Big games by big-time QBs

Some interesting notes from the business of the NFL this busy weekend:

In the game of the weekend – if not the offensive game of the year – there were two incredible performances by quarterbacks who were rewarded recently by their teams and are earning their contracts in spades. Kurt Warner – after a sham dalliance with the 49ers to let the Cardinals know they should take him seriously – re-signed with the Cards in the offseason for $23 million over two years, with $19 million of it paid this season, $15M in bonus. The Packers rewarded Aaron Rodgers last season after just seven career starts with an extension worth $65M, $20M of it guaranteed. As I’ve said about Aaron many times, the Packers knew what they had even when he was backing up Brett Favre. Now – with recent extensions given to Matt Cassel and Jay Cutler that are very similar to Rodgers’ deal -- that contract looks like a bargain. Warner and Rodgers earned good portions of their contracts with their performances Sunday, even if their paychecks for the games were around $20,000 each.

Also in that game – which will hurt for a long time in Packer Nation – two players who also happen to have amazing contracts made two of the most amazing touchdown catches. Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals made a typically dazzling one-handed catch for a touchdown, and Greg Jennings of the Packers did the same in the middle of a brilliant game by him. Fitzgerald signed a deal last year worth $40M, with an amazing 75 percent of it – $30M – guaranteed. And Jennings signed a deal in June worth $27M, with 61 percent of it – $16.5M – guaranteed. Beyond those numbers, the most impressive part of these deals, both negotiated by agent Eugene Parker, is that they were four-year deals, allowing both players (still very much in their primes) to have another bite at the free agency apple before age 30. And in the case of Jennings, due to the labor situation, he would not even have been a free agent this year. Not only have these two players maximized their potential on the field, they’ve maximized their earnings off it.

According to reports, it appears Panthers coach John Fox had his contract amended to look a lot like a player contract. Fox was reportedly allowed to void his deal, meaning that he was given the right to opt out of his Panthers contract with one year remaining and enter free agency. In this case, free agency means an opportunity to pursue other coaching jobs. With only the Buffalo Bills having an opening at this point, Fox has apparently decided not to void the deal and will remain under contract another year with the team (the last year of his contract). A couple of things are interesting about this:

(1) Unlike a player, Fox’s 2010 salary is guaranteed, so that a void on his part carries some risk. Fox would only void if he was assured of another position with more security than the year remaining in Carolina.

(2) This appears to be a financial hedge by the Panthers. If Fox voided his deal, they would not be on the hook for his salary of over $6M and he would likely be replaced by a cheaper head coach. After paying Julius Panthers over $18M this year, and with $13M still left on a guarantee for backup quarterback Jake Delhomme, the Panthers may be looking to reel in costs where they can. Don’t look for them to be big spenders in the uncapped year.

Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, having seen his season and his six-year rookie contract end with the Patriots, is already talking about his pending free agent status. Having six years in the league, Wilfork is a true free agent, not the “limbo” variety as the 212 players that have four or five years in the league are. Wilfork, hoping to be this year’s version of Albert Haynesworth ($100 million total, $41M guaranteed), doesn’t want to be saddled with the franchise tag (the 2009 number for defensive tackles was just over $6M) and wants a long-term deal. You think?

The Patriots have an interesting decision on Wilfork. With Tom Brady in the last year of his deal and a highly uncertain future beyond this season, they may have other plans for Wilfork besides a Haynesworth-type deal. Just as they placed the franchise tag on Matt Cassel last year to protect their rights and allow for a potential trade, they may employ the same strategy with Wilfork. In his case, the move wouldn’t necessarily be to trade him – although they will certainly listen and may find another Richard Seymour deal out there – but to allow them to keep Wilfork’s services another year while the labor situation plays out. My sense is that even without the labor uncertainty, the Patriots may have looked at Wilfork as a franchise-tag player, keeping his motivation for a future payday alive while using the tag tool that the current labor agreement has afforded them.

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