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Donovan's deal: why and why now

Timing may be related to 2011 market Andrew Brandt

Print This November 16, 2010, 11:01 AM EST

When the perennially aggressive Washington Redskins traded for Donovan McNabb on Easter night, my strong expectation was that a new contract for McNabb may have already been negotiated or at least in the works.

Seven months later, with some unfortunate timing, the deal got done. Reports have the Redskins adding five years on McNabb’s expiring contract with an impressive $40 million guaranteed (pay no attention to the total value of $80 million; that is meaningless compared to the guarantee), putting McNabb just shy in that category to much-maligned teammate Albert Haynesworth, who will not be a Redskin after 2010.

Although hard to assess the true value of that $40 million without seeing the contract, my sense is -- like many of the guarantees in this unique year -- it features “rolling guarantees” where amounts trigger after certain time frames, giving the Redskins “outs” along the way to that $40 million.  That first "out" may be after this season, allowing the Redskins a way to shed McNabb after giving him an additional $3.5 million for his efforts this year.

Note:  I will have an analysis of the particulars of the contract in my column tomorrow (Wednesday) as we take an objective look behind the reports of different amounts.  Please remember to check back.

This is not to debate the incongruity of rewarding McNabb with a top-of-market deal following games where he was benched in favor of Rex Grossman-- playing on a minimum contract— or looking inferior to Michael Vick against his old team. While that debate rages, let’s delve into the reasoning and timing of the deal.

New leadership in Washington?

The Redskins are the highest-spending team in the NFL over the past decade and known to overpay for past results more than future performance.

New general manager Bruce Allen, however, appeared to be living up to his promises of operating differently than the previous regime (we’ve heard that before in Washington, no?). He shed a slew of former free agent mistakes – Randy Thomas, Antwaan Randle-El, Fred Smoot, etc.; restructured contracts of Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall to protect the team’s future Cap accounting; and was patient in rewarding McNabb. That restraint, though, ended yesterday.

Timing curious

There was no new deal for McNabb upon (1) acquiring him from the Eagles for a high second-round draft pick, valuable currency in today’s NFL; nor upon (2) the extension for Tom Brady in September, a five-year $78.5 million deal with $48.5 million guaranteed.

Perhaps the timing of this deal can be traced to a deal that did not happen rather than one that did.

No deal for Manning means new deal for McNabb?

Peyton Manning and agent Tom Condon informed the Colts last month that they would table all negotiations regarding a new contract until after the season. Although surprised, Colts owner Jim Irsay and president Bill Polian fully expect to retain Manning (they may enroll in witness protection should Manning leave).

When that negotiation does proceed, all bets will be off. Irsay has been on record that Manning will be the highest paid player in NFL history. And perhaps that is a reason why the Redskins – and/or McNabb -- chose to do this deal now.

Manning’s deal will be off the charts, a potential total value of $150 million and $60 million guaranteed. The Redskins may have decided that sliding in behind Brady was something they could live with rather than waiting for Manning.  Similarly, when McNabb and agent Fletcher Smith learned that Manning would be waiting, they may have decided to take the deal reportedly on the table for a month.

Vick, Brees on their way

Beyond Manning, Michael Vick – proving to be a special, game-changing player – also has an expiring contract. Vick has positive feelings about the Eagles -- one of only a couple teams that showed interest upon his release from prison last year (the others were teams that Vick did not want to play for)-- and may alreadly be discussions on a deal that could fall in between McNabb and Brady.

Drew Brees has one year left past this season and, as another client of Condon, will fall in line closely behind Manning.

The Redskins likely realized that – 2011 lockout or not – the market in a few months was going to look a lot different than the market today. They did not want to be discussing the Manning and Brees deals in their negotiations; they were content to discuss the Brady deal and accept a guarantee of about 83% of that, albeit with an extra year added on the deal.

This is not uncommon in the NFL. In fact, it happens at the top of the Draft all the time. Teams work to get deals done before a game-changing deal that is rumored to be coming soon gets completed. This is a higher-stakes example of that.

Ripple effect

McNabb’s deal will not only have ramifications on negotiations in coming months for Vick and Brees, but also on extensions to come in the not-too-distant future for Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Kyle Orton, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez. All of those agents will argue that if a 34-year old playing past his prime can garner $40 million guaranteed, what about them?

The Eagles renegotiated McNabb’s contract in the summer of 2009, adding money to his existing contract while preserving McNabb’s free agency rights in 2011. McNabb will not make it to free agency nor finish his career with the Eagles, having committed to Washington for a future that Redskin fans hopes looks better than it did last night.

Stay tuned for more details on the McNabb deal and its continuing reverberations.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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