On a slow week in the NFL, one major piece of news kept writers, agents, and executives busy — the long-awaited contract extension for Colts franchise quarterback Andrew Luck.
The numbers certainly jump off the page — an NFL-record $139.125 million over six years, with $87 million in guarantees and $47 million fully guaranteed at the time of signing.
Forget Luck's terrible 2015 season, a turnover-filled mess that was befallen by injuries, a horrible offensive line, and Luck's poor decisions. He's still the brightest young quarterback in the NFL, and if he ever hit the open market, this current contract would look like peanuts. Luck was being counted on by every other quarterback, star player, and agent to set a new bar, and perhaps become the first NFL player to push for a fully guaranteed contract and average salary of $25 million per year.
Which is why the reaction to the Luck contract was a bit mixed. Fox Sports headlined it as a "record-breaking contract" and Sports Illustrated said Luck "sets new bar with huge deal," while Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio called it "solid" but "Luck didn't push for every penny he could have gotten," and several agents criticized the deal privately and on Twitter, because every agent thinks he would have gotten a better deal (of course).
"It says a lot about the oversized expectations on the Andrew Luck deal that some are underwhelmed by a deal that sets so many new standards," ESPN's Andrew Brandt said.
Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of NFL economics knows that the $139.125 million doesn't mean much, nor the $87 million in "guarantees." The important metrics are "full guarantee at time of signing" and "three-year cash flow," the best way to truly compare NFL contracts that never are what they seem.
And from that perspective, Luck did a lot better than critics suggest.
"I'm surprised that so many people seem so underwhelmed by the deal, because it did establish new benchmarks and certain parameters," said former agent Joel Corry, now a contracts expert for CBS Sports.
Let's break down the contract in the simplest terms:
■ Luck received a $32 million signing bonus, a $12 million salary in 2016, and a $3 million roster bonus in 2017 that are fully guaranteed. The $47 million guaranteed at time of signing isn’t an NFL record, but is second-highest of all time, behind Ndamukong Suh’s $59.955 million with the Dolphins, a true outlier contract. Luck topped Aaron Rodgers ($44.5 million at time of signing) and Joe Flacco ($44 million) to set a benchmark for quarterbacks.
Luck won't have to worry about getting cut by the Colts in the next two years, so the "guaranteed at time of signing" is more about the precedent it sets than being a real-world problem, but Corry thought Luck would have come closer to $60 million than $47 million.
"I think the criticism [of the contract] is a little unjust, but he failed in the important one," Corry said.
■ Luck did much better with three-year cash flow, however. He signed a front-loaded deal that will pay him $57 million through two years and $75 million through three. That’s a cool $25 million per season, the highest average of any player on the books. The previous three-year high was $68.5 million for Eli Manning, so Luck set a new threshold and then some.
"When the whole process started, I said in order for me to do the deal, the minimum has to be $25 million per year, $60 million fully guaranteed, and $75 million over three years, so it's in that vicinity," Corry said.
■ But could Luck have done better? The salary cap has risen by about 8 percent in each of the last three years, and is expected to continue at this pace, meaning Luck’s extension in real dollars is slightly lower than the five-year, $110 million deal Rodgers signed in 2013. Luck also agreed to give away a year of free agency — that is, he agreed to a six-year deal, while Russell Wilson, for example, agreed to a five-year deal last offseason.
We also have to factor in that Luck was in line to make $110 million over four years had he played out his 2016 contract and taken the franchise tag from 2017-19. So Luck did seem to give the Colts a break, similar to Tom Brady's contracts with the Patriots.
Luck's deal might not stay on top for long, with Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and Derek Carr a year away from free agency.
"I have to think that he could have gotten beyond $25 million per year, especially since he gave up that added year of free agency," Jason Fitzgerald of overthecap.com said of Luck. "If we inflate for cap growth, this trails Rodgers's current deal by a million or two per year, and that, to me, should have been something to try to push for."
■ Although the players’ union doesn’t want to hear it, Luck is probably smart for not wanting to squeeze every last dollar out of the Colts. His cap numbers will be in the mid-20s for most of the deal, but aren’t so unwieldy that they will hamper the Colts from making roster moves.
He has a good chance of seeing every penny of the $139.125 million. And now Luck gets peace of mind, not having to worry about his contract for another four or five years.
"He is making a pretty big number with good cash flows starting in the second extension year, and I guess in the grand scheme of things that's more than enough to avoid the contract distraction in the summer," Fitzgerald said.
So while Luck didn't fight for every penny, he did his part for the NFL Players Association and fellow star players.
"Where the agents should have a problem is with Brady and with Rodgers, with Wilson and Cam Newton," Corry said. "When Rodgers became the highest-paid player, he didn't advance the ball enough. Wilson and Newton could have advanced the ball more, particularly if they played out their contracts. Don't lay it all at the feet of Andrew Luck. He's done more for the market than these guys have ever done."
League, union at odds — again
Ready for another battle between the NFL and NFLPA over the interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement? Come on down!
The Deflategate battle rages on, of course, with the league and the union having much different interpretations of the disciplinary powers afforded to commissioner Roger Goodell in Article 46 of the CBA.
But the NFL and NFLPA are also embroiled in a dispute over the definition of "credible evidence" and what is necessary to trigger a league investigation.
The dispute arises from the Al Jazeera documentary from late 2015 that implicated Peyton Manning, James Harrison, Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, Mike Neal, and several major league baseball players as users of performance-enhancing drugs. The only evidence (so far) is from Charlie Sly, an intern at a clinic who was secretly taped listing the names and drugs being used and then recanted everything once the Al Jazeera report was released. No documentation of any PED use has been uncovered, and none of the players have failed an NFL-issued drug test in the last few years.
The NFL wants to open an investigation into the matter and interview the current players (Manning has since retired), but has received strong resistance from the NFLPA. The union believes that the NFL needs "credible evidence" to open an investigation, and claims that Sly's statements, which he recanted, do not qualify.
"We need some sort of credible evidence beyond just eight lines in a dialogue where the main source recanted everything he said in order to trigger a full-blown investigation the way the league has positioned it," NFLPA spokesman George Atallah told Pro Football Talk last week.
The NFL, meanwhile, contends that "credible evidence" is only needed to impose discipline, and that there's no way to determine "credible evidence" without an investigation.
"While we readily agree that such evidence is required to support the imposition of discipline, nothing in the CBA or the policy imposes such a requirement before possible violations of the policy may be investigated," NFL executive Adolpho Birch wrote in a letter to the union. "Obviously, the standard that you advocate — that the league cannot undertake an investigation unless and until it has established the facts and claims to be investigated — would simply ensure that there would be no investigations at all."
Looks like it might be time for Jeffrey Kessler to start warming up his arm again.
Marijuana seen as safer pain killer
One of the biggest stories of the offseason has been the noticeable push from former players and even current ones to get marijuana taken off the league's list of banned substances because of the potential pain-management benefits of cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychoactive compound in cannabis.
Former Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe, a free agent after being released by the team last month, has been openly campaigning for the removal of marijuana, as he believes cannabidiol is a much safer pain killer than the highly addictive opioids that are commonly prescribed to NFL players.
And now he has an ally — Titans outside linebacker Derrick Morgan, who did multiple interviews last week calling for the NFL to support cannabis research to determine if cannabidiol or any other compounds can help treat or prevent chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
"If there's any evidence that this could help players, they owe it to us to explore it," Morgan told USA Today. "You hear about a lot of former players suffering from depression and dementia. Or the suicides . . . [The NFL] could and should be a leader in this. If there's any evidence that this could help players, they owe it to us to explore it . . . It's a legitimate ask."
Former Cardinals and Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer, who last played in 2006 and is a daily user of cannabidiol to help treat swelling and depression, has also been an ardent marijuana advocate in recent years.
"I know a lot of guys that were using [percocets] and [vicodins] if that's what they had to do to get through an NFL season," Plummer told BSNDenver.com. "They should be able to say, 'I'm going to have some CBD and puff on this fatty, relax after a football game, and take the pain away.' Not get tested for it like Josh Gordon, who now can't play the game that he's been playing since he was a kid because he smokes marijuana. It didn't derail him or cause him to underachieve from what I witnessed. He dominated the league for two straight years, and now he's out of the league because he chose an alternative form of medicine."
Will Chargers bolt from San Diego?
The Chargers want to stay in San Diego. The NFL wants the Chargers to stay in San Diego. But the team's efforts to remain in the city it has inhabited since 1961 took a major blow this past week.
The Chargers are trying to increase taxes in order to build a new stadium with a mix of public and private money to replace the horribly outdated Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers have until January to strike a stadium deal, but if one doesn't come to fruition they have the option of moving to Los Angeles to play at the Rams' stadium set to open in 2019.
The California Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the tax increase needs support from two-thirds of voters, not a simple majority. While the ruling didn't catch the Chargers off guard, it cemented the reality that the team is going to have a difficult if not impossible task of convincing the majority of San Diego voters to approve public funds for the stadium.
Then it will be up to the Chargers and owner Dean Spanos whether they want to continue to find a solution in San Diego. After several decades of haggling with no results, the Chargers' patience is wearing thin.
The NFL committed a $10 million, multiyear donation to allow three leading sexual violence prevention organizations to create "Raliance," a collaboration dedicated to ending sexual violence. Raliance, based in Washington, D.C., will expand sexual violence prevention strategies, strengthen support services, and increase access to treatment for victims and people at risk, inform policymaking at all levels of government, and promote accuracy and sensitivity in how sexual violence is reported. Raliance's first initiative will fund 27 programs totaling $1.2 million in the first round of an ongoing grant program . . . Current free agent quarterback and former Seahawks backup Tarvaris Jackson will have a tough time gaining employment this fall. He's facing potential jail time after being charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon when he allegedly pulled a gun on his wife June 24. And the judge isn't buying what Jackson's selling, either. According to TMZ, Jackson requested a public defender for his case, claiming he has no income, savings or stocks — only a $100,000 car. But the judge denied his request, noting that Jackson has made more than $12 million during his 10-year career. Jackson was ordered to hand over all his guns and to not drink alcohol while he's out on bond . . .
Meanwhile, Rams cornerback Coty Sensabaugh proved last week that the NFL has plenty of good guys, too. Sensabaugh got married in late May, and he and his new wife asked guests to donate shoes or cash to the charity Soles4Souls in lieu of presents. For their honeymoon, the couple spent five days in the Dominican Republic last week distributing 500 pairs of shoes to needy adults and children. Sensabaugh said their church in Nashville has helped them collect more than 11,000 shoes already, with a goal of 25,000 . . . Roger Goodell took a pay cut in 2015, but we should all be so lucky. Goodell made "only" $32 million last year, according to a recent tax filing that was first reported by Sports Business Journal. That's down from $34.1 million in 2014, $35.1 million in 2013, and $44 million in 2012. Goodell's downward pay trend has almost certainly been affected by his poor handling of the Ray Rice/Adrian Peterson/Greg Hardy situations, as well as the Deflategate battle. Still, Goodell earned more in 2015 than every NFL player, taking in a cool $1 million per team. Patriots owner Robert Kraft is one of three owners to determine Goodell's pay as a member of the NFL's Compensation Committee. The other two are Atlanta's Arthur Blank and Carolina's Jerry Richardson.
Jack of all trades
Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2015, returning a punt for a touchdown in his first game. Lockett is one of just five players in history to have at least five receiving TDs, one kick return TD, and one punt return TD in a season. The list: