The business of football continues to churn as NFL teams go through offseason workouts. Here are some items that have caught my eye the past couple of weeks, and my perspectives.
The Packer Way
The Packers’ contract extension with Jaire Alexander, a premium player at a premium position, is an embodiment of their philosophy. They drafted him, developed him into one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks and have now locked him up with a long-term extension.
What is different about the Packers’ player financial strategy now, compared to when I did their contracts and managed their cap from 1999 to 2009, is their contract structure. My cap philosophy was “pay as you go,” matching cap and cash as much as possible to allow for future flexibility. That is not how the Packers have structured Alexander’s deal, or other contracts on their books.
Alexander is receiving a $30 million signing bonus, prorated out over six years with $5 million a year of cap charges and a $1 million salary. Thus, his 2022 cash number is $31 million and his ’22 cap number is $7 million, representing $24 million cash over cap. I would have used more cap room this year, giving him the same $31 million with more in salary or roster bonus (not prorated) to smooth out the cap hits in the future. As we know in cap management: cap-friendly early = cap-unfriendly late.
The current Packers management is heavy on early low salaries and high signing bonuses. I get it; they are trying to squeeze everything they can out of Aaron Rodgers’s uncertain tenure there (his contract is structured as a one-year deal) and caring less about the future than I did.
One constant does remain about the Packers, something I have been telling people for the past 25 years: They are consistently one of the highest-spending teams in the NFL. This does not get noticed because the Packers spend primarily on their own players, not on quick-fix free agents. Alexander’s extension is a shining example of that.
The New Tom Brady
So let me get this straight: In this 2022 offseason, Tom Brady 1) retired, 2) was reportedly set to own a piece of the Dolphins and immediately hire Sean Payton to be his coach (never mind the Rooney Rule), 3) unretired and 4) signed a 10-year deal with Fox to broadcast games (when he actually retires). I’m sure I’m missing some things, but those seem to be the highlights.
Brady’s deal with Fox was reported with a massive salary of $375 million over 10 years, an eye-popping amount, and more than Brady has made in his 22-year playing career. Fox acknowledged hiring Brady but denied the amount. The situation is similar to the usual reporting of a big player contract: The agent runs to the media with the most favorable number to shout out to the world, and the “real number” gets hidden. In this case, however, Fox is the big media.
As to the number—or whatever the real number is—I am not surprised. In order to secure Brady for some unspecified date in the future when he’s done playing, Fox had to make, well, an offer he couldn’t refuse. And it did, essentially paying double the going top-of-market rate of $18 million a year for Tony Romo and Troy Aikman. Brady will more than double that number (reportedly), but that is now, not then. By the time Brady retires—which, who knows, could be five years from now at age 50—the $37.5 million a year average might be the going rate for top NFL analysts!
Finally on Brady, it is striking—to me, at least—how different a Tom Brady we have seen since he left the Patriots in 2020, both professionally and personally. On the financial side, after two decades of leaving money on the table in his contracts with the Patriots, Brady has done no such thing with the Buccaneers and now with Fox. In New England, Brady not only took up less of the cap (which every high-paid quarterback does and he has done in Tampa Bay) but also took less cash. The “new Brady” is taking every last dollar in his contracts. Moreover, from a personality standpoint, we are truly seeing a new Brady: playful, active on social media, funny in a nerdy sort of way and highly exposed. We never saw this Brady in two decades in New England.
It is fascinating how much more interesting Brady is since his two decades in Belichickia.
Watson Discipline Is Near
NFL investigators spent time last week with Watson, indicating that the end of the 14-month investigation into his conduct is near.
In my experiences with NFL personal conduct cases, the last interview from the league has almost always been with the accused. After interviewing Watson, Lisa Friel, who conducts investigations for the NFL, will report her findings. A disciplinary officer, a former judge jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFLPA will issue discipline, with any appeal to be heard by—you guessed it—NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Under the new CBA, he is no longer “judge, jury and executioner.” Now he is more simply the “appellate judge.”
As I have said repeatedly in this space, I expect a long suspension for Watson. There is NFL precedent under this commissioner of six-game suspensions for both Ben Roethlisberger and Ezekiel Elliott for sexual misconduct with one woman each. I would expect a six-game suspension to be the minimum given to Watson.
Watson may suffer by not playing but, as previously discussed, the Browns have truly minimized his potential financial loss. Loss of income from an NFL suspension is limited to salary, not bonus. The Browns deliberately structured Watson’s 2022 salary to be the minimum, roughly $1 million, with the rest of his $46 million compensation coming in the form of signing bonus.
Thus, if Watson is suspended for half the season (just to use a simple number to calculate), his total financial loss would be about $500,000. His 2022 pay would be, instead of $46 million, roughly $45.5 million. The Browns have used this structure on their own players, but not outside players; they sold their soul for, of all players, Watson.
In this rare case, the player, not the team, continues to be the winner in the business of football.
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