The Jayden Daniels–Malik Nabers Bet Is Silly, but Harmless

Two former LSU teammates made a bet on the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and it’s only a story because of the NFL’s recent marriage with gambling.
Former LSU teammates Daniels and Nabers have wagered $10,000 on the outcome of the 2024 Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Former LSU teammates Daniels and Nabers have wagered $10,000 on the outcome of the 2024 Offensive Rookie of the Year award. / Matthew Hinton-USA TODAY Sports

Malik Nabers and Jayden Daniels learned a valuable lesson this week, committing the most cardinal NFL sin of saying something even the slightest bit humorous, revealing, insightful or scandalous during the second-deadest period on the league’s calendar. 

Before we get into it, let’s acknowledge how completely harmless and idiodic this is. Malik Nabers said on The Pivot podcast this week that he and former LSU teammate Jayden Daniels have wagered $10,000 on the outcome of the 2024 Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Daniels later confirmed it in a separate media appearance, noting that Nabers wasn’t supposed to say anything. The resulting discussion is probably enough to convince two innocent kids of the predatory nature of our business and curb anything resembling a non-platitude from escaping their lips again. So, way to go everyone. We remain undefeated. 

In celebration, I’ve decided to compile a list of the five most ridiculous aspects of this nonstory with the hope of freeing Nabers and Daniels to pursue their sporting interests like any other God fearing American citizen. 

1. The only reason this is a story is because of the NFL’s acceptance of gambling

At his Super Bowl news conference, Goodell discussed the idea that the Supreme Court technically backed him into legalizing gambling.
At his Super Bowl news conference, Goodell discussed the idea that the Supreme Court technically backed him into legalizing gambling. / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

At Roger Goodell’s yearly Super Bowl press conference this year in Las Vegas, the commissioner discussed the idea that the Supreme Court technically backed him into legalizing gambling, which, to me, is a bit like saying that the constitution allows for a right to bear arms, so an opposing NFL defense should also be allowed to during games (so long as we get the whole deal sponsored). While I have no access to the 30,000-foot financial picture, I would assume the league would have been fine had it sat out the gambling boon, and would have secured itself a coveted spot on the moral high ground after this epidemic inevitably crashes and we come to terms with the fact that a good number of people are simply hurling money into a flaming trash barrel instead of saving it for something they might need later on in life.  

Anyway, so many nonstories like this become stories because it tickles this murky area where the league will have to come out and address in some fashion the fact that this happened, and why it won’t suspend two of the most exciting young players in the league, but inevitably whack some third-string cornerback a few weeks later for betting on Olympic tennis while trying to distract himself from the unpleasantness of the cold tub after practice. 

Sure, this is technically betting on football, though I’m sure Nabers and Daniels could easily say that it was just theoretical and no cash has actually changed hands (even though the NFL rulebook on gambling strictly prohibits “private wagers between teammates, family and friends, or others. Gambling also includes, without limitation, wagers made in person, remotely—via telephone or the internet—or through a third-party “surrogate.”) The easiest route is to reposition this as a charitable endeavor, with the loser donating to the other’s foundation, of course. 

2. Malik Nabers should have gotten an odds boost, because this is a horrible bet

There’s almost no conceivable way that Nabers, a receiver for the New York Giants, will beat out Daniels, a quarterback for the Washington Commanders, for rookie of the year. While wide receivers have won the award three times since 2014, and twice in the past three years (Ja’Marr Chase and Garrett Wilson), this is a quarterback-heavy rookie class. The award, like MVP, is unfairly weighted toward quarterbacks because they have the ability to amass a larger statistical profile along with the argument that their impact on the game is larger in scope than any other position. Nabers will be expected to take on the role of primary playmaker in an offense that will either start Daniel Jones amid some serious health uncertainty or Drew Lock who, I think, could be a solid starter for Brian Daboll but doesn’t yet possess the sample size to prove it. Meanwhile, Daniels is going to be in an offense that showcases his athletic versatility, and he’ll have a very good offensive line in front of him, not to mention a good running game and one of the most serially underrated receivers in the NFL in Terry McLaurin. Kyler Murray threw for nearly 4,000 yards in his first season with Kliff Kingsbury (now Daniels’s offensive coordinator) and scored an additional four touchdowns on the ground. 

While I’m not going to go odds shopping around the majority of online sportsbooks, I’m sure Nabers had the opportunity to do so. At the very least, he should have demanded $15,000 or $20,000 for a victory to Daniels’s $10,000. 

3. Bets like this have happened countless times over the course of sports history

For those of you who are trying to marry this instance to a narrative about NIL money, please pump the breaks. Even if NIL didn’t exist, Daniels just signed a contract worth $37.7 million, and even after the gifts he plans to buy for his immediate family (congratulations to mom and grandma, both of whom are getting cars) has plenty of spare change for a friendly wager. Similarly, Nabers is now worth $29.2 million over the course of his rookie deal. 

When I first heard about this, my immediate comparison was an episode of Full Swing, where we see golfers Jordan Speith and Justin Thomas playing a $1,000 card game on a private jet, or later, competing against one another on the golf course in a game called “hammer,” in which per-hole bets can escalate wildly within a matter of seconds. 

In professional sports, we have filtered out most people whose brains aren’t completely wired toward a competitive psychopathy. This isn’t meant to be offensive, it’s simply biological. The Darwinian filtration effect of athletes winnowing out after high school, college and the early rungs of professional life leaves you only with the kind of people who, once in possession of millions of dollars … would like to bet those millions of dollars on the kinds of character traits that brought them into professional sports in the first place. 

It’s part of the reason why preventing athletes from gambling feels silly in the first place given that we are going to the most outrageous lengths to stoke the very same competitive instincts on the field. 

4. Keyshawn Johnson had the ideal reaction to the news

Keyshawn Johnson asked Daniels directly about the nature of the bet and then to confirm the monetary amount. When Daniels said $10,000, Johnson lightly splayed his hands out in either direction and contorted his face as if to say: That’s it? 

Another anecdote that came to mind: Have you ever heard Antoine Walker talk about playing spades with Michael Jordan? Here’s a snippet: 

“When Mike calls, the buy-in goes up a little higher. It’s going to be a number that everybody has to bring to the table. I’d say $20,000 just to get in. If you don’t have $20,000 to get in, you can’t even play. Mike was competitive. I remember one time we played spades for 36 hours. We were playing against two other guys, and Mike and I were partners. They had us behind $900,000,” said Walker, via All Things Covered

There is a different world that we’re simply not exposed to. The ability to not totally and completely lose consciousness when down nearly a million dollars amid a sleepless 36-hour game of spades exists. Johnson has surely heard those stories, and I imagine that, over the course of a successful 11-year NFL career, he’s run into some more offensive instances of hurling money away. 

5. God Bless both of these teams and their support staffs

Following the immediate wave of NFL gambling-related suspensions, there was an understandable outcry related to the education these players and coaches received and whether they were properly warned of all the intricacies involved in the policy. I would guess that the process had to improve beyond a cursory warning, and I would guess that the moment Daniels and Nabers received their team-issued caps and jerseys, there was some team actuary dragging at their coattails begging them to delete the DraftKings app from their phones.

Neither team probably had “both players openly admit to a five-figure wager on a pair of podcasts” on their bingo cards. 

It’s back to the drawing board for the Commanders, Giants and the NFL. For those of us who love to watch the league nervously shuffle papers amid a minor mishap of its own doing, this was the perfect bite-sized snack heading into a beautiful weekend; it illustrates the complete and total impossibility of accepting gambling money while forcing the workforce into acting like a fundamentalist arm of Gamblers Anonymous, completely averse to the fun everyone else is having. 

Suspending Nabers and Daniels would be one of the most ridiculous moments in modern NFL history. Not suspending Nabers and Daniels for, in theory, directly violating a portion of the league’s written policy on gambling which is free for any person to download off the internet, is also ridiculous in its own right, given the lengths the league will have to go to twist this pretzel into something palatable.


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Conor Orr

CONOR ORR

Conor Orr is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, where he covers the NFL and co-hosts the MMQB Podcast. Conor has been covering the NFL for more than a decade and is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA). He has been honored in The Best American Sports Writing, and previously worked for The Newark Star-Ledger and NFL Media. He’s an avid runner and youth sports coach who lives in New Jersey with his wife, two children and a loving terrier named Ernie.