Wednesday whys: Contract complications

Why did it take so long for the Eagles and Jeremy Maclin to come to an agreement?

I can’t shake that question right now, although in time it will be a distant memory. Having worked on the contract over the past few weeks, I have to respect the confidentiality of the deal and be sensitive to the process that was just completed.

What I can say is the same thing I’ve written many times, that there is much more to these contracts than simply filling in numbers. Certainly, the amount of all the different type of bonuses – option, signing, roster, reporting, performance, etc. – are all obvious subjects of negotiation but only part of what is being negotiated. The other parts of the negotiation – structure, payout, upside, downside, backside, cash flow, etc. – are just as important and try to address the sticky subject of risk and who assumes it: downside risk to the team if the player turns out to be below expectations or even a “bust,” or upside risk to the player if he turns out to be a superstar.

No one can predict the future (if we could, we wouldn’t have Las Vegas). Thus, negotiating a contract is trying to best approximate what might happen with a player and a team with a changing marketplace and a variety of potential outcomes. The hard money in the contract is a function of the marketplace; in the case of the draft, it’s a fairly well defined marketplace.

Often, negotiations bog down not because of money but because of other things. When I negotiated the contract of Aaron Rodgers – the 25th pick in the 2005 NFL Draft – the discussion about the amount of money in the deal took less than an hour. The discussion about the escalator in the fifth year of the contract – a year that was never reached because the contract was renegotiated last year – took over 50 hours.

Rodgers’ agent and I vigorously debated the amount and timing of escalator money in the contract based on Rodgers’ performance. The wild card in the negotiation, of course, was trying to determine when Brett Favre would retire, something we’ve been trying to determine for years (and perhaps still are).

With the Maclin deal, there were a lot of moving parts on the money and the structure issues of the contract, with deals around us that were not consistent in all areas, making the “fitting in” aspect of the negotiation not as easy as it sounds. Once we were able to figure out premiums, discounts, approximate values of different escalators, structures, payouts, etc., we moved forward with a deal -- with some twists and turns thrown in along the way (for a while, I wondered if I were negotiating a football contract or the Mideast Peace Treaty).

I’ll have more on Maclin at the appropriate time. Know that every time I see him make a catch, I’ll think of these past two weeks and the slow march toward execution (of the contract, that is).

Why was Percy Harvin's contract with the Vikings initially disapproved by the NFL before being approved?

My initial thought, which was confirmed by someone close to the negotiations, was that there was a slight miscalculation of the rookie pool number for the Vikings. Harvin's signing bonus was a bit high for the cap number that the team was left with after signing the rest of its rookies and had to be adjusted.

After bringing their signing bonus down approximately $20,000 and reallocating that amount to their one-time incentive in the deal, the contract now fits snugly against the Vikings’ rookie pool number and has been approved.

Most teams take their contracts right up to the brink of their rookie pool number since there’s no advantage gained by not doing so, and every now and then, there’s an unintended overage that needs to be addressed. In this case, the correction was simple, although Harvin is $20,000 lighter in the wallet in this year's cash flow.

Why is this the worst time of year for team front offices?

One word and one word only: injuries. Players whom teams have counted on since the offseason started in March, and players whom teams had no reason to think of replacing or supplementing with other quality players, are now lost for the year.

The season-ending injury problem in the first week of training camp is something that has happened for years and is happening again this year. Reggie Kelly of the Bengals, Stewart Bradley of the Eagles and Ma’ake Kemoeatu of the Panthers (a player I remember chasing in free agency a few years ago before being outbid by Carolina) have all suffered season-ending injuries that have altered their teams’ plans. And it is certain there will be more. The teams will recover and move on with replacements, either on the team or through acquisitions, but the suddenness and finality of these injuries – these players must now prepare for 2010 – is striking.

Playing 16-, 17-, 18- or 10-game seasons will not alter the reality of these injuries. The ACL, the torn Achilles, etc., are going to happen, and they often happen in the first few days of live hitting, something that can’t be simulated in the offseason, or at least if the NFL Players Association has anything to say about it.

The good teams recover quickly and move ahead. In many ways, these injuries are more impactful than retirements, as teams losing players to retirement can groom replacements more easily than a sudden loss to an injury. The only possible silver lining is the timing, since there are still a full 40 days to get the replacements ready.

For players, coaches and front offices in pro football, injuries are the bane of their existence. But they happen -- a lot. This is not a contact sport; it’s a collision sport.

Why is it not surprising that Plaxico Burress was indicted?

There were a lot of factors working against Burress in this case, some of them (pardon the choice of words) self-inflicted.

The Manhattan District Attorney, Robert Morgenthau, and the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, were not shy in expressing the importance of treating Burress with the full force and effect of the law (something Burress’ attorney will continue to note). It was against this backdrop that the grand jury heard the case, listened to Burress and decided to indict.

Besides, New York juries, or grand juries, are probably not the type to be swayed by celebrity, as is the case in other parts of the country (L.A. perhaps?). Burress’ name recognition might have helped him throughout his career, but it was of no help here.

As to the self-inflicted part, Burress, in my view, wasted an opportunity to help himself with the grand jury. Instead of explaining the incident and any defense of the gun charges that were alleged, he simply apologized and expressed deep regret for his actions. Huh? That’s what he should do at a sentencing hearing, not as the basis of his testimony to a group of people deciding whether he should stand trial.

The curious case of Plaxico Burress continues.

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