In this April 18, 1999 file photo, New Orleans Saints first-round draft pick Ricky Williams, left, checks out his New Orleans Saints jersey as coach Mike Ditka, wearing a dreadlock wig, looks on in Kenner, La. The Saints traded all of their draft picks in 1999 and their first- and third-round picks in 2000 to Washington to get the Heisman Trophy winner. Whether in St. Louis or now back in Los Angeles, the Rams are all about big trades. They made a huge splash in their deal Thursday, April 14, 2016 with the Tennessee Titans, one of the biggest draft-choice transactions in NFL history. (AP Photo/Judi Bottoni, File)


FiveThirtyEight: Ricky Williams ‘got screwed’ by NFL contract

Posted October 4th, 2016


Ricky Williams left Texas in 1999 with the expectation that he would become one of the NFL’s best-ever running backs.

Williams never capitalized on that potential, either on the field or financially, but as it turns out he may never have had a chance at the latter.

Analytics website broke down the specifics of the rookie contract Williams signed with the New Orleans Saints as the No. 5 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.


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At the time, the deal was reported to be worth up to $68 million, but Williams agreed to a large signing bonus and a minimum salary. The rest would be paid using incentive bonuses outlined in the contract.

“I decided to go with the big bonus on the front end, and the rest I have to work for,” Williams said at the time, referring to his $8.8 million signing bonus. “With this contract I’m going to be making great money if I’m playing well enough.”

“Well enough” may have been nearly impossible. From FiveThirtyEight:

And we can say without reservation: Ricky Williams got screwed. Williams definitely underperformed expectations during his career, but only a fraction of that $68 million was achievable at all, even to the greatest running backs in recent memory.

Among the details outlined in the article were the 26 incentives each worth $50,000, a bonus that required Williams to rush for at least 1,600 yards a season and a bonus that required him to match the achievements of Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis.

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FiveThirtyEight determined that among running backs from 1989-2015, 12 could have earned more than Williams (had he played all seven seasons) under the contract — with Emmitt Smith, Davis, Marshall Faulk and Barry Sanders earning the most.

Take the seven best seasons by LaDanian Tomlinson, widely considered one of the best running backs ever:

The gist of the contract becomes obvious: Hit the Terrell Davis bonuses or you don’t get paid. Had Tomlinson signed this contract in 2001, he still would have missed the Davis benchmark and ended his seven-season stretch — one of the best ever! — with around $17 million, more than half of it in signing bonus.

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