Regardless Of The Standings, Players Gotta Play In The NFL
It’s December, and your team’s record stands at 2-12, with no chance at a division title or playoff berth.
Tonight’s game is being broadcast nationally, prompting many to wonder, ‘What’s motivating your team?’
Let’s not forget the NFL is ultimately a business and players ink contracts that reflect their performance.
Take Sen’Derrick Marks, the defensive tackle for the 2-12 Jacksonville Jaguars, for instance.
He only needed one more sack to secure a $600,000 bonus during Thursday night’s face-off against the Tennessee Titans.
He achieved this on the final play of the game, as Titans’ quarterback Charlie Whitehurst scrambled for a last-ditch ‘Hail Mary’ pass.
Beyond these incentives, the salaries these top-tier athletes command should be motivation enough.
NFL players are incredibly fortunate to be handsomely compensated for their football prowess. There’s really no need for additional motivation.
Many fans believe that deliberately losing games to secure a top draft pick is the only way to salvage a losing season.
However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In the NFL, players are constantly evaluated, irrespective of their team’s record.
Front offices assess if players justify their salaries while coaching staff scrutinize who can contribute to more victories.
With competition for roster spots being so fierce, NFL players can’t afford to underperform in critical moments.
Any lackluster performance will be thoroughly assessed once the next season kicks off, and it won’t work in their favor, be it with their current team or any of the other 31 franchises.
Additionally, considering the salaries these players earn compared to the general population, it’s hard to argue that they need extra motivation. They are already incredibly fortunate.
The idea that players [on losing teams] lack the motivation or incentive to compete in December is an outsider’s perspective.
Besides salaries, there is also that competitive spirit these athletes possess.
The win/loss column matters in the playoff picture, but each game is an independent event for the individual athletes.
Most players believe they have an opportunity to win regardless of the division standings. This is why teams love to play the role of the spoiler.
I quarterbacked for the Cleveland Browns against the Pittsburgh Steelers in December 2009.
The Steelers had playoff possibilities at stake while we stood with only one victory.
Given the hatred between the franchises, our team took great satisfaction in knocking Pittsburgh from the playoffs in that nationally televised contest.
That actually sparked a series of four consecutive wins, and we finished 5-11, saving head coach Eric Mangini’s job for at least another year.
Had we not won that game or the four straight to end the season and instead had sprinkled five wins throughout the schedule, who knows if our owner would have decided to keep Mangini for the following season?
Regardless of the standings, we had plenty to play for.
The December stretch of the schedule also provides rookies and less experienced players with a chance to demonstrate their growth and development.
Often, injuries to seasoned veterans can heavily impact the season’s outcome, opening the door for young talents and highly touted draft picks to showcase their abilities.
Take, for instance, the Thursday night match where Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles displayed remarkable perseverance and resilience, playing through a sprained foot in a compressed week.
While his stats may not have been dazzling (12-of-24, 115 yards, 1 TD), Bortles orchestrated two touchdown drives to secure the Jaguars’ third win of the season.
These games can affirm to the General Manager (in this case, David Caldwell) that he made the right call in choosing you.
The notion that players lack motivation or incentive in December likely stems from an outsider’s viewpoint.
Anyone who has been inside a locker room on a seemingly desperate team understands that late-season games are auditions for the following year.
Whether it’s about compensation, competitive spirit, or thwarting another franchise’s season, no player gains from giving up down the stretch.
Both players and teams must finish strong if they aim to stay competitive at the NFL level.
Given all these factors, one can’t help but ask, ‘Turn down for what?'”