Houston Texans’ outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus proved his worth this year, recording 48 tackles, 7.5 sacks, two interceptions, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. All this has earned the 2012 first-round pick four additional years with the franchise — and a deal worth $54 million, $28.5 million of which is guaranteed.
The deal makes the Pro Bowl alternate the 16th-highest-paid edge rusher in the NFL. But beyond his success on the field, Mercilus stands apart from many pro athletes when it comes to managing his finances. NFL players on average make around $2 million a year. Unfortunately, a reported 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or come under financial duress just two years after retirement.
To protect his wealth, Mercilus signed on with wealth manager Joe McLean and his team two years ago. McLean is the founder of financial services firm Intersect Capital, which specializes in servicing the unique financial planning needs of business owners, entrepreneurs, athletes and entertainers. The firm manages current contracts worth more than $2 billion for about 50 athletes, including Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic, Hassan Whiteside of the Portland Trail Blazers and pro golfer Sergio Garcia.
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McLean’s mission is to ensure that his clients have enough money in the bank so they have the freedom to choose whatever they want to do after retirement.
Mercilus learned quickly that if he wanted to be part of McLean’s team, he would have to play by McLean’s rules. That meant putting aside 60% of his earnings. Now that the 29-year-old has been awarded a long-term contract, he is required to put aside 80%.
“With great abundance comes great discipline,” says McLean. The wealth manager told Mercilus, “Apply what you take from football and apply it to every aspect of your life, and the discipline turns into discipline in your finances.”
Entering the league with a big contract with no financial plan is a dangerous slope to be on, says McLean. “If you do not have that front-end plan, you don’t have a reason to say no to anything else.”
McLean protects his clients from reckless spending by determining the percentage of income they could live off of “before the lifestyle chooses for [them].”
The next step, says McLean, is for athletes to hire a team that’s trustworthy and knowledgeable and puts their clients’ interests first. “Building a team around you, or a locker room as I say, outside of sports to help make informed financial decisions is critical.”
Mercilus says that having a financial plan in place has made him confident that his financial future is secure. “I am trying to build generational wealth,” he says.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.