Well, it didn’t take long for Sam Martin to find another job in the National Football League.
Cut by the Broncos one day; signed by Buffalo a few days later.
In the process, he actually may have improved his chances of punting in the Super Bowl next February. (We’ll start finding that out when Martin and the Bills open the season against the Rams tonight and the Broncos and Martin’s successor visit Seattle Monday night.)
But that’s not my reason for noting his departure from Denver.
I was struck by the early speculation that Martin lost his job here because he refused to reduce his $2.7 million salary for the 2022 season.
Broncos General Manager George Paton subsequently debunked the “sourced” report by stating unequivocally that “money had nothing to do with” opting for Corliss Waitman. It mattered not, Paton insisted, that Waitman’s reported $825,000 salary is less than a third of what Martin was scheduled to be paid.
Citing Waitman’s better hang time on his punts, his directional punting ability and the fact that he kicks left-footed, which can present added challenges for those fielding punts, Paton said, “We picked the best punter for us, the punter with the most upside, the biggest leg.”
My first thought upon reading the apparently incorrect stories that Martin had balked at taking a pay cut was, “How much does it take to live well when you’re talking salaries for professional athletes?” Even if he didn’t resist, my question remains.
I realize an athlete’s prime can be a brief part of a long life; that pro sports is a “business,” which leaves athletes vulnerable to the proverbial numbers game; and that a career is one injury away from ending prematurely. I also understand that maximizing those high-income years is in both their and their family’s best interests, and that taxes and an agent’s cut reduce the net.
But there is life after. Welcome to the world in which the rest of us live.
Martin wouldn’t have been the first guy to gamble and lose when it comes to how much a player thinks he’s worth in a joust with a team. And there will be others. Forever.
Each time a player declines a long-term contract worth plenty and has to settle for a one-year deal worth less—or goes unemployed because he thinks he’s worth more than any team is willing to pay him—I wonder about his priorities.
The reality is that money in today’s sports world has lost its meaning. The numbers are just that: numbers.
The Broncos and quarterback Russell Wilson just signed a five-year, $245 million contract. Granted, “only” $165 million is “guaranteed”—according to reports—which means Wilson has to remain on the roster for the life of the deal to receive the remaining $80 million.
But does any Broncomaniac think, for an instant, about how much money that is? Who makes $80 million in their lifetime?
Not to harp on Sam Martin, but his salary this year, had he remained with the Broncos, would have been more money than a General Practitioner would make in almost 10 years at current annual pay.
For that matter, this same med school grad would make less than one-third of what Corliss Waitman will make this season for making around 65-70 punts and serving as the holder on a roughly similar number of field goal and extra point attempts.
My point is not to decry the money professional athletes are paid.
As I’ve said every time someone asks me about the ridiculous sums that the LIV golf renegades are getting, if someone had offered me a million dollars or more to do what I did, I’d have been a fool not to take it, assuming it didn’t require me to compromise my values. I owed it to my family.
But I’d like to think that I would have retained some sense of perspective.
I’d like to think that I would have understood the “bird-in-the-hand” principle, and the truth in the saying that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence—even if it meant accepting less in the interest of keeping my job or prolonging my career.
Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 14 books, eight of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at email@example.com.