Wednesday whys: Eagles reward Brent Celek

Why did the Eagles negotiate an extension for tight end Brent Celek?

Character and work ethic do pay off. I worked with the Eagles in the offseason (I did not work on this deal) and remember in the bleak months of February and March -- when nary a player can be found around teams' facilities around the league -- seeing Brent at the facility working hard to earn the trust of the coaches. I got to know him a bit and was impressed by his disciplined approach and work ethic. It’s nice to see that ethic rewarded.

As a fifth-round pick in 2007, Celek was making the minimum salary this season ($460,000) and was under contract for next year at $1 million. With these undersized numbers from his four-year rookie contract, the amount of the extension is impressive.

Celek’s total package is just below $29M, an amount that could escalate to the reported amount of $33M through Pro Bowl escalators. His guaranteed amount – combined from a signing bonus and guaranteed salary – is approximately $10.5M.

Although certainly not at the level of the top-of-market tight end contract awarded to Kellen Winslow in April ($36M, $20M guaranteed), the deal compares favorably with tight end contracts that set the standard a few short years ago: Antonio Gates in 2005 ($24M, $9.1M guaranteed) and Jason Witten in 2006 ($29M, $12M guaranteed). Somewhere, the 49ers’ Vernon Davis – who leads all NFC tight ends in receiving yardage and has one year left on his contract – is smiling.

The Eagles have a nice young nucleus of skill players under contract, including Celek, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy.

Another benefit for the Eagles is the use of virtually all their cap space in a year where it cannot be rolled over into next year (when there is presently no cap). As we did in Green Bay, the Eagles structure their deals to maximize current use of cap room and minimize unamortized expenses in future years.

As players view the uncertainty surrounding free agency in March, teams have opportunities to complete extensions. I would look for a few more in the coming weeks.

There are more than 200 players who would be free agents with a cap and will not be without one. Some of these players are starting to put pressure on their agents to put pressure on the union to get a deal done with the league to protect their free-agent rights.

This lack of free agency for players in their fourth and fifth years is going to make the next three months very interesting for agents and their clients.

Why the new rules on concussions now in the NFL?

As any psychologist will tell you, the first step in dealing with a problem is acknowledging that there is one. The NFL is recognizing there’s a problem and is dealing with it. What caused this revelation? A few things:

(1) Congressional hearings that placed both NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association director DeMaurice Smith on the defensive -- even being compared to the tobacco industry -- due to perceived apathy toward the issue rather than action;

(2) An NFL-commissioned study showing a far greater incidence of brain injury and memory loss for former NFL players than the rest of the population;

(3) A recent survey of NFL players showing players feeling pressure to "play through" concussions;

(4) A number of high-profile players experiencing concussions, including Brian Westbrook (two), DeSean Jackson, Clinton Portis and the starting quarterbacks in last season's Super Bowl, Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger.

Perhaps the most significant league action in recent weeks was the resignation of the doctors previously leading the efforts on concussion research -- Drs. Ira Casson and David Viano. Congress and the NFLPA felt these doctors were ignoring or discrediting research on long-term effects of head injuries. As one union official told me, "Dr. Casson would not say that playing football was related to dementia later in life if every player in the NFL showed up with Alzheimer's disease." It was time to move on to new medical leaders blessed by both the league the union.

The fact that Roethlisberger and Warner were held out last weekend appears to be a by-product of the new rules. Although the players -- and their teammates and perhaps coaches -- may not have liked it, their families will thank them later.

A chilling example from college football should serve as a warning to all levels of football. On Monday, La Salle University agreed to pay $7.5M to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of a former football player -- the school has since discontinued football -- who suffered a serious head trauma in a game after sustaining a concussion in practice a month earlier.

The suit contended that La Salle personnel allowed Preston Plevretes to continue playing despite the earlier concussion and persistent complaints of headaches. Plevretes suffered “second-impact syndrome” and now needs constant care at age 23 and has difficulty walking and talking.

According to the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, there are nearly four million sports-related concussions in the country annually, with an estimated 50 resulting in deaths.

The NFL certainly doesn’t want that kind of consequence on its hands. In its grandest blueprint, perhaps a player or two is saved from these heart-wrenching circumstances by these new rules.

Why are we not hearing about new developments toward a new Collective Bargaining Agreement?

The talks have gone underground, which is a good thing, although progress has been sluggish. Although it’s good to see that the two sides are talking to each other more than the media, there needs to be movement toward an agreement soon.

The problem for the union is that there are more than a few NFL owners who see the prospect of an uncapped -- and unfloored -- year as an opportunity to bring their costs into line and recover from the recession and its backlash effect on suite and sponsor sales.

A sticky issue in the negotiations is the owners’ request for "credits" against the cap for players to share the risk of running the business rather than just "talent" that shows up on Sundays.

As to the concussion issue, one can only hope that this is NOT a subject of bargaining. Taking action on head trauma should not be a negotiable point -- it’s simply the right thing to do.

And for my pet peeve Why of the Week:

Why is there so much attention on the Colts and/or Saints going undefeated?

If it does happen, it’s a nice accomplishment -- but what does it really mean? That the team(s) had a better regular season than some of the other top teams in the league by a game or two? The Patriots certainly would have rather beaten the Giants in the Super Bowl than had a spotless regular season. I’m sure the Colts and Saints feel the same way.

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