Labor Day has come and gone, and, while fall isn’t “officially” here, it’s time to put away those summer whites. Never mind that the mercury is still hitting 100 degrees in parts of the country; forget about those pennant races still heating up in the AL West and NL Central. This weekend, the National Football League kicks off regular season play! This week’s season opener is just the first step on the road to Super Bowl XLVII, to be played outdoors on February 2, 2014, at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. (If you look hard enough on ESPN, you can find pre-game coverage starting early next week.)

Earlier this year, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco won MVP honors in Super Bowl XLVII and signed a new six-year contract worth $120.6 million. It makes him the highest-paid player in the game, just ahead of New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. But in a surprise twist that NFL statisticians would love, Brees will actually take home more money than Flacco. How can that be? Taxes, of course – why else would we be talking about it?

Here’s how it all works. Flacco plays his home games at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, with his new contract paying him $20.1 million per year. According to Americans for Tax Reform, the IRS will intercept $8.72 million of that paycheck. Maryland and Baltimore County will pick off $1.72 million more, for a total combined tax bill of $10.44 million, or 51.98%. Flacco will also pay a “jock tax” for several of his away games – for example, when he plays the Cincinnati Bengals on November 10, he’ll owe Cincinnati’s 2.1% earnings tax on his pay for that game. And he’ll pay even more tax on his bonuses, endorsements, and other income. It would be hard to blame Flacco for thinking the tax man roughs him up worse than any team’s defensive line!

Now, Flacco could take home far more by playing for a team in one of the nine states that don’t levy income taxes. The Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14 for 2012) would love a Super Bowl MVP at their helm. So would the 8-8 Dallas Cowboys. Neither Florida nor Texas tackle players with state or local income tax, which means Flacco would have taken home that $1.72 million sack.

Meanwhile, Drew Brees plays his home games at the New Orleans Superdome, with a contract paying him “only” $20 million per year. That’s $100,000 less than Flacco makes in Baltimore. Brees pays the same 39.6% income tax and 3.8% Medicare tax as Flacco. But Louisiana’s top tax rate is just 6% (on income over $50,000), compared to Maryland’s 6.25% (on income over $1 million). That difference might not seem like a lot. But bring out the chains, and it means Brees actually keeps $470,000 more per year than Flacco.

As for the rest of us, this week doesn’t just mark the start of football season. It also marks the start of tax-planning season! No NFL team would take the field without a game plan. So why would you think you can beat the IRS without a plan? If you don’t have one, the clock is counting down to December 31, with no overtime. And remember, we’re here for your teammates, too!

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