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Glenn Parker to Cordy Glenn: A lesson in NFL economics

This is the tale of two Glenns whose names serve as chronological bookends, one who helped pave the way for the other when it came to hefty contracts for NFL offensive linemen. Glenn Parker and Cordy Glenn played roughly the same number of games for the Bills.

Roll back the clock 23 years, when Parker signed a two-year deal worth $2 million. He was given a $100,000 signing bonus and $1.1 million for the second year, an amount that made him the Bills’ highest-paid offensive lineman and was considered absurd at the time.

Nearly a quarter century later, the money available in 1993 remains outrageous for middle-class families who live paycheck to paycheck. In today’s NFL, with Glenn signing a five-year deal worth $65 million that includes $26.5 million guaranteed and a $19 million bonus for 2016, Parker’s dough amounts to pennies under the couch.

“God bless him,” Parker said by telephone Wednesday from his home in Tucson, Ariz. “The next generation, actually two generations of players, is simply benefiting from the work that was done before and building more. The value of the league is higher than ever before. The popularity of the league is bigger than ever before.”

Indeed, pro football comes at a price.

Parker signed his contract in March 1993, months before the NFL reached an agreement with Fox in which the network paid $395 million per season for the rights to NFC games. The rise in television money and sponsorships along with free agency led to a major jump in salaries and the implementation of the salary cap in 1994.

Four months after Parker signed his contract, Thurman Thomas signed a four-year deal worth $13.4 million during training camp. Four days after Thomas signed, Bruce Smith inked the same deal. In December ’93, Troy Aikman landed an eight-year deal worth $50 million, including an $11 million signing bonus.

“Once the players started getting that cut, we saw salaries go,” Parker said. “The money has to be spent. It can’t be hoarded. Everybody realizes they have to pay. That system was put in place in 1993. Once the system was put in place, salaries skyrocketed. Players were being reimbursed, and that’s a good thing.”

The money being thrown around in the NFL is exponentially higher than the rate of inflation. In 1993, the average U.S. salary was about $31,200. Last year, it was about $53,600, or less than double. The average NFL salary was about $415,000 in 1993 and $2.58 million, or more than six times as much, last year.

In 1993, the NFL generated about $1.5 billion in revenue. Last year, it surpassed $10 billion. In 1993, the salary cap was $34.6 million. Last year, it was $143 million. The money trickles from your pockets through tickets, television deals and other sponsorships to the league and eventually the players.

Funny, but players who complained years ago about the NFL implementing spending limits can now thank the salary cap for soaring salaries. The league became more motivated to generate revenue and increase franchise values, and the players benefited by grabbing their share. As revenues climbed, so did salaries.

It’s simple supply and demand.

“That’s the dirty secret that fans hate,” Parker said. “They love one side, but they hate the other. If you sign a contract, it’s the value at the time of the contract. If I play less than the value of the contract, I get cut. If I exceeded the value of the contract, I should be able to hold out and get more money. It’s Economics 101.”

Glenn’s average salary for the five years on his contract is $13 million. Eighteen players have base salaries equaling or exceeding that amount in 2016. Nine players will collect $20 million in the upcoming season. Joe Flacco and Olivier Vernon will pocket $29 million. Tom Brady will join them if he avoids his suspension.

Many fans have become so accustomed to seeing big contracts with massive signing bonuses that it’s difficult to make sense of the dollars and cents. There are too many zeroes to comprehend, so we become numb to the numbers without ever truly putting the figures into proper perspective.

Flacco can purchase 58 houses at $500,000 a pop with the paychecks he’ll collect this year alone. At least he won a Super Bowl. Vernon sat the bench in Miami his rookie year before recording 25½ sacks over his next three seasons. He signed a five-year deal worth $80 million with the Giants that included $20 million for signing his name. At least he started for three years.

Brock Osweiler started a grand total of seven games over four seasons with the Broncos before he bolted for a four-year deal worth $72 million with the Texans. Nearly half is guaranteed, including a $12 million signing bonus. He’ll pocket $21 million in 2016 after throwing 10 touchdown passes and six interceptions last season.

Tyrod Taylor is looking for a big payday after playing one season as a full-time starter. He threw 20 touchdowns and only six interceptions last season. He reportedly was seeking around $18 million per season, too, which seems outrageous until you realize he’s had more success than Osweiler in the NFL.

Cordy Glenn signed for $65 million. It’s a ridiculous amount of money to you and me, but it’s in line for a left tackle in his prime. He’s 27 years old and has four years in the NFL. Glenn Parker, who played every position but center, was 27 years old and had three years’ experience when he signed for $2 million.

Looking back, the price was right.

“Someone could argue that they’re overpaid when compared to another day,” Parker said. “It’s apples and oranges. You have to compare the day. If that’s the value that day, that’s the value that day. The system is what it is. I hope he plays up to the contract. Actually, I hope he plays better than the contract so he gets more money.”