In today’s NFL it is rare to see a player play out the length of a big-money contract. Since NFL teams have the right to cut players at any time with relatively little repercussions because NFL player contracts are not fully guaranteed, what initially may seem like a large financial sum often does not dictate what a player will actually be receiving; instead, a look at the guaranteed money is where the truth of the contract is. This is why NFL teams will often offer players “backloaded” contracts in which the non-guaranteed base salaries of the final few years of the contract are large; while this gives the illusion of a rich contract, the NFL team can cut the player before the years these base salaries are due. The player won’t see a dime of this money while the non-guaranteed nature of the final years means that it won’t cost the NFL team anything either. This is in the NFL team’s best interest since the bloated final years of “backloaded” contracts count fully against and are potentially handicapping of the salary cap.
It is common that the players receiving these hefty contracts are in their mid-to-late twenties, since 1) if they are a player warranting of a large free agent contract, they most likely played out the duration of their four or five year rookie deal that was initially signed when they were in their early-to-mid twenties, and 2) most players hit the primes of their careers and are therefore most deserving of large contracts in their mid-to-late twenties after they have had the benefit of NFL experience but before their bodies have started to wear down with age.