The Cleveland Browns are currently on their West Coast trip. Last Sunday they were in Denver against the Broncos and then proceeded to California with a game against the Los Angeles Rams this upcoming Sunday.
While trying to get in practice sessions and workouts, the players have some time for themselves. While at home, players don’t get meal stipends on their own time but do get fed if they are required to practice. This is usually set up as a buffet-type meal. When out of town, management gives a meal allowance and players can eat as they see fit if the meal is not team-related. The minimum each player receives during the season is $16,100 per the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement under Article 34. This stipend covers the preseason, regular season, and any post-season games.
Meals are tricky. Some players usually have complicated dietary requirements and the team will cater to the needs of all the players within the range of providing bulk food options. There will almost certainly be one or more salads along with lean meat, plentiful carbohydrates, and loads of fresh fruit and vegetables.
But when the team goes out for dinner as a group, it is up to each player to stick to their dietary parameters, or splurge instead and work it off later.
Every rookie on every NFL club at some point has what is known as the “rookie dinner.”
This tradition is where every member of a position group goes out to eat and leaves the tab to the rookies in their position room. We are not talking about McDonald’s or Burger King, or somewhere nice like Arby’s, these are fancy restaurants with exorbitant prices.
The rookie meal is normally done sometime during the season. In the preseason, players are all paid a standard amount of $1,850 for rookies and veterans $3,200 per week. A lot of rookies don’t make the final roster, so the rookie dinner is put off after knowing which rookies have made the team.
Historically, the rookie dinner flutters around the $20,000-$25,000 range.
The Browns broke that. Make that, the Browns defensive line group shattered that number.
Cleveland’s defensive line has two rookies: DT Siaki Ika and DE Isaiah McGuire. The entire position group went out to eat on Monday in Los Angeles. When finished, both Ika and McGuire were handed the bill: $40,000.
The #Browns defensive line had a fun night out Monday night in LA, however, not as fun for rookie defensive lineman Siaki Ika and Isaiah McGuire… the popular “rookie dinner” took place for the #Browns defensive line last night and costed Ika and McGuire around 40k pic.twitter.com/756fqSInB9— Noah Weiskopf (@BrownsWithNoah) November 28, 2023
It does not matter that McGuire has only made 15 defensive appearances this season or that Ika is trying to make his way up the rotation. They are part of the defensive line group, and Monday night was their night.
Rookies footing these five-figure dinner bills has become standard practice throughout the NFL like putting on pads before practice. But 40 grand? Remember, they ate in California where everything is a lot higher. While gas is just under three dollars in most portions of the country, in Cali it shadows around five bucks. The rookie dinner was inevitable, and both Ika and McGuire knew it was coming. But to do this in California? That was brutal to their teammates.
Is the rookie dinner a bonding situation among position players? Or is it considered hazing? Some say it is the worst tradition in the NFL. It could just be that when Ika and McGuire were shown the bill their lives flashed before them.
As large as the bill was, the unofficial record is former Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant whose teammates tallied up a $55,000 dinner bill. This tradition is accepted as a cultural norm among players. Even the league and coaching staff don’t blink an eye at this and when asked, neither will have any comment. The NFL’s real priorities are to maximize revenue and not worry about whether rookies were taken advantage of by their teammates.
The origins of the Rookie dinners began in the 1970s after the merger of the American Football League and the NFL. At the time, most rookies were paid sizable bonuses with contracts that were far above established veteran players. The dinners were seen as a way to recirculate that money among the team.
As an athlete, having a rookie dinner with professional football players is the worst possible scenario for the eventual bill recipient. Pro football players can flat-out eat. And when they know they are going to stick the rookies with the tab, they will shoot for the most expensive menu items such as lobster, top-shelf Martin Louis XIII Cognac, vintage bottles of wine, bottles of Voss water at $1,014 a pop, excessive plates of Rib-eye steaks, bottles of cabernet sauvignon, seafood platters, and prime rib.
And what is worse, the rookies don’t have any choice in the matter. They have no control over what is ordered, consumed, left uneaten, or taken home to consume later. The veterans who went through the exact same thing will tell you the rookie dinner is about one thing: a bonding experience.
And next year, and all other seasons ahead of them, both Ika and McGuire will do it to the next group of rookie defensive linemen.
Note: The context “We are not talking about McDonald’s or Burger King, or somewhere nice like Arby’s” was an actual experience for the writer. He had asked out a woman to dinner and a movie, and she uttered this exact thing. It is just as funny now as it was then.
Editor’s Note: I laughed when reading the “somewhere nice like Arby’s” part of this story from Barry so I hope you did too. It was funnier when I read his note above.”
What do you think of the rookie dinner tradition? Does the fact that none of the Browns rookies got to sign 1st or 2nd round contracts impact how you think about this one?