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NFL players see big NBA, MLB money and wonder 'Where's Ours'

Daniel X. O'Neil/flickr

The end of the NBA playoffs in June brings within a few weeks the start of the league’s free agency period. And with that comes a string of signings with salary numbers that are akin to Powerball winnings.

Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Steph Curry affixed his name to a contract that will pay him $201 million over the next five seasons.

A week or so later, James Harden, this year’s MVP runner-up, signed a four-year contract extension that will pay him $223 million to stay with the Houston Rockets between now and the 2022-23 season.

Curry and Harden are household names. But in this mad cash grab, even the players who aren’t household names in their own households are getting paid.

The New York Knicks signed a guy named Tim Hardaway, Jr. for $71 million for four years, just two years after they traded him away.

And the Wizards made a guy named Otto Porter, Jr. the highest paid professional athlete in Washington in any sport when they handed him a $107 million deal for four years.

Yes, the big, big dollars have come to the NBA. And with deals in the hundreds of millions going out to baseball players like Washington’s Max Scherzer and Giancarlo Stanton of Miami, or hockey players like Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, it’s good to be a professional athlete.

It didn’t take long after the lava of NBA cash erupted for NFL players, most of whom are sitting at home now waiting for training camp, to wonder where their pile of dough is.

The tweet storm from footballers wondering when the armored trucks that seem to be parked in front of the homes of their sports brethren will show up at their houses continued through the weekend.

And, through the prism of high end professional athletics where these players look, who could blame them for their jealousy?

After all, the NFL is the most lucrative of all sports operations, with annual league revenues in the tens of billions of dollars.

And on top of it all, overwhelmingly, those big-money contracts in baseball and basketball are all guaranteed through the length of their deals.

Steph Curry, Max Scherzer and Otto Porter have little in common besides the fact that they each will get every dollar that they are signed for, regardless whether they finish their contracts or not.

Meanwhile, rare is the NFL contract that is fully guaranteed through its length, which is interesting considering that the average length of an NFL career is less than four years and the physical toll extracted on the players is so high.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of moolah in football. But players like Joe Flacco sign what appear to be big money deals, only to have to restructure them in later years to help their teams stay under the NFL’s onerous salary cap.

While the baseball and basketball player unions have negotiated fully guaranteed contracts, the NFL Players Association has allowed the league’s ownership to avoid such a fate.

Unless they are willing to go to the mat for guaranteed deals when the collective bargaining agreement ends in three seasons, July will continue to be tough for football players.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.