Attempting to forge an NFL career is brutal. Few players make it, fewer players ever participate in a single snap, and fewer still last longer than a season or two. It takes NFL hopefuls years to prepare at a minimum. But once they’re in, it’s gone in the blink of an eye.
The damage to NFL players’ bodies is much higher. It’s a tough deal to make a living in the game these athletes love. That’s likely why a new model is emerging for young NFL players, with Cardinals linebacker Devon Kennard leading the way.
Devon Kennard’s long-time NFL career
Kennard’s NFL career started in 2014, reports Spotrac, with a four year, $2.36 million contract with the New York Jets. He arrived in the organization during a transitional period, with many figures around him under pressure to perform or get fired. Despite losing a defensive coordinator and a head coach, his numbers positioned him as an above-average linebacker.
The Detroit Lions’ signing was seen as a big win for the organization at the time. His on-field production clearly identified him as a top-quality starter, including a three-sack game up against QB Kyler Murray. A cap space situation is the only explicable reason the Lions released him in 2019, according to Rotoworld. His 45 tackle 2019 run, a career-high according to Pro Football Reference, made him a prize pickup for the Cardinals.
How and why Kennard became a real estate mogul in the offseason
Kennard already made it through six seasons in the NFL. He’s signed with the Arizona Cardinals for 2020. This takes him well beyond the 3.5 year average. That longevity wasn’t guaranteed, though. So Kennard devised a plan to hedge his bets — by betting on his capabilities off the gridiron.
Even in the midst of a three year, $20 million deal to play in Arizona, Kennard has an entirely separate career. And he’s already successful at it. At just 29, the NFL LB also manages a real estate portfolio. He regularly hits up to a 12% return on flipping his assets so far, reports Forbes. That’s a huge success in that particular business.
He owns 14 properties personally. He’s an investment partner in another 16. It’s time-consuming and not as lucrative in the short term as his blockbuster Cardinals contract. But it gives Kennard the skills to continue making money well after the endorsements and NFL contracts fade.
Is Kennard’s approach the model for non-blockbuster contract players to follow?
All NFL players have short careers relative to other pro sports. Defensive and offensive linemen take the brunt of it, with even shorter than average careers. If you don’t make it in as a kicker or better yet, a quarterback, you aren’t long for the NFL, reports Statista.
We too rarely hear about the fates of players once they wash out of the highest level of the sport. Some find their place in alternative leagues, like the CFL. Some, sadly, find themselves in financially disastrous circumstances — even some of the highest earners.
Kennard isn’t a lone genius. In fact, his old Giants teammate Mark Herzlich introduced him to the financial advisors that taught the burgeoning LB how to invest. It’s a story that seems to be increasingly common as financial literacy courses teach young players how to manage their money.
That increased financial awareness also has players catching malfeasance from their own money managers earlier than in the past. The horror stories of young, suddenly retired athletes losing their millions could become a thing of the past. Kennard’s portfolio is just one of many ways forward available to savvy young NFL players.