If there’s one point that should be patently obvious reading these columns on the Business of Football, it’s this: follow the money. Whenever there’s a question about why something happens in sports, as in business, the answer usually revolves around the bottom line. It’s simplistic and crass and, yes, also true. Indeed, my favorite line from press conferences after athletes sign their new contracts is when they say, “It’s not about the money.” Translation: “It’s all about the money.”
The latest example involves someone I know well as a friend and a person who, like all of us, has his strengths and weaknesses, his attractions and insecurities. One year ago, on June 20, he was told, “We’ve moved on” by the team for which he was the signature player for more than a decade. Since then, the divorce from the Packers and a one-year marriage with the Jets ensued, from which there was a mutual separation. Now the Minnesota Vikings, the team he wanted to play for a year ago, are in the picture, wanting him to play quarterback while their erstwhile starter competitors – Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels — twist in the upper Midwest wind.
The dalliance and dancing between the Vikings and Favre has been going on for weeks, with the media and fans in fatigue mode by now. However, the issues presented as the reasons for the holdup have all been secondary.
The issue has been painted as medical. Brett has had surgery and can play. Not an issue.
The issue has been painted as whether Brett wants to play. Of course he does (there’s only so much grass to cut and deer to shoot). He wanted to play every year he contemplated retirement, he wanted to play in retirement and he wants to play now. Not an issue.
The issue has been painted as whether he wants to “get back” at the Packers. Of course he does. The Packers “moved on” without him when he wanted his seat back at the table and felt he deserved it. Not an issue.
The issue has been painted as whether the Vikings – or anyone else – want him to play. They did last year and they do now. Not an issue.
All of these issues have been widely reported but are secondary. As said here before, the only issue that matters is the level of courtship by the Vikings – and how to measure this “woo factor.” You guessed it. Follow the money.
In this case, it’s how the money is structured and who takes the risk.
Favre is a free agent for the first time in his career. In the contract I negotiated with him in 2001, he was due to make $13 million in 2009, the ninth year of a 10-year, $101-million deal. That contract was terminated when the Jets waived Brett from the reserve/retired list a few weeks ago, making him a player without a contract. Thus, a negotiation with the Vikings has and continues to be an (the) issue.
The Vikings are one of the best salary-cap-managed teams in the NFL, with reams of cap room rolled over from previous years. Cap room is not an issue, meaning they can offer Favre millions of dollars of LTBE (likely to be earned) bonuses that count against the cap but do not become real cash unless and until they are earned. These bonuses can come from a list that includes, but is not limited to:
Playing Time Percentage
Super Bowl Win
Top 10/5 in Conference/NFL
All of these, of course, depend on performance. What Brett and his agent, Bus Cook, want would be to limit the amount of the contract allotted to these performance clauses and to maximize the amount of contract in the form of guaranteed earnings no matter what the level of performance. This, of course, is what every agent wants out of every contract.
In this case, the “guarantee” issue is not as prevalent. Once Favre steps on the field for his first practice, he is virtually “guaranteed” to make whatever the salary amount is for 2009. The Vikings are not going to cut him, and if he were to have a season-ending injury for the first time in his career, he will obviously be paid his full amount while injured. So the issue is more about what number goes into salary and roster bonus and what numbers go into performance incentives.
Contracts are all about risk allotment and leverage. The Vikings may want to have Favre take the risk of earning these monies, giving him the possibility of earning far more than the $13M he would have made in pure salary under the old contract. Cook may be trying to get that $13M paid to Brett simply by him showing up and worrying about incentives from there. Therein lies the rub.
The reason the smoke signals have been so mixed and intermittent on this Favre-Vikings courtship appears to have been there all along, just beneath the surface of all the stories about things that were not at issue – wanting to play, the shoulder, the Vikings’ interest, etc. Just follow the money.