Posts by Andrew Brandt

Empowering a Predator

First, a note about my presence -- or lack of presence -- here at the National Football Post in recent months..

As many of you know, I joined ESPN in February of 2011 to provide insight and perspective on their broadcast platforms. This year, my role with ESPN was expanded to include regular

First, a note about my presence — or lack of presence — here at the National Football Post in recent months..

As many of you know, I joined ESPN in February of 2011 to provide insight and perspective on their broadcast platforms. This year, my role with ESPN was expanded to include regular columns for espn.com. With this increasing digital role at ESPN, my NFP partners and I agreed that I will no longer be contributing regular columns here.

I am not leaving completely, however. As co-founder and continuing stakeholder in NFP, I will occasionally add columns such as the one below.

NFP’s continuing mission is to provide experienced and differentiated perspective into football. I hope I have served our readers well with my insights. Continued thanks to all of you for your loyalty and support….

On to the column…

With Thursday’s issuance of the Freeh Report (Report) addressing Penn State’s reaction to the atrocious acts of former coach Jerry Sandusky, my blood boiled once again, as it did when the tragedy was first reported in November. My initial bewilderment as to the breadth and length of its existence was unfortunately cemented by “active concealment” of past and future crimes that, sadly, could have been prevented by those with the wherewithal to do so.

Here is a sampling of some of the conclusions from the Report:

“From 1998–2011, Penn State’s ‘Tone at the Top’ for transparency, compliance, police reporting and child protection was completely wrong.”

“There was callous and shocking disregard for child victims.”

“At the very least, Mr. Paterno could have alerted the staff to prevent Sandusky from bringing another child into the Lasch Building.”

“The rapes of these boys occurred in the Lasch Building.”

And, perhaps, the most damning sentence of all:

“Nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity.”

The report outlines a culture that we suspected but wished were not the case; a culture with Joe Paterno lording over sycophant administrators, a culture with the university serving at the behest of the football program rather than vice versa.

Sandusky was brazen in his predatory behavior.

Brazen

The fact that a predator such as Sandusky was allowed to bring young boys into the football facility after his crimes were known is not only beyond belief but heart-wrenching for the victims, especially ones brought into the lion’s den after his evil was already known.

Sandusky acted in ways that seemed to call out his evil as if to say, “Yes, I’m doing this. What are you going to do about it?”

As it turned out, Sandusky engaged in his deviant and criminal ways for one increasingly clear reason: because he could.

Ushering in a new era

Transgressions at places such as USC and Ohio State for agent contact and free tattoos now seem quite benign.

It is Penn State, with its pristine uniforms and previously clean reputation that had a predator acting with diplomatic immunity. At best, Penn State allowed Sandusky’s chilling behavior to exist without appropriate and necessary intervention. At worst, it enabled it. Future years of civil litigation against the university will determine where along the spectrum its actions lie.

Power and privilege

Having been around the business of football for 25 years I understand the sway that money brings. The $72 million in gross revenue brought in by Penn State football bestowed great power and privilege to Paterno and the program.

And Paterno, to be fair, used his power to bring some good to Penn State, especially his donations towards academic departments of the university. However, based on the Report, he abused that power to allow horrific acts to take place on his watch.

One can only imagine the conversation that took place between Paterno and Sandusky about the latter’s actions, if such a conversation ever took place. Did Paterno and Sandusky feel they were so far above the reach of university governance that this was a “private matter” that didn’t need to be addressed further?

The enduring theme of the Report is this: While innocent children were being victimized, adults in charge were either afraid or unwilling to do the right thing.

No one stepped up

At some point in every person’s life, in his or her own way, he or she is faced with a situation where there is an opportunity to “step up” and make a difference. With Sandusky a known predator lurking in their midst, Paterno and the administrators could have made a monumental difference in the lives of innocent children needing their intervention and future victims to come. Simply, they failed.

Maybe the silver lining in this terrible tragedy is that although it took a pedophile to do it, the age of entitlement for Penn State football has ended. At the least — we hope — Penn State football will serve at the behest of the University’s greater good, rather than vice versa. That won’t help the victims, but it may change a culture that failed them.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt

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All Saints Day in Court

Today in New York -- in the midst of chilling and damning audio from Gregg Williams -- Commissioner Roger Goodell will hear appeals from head coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, assistant coach Joe Vitt, and the organization in general -- regarding the discipline levied due to the “bounty” system in place

Today in New York — in the midst of chilling and damning audio from Gregg Williams — Commissioner Roger Goodell will hear appeals from head coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, assistant coach Joe Vitt, and the organization in general — regarding the discipline levied due to the “bounty” system in place in 2009, 2010, and 2011. As per the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and Bylaws, the appeals are heard by the same office that originally levied the discipline, that of the Commissioner.

Why appeal?

Goodell handed out the penalties — which include a yearlong suspension to Payton, an eight game suspension to Loomis, and a six game suspension to Vitt — after a comprehensive and lengthy investigation by NFL Security. Among those questioned and allowed to explain their side of the story during the inquiry were, of course, Payton, Loomis, and Vitt. Therefore, an appeal appears futile, especially with the release of this explosive evidence today from Yahoo’s Mike Silver.

However, for the simple price of asking, Payton and Loomis can have their “day in court” to challenge the harshness of the penalties. It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask.

Buying time

Delay allows Parcells to further explore returning to coach Saints.

Certainly, there are strategic reasons for the appeal. Payton wants to savor every minute he can before being banned from the Saints’ facility. Payton and Loomis can also map out their calendar with existing staff to better prepare the organization for their absence. And, of course, Payton can continue to explore his replacement, including the possibility of Bill Parcells serving in his stead.

The slight delay can also give guidance to Payton on what he can and cannot do over the coming months, although this seems clumsy to me. I find it to be a bit flimsy. After an exhaustive inquiry, a prelude announcement to sanctions a month ago, and the announced sanctions two weeks ago, Payton does not know what restrictions are placed upon him? Seriously?

Precedent

The real reason for the appeal is for the representatives of the Saints, Payton, Loomis, and Joe Vitt to try to put the punishment in some kind of context. They will not challenge the fact they were wrong; they will challenge the severity of the discipline imposed.

Lawyers will likely be representing all parties. And lawyers love precedent. They will try to look to any similar situations in the past — “Spygate” among them — that Goodell or those before him have ruled on. They will try to compare situations and argue that the discipline is disproportionate to the misconduct involved.

The problem for the appealing parties is that precedent may simply not matter here.

Initiatives

A hallmark of Commissioner Goodell’s tenure has been the Personal Conduct Policy and having full authority to rule on player conduct and any appeals (a power unchanged in the new CBA despite carping from the NFLPA).

The most well known case of this involved star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for conduct that, while vile, did not result in criminal charges after a lengthy investigation. Nevertheless, Goodell suspended Roethlisberger for six games — later reduced to four — in the name of protecting the brand and the image of the NFL and its players.

Did Roethlisberger’s punishment fit the misconduct based on precedent? Probably not. Would a lesser known player have had the same discipline? Probably not.

Now the Saints have erred in the face of another primary initiative of Goodell: the health and safety of NFL players. As negligence lawsuits regarding concussions mount, the issue of intentional injury flies in the face of the NFL’s priority on health and safety.

The behavior of the Saints’ employees was wrong and, perhaps more importantly, at the wrong time. Does their punishment fit their misconduct based on precedent, even what little there is? Probably not. However, to Goodell, there are issues bigger than this case here.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt

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Cap Control

At the NFL meetings this week my sense is things were a bit, uh, awkward. Earlier docked $36 million and $10 million, respectively, for Cap “abuse”” during the uncapped year of 2010, the Redskins' Dan Snyder and the Cowboys' Jerry Jones -- faced with a 29-0 vote from ownership approving the sanctions against them

At the NFL meetings this week my sense is things were a bit, uh, awkward. Earlier docked $36 million and $10 million, respectively, for Cap “abuse”” during the uncapped year of 2010, the Redskins’ Dan Snyder and the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones — faced with a 29-0 vote from ownership approving the sanctions against them — raised the stakes, filing a grievance against the NFL challenging the imposition of such penalties.

Beyond vague comments from Giants owner John Mara about the teams “violating the spirit of the uncapped year”, the league has been mum on details. Here is the best I can surmise as to what is behind this dispute.

The background

As NFL teams entered the uncapped year of 2010, many wondered if teams such as the Redskins and Cowboys would be “Steinbrenneresque” in their spending with none of the previous limits that the Cap had imposed in previous years.

As it turned out, the Cowboys and Redskins did not engage in disproportionate cash spending. However, they did engage in disproportionate Cap spending. To the league, therein lies the problem.

The deals

The Miles Austin contract caught the attention of the NFL.

Notorious for writing large signing bonuses to push out proration into future years and keep the first-year Cap number as low as possible, the Cowboys went the other way with Miles Austin. They loaded all $17 million of what would have ordinarily been a “bonus” into salary, thereby containing the Cap hit in 2010 alone.

Interestingly, this is the kind of Cap management that I have lauded, one being used in Tampa with their recent deals for Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks. This structure, however, was completely out of character for the Cowboys, and has been out of character since.

The Redskins, in contrast, did not front load new contracts in 2010, as the Austin deal described above. Rather, they restructured existing contracts, negotiated in 2009, to bring forward future proration amounts from the “out” years into 2010. Restructured contracts for DeAngelo Hall and Albert Haynesworth alone accelerated $15 and $21 million of future Cap into the uncapped year. That $36 million just so happens to be the amount the Redskins have been docked.

At the time, I noted how two teams that traditionally have pushed their Cap problems into the future had become more prudent. As it turned out, they were ignoring warnings not to do so.

The warnings

I remember the NFL Management Council starting to advise clubs as far back as 2007 that, in the event of an uncapped year, they could not press “File Delete” in 2010.

These warnings continued with more urgency in 2009, that it would be “taking unfair advantage” of the uncapped year in gaining a competitive edge by Cap-dumping into a year without a Cap.

Let’s look at the arguments from each side.

Warnings

  • The Cowboys and Redskins will argue that there were no written warnings against what they did.
  • The NFL will argue that there were repeated and strident verbal warnings as far back as three years prior to the uncapped year.

Approvals

  • The Cowboys and Redskins will argue that the front loaded negotiations and Cap restructures were approved by the NFL — as all contracts must be — which represented a tacit approval of their structure.
  • The NFL will argue that it is irrelevant that the contracts were approved. There was no Salary Cap and thus no Salary Cap rules to manage.

Competitive edge

  • The Cowboys and Redskins will argue that the league should look into teams like the Buccaneers and Chiefs, teams that underspent in 2010, and their competitive edge gained by under spending.
  • The NFL will argue that teams were not advised to spend or not to spend; only to not engage in accounting practices that took advantage of a unique year on the calendar.

The arbitration will be an intriguing study of the interplay, alliances and coalitions among NFL owners and the league office.

Whither the NFLPA?

Interestingly, the penalties to the Cowboys and Redskins were part of a joint agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA. The union’s primary concerns were to ensure (1) no reduction in Cap room league-wide, and (2) the team Cap number would exceed– if only barely — the number from 2011 (it did, with a $120.6 million number compared to $120.375 in 2011).

The problem for the NFLPA is that, in their zeal to prop up the 2012 Cap number, the NFLPA have borrowed from the future. Thus, the Cap “spike” that some project in 2014 when the new television contracts activate may not materialize the way the union, players and agents are hoping.

Fun times this week in South Florida this week. The faces of Jones and Snyder were quite red, a skin tone from anger rather than the sun.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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Inside the NFL Meetings

The 2012 NFL annual meetings open today, a rite of spring in which NFL owners and team personnel end their winter hibernation and surface in a plush resort to discuss the issues of the day affecting the league and its teams.

Aside from a show of relative austerity last year during the

The 2012 NFL annual meetings open today, a rite of spring in which NFL owners and team personnel end their winter hibernation and surface in a plush resort to discuss the issues of the day affecting the league and its teams.

Aside from a show of relative austerity last year during the lockout – when the meetings were held in New Orleans — the meetings return to the idyllic Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

The itinerary takes a familiar pattern each year. Team personnel would arrive throughout the weekend, with an opening speaker on Sunday afternoon. I remember being especially intrigued by Eric Schmidt of Google one year, who gave a fascinating lecture. This year’s speaker was former President Bill Clinton.

Meeting rituals

The meetings open every year with a short film of the sights and sounds of the previous season, with the best that NFL Films has to offer. After the video, with everyone feeling the energy and passion of the season, Commissioner Roger Goodell welcomes the crowd and gives proper respect and mention to the two Super Bowl teams. He then moves on to address the state of the game and the challenges that lie ahead.

Goodell’s address is concise and purposeful. This year he will certainly speak to the security of labor peace yet the challenges ahead with increasing options for fans and viewers — a theme of this year’s meetings will certainly be the in-stadium presentation, with a priority for teams to improve the game day experience.

The gathering then splits with ownership and chief executives in one room and coaches and “working club executives,” as people like myself were identified, in another. The Competition Committee presents its report at different times to different audiences — honing its presentation before its owner presentation — on topics ranging from time of games, penalties, officiating points of emphasis, overtime rules, player safety, tampering rules and specific proposals for rule changes.

Proposals for rules changes – often prompted by an egregious call the previous season — will be offered to the group, explained by the owner or team official putting forth the proposed change, and at some point voted on. Those certain to pass will be submitted to vote; those fraught with controversy or extensive debate are usually “tabled” until a later meeting in May, if at all.

An interesting proposal this year will be the discussion of moving the trade deadline back from Week Six until Week Eight. It does not seem to be a bold proposal, but may add some “buzz” to the concept of trading that has been largely foreign to the NFL compared to other leagues.

ICONMike Brown can be a polarizing presence at the meetings.

Interesting interplay

There are always interesting encounters between owners at the meetings. Mike Brown of the Bengals will certainly make a point to draw the ire of large market owners. And we can expect the recent Cap reductions given to the Redskins and Cowboys to come up, perhaps with some red-faced intensity, by Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones, who have filed a grievance against challenging its ruling. Cocktail hour could be quite interesting tonight!

Also on Monday, teams are given a list of compensatory draft selections. The carping over compensatory picks is an annual rite of spring for team personnel.

It is also always interesting to see the annual picture of the head coaches assembled, with sometimes as many as a third of them new faces.

Sidelights

A few agents always attend. Drew Rosenhaus is a ubiquitous presence, notorious for parading both his players and having an attractive female companion with him to entice team executives to stop by. And some business is done with agents and negotiations. I spent many a breakfast or lunch visiting with agents at the meetings.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, coaches meet the media for breakfast, with coaches treating the mandatory sessions with everything from interest to indifference or impatience. Tuesday also features the coaches’ golf tournament, a time when owners have used their absence to pass rules changes.

The meetings wrap on Wednesday, with some voting on Competition Committee issues but little in the way of monumental decisions coming out of any meeting. Replay is usually extended with some possible modifications, and some officiating changes are made based on the hot-button issue from the prior season.

No conflict

I would be surprised if Goodell steps on some of the land mines in recent weeks — the Cap penalties to the Cowboys and Redskins and the harsh discipline invoked on the Saints. Although these are working meetings, this is a time for fellowship and a bit of relaxation among the membership; Goodell saves the hard conversations for private meetings away from the public view. Moreover, this is not a time to embarrass anyone, as there are short memories all around.

On Wednesday afternoon, the limos soon pull up and owners alert their private planes to fire up. The meetings have ended, recess is over, back to work.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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Stinging the Saints

I have always found the more interesting part of the NFL to be when there are no games being played. The NFL offseason is, to me, the “in-season” and never lacking for story lines or drama. Yesterday were two vivid testaments of such intrigue, with ramifications for several teams heading into 2012. Let’s look

I have always found the more interesting part of the NFL to be when there are no games being played. The NFL offseason is, to me, the “in-season” and never lacking for story lines or drama. Yesterday were two vivid testaments of such intrigue, with ramifications for several teams heading into 2012. Let’s look at each.

Unsaintly behavior

I certainly expected Commissioner Roger Goodell to levy the “Triple Cocktail of Discipline”: fines, suspensions, and the loss of draft picks. And all three were given, as per the NFL’s statement, with the money quote from Goodell: “A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious.” Yikes.

The damage: indefinite suspension for Gregg Williams, one-year suspension for Sean Payton, eight-game suspension for Mickey Loomis, six-game suspension for Joe Vitt, loss of consecutive second-round picks, and a team fine of $500,000. Steep? Of course, it was expected to be severe.

Two major tenets of the NFL were in play here. First, a bounty program strikes at the heart of competitive balance and competitive integrity of the league. Reports of “bounties” and “cart-offs” put a sinister image on a game that is being sold not only as family entertainment but as competitively honest. Simply, the entire credibility of the sport was at issue with these activities.

Second, with the issue of concussions, head trauma, lawsuits and mentally infirm players so much in the news, player safety has never been more of a priority. The NFL has instituted several measures to ensure a safer product and the new CBA allows for players to have less contact and padded practices, all in the name of player health and safety. A “bounty” program belies these efforts.

Like the 2010 Ben Roethlisberger punishment for off-field misbehavior – a six-game suspension for vile, though not criminal conduct – the league erred on the side of being too harsh rather than too light. Penalty with a purpose.

Tebow’s 2011 salary advance has become much in issue.

Advance altercation

As the Saints news was resonating around the NFL – and it certainly did resonate – there was a reported trade of a player with some name recognition, Tim Tebow, from the now Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos to the New York Jets. Soon after the report, however, there became a “not so fast” moment as a dispute developed over $5 million of the contract Tebow signed with the Broncos, a dispute that now appears resolved.

Tebow was drafted late in the first round of the 2010 draft, the final year of the “old system” of first-round picks. Under the terms of the previous CBA teams could “advance” (pay forward) future guaranteed portions of salary owed in later years. These advances, formerly “option bonuses”, were used to — in effect — create a “second Rookie Pool” for top picks to receive more than the Rookie Cap would allow.

The Broncos exercised their $6.27 million advance in March of 2011. And they had “paid forward” a remaining $5 million of Tebow’s salaries due over the next three seasons, with the following breakdown:

• 2012: $1.425 million
• 2013: $1.69 million
• 2014: $1.92 million

With the purported trade, the Broncos expected repayment from the Jets for these advanced amounts to Tebow while the Jets resisted such payment as part of the trade, either due to a different interpretation of the contract or some other reasons. Regardless, it became a negotiation within a negotiation, settling with the Jets paying $2.53 million of the advance back to the Broncos over the next two seasons.

The Jets will pay the Broncos $1.5 million this year and $1.03 million next year, both paid throughout the regular season in weekly installments.

I have not seen the contract but in the vast majority of advances, an acquiring team in a trade has to pay the trading team back. This dispute, however, appears to be settled outside of the contract, as part of the trade. And despite what I sense was having the contract language on their side, the Broncos were motivated sellers of Tebow.

Finally — and thankfully — under the new CBA, such salary advances (except for that of first-year salary) are now prohibited.

The Tim Tebow spinoff from the Peyton Choice will continue in New York. Stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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Peyton picks his place

In the story of the 2012 offseason, the Peyton Predicament is coming to a conclusion. Manning has agreed to join the Denver Broncos, setting in motion movement to come for Tim Tebow. Here are ten thoughts on Peyton’s soft landing in Denver after his turbulent exit from Indianapolis:

1. It is not

In the story of the 2012 offseason, the Peyton Predicament is coming to a conclusion. Manning has agreed to join the Denver Broncos, setting in motion movement to come for Tim Tebow. Here are ten thoughts on Peyton’s soft landing in Denver after his turbulent exit from Indianapolis:

1. It is not always the case, but in this situation, the first visit mattered. Just as it was telling when Mario Williams began free agency with a visit to Buffalo, there was a reason that Manning took his first trip to Denver. Of the dozen teams contacting Manning following his release from the Colts, he chose the Broncos as his first meeting. And they were also the last, watching him throw at Duke on Friday. First in, last out was telling in this case.

2. My sense is John Elway was a major factor for a couple of reasons. First, he may be the only team executive with the experience and gravitas that Manning can say “I want to hear what this guy has to tell me.” In other cases, Manning would have respect for his bosses, but not respect borne of someone who has been through similar experiences and more. I also think that a laid-back defensive coach in John Fox was a plus to Manning. Fox will not get in Manning’s way.

Fox and Elway liked Tebow, but craved Manning.

3. As to Elway and Fox’s comments about Tebow during his extraordinary run this year, what else could they say? They couldn’t state “We are happy with Tim, unless someone like Peyton Manning comes along!” Not only was Tebow taking the country by storm but he was their quarterback for the foreseeable future. My sense is that Elway and Fox had to know there was a strong possibility that Manning would be released, as the contract was set up for his release with the Colts careening towards Andrew Luck.

4. As to Denver having an advantage over other teams with Cap room, that may have helped but I don’t think it was a major factor. Believe me: Cap room or not, the 49ers, Titans, and other teams would have done what was necessary to sign Manning.

5. Speaking of finances, I found it interesting that Peyton’s decision was made in advance of instructing his agent Tom Condon to negotiate a contract. Of course, my sense is that the parameters of the deal — reportedly five years for $95 million — were in place from all finalist-teams prior to making a choice. Although detailed negotiations did not commence, these teams were “pre-qualified” to be finalists.

6. The contract price would not have been a surprise to anyone here. As I noted here, this was never going to be an “incentive-laden contract.” It will be interesting to see the structure of the deal in terms of risk allocation: How are the Broncos protected if Peyton is compromised and cannot play? How much is completely guaranteed? How much in the early years of the deal? And how much upside potential is there if he becomes the Peyton Manning of old?

7. Athletes are known to say that “It’s not about the money,” which usually means It’s all about the money”. Here, however, it truly may not be about the money. Manning had several teams prepared to make a serious contract offer, four neck surgeries and all. Indeed, Titans’ owner Bud Adams said he was willing to “do what it takes” to sign Manning, words that surely made the Titans front office quiver. In the end, however, Manning did not leverage that statement to get a mega-contract from the Titans.

8. Interestingly, the person negotiating the contract for the Broncos is Mike Sullivan, the former agent at Octagon who certainly knows what players look for in contracts. Mike and I negotiated Aaron Rodgers’ first contract together, and I am proud he is following in my footsteps from the agent to the team side.

9. As I have said before, the impact of Luck cannot be overestimated. If the Colts did not have a grooved path to Luck, they would have had to pay Manning his $28 million option bonus and he would have been their quarterback. Can you imagine the Colts with, say, the 3rd pick in the Draft cutting Peyton Manning to take an offensive lineman? No chance. Had the Colts won one more game, Manning would still be in Indianapolis and Tebow would be the Broncos quarterback for the foreseeable future.

10. Speaking of the Colts, it will soon sink in with their fans that they will get nothing in return for the loss of Peyton. No draft picks and no compensatory draft picks. They released Peyton Manning, entitling them to no compensation. That is sad for those fans.

The chase is over; the press conference is set. Colts out, Broncos in. The business of football continues.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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Catching Contracts

As per the annual ritual of the opening bell of free agency, the “chosen few” players were beneficiaries of the unrestricted free agency system brought into the NFL in 1993. Teams desiring to make purchases on the opening day of the buying season have to pay retail prices; they know that going in.

As per the annual ritual of the opening bell of free agency, the “chosen few” players were beneficiaries of the unrestricted free agency system brought into the NFL in 1993. Teams desiring to make purchases on the opening day of the buying season have to pay retail prices; they know that going in.

First, a couple of mantras from my years of watching free agency (and hoping in Green Bay that we would avoid the “stupid money” payouts of the first few days shopping sprees):

  • Some of the best deals made are the ones not made
  • Never let impulse or emotion override rational decision making, and
  • Teams that “win” March rarely play in January

Free agency moved at warp speed for one position group. A talented group of wide receivers made their presence felt throughout the league with a trade and some marquee signings designed to upgrade sluggish offenses. Let’s look at some of the new wide receiver riches…

Calvin Johnson

This deal is so big it will receive a column to itself, but here are a couple instant thoughts.

NFL owners were adamant about changing the rookie pay at the top of the Draft for reasons beyond the oversized guarantees. The real issue was that these contracts have what I call “exploding escalators” in the latter years of the deal, resulting in onerous and unworkable numbers for the team. This happened with Johnson, as it did with Larry Fitzgerald when he secured his first of two record-breaking contracts.

The Lions had the least leverage of any team dealing with an existing player. They could not field a competitive roster with Johnson’s enormous Cap and cash numbers in this year and next. They were stuck, and Johnson was the beneficiary.

The other takeaway from the Johnson deal is that he and Fitzgerald have zoomed past the established receiver market to set a market of their own. This deal will now affect positions beyond wide receiver and it may have an interesting effect on the stagnant negotiations between the Saints and Drew Brees.

ICONMarshall brings great talent but some baggage.

Brandon Marshall

Marshall, traded to the Bears for two third-round picks, is a talent; I remember watching him run through our defense when I was with the Packers. However, he has had some brushes with the law, including as late as this week. I am sure that Lovie Smith and his staff think they can “handle him,” but that may be a wish and not a plan. The test will come if and when things go south, and they will. All eyes will be on Marshall in how he handles adversity.

The Bears will inherit the remaining three years of Marshall’s five-year deal, with salaries of $9.3 million this year and $9.1 million in 2013 and 2014.

DeSean Jackson

After a disenchanted 2011 season followed by the Franchise Tag (“Tag”) Jackson is now rewarded with a five-year deal. While it is certainly good news for Jackson to have signed a long-term deal, it appears to be a curious one.

Jackson was scheduled to make $9.5 million playing under the Tag in 2012. Jackson will now make — from bonuses and salary — $11 million in 2012, a relatively modest increase of $1.5 million. In 2013, Jackson will make $7 million in bonus and salaries, $4 million of which is fully guaranteed, the rest guaranteed only for injury (if he is unable to play in 2013 due to injury). And in 2014, Jackson will make $10.5 million, only $250,000 of which is guaranteed.

Certainly, $15 million is better than $9.5 million, but I would have expected a larger guaranteed amount for Jackson to give up four additional years beyond this Tag year. This deal feels light.

Marques Colston

Colston was the beneficiary of three factors: (1) the pending free agent deadline, using the leverage of the hours leading up to free agency to obtain the Saints’s best offer; (2) the cloud of the “bounty” scandal hanging over the Saints; and (3) unsuccessful negotiations with other Saints’ Pro Bowl players, Brees and Carl Nicks, now with Tampa Bay.

Thus, Colston secured a five-year deal with a total value of $40 million with $19 million guaranteed. That guarantee places him behind last year’s trendsetter in free agency, Santonio Holmes ($24 million), but ahead of guarantees for players such as Stevie Johnson ($18 million) and Roddy White ($18.6 million).

And for some more receiver signings…

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Cap-less crackdown

The NFL’s stripping of Cap room from the Redskins and Cowboys – and, to a much lesser extent, the Saints and Raiders – is a striking punishment for actions that seemed innocent enough when they occurred during the 2010 uncapped season.

The following are excerpts from my column on September 24th, 2010. At

The NFL’s stripping of Cap room from the Redskins and Cowboys – and, to a much lesser extent, the Saints and Raiders – is a striking punishment for actions that seemed innocent enough when they occurred during the 2010 uncapped season.

The following are excerpts from my column on September 24th, 2010. At that time lauded the Redskins and Cowboys for their treatment of monies paid then. As it turns out, those contracts, in the NFL’s words “created an unacceptable risk to future competitive balance.” Thus, $36 million and $10 million are being taken from the Redskins and Cowboys Caps, respectively, and placed into a pool to be shared by 28 other clubs (with the Saints and Raiders excluded for minor violations themselves.)

Now 18 months later, it is interesting to read my analysis – and praise – of what was done then, knowing what it has caused now. Here it is:

The two perennial NFL Cap spendthrifts – the Redskins and Cowboys – are being – gasp – fiscally prudent in this uncapped year. They are structuring their biggest contracts in a way that indicates that whenever a new collective bargaining agreement does get negotiated, the NFL will continue in a capped system that rewards sound and prudent Cap management.

Two teams, however, that were never known for conservative Cap management have been the Redskins and Cowboys. Now, however, in this unique year, their biggest deals are structured that way.

Haynesworth and Hall one-year impact

There is a technical rule of Cap management that if a team inserts a player voidable clause – allowing the player to end his contract early – then a signing bonus following the voidable clause will not prorate through the remainder of the contract. In other words, the Cap charge of the signing bonus will be contained in the year it is earned.

Albert Haynesworth – everyone’s favorite punching bag this year – had a $21 million bonus this year that was restructured in the manner described above to have the entire amount count in 2010 with no accounting in future years. DeAngelo Hall had a $15 million bonus restructured in the same manner. Both players had voidable clauses in their sole control, allowing them to cut short their contracts assuming they repaid their bonuses (which, of course, they would never do as that money has already been spent).

Thus, for Cap accounting, both amounts count solely in 2010 and are not prorated if and when the Cap returns in 2011 or beyond. That is $36 million of money hitting 2010, the year without a Cap, and no remaining Cap hits on that money in future years. And, perhaps best of all, the Redskins can now dump Haynesworth without Cap consequence next season, a move I fully expect them to make.

ICONAustin’s contract is highly scrutinized.

Austin all in

Similarly in Dallas, the Cowboys have structured their latest big receiver contract – following a couple disaster contracts for receivers Terrell Owens and Roy Williams – in a similar fashion.

As part of his new contract, Miles Austin will make $17 million in 2010 from the Cowboys. They have frontloaded the money from a cash and – acting as if there were one – Cap standpoint, limiting hits against future Caps.

Kudos to two teams protecting their Cap future that have not previously operated with such forethought. The uncapped year, of all things, has spurred the Cowboys and Redskins to operate more prudently in their Cap management. Who knew?

It’s quite strange that these contracts are now being scrutinized, given that the NFL Management Council approves all NFL contracts. While the previous CBA made no explicit warning, oral warnings were issued to teams at the beginning of 2010 and also at NFL Owners Meetings throughout the year.

Every team in the NFL feels that the league office, at some level, favors other teams. In Green Bay, we certainly had that complex, as we felt to be ignored at times since we lacked a true owner. Today, there are probably several owners who feel that the Redskins and Cowboys now have to face the music after being allowed to skate on the edges of the rules for some time.

The timing of the league’s announcement is strategic as well. Rather than mete out punishment at the start of the 2011 League Year – during the harried frenzy of finalizing the new CBA – the NFL waited until it secured NFLPA approval. This happened to coincide with the announcement of the 2012 Cap number and the eve of free agency.

The punishment to the Redskins and Cowboys is substantial. However, it will serve to foster a return to their modus operandi – ignoring future Cap issues by prorating over a number of years in order to spend freely in the present.

As to the way the previous column ended, that was eerie in itself. Who knew?

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Jets’ Gesture

In the NFL, contracts are often not what they appear to be. This maxim was the case two years ago in the extension between the Redskins and Donovan McNabb and appears to be the case with the three-year extension signed Friday night between the Jets and quarterback Mark Sanchez. The signing put to rest

In the NFL, contracts are often not what they appear to be. This maxim was the case two years ago in the extension between the Redskins and Donovan McNabb and appears to be the case with the three-year extension signed Friday night between the Jets and quarterback Mark Sanchez. The signing put to rest the team’s pursuit of Peyton Manning; a pursuit I am told that was lukewarm at best.

Reports immediately surfaced that Sanchez had a guarantee level in his new contract of $20.5 million, and that the extension was worth a total value of $58. 25 million. Well, not exactly. While those numbers are technically acccurate, they are a bit of a stretch. Let’s examine.

Sanchez’s rookie contract had two years remaining.

Two existing years

Sanchez was the fifth pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, and rewarded with a substantial contract, this prior to the “correction” of top rookie contracts in the new CBA.

That rookie contract had two years remaining, now adjusted in the new extension. Let’s look at those two years:

2012

Sanchez was scheduled to make $11.75 million. Sanchez will now make…..$11.75 million.

Instead of earning the entire amount in salary, Sanchez will now receive an $8 million signing bonus and a $3.25 million guaranteed salary, along with an offseason workout bonus of $500,000.

The signing bonus, as per Cap treatement, is prorated over the five remaining years of the contract at $1.6 million per year, reducing the $11.75 million Cap number to $5.35 million, a savings of $6.4 million to the Jets’ Cap.

The Jets were not going to release Mark Sanchez, making the guarantee a nice gesture, but one with little meaning. In other words, Sanchez makes no new money in 2012 than he was already scheduled to make.

2013

Sanchez was scheduled to make a nonguaranteed $6 million. He will now make a guaranteed $8.25 million plus a $500,000 workout bonus for a total of $8.75 milliona $2.75 million increase.

This guarantee carries a bit more weight than the 2012 guarantee, although Sanchez would need a truly poor season for the Jets to shed him before next season. And there is no “offset” in the guarantee, meaning that if the Jets release Sanchez, they will owe him despite what he makes from another club. The Jets have made an $8.25 million bet that Sanchez will be their quarterback in 2013.

Thus, for 2012-2013, Sanchez will receive $20.5 million guaranteed compared to $17.75 million not guaranteed, a raise of $2.75 million. The guarantee this year has little to no value. As to next year, there is some value to it, although not great.

2014-2016

For adding the guarantees and $2.75 million to Sanchez’s compensation over the next two years, the Jets also are able to attach three nonguaranteed years to the contract, ensuring he will be a Jet – if they so desire – through 2016. The years are as follows:

Salary Roster Bonus Workout Bonus
2014 $9 million $2 million $500,000
2015 $12.5 million $1 million $500,000
2016 $10.75 million $1 million $500,000

The roster bonuses are due the 15th day of the League Year for each year, giving the Jets time to trade or release Sanchez for two weeks prior to the money becoming due.

The escalator

The escalator has been reported as a potential of $10 million. That is correct, although the Jets and Sanchez would have to win four Super Bowls for him to receive that.

The escalator adds $500,000 to Sanchez’s subsequent year salary if he reaches the Super Bowl in any year. This part of the escalator does not “stack” in future years, simply paid as an add-on to the subsequent year.

In the event Sanchez wins the Super Bowl in any year – while playing at least 60% of the offensive plays – it would add $1 million to all of the remaining years of the contract, a number that “stacks” to add a maximum of $10 million if Sanchez were to win the next four Super Bowls. Jets fans can only hope…

The takeaway

The Jets professed their “like” for Sanchez – this contract does not profess “love” – with limited risk to them.

To be fair, there is value to Sanchez in having 2013 guaranteed but, in my view, not enough to add three prime years of his career to the contract. Perhaps, after reports of the Jets’ toxic locker room and the passing flirtation with Manning, Sanchez felt that this kind of deal at this particular time was the right tonic entering the offseason.

With many things in life – especially NFL contracts – the truth is not always what it appears to be.

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Peyton’s Next Place

First, a thought on how lucky – or technically, Lucky – Jim Irsay and the Colts are. Had the Colts not finished with the worst record in the NFL, giving them a grooved path to a replacement for Manning in Andrew Luck, how would they have been able to part from Peyton Manning? Despite

First, a thought on how lucky – or technically, Lucky – Jim Irsay and the Colts are. Had the Colts not finished with the worst record in the NFL, giving them a grooved path to a replacement for Manning in Andrew Luck, how would they have been able to part from Peyton Manning? Despite “circumstances”, “Cap problems” and Manning’s neck health, there would have been no way to justify moving on from Manning to take, say, a defensive lineman with the fifth pick in the Draft. Had the Colts won one more game they would, in my opinion, be exercising the $28 million option on Manning’s contract today.

But alas, time marches on; the speculation on Manning’s next address has been in full throat for months. Let’s examine.

ICONManning will have several suitors.

The next contract

As noted in this space often, contract negotiations are about options, as options create leverage. I sense Manning will have options. And he will have leverage.

Many have suggested that Manning’s next contract will be “incentive-laden”. Uh, no. “Incentive-laden” contracts are for players that have little to no leverage, usually having one option. Manning will have several.

This is not to say that there will not be incentives in Manning’s next contract. And those incentives will not count against the Cap, as Cap treatment of incentives relates to a player’s performance in the prior year, where Manning had no performance in 2011. However, the incentives will be layered over a serious contract, complete with heavy guarantees forged by the leverage of multiple bidders.

How much guaranteed? Hard to say, but it could potentially approach the $28 million that Manning was scheduled to receive if his contract was in place after today with the Colts.

The teams

Manning fits in the wheelhouse of two teams, both of which do not have strong emotional or financial commitments to a quarterback.

The Redskins and Dolphins both have ownership with a history of being enamored with name brands and willing to pay a premium for them. My sense is that they will be first in line at the door to sign Manning.

I also see the Seahawks as a realistic contender, replete with cash and only having limited ties to quarterbacks Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst. The issue there may be their potential pursuit of Matt Flynn, a favorite of general manager John Schneider from his time with the Packers. Flynn may also factor in discussions with the Dolphins.

Previously engaged

I believe that a team and its management have to stand for something. Otherwise, the organization moves with the wind with no real values in place. Therefore, I would not see Manning landing in places where the team has made commitments to quarterbacks in the past couple of years which say to them – emotionally and financially – “You’re our guy!”

To me, that rules out the Cardinals, who committed $60 million and $21 million guaranteed to Kevin Kolb. That rules out the Chiefs, who committed $63 million and $28 million guaranteed to Matt Cassel. That rules out the Texans, who committed $48 million and a $21 million guaranteed to Matt Schaub. And that rules out the Jets, who have committed $44 million and $28 million guaranteed to Mark Sanchez.

I know what you’re saying: “But this is Peyton Manning! He’s better than those guys!” And some of those organizations may be thinking the same thing. But personally, I just don’t think that style works. Not only is it telling your quarterback that he is expendable, it is telling every player in the locker room the same thing. Again, organizations have to stand for something, even at the expense of resisting temptation on Peyton Manning.

Truly free

Regardless, Manning becomes available in the marketplace. That, in itself, is an extraordinary statement. Players of his pedigree at the quarterback position simply do not become available in the NFL…ever. We’ve seen bounties paid – perhaps a poor choice of words – for the right to acquire quarterbacks such as Carson Palmer and Jay Cutler due to low supply and high demand. And that demand will be sky high for the NFL’s newest free agent, Peyton Manning, neck surgeries and all.

Let the bidding begin.

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End of an Era

Here is the Peyton Predicament part one, two, three and four.

We knew this was coming. The Colts will part ways with the face of their franchise for the last fourteen years, their iconic star Peyton Manning. Although there were some with wishful thinking that this marriage would continue,

Here is the Peyton Predicament part one, two, three and four.

We knew this was coming. The Colts will part ways with the face of their franchise for the last fourteen years, their iconic star Peyton Manning. Although there were some with wishful thinking that this marriage would continue, there were no tangible signs that it would.

Circumstances created the perfect storm for the release of Manning. They were: (1) the extraordinary financial commitment required to keep him, $35.4 million in this year alone; (2) multiple neck surgeries that put Manning’s future level of performance in questions, and (3) a ready-made replacement in Andrew Luck, available to the Colts with the top pick in the Draft for a fraction of the price of Manning.

The contract, of course, also created the problem. Manning and agent Tom Condon leveraged a decision date from the Colts of this week that would force them to retain him or release him to the free agent market after paying him $26.4 million last season. As to Manning moving the option date backwards, that was never going to happen. He had no reason to do that.

The signs were all there. Irsay had cleaned house with a new coach and general manager, both of whom uncomfortably avoiding the topic of Manning at all costs. For them, this date couldn’t get here soon enough.

In Green Bay in 2008, my sense was the decision was more about Aaron Rodgers than Brett Favre. And in Philadelphia in 2010, the decision was more about Kevin Kolb than Donovan McNabb. At some point the replacement is ready and it is time to move to the future. In Indianapolis, no one knows if Luck is ready but the feeling is that the gain that the organization receives by him waiting does not justify the cost.

In the end, Irsay’s decision to part with Manning is an understandable business decision, ruling from his head rather than his heart. Organizations must evolve. Leaders must respect the past, but not be controlled by it.

Irsay just needed to communicate that to Manning in a professional and respectful way. We trust that he did.

Even for the best of the best players and the longest tenured stars aligned with one team, it rarely ends well. The business of football always wins.

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Flynnsanity

The Packers’ decision today regarding whether to place the Franchise Tag (Tag) on quarterback Matt Flynn has several layers to peel back in weighing the choice. It is not as simple as “Tag and trade him!”

Freeing Flynn

Flynn signed a four-year rookie contract in 2008 that is now expiring. Thus, the

The Packers’ decision today regarding whether to place the Franchise Tag (Tag) on quarterback Matt Flynn has several layers to peel back in weighing the choice. It is not as simple as “Tag and trade him!”

Freeing Flynn

Flynn signed a four-year rookie contract in 2008 that is now expiring. Thus, the only way for the Packers to retain him would be to extend his contract – doubtful with other teams looking at him as a starting quarterback – or tag him.

Of course, the Packers would be tagging Flynn with no intention of actually keeping him on their roster. Rather, the Tag would be a placeholder until trading Flynn for value back to the Packers.

Tougher Tag

When the Tag was introduced into the NFL it was designed to keep each team’s, well, “Franchise” player from entering the market: players such as John Elway, Troy Aikman, Brett Favre, Steve Young, etc.

That was then; this is now. The Tag has now become far more potent; it has become a tool to keep the team’s best free agent in a particular year. And the new ten-year CBA served to further enhance the Tag, lowering its amounts to give teams further advantage in tagging and in negotiations.

The Tag and trade of Matt Cassel to KC had different circumstances.

Tag and trade?

The Tag’s reach also continues to expand. Since the language of the Tag does not address intent, teams are using it beyond the original meaning of the Tag. I was once told the spirit of the Tag was that there had to be “intent to sign”, clearly not the case with Flynn. As to the Matt Cassel “tag and trade” in New England in 2009, there was cover due to Tom Brady’s rehabilitation from a season-ending injury.

Now I have been told the Tag requires “intent to employ”. Does that include intent to employ with another team? Probably. It appears a Tag and trade by the Packers will be allowed despite being on the edge of the spirit of the rule.

Leverage game

Flynn, if tagged, can immediately sign the projected $14.5 million one-year tender to make it guaranteed. And were I advising him, I would tell him to do so.

Flynn would have tremendous leverage with (1) the Packers, who could be stuck with a backup making $6.5 million more than Aaron Rodgers’ $8 million salary; and (2) the trading team, who needs Flynn signed for more than one year.

Tagging Flynn also gives leverage to the trading team, who can firmly negotiate a trade knowing the Packers have to deal Flynn.

Which leads to…

Trade tampering?

The Packers, for reasons above, must be completely sure about a trade today, eight days prior to the March 13th start of the NFL trading period.

Teams are allowed to explore but not consummate trades prior to March 13th. Although the Packers may talk hypothetically about, say, a second-round pick for Flynn, one never knows what could happen between now and March 13th. What if, for instance, Peyton Manning becomes free in the interim – Thursday — and the trading team’s fancy turns from Flynn to Manning?

Player tampering?

And what about tampering with Flynn? With Flynn under contract to the Packers until at least March 13th, no team can “legally” talk to Flynn’s agent about a contract until that time. A trading team has to know Flynn will agree to a long-term contract, as it will not give up a high draft pick for having Flynn only 16 games.

If a trade goes through for a tagged Matt Flynn soon after March 13th, we will be led to believe the trade and contract suddenly after that date. And that the Easter Bunny brokered the deal…

Will Flynn get the Tag?

I don’t see it. I sat in that front office for nine years. The Packers are not a team to push the envelope with risk, and these decisions are all about risk.

To tag Flynn exposes them to risk that (1) they end up with Matt Flynn as a backup making $6.5 million more than the NFL MVP; (2) the trading team leverages a price lower than a second-round pick; (3) the NFL and/or NFLPA questions their decision; and (4) they tempt violation of tampering rules for having a trade in place prior to March 13.

I understand those who say for the Packers do whatever it takes to get compensation for Flynn. And I know firsthand how Ted Thompson craves second round draft picks. And it may well happen. I just don’t think it will.

The deadline is 4pm et today. Stay tuned.

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Not so Saintly behavior

On the Friday with NFL news consumed by the application of Franchise Tags by teams to players, a bombshell story has hit the news, one involving the New Orleans Saints in an extremely negative fashion.

The NFL announced today that the New Orleans Saints engaged in a bounty program under former

On the Friday with NFL news consumed by the application of Franchise Tags by teams to players, a bombshell story has hit the news, one involving the New Orleans Saints in an extremely negative fashion.

The NFL announced today that the New Orleans Saints engaged in a bounty program under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams that involved more than 20 defensive players. The fact that the word “bounty” is something that will negatively affect the Saints franchise for some time to come.

It has been an initiative of Commissioner Roger Goodell from the moment he took office to maintain and promote the integrity and public confidence in the NFL. His signature Personal Conduct Policy has been vigilant in disciplining off-field behavior that negatively affects the image of the player, the team and league. And on the field Goodell and his staff have lorded over increased fines and suspensions for violent hits that affect the image of the game.

Now Goodell faces a situation that strikes at the heart of the integrity of the league. Players “gambling” with the health and safety of opposing players is something that belies the NFL shield and brand.

I remember, as a front office member of the Packers, how each year we would receive a memo from the NFL Management Council warning of stiff penalties for allowing “bounties” to exist within our players and coaching staff. I specifically remember one time where we were questioned about a comment our defensive players had made to the media about rewarding our defensive linemen with DVDs from Best Buy were we to hold Adrian Peterson under 100 yards in one game.

The NFL caught wind of those comments and inquired about them. When they used the word “bounty” in our call, it shocked me. We were talking about some DVDs from Best Buy! But, with the comments specifically concerning Peterson, who was coming off a record-breaking performance the week before, the league felt a need to ask us some questions. There was no punishment given, but it caused some a discussion to the entire team, especially the players involved in the incident.

The league will come down hard on the Saints. The timing of this announcement sets up for the loss of draft picks in the Draft that is six weeks away. And more.

The Saints offseason just got a lot worse. And Drew Brees, Carl Nicks and Marques Colston just got a lot more leverage, as the Saints need some good public relations news…soon.

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Receiver Roulette: Part 2

My first installment dissecting elite free agent wide receivers is here.

There is a surplus of talent at the wide receiver position in the free agent pool this offseason. Beyond the five players discussed in the first installment, six other notable receivers – Mike Wallace, Stevie Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Mario

My first installment dissecting elite free agent wide receivers is here.

There is a surplus of talent at the wide receiver position in the free agent pool this offseason. Beyond the five players discussed in the first installment, six other notable receivers – Mike Wallace, Stevie Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Mario Manningham, and Robert Meachem – may be available when the bell rings for free agency on March 13th. Let’s examine:

Mike Wallace

Wallace is a Restricted Free Agent (RFA), so the Steelers have two options: (1) tender the highest qualifying offer – about $2.75 million – giving them the right to match any offer sheet Wallace receives, or (2) apply the Franchise Tag (Tag) to hold Wallace’s rights for an amount north of $9.4 million. Despite mortgaging $26 million of players’ contracts to stay afloat amidst their severe Cap issues, the Steelers are still highly leveraged and probably cannot afford to tag Wallace. Thus, the likely course is an RFA tender while the team holds it collective breath.

A quiet win for players in the recent Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations was a decrease in the maximum RFA tender available. The “super tender” of first and third round picks – the highest tender in the previous CBA – was eliminated, making it less prohibitive for other teams to poach RFAs.

Teams in need of a receiver drafting at the back end of the first round – Chicago (19), Cleveland (22), Baltimore (28) or San Francisco (30), among others – could possibly make a play for Wallace. Many have asked about the Patriots making a run at Wallace, having picks 27 and 31. I don’t see it due to (1) greater needs on defense; (2) an organizational philosophy to not reward other teams’ free agents at that level; and (3) the standard operating procedure of Bill Belichick is to use low first-round picks to secure additional second-round picks or future selections.

Prediction: Wallace receives a first-round RFA tender and the Steelers hold their breath that Cap-rich teams such as the Bengals, Browns, Redskins or Jaguars do not present front-loaded offer sheets.

Johnson may be allowed by the Bills to test the market.

Stevie Johnson

After stellar 2010 and 2011 campaigns in which Johnson posted at least 75 catches, 1000 yards and 7 touchdowns each season, Johnson is looking for the Bills or another suitor to show him the money.

The Bills and Johnson exchanged proposals at the Combine, but no deal was reached. While the two sides appear close, if a long-term agreement is not made by March 5th then the Bills will most likely let the market decide Johnson’s worth. I don’t see a Tag here.

Despite his production, Johnson has some question marks. More important to him will be whether some of these other receivers make it to the market, pushing him down the list of top players available at the position.

Prediction: Johnson enters free agency, with the Bills hoping to match what the market bears.

Reggie Wayne/Pierre Garcon

While the Peyton Predicament continues, Manning’s reliable receiver Wayne is set to test free agency for the first time in his eleven-year career as his six-year $39.5 million contract expires. There has even been some chatter that the pair could come as a package deal.

Teams will focus on Wayne’s age (33), but his agent will emphasize the 75 receptions and three 100-yard games catching passes from the likes of Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter in 2011. Wayne still has value; the key will be structuring a contract that allows a team to separate with limited risk after a year or two.

Unlike Wayne, the Colts have shown interest in retaining Garcon, who reportedly turned down a deal with a total value of $35 million. Whether due to the probable release of Manning or otherwise, Garcon appears ready and willing to become a former Colt.

Prediction: Wayne goes to the market and receives a one or two-year deal with a veteran team. Garcon goes to the market and receives a significant contract, although less than what the Colts had offered.

Mario Manningham

While his 2011 overall numbers (39 catches, 523 yards, 4 touchdowns) aren’t nearly as gaudy as his counterparts, Manningham made the biggest play of the 2011 season in Super Bowl 46. Will this single catch increase his value? That will be hard to determine, although we have seen the value of players with memorable Super Bowl plays – such as Santonio Holmes – increase in part due to that moment.

With the emergence of — and a future investment ahead inVictor Cruz and previous investment in Hakeem Nicks, the Giants are likely to move on from Manningham. And with the Giants’ quarterbacks coach, known to be a fan of Manningham, moving to Tampa Bay, the Cap-rich Buccaneers look to be the clear favorite here.

Prediction: Manningham signs a four-year deal with the Buccaneers that is front-loaded to eat up some of their excess Cap room.

Robert Meachem

Despite showing flashes of promise, Meachem – the 27th pick in the 2007 Draft – has been overshadowed in the Saints’ crowded wide receiver corps.

The Saints are overwhelmed with decisions on Pro Bowl free agents Drew Brees, Carl Nicks, and Marques Colston, so re-signing Meachem is a lower priority. Although Meachem’s money won’t be nearly as exorbitant as these other names, the Saints may let him walk.

Prediction: Meachem goes to the market and slots under the players mentioned above.

In what will be a fascinating offseason free agent period, the first true offseason under the new CBA, the wide receiver position may be the most interesting group of all.

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Tag Time

The clock is ticking toward Monday’s deadline for the application of Franchise Tags (the “Tag”) across the NFL. I expect a number of Tags, with teams waiting until the deadline to apply them. With that, I’ll try to answer some themes from the scores of questions I am getting about the Tag.

Why

The clock is ticking toward Monday’s deadline for the application of Franchise Tags (the “Tag”) across the NFL. I expect a number of Tags, with teams waiting until the deadline to apply them. With that, I’ll try to answer some themes from the scores of questions I am getting about the Tag.

Why are Tag numbers down this season from last year?

As explained here in November, the new CBA formula for determining the Tag number is looking back five years at the top five Salaries at each position (“Salaries” include salaries plus proration), rather than a looking only to last year. The result of this calculation is that Tag numbers are down from last year an average of $2 million per position!

The lower numbers are advantageous to teams for a couple of reasons. First, it allows $2 million in savings to use on other areas of the team. More importantly, it sets a lower floor for negotiations, giving teams a lower starting point in negotiations on a long-term deal.

The Tag reduction is another nugget gleaned from the ten-year CBA as we enter the first offseason under the deal, a “win” for owners that may grow more important as the deal progresses.

What goes into the decision to place a Tag on a player?

Sometimes teams believe the agent and player are, well, delusional as to the player’s value. The Tag can put negotiations that are far apart on hold while allowing for future data to enter into the discussion.

ICONThe Titans used consecutive Tags on Haynesworth, not wanting to commit.

Also, teams may want to go “year-to-year” with players rather than committing to a long marriage. There may be concerns about longevity, durability and, most importantly, work ethic. The Tag gives the team the option to “pay as you go,” albeit for a large amount.

The primary example here is the when the Titans – concerned about motivation and work ethic with Albert Haynesworth – chose to apply the Tag to Haynesworth in consecutive years while making little to no effort to sign him beyond one year. The Redskins then sunk $41 million of guaranteed money into Haynesworth and have been trying to recover ever since.

Can teams apply the Tag repeatedly? Is there any limit?

In the event the teams apply the Tag for a third consecutive year, they must tender an amount of not 120% of the player’s previous salary – as in a second consecutive year – but 144% of that amount. That appears to be the only restriction on the continued use of the Tag.

For which positions is the Tag especially important?

The Tag gives teams an advantage with the two particular skill positions that have proven the most difficult to predict long-term success: running backs (projected Tag of $7.7 million) and wide receivers (projected Tag of $9.4 million).

These are the two positions where decline can come swiftly and irrevocably. The Tag allows teams to avoid being locked into a contract while such decline is happening before their eyes. I expect several Tags to be used here. As we speak, the Tag is being used as leverage in negotiations with running backs Ray Rice and Matt Forte, and receivers DeSean Jackson, Dwayne Bowe and Wes Welker.

An interesting situation is also occurring with kickers, where top deals exceed a $3 million average yet the Tag is projected at about $2.7 million. The Bills’ Rian Lindell recently decided to take a deal with the team, although not what he was hoping for, rather than being saddled with an under-market Tag. Other kickers faced with this dilemma may be Josh Scobee, Connor Barth, Neil Rackers, Matt Prater and Jay Feely.

Super Mario

As the top pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, Mario Williams‘ contract not only contained $26.5 million in guaranteed money, but also had a host of bells and whistles that the new CBA sought to eliminate (and did).

Williams’ 2011 salary was $13.8 million, above the projected $10.6 million Tag for defensive ends. Thus, his Tag number will be 120% of his 2011 “Salary” — a number that includes the proration from his option bonus and buyback bonus (don’t ask) — totaling $18.325 million. 120% of that number gives Williams a Tag number – should the Texans choose to apply it – of a staggering $21.99 million!

Thus, Williams will either make $22 million with the Texans or sign a long-term contract with the Texans or another team for guaranteed money that will certainly exceed $22 million. It’s good to be Mario.

The game of Tag will heat up in the coming days.

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Combine Confidential

Finley finds a deal

Before getting to the Combine, a note on the two-year deal agreed to last night between the Packers and talented tight end Jermichael Finley, an agreement with a value of $14 million, with $10.2 million of that amount coming over the next 13 months. The deal makes sense for

Finley finds a deal

Before getting to the Combine, a note on the two-year deal agreed to last night between the Packers and talented tight end Jermichael Finley, an agreement with a value of $14 million, with $10.2 million of that amount coming over the next 13 months. The deal makes sense for both sides.

ICONFinley re-ups with the Packers for two years.

For Finley, he avoids an under-market tight end Franchise Tag of $5.5 million and a potentially messy battle over whether he merits a wide receiver Tag number of $9.5 million.

The best news for Finley may be that he is a free agent again in two years at the tender age of 26! He will have another bite at the free agency apple in the prime of his career. And by that time, he and the Packers will know if Greg Jennings, whose contract expires after this season, will be retained or not.

Finley is a talent that the Packers did not want to lose. Now both sides have two more seasons together and more data points will be established prior to another showdown at the bargaining table.

On to the Combine….

While the Super Bowl – three weeks before the Combine – is the sizzle, the Combine is the steak. Here is some insight about what goes on:

The drills

The “meat market” part of the Combine is probably most striking. Players walk around in shirts and sweats displaying numbers and names. They are asked to stand in front of hundreds of scouts in only their gym shorts, then asked to turn around and sometimes asked to bend, while scouts write down in the notebooks observations about their frame.

Then come the measurables: speed, strength, agility, intelligence and, most importantly, medical, as each player is poked and prodded by all 32 NFL team doctors.

ICONScouts came back drooling at Vernon Davis’s workout at the Combine.

As to whether teams place too much or too little emphasis on Combine measurables, my feeling is it is another set of metrics to go along with on-the-field game performance. Everything is data to be considered in evaluation.

Do freaks of nature surface at the Combine? Sure. I remember in 2006 when scouts came back from the week in Indianapolis raving nonstop about Mario Williams and Vernon Davis. But again, it’s all a part of the process, soon to be followed by Pro Days, more interviews, more testing, more game tapes to watch, etc.

The agents

There will be approximately 900 NFL agents in Indianapolis this weekend, many of whom have no clients. The annual NFLPA meeting is scheduled on Friday and agents are required to attend as part of their certification. I was asked to speak there one year while with the Packers, having been an agent, but due to ongoing bargaining the Packers and NFL Management Council told me to refrain.

The meeting will be the first gathering since the negotiation of the new ten-year CBA with the NFL. Many agents felt ignored during the negotiation process and it will be interesting to see if the meeting becomes heated.

I remember when agents could roam (relatively) freely among the players’ hotel. Now agents are barred from most areas; however, they attend to take their players out to meals, give pep talks, and provide moral support while, of course, protecting their new assets from potential poachers that lie in wait.

Agents have little to no influence in getting clients invited to the Combine. Or at least I did. I unsuccessfully tried to secure an invitation for a quarterback from Boston College named Matt Hasselbeck. Now fourteen years into a prosperous NFL career, Matt and I have a nice laugh every year while recalling the names of quarterbacks invited ahead of him that never played in the NFL.

The interviews

Beyond the physical workouts, players are shuttled from team to team for interviews. The answers are predictable – the most important person in their life is their mother, they are very coachable, the problem they had in college with their coach/teammate/girlfriend, etc. was an isolated incident, etc. The players have been “coached up” by agents and services specifically designed for these interviews.

One year I joined the Packers’ interviews. With my legal background and inquisitive nature, I tried to dig deeper and go off-script, asking a lot of questions that started with “Why?” and see how they could re-focus on changed circumstances. Since our time with these players was very limited, I was soon told to ease up on the interrogations.

The tampering

The timing of the Combine – which precedes the opening of free agency and trading – necessitates discussion of player contract negotiations and/or movement. Meetings between team negotiators and agents take place in hotel rooms and lobbies and restaurants throughout downtown Indianapolis. With the Packers, we stayed at the Omni hotel, as did several other teams, and we would each have our section of the lobby where we would meet agents.

Most of my meetings were about players that we had under contract already and we were either trying to re-sign (as the Finley deal last night) or listen to complaints about what the player was making. In the rare times where we were talking about potential free agents, I was careful to phrase questions such as “In the event your player is out of his contract next week, what would you be looking for?”

What became frustrating as a team negotiator was when I could not even talk to agents of our players with expiring contracts because the agent had so many meetings scheduled with other teams. Could I prove that he was talking about our player? No, as most agents have existing players on many teams. But it was maddening to watch agents ignore the player’s existing team to seek out other options.

Let the (Combine) games begin.

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Peyton Predicament: Part 4

Here are the Peyton Predicament previous entries Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

As the NFL world once again descends on Indianapolis, the epicenter of the biggest offseason decision in the league, this is just getting weird. Colts owner, rock paraphernalia collector and tweet maven Jim Irsay has

Here are the Peyton Predicament previous entries Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

As the NFL world once again descends on Indianapolis, the epicenter of the biggest offseason decision in the league, this is just getting weird. Colts owner, rock paraphernalia collector and tweet maven Jim Irsay has turned the decision on whether Peyton Manning stays with the Colts into its own reality show/soap opera. Unfortunately for Irsay, he is not the party with leverage in this negotiation.

The latest

We are now smack in the middle of a one-month window where Irsay must either exercise the option on Manning’s contract or release him into the open market. As I have written, the Colts cannot simply let the March 8th date pass (they would still owe him $28 million). They must exercise the option or release him.

All indications have been that the Colts would move on: Irsay first spun a potential split and advised the team’s new coach and general manager to avoid the topic like the plague.

Now, Irsay is publicly floating the notion of trying to work something out with his iconic star if, and only if, Manning would accept a lesser contract reflecting his compromised physical condition. Hmmmm.

The spin

In following this saga, I am reminded of the spin between the NFL and the NFL Players Association exactly one year ago.

When the lockout appeared inevitable, there was posturing by both sides to win the hearts and minds of football fans. The NFL insisted the NFLPA only wanted to decertify and head to court instead of negotiating to resolve the dispute. The NFLPA asserted – through “Let Us Play” campaigns – that it was the NFL, not them, killing football. Both sides pointed fingers and screamed, “It’s their fault!”

Here, Irsay and Manning have been similarly strategic. Irsay tweeted that he didn’t mind paying Manning $26 million last year, a passive-aggressive move in light of the next approaching payout of $28 million. He has called Manning a “politician” and talked about keeping things “in-house” while politically using the media to take things public.

Manning made sure news was disseminated that he is medically cleared by renowned doctors to resume playing football. With that, he shifted the focus back to the Colts and Irsay, who was quietly hoping that Manning would retire and take some role with the team.

All of this spinning is fine, but …

The contract

The contract was negotiated for the Colts to decide to (1) have Manning on a one- year deal, the year he just completed for $26.4 million, or (2) have Manning on a five-year deal for $90 million, with $35.4 million due in 2012. The choice is theirs.

The Colts made this deal with Manning following multiple surgeries and after allowing his previous contract to expire. They also had no backup plan for Manning, hastily rustling up Kerry Collins from the couch with $4 million to play for them.

As to whether Manning would renegotiate either the date of the option or the terms of the contract, the Colts can certainly ask. And Manning can certainly say “no.”

What’s next?

ICONCondon will bargain hard against a reduced contract.

If, as Irsay suggests, the Colts are actually negotiating with agent Tom Condon, my sense is they would be focusing on the reduction of the guaranteed money – $28 million – due to Manning as a result of his compromised physical condition.

For Manning to accept this type of deal, however, the Colts would have to provide enough upside to Manning in exchange for their reduced risk. For example, were the Colts to reduce the guaranteed portion from $28 million to, say, $20 million, Condon may require them to provide twice the amount of the reduction – $16 million – in upside potential performance incentives.

In this scenario, Manning would be able to make $36 milliona $20 million option bonus plus $16 million of incentives — plus his $7.4 million salary for a total of $43.4 million. And, due to the fact that Manning did not play last season, these incentives would be NLTBE (not likely to be earned) and would not count against the Salary Cap until after the 2012 season.

As to moving the date back, again, it serves Manning little to no purpose to allow the Colts more time, and Manning wants to know their decision as soon as possible. Having said that, everything is negotiable. The Colts can try to “buy time” by paying Manning to move the date back.

Manning’s options

My sense is Manning will have several teams interested despite his recent medical issues. And those options may include the Redskins and Dolphins, two teams with ownership history showing a willingness to pay a premium for name brands.

Options create leverage, and leverage creates large guaranteed contracts. Will that guarantee exceed the $28 million Manning is schedule to make? That’s a good question, but my sense is it would be close.

To the future

My continuing belief is that the Colts and Manning will part. The Colts know Andrew Luck is their future; moving on with him is a reasonable and understandable business decision. Organizations need to evolve.

Irsay just needs to tell Manning that. It would be a difficult and uncomfortable conversation, but all parties would eventually be better for it.

Before we get to that, however, I am sure there is much more ahead to “As the Manning Turns”. Part 5 of this series is inevitable.

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Receiver Roulette

The longest offseason in major professional sports has begun. While we wait for the next edition of “As Peyton Turns,” let’s examine a high-profile position group – wide receiver – that offers a substantial amount of talent. Among the group, five upper-tier players – Wes Welker, Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Marques Colston and Dwayne

The longest offseason in major professional sports has begun. While we wait for the next edition of “As Peyton Turns,” let’s examine a high-profile position group – wide receiver – that offers a substantial amount of talent. Among the group, five upper-tier players – Wes Welker, Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Marques Colston and Dwayne Bowe – are set to receive the Franchise Tag (“Tag”)or hit the open market. Let’s examine:

Wes Welker

My sense is Brady will continue to have his favorite wide receiver on the Patriots.

Welker had a remarkable 2011 season (122 receptions, 1569 yards, 9 touchdowns) despite the disappointment of his last play. Regardless, his rapport with Tom Brady and prolific work product in New England – 554 receptions in five seasons – speaks for him being retained.

My sense is Welker will return to the Patriots, whether via a long-term deal or the Tag. Bill Belichick had long coveted Welker when he played for Miami and the Patriots will be competitive with Welker as long as his contract demands are not astronomical.

The Tag number for wide receivers is projected to be around $9.4 million and would represent a substantial increase for Welker, who earned $2.5 million last season.

Prediction: a deal gets done with the Patriots.

Vincent Jackson

The contentious relationship between Chargers general manager A.J. Smith and Jackson may finally end. In 2010 as a Restricted Free Agent – due to the uncapped rules in place – Jackson held out most of the season. Smith, who relishes a good battle with a player, responded by placing Jackson on the roster exempt list, suspended him three games and reduced the $3.7 million tender to the minimum – $583,000, prorated to $171,000 for the balance of the season.

In 2011, Jackson unhappily received the Tag once the lockout ended (if one can be unhappy earning $11.4 million). To tag him again in 2012, Jackson would receive $13.8 million – 120% of last year’s salary – and considerably more than the $9.4 million Tag number for receivers.

Prediction: the Chargers are prepared to move on from Jackson, who is said to be seeking a 5-year $50 million deal (aren’t we all?).

DeSean Jackson

After ending his training camp holdout, Jackson arrived in July with an expectation of being compensated for outperforming a contract that paid $600,000 in 2011. That new deal never arrived, and Jackson watched as the Eagles spent cash freely on big tickets such as Nnamdi Asomugha and Michael Vick as well as mid-tier players such as Vince Young, Ronnie Brown and Steve Smith.

Jackson – admittedly distracted by his contract situation – was marred by inconsistency all season.

The Eagles thus find themselves in a precarious position. Jackson’s big-play potential is undeniable yet his attitude, slight build, and concussion history are mitigating factors for a long-term deal. Also, Jackson’s view of his value is in a different sphere than that of the Eagles front office.

Prediction: the Tag, while the Eagles subtly let teams know Jackson can be had for an attractive offer.

Marques Colston

Colston, a 7th round pick out of Hofstra in 2006, has been pure treasure for the Saints, topping 70 catches, 1000 yards and 7 touchdowns in each of the last three seasons.

Colston’s stay in New Orleans may be directly related to that of his quarterback Drew Brees. The Saints are in heavy negotiations with Brees and if they cannot secure him by March 5th they will certainly use their Tag.

The team may then be forced to choose between Colston or Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks, also set to become a free agent. Ultimately, with other priorities, a talented stable of receivers and concerns about Colston’s balky knee may rule the Saints decision.

Prediction: the Saints let Colston enter the market.

Dwayne Bowe

Bowe followed up his breakout 2010 season (72 catches, 1162 yards, and 15 touchdowns) with a solid performance in 2011, despite a carousel of quarterbacks slinging the ball his way.

The Chiefs have made it known that retaining Bowe and cornerback Brandon Carr are their priorities. One player will likely receive the Tag; the other a long-term deal. With Bowe naturally wanting a contract reflective of the market set by Santonio Holmes – five years, $45 million, $24 million guaranteed – the Chiefs might prefer to go year-to-year with Bowe, applying the Tag.

Prediction: Bowe receives the Tag.

Stay tuned, more top players in position groups to come.

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Re-Routted

Before dealing with the first significant move of the 2012 offseason -- the Raiders' release of Stanford Routt -- a note on former Raider Randy Moss wanting to play again.

Moss wants in

It is interesting that a good amount of attention was paid to Moss “UStreaming” that he wants to come

Before dealing with the first significant move of the 2012 offseason — the Raiders’ release of Stanford Routt — a note on former Raider Randy Moss wanting to play again.

Moss wants in

It is interesting that a good amount of attention was paid to Moss “UStreaming” that he wants to come back to the NFL. That is nice, but he needs a team to make that happen.

ICONMoss wants to be “unretired.”

Moss “retired” last season after surveying the NFL and not finding any mutual interest. That is not likely to change now.

The vast majority of NFL players do not retire. As with Moss – a truly special player in his prime – these players are “retired” by NFL teams’ lack of interest, hoping that someone will “unretire” them.

Brett Favre was one of the lucky ones: the Vikings “unretired” him twice. Now more than ever, teams move on with younger players that have futures ahead of them, not pasts behind them.

Let’s be clear: whether Favre or Moss or Terrell Owens or Tiki Barber or any player returns to the NFL after being away a while is less about them than it is about a team willing to take them.

Moss may sign a one-year deal at some point, but I doubt it will be soon. My sense is teams will go through the offseason and perhaps bring him in for training camp with little risk in the contract.

And speaking of Moss and Favre, I will never forget trying to bring them together.

Raider woes

New Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie inherited a thorny contract and Cap situation. The Raiders possess several, shall we say, “player-friendly” contracts and have long been a favorite team of the agent community.

Routt’s deal was certainly one in that category. With his contract expiring last year at this time, Nnamdi Asomugha certain to sign elsewhere and the NFL heading into an indefinite lockout, the Raiders panicked and re-signed Routt to a three-year contract with total value of $31 million and potential guarantees up to $20 million. Around the same time, the Raiders also signed defensive end Richard Seymour to an eye-popping two-year, $30 million deal, a contract that was essentially fully guaranteed.

Now a year later, Routt is a former Raider and will receive approximately half of that $31 million – $15 million – for a performance of fifteen passes defended ($1 million per pass defended).

Routt’s riches

Routt received $10 million in 2011 and was to earn an additional $5 million Friday were he on the Raiders roster. The Raiders released him Thursday to avoid that $5 million.

They cannot, however, avoid another $5 million. Routt has a $5 million guaranteed option bonus due in March. It was structured as a “second signing bonus” so the Raiders did not have to fund the payment in 2011, as per NFL rules. This structure is very similar to first-round rookie deals in the prior CBA, with large second-year option bonuses that shielded large sums from the Rookie Cap.

Here’s a kicker — that $5 million to Routt in March is not offset against future money from another team. Thus, in 2012, Routt will receive $5 million from the Raiders plus any new contract money from where he signs next. And with the leverage of several teams being interested – Bills, Titans, Texans, Chiefs, Cowboys, Vikings – he will again have a nice contract.

This can rarely be said about a player just fired, but it’s good to be Stanford Routt.

Cap issues

The Raiders have some serious work to do just to get to a point that they can operate going into the 2012 League Year. Only the Steelers Cap situation is more dire (I’ll have a separate column upcoming on their situation).

The Cap was $120.375 million in 2011, with an additional $3 million that each team could “draw down” from the future, thus a practical Cap of about $123 million. The exact figure for the 2012 Cap will not be known for a couple weeks, but I don’t expect it to be much higher.

And, as discussed here in December, while teams can, for the first time, “bring forward” Cap room, those benefits are somewhat hollow for 2012 without team minimum spending requirements (not until 2013).

As we speak, teams such as these are restructuring contracts for short-term Cap relief while creating long-term consequences. Cap managers have to prepare for the 2012 Cap while accounting for tenders to their exclusive and restricted free agents, earned incentives from 2012, franchise or transition tenders, Rookie Pool, etc.

The business of football will dominate the next few months in the NFL, and the wheels have already started to turn.

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Peyton Predicament: Part 3

First, here are Peyton Predicament Part 1 and Part 2.

As the Winter of Peyton continues with an expected divorce from the Colts (irreconcilable differences?), I have received scores of questions about the financial ramifications of such a move to the Colts. I will try to answer these both from a

First, here are Peyton Predicament Part 1 and Part 2.

As the Winter of Peyton continues with an expected divorce from the Colts (irreconcilable differences?), I have received scores of questions about the financial ramifications of such a move to the Colts. I will try to answer these both from a cash perspective and by pulling down the curtain on the closely guarded mechanics of the Salary Cap. Stay with me here…

Cash

As discussed previously, releasing Manning represents a significant and dramatic cash savings to the Colts. Were the option exercised, the team would be required to pay Manning a $28 million option payment plus a $7.4 million salary, for a total of $35.4 million in 2012. That, combined with the $26.4 million he received in 2011, would mean a combined $61.8 million over two seasons.

Salaries of $8.4, $9.4 and $10.4 million in 2013, 2014, and 2015 follow this year’s salary, although none of these amounts are guaranteed.

Were Manning to be terminated – his contract, not him – all of these numbers would be deleted from the Colts’ ledgers.

ICONManning and Luck together would cost almost $51 million in 2012.

Thus, on a cash basis, the Colts would save $35.4 million in 2012 and $63.6 million over the next four years. And, as the Colts plan for the future, approximately $15 million of the 2012 savings and $23 million of the four-year savings will be allocated to the presumed top pick in the Draft, Andrew Luck.

Again, if somehow, contrary to all indications, the Colts exercise the option on Manning and draft Luck, the combined cash to the two players – who play the same position – would be close to $51 million paid in 2012. Paying $51 million for two players at the same position, only one of which will play, is untenable.

Cap

The Cap consequences to a Manning release are a bit more complicated.

One of the main features of Manning’s contract when it was negotiated in July was a $20 million signing bonus at its inception. As per the NFL Salary Cap – unchanged in the new CBA – signing bonuses are prorated over the length of the contract. Thus, the Cap charge for Manning’s signing bonus – before adding any salary — is $4 million per year every year from 2011-2015.

Remaining signing bonus proration accelerates upon release of a player. Thus, were Manning released, the entire remaining unamortized bonus — $16 million — would accelerate into the 2012 Cap. This charge is commonly referred to as “dead money”: amounts on a team’s Cap for players no longer on the roster.

During my nine years in Green Bay, I was always conscious of was making sure that when our Peyton Manning — Brett Favre — either retired or was traded (releasing him was never a thought), the Cap acceleration of his contract would not cripple the team. There are graveyards of dead money charges above $10 million upon the retirements/releases/trades of players such as John Elway, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Jeff Garcia, Mark Brunell, Steve McNair, etc. Favre’s “dead money” charge to the Packers’ Cap upon being traded to the Jets was $600,000 (and yes, shameless tooting of my own horn!)

The Option Treatment

The Cap treatment of the option bonus, due to its timing, is rather unique. Since it is due and payable within the 2011 League Yearthe March 8th deadline precedes the March 13th 2012 League Year opening — the option amount is prorated into 2011 as well as future years of the contract. Thus, $5.6 million1/5th of the $28 million option bonus – was allocated as a Cap charge in every year of the original contract.

In the event Manning is released, the Cap charges for the option will come off the books, meaning the $5.6 million charge for 2012 will be deleted and the $5.6 million option proration amount in 2011 will then become a credit to the 2012 Cap, reducing the Colts’ Cap charge on Manning by that amount.

Manning’s Cap charge, if somehow the Colts exercise the option and keep him, is the following: $4 million (the amount of prorated signing bonus) PLUS $5.6 million (the amount of prorated option bonus) PLUS $7.4 million (the amount of salary) EQUALS $17 million.

So what is Manning’s 2012 Cap charge to the Colts if released?

$16 million (the amount of accelerated bonus proration) MINUS $5.6 million (the amount of credited option bonus proration) EQUALS $10.4 million.

Thus, if the Colts move on from Manning, the consequences of the contract signed five months ago will be $26.4 million in cash and $10.4 million in leftover “dead money” Cap charges.

Stay tuned. Test coming soon.

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Super Memories

Before entering the offseason (my in-season), which is longer than the season, let’s look back on Super Bowl XLVI, the most watched program in the history of television:

The game

The last of the 267 NFL games played this season certainly didn’t disappoint. Much has been discussed about the game, but

Before entering the offseason (my in-season), which is longer than the season, let’s look back on Super Bowl XLVI, the most watched program in the history of television:

The game

The last of the 267 NFL games played this season certainly didn’t disappoint. Much has been discussed about the game, but here are some thoughts:

In a sport where – theoretically – the regular season matters the most, it didn’t this year nor when the Giants won in 2008. The Giants lost to teams quarterbacked by Rex Grossman (twice), Vince Young and Charlie Whitehurst along the way to this championship. As the Packers can relate, it isn’t about playing well over a sustained season; it’s about getting in and getting hot.

ICONWelker’s memorable season ended with a forgettable play.

As a corollary, I feel for Wes Welker. He had a season to remember (122 receptions, 1569 yards), but his last play will be hard to forget. I don’t think it will affect his free agent value, but it will be discussed. This is a cold business.

In contrast, Mario Manningham, also a free agent, had an unremarkable season (39 receptions, 523 yards), but his last play will live on in Super Bowl lore. Right before it, I tweeted “Who will be this year’s Tyree?” Bingo.

As to Eli Manning, I am a believer. When he came into Lambeau four years ago and beat us in subzero conditions, I was sold. That stock keeps rising.

Not to undersell Eli, but much of the praise he is getting – and Tom Brady is not getting – is due to actions of others. Football is the ultimate team game. How would we perceive Manning or Brady if Welker made that catch and the Patriots held on to win? Football is not tennis; the best players play less than half the game.

As to the Patriots, it is sometimes astounding watching who trots out on the field for them, especially in the defensive backfield. Beyond a few blue chippers such as Brady, Vince Wilfork and Rob Gronkowski, they have a roster with many who have bounced around other teams, practice squads, etc. They somehow make it work.

Finally, as to Tiquan Underwood’s release by the Patriots on Saturday, this is not an uncommon practice for the Patriots or other teams. Teams routinely tinker with the bottom of the roster depending on game plans and need for different body types. Players released on Saturday clear waivers on Monday – so the Giants couldn’t have signed Underwood – and are paid for the week, as Underwood will be.

The people of Indianapolis

As I know from living in Green Bay for nine years, Midwestern people are extremely welcoming. Although they won’t continue to say “Have a Super Day!” their kindness is part of the culture. Many asked: “Are these people really this nice?” Most are, yes.

The weather

Indianapolis received rave reviews, with an assist from Mother Nature. Had there been the exact same hospitality but typical February weather, there would have been grumbling about Indy.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones must be shaking his head about the deep freeze he hosted last year. Weather matters.

The experience

Despite the unglamorous setting of Indianapolis, the A-listers were out in full force. Please indulge me with a couple personal memories.

When I started in the sports business as an agent, one of the first clients I worked with was Chris Doleman of the Minnesota Vikings. Given that I was an inexperienced agent fresh out of law school, Chris was a friend and treated me like an equal. On Saturday he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was an honor to – unexpectedly – be with him that day.

Also, at the ESPN party, Ravens’ fullback Vonta Leach grabbed my shoulder and said “You cut me!” I said: “Well, it wasn’t actually me at the Packers, but we did release you when I was there.” I didn’t remember the circumstances but he certainly did in great detail, as we needed a roster spot for Koren Robinson in 2006. Vonta, who made the Pro Bowl, and I had a nice laugh, and he has gotten over being cut...I think.

As everyone leaves Indianapolis, here are more thoughts on Peyton, who may well soon be leaving as well:

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$uper Bowl Fact$ and Figure$

Now arriving in Indianapolis, the host for Super Bowl XLVI, I am hearing a lot from fans and media about the hospitality here. Having lived nine years in Green Bay – a city that will never host a Super Bowl – I can relate to the midwestern kindness and humility. As the hype builds

Now arriving in Indianapolis, the host for Super Bowl XLVI, I am hearing a lot from fans and media about the hospitality here. Having lived nine years in Green Bay – a city that will never host a Super Bowl – I can relate to the midwestern kindness and humility. As the hype builds towards the matchup between the Patriots and Giants, there are numerous storylines at play. Beyond the game, however, let’s look at some of business of the game, an unofficial holiday and the biggest event in all of sports.

Game pay

Certainly, there is more on the line in this game than a mere paycheck. But along with the many accolades that accompany winning a Super Bowl, there is also some extra spending money attached.

ICONBrady made $588,000 a week in season, will make $44,000 or $88,000 this week.

As noted here, the Super Bowl winning players will receive $88,000; losing players receive $44,000. Cumulatively, if the Giants win, their players will each have earned $172,000; if the Patriots win, their players will have cumulatively earned $150,000, $22,000 less due to their first-round bye (yes, the Patriots were not technically “paid” during the bye week).

This may be the one game truly not about the money. Were Tom Brady to win, he would have made $44,000 per week over the last two weeks. During the season, with $9.75 million in salary and bonus compensation, Brady made $588,000 per week!

Alluring advertising

The Super Bowl has become a viewing event far beyond its content as a football contest. Media coverage started well before Tuesday’s media day, an event to which the NFL sold over 7,300 tickets for $25 each, with a secondary market of up to $350, the first time the league opened its Media Day doors to fans.

And this year’s game figures to have the largest television audience ever, outpacing last year’s Packers-Steelers’ 111 million viewers. For context, 38 million viewers watched President Obama‘s State of the Union address last week, and regular season NFL games averaged 17.5 million viewers. The magnitude of this television audience translates into big money for the NFL, as a 30-second commercial spot cost a record $3.5 million (on average).

From television advertising alone, NBC receives over $250 million from the game. And, for the first time ever, the game will stream live online. It also will be interesting to see the interplay between advertising and increasingly-popular social media platforms.

The Super Bowl has an enormous effect on secondary markets as well. For example, 5 million people are projected to buy new televisions in preparation for the game, and fans are expected to spend $11 billion on Super Bowl-related purchases (including the consumption of 1.25 billion chicken wings).

Indy income

While many suggest that the Super Bowl will provide a boon to the local Indianapolis economy – and the prestige of hosting the Super Bowl cannot be underestimated – the bottom line results are hard to accurately assess. Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard estimates the economic impact in the “$200-250 million range.”

The NFL will retain almost exclusive control over Lucas Oil Stadiumits parking; luxury suites; souvenir, food, and beverage sales – and the Indiana Convention Center. Although there will be additional temporary seating, the seating capacity of 68,000 will be one of the five smallest venues to host a Super Bowl, and the amount of seats will pale in comparison to last year’s number – and seating fiasco – in Dallas.

Further, the NFL is not required to pay the $250,000 per-game amount that the Colts pay to the Capital Improvement Board of Indiana for every home game.

Tickets on the secondary market remain steep. The least expensive seats as of Wednesday on StubHub were $2100, and the cheapest tickets on the NFL’s ticket exchange were $2300. The individual ticket prices on these websites also range upwards of $15,000. And a field-level luxury suite with a capacity of 35 people can be yours for $650,000!

Good and bad of Indy

Despite the non-sexy locale, the reviews of Indianapolis have been strong, certainly aided by the unseasonably warm weather (especially compared to the once-in-a-lifetime freeze in Dallas last year). The downtown area is highly concentrated and easy to traverse while hosting more than 150 restaurants and bars within two miles of Lucas Oil Stadium.

The one complaint appears to be with the scarcity of hotel rooms, especially downtown. The 6,000 downtown hotel rooms have sold out – mostly to the NFL, its business partners, and the media – and less exclusive hotels with rooms still available (nearly an hour away from the city) require 4-night minimums and are charging premiums upwards of seven times typical rates.

Peyton’s place

Finally, the timing and location of the game is unfortunate for one icon of the game, as it coincides with an uptick of interest and speculation around Indianapolis’ most celebrated athlete, Peyton Manning. As detailed in this two part series here and here, Manning faces a future in Indianapolis that becomes more uncertain each day. And now Peyton’s longtime rival Tom Brady and younger brother Eli will be playing in his home stadium, somewhere he has not played in over a year.

On Monday, NFL waivers begin with the possibility of something no one ever thought happening: Manning’s name being on that waiver wire sometime soon.

But Manning’s future – or lack thereof – can wait. The Super Bowl, in all its glory and exce$$, beckons.

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The Pro Bowl Problem

After what can be charitably called some lackluster effort at the Pro Bowl Sunday night, I thought I’d outline a few issues surrounding the game, a game many think should not even be played.

While there was little action on the field, the action around the Pro Bowl is off the field. There

After what can be charitably called some lackluster effort at the Pro Bowl Sunday night, I thought I’d outline a few issues surrounding the game, a game many think should not even be played.

While there was little action on the field, the action around the Pro Bowl is off the field. There is no gathering on the NFL calendar, including this week’s Super Bowl, quite like it. It is a toxic mix of superstar players and their families, agents there to either protect their assets or poach on new ones, and assorted others. Before getting to that, here are some business aspects of the game itself:

Pro Bowl bonuses

A good percentage of veteran contracts in the NFL have incentives for making the Pro Bowl, with amounts ranging from around $25,000 up to $500,000. Of course, in elite contracts that average $10 million and higher, Pro Bowl bonuses are usually not part of them as teams maintain that the value of these contracts presumes Pro Bowl-level performance.

The contract language varies from team to team, but the standard Pro Bowl incentive triggers “in the event Player is selected on the original ballot.” This means the player must be one of the three quarterbacks, four wide receivers, two centers, etc. actually voted in to play the game. While Pro Bowl alternates subsequently added to the roster do receive payment for the game itself (see below), they would not receive a Pro Bowl bonus unless their contract specifically stated that the bonus triggers “if selected as an alternate and later added to the roster.” I am not aware of any of these clauses.

Injured players who are “medically excused” and Super Bowl participants selected on the original ballot do receive their bonuses as per their contract. Thus, any Patriots or Giants players with Pro Bowl bonuses who were selected to the game will receive that money – along with their Super Bowl money ($44,000 to each losing player; $88,000 to each winning player) despite not participating due to Super Bowl preparations. Contracts have been adjusted to reflect this since the NFL moved the game from the week after the Super Bowl to the week before.

As to injured players, the NFL requires documentation of injuries from the player’s team for them to be medically excused from the game. I remember having to provide the NFL documentation of, ahem, “injuries” to Brett Favre to excuse him from making the trip.

Game amounts

For 2011 and 2012, the Pro Bowl amounts paid are $25,000 to the losing team’s players and $50,000 to the winners. However, that extra $25,000 didn’t seem to matter much on Sunday, as Brandon Marshall was catching touchdown passes with scant resistance from NFC defensive backs.

The Pro Bowl problem

In managing player contracts, I always dreaded the week after the Pro Bowl. That is when players returned to the mainland with lots of new opinions and demands learned from their trip to the islands. The calls from players and agents about what they learned in Hawaii would usually come in starting right about…now.

Drew Rosenhaus is a ubiquitous presence at the Pro Bowl.

The real action at the Pro Bowl – whether at the pool, the hotel lobby or around the half-hearted practices – is the search for the hearts, minds and wallets of these elite players. The “whisper crews”agents, financial managers, marketing reps, advisors, enablers, family members, sycophants, etc. – are in players’ ears with thoughts on how their team is not treating them properly, how they are underpaid, how their agent should be fired due to lack of aggressiveness in pursuing a better contract, how the player needs more personal attention, better treatment, etc.

The player hotel at the Pro Bowl is swarming with agents, some “playing defense” to protect their Pro Bowl player asset and others poised to strike on potential new marks. These “enterprising” agents find ways to visit with players who may be potential targets for future representation, using their significant powers of persuasion, sometimes accompanied by striking women.

I remember experiencing post-Pro Bowl dissatisfaction from players such as Mike McKenzie, Javon Walker, Ahman Green and Donald Driver . McKenzie and Walker became clients of Drew Rosenhaus and I was soon hearing requests/demands for more money and/or a trade (both were eventually traded for second-round picks). Green and Driver did not make demands but felt they deserved a better contract after spending a week listening to the whisper crews.

The Pro Bowl atmosphere plays on the emotions and heartstrings of top NFL players, especially ones making their first trip due to this great reward. One rule of negotiating that I always keep at the forefront: never underestimate the power of ego and insecurity. They are powerful emotions.

Teams around the league will be having some difficult conversations starting this week.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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Peyton Predicament: Part 2

Peyton Predicament, Part 1 is here, detailing what would happen if Manning’s option were exercised. Where things get interesting is if the Colts do not exercise the option.

Non-exercise fee

Were the Colts to not exercise the $28 million option by March 8th, there is a non-exercise fee of that same

Peyton Predicament, Part 1 is here, detailing what would happen if Manning’s option were exercised. Where things get interesting is if the Colts do not exercise the option.

Non-exercise fee

Were the Colts to not exercise the $28 million option by March 8th, there is a non-exercise fee of that same $28 million due two days before the 2012 League Year, March 11th.

Translation: the Colts cannot simply let the option date pass without action; to do so would put them on the hook for the same amount and not have Manning. They will have to take the affirmative step of, yes, releasing Peyton Manning.

Free agent like no other

Assuming Manning is healthy – and that may be the biggest “if” of this entire discussion – he may be the most attractive free agent in the history of football. Simply, elite quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning never hit the open market; this is why such ransoms are paid in trades for quarterbacks such as Jay Cutler and Carson Palmer.

As a released player rather than an unrestricted free agent whose contract has expired, the Colts can neither (1) place the Franchise tag on Manning, nor (2) receive a 2013 compensatory draft pick if Manning signs elsewhere.

Again, it is curious why the Colts would agree to this poorly timed option clause, but Manning used his leverage to create options for himself.

Moving the date

As to the Colts needing to decide by March 8th – before the 2012 League Year and trading period begin on March 13th – many ask “Can’t Peyton push the date back?” Theoretically, perhaps. Practically, doubtful.

Tom CondonICONCondon negotiated a de facto “no trade clause” in Manning’s contract.

Manning and agent Tom Condon negotiated, in effect, a “no-trade clause” without it actually being designated as such.

As to moving the date, the CBA prevents renegotiations of contracts following the last regular season game of the League Year within which the date is in. The March 8th date is in the 2011 League Year, as the 2012 League Year begins on March 13th.

The NFL Management Council would interpret the language to allow the date to be moved, suggesting a moved date is not a “renegotiation”. The NFL Players Association’s lawyers have a different interpretation of that language, and could contest a moved date as a renegotiation in a grievance against the NFL and the Colts. However, that discussion may be moot due to the following…

Why move the date?

Manning is in limbo right now, both medically and contractually. The medical part may be out of his control and up to Mother Nature. The contract, however, is totally in his control. He will want to know his fate as soon as possible, needing March 8th to get here as quickly as it can. Why would he prolong that?

Even if Manning were allowed and amenable to moving the date, he would not want to move it past the first couple days of the new League Year – March 13th – so if the Colts release him he would be on the market when teams make their quarterback decisions. And, of course, his neck condition will not be dramatically different in a week’s time.

As to a potential trade…

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Peyton Predicament: Part 1

While Eli Manning will be one of the starting quarterbacks next week in the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, the biggest decision in the NFL this offseason will involve his older brother and the team that plays in Indianapolis. The Colts will have to decide if their future includes one Peyton Manning, the signature player

While Eli Manning will be one of the starting quarterbacks next week in the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, the biggest decision in the NFL this offseason will involve his older brother and the team that plays in Indianapolis. The Colts will have to decide if their future includes one Peyton Manning, the signature player and face of the franchise for the past thirteen years.

As for the Colts’ other big decision in 2012 — who to take with the top pick in the 2012 Draft — they have plenty of time but that’s an easy decision: select Andrew Luck, with or without Peyton Manning.

Six weeks before that decision, for Colts owner Jim Irsay and new general manager Ryan Grigson, there is this little matter of Peyton Manning and his contract.

There are several layers to this decision that need to be peeled away, and Irsay and Colts must be both prudent and sensitive to Manning.

Contract expirations

In 2011, for the second time in his career with the team, the Colts allowed Manning’s contract to expire. It is curious that the Colts’ allowed the face of the franchise’s contract to lapse, something that has also now happened in New Orleans with Drew Brees. In both cases, the players and agent Tom Condon, frustrated by the pace of the negotiations, decided that they would be better served as free agents.

ICONIrsay, who has let Manning’s contract expire twice, has a franchise-defining decision to make.

This was not the first time that Manning’s contract ran out as a Colt. Manning’s rookie contract, signed in 1998, also played out. In both 2004 and 2011, the expired contracts were landmark deals — the largest rookie and veteran contracts in the history of the NFL when negotiated. In both cases, the Colts followed such expiration by placing the Franchise Tag (Tag) on Manning, preventing him from going to the marketplace (which would have caused Irsay and president Bill Polian to enroll in witness protection in Indianapolis:).

The 2011 deal

Soon after the 2011 lockout ended, the Colts negotiated a new contract for Manning. And, like the two previous Manning contracts, it once again set a new standard for top compensation in the NFL.

Looking at the traditional markers for contracts, the deal had a couple twists. The total value of $90 million over five years, an Average Per Year (APY) of $18 million is identical to the APY achieved by Tom Brady a year prior. It was important to Manning at the time to not surpass Brady’s APY.

The three-year value of the contract, however, tells a different story. Manning is scheduled to earn – if a Colt for the next two seasons (more below) – a total of $70.2 million over the first three years of the deal, a staggering $23.4 million APY that shatters any existing three-year value for all NFL contracts.

Beyond the five-year and three-year values, the crux of the deal centers on a decision to be made in the next two months that determines the true value of this deal.

Ominous option

The Colts must affirmatively exercise an option clause to continue to have Manning’s services for 2012 through 2015. The window of time for which that option must be exercised is between “two days following the Super Bowl until five days prior to the 2012 League Year.” In calendar terms, the Super Bowl is February 5th; the start of the 2012 League Year is March 13th. Thus, the Colts must exercise the option to keep Manning – or not – in a one month period between February 7th and March 8th.

This option is the crucial clause of Manning’s $90 million contract. And it will shape the Colts (or another franchise) for 2012 and beyond.

Let’s look at that option….

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Backs in Action

Watching last Sunday's playoff game between the Texans and Ravens, I was drawn to the fact that both teams rely heavily on superb workhorse running backs playing in the final year of their contracts. Arian Foster and Ray Rice are free agents in six weeks and (although unlikely) could find themselves in different uniforms

Watching last Sunday’s playoff game between the Texans and Ravens, I was drawn to the fact that both teams rely heavily on superb workhorse running backs playing in the final year of their contracts. Arian Foster and Ray Rice are free agents in six weeks and (although unlikely) could find themselves in different uniforms next year. Let’s examine:

Rice has quietly been one of the league’s top backs.

Talk is cheap

2011 was a tough year for NFL running backs. Although Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson inked contracts that set a new standard for the position, guaranteeing each over $30 million, Peterson suffered a gruesome knee injury and Johnson had a down year by his own standards. These case studies do not help, and may even hurt the prospect of clubs allocating big money to the running back position, the position with the shortest career longevity in the NFL.

And, while there a few running backs that voiced low rumbles of discontent with their individual contract situations – Matt Forte, Fred Jackson, and Peyton Hillis – Foster and Rice remained professional and silent despite making league minimum salary, letting their play speak for itself.

Numbers never lie

Here’s what Rice and Foster did this season (with NFL rank in parenthesis):

Rice Foster
Touchdowns 15 (4th) 12 (8th)
Rushing yards 1364 (2nd) 1224 (5th)
Receiving yards (RBs) 704 (2nd) 617 (3rd)
Yards from scrimmage 2068 (1st) 1841 (3rd)
% of Total Offense 48% 31%
2011 Salary $600,000 $525,000

These are not limited sample sizes, either. Rice posted gaudy numbers in 2009 and 2010 while Foster likewise took the NFL by storm last season.

The marketplace

After a stagnant several years, Peterson and Johnson moved the running back market. Over the first three years – the true marker for any deal – Johnson will earn a $10.3 million APY (average per year) and Peterson a $13.3 million APY. DeAngelo Williams, also signed in 2011, secured a five-year $43 million contract ($8.6 million APY) that included $21 million guaranteed.

Expect the agents for Foster and Rice to utilize Williams’ deal as a baseline for guaranteed money with the hope of securing an APY between Williams and Johnson.

Organizational retention

Foster and Rice will quietly seek long-term deals in the offseason. In the event that they cannot agree to terms, both the Texans and Ravens can resort to other means to retain these players’ services.

Foster is a Restricted Free Agent (RFA). Thus, the Texans can tender a qualifying offer, giving them the ability to match any offer sheet he would receive from another team. There are a number of different tenders (original draft round, second round, first round) that teams may extend to players. The first and third round tender – which was the highest tender in the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement — no longer exists in the new CBA.

The amount for the current highest tender – first round tender – was $2.611 in 2011 and will rise between 5-10% tied to increased revenues for 2012. Nevertheless, this strategy does involve some risk: a team in need of a dynamic running back could potentially steal Foster by making him an offer so substantial that leaves the Texans unable to meet it. While they would receive draft compensation of a first round pick they would be without their star running back and focal point of their offense.

A more expensive (but more secure) avenue – available to both the Texans and Ravens – is to apply the Franchise Tag (Tag) to Foster and Rice. As explained here, the Tag number for running backs for 2012 will actually be reduced from $9.5 million in 2011 to approximately $7.7 million in 2012. The Tag will definitely be in play in negotiations for Foster and Rice.

Year of the running back

With continuing issues concerning Foster, Rice, Forte, Jackson, and Hillis, the 2012 offseason will have its share of running back issues. Having been on both sides of the issue, I empathize with both sides.

I understand the players’ desire to receive their money as soon as possible due to the wear and tear inherent with the position. These players, more than any others in football, find it very hard to be paid value commensurate with their production. As I noted earlier about Forte, a valid question to ask was whether his production and heavy workload was helping him towards a long-term contract or hurting him?

For the exact same reasons that running backs want their money as soon as possible, teams are reluctant to do so. There is a graveyard of bad second and third contracts for running backs who have played past their prime, an age that seems to come earlier every year. Teams want to go year-to-year with this position if they can, unwilling to commit large guarantees and contracts difficult to “get out of” to a position where production that, when it drops, it drops significantly.

Foster and Rice are terrific players. There will be many cries to “Pay the man!” as there was for Johnson this past summer. If only it were that easy.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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Packer Ponderings to Come

I sure didn’t see that coming. Except for a minor blip in Kansas City a month ago, the Packers were an efficient and precise scoring machine all season. Although their defense certainly could be porous, it made enough plays to win when combined with an offense that scored 35 points per game.

But

I sure didn’t see that coming. Except for a minor blip in Kansas City a month ago, the Packers were an efficient and precise scoring machine all season. Although their defense certainly could be porous, it made enough plays to win when combined with an offense that scored 35 points per game.

But in the professional sports league where the regular season matters most, it didn’t matter here. When many asked about the Packers and a march to a second straight Super Bowl championship, I cautioned that there would be a team peaking at the right time. In other words, the Packers of last year.

’08 Redux

It was d

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Frozen Flashback

First, here is the story I wrote earlier on Packers' coach Joe Philbin and the loss of he and his wife Diane's son, a loss that permeates over Packer Nation and the team as it prepares for Sunday. This is quite a time.

Sunday’s playoff game between the Packers and Giants at

First, here is the story I wrote earlier on Packers’ coach Joe Philbin and the loss of he and his wife Diane’s son, a loss that permeates over Packer Nation and the team as it prepares for Sunday. This is quite a time.

Sunday’s playoff game between the Packers and Giants at Lambeau Field evokes vivid memories of January 20, 2008 at the same venue when the same two teams played for the NFC Championship and the right to play the Patriots in the Super Bowl two weeks later. It was a game — and state of frigidity — that I will never forget.

Surprise, we’re hosting!

We had defeated the Seahawks in the snow to advance to host the Giants.

The fact that we were hosting the game in Green Bay was a great surprise to begin with, something unexpected but certainly welcomed. After defeating the Seahawks the week before with thick, luscious snow flakes falling (we dubbed it the “Snow Globe game“) we fully expected to be playing the NFL championship game in Dallas against the top-seeded Cowboys and were preparing to do so as the Giants started playing the Cowboys the day after our game. We were to stay in the same hotel with the same setup and transportation as we had two months prior when playing the Cowboys in late November –the game in which Aaron Rodgers received his first true NFL action.

Then, of course, the Giants continued their amazing road run through the playoffs and upset the heavily favored Cowboys meaning, yes, we would actually host the championship game!

Unlike this year, immediately the weather forecast became the story: bitter subzero temperatures for a game to be played at night in late January in northeastern Wisconsin (actual temperature at kickoff was -1 degree Fahrenheit). As an aside, I have always found resistance to a cold weather Super Bowl to be curious considering the fact that the games immediately preceding the Super Bowl can be played in frigid conditions (as they were in 2008 in Foxboro and Green Bay).

Calls were coming in from all corners to attend the game. Richard Lovett — president of Hollywood mega-firm CAA who is a Milwaukee native and diehard Packer fan — and his group hung out in my office before the game, as excited as any fans could be. Comedian and actor Rob Schneider, another huge Packer fan, was also at the game and soaking up the atmosphere.

And then, early in the week, I was contacted by a friend in Washington, D.C. that another guest was coming: the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Roberts (although a serious Bears fan, we allowed him to come anyway:).

“It’s taken care of”

I was going to work hard to try to accommodate the Chief Justice as much as possible. However, I soon realized that I was in a league far beyond my pay grade and that I should step away.

When I asked the contact about whether there would be security needs while I gave the Chief Justice a tour of Lambeau Field, the answer back was simple and clear: “It’s taken care of.”

“How about if he wants to meet some players after the game?” “It’s taken care of.”

“What if he’d like to move around during the game?” “It’s taken care of.”

Translation: “Back off, football guy, you don’t know what you’re dealing with here.”

The Chief Justice and his detail rolled up in a fleet of black Escalades a couple of hours before the game and we ushered them in. He loved the atmosphere and wandered through the crowd, surrounded at all times by security that blended into the Cheeseheads but had their eyes trained on Roberts the entire time. These guys were good. I soon found out what was meant when they said, “It’s taken care of.”

On to the game itself….

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Packer nation mourns a loss

Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and his wife Diane suffered an unspeakable loss yesterday. Their 21 year-old son Michael – missing since early Sunday morning -- was feared to be submerged in the Fox River in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Packer employees and players were told yesterday that the body was found was indeed that of

Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and his wife Diane suffered an unspeakable loss yesterday. Their 21 year-old son Michael – missing since early Sunday morning — was feared to be submerged in the Fox River in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Packer employees and players were told yesterday that the body was found was indeed that of Michael Philbin. Joe and Diane’s – and every parent’s – worst fears were realized.

Knowing Joe

It is hard to imagine the loss of a son. I feel so sad for Joe and Diane, two solid people who have made a life, a home and a circle of close and caring friends in Green Bay.

I worked with Joe in Green Bay from 2003-2008 — he has been part of both the coaching staffs of Mike Sherman and Mike McCarthy — and grew to truly appreciate him. I didn’t know Michael or any of his five siblings but they would show up en masse to Packer functions, quite a sight as someone would inevitably call out, “Here come the Philbins!”

ICONPhilbin is well-liked by players and colleagues.

Joe is as humble and honest as can be. With New England roots and many years in the Midwest — he coached at Harvard and Iowa, among other places — Joe has traits of both areas. He has a dry wit, a wry and sometimes sarcastic sense of humor along with a no-ego kindness that becomes clear in the first few moments of knowing him. We would talk about topics far beyond football, as he possesses a large and diverse world-view.

Joe is the antithesis of the stereotype of a screaming, red-faced coach. He is cerebral in his approach, open to suggestions and willing to adapt. Joe is a skilled offensive mind who adds great value to the prolific Packer offense, yet speaks only of how lucky he is to have the talent he has playing for him, often referring to “the thrower,” Aaron Rodgers, as “special”.

Family first

Beyond the rigors of the coaching lifestyle, I saw Joe as a dedicated family man. He talked about his kids often and, when we spoke this fall, we talked about his son attending the University of Pennsylvania, where I teach. Joe also spoke very appreciatively about McCarthy allowing his staff plenty of time with their families, especially the multiple weeks off in the offseason.

For some coaches, it is a clich

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Postseason: not about the money

Amidst the upheaval – or lack thereof in certain places around the league – there are a couple of areas of interest to clear up about playoff pay, coaching contract offsets and dozens of new players being signed.

Playoff pay

Now that the regular season has ended, so have the contractual obligations

Amidst the upheaval – or lack thereof in certain places around the league – there are a couple of areas of interest to clear up about playoff pay, coaching contract offsets and dozens of new players being signed.

Playoff pay

Now that the regular season has ended, so have the contractual obligations of NFL teams to its players (except for the payout of earned incentive clauses). The playoffs are NFL events — the money paid to players is league money, not team money. Logistically, the NFL deposits money in the team’s account for how far its team advanced in the playoffs and the team then writes the checks.

Thus, a player’s salary is irrelevant to what he makes in the playoffs. As an example, the Saints’ Drew Brees, playing on a nearly $7.4 million salary this season, earned roughly $435,000 per game for the season. For this weekend’s playoff game against the Lions, however, he will take a $413,000 pay cut for the week and make $22,000, the same as every other player on the Saints.

Let’s look at the cumulative postseason pay for the 2011-2012 season playoffs:

Wild Card
Division Winners (Broncos, Texans, Giants, Saints): $22,000
Wild Cards (Steelers, Bengals, Falcons, Lions): $20,000

Divisional Playoff Game $22,000

Conference Championship $40,000

Super Bowl
(Winning Team) $88,000
(Losing Team) $44,000

Players on teams receiving byes this weekend (Packers, 49ers, Patriots, Ravens) technically do not get paid for this week of the playoffs. Their bye week gives them rest and home field, although it will cost them an additional $22,000.

Thus, the maximum a player could receive for winning the Super Bowl this year would be $172,000. The maximum that players from the teams receiving byes this week can receive for winning the Super Bowl is $150,000.

For many of the NFL’s impact players, the postseason games represent a dramatic pay cut. Whenever a player says “It’s not about the money,” it usually means: “It’s all about the money!” For these few weeks, however, it may ring true.

Coach contracts

Coaches with remaining time on their contracts are paid through the end of their deals. Unlike most player contracts they are, in effect, “guaranteed” with the remaining amounts due and payable.

The key language is the “offset”: reducing the firing team’s obligation by the amount the coach receives from a new team.

For example, let’s say a coach was fired with $3 million remaining on his deal for 2012. Were he then to hook on with another team for a salary of $1 million for next season, the original club would have its financial obligation reduced to $2 million.

These offset clauses can create some sticky situations. First, a coach is required to use “due diligence” to obtain another position, something hard to prove and/or enforce when a coach prefers to wait for a better offer or not work at all rather than taking what he may consider an undesirable opportunity.

The other issue involves teams saving money by hiring fired coaches. Knowing these coaches are going to be paid one way or another, teams may try to pay coaches below market salary while the former team pays the balance. And the fired coach is usually only too willing to agree, sticking it to the team that has just fired him.

The NFL office has had to intervene on different occasions, mandating that the new team pay the coach commensurate with his experience and qualifications. The NFL is a very small world; teams that use these tactics get reputations fast. What goes around comes around.

The Futures

Jenkins was signed by the Packers as a reserve/future player one January.

NFL teams are now signing dozens of players to “reserve/future” contracts to round out their 2012 rosters. These deals — the vast majority of them without signing bonuses and for minimum salaries — do not technically activate until the 2012 League Year, set to begin on March 13. Thus, the players will be in a reserve category until that time.

Many of these reserve/future signings are players that were on practice squads for the 2011 season and will sign with the team for which they were on the practice squad. Some, though, will jump to another team for a perceived better opportunity.

Like undrafted free agents, teams can uncover some true gems in this category of players. At the Packers, we signed Cullen Jenkins one January as a reserve/future player. Jenkins went on to be a highly productive player for the Packers and now the Eagles.

Much more to come on as the NFL offseason – the in-season for the business of football – begins.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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New Year, New Questions

Entering 2012, little is known for sure as to what is ahead for the business of football (except that we will not have a lockout). With so many questions coming in over the holiday season, let’s start the New Year with some answers to the four areas for which I have received the most

Entering 2012, little is known for sure as to what is ahead for the business of football (except that we will not have a lockout). With so many questions coming in over the holiday season, let’s start the New Year with some answers to the four areas for which I have received the most questions: the Cap, the Colts, Santonio Holmes and Matt Flynn:

Cap control

Why so few contract extensions at the end of the year?

Not sure, although certainly not for lack of Cap room. NFL teams collectively had more than $300 million</strong> of unused Cap room when the 2011 books closed Saturday.

What happens to all that unspent Cap room?

The new CBA allows teams to carry forward unused Cap room. Thus, some teams will be bringing over $20 million of 2011 Cap room with them into 2012, adjusting their Cap upwards by that amount.

Don’t teams have to spend a minimum amount with this new CBA?

For 2011 and 2012, the minimums are based on league-wide spending. Team minimums do not apply until 2013.

Which teams will have the most Cap room entering into 2012?

Jacksonville, Kansas City and Tampa Bay (Don’t let Jack Del Rio, Todd Haley or Raheem Morris read this:)

Colts/Polians/Luck/Manning

Would you take Andrew Luck if you were the Colts?

I would have already turned in the card.

Peyton Manning is the past and perhaps the present in Indianapolis; Andrew Luck can secure their future. The Colts need to evolve.

What did you think of the firing of Bill Polian?

Owner Jim Irsay’s decision to part with longtime president Bill Polian and his son Chris has reverberated around the NFL. More than anything, it is Irsay’s statement that it is time for a change. Polian’s presence had dominated the organization.

Polian has long been respected and admired as an executive in the NFL. He has been a key member of the NFL’s Competition Committee and influential with many proposed – and rejected — rule changes. It is unclear whether he will continue in that role, but I would expect him to. And I would expect the Colts to choose someone with a different style of management.

Circumstances may dictate the Colts’ moving on from Manning.

What about Peyton’s contract?

Manning and agent Tom Condon leveraged a contract that forces the Colts to decide on Manning before the start of the 2012 League Year.

You mean they can’t trade Peyton?

No. Manning is due a $28 million option bonus due five days prior to the start of the 2012 League Year, on March 8th. The start of the 2012 League Year and trading is March 13th. Thus, the Colts have to either pay Manning $28 million – which means they will keep him for the foreseeable future – or not pay him, which means he will become a free agent available to sign with any team.

Could the Colts carry both Manning and Luck?

In 2012, Manning will cost $35.4 million — the $28 million option bonus plus $7.4 million salary. Luck, although limited to about $23 million over four years, will get a signing bonus and salary of around $15.4 million. Thus, to carry both, in 2012 along, would cost close to $51 million. It is Jim Irsay’s money and he can do as he wish, but that seems unwieldy.

Wouldn’t the Colts renegotiate to try to push the option date back?

They can try, but it is hard to see the incentive that Manning would have to do so, as he would like his situation resolved as soon as possible. The only reason Manning may do so is to facilitate a trade or to take less money to accomodate another situation such as Luck. Both seem unlikely.

So what would you think you the Colts do?

Emotion will run high with Jim Irsay here in leaning to keep Manning, but it may make more sense to move on. Saying goodbye to the face of the franchise is difficult, but the confluence of (1) having the top pick in the Draft with a special quarterback available, (2) Manning’s uncertain health — he has now had three neck surgeries — and (3) Manning’s burdensome contract may all conspire to make a change.

Here’s a thought: maybe the new president/general manager of the Colts is Peyton Manning…..

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Closing the books on 2011

As we put a wrap on both the 2011 NFL regular season and, well, 2011, there are some year-end accounting issues and other concerns to address. Let’s look at a few of these areas of business:

Extensions

NFL teams have until Saturday at 4 pm eastern time to submit contract extensions. In

As we put a wrap on both the 2011 NFL regular season and, well, 2011, there are some year-end accounting issues and other concerns to address. Let’s look at a few of these areas of business:

Extensions

NFL teams have until Saturday at 4 pm eastern time to submit contract extensions. In such cases, any increase in 2011 compensation is treated as signing bonus and prorated through the life of the contract, with 2011 as one of the prorated years.

For example, were a player to receive a $5 million bonus and an additional four years on his contract, the bonus would be prorated with $1 million applied to 2011.

ICONDriver was an end-of-year extension a few years back.

I was able to secure a few of these end-of-year extensions, including one with the ageless Donald Driver. At this late date, though, it is often difficult to have players sign with their existing teams with Door #2 and free agency awaiting them in March.

My sense is that we may see an end-of-year extension or two, but that is all.

Cap Room

The new CBA has, for the first time, provided teams a valuable benefit: the ability to carry over remaining Cap room into the following year.

In the past, teams would have to go through the charade of “dummy incentives” in order to bring forward Cap room into the next year. I would usually negotiate with our third-string quarterback in the final week of the season with a bonus of “$10 million for 7 touchdown passes.”

The $10 million would then count on the existing Cap and, when unearned, be credited to the next year’s Cap (although there was a scary moment one year where the player with the bonus, Craig Nall, ended up playing most of the final game due to having clinched our playoff spot!).

Teams no longer need to go through that charade. Thus, teams will have adjusted Caps of much more than the projected 2012 Cap number of around $125 million. A team like the Buccaneers, for example, with $25 million remaining in Cap room, may have an adjusted 2012 Cap of close to $150 million.

The question for the NFLPA is: will teams actually spend all of this Cap room? Keep in mind, there are no team spending minimums until 2013, and teams can “free ride” this year and next.

And for a couple of stickier end-of-year issues..

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All Day’s Nightmare

The severe knee injury on Sunday to the Vikings’ franchise player Adrian "All Day" Peterson illustrates the stark fact that the careers of even the best and most secure professional football players can be irrevocably altered in the blink of an eye. Peterson, universally recognized as one of, if not the top running back

The severe knee injury on Sunday to the Vikings’ franchise player Adrian “All Day” Peterson illustrates the stark fact that the careers of even the best and most secure professional football players can be irrevocably altered in the blink of an eye. Peterson, universally recognized as one of, if not the top running back in football, has a long and arduous rehabilitation process ahead from a torn ACL and MCL.

Peterson plays the position with the shortest shelf life in football. Although we will certainly hear that his surgery went well, recovery will be smooth and he’ll be ready by opening day of 2012 — do we ever hear not hear that? — there is a chance that Peterson may never be the same player that he was a week ago.

ICONLuckily for Peterson, he cashed in this summer.

The Contract

Luckily for Peterson, he cashed in prior to the season in August. Here are the key numbers (pay no attention to seven years, $100 million; that was just for the headline): $32 million in full guarantee, another $4 million in injury-only guarantee, and $40 million over the first three years, the key marker for a deal.

Absent a new contract, Peterson was scheduled to make $10.7 million for 2011, with a future contract uncertain due to his injury. With the extension in September, he is guaranteed $36 million.

In light of Sunday’s injury, it is interesting that there is a $4 million injury guarantee. This means Peterson would be paid despite the fact he suffered an injury that prevents him from playing. That clause seemed far-fetched to be thinking about when negotiated for 2013 – the year for which it is applicable – but with the severity of the injury, it may turn out to be prescient.

Not Equal

As we know from following the business of football, all players are not treated equally by NFL teams. For players suffering a season-ending injury, they are certainly paid the balance of salary for the season of injury (otherwise the team would be liable in a grievance). The situation becomes more intriguing in the season following the season of injury.

If the player fails the physical coming into the offseason program for the next season — usually in late March — the team could (1) continue to rehabilitate the player with the goal of having the player for the season, this the case with Peterson; or (2) continue to rehabilitate the player while putting off the decision as to whether the player is in the team’s plans, or (3) release the player as “Waived, Failed Physical” with remaining liability dependent on whether the player continues to try and play.

Injury Protection Benefit

If a player “Waived, Failed Physical” passes another team’s physical at some point in the season, the original team is off the hook. If the player is unable to pass a physical that season due to an injury suffered in the prior season, he can receive a one-time Injury Protection (IP) benefit. The IP benefit, as per the new CBA, has been increased to a maximum of $1 million, or 50% the player’s salary, whichever is lower.

Further, also as per the new CBA, in the event the player is still unable to play in a second season following the injury, he can collect a new “second IP benefit” of up to $500,000 or 30% of what would have been his scheduled salary for that year, whichever is lower. This assumes, of course, that the player was under contract for that year.

Back to Peterson, the Vikings will certainly want to keep him as part of the team and spend the resources they need to progress his rehabilitation. Thus, he will make his scheduled $8.25 million ($8 million salary, $250,000 workout bonus) for 2012.

The issue for Peterson and the Vikings is not 2012, but rather 2013, when Peterson is scheduled to make $11.25 million. What if he is still not recovered going into that season? What if he has recovered but it is clear from either his play in late 2012 and/or in minicamps in 2013 that he does not have the explosion that he had in 2011? What to do?

Unfortunately, as we have seen in the NFL for star running backs such as Jamal Anderson, Eddie George, Brian Westbrook, Shaun Alexander, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis and countless others, things very rarely end well. Even the best of the best of NFL running backs are involuntarily “retired” rather than deciding to retire.

It may seem far-fetched to think we have seen the last of Peterson as we knew him a couple of days ago. But if Peterson is unavailable or limited next season, there will be other players — Toby Gerhart among them — playing running back for the Vikings. Although they will not be Adrian Peterson, there will be a level of performance that probably exceeds expectations. And their collective price tag will be a fraction of Peterson’s $11 million cost for 2013. And the Vikings will have to make a decision.

We have seen this script before; hopefully for Peterson it will have a different ending.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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The Era of the Independent Trainer Begins

With two weeks left to play in the 2011 NFL season, the NFL has announced its enhanced protocol for concussion evaluation. In light of the embarrassing incident involving Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, the league and the NFLPA have taken joint action to prevent a similar situation from occurring in the short-term. It is

With two weeks left to play in the 2011 NFL season, the NFL has announced its enhanced protocol for concussion evaluation. In light of the embarrassing incident involving Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, the league and the NFLPA have taken joint action to prevent a similar situation from occurring in the short-term. It is expected that this policy will be more formalized and developed as we approach the 2012 season.

The Policy

In addition to the two teams’ medical staffs, serving in the best interests of their own organizations, there will be an independent set of trained eyes and hands stationed with the NFL official in charge of replay review.

As per the guidelines, this person must: (1) be a Certified Athletic Trainer (CAT); (2) be from a “major college program in the area” of the team; and not be a previous employee with the team (or any NFL team).

Trainers across the NFL have been submitting the resumes of local CATs to the NFL and the NFLPA for them to vet and approve the hiring of one for this weekend’s games. The league and union will then jointly tell the teams which person they are to use.

Former interns allowed

Although the person to be hired as an independent trainer shall not be a former employee of the team, there appears to be no restriction on former summer and/or seasonal interns.

Each team hires extra training staff during the busy times of the year, especially during training camp, when there are 90 bodies to take care of instead of the more manageable 60 once the rosters are set. It appears that this pool of former interns and part-time help may be some of the independent trainers being hired.

Will it help?

Of course it will. However, I believe that the concern that team medical staffs are being overwhelmed by players and coaches to put compromised players back on the field is unfair and untrue with the majority of medical and training staffs around the league. Unfortunately, the McCoy situation has caused a reaction that has potentially tainted all training staffs.

Having said that, anything to improve the potential for brain injury for players later in life is a huge plus for the NFL and its union. The heightened awareness for concussions, starting with Congressional hearings in 2009, is both necessary and vital to the league’s success.

As the concussion lawsuits mount – another was filed this week including players such as Dorsey Levens and Jamal Lewis – the NFL needs to continue to be vigilant on this topic.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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Making a List: best and worst of 2011 contracts

Once the doors to the NFL opened after a draining summer of courtroom football, teams worked in the most compressed time frame they ever had to pursue free agents and stock their rosters. With 15 weeks of football in the books and the holidays quickly approaching, let’s look back on a few of the

Once the doors to the NFL opened after a draining summer of courtroom football, teams worked in the most compressed time frame they ever had to pursue free agents and stock their rosters. With 15 weeks of football in the books and the holidays quickly approaching, let’s look back on a few of the signings in that frenzy – both the bargains and the overpriced items.

Bargains

1. Cam Newton: The new NFL CBA certainly took care of the “overpaid top draft picks problem”. While Sam Bradford, the first pick in the 2010 draft, is making $48 million over his first four years in the NFL, Newton – the consensus 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year – will earn $22 million over his first four years. The Carolina Panthers engaged in some prolific spending when the lockout ended (see below) but their best bargain – by far – was selected in April and signed quickly upon the end of the lockout.

2. Jason Babin: The Eagles brought Babin back – he was with the team in 2009 – for a five-year $28 million deal that only had $5.5 million guaranteed. Now one the most prolific sack specialists in the NFL with 18 sacks and two games left, Babin has shown similar value to fellow sack artists DeMarcus Ware ($40 million guaranteed), Charles Johnson ($36 million guaranteed), and Tamba Hali ($35 million guaranteed).

ICONNelson decided to forego more money in free agency to sign with the Packers.

3. Jordy Nelson: Rather than test free agency in March, Nelson, who has grown to love Green Bay, gave the Packers a hometown discount, signing a four-year $14 million deal – certainly a below-market contract for a receiver of his caliber. Nelson is on pace for his first 1,000 yard season, has 10 touchdowns and has played a significant role in the Packers success. With Jermichael Finley a free agent after this season and Greg Jennings a free agent after next, Nelson’s role could continue to grow.

4. Stephen Tulloch: A tackling machine on the Lions revamped defense (97 tackles), Tulloch is providing great value on a one-year $3.25 million contract signed this summer. And, best of all for Tulloch, he has the opportunity to test free agency again this upcoming offseason.

5. Willis McGahee: This low risk, high reward signing has paid huge dividends for the Broncos. McGahee signed a three-year $7.5 million contract this offseason. McGahee’s success this year – he currently has 990 yards rushing – will become Exhibit A in contract negotiations for running backs reaching the ominous age of 30 (although he is the exception to the rule).

And for the other side of the story…

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On the Firing Line

Black Monday: Part One came last week when Chiefs coach Todd Haley and Dolphins' coach Tony Sparano were terminated – their contracts, not them. And, as if on cue, both teams had inspired performances on Sunday under new and interim-for-now head coaches Romeo Crennel and Todd Bowles.

Black Monday: Part One came last week when Chiefs coach Todd Haley and Dolphins’ coach Tony Sparano were terminated – their contracts, not them. And, as if on cue, both teams had inspired performances on Sunday under new and interim-for-now head coaches Romeo Crennel and Todd Bowles.

Del Rio was dismissed earlier this season.

The parade of exiled head coaches was not supposed to come until the season’s end following New Year’s Day but three teams – Jacksonville discarded Jack Del Rio a couple weeks ago – spared their coaches the agony of waiting until that time. In all three cases, there appear to be symptoms underlying the root cause of the problem.

Three Phases in Concert

There are three components of an NFL football operation: (1) player personnel, (2) coaching, and (3) Cap/contracts management. The leader of the operation – the general manager – typically has a background in scouting and player evaluation. In a few cases, the general manager is also the head coach – Andy Reid of the Eagles and Bill Belichick of the Patriots come to mind – with large responsibilities and even larger sway in their organizaations. And, in recent years, there have been an increasing number of general managers from the Cap/contracts background, including Mike Tannenbaum with the Jets, Mickey Loomis with the Saints, and Bruce Allen with the Redskins.

The key to sustained success in the NFL is having buy-in from all three facets, with a singular focus and purpose. For instance, if a team is a “draft and develop” team reflecting a philosophy of the general manager to build from within – as the Packers – the coach and the contracts person (which I was in Green Bay) have to operate with that philosophy front of mind.

The coaching staff must be willing to play young players and suffer through such inexperience. They must accept that they will not be rewarded with quick fixes or insurance policies to plug holes due to injury. “Draft and develop” coaching staffs must trust their scouts and must be willing to endure growing pains on the fly. Similarly, the contract side of the organization must allocate resources to securing core young players for the long-term rather than chasing high-priced players from other teams in free agency.

Potential Discord

Problems arise in organizations – whether football teams or otherwise – when different branches are not working in concert and perhaps even working against each other.

My sense is that all of the coaches recently fired were told – subtly or not so subtly – to give more time to developing certain young players at the expense of established players. And I also sense that the suggestion was not received warmly by the coaches.

With differing views on what is best for the team, things can fester and sides can harden. The general manager grumbles to his scouts that the coaches aren’t using players the right way; the head coach whines to his staff that the scouts burden them with lesser talent. Communication becomes shorter and more distant to the point where there may be no communication at all. And as the losses mount, so does the finger-pointing.

This is when changes have to be made. And they were in these situations.

DIfferent Teams, Same Problems

In Jacksonville, general manager Gene Smith received a contract extension on the day Jack Del Rio was fired. Enough said.

In Miami, it appeared that there was no definitive plan. The Dolphins made deep dives into free agency and trades for name-brand players such as Brandon Marshall, Reggie Bush and Karlos Dansby yet appear to lack a solid foundation and a disconnect between scouting and coaching.

In Kansas City, the relationship between general manager Scott Pioli and Haley turned into, as Billy Joel sang, “the cold remains of a passionate start.” I remember seeing general manager Scott Pioli and Haley together at the Combine; they seemed inseparable and joined at the hip. Obviously, that changed due to time, losing and different philosophies about the team. I am told that the lack of communication recently between the two was palpable and affecting the rest of the building.

Finding the Fit

When new coaches are interviewed for these positions and more openings to come in a couple of weeks, general managers will be looking for a “fit” that is aligned with their own vision, mission, personality and style of team building. Of course, Pioli initially thought he had that with Haley – but it is not as easy as it sounds.

For now, in Miami and Kansas City there is hope and excitement about a coach that could be that “fit”. Time will tell if this week’s success is a blip on the radar or something more lasting.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for Black Monday: Part Two coming January 2nd to a town near you.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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The Strange World of Sam Hurd

A criminal complaint was filed yesterday against Sam Hurd, the soon-to-be-former wide receiver of the Chicago Bears. It is a shocking account of a pattern of activity from a player well respected and seen as nothing like the one depicted in the complaint. An official at the Bears told me “He seemed like a

A criminal complaint was filed yesterday against Sam Hurd, the soon-to-be-former wide receiver of the Chicago Bears. It is a shocking account of a pattern of activity from a player well respected and seen as nothing like the one depicted in the complaint. An official at the Bears told me “He seemed like a great guy, quoting the Bible and always friendly.” Most con men are.

The complaint includes an affidavit attached to it, required to show probable cause to arrest, wherein the federal agent swears under oath that this story is true.

Days before signing with Bears

On July 27th, T.L. (a Hurd co-conspirator) attempted to purchase 4 kgs of cocaine on behalf of Hurd from a Homeland Security confidential informant.

They set up a meeting in Dallas and federal agents intervened, stopping T.L. for a routine traffic stop where they discovered marijuana and $88,000. T.L. said both the money and car belonged to Hurd. A vehicle registration check showed that the car did belong to Hurd. T.L. said that he routinely performed maintenance on Hurd’s cars. The authorities seized the money and released T.L.

On July 28th Hurd contacted and met with federal agents, stating that he was a Dallas Cowboy and that the $88,000 was his. He claimed he withdrew the money from a certain bank account and packed the money in his car prior to leaving it with T.L. for “maintenance and detailing.” The agents reviewed the bank statement, which didn’t corroborate Hurd’s story as the transactions and amounts differed.

On July 29th, Hurd signed a three-year contract with the Bears that provided a $1.35 million signing bonus and a 2011 salary of $685,000.

More summer heat

On August 14th, T.L. again tried to broker a deal for Hurd with the informant, this for purchasing 5 kgs of cocaine.

On August 15th, federal agents learned of Hurd’s association with four California men arrested on July 25th possessing money, drugs, and weapons. Hurd’s cell phone number appeared in texts describing drug dealing and money laundering.

Season starts, drug activity continues

On September 9th, T.L. again tried to broker a deal for Hurd with the informant for 5 kgs of cocaine.

On December 6th, T.L. met the informant at a Firestone store in Texas where he contacted Hurd and passed the phone to the informant. Hurd expressed his desire to purchase 5 kgs of cocaine and said T.L. would give him Hurd’s phone number in case the informant was ever in the Chicago area.

Sting set up

On December 14th, Hurd met the informant and an undercover agent at Morton’s Steakhouse in Chicago. Hurd was interested in purchasing 5-10 kgs of cocaine and 1000 lbs of marijuana per week. They negotiated a price of $25,000 per kg of cocaine and $450 per lb of marijuana. Hurd acknowledged that he currently distributed about 4 kgs of cocaine per week in the Chicago area and that while his partner did smaller deals, Hurd focused on “higher-end” ones.

Hurd also inquired as to Mexican cell phones – believing them to be safe from law enforcement hearing conversations – while also disclosing that he had money seized in Dallas months earlier.

The undercover agent provided Hurd with 1 kg of cocaine. Hurd left the restaurant, placed the bag in his vehicle, and was subsequently arrested by authorities.

The charge

Hurd is officially charged with “knowingly, intentionally and unlawfully combine, conspire, confederate, and agree together, and with other persons known and unknown, to possess with the intent to distribute 500 grams … of cocaine, a controlled substance.” He faces the possibility of up to 40 years in prison

A federal judge in Chicago held a preliminary hearing on yesterday, ruling that Hurd must stand trial in Texas because the criminal charges were filed there. A bond hearing is scheduled today where Hurd may be released on bail.

Hurd is represented by Los Angeles attorney David Kenner, whose past clients include Maurice Clarett and Snoop Dogg.

Bigger issues

More worrisome for the NFL – other than the disturbing facts of the story itself – is that the authorities claim to have a list (possibly in the double digits) of NFL clients that Hurd served.

Unfortunately for the Bears and perhaps the Cowboys and the NFL, this story is only the beginning.
As with many criminals, people who thought they knew Hurd are shocked. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: As expected, the Bears released Hurd on Friday.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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Head Games

Last Thursday evening we witnessed another violent hit from Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison, this one levied on Browns’ quarterback Colt McCoy. This play was followed by some debatable sideline procedures by the Browns’ medical and coaching staff. Underlying McCoy’s specific situation, however, lurk more global issues. Let's examine:

Independent sideline neurologists

Last Thursday evening we witnessed another violent hit from Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison, this one levied on Browns’ quarterback Colt McCoy. This play was followed by some debatable sideline procedures by the Browns’ medical and coaching staff. Underlying McCoy’s specific situation, however, lurk more global issues. Let’s examine:

Independent sideline neurologists

ICONGoodell and Smith have appeared before Congress regarding concussions.

After facing intense scrutiny from Congress in 2009 – and being compared to (gasp!) the tobacco industry – the NFL instituted a new return-to-play policy. Both a team physician and an independent neurologist must clear players removed from a game/practice after sustaining a head injury before returning to football activities.

The policy, however, requires that a player actually be diagnosed with a head injury. Therein lies the problem: during the heat and emotion of the game, players are reluctant to be forthright with medical staff. The desire to return to the field – from players and sometime coaches as well – can prove overwhelming, especially mixed into the flurry of activity that takes place on an NFL sideline. I saw this in my time in Green Bay in a couple instances with Brett Favre.

Furthermore, the set of questions that a team’s medical staff administers – the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool – is merely advisory and teams are not mandated to use it. In McCoy’s case, it was not administered until the morning after the game.

NFLPA executive committee member Scott Fujita – a teammate of McCoy’s – has advocated the use of independent neurologists on the sidelines. It is not known whether this possibility was discussed during the recent collective bargaining negotiations; it has not implemented.

NFL response

In the wake of the McCoy incident, league and union medical officials met Tuesday to determine whether the Browns followed appropriate protocol. Under the new CBA, the NFLPA has authority to make “surprise visits” to club facilities to review health and safety procedures and may also file grievances when warranted.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL’s committee on head, neck and spine injuries will review the union’s findings. The upshot of this is that we may see the implementation of an independent neurologist on team sidelines at the start of the 2012 season.

The NFL has ramped up its player safety enforcement and discipline– James Harrison can attest to that – but can and should do more to protect its players from others and, often, from themselves. The league also remains cognizant of the potential for liability. Speaking of which, after engaging in a summer of courtroom football, the NFL cannot seem to shed itself from the courtroom and again finds itself embroiled in litigation.

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NFL Resistant to Power Plays

Many believe the following standard line about deal making: “It’s not personal; it’s business.” While I understand the sentiment, in 25 years of doing – and now covering – sports negotiations from both sides of the table, I have learned that it’s always personal.

CP3 Madness

The Chris Paul saga, with the

Many believe the following standard line about deal making: “It’s not personal; it’s business.” While I understand the sentiment, in 25 years of doing – and now covering – sports negotiations from both sides of the table, I have learned that it’s always personal.>

CP3 Madness

The Chris Paul saga, with the NBA and Commissioner David Stern having nixed proposed trades to the Lakers and the Clippers is, at its core, a power struggle. The jockeying for control is a microcosm of what the NFL and the NBA have been fighting for in arduous collective bargaining over the past year.

After the summer of LeBron and the winter of Carmelo, Stern seems intent — while as caretaker of the New Orleans Hornets — to reign in the leverage of the superstars, something the newly-signed CBA evidently does not do.

Even with Stern’s power play, Paul still has the leverage, despite this momentary hitch in his plans. No matter what happens now, Paul is not going to remain with the Hornets long-term.

The NFL structure is more resistant to power plays, for several reasons.

ICONGoodell’s league has more control over stars than Stern’s, for many reasons.

More Revenue, More Revenue Sharing

The NFL – through mutual agreement of its forefathers – has the most equitable revenue sharing system of the major sports leagues. Billions of television dollars are shared equally, meaning that the Packers (city population: 100,000) receive the same amount as the Giants and Jets (city population: 8 million). With the largest revenue source equally shared, there is less opportunity for “super teams” developing and for superstars holding teams hostage.

This is not to say that all NFL markets are created equal – some teams gross over $300 million while others barely reach $200 million. However, NFL teams that spend liberally one year usually fall back the next, with a harder Cap than the NBA acting as a self-regulator over time.

More Players Mean Less Power

Unlike the NBA, there is less opportunity for one player to have an impact on the overall game. The MVP of the NFL is on the field for less than half the game. Football is a game of interdependent parts with no one player having the impact of a superstar basketball player. This is also why free agency is more impactful in basketball: NBA players can move seamlessly from team to team while the NFL is schematic and system-oriented, making for more difficult transitions.

And the guaranteed money of the NBA dwarfs that of the NFL. The Sacramento Kings just signed someone named Marcus Thornton to a $40 million guaranteed contract. We can count on one hand the number of NFL players who have a $40 million guarantee.

Franchise Tag Control

The NFL’s Franchise Tag allows teams to effectively remove its top free agent from the free market. The Tag – now with reduced numbers from the previous CBA – not only has served teams well in retaining stars but in giving teams greater leverage in negotiations with star players.

A Franchise Tag type of tool was on the wish list for NBA owners in their CBA negotiations but sacrificed in order to make other gains.

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Selling Green and Gold

What about Brett?

First, a note on old friend Brett Favre and his interest/non-interest in joining the Bears...

When news broke on Monday that a source close to Favre said he would be “receptive to hearing from the Bears,” I laughed. I can see Brett and agent Bus Cook – both of

What about Brett?

First, a note on old friend Brett Favre and his interest/non-interest in joining the Bears…

When news broke on Monday that a source close to Favre said he would be “receptive to hearing from the Bears,” I laughed. I can see Brett and agent Bus Cook – both of them much smarter than their country folk image portrays – smiling at the other and saying, “Wanna start a little sh*tstorm?” The lure of Favre returning with the Packers’ rival Bears for the stretch run would be too great for fans and the media to ignore.

ICONFavre’s 2008 retirement was short-lived, as I expected.

Through all of Brett’s retirement talk – I lived through it in Green Bay – I never thought he would actually retire, even when he announced that he was. His 2008 retirement was not about being done; it was a response to the lack of warmth he felt from the Packers front office. Instead of simply hearing “It’s up to you,” he wanted to hear “We really want you!” from the team, something he had heard in previous years. Feeling indifference from management, Brett retired, only to come back to play three more seasons elsewhere.

As to returning again, that is more about a team than about Brett. The Vikings “unretired” Brett twice; will another team do so? I remember Brett noticing with interest when Roger Clemens joined baseball teams for playoff runs. Could I see him riding in on a white horse to join a team down the stretch? Yes, but he would have to be recruited.

Brett’s star has dropped precipitously from his time in Green Bay where he could do no wrong. Often asked about Brett, I will say this: he is not the idol he was made out to be in Green Bay, nor is he the pariah he has been made out to be since.

And speaking of Green Bay…

On Tuesday morning the Packers did something unconventional and wholly unique to Green Bay: they held a public offering – the fifth in their history – selling shares of stock in the team. A Cheesehead version of Cyber Monday, Packer Nation flooded the Packers’ website on Tuesday, placing 1600 online orders within the first 11 minutes of the sale. 28,000 shares were sold in a little over two hours of the opening!

It is hard to imagine better timing for the Packers to offer up a stock sale. The team is in the midst of an undefeated dream season, energizing an already-passionate fan base during the holiday season.

History Repeats

Green Bay is the NFL’s only “publicly-owned” franchise, operating as such since 1923 when it held its first stock sale. The 1923 sale came with a caveat: it required purchasers to also buy six season tickets. How times have changed!

Always an easy source of revenue, the team held similar sales in 1935 and 1950 (raising $15,000 and $118,000, respectively).

The Packers’ last stock drive took place in 1997 to cover part of a $293 million Lambeau revitalization project. Over 120,000 shares were sold at $200 a piece during the 17-week sale, raising more than $24 million used for Lambeau Field’s 2003 renovation.

Prior to Tuesday’s sale, 112,205 Packers shareholders owned 4.75 million shares in total.

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Donovan’s Decline

The career of one of the NFL’s most celebrated quarterbacks in the past decade may have come to a quiet close last week. The Minnesota Vikings – Donovan McNabb’s third team in the last 19 months – granted McNabb his freedom, placing him on waivers Thursday. McNabb – who went unclaimed – now waits

The career of one of the NFL’s most celebrated quarterbacks in the past decade may have come to a quiet close last week. The Minnesota Vikings – Donovan McNabb’s third team in the last 19 months – granted McNabb his freedom, placing him on waivers Thursday. McNabb – who went unclaimed – now waits for a call from a new team, a call that may or may not come this season or even next.

House Money

The Vikings, as the Broncos last week, (1) saw injuries to other NFL starting quarterbacks, and (2) disposed of an expensive player that was never going to play for them again. Like the Broncos, the Vikings were playing with house money.

As vested veterans, Kyle Orton and McNabb were entitled to the remaining balance of their salary – as termination pay — if released and unclaimed. The Chiefs saved the Broncos $2.6 million by claiming Orton. The Vikings were not as lucky with the $1.45 million due McNabb.

Many have asked whether McNabb gave up his termination pay for his release. When I asked a Vikings official about that, he answered with a long pause and heavy sigh: “We still owe.”

McNabb has had a disappointing couple of years since being the signature player of the Philadelphia Eagles. Let’s examine:

McNabb had a productive but sometimes choppy career in Philadelphia.

Eagles Rough Landing

In June of 2009, with McNabb’s contract having two more seasons, the Eagles gave McNabb an adjustment that (1) added $5.3 million to his 2009 pay, satisfying his discontent about that contract, and (2) allowed the team flexibility in 2010 to move that contract without penalty. Which, of course, they did.

On Easter day 2010 the Eagles traded McNabb to Washington. After the Eagles paid McNabb close to $80 million over a long career in Philadelphia, the team then handed the keys to understudy Kevin Kolb (only to take those keys from Kolb and hand them to Michael Vick a year later).

In consulting with the Eagles at the time, I noticed the players’ reaction to Vick when he arrived. Players were energized and excited to have Vick, a different vibe from their feelings about McNabb who, while liked and respected, was seen as corporate and a bit detached.

The end of the McNabb era in Philadelphia was significant but not traumatic; his time had run its course and it was time to move on. As with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, the Eagles had seen Kolb for three years and liked what they saw; it was time to bring him out of the bullpen.

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Teal Transfer

One of the least relevant NFL teams dominated the NFL news cycle on Tuesday, a whirlwind day of activity for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Head coach Jack Del Rio was terminated – his contract, not him – general manager Gene Smith was given a three-year contract extension, and most notably, the team was sold to

One of the least relevant NFL teams dominated the NFL news cycle on Tuesday, a whirlwind day of activity for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Head coach Jack Del Rio was terminated – his contract, not him – general manager Gene Smith was given a three-year contract extension, and most notably, the team was sold to Illinois business mogul Shahid Khan.

Garrard Cost Cut

It now seems clearer as to why the Jaguars released their starting quarterback only days before the season opener.

David Garrard, as a vested veteran, was about to receive his entire $8 million salary had he been on the roster opening day. He was even introduced at a team luncheon a couple hours before his release. However, in what was described as a “football decision,” Garrard and his $8 million salary were shed later that day.

The Garrard release now appears a business decision by the owner to remove what would have been a sunk cost in preparation for a sale. Speaking of that owner…

ICONWeaver fought hard for a more equitable spending model.

Wayne’s World

With Khan entering – his approval should go smoothly as he has been comprehensively vetted and parsed by the NFL – Wayne Weaver, the only owner the Jaguars have known, will exit.

Weaver has been a loyal and conscientious owner during his time in the league. My sense, though, is that he tired of being a voice in the wilderness taking on some of the more powerful and larger market owners. Although he was not scoffed at in the way Mike Brown of the Bengals was, Weaver had some clashes.

I remember Jerry Jones and Weaver having vocal disagreements on revenue generation. Jones clearly felt that certain teams – such as the Bengals, Bills, and Jaguars – were not sufficiently aggressive in pursuing local revenues and that their complacence should not be rewarded with equal shares of national revenues. Jones and Weaver clearly sparred on this issue.

Capped Percentages

Weaver lobbied for spending restrictions using a formula tied to a capped percentage of overall revenues.

For example, whereas the Cowboys may have $300 million in gross revenues, the Jaguars may only have $200 million. However, in an effort to compete, both teams may be spending around $120 million on players. For the Cowboys, that $120 million represents 40% of their total revenues. For the Jaguars, that same $120 million represents 60% of their total revenues. Weaver tried to correct this inequity through either (1) an increased revenue sharing system, and/or (2) a capped percentage of gross revenues that teams could use for player costs. Jones’ – and others’ – response was always the same: just create more revenue. Leading to…

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Suh Stomp will Cost

I watched “the Suh Stomp” along with the rest of the country on Thanksgiving. It is now seared in our memory as the lasting image from football on Thanksgiving Day 2011. More than the continued excellence of the Packers, more than the nail-biter between the Dolphins and Cowboys, and more than the Harbaugh family

I watched “the Suh Stomp” along with the rest of the country on Thanksgiving. It is now seared in our memory as the lasting image from football on Thanksgiving Day 2011. More than the continued excellence of the Packers, more than the nail-biter between the Dolphins and Cowboys, and more than the Harbaugh family reunion, it is Ndamokung Suh’s stomp – unfortunately for the NFL – that is the signature moment of the day.

I was standing in line at a coffee shop the next morning – Black Friday – listening to a couple talk. It was clear that they knew zero about football and didn’t know Ray Lewis from Emmanuel Lewis, but they knew about the stomp. “Wasn’t that awful that that big football player kicked the player on the ground? What’s his name, something Suh?” Suh has transcended sports to become a household name; neither for his play nor his national Chrysler commercials, but for all of the wrong reasons.

The Player

No one disputes that Suh is an elite player. He has been instrumental in turning around a team that has long been a punching bag for the NFC North into a playoff contender. He came into the NFL as the second overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and has justified that lofty status with his play. Speaking of being the second overall pick…

ICONSuh was drafted the year before top picks’ pay was slashed.

The Money

Suh chose the right year to enter the Draft. He was part of the last group of top picks – perhaps in the history of the NFL – to sign exorbitant contracts. In fact, he became one of the highest paid players in the history of the NFL before ever having played a down.

As the second pick in the 2010 Draft, behind only Sam Bradford, Suh signed a five-year, $60 million deal with an eye-popping $40 million guaranteed. That is the third-highest rookie guarantee in history – behind only Bradford and Matthew Stafford – and makes him only one of four defensive players at that level – along with DeMarcus Ware, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata.

In the event there is a suspension coming for Suh, it is the right year for him to financially sustain it. After receiving an option bonus of $17.4 million earlier this year, his salary is a relatively low $1.4 million. Thus, were he suspended a game or two, Suh’s financial losses will “only” be $82,000 per game, a paltry amount of his $40 million guarantee.

The Reputation

Even with his stellar play, there have been grumblings about Suh playing beyond the whistle and teetering between nastiness and dirty play. And with this reputation and some prior incidents on his brief NFL resume, he recently took a trip to Commissioner Roger Goodell’s office to gain a better understanding of what is allowed and what comes with a price.

I, like many, gave Suh the benefit of the doubt, but on Thursday Suh lost my goodwill. Not only did he potentially cost his team the game – the stomp came after a crucial hold on third down – but he cost himself something much bigger: his reputation.

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Broncos Bet with House Money

Based on the events of last weekend, the Denver Broncos made a $2.6 million bet Tuesday with house money.

In releasing Kyle Orton – their starting quarterback until he was Tebowed out of the way a few weeks ago – the Broncos decided to part with a player whose contract was extended for

Based on the events of last weekend, the Denver Broncos made a $2.6 million bet Tuesday with house money.

In releasing Kyle Orton – their starting quarterback until he was Tebowed out of the way a few weeks ago – the Broncos decided to part with a player whose contract was extended for 2011 one year ago. While the team does not know for sure whether Tim Tebow is their future at quarterback, it knows that Orton is not.

The Process

Were Orton released prior to the trading deadline in October, as a vested veteran he would have been free to sign with any team. Now released following the trading deadline, all players – vested or otherwise – are subject to the 24-hour waiver wire. Thus, teams have until 4 pm eastern time today to make a claim for Orton.

The waiver priority order is based on won-loss record, as is the Draft order. Should two or more teams have the same record, the team with the easier schedule to this point of the season will have priority.

ICONOrton received a $1.5 million bonus in July after the Broncos were unable to agree on a trade with the Dolphins.

The Finances

On August 19, 2010, the Broncos extended Orton’s contract for an additional year. Much like the Eagles did with Kevin Kolb ten days after that, the Broncos did not want their starting quarterback to be in his free agent year but at the same time did not want to commit to a long-term deal.

Orton received a $1.5 million roster bonus on July 29 after the Broncos were unable to come to terms with the Dolphins on a potential trade that would have transferred that obligation to Miami.

The Broncos also paid the first 11 weeks of Orton’s $7.38 million salary, or $4.76 million. As to the remaining $2.6 million, the team that claims him assumes that amount. In the event he is unclaimed, that obligation stays with the Broncos in the form of termination pay due to a released vested veteran.

The Broncos saw injuries Sunday to Matt Cassel, Matt Schaub and, most importantly, Jay Cutler. These events — along with a nudge from Orton’s agent David Dunn — gave them confidence they could save $2.6 million for a player that was not going to play for them again this season.

The Compensatory Pick

By not allowing Orton to finish out his contract and leave as an unrestricted free agent, the Broncos forego the possibility of a 2013 compensatory draft pick based on Orton’s new deal in March.

With so many teams in need of a veteran quarterback, Orton may secure a decent contract in March. That could have led to a low or mid-round 2013 compensatory pick to the Broncos.

Now, if Orton is claimed and leaves as a free agent in March, the claiming team will get the benefit of that pick.

The New Team

I became a Kyle Orton fan on December 22, 2007 at Soldier Field while with the Packers. Except for the NFC Championship game at Lambeau Field a month later, that was the coldest I had ever been at a game. There were 40 mph gusts off Lake Michigan and subzero wind chill. The conditions were brutal.

Orton knifed the ball through that wind in beating the Packers that day and impressed us all. If he could play in that weather, he can play in any weather.

Will he return to the Bears? That depends on the Chiefs, Texans, and who knows whom else. There are discussions going on among several teams about the financial commitment and whether it is worth it for a stopgap player for six weeks. Another team to consider: in the ultra-competitive world of the NFL, would the Lions spend $2.6 million to block their rival from getting the player it wants? I doubt it, but there is probably that discussion in Detroit.

My sense is the Bears claim him — if the Chiefs do not — and the Broncos will be off the hook for $2.6 million.

Unless…the Bears do not put in a claim, secure that teams will pass on him. The Bears would likely then negotiate a new contract with Orton and leave the Broncos holding the bag for $2.6 million while Orton double dips.

As with everything in life, we’ll see.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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Peyton or not, Colts need some Luck

What a strange focus we have had this year in the NFL. Barely a few games into the season, there was less attention paid to the best team – the Packers – than given to the the team that could end up as the worst. The reason, of course, is that the discussion revolves

What a strange focus we have had this year in the NFL. Barely a few games into the season, there was less attention paid to the best team – the Packers – than given to the the team that could end up as the worst. The reason, of course, is that the discussion revolves around a player thought to be a once-in-a-generation player: Andrew Luck.

Game-changer

I must first disclose some bias here. I am a Stanford alumnus, having attended during the time of another can’t-miss quarterback, John Elway. I also was general manager of the Barcelona Dragons in the NFL’s World League with a colleague in the same position with the Frankfurt Galaxy: Andrew’s father, Oliver Luck. And, of course, I like Andrew’s name.

ICONLuck will bring good fortune to the Colts.

Disclaimers aside, from talking to NFL scouting directors, Luck grades out as someone that can change the fortunes of an NFL franchise. On the field, he has excellent football intelligence, mobility, arm strength, superior mechanics, presence, etc. Off the field he is a humble and respectful teammate while succeeding in a rigorous academic curriculum. A friend at Stanford told me Luck is completely without pretense and fits in seamlessly with his peers.

In watching Luck I am reminded of a player that I was around for three years, Aaron Rodgers (even though Aaron attended archrival Cal!). They both appear to be singular talents with natural leadership skills, off-the-charts intelligence, and an innate ability to tune out the extraneous noise and focus on what is important.

A Different Kid

College players with remaining eligibility – which Luck will still have – must declare for the NFL Draft in January. Luck is presumed to be entering.

However, we are not dealing with your average college football player. Luck has lived overseas and now lives in one of the more idyllic places in the country. Last year, he chose Stanford and Palo Alto over the Panthers and Charlotte. Might he again choose Stanford and Palo Alto over the Colts and Indianapolis? Do not be shocked if he does.

Unprecedented Value

Luck’s can’t-miss ability coincides with a sea change in rookie compensation in the NFL that makes the right to draft him even more valuable than ever.

In 2010, Sam Bradford received a contract that will pay him $48 million in the first four years of his career. In 2011, Cam Newton received a contract that will pay him $22 million in the first four years of his career. In 2012, Andrew Luck (if he turns pro) will receive a contract that will pay him $24 million in the first four years of his career, still roughly half of the cost of Bradford’s.

The uniqueness of Luck combined with his discounted cost creates the perfect storm of value for the team with the worst record this season. Leading to…

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Back Pain

Playing running back in the NFL is not the most glamorous of lifestyles. They have the shortest shelf life of all NFL players and their prime playing years are usually either playing for free in college or under low rookie contract earnings. And, of course -- they encounter a train wreck on every play.

Playing running back in the NFL is not the most glamorous of lifestyles. They have the shortest shelf life of all NFL players and their prime playing years are usually either playing for free in college or under low rookie contract earnings. And, of course — they encounter a train wreck on every play.

The other big problem for running backs is pay. As Chris Johnson did in September, they have to get the most they can as soon as they can in their careers. Having been in an NFL front office for ten years, I understand their plight but understand it from the teams point of view. When I was with the the Packers, as much as I liked our running back Ahman Green as a friend, I could not advocate allocating sizable resources to him for a third contract. I had studied running back contracts for players with similar age and wear and tear and found a graveyard of bad deals (Eddie George, Corey Dillon, Jamaal Anderson, etc.). Indeed, virtually the only players that I saw performing at a high level past their later twenties were Emmitt Smith and Curtis Martin. Thus, the dilemma with running backs.

The Underpaid

Here are your gold, silver, and bronze NFL rushing leaders through the first 10 weeks of the season and their salaries: Fred Jackson (917 yards, $1.75 million), LeSean McCoy (906 yards,$490,000), and Matt Forte (869 yards, $600,000) are earning just a combined $2.84 million in base salary this season.

It is clear that they have outperformed their existing deals but questions remain whether they will secure new contracts and if so, when will that be. Let’s examine:

ICONJackson faces the problem of age.

Action Jackson

Jackson, who has played a significant part in the Bills’ offense, has reportedly received an “assurance” from the Bills front office that they will restructure his current contract, a four-year $7.5 million deal signed in 2009.

The mitigating circumstance with Jackson is his age. Jackson is 30, the point of no return for most running backs. And despite the fact he is only in his fifth season, he has three seasons of wear and tear from indoor and European football leagues prior to the NFL. The Bills are trying to structure a deal that protects them from a dropoff in performance in a couple of years.

Shifty Shady

A bright spot on a disappointing season, McCoy has broken out this season and leads all non-quarterbacks in touchdowns (12). His lateral agility is reminiscent of Barry Sanders and his value is soaring.

McCoy still has another year remaining on his rookie deal – one that I negotiated while consulting for the Eagles in 2009 – at a reasonable figure of $600,000. With the Eagles’ profligate 2011 free agent splurge, McCoy may need to wait until next season to secure a contract extension.

It will also be interesting to see whether the Eagles use the franchise tag on DeSean Jackson in 2012 and as a negotiating tool with McCoy for 2013, as both are represented by Drew Rosenhaus. McCoy’s recent firing and re-hiring of Rosenhaus may have been related to this potential conflict of interest.

Not the Bears’ Forte

Forte’s frustration in securing a new contract have been discussed here. Despite his disgruntlement, Forte has not allowed his contract dispute to become an on-field issue. At least not yet.

Forte’s heavy workload could ultimately work to his disadvantage. With the 2012 franchise tag in play here, this negotiation will reach a crescendo as Forte’s play continues to shine later in the season.

CJ Precedent

While Johnson’s new deal (along with Adrian Peterson‘s) set a new market for elite running backs, his lack of top-level production is not helping his peers. At the least, it gives hesitant front offices a data point to argue against rewarding running backs at that level.

And speaking of unfulfilled expectations…

The curious case of Peyton Hillis

In 2010 Hillis bruised his way to over 1600 total yards and 13 touchdowns, besting Michael Vick to become the new Madden cover player.

Fast forward to 2011, a nightmarish season for Hillis, full of injuries (he’ll miss his fifth game in a row Sunday), illness (strep throat) and issues in his own locker room. While the Browns engaged in some negotiations earlier this year, contract talks have come to a screeching halt. Browns president Mike Holmgren recently emphasized, “Let’s let Peyton play, let the dust settle and see what happens.” Translation: we’re not giving him a new deal anytime soon.

The Madden curse continues.

These backs discussed above are running to daylight; whether they’re running to greener pastures remains to be seen.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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The End of Entitlement

My initial thoughts on the Penn State tragedy – it is more tragedy than scandal – was incredulity as to the breadth and length of its existence. Although much of the focus was on one night where assistant coach Mike McQueary came upon a horrific scene, that incident may be one of many --

My initial thoughts on the Penn State tragedy – it is more tragedy than scandal – was incredulity as to the breadth and length of its existence. Although much of the focus was on one night where assistant coach Mike McQueary came upon a horrific scene, that incident may be one of many — dozens perhaps — over the course of many years.

I realize I do not have all the facts and we presume innocence in this country. As the father of two young boys, however, my blood has boiled throughout watching this chapter. And, after watching a couple of minutes of Bob Costas’ interview with Jerry Sandusky last night, I had to turn it off. Costas is a brilliant interviewer but to hear Sandusky enjoy “horsing around, touching boys legs and showering with boys” but deny improper contact was infuriating. <strong>Seriously?

I was speaking at an event last week where I addressed the issue. In the course of my comments I said “I don’t want to use the term ‘cover-up’ but…” An audience member interrupted me: “Why wouldn’t you use that term? Isn’t that exactly what happened?” Perhaps.

Entitlement

I have been asked what change may come out of this. Simply, Penn State football will lose its sense of power and entitlement.

The Penn State scandal points to an unwritten rule there and probably at other top college football programs: there are different rules for football than for other departments in the institution. The football program at Penn State needs fixing.

The press conference held by the Board of Trustees last week was—while hastily arranged and lacking in decorum—an impressive and necessary show of leadership. John Surma, vice chairman of the Board and CEO of U.S. Steel, was controlled and poised in the face of chaos and high emotion. He stayed on task and didn’t waver from his message: the Board made a decision based on what information they had. It was clear and decisive, traits lacking at the University for too long regarding this tragedy.

ICONPaterno was probably one of many that knew of Sandusky’s behavior.

No isolated incident

The issue is far beyond Joe Paterno. He is simply the leader of a department that has been coddled. Penn State football appears to have lorded over all other departments in the vast University system.

So far we know that the athletic director, two administrators, Paterno, and McQueary knew what Sandusky was doing with young boys. To think that (1) the incident that McQueary witnessed was an isolated incident, or (2) these were the only people that knew about Sandusky would be incredibly na

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HGH testing still on hold

It sure sounded good at the time. As part of the new ten-year agreement between the NFL and its players, a pioneering testing plan would begin: players would be tested for human growth hormone (HGH). The NFL would be the first major professional sports league to test its players for the substance that gives

It sure sounded good at the time. As part of the new ten-year agreement between the NFL and its players, a pioneering testing plan would begin: players would be tested for human growth hormone (HGH). The NFL would be the first major professional sports league to test its players for the substance that gives athletes a competitive edge, thereby insuring a higher level of integrity and competitive balance in its game. It sounded like a groundbreaking moment for not only the NFL but also potentially for all professional sports leagues.

However, in the words of that eminent philosopher Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” The plan required union consent, which, to this point, has not come. In addition to not consenting, the NFLPA sent out a release on their own testing protocols, which are far different than those proposed by the NFL.

The NFL engaged the World Anti Doping Association (WADA) and has garnered support from dozens of credible and reputable doctors and scientists about its proposed testing plan. And, at the NFL’s urging, Congress has taken steps to move this along, calling on representatives from the league and the union to articulate their positions in front of them, with hearings possibly ahead.

After the agreement in July, the NFLPA has resisted every step of the way. Now with yesterday’s press release, they are making a public case, with the following comment from Drew Brees: “This is our joint program, not just the NFL’s.” Translation: “We agreed they needed our consent. We’re not going to be forced into a testing program that we don’t like.” The NFLPA believes that the WADA testing protocol – while accurate for Olympic athletes – would result in many false positives for football players, some of whom dwarf Olympic athletes’ size and body mass.

The upshot of all of this is the following:

(1) We are no closer to an agreement on HGH testing in November than we were when the NFL and the NFLPA signed off on it in July; and
(2) The appeals process for positive drug samples – including those for illicit drugs and anabolic steroids – will continue to go right back to the NFL, rather than an independent appeals process that would be implemented in conjunction with the testing.

HGH testing sure sounded impressive when it was announced. And maybe we’ll see it in action in the NFL… In 2012.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt

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Extension End Point

There are a few flashpoint dates on the NFL calendar that represent possibilities for teams to lock up core players for the future and commit to them long term. These times include (1) prior to start of the League Year, in the time between the Super Bowl and the beginning of March, when a

There are a few flashpoint dates on the NFL calendar that represent possibilities for teams to lock up core players for the future and commit to them long term. These times include (1) prior to start of the League Year, in the time between the Super Bowl and the beginning of March, when a team sets its course for the offseason; (2) training camp, when a team secures contracts before the business of football defers to the games; and (3) the middle of the season up to the Cap deadline of the 10th week, where teams can sign players to extensions and contain the financial impact within the confines of the current season.

That deadline came and went on Monday with only one deal signed in the NFL, that of Robert Garza and the Chicago Bears.

Lost Opportunity

It’s unclear why more teams did not use Monday’s deadline to secure players for the future and take advantage of the rule allowing money to be allocated disproportionately to 2011 rather than have it pushed into future years. There is over $300 million of Cap room in the NFL to be utilized; yet few teams have utilized their Cap space to negotiate extensions this season.

To explain extensions done prior to the Cap deadline, here is an example. Let’s say a team was to extend a player for the next four seasons with $5 million of additional money. They could add that money in the following ways: (1) as additional 2011 salary; (2) as a roster bonus or an easily earned incentive; or (3) as a signing bonus.

In the first two examples above, the $5 million would be accounted completely in 2011 with no money prorated into future seasons. Conversely, a $5 million signing would be prorated, meaning $1 million would be allocated into 2011 and $4 million pushed out into future years.

Also, it is imporant to note that teams can still extend players through the Saturday before the final game of the 2011 season but all increases – salary, roster bonus, etc – will be treated as signing bonus and prorated into the future.

Cap Control

As readers know, I strongly believe in a “pay as you go” model of Cap management. With the Packers, there was always temptation to convert Brett Favre’s large salary into prorated signing bonus to provide short-term relief. However, having learned from other situations where a franchise quarterback had retired, been released or traded – Aikman, Elway, Young, McNair, etc. – I did not want to leave the Packers in “Cap jail,” unable to field competitive future teams.

This style of Cap management can lead to consistent efficiency to allow teams to use ample Cap room to create cycles of sustained success.

No deals

Surprisingly, with so many ongoing potential contract situations around the league, only the Bears and Garza took advantage of this Cap deadline (the Bears were also trying to work out something with Johnny Knox but the sides couldn’t reach agreement by the deadline).

The lack of deals prior to the deadline illustrates that ongoing negotiations – or perhaps the lack thereof – for players like Drew Brees, Matt Forte, DeSean Jackson, Fred Jackson, Jermichael Finley and others have a long way to go before a final push could be made to try to find common ground.

Speaking of failed negotiations……

ICONHaynesworth collected $36 million from the Redskins.

Albert’s Angst

Just as JaMarcus Russell has become the poster child for everything that was wrong with rookie contracts, Albert Haynesworth has clearly become the poster child for everything that is wrong with overpriced free agent contracts.

Haynesworth collected $36 million from the Redskins for two lackluster and trouble-filled seasons. Clearly, there was a reason the Tennessee Titans never signed Haynesworth long term and went year-to-year with franchise tags.

The Patriots thought they had secured quite a bargain when they acquired Haynesworth for a fifth-round draft pick and a reduction of his scheduled $6.4 million 2011 salary to a manageable $1.5 million.

Not so much. After half a season, the Patriots shed Haynesworth and his considerable baggage. Luckily for them, the Buccaneers saved them from paying Haynesworth roughly half of his salary this year. As a vested veteran, Haynesworth was entitled to termination pay for the balance of his $1.5 million – $706,000 remaining due — were he not claimed on waivers. Tampa Bay’s claim of Haynesworth assigns the remainder of the contract to them.

Robert Kraft owes the Glazers a nice dinner for that $706,000 claim.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt

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Tougher Game of Tag

Now more than three months since it was signed, we are still learning about the nuances of the new ten-year Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL and the NFLPA.

Once the major issues of the revenue split, the rookie scale, and the Salary Cap were agreed to and a deal was imminent

Now more than three months since it was signed, we are still learning about the nuances of the new ten-year Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL and the NFLPA.

Once the major issues of the revenue split, the rookie scale, and the Salary Cap were agreed to and a deal was imminent in late July, there appeared to be a rush to tie up loose ends of the deal so that training camps could open, players could be paid, and games could be played. The problem with the harried final negotiations was that there were several unsettled issues requiring resolution.

As I suspected, that last-minute horse-trading in those closing hours before Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith sat cheerfully in front of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and signed the new CBA left us with parts of the agreement we are still sifting through.

There was a plan to test its players for Human Growth Hormone (HGH), a breakthrough in insuring integrity and competitive balance in a way that other leagues could emulate. That testing required union consent that, to date, has not come.

There was also the issue of an independent appeals process for off-field conduct instead of appeals right back to the Commissioner. As we saw from the recent Cedric Benson case – also involving an apparent last-minute agreement for eight players to be punished for lockout misconduct – that issue appears unchanged.

Now we are learning about a different — and more favorable for teams, less favorable for players — way of arriving at Franchise Tag numbers for the next ten years.

ICONIf Forte is franchised, he will make $2 million less than the Tag number for 2011.

Tag Issues

The Franchise Tag (Tag) designation has long been a source of dissatisfaction for elite NFL players. Although their one-year earnings were strong, they were unable to achieve the long-term financial security that all players covet.

The Tag designation not only continues, but now with a much more favorable twist for NFL teams. Under the previous CBA, the nonexclusive Tag – the vast majority are nonexclusive – was calculated by taking the average of the top five salaries for the previous year for the position. And due to the transitional rules this season, Tags in 2011 were based upon this old calculation. However, beginning in 2012, Tag calculations are changed dramatically.

Five-Year Average

The new and complicated formula for the nonexclusive Franchise Tag is described in Article 10 of the new CBA as follows:

(A) Average of the 5 largest Prior Year Salaries for players at the position, calculated by: (1) summing the amounts of the Franchise Tags for players at that position for the 5 preceding League Years; (2) dividing the resulting amount by the sum of the Salary Caps for the 5 preceding League Years (using the average of the amounts of the 2009 + 2011 Salary Caps as Salary Cap amount for 2010 League Year); and (3) multiplying the resulting percentage by the Salary Cap for the upcoming League Year (e.g., when calculating the Tender for the 2012 League Year, dividing the aggregate sum of the Franchise Tags for players at that position for the 2007-2011 League Years by the aggregate sum of the Salary Cap for the 2012 League Year); or (B) 120% of Prior Year Salary, whichever is greater.

Here is a translation: the calculation for the Tag is now no longer based on the average of the top five salaries for a player’s position for the preceding year, but the average of the top five salaries at a player’s position for the preceding FIVE years! Thus, for 2012, Franchise Tag calculations compute from the top five salaries at each position – not from 2011 – but from an average of the top five salaries at each position for 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Tags Reduce

The new formula will likely result in significantly lower Tag numbers for each position than before. For example, the Tag number for the highest-paid position, quarterback, was approximately $16 million in 2011. With the new calculations, the projected Tag number for quarterack in 2012 is $2 million less, or $14 million. That is not good news for Drew Brees in his heated negotiations with the Saints.

For running backs — pay attention, Matt Forte and Ray Rice — the 2011 Tag number of $9.5 million is projected to be reduced to a 2012 number of $7.7 million with a flat Cap and $8 million with a $125 million Cap.

For wide receivers — pay attention, DeSean Jackson — the 2011 Tag number of $11.4 million is projected to be reduced to a 2012 number of $9.4 million with a flat Cap and $9.8 million with a $125 million Cap.

And for tight ends — pay attention, Jermichael Finley — the 2011 Tag number of $7.3 million is projected to be reduced to a 2012 number of $5.4 million with a flat Cap and $5.6 million with a $125 million Cap.

Of course, as noted in (B) above, if a player is coming off a season as a Tag player or had a very high salary number in his previous year, he is still protected, as the Tag will be 120% of his previous year’s number. And, although if a player is tagged three consecutive seasons he must have the highest Tag number available, there is no limitation on the number of consecutive uses of the Franchise Tag on the same player.

Advantage to Teams

The effect of this new provision, which was strongly pushed by the NFL in its negotiations with the NFLPA, is to create a couple of advantages for NFL teams: (1) the Tag numbers will be lower, pulling from a more dated pool of numbers, and (2) teams can now use the Tag designation as a greater leverage point in negotiations that is stronger than it was previously.

For players such as Brees, Forte, Rice, Jackson, Finley and others, the Franchise Tag discussion has become more uncomfortable than it would have been in previous years. That is unfortunate for them and for dozens of players ahead in the next decade.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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