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NFL Rookies May Rake in More Money off the Field the League Veterans

By Randall Williams

This year’s NFL rookie class has the potential to make more money off the field than any previous group because of groundbreaking changes to the financial rules in college sports that have given them experience doing business deals.

C.J. Stroud said the NIL experience in college taught him professionalism.

Just look at C.J. Stroud. The Ohio State quarterback, who was picked second overall at the NFL draft in April by the Houston Texans, had deals with Express and Outback Steakhouse while in college. The value of his name, image and likeness (NIL) reached nearly $3 million, according to researcher On3. Allowing such agreements, thus ending the moratorium on college athletes making money, began in mid 2021.

“NIL teaches you professionalism on the field and off,” Stroud said in a recent interview at an event hosted by the NFL Players Association in Los Angeles. “It teaches you how to manage your time and money. It prepares you for what’s to come.”

Stroud was joined at the NFLPA’s Rookie Premiere, which for nearly three decades has been introducing the league’s next stars to the union’s brand partners, by other top picks, including top overall selection Bryce Young, a quarterback from the University of Alabama taken by the Carolina Panthers, and Bijan Robinson, the University of Texas running back selected eighth by the Atlanta Falcons. 

Read more: College Athletes Finally Get Paid

At the four-day event, roughly four dozen rookies had the chance to meet with brands spanning from Panini America to Fanatics, Pepsi and Procter & Gamble. Steve Scebelo, president of the union’s licensing arm, noticed a difference in the players.

“The knowledge and awareness is heightened,” Scebelo said. “These players have come in with a better grasp as to what we do, how we license their rights and how they can do it individually.”

Bryce Young was the top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Scebelo and NFL veterans such as Michael Vick, Keshawn Johnson and Cameron Jordan hosted educational sessions for the rookies on how to deal with the business side of football. This year’s class was already familiar with some of their lessons. 

“It was good to hear [their] perspectives on things, but I knew I was doing something right because a lot of what they were saying was familiar,” said Robinson, whose college deals included one with a Lamborghini dealership.

Familiarity was something that the previous class of first-year players didn’t have. Rookies from 2022 had about six months to learn and earn money. This year’s group had a year and a half. 

“A big hesitation early on was athletes did not know where to get started,” said Brittney Whiteside, vice president of collegiate partnerships at Altius Sports Partners, an NIL consultant. “It was something new, and they had never done it before.”

Bijan Robinson entered the NFL after having signed several NIL deals in college.

This year’s rookie class also comes with more star power. In the first round, three quarterbacks were selected in the top four picks. (In 2022, the first and only signal-caller taken in the first round came at pick 20.) The cohort includes multiple national award winners, including Stroud, Robinson and Young, who won the Heisman in 2021.

It’s unclear how many of the NIL deals will carry over to the NFL, but the dealmaking experience is likely to help. In the lead up to the draft, Young signed with Nike’s Jordan brand. 

“The athletes before these guys did not have the same opportunity for education before heading to the NFL,” Whiteside said. “These athletes are poised to maximize opportunities.”

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