There was a flurry of NFL activity last week, but not on the field.
The action happened in executive conference rooms across the league, with several star players signing contract extensions.
Just to name a few: Patriots left tackle Nate Solder signed for two years and more than $20 million. Bills defensive tackle Marcel Dareus got a $95 million contract with $60 million in guarantees. Giants quarterback Eli Manning signed a four-year extension worth $84 million. Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly signed for five years and $62 million. Bengals receiver A.J. Green scored a four-year, $60 million extension on Friday.
And that is just in the last week. Also this training camp, the Falcons locked up star receiver Julio Jones, franchise quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Cam Newton got new mega-deals, and pass rusher Justin Houston got a record-breaking contract from the Chiefs. Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Philip Rivers, Bobby Wagner — the list goes on and on.
“I can’t recall ever seeing this many contracts done from the start of training camp until now,” said Joel Corry, a salary cap expert for CBS and a former agent with two decades of experience. “It seems like most of the big guys are gone [from potential free agency].”
Why so much activity right before the start of the regular season? Corry explained that under the old collective bargaining agreement, when teams weren’t able to roll over unused salary cap space, the end of the regular season was an unofficial deadline for players and teams to work out long-term extensions.
But that deadline has been moved up to Week 1, as teams and players don’t want contract negotiations to be a distraction during the season. Wilson told the Seahawks that he wouldn’t negotiate once he reported to training camp, and the Texans and Panthers, for example, have policies that they don’t talk contracts once the season starts.
But while no one is crying poverty for any of these players, are they doing themselves a disservice by agreeing to new contracts this offseason instead of waiting until next year?
Former Browns and Eagles executive Joe Banner thinks so. With the salary cap increasing by about $10 million each of the last two years and expected to rise similarly next offseason, teams will be flush with spending money next spring.
“Agents need to remember [Ndamukong] Suh got 25 percent more than [J.J.] Watt by hitting the market,” Banner said. “Free agency is going to be stunning. The supply and demand is more in favor of the players than it has been since there was a salary cap. Agents need to realize, it’s not business as usual.”
Corry called it a “valid point,” noting that the salary cap has risen about 8 percent each year and that players who are willing to wait can “break the bank” next offseason. A few star players who are playing out the final year of their deals: Von Miller, Muhammad Wilkerson, Alshon Jeffery, Russell Okung, Eric Weddle, and Sam Bradford.
Watt, for example, signed a six-year, $100 million deal last September with a little more than $20 million fully guaranteed.
Had he waited one or two more offseasons, he could have gotten triple that guarantee.
Of course, waiting to go to market is easier said than done in today’s NFL, and there are valid reasons for taking a contract now instead of later. First is the basic economic concept that $1 today is worth more than $1 tomorrow.
Also, many star players face the prospect of receiving the franchise tag — and if it’s seen as inevitable, they might as well sign a new contract today instead of waiting several months for those dollars.
And not every player is necessarily taking an under-market contract. Kuechly’s deal is an NFL record for middle linebackers. Dareus ($43 million guaranteed at the time of signing) and Houston ($52.5 million in guarantees) received monster deals.
“It’s kind of hard to argue against doing a deal early if you’re going to be made the highest-paid player at your position,” Corry said.
Football is also unlike other pro sports in that the injury risk is much higher and the level of performance is much more volatile. A few bad games can really hurt a player’s stock, and a torn ACL or Achilles’ can be disastrous.
A few players may have taken “less” money — Wilson and DeMarco Murray are two who perhaps didn’t fully realize their market value — but there’s a lot to be said for having financial security now and removing the uncertainty.
“It’s a matter of shifting the risk,” said one NFL agent who has been in the league for 20 years. “Every game can change things. Do you believe that both your performance can stay up and you’ll go injury-free into a contract? While an agent is supposed to give advice, it’s always up to the player to make the decision, and some players are more risk-averse than others. If you get hurt or have a couple of bad weeks, your value goes down.”
The team is taking a risk, as well, that the player will maintain his high level of performance and won’t get complacent. But the yearly salary cap increases can soften the blow.
“Teams are realizing, ‘We’re not going to be cash-strapped anymore,’ ” the agent said. “So we might as well sign our own guys and keep them, rather than spending big in the market place.”
League won’t hand over power
News and notes from the league office and the remnants of Deflategate:
■ A few owners are starting to speak publicly about the need to change the league’s disciplinary process — Jonathan Kraft and Arthur Blank most notably — and even Roger Goodell acknowledged in the last week that the process needs to change.
But Goodell and the owners aren’t just going to give away the commissioner’s power, either. Lost in Goodell’s interview on ESPN Radio was his comment that the commissioner’s office still should hold final say on discipline.
“We believe you don’t delegate that responsibility or those standards,” he said. “We think somebody with a deep knowledge of the game and our policies and our rules is important, particularly when it comes to competitive violations.”
Goodell then went stronger the next day while speaking at a youth sports conference in New Orleans.
“We believe we have [those] rights in the collective bargaining agreement,” Goodell said via NOLA.com. “The owners believe strongly in that.”
Of course, any system with Goodell’s office as the final arbiter isn’t a different system at all. But the commissioner’s power could be a useful tool for the owners to get, say, an 18-game regular-season schedule.
■ A few people who probably aren’t sleeping too well these days: the NFL’s attorneys, most notably league executive Jeffrey Pash and outside counsel Gregg Levy, who is Goodell’s right-hand man. Robert Kraft has indirectly taken aim at them, took a shot at “the lawyers at the league” following Judge Richard Berman’s decision on Sept. 3, and said on July 29, “I have often said, if you want to get a deal done, sometimes you have to get the lawyers out of the room.”
Pash has led the NFL into costly litigations the past few years — in price and public relations, as they now have had four decisions overturned by outside arbitrators.
And Levy advises Goodell every step of the way. Even if the owners keep Goodell atop the power structure, there could be changes underneath him.
■ Why did Berman enter into the public record 21 letters he received during the Brady case after the fact? One of his clerks said Berman believes it’s important to have every piece of the case made public. And, of course, Berman doesn’t want to perpetuate any notion that he was influenced by his fan mail.
■ Where’s Roger this weekend? At the Bears-Packers game in Chicago.
CLOSE TO HOME
Patriots’ salary cap is a tight fit
A couple of Patriots-related items:
■ One big reason for giving Nate Solder a contract extension is to create cap space this year. According to NFLPA records, the Patriots only had $779,012 in cap space before Solder’s extension, which freed up approximately $2 million. The Patriots need $5 million-$6 million during the season to carry players on injured reserve and sign replacements, so they need to make other moves.
The Patriots were so low on cap space in large part due to the amount of dead money they are carrying — salary cap money spent on players who have been cut or traded. In addition to carrying more than $13 million in dead money for Darrelle Revis, Logan Mankins, Kyle Arrington, and Vince Wilfork, the Patriots are carrying $450,000 for the signing bonus for Reggie Wayne, who spent 11 days with the team, and $356,240 for cornerback Robert McClain. The Patriots also have dead money hits for tackle Cameron Fleming , linebacker Brandon Spikes , tight end Fred Davis , quarterback Matt Flynn , tackle Jordan Devey , and cornerback Derek Cox , among others.
■ Only made it 75 pages into the new book, “Brady vs. Manning” by New York Daily News NFL writer Gary Myers, thanks to the barrage of “Patriots cheating” news last week. But it’s a fun read with good anecdotes and insight into the personalities and relationships involved with the best rivalry in the NFL.
Just in the first three chapters we learn how surprisingly close they are off the field, and how competitive they are on it.
For instance, Peyton Manning called Eli Manning before Week 17 in 2007 to relay to the Giants’ defense to not let Brady break Peyton’s season touchdown record of 49 (Brady entered the game with 48); in the summer of 2013, Brady and his wife had Manning and his wife over to their old house in Los Angeles for dinner; Tom Brady Sr. and Archie Manning have never met in person but text each other every Monday during the season; and Brady Sr. says he still holds a grudge against Michigan coach Lloyd Carr for the way he treated Brady in college.
The book is out Sept. 22.
QBs not prepared for the big time
The most interesting read last week was the Wall Street Journal’s piece on what coaches and executives believe is a quarterback crisis in the NFL. Outside of the rare Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson (Cam Newton and Ryan Tannehill are also promising), the NFL is concerned that college offenses aren’t preparing quarterbacks to play in the NFL, and the league’s new practice restrictions are preventing teams from developing these raw prospects.
The story underscores the need for a developmental league, which is sorely lacking now that NFL Europe is extinct and Arena Football barely resembles the same sport. I received a press release last week that the USFL is trying to re-form as a developmental league and is seeking $5 million in funding, but developmental leagues, while important to the future of the sport, have never been anything but a financial drain on their owners.
So, while a fully funded NFL developmental league seems like a pipe dream, the league should at minimum look to add more teaching days during the offseason program, especially for players with, say, three years of experience and fewer. The current practice restrictions are good for saving veterans’ bodies but aren’t helping develop the future stars of the game.
Using their heads on concussions
Interesting story from Politico last week, that the NFL is getting proactive in dealing with Congress about its ongoing concussion and brain injury problem, in light of the Will Smith movie “Concussion,” which will be released on Christmas Day.
NFL lobbyist Cynthia Hogan, a former senior attorney to vice president Joe Biden, told Politico that the NFL will be holding closed-door meetings with the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate Commerce Committee on player safety and the league’s new efforts to pay for research into head injuries.
The NFL is the only of the four major pro sports to have a full-time lobbying arm.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin keeps tinkering with the schedule in hopes of creating a spark. The past two seasons, he went against NFL convention by practicing on Tuesday but taking Fridays off to give his players extra rest before games. A 16-16 record later, Philbin is going back to Tuesday offdays and Friday practice days this year. The Rams and Giants are taking Thursdays off this year, and the Eagles take Fridays off under Chip Kelly . . . Berea, Ohio, police will decide this week whether to pursue charges against Browns offensive line coach Andy Moeller. A woman told a 911 dispatcher that Moeller “tried to strangle me and beat me up,” and the Browns have since suspended him. Either way, the Browns should probably move on given his history — Moeller was found guilty of DUI in 2001 after three alcohol-related arrests in four years . . . Interesting theory by Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times recently, wondering if Roger Goodell and the NFL are ready to make a monumental move to LA given the recent turmoil of Deflategate and the discipline system. Moving one or two teams to LA will certainly cause an uproar in their former communities, and maybe it’s not the worst idea for the NFL to let things cool down for a year and move in 2017 instead . . . It’s time for Brandon Marshall to take a timeout after doubling down on his comments last week that white players get preferential treatment over African-Americans. If he didn’t notice, Goodell and the NFL just spent seven months fighting and suing Tom Brady and the union for allegedly deflating footballs.