Why the NFL isn’t fully competitive

Forget about the steroids, the egos, the attitudes and the salaries. The NFL suffers the same fundamental break that many industries do: the competitive structure is improperly organized. The NFL is essentially a monopsony. A monopsony occurs when you have a large variety of sellers, but only one buyer, meaning that the buyer controls the market price and subsequently has all of the transactional power. There are other professional football leagues, but nobody grows up wanting to play in the UFL or Arena Football; they are backups when your name doesn’t get called in the NFL draft. The NFL is essentially a “buying group” or a cartel when dealing with other leagues, but intra-league competition results in an inefficient allocation of players. More specifically, poor management on the part of a handful of franchises can result in a highly uncompetitive season.

Take my beloved Denver Broncos for example. They are currently sitting on three high-calibre quarterbacks and may acquire another on in the draft. All three have started NFL games, have recorded wins and bring distinct skill-sets to the game, and with handful of teams scrambling to elect play-callers who can make an impact, the Broncos are hoarding talent. Where it gets sticky is that after another season or two on the bench, those quarterbacks’ careers are likely over, particularly Brady Quinn and Tim Tebow, who haven’t had enough experience to develop any real pedigree. Both are primed for Matt Leinart-level failure simply because they will be expected to play like 4-year quarterbacks when they are 26, regardless of the fact that they’ve they’ve barely registered a year in the NFL as starters. Assuming the Broncos pick a franchise quarterback soon, they will likely retain at least one of the others as a backup. Unfortunately, few teams will jump at the opportunity to hire a former prospect who never got much field time; the Broncos are effectively devaluing potentially great players with their current strategy. It’s not as if these QBs are along for the ride behind a legend who is leading the Broncos to championships; Denver went 4-12 last season, finishing second last in the league. (They went on to replace their head coach with the former head coach from Carolina Panthers, the only team to perform worse than the Denver Broncos last season, but I’ll deal with that in another post.)
The structural break in the industry occurs from the shift from a monopsony to a competitive structure, whereby players may be in demand, but are inefficiently allocated once inside the organization. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do about this. One strategy could involve limits imposed on the size of the depth chart, allowing for a more liquid free-agent market (perhaps even with a free-agent training/workout zone like the draft combine) but this would heavily alter the strategy of the game. For now we must accept that not all NFL players are going to get their fair shot. Remember, for every Matt Leinart, there’s a Kurt Warner who is never quite the man the coach wants taking the snaps, but who steps it up nonetheless and wriggles his way into the hearts and minds of fans everywhere. In fact, its these types of underdog stories that keep sports fantasy alive.
From a practical perspective, this is a golden argument for why professional players should have to legitimately earn their degrees from College. When your average career only lasts 3 years, you need something to fall back on, and with so many players quitting school early to join the draft, and many of the rest getting a free pass through their undergraduate programs, many pros just aren’t prepared for life beyond the gridiron.

About jadamroberts

Educational backgrounds Philosophy, Economics, and Business, which I use to build and dissect perspectives about the world around me. Not really an expert in anything, just trying to question everything, to see past the imposed constructs we live in. I want to push people out of their comfort zone, to make people think and hopefully see something more grand than what's immediately around us.
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