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 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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Louisiana Tech DL Vernon Butler visited Titans, Panthers, Lions, Buccaneers, Bills

Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Vernon Butler visited the Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills to a league source.

Butler worked out for the Oakland Raiders, Carolina Panthers and Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans.

Butler is in Chicago for tonight's first round of the NFL draft.

Butler is 6-4, 323

Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Vernon Butler visited the Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills to a league source.

Butler worked out for the Oakland Raiders, Carolina Panthers and Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans.

Butler is in Chicago for tonight’s first round of the NFL draft.

Butler is 6-4, 323 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in 5.15 seconds, bench pressing 225 pounds 26 times with a 33 1/2 inch vertical leap and a 9-3 broad jump.

Butler was an All-Conference USA selection who 50 tackles last season with 10 for losses, three sacks and eight quarterback hurries. He had 56 tackles, 13 1/2 for losses as a junior.

Butler excelled at the Senior Bowl all-star game.

Butler has scheme flexibility as a potential 4-3 or 3-4 fit.
Follow me on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL
Aaron Wilson covers the Texans for The Houston Chronicle.

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post, his second stint at the Post. He has previously written for Pro Football Talk and FOX Sports-Scout. Entering his 13th year covering the Baltimore Ravens, he’s a beat writer for The Baltimore Sun. Wilson has also covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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