In one day NFL teams cut nearly $100 million in payroll
In the 24 hours leading up to the kickoff of NFL free agency last
Friday, the league's 31 teams went into a slashing frenzy
reminiscent of the most vivid scenes in Gladiator. According to
financial documents obtained by SI, in one decisive day teams
whacked a collective $97.3 million from their salary rolls,
cutting to the bone to get to the 2001 salary-cap limit of $67.4
million per team. Of the league's 1,782 players, 52 were let go
and 57 had their contracts restructured. Says Andrew Brandt,
director of player finance and football operations for the
Packers, "The bloodletting to get down to the cap this year is
unlike anything I've seen."
Just how does a team like the Chiefs trim $12.6 million in a
single day? Or the Redskins lop off $7.2 million? By releasing
players and restructuring veterans' contracts, converting the
bulk of their current-year salaries into signing bonuses.
Washington, for instance, helped get itself $82,000 under the cap
by lowering 37-year-old defensive end Bruce Smith's 2001 base
salary from $3.75 million to the veteran minimum of $477,000. The
$3.27 million difference became a guaranteed bonus, which Smith
will receive this year but which under cap accounting rules will
be spread over the remaining three years of his contract.
That kind of sleight of hand has consequences. Even if, as
expected, Smith is released next winter, he'll count for $5
million against the Redskins' cap in 2002 because of his prorated
signing bonuses. Underachieving defensive tackle Dana
Stubblefield, whom Washington cut last week, will still count for
$7.8 million against the team's 2001 cap; in other words, 11.8%
of the Skins' cap allotment will be taken up by a player who was
released six months before opening day. Similarly, the Chiefs
will use up a debilitating 19% of their 2001 cap on waived
March 12, 2001
In the late 1990s Kansas City and Washington signed a passel of
veterans for win-now title runs. Now they join the Cowboys,
49ers, Jaguars and Jets as victims of Super Bowl greed. "The
problem when you get so far in debt in our system is that the
only way out is to make more problems for yourself," says Brandt.
"You get into a vicious cycle."
The lesson: Stop paying ransoms for aging free agents and stick
to the middle-class market. Last Saturday Tampa Bay G.M. Rich
McKay had a five-year, $25 million offer on the table for Brad
Johnson when he learned that Baltimore had intensified its
efforts to sign the free-agent quarterback. While allowing for
wiggle room, he vowed, "We're setting a price, and we'll walk
away if it's not good enough for him." Two days later he got the
deal done for an extra $3 million, avoiding the kind of bidding
war that in past years might have cost him three times as much.
Lesson learned. --Peter King
Peter King's Five Free-Agent Bargains: Guys Who Should Go For
Less Than $2 million a Year
Free safety. Four-year veteran was unsung hero of very strong
Defensive end. Had a better 2000 season for Titans than Jevon
Guard. Injury casualty with Redskins looks to return to 1999 Pro
Wide receiver. No big numbers, but what do you expect from a guy
who played behind Randy Moss and Cris Carter on the Vikings?
Defensive tackle. Little-known former Jet may be league's best
tackle against both run and pass
When news emerged early in the evening of Sunday, Feb. 18, that
Dale Earnhardt had died at the Daytona 500, the video image of
his collision with the wall went from seemingly innocuous to
indelible. Footage of the wreck was rerun with such regularity on
news programs that it was easy to forget that inside the black
number 3 car a man was dying with every replay. In such
situations the dilemma for sports news shows--especially those
that are broadcast several times a day--becomes how to meet the
public's demand for information without becoming another
installment of Faces of Death.
"You never want to use video in a gratuitous manner," says Steve
Robinson, managing editor of CNN/SI, which regularly aired
footage of the accident for days afterward, "but that crash was
big news. If we do an update on the investigation into his death
or on the HANS safety device, we would probably show it again."
The emotional effect of the Earnhardt footage is lessened
somewhat by the fact that his body is not visible. If the crash
had been more horrific, would it have been replayed less? Not
necessarily. When Geoff Bodine was badly injured in a fiery
crack-up during a truck race before last year's Daytona 500, the
clip was shown on highlight shows (and a photo ran in SI) though
Bodine's flailing arms were clearly visible as his truck spun
through the air. In some cases, however, networks adjust to avoid
appearances of exploitation. Ten laps into the 1999 Marlboro 500,
a race broadcast on ESPN, CART driver Greg Moore was killed when
his car struck the wall and disintegrated. "We decided not to
re-air the race because of the death," says Vince Doria, news
director at ESPN. "You'd show a clip of the crash in relation to
a news story, but you have to use discretion when you re-air it."
Though Dale's widow, Teresa, has filed suit to prevent the
release of autopsy photos, Earnhardt's family and friends have
found little fault with the replaying of the accident. "We're
understandably tired of seeing the crash," says Steve Crisp, a
spokesman for Dale Earnhardt Inc., "but we know it was a
newsworthy event. You realize how much of an impact his death had
on the world." --Mark Beech
Q Why Dubai?
A Las Vegas notwithstanding, you wouldn't normally look to the
desert to find world-class sporting events. Yet in the last few
years Dubai, a city of 675,000 in the United Arab Emirates, has
become a sports mecca. For example, Tiger Woods played in the
Dubai Desert Classic last week, and two weeks ago Martina Hingis
competed in the Dubai Tennis Championships. On March 24 top
thoroughbreds will race in the Dubai World Cup, the world's
richest horse race.
How did this desert city become such a sports oasis? Credit
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the crown prince of Dubai.
In the mid-'80s the sheikh, looking to decrease Dubai's
dependence on oil, decided to pump up the city's presence as a
tourist destination. World-class sports events were part of the
plan. By '96 a city that had had no grass golf courses, no tennis
stadiums and no racetracks had all three. Lavish appearance fees
(Woods was reportedly paid $2 million) and rich purses ($6
million for the World Cup) got the attention of the sporting
elite. "The people in charge are prepared to throw money at
anything," says Desert Classic director Bob Wilkinson. "They're
used to the best, so they know you have to pay for the best."
SYNOPSIS In a performance reminiscent of the percussive dance
show Stomp, a group of pro and street hoops players pound out a
high-energy syncopated music track composed entirely of the
sounds of a gym (bouncing balls, squeaking sneakers).
BACKGROUND With no words spoken in the spot, it was left to the
players--NBAers Vince Carter, Darius Miles, Lamar Odom, Rasheed
Wallace and Jason Williams, and New York City playground legend
Booger Smith, among others--to create a street vibe by
synchronizing flashy court moves to the music. The track was
cocomposed by rap pioneer Afrika Bambaataa and choreographed by
Tony-winning dancer Savion Glover, though the players freestyled
quite a bit. (Among the snazzier moves: Williams dribbling two
balls at once, Odom making a kick pass and street player EZ Rock
spinning on his head.)
BOTTOM LINE Hoping to capitalize on the infectious commercial,
Nike is considering releasing a CD featuring the music as well as
a video featuring an extended version of the spot. Says Hal
Curtis, creative director of Nike's ad agency, Wieden & Kennedy,
"Other than Tiger Woods's Hacky Sack commercial, I've never
worked on a spot that's generated as much buzz."
Temple of Doom
Last week, citing the program's "sustained failure to meet the
minimum criteria expected of all members," the Big East dropped
Temple football. (Since 1991 the Owls are 9-58 against Big East
schools.) Which got us wondering: Who'd be checking out if other
conferences pulled the plug on their pigskin patsies?
SHOULD BOOT Wake Forest (alltime conference record 88-228-5).
Finished next to last in 2000 with 1-7 league mark. Has losing
record against every other ACC school and hasn't beaten Florida
State since 1973. CONSEQUENCES League could be seen as heartless
thug that shut door on Brian Piccolo's alma mater.
SHOULD BOOT Indiana (179-386-23). Hasn't had plus-.500 league
record in seven seasons. Last went to Rose Bowl in 1967.
CONSEQUENCES Conference would have to redesign snazzy logo,
which features an 11 embedded in the words 'Big Ten.'
SHOULD BOOT Baylor (3-37). Since league began in 1996, Bears
have finished in cellar every year. Last fall went 0-8 in
conference for 13th winless SWC or Big 12 season. CONSEQUENCES
League would risk wrath of God by picking on Baptists.
SHOULD BOOT Kent State (110-233-4). Outscored by conference foes
258-91 last year. Drew Division I-worst 7,468 per home game.
CONSEQUENCES Would lose one of more evocative nicknames--Golden
SHOULD BOOT Vanderbilt (106-307-18). Last had a winning league
record during the Reagan Administration. CONSEQUENCES If Music
City is eliminated from road schedule, best trip in SEC would be
Work on the Seahawks' new stadium, by last week's
6.8-magnitude earthquake in the Seattle area. The temblor caused
scaffolding to give way and left a large concrete form hanging
off the side of the stadium; the construction site was shut down
for a day. The Mariners' Safeco Field suffered minor cosmetic
damage; KeyArena, the Sonics' home, was unscathed.
Del Taco, by Shaquille O'Neal, over the fast food chain's use of
a character named Shaq Johnson in radio ads. The Lakers' center
says the character infringed on his registered Shaq trademark
and falsely implied that he endorsed the company. Del Taco had
The idea that the Jazz would relinquish its nickname to the
Grizzlies if they were to relocate from Vancouver to New Orleans,
where the Jazz franchise originated. Utah president Dennis Haslam
said there is "too much history and tradition" in the name for
the Salt Lake City club to give it up.
All major sporting events in Ireland last weekend, in an effort
to prevent England's foot-and-mouth epidemic from spreading to
the island. The outbreak of the highly contagious disease, which
infects farm animals but can be transmitted by humans and horses,
caused the temporary suspension of all horse racing in Britain.
Ireland's Rugby Six Nations Cup match against Wales in Cardiff
was also suspended for fear that fans traveling from Ireland
might be exposed to the disease.
Jockey Shane Sellers, to a recording contract with the country
music division of DreamWorks SKG. His single, Matthew, Mark,
Luke and Earnhardt, which he recorded last fall, has been in
heavy rotation on country music stations since Dale Earnhardt's
Two sure signs that spring is in the air: baseball players
working out in Arizona and Florida, and college kids working it
in Panama City and Cancun. So how do the two March
traditions--spring training and spring break--stack up?
SPRING TRAINING SPRING BREAK
Peter Gammons Grand Marshal Carson Daly
Golf cart Vehicle of Choice Jet Ski
Battle for Keynote Wet T-shirt
fifth starter Competition contest
Cortisone Preferred Shot Goldschlager
Charley Lau's Hot Girls Gone
Secrets of the Swing Video Wild
Kelly Favorite Tom Green
For protection Plastic Cup For pitchers
For pitchers Rubber For protection
Andro Naughty Pill Ecstasy
Bullpen Call Booty
Batting donut Popular Pastry Limp Bizkit
Heavy bat 40-ouncer Heavy brew
Natural Grass Hydroponic
Muscles Stretched Truth
Pursued Sweaty, Half-Clad Pursued by
by reporters Men sorority babes
Solid ABs How to Impress Solid abs
Squad Split "The cops are coming!"
Get hit by pitch "Take One For Get out of room
Get in 18 Secret Goal Get in though you're 18
Bad Making Out Good
Double A call-up Success Tale Double D hookup
Complicated Three-Way Trade Complicated playa
player transaction transaction
"Coach, where's Burning Question "Dude, where's my car?"
Overanxious males Gunned Down At Third Overanxious males
A franchise Twins A fantasy
Justice decried: Last week David Justice (below) was hit with a
$5 million palimony suit by ex-fiancee Nicole Foster. According
to Foster, who's the mother of one-year-old David Justice Jr.,
the couple began living together in 1997, were engaged in '99
and broke up last year. In addition to breach of contract Foster
claims Justice choked her when she was nine months pregnant.
Justice said, "I am tremendously saddened and disappointed to
learn that Ms. Foster has so maliciously and untruthfully
attacked me in an attempt to further her personal financial
In Hollywood it's better to be lucky than good. At least that's
what budding actress Tara Lipinski has discovered. Lipinski took
a break from the Target Stars on Ice tour to audition for a part
in a Susan Sarandon-Goldie Hawn film. She didn't get the role,
but Lipinski also dropped by the set of Vanilla Sky, starring
Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, where she was spotted by director
Cameron Crowe and was instantly cast in his thriller. Crowe
added a scene and had Lipinski and Diaz improvise dialogue on
the spot. "It was awesome," says Lipinski. "Almost Famous
[directed by Crowe] was one of my favorite movies."...
NBC has ordered a pilot for next fall called Inside Schwartz
about a sports fanatic who relies on a sports-themed fantasy
life to guide him through his dating woes. "It's about
relationships through a sports filter," says the show's creator
Stephen Engel (HBO's Dream On). "For instance, Schwartz will be
on a date, and in the middle of it, he'll call timeout and ask
Bobby Knight for advice. Then Knight will throw a chair at him."
In addition to the General, Engel has planned bits for Marv
Albert, Bill Buckner and Dennis Rodman, although he has yet to
contact any of them. Says Engel, "The whole thing is an
elaborate plan to meet Anna Kournikova."
Earnings last year of Formula One driver Michael Schumacher,
placing him atop Forbes's list of the highest-paid athletes, $6
million ahead of second-ranked Tiger Woods.
Height in feet from which former Australian commando Rodd
Millner plans to skydive out of a high-altitude balloon next
E-mails Capitals owner Ted Leonsis got from fans of the team on
Feb. 11, the first day since he bought the club in June 1999 that
his in-box didn't contain at least one fan's note.
Amount 76ers center Dikembe Mutombo is donating toward the
construction of a 300-bed hospital in his hometown of Kinshasa,
Congo, the first new medical facility in the country's capital
in 40 years.
Amount Mark McGwire will receive for every fan the Cardinals draw
above 2.8 million in '02 and '03.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
Fleer has created a limited edition of 800 Bob Knight trading
cards, each of which is embedded with a swatch from one of
Knight's trademark sweaters.
"If Earnhardt's crash had been more horrific, would it have been
replayed less?" PAGE 24
They Said It
Timberwolves forward, describing the atmosphere in the locker
room: "There is no 'I' in here. It's 'us' and 'we.' A little
French--we, we. That's how we win."