It came as a surprise to the public and to himself: When DeForest Buckner, footballer of the San Francisco 49ers, was transferred from his club to Indianapolis a few days ago, the defender said: “It hurts.” Buckner was a key player and was in the Superbowl with his team, but now he has to go. He fought for the team and made lifelong friendships in San Francisco. There is nothing he can do about his change.
The National Football League (NFL) does not take personal feelings into account. Much less than in sports like football, where players have significantly more rights. In the NFL, clubs exchange players among themselves. The contracts remain and continue to run with the new team – and can be adjusted there or simply canceled.
They cannot choose whether or where the players will be transferred. Buckner would have loved to stay in San Francisco, but: signing his contract with the 49ers four years ago, he ceded the right to choose where he played. Since then, this decision has been the responsibility of the team owner – and this serves the transfer phase, which is currently running in the NFL despite Corona. In the first ten days, 15 players were transferred, over 50 fired, and well over 100 non-contract players found a new employer. With all these changes, it is quite possible that half of a team will be replaced during a transfer phase.
Before beginning his NFL career, DeForest Buckner participated in the NFL Combine. The most promising college players are invited to this performance show so that team owners and coaches can take a close look at them. The players are questioned, measured and weighed and have to undergo medical and athletic tests. Former German NFL player Markus Kuhn once said that he felt like he was trafficking in human beings.
In the Combine, players have to do exercises and are closely monitored. (Image: Ezra Shaw / AP)
There are hardly any ways out
This continues, because the comparison with human trafficking can also be applied to the step from college to the NFL: the NFL draft. In seven rounds, the team owners secure the rights to the young players, whereby the worst team from the previous season can choose first in each round, the best last. If a player is drawn, he can either sign a four-year contract with this team or turn his back on the NFL forever. After signing the contract, the team owner has the right to transfer the player to any other team. There are no requirements. For example, a player may be deported to another team a few days after a transfer.
Few players have a “no-trade clause” in their contracts, which means that they can only be transferred with their consent. The majority of players can only freely decide which team they want to play for if they have been released or the contract has expired.
But not even that is certain. If a club really wants to keep a player, they can use the so-called franchise tag to impose a well-endowed one-year contract on them. The player must sign this if they want to play in the NFL the following season. There is almost no way out of this modern serfdom.
Strike, loss of millions and damage to image
Le’Veon Bell found one. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013 and signed the contract for four years. After its expiration, the very successful running back strived for a long-term contract. But he could not agree with his employer, which is why the employer imposed a one-year contract with the franchise day. When the same thing happened again the following year, Bell decided to go on strike. He stayed away from all training and games and refused any contact with team representatives. After the end of the season, the Steelers Bell let go.
However, this route from the ownership of an NFL team cost Bell several million dollars, and its popularity was severely affected. A second way would be to completely exit the NFL. But that’s actually not an option. Because: Worldwide there is only a professional football league in Canada – but it does not meet the quality requirements of experienced NFL players and is at best a way out.
A league change was also out of the question for DeForest Buckner. He signed a four-year contract extension with the Indianapolis Colts shortly after his transfer. It is not known whether with or without a “no-trade clause”. Maybe we will find out in this transfer phase.
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