It’s common knowledge that athletes make a ton of money, and most make more in a single season than many of us will make in our lifetime. Every year it seems there is a record breaking free agent signing that dwarfs a previous contract we thought would never be topped. Just this past year we saw the largest figure ever, with MLB’s Giancarlo Stanton signing a 13-year $325 million dollar contract with the Miami Marlins. Quite a nice payday for the 25-year-old Stanton.
Sometimes it’s not all about the money for certain athletes. After signing huge contracts with fledgling franchises, we’ve seen some of the best players in their respective sports fail to win championships due to lack of a supporting cast around them. Charles Barkley, Dan Marino, and Karl Malone are still considered elite in their sports, but they all have one thing in common; no championship hardware. There seems to be a movement taking place the past few years, where veteran athletes who have already received that one big payday, are now opting to take severe pay-cuts in order to free up some money for the franchise to add better talent around them in hopes of making a run at a championship.
Maybe it’s not all about the money or championships either. Often times we see athletes take a pay cut to stay in a particular city they have grown accustomed to, or to be closer to home and not have to uproot and move across the country. The following list is a group of athletes who are definitely NOT in it for the money.
15 Jered Weaver
From the fresh-out-of-the-ocean hair to the laid back mentality, Jered Weaver is the epitome of a SoCal dude. The Los Angeles Angels didn’t hesitate drafting him in the first round of the 2004 MLB draft, despite the massive signing bonus his agent, the much maligned Scott Boras, was pushing for. Weaver quickly moved up through the minor leagues, and found himself pitching for the big-league squad in 2006.
Delivering on his first-round draft status, Weaver became the Angels’ ace pitcher, and he was set to become a free agent in 2012. In an unprecedented move, he opted not to become a free agent, and signed a five-year $85 million dollar extension with the Angels. It is speculated that Weaver would have earned an additional $30-$50 million had he became a free agent, but he wanted to stay in SoCal. The icing on the cake here is you know this move had to piss off Scott Boras.
14 Peyton Manning
Despite having already one Super Bowl ring, for as good as Peyton Manning has been, he knows he needs more championship hardware to be considered the best quarterback in the NFL. He’s been with the Broncos for three seasons thus far, and given his age and questionable health, the window to add another ring is rapidly narrowing. This most recent off-season he restructured his contract from $19 million down to $14 million in order for them to have cap to resign stud wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, and possibly add other pieces via free agency. Should Peyton stay healthy, he will definitely have another shot at this upcoming season.
13 David West
David West was a first round draft selection coming out of Xavier in 2003, being selected 18th overall by the (then) New Orleans Hornets. After two disappointing seasons, likely due to him getting acclimated to NBA style of play, West began to deliver on his first-round hype, and averaged 17 points and 7 rebounds in his 2005-06 season.
Despite playing in 72 playoff games throughout his career, West has never sniffed a championship series. This resulted in West opting out of the final year of his contract with the Indiana Pacers which would have paid him a cool $12.6 million in the 2015-16 season, and instead signed with perennial championship contenders in the San Antonio Spurs for a paltry (in professional sports terms) $1.4 million.
12 Jerome Bettis
The Bus is one of the NFL’s best running backs of all time. He is a Super Bowl Champion, a six-time Pro Bowler, and is 6th all-time in rushing yards. Bettis, who never reached a Super Bowl, was mulling retirement after the Steelers lost in the AFC Championship game in 2004 to the New England Patriots. Bettis decided he wanted another shot at it, and came back with the Steelers for another year while agreeing to a pay cut from $4.4 million down to $1.5 million in order to stay with the team. The Steelers would go on to win the Super Bowl the next year.
11 Shaquille O’Neal
Coming off the heels of three straight championships, Shaq was the most dominant player in the NBA, however, chemistry in the Lakers locker room was rather tumultuous. Lakers management let go of Phil Jackson, reportedly because Jackson wanted Kobe to be traded. Sensing the impending downfall, Shaq demanded to be traded, and wound up with the Miami Heat. On the back end of his Laker contract, Shaq was set to make $30.6 million for the next season, a huge undertaking that would really hinder a franchise's ability to sign other talent. Shaq and the Heat agreed on a 5-year $100 million extension. Obviously that is a massive paycheck, but Shaq could have easily collected his $30.6 million in 2005-06 and then receive the same five-year deal from the Heat on top of that.
10 Pat Tillman
Although his stint as a professional athlete was brief, this list wouldn’t feel right without his inclusion. Pat Tillman was a safety for the Arizona Cardinals from 1998-2001. During his stint in the NFL, Tillman turned down a $9 millon contract from the St. Louis Rams out of loyalty to the Arizona Cardinals. However, that is not the most significant instance for his inclusion. In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tillman enlisted in the U.S. Army, forgoing the $3.6 million offer from the Cardinals. After several tours, Tillman was tragically killed in April 2004 while in Afghanistan due to friendly fire.
9 Dirk Nowitzki
Perhaps the best international player to ever play in the NBA, Dirk Nowitzki, the face of the Dallas Mavericks franchise, took a big pay cut going into the 2014-15 NBA season. Several years removed from their championship-winning season in 2011 and thirsty for another shot at a title, Nowitzki and the Mavericks agreed on a three-year, $25 million contract. While he is long past his prime, he’s still a very productive player, averaging over 17 points per game, fittingly in his 17th year in the league.
8 Ilya Kovalchuk
Kovalchuk is a former NHL player (and Russian KHL player) taken first overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2001 draft. He was the first Russian player ever selected first overall in NHL history. Kovalchuk went on to have a great stint in the NHL, and earned himself a 15-year contract worth $100 million to play with the New Jersey Devils in 2010. The NHL had a lockout in 2012-13, so Kovalchuk returned to Russia to play on a temporary contract with the KHL. The lockout ended, and Kovalchuk decided to retire from the NHL, leaving $77 million on the table from his contract with the Devils in order to be with his family in Russia.
7 Marian Hossa
Once Marian Hossa was able to escape the dreadful Atlanta Thrashers franchise, he got a taste of what winning was like in Pittsburgh, as he reached the Stanley Cup Final with the Penguins that same year. As an impending UFA, rather than take any big contract that came his way, he chose to sign a one-year deal for the team he felt would give him the best chance at the Cup, Detroit. In a cruel twist of fate, his Wings were defeated by the Pens that year in the final. While Hossa signed a big contract with the Blackhawks following that loss, he was sure to sign with a team that would be contenders for a long time. Three Stanley Cups later, and it's safe to say Hossa signed with the perfect city.
6 Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson could have easily made life very difficult for the Seattle Seahawks. He was being grossly underpaid at under a million a year, due to outperforming his modest rookie contract. He could have easily demanded a new contract after his Super Bowl win, but he kept playing under his current contract to give his team the best chance to build a winner. Wilson signed a four-year extension, worth $87.6 million. Anybody who shows up to training camp okay with earning less than his backup (Tarvaris Jackson) clearly cares about something other than money. Wilson's contract doesn't kick in until next season, so for 2015, he'll once again be giving the Seahawks a tremendous bargain.
5 LeBron James
In the summer of 2010, the biggest blockbuster was not at the box office, but rather in the NBA off-season when the Miami Heat made a huge splash in free agency. Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James announced they were signing with the Heat, each on six year deals (with player opt out clause after the fourth year). The most stunning aspect of this mega-deal, is that each player took a pay cut in order to play alongside each other.
Not to knock Bosh, but in what world should he get paid the same amount of money as LeBron James? Bosh and James signed for identical six-year, $110 million deals, and Wade’s was slightly less at six-years, $107.5 million. Since LeBron is the best player in the NBA, he made the biggest financial sacrifice to make it happen, hence his placement on the list. LeBron also signed with Cleveland last year below his market value, partly in anticipation of new television revenue and partly to help the Cavs build around him.
4 Tom Brady
After losing to the would-be Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in the 2012 AFC championship, it was evident there would be a change in the landscape of the New England Patriots. Brady has already made his bones in the NFL, so to give the Patriots a some breathing room, he restructured his contract, only adding $27 million over a three year span. While that salary won’t have the Bradys shopping at discount stores, it’s a meager sum for a quarterback of his caliber. His sacrifice paid off, as signings like Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner proved to be the missing pieces for their most recent Super Bowl.
3 John Tavares
John Tavares could have waited out his first contract, then gotten out of a bad situation in Long Island the first chance he got. Instead, Tavares signed a six-year, $33 million deal with the Islanders while their future was still in limbo. Tavares noted wanting to stay loyal to the team that drafted him first overall and to this day, Tavares remains one of the best bargains in the NHL. The Isles' captain's loyalty has started seeing rewards, with GM Garth Snow bringing in a multitude of talent and with the team's move to Brooklyn, it might be a more sought after destination.
2 Steph Curry
Consider this; the reigning NBA MVP, who just led his team to their first NBA title in 40 years, isn't even the highest paid player on his own team. Sure, Steph Curry isn't struggling by any means, as his $11 million salary is far more than many would ever make, but by NBA standards he's grossly underpaid. He has two seasons left on his current contract, where his pay will eventually exceed $12 million, but this is a player whose pay should easily be doubled, considering Joe Johnson is making $24 million.
1 Tim Duncan
It’s a tough task keeping an NBA dynasty together given the salary cap restrictions. With the amount of money a league-average player can make in free agency, the landscape of the league can greatly change at any given moment. There has been a bit of a trend the past five-or-so years, where we are seeing veteran players, who have already earned a hefty sum with previous contracts, take huge pay cuts in order to give their team flexibility to sign other talent around them.
All three of the Spurs trio (Duncan, Parker, Ginobili) could have made it here, but we'll reserve the no.1 spot for The Big Fundamental. At some point throughout their decorated careers, have tested free agency and without a doubt received more money than they got from the Spurs. The sacrifice of cash allowed the Spurs to go all-in on LaMarcus Aldridge this offseason, whom they hope can lead them to another championship(s).