Actually they do mean something, the price a club can put on the head of a player who wants out, or the compensation payment due to a sacked manager, but despite the song and dance some clubs make about them, that is about the limit.
Even in this era where clubs will happily sack a manager or try to force out an unwanted player by making them train with the kids, and the disrespect is understandably mutual, a valued player signing a new contract can still give a club a shot in the arm.
Dominic Iorfa signing on at Sheffield Wednesday until 2023 just continued the circle of positivity around Hillsborough at the minute. That meaningless gesture was taken to have meaning.
The next seven days could go some way to telling us if this might be a summer where contracts actually count for a bit more.
Getting out of Tottenham Hotspur has not been as easy as Harry Kane seems to have expected, so much so that he appeared to commit his immediate future to Spurs yesterday – and there is talk Declan Rice feels “priced out” of a move away from West Ham United to “fulfil his ambitions”.
Excuse me if I do not burst into floods of tears.
It is healthy that Kane and Rice want to better themselves, even if it is depressing that the Premier League shop is becoming so tightly closed that clubs the size of Spurs and West Ham playing European football this season cannot offer that. Most of us at some point in our lives decide we want a better job, and that is all they are doing.
When Rice signed a contract until 2024 which gave West Ham the option to extend it by a further 12 months, and when Kane signed a six-year contract in 2018 it was a trade-off. The handsome amounts they were paid was a reflection of the size of the commitment they made. They could have negotiated a shorter term for less pay but back then they were happy to be in it for the long haul.
If now they think those contracts were not such a good idea, they should be having stern words with the well-paid agents who negotiated them.
Right now there are footballers across the land sweating on whether they will get themselves a job at a lower or non-league club to pay the mortgage for the next few months. They will have little sympathy with anyone trapped in gilded prisons getting by on a mere couple of hundred thousand pounds a week.
It is not that either club will not sell their players, just not in their eyes under-sell them. When you have put as much money into their bank accounts as Spurs and West Ham have, it is fair enough.
Kane seemed to think he had a “gentleman’s agreement” that allowed him to leave if the team did not live up to his expectations, the club seemed to think it was slightly different. As many have said, he should have followed Jack Grealish’s lead in getting something in writing.
Escape clauses are all part of the negotiation process and if Kane and Rice’s love for their clubs was not as unconditional as they made out in agreeing to new contracts, they should have set out its limits more clearly.
Obviously, there is still time for moves before Wednesday’s 11pm deadline but if not, every player should give their all for the people who pay their wages. That is, after all, what they promised when they signed.
All the suggestions that Rice is unhappy have come through the media, not his actions on the pitch. But if everyone has to take those promises a bit more seriously, football will be better for it.