to the increased contact, and thus there are more severe injuries. Not buying that one. The 49ers under Bill Walsh rarely hit hard in camp, and they seemed to do just fine, eh?

The theory that intrigues me: Players are over-training in the offseason and enter camps with tired, overworked bodies prone to injuries.

 

5. Rare air

A tidbit that tells you just how freaking hard it is to play quarterback in the NFL: Buffalo quarterback Jeff Tuel could be the first undrafted rookie passer since 1967 to start an opener, per ESPN Stats & Info. There have been plenty of players at other positions who weren't drafted and started. The quarterback position is so vital that teams just don't trust it to undrafted rookies. Ever.

 

6. Ponder under pressure

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

No one has been a bigger Christian Ponder backer than me, but based on last season, and what we're seeing now in preseason, it's starting to get a little scary. No. It's starting to get very scary. Ponder can no longer rely on Adrian Peterson to save his ass. He has to contribute himself. Make big plays. Be a threat defenses must respect. We're still not seeing that, and I don't think the leash will be long for Ponder this season.

By the way, the blocker for Peterson, Jerome Felton, was suspended three games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. It will cost Felton about $150,000 in base salary.

 

7. When Hanks talks, listen

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Merton Hanks, with Colin Kaepernick.

One of the most important men in the NFL—loved, hated, respected—is on the phone. Merton Hanks was one of the smartest, most aggressive safeties in recent league history and played in a defensive backfield that might have been the best ever. When Hanks played, he hit hard, played clean and was a devastating cover man. He also broke a few rules. Now, he's a rules enforcer. Hanks is the NFL's director of operations and the point man for fining players.

Would Merton Hanks the player like Merton Hanks the league executive? 

"Oh, heck no," he said.

"I would have adapted to the new rules, but I might have been fined every game."

Hanks is one of the great football success stories. He's a player who always thought about life after the game and has become an example for the current generation, even if some players get irritated over a fine he levies. It's been an amazing run.

"When it comes to player discipline," he said, "it's best to have a former player do it. I played the game. I understand what these guys are going through, and I want to make them better."

Hanks was part of what I think was the best secondary in the history of football. It was Hanks at free safety, Tim McDonald at strong safety, Eric Davis at one corner and Deion Sanders at the other. In 1994, Sanders was Defensive Player of the Year, and he is in the Hall of Fame, secure as the best corner ever, while McDonald and Hanks combined for 10 Pro Bowls.

Hanks was always thinking ahead, and when the late Bill Walsh told him to consider taking a position in the NFL offices, the lover of the West Coast moved to New York.

He understands that players today are asked to do more than players in his era. They must constantly adapt to an ever-shifting football landscape, not to mention the demands off the field have increased. There was no Twitter when Hanks played. But Hanks still has a job to do, and he does it even if it means frustrating players.

Hanks recently was approached at a game by Cincinnati's BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Bengals running back had a message for Hanks. "I watched you," he told Hanks, "and you were a really good player."

Hanks was, and now he's something even better.

 

8. HGH testing reality check

There are some team union reps who still believe there will be HGH testing once the season begins. No way that will happen. The union still questions the power of the commissioner during the appeals process.

 

9. Peterson hyperbole

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Cardinals player on Patrick Peterson: "He could have one of the best seasons in NFL history." Why? Because he's physically gifted and will play both defensive back and wide receiver. The NFL history part is hyperbole, for sure, but Peterson's offensive portfolio is growing extensively. He's going to be fun to watch.

 

10. Kolb's future

I'm told close friends and some family members are asking quarterback Kevin Kolb—begging him, really—to retire from football. It's understandable. Kolb just suffered his third serious concussion (that we know of) since 2010, and The Buffalo News reported there is concern in the organization the latest one could end his career. He suffered a similar injury in 2010 with Philadelphia and in 2011 with Arizona.

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