Jeff Samardzija deal highlights plight of NFL stars

(Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)

You think Jeff Samardzija made the right decision?

A great all-around athlete, Samardzija was a 6-foot-5, All-American receiver at Notre Dame with tremendous ball skills projected to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft. He also happened to be a star pitcher on the Fighting Irish’s baseball team and had a lightning bolt hanging from his right shoulder, one that could reach the mid-90s with a four-seam fastball.

Originally he wanted to go the Bo Jackson/Deion Sanders route and try both sports, but that’s not feasible in this generation of professional sports where the money is so good — an organization expects your undivided attention and rightfully so.

To those who don’t understand the process, the fact the Samardzija was set to be a top-round pick in football and was just a fifth-rounder in baseball by the Chicago Cubs in the 2006 Major League Baseball Draft tabbed for Single-A ball foreshadowed his future.

To those who understand that sport, however, the Cubs treated Samardzija like a high-level prospect and signed him to a five-year deal with club options for years six and seven, with a financial haul of $16.5 million.

Samardzija was on the fast track and by June of 2008 he was promoted to Triple-A Iowa. A month later he was in the show, showing all the promise that was expected of him.

In the ensuing years, however, Samardzija has been more of a tease than anything else as he bounced from Chicago to Oakland and back to the Windy City, with the White Sox.

Through parts of eight Major League seasons the fire-balling, right-hander is 14 games under .500 (47-61) with a pedestrian 4.09 earned run average and he’s coming off an 11-13 campaign with an ERA just under 5.00. The raw skills remain impressive, though, and the fact that Samardzija throws five different pitches with a top-tier fastball and cutter just got him $90 million over five years from the San Francisco Giants.

By the time his Giants contract is finished Samardzija will have made over $122 million playing baseball whether he ever reaches his potential or not.

And that’s the reality of the NFL.

It may not be fair, but the marketplace drives the financial well-being of any industry and the higher risk of injury, along with the sheer number of bodies it takes to play football, demands that the NFL’s players be paid less than those in baseball.

That sheer volume it takes to play football as opposed to the other major sports automatically flattens salaries despite the fact the league generates more money than its counterparts. Meanwhile, the higher injury rate also works against the players despite the fact that many well-meaning advocates believe that’s the reason those on the gridiron should be paid more.

Imagine if the NFL fully guaranteed a $90 million contract to a mediocre player, who ruptured his patellar tendon after year two.

With that money in the bank, many would walk away from the game instead of undergoing the arduous rehabilitation process which may or may not work, and that’s some really significant dead money that could quickly turn a thriving league into one floating in debt.

Fairness as perceived by many is often at odds with reality.

— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen@phanaticmag.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.

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