Take The Money And RUN

John Steigerwald Contributor
Font Size:

Easy come. Easy go.

What was the bigger story this week, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger signing a five-year contract extension for something in the neighborhood of $125 million or Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds announcing his retirement and walking away from $30 or $40 million?

The story that affects the Steelers the most is obviously Roethlisberger’s signing but isn’t that a dog bites man story?

Who didn’t think that the Steelers would extend a 33-year old franchise quarterback’s contract? It was always a matter of when and for how much.

Worilds’ retirement at 27 on Tuesday isn’t exactly sending reverberations through the NFL because he’s a slightly better than average pass rusher.

But, in the middle of the money grab that is the National Football League, he was sure to get between $20 and $30 million as a free agent.

It’s rare for anybody to walk away from that kind of money. In sports or any other profession. Worilds made close to $10 million last year and a total of around $13 million in his five years with the Steelers.

Maybe he woke up Tuesday morning thinking about mini-camp, training camp and a 16 week season and said, “Who needs this?”

It amazes me that more players don’t do it.

Especially football players.

If you play just about any other sport, at least 60 percent of your time is spent actually playing the game you love to play.

If you’re a football player, there are, counting exhibition games and possible post season games, somewhere between 16 and 24 times a year when you actually get to compete.

And in football, of course, you really only get to play half the game.

Baseball, hockey and basketball players don’t have 1/10th the number of meetings that football players have. Imagine how those must drag on for an offensive lineman playing for a 3-8 team in December.

After you’ve already made $40 or $50 million, you’d have to really love football to not be tempted to turn in your playbook and head for the beach.

Pat Willis, an All-Pro linebacker with the San Francisco 49ers also walked away from a pile of money on Tuesday.
He’s 30 years old and could have made another $30 million on top of the $50 million he made in his eight-year career.

Missing 10 games last season, toe surgery and recurring problems with his feet made him decide to walk away knowing he can still walk without a limp, unlike so many former players he knows.

Roethlisberger says the negotiations were easy because it was a fair contract but he also had all the leverage. He could have pushed it to the limit and held out and even forced the Steelers to put a franchise tag on him next year.

Having already made over $100 million might have made the numbers less important to him. Quarterbacks have and always will make the big bucks and 33 isn’t nearly as old for a quarterback as it is for every other position on the field.

Jake Locker was the 8th pick in the NFL Draft in 2011. He played a total of 30 games at quarterback for the Tennessee Titans in four seasons and made $12.5 million.

He announced on Tuesday that he’s had enough. Twenty-six years old and his number one job just became remodeling his house in Ferndale, Washington, 16 miles from the Canadian border on the Pacific coast.

Not bad for a 26 year-old guy with a young wife and two kids.

Most players find it hard to walk away from the game because there’s so much money to be made.

More are starting to walk away because there’s so much they’ve already made.

With so many retired players still paying the physical price for extending their careers to the max, guys like Locker, Willis and Worilds look like the smart ones.

Pittsburgh ex-TV sportscaster, columnist and talk show host John Steigerwald is the author of the Pittsburgh sports memoir, “Just Watch The Game.” Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast at pittsburghpodcastnetwork.com