In a rare moment of candor, during a dismal 2020 campaign in which the perennially gilded New England Patriots went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the first time in well over a decade, the greatest football coach who ever lived did something he almost never does: he talked. “It’s obvious that we didn’t have any money. It’s nobody’s fault. That’s what we did the last five years. We sold out and won three Super Bowls, played in a fourth … This year, we had less to work with. It’s not an excuse, it’s just a fact,” Bill Belichick said during a radio interview on WEEI, via the Boston Globe.
What the most laconic general in sports history is explaining here is how teams skirt salary cap limits by deferring full payment on star contracts to win in the here and now. That frees up cash to buy a better supporting cast, which ostensibly means more wins. But of course, like any loan, at some point, you gotta pay it back — with interest. Fans always love big signings, but they “change their tune when they realize a guy long gone is still cutting into their favorite team’s payroll,” writes the Los Angeles Times.
Sport, like always, is like life. Everybody likes to eat, and nobody is excited when the bill shows up. These retired athletes took a helluva doggy bag and are still feasting long after they’ve rode on out of town.
Chris Bosh is the sideline boss
Chris Bosh was sort of the third wheel back in 2010 when the Miami Heat formed the famous “big three” in search of a ring — which also included some guy named LeBron James, as well as the Robin to Bron’s Batman, Dwyane Wade. James caught endless flack for leaving his hometown of Cleveland in search of a title, but with two greats at his side, the trio brought two chips to the Magic City: one in 2012, another in 2013.
All that glory came at a cost, as Miami is still paying a pretty penny for their erstwhile big man in Bosh. Bron and Bosh joined the Heat during free agency in 2010, according to ESPN. The 6’11” center got millions, but really cashed in before the 2014 campaign (notably after the championships were won and done) when he signed a five-year $118 million mega-deal, according to Givemesport. However, by the 2016-2017 season, blood clot issues derailed the 11-time All-Star. He didn’t play a single game.
In 2017, Bosh’s time with the Heat was done: As Bleacher Report reported, the team retired his jersey and officially released him from the roster. The only problem? As the Miami Herald noted, they still owed him over $52 million. Insurance covered “$29 million of the remaining amount,” according to ESPN. The team ate the rest. Bosh, who hasn’t suited up since 2016, has been getting “twice-monthly installments of $434,393” since 2017 and will continue to cash those checks until 2022, according to HeatHoops’ Albert Nahmad.
Bobby Bonilla knows age ain't nothin but a number
Switch-hitting World Series-winning slugger and third basemen Bobby Bonilla is still fresh in the mind of the New York Mets.
In Mets Land, the first day of July is Bobby Bonilla Day. That’s the day ownership and fans (surely Billy Crystal included), come together to celebrate the annual payout to the long-since retired Bonilla of $1.19 million a year. As ESPN recalled, rather than fork over the $5.9 million they still owed him in 2000, the team chose to defer payment until 2004 and then dole it out in annual installments… for a quarter of a century. The contract is legendary in the world of sports: “He absolutely took the Mets to the woodshed,” remarked one observer, via CNBC.
Not so fast though, say some. The deal “worked out quite well,” writes USA Today. That’s because when Bonilla signed his initial deal — brace yourself for this one — the Mets were under the impression they had all the money in the world. At the time, their assets were yielding too-good-to-be-true returns via infamous Ponzi scheme fraudster Bernie Madoff. But when Madoff’s whole setup collapsed in 2008, along with everything else not bolted down, USA Today notes that the “Mets fell into financial ruin.” So, they needed more time paying Bonilla what they owed. Bonilla retired in 2001 and hasn’t played for the Mets since 1999, and he will get his final check as a professional baseball player in the year 2035, when he is 73 years young.
Tony Romo can see the future
Who saw this coming? Tony Romo has become the absolute best color analyst in football since the Dallas Cowboys waived him in 2017. The former quarterback’s knack for anticipating the next play on live broadcasts is so stunning he’s been dubbed “Romostradamus,” according to the Star Tribune. Truly, it’s a thing to behold.
Romo’s powers of prophecy may have extended to his pro football contract negotiations too. Romo signed a whopping $108 million deal with the Cowboys in 2013, according to NFL.com. The deal was supposed to last through 2019, but when a chronic back injury put him out to pasture early, the Cowboys still owed him nearly $9 million, according to USA Today.
On top of all that passive income, the former Dallas gunslinger had another ace up his sleeve. In 2020, the New York Post spilled that Romo signed a $100 million plus deal with CBS to continue his role as the game’s most elite broadcaster. Romo now pulls in more than $17 million a year just to talk about football, according to the outlet, which is presumably much easier on his ailing back — unless you count some spinal misalignment from the immense bulge in his wallet.
Kevin Garnett's big ticket
Kevin Garnett was one of the greatest NBA big men ever, and even though he hung it up in 2016, he’s still getting paid like it.
Garnett was so good he entered the league straight out of high school. The b-ball wunderkind was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1995 at age 19, and immediately jumped from cafeteria lunches to a $1.6 million salary, according to Sportrac. That’s a lot of money for a teenager in the mid ’90s and it only got better from there. The 15-time All-Star went on to win NBA MVP in 2004, and both Defensive Player of the Year and an NBA title in 2008, according to Basketball Reference. A deep dive by Bleacher Report dubbed him the 15th best player in NBA history.
At the time of Garnett’s retirement in 2016, The Big Ticket, as he was known, had also earned the biggest checks of any player in the game’s history, partially due to his longevity — a cool $326 million in career cash, according to Business Insider. Well, almost. As NBA.com reported (via NBC Sports), part of that haul is a sweet deal he signed with the Boston Celtics in 2007 that would end up paying him $35 million after he called it quits. Garnett has been getting $5 million annually since he left Beantown and the checks keep on coming until 2022, according to NBA.com (via NBC Sports).
Todd Helton has that Rocky Mountain high
Major League Baseball players truly are the kings of favorable long term deals. Part of this is because you’re just not as likely to get trucked by a 300 pound lineman while standing around watching grass grow in the outfield. The other part, of course, is the whole Moneyball thing. Moving cash around the ledger is all part of advanced MBL analytics that helps teams win. (The Rockies, a small market team, did advance to the World Series in 2007, but were swept by the dreaded Boston Red Sox.)
Which brings us to Todd Helton. The Hall of Fame hopeful was a solid first baseman, and after 17 years of playing in the league, he happily “agreed to defer $13.1 million of his $19-million salary in 2011,” according to the Los Angeles Times. The outlet noted that the move not only “allowed the Rockies to retain two of their three key players,” but allowed Helton, even though he retired in 2013, to cash pretty fat checks, with interest, until the year 2023, when he will be nearly 50 years old. Not too shabby. As Helton told the AP (via ESPN), “Once they threw it out there, I wasn’t not going to sign it.”
Josh Smith gets a whale of contract
Josh Smith was a one-of-a-kind player, showing his elite athleticism right out of the gate winning the Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk Title his rookie year of 2005, at only age 19, according to NBA.com. Smith made the All-Rookie Team that year too and went on to earn an All-Defensive Team nod in 2010.
Oh, and he sure piled up a lot of career cash — over $116 million, according to Hoopshype. After a very successful and long run with the Atlanta Hawks, Smith signed with the Detroit Pistons in 2013, but his play was suddenly, according to Fansided, “remarkably underwhelming.” And yeah, his stats genuinely fell off a cliff. Always a double-digit scorer and solid defender, he lost confidence from three, lost his defensive edge, and his points per game plummeted to single digits by 2015, according to Basketball Reference. Detroit waived him in 2014 but still owed him $26 million on his initial four-year $54 deal.
Smith bounced around the league until 2017 and then made a brief sojourn playing professionally in China where he inked another sweet three-month deal worth $1.5 million, playing for the Sichuan Whales, according to CBS News. That’s not NBA money, but the lefty with the soaring hops was still cashing $5.3 million a year from Motor City through 2019, according to Clickon Detroit.
Manny Ramirez manages his millions
2004 World Series MVP and Red Sox slugging legend Manny Ramirez walks into a bar. No one notices. That’s not a setup to a joke. In 2020, Ramirez, who at age 48 had just signed a one-year deal in Australia with the Sydney Blue Sox, was grabbing a pint Down Under when he spotted a guy wearing a Red Sox hat and asked him who his favorite player was. The guy didn’t understand the question let alone recognize the nine-time All-Star standing in front of him — a man ESPN dubbed one of the top ten right-handed hitters ever.
Maybe the fan can be forgiven because even though Ramirez is still active, he hasn’t suited up for the Red Sox since 2007. But they’re sure as heck still paying him. In 2000, Ramirez signed a $160 million, eight-year deal with Boston, according to SBNation, but two separate MLB steroid violations led to suspensions: one in 2009 and another in 2011. The second led to his retirement that year, according to The New York Times.
Ramirez finished his MLB career with the LA Dodgers, who picked up some of the tab, but Boston.com noted, Red Sox still owed him millions. While happily swinging away in Sydney, Ramirez will be getting over $2 million a year until the year 2026, when he will be 54 years young, according to the outlet. If some fans have forgotten his greatness, Ramirez clearly isn’t sweating it.
Steve Young was gonna get paid until he was very old
Steve Young signed perhaps the oddest contract in football history when he inked a “43-year, $40 million” contract in 1984, according to CBS Sports. Young had been lured away from the NFL draft to join the upstart USFL. If the arrangement had stood, Young would have been getting checks on his rookie deal until he was 65 years old.
The deal was a bit of a bust, of course — at least in relative millionaire-athlete terms. Young was more realistically agreeing to a four-year playing contract, but with the money owed to him payable over more than four decades, so if the league went bust — which it did — well, too bad for ol’ Steve’s retirement fund. Young came to his senses though and opted out, forgoing potentially millions, to join the NFL in 1985, according to the Los Angeles Times. The outlet noted he collected only $4.8 million of the ridiculous contract.
The move allowed Young to eventually land with the San Francisco 49ers where he succeeded a guy named Joe Montana, won three Super Bowls, and raked in over $47 million in NFL earnings along the way, according to Sportrac. His bust has been on display in the NFL hall of fame in Canton, Ohio since 2005, so you might say Young called the right play.
Ichiro Suzuki is ageless
Ichiro Suzuki was already a legend of Japanese baseball when he came to the Seattle Mariners in 2001 at the age of 27 — making him pretty old for a rookie. But he made up for lost time cracking more hits than anyone after age 27 other than Pete Rose, according to MLB.com. Suzuki started late, and ended late too, maybe due to his famously thorough on-deck circle stretching routine. “Ichi” gave pitchers hell until he was 45 years old, according to The New York Times, and in 2019, he ended his career as a Mariner in an emotional farewell performance in front of Japanese fans in Tokyo.
Suzuki was quite literally well into his gray hairs in that last game, but the longevity paid off. Ichi earned a staggering $168 million during a career that spanned three different decades, according to Sportrac. And there’s more on the way. The Mariners deferred “$25 million of the $90 million he is owed” in Seattle-area earnings and will be sending him checks “until at least 2032,” according to ESPN. Ichiro brought no pennants, but if you ask anyone in town, he was worth every penny.
Ken Griffey Jr. catches a windfall
“The Kid” was so dubbed because he was such an immediate sensation in Seattle at only age 19 — plus his father, Ken Griffey Sr., was also a notable major leaguer. Griffey Jr. was another legendary Mariner, before slugging in Cincinnati, and maybe could’ve been the MLB GOAT if injuries from his Spider-Man antics in the outfield didn’t pile up. The man truly showed no regard for his personal safety chasing deep fly balls.
Most guys with his generational home-run hitting ability know their value is smashing in runs, and aren’t so reckless. Griffey Jr. hit 630 homers total, seventh all-time. But Griffey Jr.’s elite two-way play is what made him great to watch, and the 13-time All-Star was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016. He managed to play through the pain for 22 seasons, earning over $158 million, according to Sportrac. But that figure is still going up. Although he returned to Seattle to retire as a Mariner in 2010, the Cincinnati Reds will be paying Ken Jr. nearly $3.6 million every year until 2024, when The Kid will be 54 years old — pushing his total haul past $172 million. Ken Sr. must be proud indeed.
Deron Wiliams double dips
If you ever played basketball at a competitive level and had a future NBA star burn right past you like you were standing in cement, you know the feeling that athletes of that echelon have something genuinely akin to superpowers. Just as eerie though, sometimes those same guys become mortal basically overnight. That’s what happened to Deron Williams in 2015.
In 2012, Williams was coming off a stellar season averaging over 21 points and nearly 9 assists. He had that SportsCenter shine too — his crossover was a genuine nightmare for defenders. That’s elite point guard stuff. So at 28, the Brooklyn Nets paid him like it: As ESPN reported, the team offered Williams a sweet five-year, $98 million mega-deal. But by 2015, Williams production had somehow fallen off. It’s unclear why. There were rumors his weight fluctuated, or that the pressure of a big market got to him. Or maybe it was injuries.
Whatever the real reason, the Nets felt they’d be better off paying him to play against them, and dished Williams to the Dallas Mavericks, where he scored another $10 million, according to SBNation. But Brooklyn still owed Williams $27.5 million too. The former point-god hung it up in 2017 but cashed Big Apple checks for $5 million every year until 2020, bringing his career total to nearly $160 million according to Sportrac. For tax purposes though, let’s hope his accountant was able to get him that Texas rate.
Bret Saberhagen's deal of the century
In 1993, Bret Saberhagen signed what The New York Times dubbed the “deal of the century.” But the joke was, the deal was so sweet, it was the deal of the (next) century too.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner and 1985 World Series MVP was a righty with a wicked heater — made even more vicious because it was followed by a change-up that bobbed and weaved more than a young Muhammed Ali. Eight years after his pennant glory, the three-time All-Star inked a deal with the New York Mets worth just over $15 million a year through 1996.
That’s just three, eight-figure seasons. Nothing too crazy by MLB All-Star standards. The deal only made him the seventh highest-paid pitcher of the era. The actual kicker was the retirement package. Saberhagen hung up his cleats in 2001, and three years later the deferred payments kicked in, starting in 2004: $250,000 a year for a whopping 25 years! That means Saberhagen, much like the great Bobby Bonilla, will be cashing checks well into his social security years, finishing up in 2029, when he will be 65 years old.
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