There are just under 1,700 rostered players in the NFL, where the average playing career is about three years and the average salary is approximately $2 million. That means for a vast majority of players, there is a very short window in which they can cash in and gain some sort of financial stability for the physical and mental toll required to play the game. And with no guaranteed contracts, it can be over in a flash if a younger, cheaper option comes into play.
These situations become even more tense when you learn just how many NFL players come from difficult childhoods, whether it was poverty, broken homes, or dangerous neighborhoods. Football can quickly become the sole option for an individual to turn his life around when other options are limited or flat out not available.
On the other side, there are a number of players who did not need the financial gains that come with making it to the highest level of football. They may be second or even third generation NFL talents or were able to focus on football because everything else in their lives were set by wealthy parents or family status.
Regardless of whether the salary of an NFL contract or just simply love for the sport is the motivating factor for players, the league is still a meritocracy where only the best players get rewarded. With that being said, let's take a look at 10 players who were poor before making it pro and 10 who were rich:
22 Rich: Chris Long
Chris Long is the first example on our list of a player whose childhood benefited from having a father playing in the NFL. Howie Long has an incredibly successful 13 year career with the Oakland Raiders where he won a Super Bowl and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame. In addition to his playing career Howie also had a handful of acting roles in feature films following his retirement. After that, he landed the very lucrative gig as an analyst for Fox Sports.
All this is to say that Chris, and his brother Kyle Long who is also in the NFL, probably had a very comfortable upbringing. Chris was born in Santa Monica, California and attended a private boarding school in Virgina that helped propel his football career first to the University of Virginia and then being the second overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft.
21 Poor: Tyrann Mathieu
Tyrann Mathieu was raised in Central City, a section of New Orleans, Louisiana that has a long history of poverty, violence and drug problems. He was raised by his grandparents due to an absent mother and a father incarcerated for murder. Things improved for Mathieu when he was adopted by his aunt and uncle who provided him with a much more stable home life.
It obviously helped and Mathieu himself has cited it as a major factor in turning his life around. He went on to have a successful career at Louisiana State University before being drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. His rags-to-riches story was solidified when he signed a five-year $62.5 million extension in 2016.
20 Rich: Nick Foles
Nick Foles had a breakout season in 2013 when he started 10 games for the Philadelphia Eagles and had 27 touchdowns to only two interceptions. He fell back to earth a bit in the following two seasons split between the Eagles and St. Louis Rams and now finds himself as the backup to Alex Smith with the Kansas City Chiefs.
But while his career seems to be trending downward, his upbringing was much more uplifting. His father Larry Foles is a restaurateur and a self-made millionaire. He co-founded Eddie V's Prime Seafood a string of restaurants that are in 12 U.S. cities. The brand was sold for $59 million in 2011, cementing what was already a well-off Foles family fortune.
19 Poor: DeSean Jackson
DeSean Jackson has been criticized for maintaining connections to people he grew up with in Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles, California because of possible gang affiliations. In fact, it may have been one of the major reasons why his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles was cut short.
But as Jackson has said, it can be difficult to simply end those relationships or ignore friendships formed in adverse conditions. Jackson has claimed he has no gang affiliation and the wide receiver has a nearly flawless record. Stories about Jackson have noted that he often had to defend himself from physical attacks by gang members around him. It was his father who pushed Jackson towards sports in hope it would provide a safehaven and he was right. Jackson has had a productive NFL career and will start the 2017 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after signing a three year, $33.5 million contract.
18 16: Rich: Maxx Williams
Maxx Williams showed some flashes at the tight end position for the Baltimore Ravens during his rookie season in 2015. He averaged over eight yards per reception as a second string option, using his 6'4" 250 pound frame to his advantage. Unfortunately, his second season was cut short due to a knee injury.
It is likely that Williams will bounce back due in part to his family history that also provided him with a nice childhood. Williams is a third generation football talent, the son of 10 year NFL veteran center Brian Williams and the grandson of Notre Dame quarterback Robert Williams. Robert was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1959 but decided instead to enroll in medical school and become a doctor. So when your grandfather is a doctor and your father is a professional athlete, things could certainly be worse for a kid.
17 Poor: Michael Oher
Michael Oher's life story became a mainstream tale when he was made the subject of the book and the movie "The Blind Side." But even if you've read the book or seen the movie, it is worth taking another look at just how rough Oher's childhood really was.
Oher was in foster care by the age of seven due to a mother who struggled with addiction and a father who was often behind bars. As one of 12 children, Oher struggled with academics and moved around to several different schools while growing up in Memphis, Tennessee.
From there most people know the story of how Oher was taken in by a family who helped get him on track both on the football field and in the classroom. He would go on to be a first round draft pick in 2009 and has started over 100 games in the NFL.
16 Rich: Eli Manning
Eli Manning is another player whose story is one that everyone seems to know, albeit for different reasons than Michael Oher's. We all know that he is the younger brother of the legendary Peyton Manning as well as the son of former NFL quarterback Archie Manning.
Archie Manning played 16 seasons in the NFL between 1971 and 1984, retiring three years after Eli was born. And while the money made by professional football players in the 70s wasn't nearly what it is today, the Mannings still lived a comfortable life in New Orleans. For Eli this included attending the elite and prestigious Isidore Newman Prepatory school in New Orleans before going off to college and then the NFL.
15 Poor: James Jones
James Jones has caught 51 touchdown passes in 136 regular season NFL games. He was a member of the Super Bowl XLV champion Green Bay Packers. After being a third round pick in the 2007 draft, Jones worked himself into a productive and efficient NFL wideout.
All of Jones' on-field accomplishments become even more impressive when you learn about his life before turning pro. He was homeless through the age of 15, usually living in either homeless shelters or motels. By his own admission, his parents as well as many family members were heavy drug abusers. It was only when he moved in with his grandmother for his high school years did Jones experience any semblance of stability, allowing him to focus on football and his dream of making it to the NFL.
14 Rich: Johnny Manziel
There have been some rumblings during the 2017 offseason that Johnny Manziel has worked himself back into NFL shape in hopes of a second (or third?) chance at being a quarterback in the league. Despite the hype surrounding Johnny Football coming out of Texas A&M, as well as being drafted in the first round of the 2014 draft, the Tyler, Texas-native never seemed to get a handle on the NFL game. It off-field issues also piled up and he has not played since 2015.
But even if the NFL never comes calling again, Manziel will live in comfort as he has since childhood. The Manziel family became very, very wealthy thanks to the petroleum industry in Texas with a fortune that dates back to Johnny's great-great grandfather. There are enough stories out there about how the Manziel family almost became celebrities themselves long before football due to their lifestyle and tendency to end up on the wrong side of the law.
13 Poor: Devonta Freeman
Before Devonta Freeman led the NFL in rushing touchdowns, before he ran for over 1,000 yards, and before he scored in the Super Bowl for the Atlanta Falcons, he had his share of struggle and hardships.
He was the oldest of seven children and grew up in what was known as the "Pork n' Beans" projects of Liberty City, a section of Miami, Florida notorious for drugs and gang violence. Family stories suggest that Freeman often heard gunshots near his home and the running back has himself admitted many friends and family did not survive Liberty City. Freeman cites his dedication to football and staying on the straight and narrow as why he was able to overcome so much and reach the NFL.
12 Rich: Christian McCaffrey
Drafted eighth overall in the 2017 NFL draft, Christian McCaffrey is another example on the list of a player whose childhood benefited from having a father play professionally. His father Ed McCaffrey won three Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos during his 13 year NFL career. He retired in 2003 when Christian was seven years old meaning the now-Carolina Panther running back had things pretty comfortable.
On top of his father playing in the NFL, his mother was a soccer standout at Stanford and his grandfather was Olympic-medal winning sprinter Dave Sime who himself became a very successful ophthalmologist. McCaffrey will now focus on accumulating his own fortune in the NFL, as he hopes to be the next star RB in the league.
11 Poor: Adam "Pacman" Jones
While Adam "Pacman" Jones has made just as many headlines off the field as he has while playing, there is no doubting the cornerback's talent. His intense, physical style of play may very well be a result of his background which was defined by tragedy and struggle.
He was raised in a tough Atlanta, Georgia neighborhood, growing up in projects and raised by his mother and grandmother. Jones's father was shot and killed during a robbery when Pacman was only eight years old. Jones would later say that his father was the only male in his family to live past the age of 21. The future first round draft pick would go on to use sports as a way of staying focused and avoiding the pitfalls of his violent surroundings.
10 Rich: Matthew Stafford
In 2013, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford signed a contract extension that guaranteed him just over $40 million through the 2017 season. Not bad considering Stafford routinely throws for over 4,000 yards per season and has not missed a game since 2010. The wealth that Stafford has earned in the NFL obviously doesn't compare to what he had growing up, but that doesn't mean he wasn't comfortable.
Stafford first grew up in Dunwoody, Georgia while his father attended graduate school. Dunwoody has a median per-family significantly higher than the national average. When the Stafford family moved to Texas, Matthew attended Highland Park High School in the wealthy Dallas suburb of University Park. Around the time Stafford was in high school, families in University Park had an average income of around $150,000 per year.
9 Poor: Jimmy Graham
Before becoming an All-Pro tight end, Jimmy Graham's childhood was nothing short of sad. At age 11 he was placed in a group home which started a long pattern of abuse, neglect, and hunger for Graham. He has said he could fit all his possessions in a trash bag and had only few sets of clothes to go along with worn out shoes.
It was only when Graham was 14 and attending a church meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina to take advantage of the free food did his life turn around. He developed a friendship with a 25 year old single mother who gave him a place to stay, fed him, and helped get his school work back on track. Thankfully, Graham's story has a happy ending.
8 Rich: Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck seems to be the type of person who was going to be successful with or without football. On the field he is the prototypical quarterback at 6'4" with a big arm, the ability to run, and a mind for reading defenses. Off the field he has a degree in architectural design from Stanford University where he had a 3.48 GPA. So its safe to say that Luck didn't need a leg up on anyone growing up.
However, he may have gotten just that through his father Oliver Luck. Oliver Luck, a lawyer, was the general manager of two World League of American Football teams, meaning Andrew grew up partly in London, England and Frankfurt, Germany. The Lucks returned to the U.S. when Oliver was put in charge of the Harris County Houston Sports Authority, which oversaw Houston's sports and entertainment venues. In addition to that, he was an NFL executive and president of the Houston Dynamo soccer team before being appointed athletic director of West Virginia University.
6 Poor: Thomas Davis
Thomas Davis has played in 133 career games for the Carolina Panthers, amassing 23 sacks and over 700 tackles from his linebacker position. He was an All-Pro in 2015 and has been named to three Pro Bowl teams. If you were to ask Davis himself, he probably would say he was never supposed to make it half that far.
He grew up in the poor community of Shellman, Georgia where the population is no more than 1,000. After his parents separated he was raised by a single mother who struggled to earn enough money to given Davis new clothes or shoes that fit. When he was in the 11th grade his mother accepted a job in Alabama. Rather than take Davis out of school where his football reputation was growing, she allowed her son to remain in Georgia while she moved to Alabama with his sister. The decision paid off and Davis realized his dream of making it to the NFL.
5 Rich: Matt Simms
It seems unlikely that Matt Simms will ever be more than a backup quarterback in the NFL. He went undrafted in 2012 and has only appeared in four regular season games. With the Atlanta Falcons, Simms has remained on the practice squad but was re-signed in May of 2017 and will compete for a roster spot this summer.
If his NFL plans don't work out, things aren't likely to get too difficult for Simms considering his family background. Most NFL fans know of his brother Chris Simms, another former QB, as the son of New York Giants great and now broadcaster Phil Simms. But few may know that Matt is in the league as well, meaning his childhood was just as comfortable as Chris's. Phil Simms retired from the NFL a few years after Matt was born and then started a broadcasting career that has been just as lucrative as his playing days.
4 Poor: Richard Sherman
Richard Sherman was born in 1988 in Compton, California, the same year the city entered the national spotlight thanks to NWA's "Straight Outta Compton." It was also the period where the city's homicide and crime rates were extremely high. It has been documented that Sherman grew up in a neighborhood overrun with gangs and gang-related violence. According to Sherman and his family, they were mindful to wear neutral colors. His parents set strict rules about who Sherman and his brother associated with and ensured their focus was on school or any extracurricular activity.
Despite this environment, Sherman excelled both in the classroom and on the field. He earned a football scholarship to Stanford where he completed an undergraduate degree and returned to pursue a master's program. His play at cornerback with the Seattle Seahawks has even exceeded this academic success as Sherman has become one of the best in the NFL.
3 Rich: Clay Matthews
Clay Matthews is another example of a player whose childhood benefited from his father playing in the NFL. Matthews' case takes that even further as grandfather and uncle played professional football.
His father, Clay Matthews, Jr., was a four-time Pro Bowl selection over his 19 year NFL career. Playing between 1978 and 1996 means that his salary would never come close to the type of money his son has made with the Green Bay Packers. However, his income was enough for the Matthew to reside in Agoura Hills, California where the median household income is in the neighborhood of $108,000 per year. Matthews is making well beyond that today, so he won't be hurting for money anytime soon.
1 Poor: Dez Bryant
Dez Bryant perhaps lived the hardest life out of anyone that appears on this list. His grandmother was a drug user and dealer, his mother was a drug dealer with three kids by the age of 18, and he typically slept on the floor of his small duplex that housed up to 12 people at a time. All of this occurred in the low-income town of Lufkin, Texas where Bryant had to rely on neighbors or charity to find a consistent meal.
In what can be seen as nothing short of a miracle Bryant survived his childhood. He did so by primarily focusing on football and his passion for the game paid off. The last contract he signed with the Dallas Cowboys in 2015 was a five year deal worth $70 million with $45 million guaranteed and a $20 million signing bonus.
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