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Ricky Williams’s Awful NFL Contract Never Gave Him A Chance

In 1999, using behind Ricky Williams sealed a rookie agreement with a New Orleans Saints in a understanding mostly called a worst for any actor in NFL history. Williams, who was a fifth breeze collect overall, concluded to a vast signing reward and a smallest salary. The sum agreement value — driven by desirous opening incentives — was reported as being value adult to $68 million. As Williams put it at a time:

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“I motionless to go with a large reward on a front end, and a rest we have to work for. With this agreement I’m going to be creation good income if I’m personification good enough.”

Williams never lived adult to a hype of his contract. He was traded from New Orleans to Miami in 2002, and nonetheless he rushed for over 10,000 yards during his career — one of usually 29 players to do so — he had usually one Pro Bowl season, in 2002. He late in 2004, due in partial to a unsuccessful exam for marijuana, returned in 2005, missed a whole 2006 deteriorate for another pot violation, and late for good before a 2012 season.

But if Ricky had matched a high expectations set out for him, and had consistently played for a 7 years of his agreement instead of bouncing in and out of a league, could a understanding have paid off? FiveThirtyEight performed a duplicate of a deal, and we distributed how many any using behind given 1989 could have warranted from it.1 And we can contend though reservation: Ricky Williams got screwed. Williams unequivocally underperformed expectations during his career, though usually a fragment of that $68 million was practicable during all, even to a biggest using backs in new memory.

Signing reward and bottom salary


The elementary structure of Williams’ agreement was flattering simple. He would accept an $8.8 million dollar signing reward and a smallest bottom income over a subsequent 7 years (totaling $2.3 million). Everything else would get paid out by assembly opening incentives.

It’s tantalizing to consider of Ricky Williams as an arrogant rube, duped into betting on himself. But Williams was a four-year college player, putting adult 6,279 rushing yards and 75 touchdowns in his time during a University of Texas while earning no salary. Highly touted rookies come into a NFL as some of a many profitable and lowest athletes in a world, and $8.8 million off a bat2 is not inconsequential, generally given this signing reward was guaranteed money. (Until it wasn’t. The Miami Dolphins successfully sued to get a signing reward behind after he late from a group in 2004, and he paid some of it behind in sequence to lapse in 2005). But unequivocally small else was.

The teenager inducement bonuses


One of a famous sections of Williams’s agreement is a “Special Provisions,” a list of 26 incentives any value $50,000 a season. Some of these incentives are flattering easy to reach, if you’re a efficient NFL starter, though some have usually been strike by a best using behind seasons of all time, and a few are many impossible.


Getting 41 or some-more receptions is flattering easy: Around 17 using backs do it any season.3 Likewise, assembly a contract’s effort requirements4 while being on an improving group isn’t too difficult. You’ll also notice that many of these bonuses are fortuitous during slightest in partial on a team’s performance, definition that starting backs on championship teams strike a lot of bonuses regardless of their possess stats.

The bottom of a list is where things gets nuts. Only 3 using backs given 1989 won Super Bowl MVP — Ottis Anderson (1991), Emmitt Smith (1994) and Terrell Davis (1998).5 No backs have won a respect in a final 18 years.

Even worse, no using behind has ever, in complicated football history, held 12 touchdowns. Marshall Faulk and dual other RBs have strike nine, and Danny Woodhead led a NFL final year with six. Likewise, no using behind has ever managed 18.6 yards per accepting (with during slightest 32 receptions). Joe Cribbs strike 15.1 yards per locate in 1981; a top in a final decade is Arian Foster in 2011, with usually 11.6.

So that using behind seasons would have indeed done some money? The genuine answer is that it would have been a 52-way tie, as a agreement sum make a bad understanding even worse by stipulating that no some-more than $500,000 can be paid out for a singular season. Hitting 10 incentives would be a same as attack 20. Williams maxed out usually one time, attack 10 incentives in 2002. He never strike some-more than 6 incentives in his 3 seasons in New Orleans and usually strike one his rookie year.

Even if Williams had strike 10 incentives in any of his initial 7 seasons, he usually would have taken home $3.5 million, reduction than half of his signing bonus. The genuine beef of his understanding came by dual heftier opening bonuses.

The rushing bonuses

The agreement pronounced Williams would accept poignant bonuses for violation several rushing thresholds, including a all-time symbol of 2,105 yards set by Eric Dickerson in 1984.6


With these benchmarks, “max agreement value” goes out a window. In sequence to strike $68 million, a actor would have to mangle Dickerson’s record, and afterwards mangle his possess record several times in a quarrel to keep attack a $3 million bonus.

Williams didn’t mangle a record, and Dickerson stays a usually behind ever to mangle 2,100 yards in a season. These $2.5 million and $3 million rushing bonuses were many unachievable, and a reduction profitable benchmarks weren’t many easier:


LaDainian Tomlinson, substantially a best using behind of a final 15 years, would have strike 3 of Williams’s rushing bonuses, earning a sum of usually $3.5 million. Barry Sanders, maybe a biggest using behind ever, would have strike a reward twice, and no behind from a final dual NFL seasons would have done any rushing reward income during all. These rushing thresholds are simply too high for any behind to have done postulated money, nonetheless copiousness of portion seasons would be rewarded (including Williams’s in 2002).

So a rushing bonuses were a bust. But there’s one final approach that Williams could have warranted money.

The ‘Be As Good As Terrell Davis’ bonuses


The Ricky Williams agreement is unequivocally a relic to a achievements of Terrell Davis, who accrued a above stats during a 4 seasons before to Williams’ signing his deal.7 If Ricky could compare 3 out of 4 of those outlines during his initial 4 sum seasons a value of his agreement would boost immensely, and he’d acquire as many as $39 million over his final 3 seasons (but some-more expected somewhere in a area of $15 million to $25 million.)8

He wasn’t even close. But few using backs have been:


Only 4 backs given 1989, including Davis, strike 3 of these benchmarks over any four-year duration of their career. Tomlinson never pulled it off — he “struggled” with rushing totals and normal — and no using behind given him has managed to strike even two.

Williams was a plant of both a terrible agreement and terrible timing. In chronological context, Terrell Davis’s initial 4 seasons were one of a kind, and would never be asked of even a best using backs today. But during a impulse a agreement was signed, in a arise of not usually Davis though also Smith and Sanders, a idea contingency have seemed challenging though attainable.

The sum agreement value

Now we can take all together: a signing bonus, a bottom salary, a teenager incentives, a rushing bonuses and a Terrell Davis bonuses. Below are, by a estimates, how many a best using backs from 1989-2015 would have done if they’d sealed Williams’s seven-year agreement during a many well-suited time:


The crux of a agreement becomes obvious: Hit a Terrell Davis bonuses or we don’t get paid. Had Tomlinson sealed this agreement in 2001, he still would have missed a Davis benchmark and finished his seven-season widen — one of a best ever! — with around $17 million, some-more than half of it in signing bonus. Williams himself would have finished with $14 million (largely interjection to his 2002 campaign) if he’d played out his agreement from 1999 by 2005 instead of retiring, good for 13th overall. Smith, Faulk, Sanders and (obviously) Davis would have strike a large bonuses if they’d sealed this agreement in their best years. None would have sniffed a reported $68 million max agreement value.

The NFL is a deeply player-unfriendly league. Large rosters, brief careers and a diseased kinship meant that players are reduction financially fast than their NBA and MLB peers when their careers are over (although a border of this financially instability is still being debated). Ricky Williams got a quite bad deal, though a approach in that it was bad — a fantastical max value propped adult by hard-to-reach incentives and a miss of guarantees — are loyal of many reduction important signings. Just final year a Bills done headlines by signing quarterback Tyrod Taylor to a six-year prolongation value up to $92 million. Of course, usually $9.5 million of that is guaranteed. According to NFL.com report’s Ian Rapoport, who pennyless a news, “there’s a lot of prove-it in a deal.”

Setrige Crawford contributed investigate for this article.


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