- While combine week hogged the headlines, there were a number of important developments in the business of football…
While scouts and coaches concentrated on player evaluations at the combine over the past week, some NFL business topics bubbled to the surface. Here are my insights:
Goodell vs. Jones, The Rematch
When I first heard the NFL is seeking reimbursement of millions of dollars in legal fees from Jerry Jones’ huffing and puffing over Roger Goodell’s contract, my first thought was this: The deal must be signed/sealed/delivered. With the extension secure, Goodell must feel emboldened to take Jerry down a notch or two.
Lest anyone think this is all about Goodell, however, think again. There are plenty of owners who have likely been waiting for the time to do this and are now behind Goodell chanting: “Get him Roger!”
Also, what the hell are these NFL lawyers are charging to accumulate millions in legal fees? As always, there will be lawyers.
Mr. Jones, meet the new boss; same as the old boss.
Bortles’ Fool’s Gold
Initial reports of Blake Bortles’ extension worth $26.5 million guaranteed/$54 million total were met with usual misplaced hyperbole about how “good” a deal it is for Bortles. I have the opposite reaction. I find myself asking: Why on God’s green earth would Blake Bortles do this contract?
I know he wanted to be there, loves the Jaguars, blah, blah, blah. But Bortles is only making $1 million more this year than previously scheduled ($20 million vs. 19 million) and only $7.5 million more guaranteed, and guarantee is offset! The Jaguars get to have Bortles for three years, if they want him, at a nominal increase from having him for one year. What a one-sided deal.
Bortles appears to be betting that he couldn’t have made more than $7.5 million next year (backup money). This contract is baffling. Bortles would honestly be better off not having done it.
Now as to what should be an equally one-sided contract, this on the player side…
Rodger$ Deal Coming
Having managed the Packers player finances for more than nine years, I am often asked about the pending contract extension for Aaron Rodgers (shown here signing his first Packer contract with an exhausted negotiator). I dealt with a similar situation in Green Bay, and the team is approaching it the same way.
In my time there, I never wanted to let Brett Favre's contract have less than two seasons remaining. I knew Brett, as Aaron, would never publicly discuss letting his contract expire, but we wanted to make sure that would not even be a suggestion. The Packers are now negotiating with Aaron with two seasons remaining on his deal.
As to how big “the number,” readers know I never pay attention to the fluff of deals (as the meaningless $137.5 million of the latest big contract for Jimmy Garoppolo). I will look at cash over two and three years and the “security” of the money, timing of payments. I would think Aaron would surpass all previous markers but he is dealing with Packer precedents—that I started (sorry, Aaron)—such as per-game roster bonuses and no guarantees past Year Two. But, as everyone knows, there is no player with more leverage, leverage that increased in the wake of his extended absence last season.
As to timing, I don't think it matters much. Kirk Cousins or Matt Ryan may do something to set a floor but Aaron is a market unto himself. Stay tuned…
Bell Won’t Ring
My strong sense is that by the time you read this the Steelers will have applied a second consecutive Franchise Tag to Le’Veon Bell, once again restricting his negotiating market to one team (a team that does not want to meet his requested contract price).
One can’t really blame the Steelers, however, as there is simply no veteran running back market to work from. While there is an impressive crop of young running backs on rookie contracts, teams have been risk averse when it comes to signing running backs to second, let alone third contracts. Without any comparable contracts, the Steelers are unwilling to make Bell (as the Packers will do with Rodgers) a market unto himself, and will likely continue to “date” for another year rather than “marry.”
Oh, and as to any threats of Bell missing regular season games (earning him more than $1 million per game): Please.
A theme for the 2017 season was “What’s a catch?” The answer will now come from the Competition Committee, with a charge from Goodell to simplify and loosen the rule (read: allow more catches!). This was an easy one for the Committee, scrapping the ambiguous “going to the ground” nonsense.
More difficult to ratify will be a proposed change of a maximum defensive pass interference penalty of 15 yards, rather than a spot foul that sometimes is more than three times that yardage. This would remove those “cheap” explosive plays on long balls.
However, I have seen this movie before: This proposal was brought up at least twice with a negative recommendation from the Committee. The prospect of defensive backs “mugging” wide receivers on long passes that have a chance for completion has always been the rationale against the rule change; we will see if this year is different.
Out With the Old, In With the (More Lucrative) New
News came this week that Papa John’s pizza would no longer be an NFL sponsor, not surprising considering the company’s outspoken stance against players kneeling for the anthem this season. As I tweeted upon seeing the news “Call me crazy but I think the NFL will survive without Papa John’s.” As it turned out hours later, they NFL not only survived, but upgraded, replacing Papa Johns with Pizza Hut, with a deal that is (1) longer and (2) more lucrative.
This follows news last month that the NFL replaced CBS and NBC as Thursday Night Football partners with Fox in another change that is (1) longer and (2) more lucrative ($650 million a year replacing $450 million).
Thus, for the second time in a month, the NFL replaced an outgoing sponsor/network with one offering a deeper commitment, both in terms of length and dollars. Tough news for the “NFL’s in decline” crowd…
When I get on my soapbox about the lack of guaranteed contracts in the NFL and the stark difference between NFL deals and those in the NBA and MLB, the naysayers remind me about the high injury rates of the NFL, which is a great argument for not guaranteeing contracts… if you’re an owner!
NFL transactions over this time period are the cruelest in all of professional sports. Without future guarantees or buyouts to worry about as in the NBA or MLB, NFL teams are shedding veterans with hundreds of millions of collective contract value that has proven to be worth zero. In the past week alone, contracts of veterans such as Chris Ivory, Mike Glennon, Jonathan Stewart, Muhammad Wilkerson turned to dust.
I have been trying since I left the NFL to educate viewers, listeners and readers on the reality of these deals but most media is complicit with agents in reporting the big number. Let’s hope that as the free agent contracts are announced next week we will hear more about the “real numbers”—guaranteed—rather than fake news about NFL contracts. Dare to dream…
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