How 49ers earn income in offseason

Several years ago during training camp in Stockton, I witnessed an undrafted rookie with whom I had spoken several times leaving the 49ers’ executive office with his bags packed.

I approached him and asked how he was doing. I assumed he had been waived.


“They didn’t cut me,” he said. “I’m quitting.”


It dawned on me at that moment that fighting and struggling to make an NFL roster is not for everyone. It is hard, stressful work.


Teams keep 53 of the 80 players who go to training camp. Probably 20 players in camp every year will never play in an NFL regular-season game – and never cash a game check.


Many of those players will try to keep the dream alive. They will continue to work out and remain in shape, in hopes they will get a break later. Some will give up and try to find work in another field. In this economy, this is not a great time to be entering the workforce.


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Question: If players get paid with game checks, how does a rookie free agent or draft pick have money to live on prior to the season if they do not get a signing bonus? (Dave C.)


Answer: Most rookies and first-year players on the 49ers have signed contracts that pay them $310,000 for the 2009 season. That is the minimum contract for a player who has yet to accrue an NFL season.


(A rookie is a player fresh out of college. A first-year player is a player who is a year or more out of college who has yet to be on an NFL roster during the regular season. There is no distinction between these players when it comes to an NFL minimum salary.)


Players only receive their salaries during the regular season. They receive 1/17th of their salaries every week during the regular season while they are on the roster.


Therefore, a player who is cut before the start of the regular season (and never gets on the roster during the course of the season) will not receive one penny of his scheduled salary. Any signing bonus, however, is theirs to keep.


Back in the day, many NFL players were forced to take other jobs in the offseason. Now, playing football is a year-round occupation. And players who take part in the offseason program and training camp get compensated above their signing bonuses or scheduled salaries.


During minicamps or training camp, players receive “per diems” that do not count against the team’s salary cap but are considered benefits. Rookies receive $825 a week, while veterans get $1,225 for the 2009 season. The team can also put up players in a hotel during the offseason.


Players also receive money for taking part in the offseason program. Veterans receive $130 a day. In order to motivate players to come to the offseason program, the 49ers have made a practice of upping the ante. The 49ers generally negotiate bonuses in a new contract – from $25,000 to $500,000 if they show up for 90 percent of the offseason workouts. These bonuses count against the cap.


For example, veteran receiver Isaac Bruce had a $25,000 bonus written into the deal he signed in 2008. He will not receive it because he did not take part in the offseason program. Meanwhile, Nate Clements and Justin Smith will collect their $500,000 bonuses because of their regular attendance during the offseason.


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