Johnny Manziel may be a Cleveland Brown, but don't expect him to become an Ohioan. Manziel, a Texas resident, was selected 22nd overall in the NFL draft. He is slotted to earn $4,738,000 this year. As a Brown, a portion of Manziel's NFL income will be subject to Ohio's 5.392 percent income tax plus local income taxes. Assuming he remains a Texas resident, Manziel will pay the Buckeye State and local authorities approximately $278,000 this year. Had he been drafted instead by the Texans, Cowboys, Jaguars, Dolphins, Buccaneers or Titans, Manziel would have mostly avoided state income taxes, as those teams play in states without income taxes. All NFL players pay federal income taxes and so-called "jock taxes," which are state and municipal taxes levied on athletes for playing games in different venues.
Manziel can still avoid Ohio's income tax on most of his endorsement earnings simply by making sure that he remains a Texas resident. He's thus likely to keep his Texas residency and not avail himself of Ohio tax law unless it's absolutely necessary. A local trading card show or endorsement for a Cleveland car dealer would trigger Ohio tax law, but national endorsement deals would not. Expect Manziel to avoid spending 182 days in Ohio, as doing so would risk him being classified as a "full-year nonresident" under Ohio law and having higher taxes. Although Manziel dropped in the draft, he remains one of its most marketable players. He recently signed a multi-year endorsement deal with Nike that will reportedly pay him at least $20 million.
State taxes also play an interesting role for Greg Robinson and Blake Bortles, the second and third overall picks of the draft. Even though Bortles was selected after Robinson, Bortles will net more income than Robinson. This may not seem fair, but it is a necessary outcome of Missouri having a six percent state income tax, St. Louis having a one percent income tax and Florida not having a state income tax. The following graphic with data from Robert Raiola makes this clear:
The issue of tax variation and rookie contracts is one that may garner closer attention from the NFL and NFLPA. Should the rookie wage scale adjust to minimize compensation differences that are based solely on the location of the team -- rather than on "merit" or the draft slot a player is picked at? Consider the impact of taxes.
Taxes are obviously a reality for all pro athletes, rookies included, and no matter which team selects first, the player selected will become a wealthy man. Still, while the NFL salary cap for each team rose by $10 million for the 2014 season (from $123 million to $133 million), the wage scale for rookies has held constant. Maybe some of the next increase should be used to address compensation variances in rookie contracts caused by state income taxes. Therein lies the legal challenge. Players not yet in the league hold the least suasion in collective bargaining between players unions and leagues. This is most apparent with eligibility restrictions, which are bargained by two groups that may not have the best interests of future players in mind: current players who stand to lose jobs to younger players and leagues which prefer that young players develop in college. But it is also apparent with rookie compensation. While it seems there is money for reforming rookie compensation, the willingness to share it is less clear. Perhaps that should change.
Michael McCann is a Massachusetts attorney and the founding director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. He is also the distinguished visiting Hall of Fame Professor of Law at Mississippi College School of Law.
Robert Raiola is a senior manager in the Sports & Entertainment Group of the accounting firm O'Connor Davies, LLP.