Marshall plan has precedent

Before getting to my opinion and similar experiences regarding the Brandon Marshall imbroglio, it’s worth noting that we are down to one unsigned rookie in football.

Andre Smith has agreed to terms with the Bengals, leaving Michael Crabtree as the last pick standing from the 2009 NFL Draft. I’ll have complete numbers on Smith soon, but it appears the Bengals have successfully disregarded the Raiders’ contract with Darrius Heyward-Bey immediately below Smith, the No. 6 pick, and used the Jaguars’ deal with another offensive lineman, Eugene Monroe, picked No. 8, as the most relevant comparable. As to reports that Smith’s deal is for four years, do not believe it for a minute. No team in the first round is going to pay the type of guaranteed money required and not tie up the player for at least one year of potential free agency. The option on Smith will be exercised in March. The Bengals would not commit $21 million in guaranteed money for a four-year contract.

As for Crabtree, my strong sense is that he and his agent, Eugene Parker, have a date in mind when they will close this deal and finally report. That date is in the next two weeks, probably Sept. 6, 7 or 8. Do not fret. Crabtree will sign. They all do. More on him later this week.

Baby Brandon

Brandon Marshall has become the latest test case in the NFL for players who engage in insubordinate and team-destructive behavior in their ongoing attempts to get out of their current situations. Marshall is the latest in a line of players who resort to conduct that’s detrimental to the team and their teammates, all orchestrated to become such a pain in the you-know-what that the team just wants to rid itself of the player/problem.

The most celebrated of these distractions were Keyshawn Johnson with the Buccaneers and Terrell Owens with the Eagles. In those cases, the coaches and front office literally paid the players to stay away, lest they infect the locker room any more than they already had with their petulance.

Packer Petulance

In Green Bay, I dealt with these situations a couple of different times with Mike McKenzie and Javon Walker. For reasons I still don’t completely understand, both players wanted out of Green Bay. Their initial problems were with their contracts, but there was much more to it than that – they felt disrespected by coaches, they felt uncomfortable with the social scene in Green Bay, they felt some animosity from teammates, etc. Simply, they wanted out.

As I said, both players claimed it was not about the money (which translates to “It’s all about the money”). In the case of McKenzie, he perceived racist comments about his dreadlocks. In the case of Walker, he felt that Brett Favre had betrayed him in criticizing his contract stance and had an ongoing rivalry/jealousy/competition on and off the field with Donald Driver. In both cases, these players were not the same people who came to Green Bay as high draft choices. Success had clearly changed them. Ultimately, they were dealt for second-round draft choices (who turned into Pro Bowlers Nick Collins and Greg Jennings).

The Marshall Plan

The game plan for players such as Marshall has been laid out repeatedly. Step One is a request to have the contract renegotiated to reflect the new marketplace, pointing to recent deals of players who the player thinks are inferior in talent. When rebuffed in those efforts, the player usually moves to Step Two: the trade demand. When the team expresses no interest in trading the player, it’s on to Step Three: express a rumble of discontent throughout the offseason and training camp, followed by a repeated request for the agent to be granted permission to seek a trade.

The goal of this behavior, usually orchestrated by the agent, is to try and create enough angst and worry among the front office and coaching staff that they feel like the best option is to try and get value for the player and move on. Marshall has taken the syllabus to another level – used by McKenzie in Green Bay and Owens in Philadelphia – in Step Four: not trying in practice, showing no respect for the game or his team and infecting young players in the locker room with negativity.

The Portis Principle

It’s ironic that the team involved is the Broncos. For those out there who do not like the tactics of one Drew Rosenhaus in his efforts to get players out of their current situations, this whole game plan began with a Bronco, Clinton Portis. Portis, who switched to Rosenhaus from his previous agent in hopes of getting out of Denver, hit the trifecta: he got out of Denver, got his wish with a trade to Washington and landed the biggest running back contract in the NFL — all in the same transaction. Rosenhaus has traded on that experience in attracting many new clients, including McKenzie, Walker, Owens, Anquan Boldin, Lito Sheppard, Plaxico Burress and many others.

Tough Precedent

The Broncos were also the unfortunate losers in an arbitration involving former player Ashley Lelie, another player who wanted out and eventually got his wish. When the Broncos pursued arbitration to recover bonus money paid to Lelie after he refused to report to camp, they lost a landmark case that allows NFL players to keep option bonuses previously paid, a ruling that deemed those monies “earned,” unlike signing bonus money that has forfeiture provisions. The Lelie case has had dramatic ramifications in structuring contracts of top picks in the draft, including the deal for one of the Broncos’ two top picks this year, Robert Ayers.

And, of course, the Broncos dealt with a similar situation earlier this year with their quarterback, Jay Cutler. Cutler had an unpleasant introductory meeting with new coach Josh McDaniels and that relationship never recovered, leading to the trade of the year in the NFL.

Now the Broncos are dealing with this issue again. They have suspended Marshall and issued a warning of “escalating discipline” to come. Marshall will likely continue his bad behavior with the goal of a Portis/Cutler type of result. Meanwhile, the NFL Management Council is advising the Broncos’ front office to document, document and document some more, advising copious notes on every action or non-action by Marshall toward whatever discipline they want to impose.

The option of renegotiating Marshall’s contract has to be off the table now. It would not only set a terrible precedent in the Broncos’ locker room but also continue to enable Marshall and his questionable conduct. If Marshall – who barely has escaped a league suspension after two domestic violence incidents – has been a problem making lower wages, he will certainly not become a better citizen with money in the bank. Throwing money at this problem will not solve it.

A Common Problem

In talking to many people in NFL management, there’s a common theme that this is a problem that needs fixing — soon. Agents and players are realizing there is little downside to this strategy. Marshall probably feels he can act out for a while during training camp and the per diem of less than $2,000 per week and eventually shape up to collect his $2.2-million s
alary when the season starts. Or he can continue this formula and see if he actually gets traded and perhaps even a sparkling new contract. At this point, there are very limited financial consequences to Marshall for his childish behavior.

There will be a lot of focus on the economics of the coming collective bargaining negotiations between the NFL Players Association and the NFL in the coming months, specifically the percentage of football revenues shared with players, rookie salaries, etc. Beyond these matters, however, this Marshall issue of bad behavior to force a trade is something that will draw a lot of attention from the league.

Every team in the league has dealt with or is dealing with some form of this. If a team says otherwise, it is lying. This is a problem that’s getting worse, not better, and Marshall’s behavior is cause for concern for every team and league official. Something needs to be done here as it represents another important issue teed up for bargaining.

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Vick finally has a plan

The Real Importance of Thursday for Vick

Thursday was an extremely important day for the future of Michael Vick, although not for the reasons that many football fans think. Much of the focus has been on his on-field debut with the Eagles, his first action in the NFL in two years. While that was intriguing, the real importance of Thursday was that a bankruptcy court approved a plan for Vick to repay creditors and move on with his financial life.

Thanks to the Eagles and the new contract given to Vick and a renewed sense of reality in repaying more than $20 million to creditors, Vick displayed a much more favorable plan to satisfy his creditors, a far cry from an unworkable arrangement he and his team presented months ago.

As I always say to players until I’m blue in the face, it’s what they keep rather than what they make that is truly important. Vick was the highest-paid player in the game a few years ago, rewarded with a $120-million contract in 2004 at a surprisingly early stage of his career and still a delicate age of 24. Five years later, he is working out a bankruptcy plan.

Judge Frank Santoro approved the plan only on the condition that Vick retain a personal financial planner to manage his future earnings with the Eagles, saying that Vick has proven himself unable to manage his finances in the past. You think?

It’s fascinating to me that Judge Santoro ordered Vick to retain a financial planner. Has Vick not had a financial planner before, in years where he was earning upwards of $10M a year? Or perhaps that was the problem, that he had a planner who failed.

As to his future earnings with the Eagles, in a relative sense they’re modest, earning him $100,000 per game this season for a salary of $1.6M, right at the average for an NFL player. Whoever that financial manager is, he or she would be best served to be cautious with that amount, as the future is still unclear. Even in the event Vick is on the Eagles’ roster on March 5 or so of next year, when he will earn $2.5M guaranteed and $5.2M total compensation, there isn’t much a financial planner can do with him except be as conservative as possible and pay off his considerable debt.

As I have noted often, players with issues rarely seem to be acting solo. A common problem with many professional athletes is that they are surrounded by the herd – friends, wanna-be friends, advisers, gurus, cousins, uncles, former coaches, competing agents, etc. Controlling and corralling the enabling herd is one of the most difficult jobs for the player and his representative.

And wait until Vick gets his bill from the people he praised after the plan was approved: his lawyers. That will be a big one.

Treasure to Trash

This week’s version of a team’s treasure to trash features Ernest Wilford. A year ago, Wilford signed a first-day free-agent deal with the Dolphins, a much-heralded signing designed to bring a big and (hopefully) productive receiver into their fold. Now Wilford and his free-agent contract – one of the worst deals of 2008 — are gone, sent to the trash bin one season after the treasure.

Wilford produced three catches for 25 yards for the Dolphins. With a $6-million bonus and $1 million in salary last year, his production equated to $2.33M per catch, perhaps the most money per reception in the history of the NFL.

Wilford now returns to the team where he was developed and earned his free-agent contract, the Jacksonville Jaguars. I guess you can go home again, especially for a minimum contract.

Rice, Rice Baby

Well, at least Wilford’s minimum salary – if he makes the Jaguars — will be about seven times that of Simeon Rice. Rice, the third overall pick in the 1996 draft and a three-time Pro Bowl player, is reportedly signing with the New York Sentinels of the UFL.

In 2003, Rice signed what was then the highest contract for a defensive lineman, joining the Buccaneers for a record $41 million over five years, with nearly half that amount guaranteed. Now he has agreed to play for the UFL-mandated salary of $35,000, the amount the new league said it would pay its players with the exception of one quarterback per team.

Without NFL Europe or the Arena Football League, the UFL currently is the only other option to the NFL for professional players. This option is for young players coming up short in their attempts to make NFL rosters, players who washed out of the NFL after some brief experience (J.P. Losman), and now a player or two with accomplished NFL backgrounds not ready to hang up their cleats. Rice, at 35, will certainly be an elder statesman for the Sentinels, provided he’s willing to take on that role.

When I was general manager of the Barcelona Dragons of the World League years ago, we had a player in a very similar situation to Rice. Bruce Clark was a Lombardi Award winner – the first junior to win the award — at Penn State. He was drafted as the fourth overall pick in 1980 by the Packers but chose the Canadian Football League over Green Bay. He eventually played eight seasons in the NFL for the Chiefs and Saints before ending his career with us in Barcelona.

Bruce bristled a bit at being so much older and more accomplished than most of our team (and league) but eventually became a person who took charge on and off the field, a true man among boys at that level and a natural leader for the team in many ways.

Brett Favre is certainly not the only player who has a hard time giving up the game. For the vast majority, however, the NFL retires them before they can retire themselves. Now Rice, like Bruce Clark in Barcelona, has an option to keep playing and is willing to do so.

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Buckley's knockout hit

If you read my post this week about Curtis Buckley, a retired client of mine and special teams kamikaze, here’s a follow up.

Although this story has been told a few times, it’s worth telling again. Those who witnessed it firsthand have said it’s one of the most amazing things they’ve seen, and heard.

In Week 14 of the 1994 season, the Redskins were visiting the Buccaneers. During pregame warm-ups, Darrell Green, considered the NFL’s fastest man, began joking with Buckley at midfield, saying, “Hey, Buckley, I’m the real No. 28 around here.”

Darrell, my old college teammate, liked to read the program before every game to see where player were from. I’m sure he singled out Buckley because he was a Lone Star Conference alum like himself. Darrell is a social guy, not a troublemaker.

Next, special teams return ace Brian Mitchell got in on the jawing with Curtis. Next thing you know, Curtis blows his top and goes after Mitchell. Other players get involved restraining Buckley from going after Mitchell. Then Mitchell and the others start laughing at Buckley.

Big mistake.

Buckley points at Mitchell and says (word for word as witnessed by several players and coaches): “I am going to knock you out.” Not once but several times.

Mitchell calmly replies, “Bring it.”

Sure enough, on the opening kickoff, Curtis runs the Redskins gauntlet, trips, gets up and finds Mitchell – then launches his 200-pound body into the heavier projectile going in the opposite direction with the ball. Their collision sounds more like an explosion. The ball is jarred loose, and Mitchell is knocked out cold on his feet. A nearby Redskins player – I believe it was Martin Bayless – stops in his tracks at the sound, fearing that Mitchell was dead. Later, he said he heard the breath leave Brian’s body and felt the vibration of the hit.

Buckley gets up with the ball, turns to an unconscious Mitchell and says, “I told you I would knock you out.”

There have been a lot of great hits on NFL special teams, but Curtis did this routinely. More impressively, he called the shot!

Buckley was not penalized for the hit but was later fined $7,500 for launching his body. Bucs coach Sam Wyche and others, including Mitchell, called it a clean hit.

When Mitchell woke up from the hit, he was told to sit the rest of the game. He later found his helmet and literally snuck back in. He didn’t want Curtis to get the best of him.

Special teams are often overlooked by fans and announcers. I still hate it when the TV camera follows the ball on kickoffs and punts and not the action that takes place between the warriors who reside at the bottom half of rosters.

This week’s preseason games are the most important, most critical, auditions that players 30 through 80 will play.

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Wednesday whys: No complaints from Rivers

Why was it expected that Philip Rivers would sign a mega-contract extension prior to the start of the season?

Rivers was the other shoe to drop after the Eli Manning extension in New York. With the market set the past year and quarterbacks such as David Garrard, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Cassel receiving guaranteed money in the $20-million range, with APY(average per year) in the $10-million range, the stage was set for these two to do their deals. As the Chargers and Giants noted, there was not going to be much in the way of new comparables over the season to influence where the market might go.

The complicating factor in all negotiations now, of course, is the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement after next season, a season that presently does not include a salary cap. Were the Giants or the Chargers to allow these contracts to expire, they would face the prospect of (1) losing the player in free agency to a team with deep pockets to spend on the rarest of assets – a franchise quarterback not under contract; or (2) placing the franchise tag on the players in an uncertain environment in 2010 and – even more so – beyond.

The Chargers still have a long shopping list of their own free agents in 2010, including Shawne Merriman, Darren Sproles, Vincent Jackson, Chris Chambers and Marcus McNeill. Bringing Rivers under contract is a key first step in what could be in an interesting year ahead for the team’s fortunes and finances.

The Rivers extension lasts through 2015 and is worth $98M, with $38M guaranteed. It’s eerily similar to the recent deal for Eli Manning in APY over the first three years: $16.95 million for Manning and $16.75 million for Rivers. The guarantee amount is larger than that given to Manning and is the largest guaranteed quarterback money in the history of football, not including a QB who has yet to take a real snap in the NFL, Matthew Stafford.

Rivers can’t complain about Stafford, however. For one, Stafford’s deal probably helped his negotiation. Also, Rivers was once one of those top-pick contracts that everyone complained about, a player making more than most veterans without having played a game.

The enormity of rookie contracts has helped Manning and Rivers, not only when they were the ones with those contracts but now that they can point to the more recent ones to help their leverage.

Why has there been no discussion of extensions for the league’s two true superstar quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning?

These two players, arguably the most important players in the game, have contracts that expire not at the end of this year but at the end of next year. As they watch other players with a fraction of their accomplishments get rewarded with extensions, they have to be wondering when their time will come.

Of course, these A-list players are making top-tier money even for deals signed in 2004 (Manning, $14M average) and 2005 (Brady, $10M average). However, we need not be na

One play is all it takes

One of my favorite former clients to watch was Curtis “The Hit Man” Buckley, a true special teams assassin. I learned about Curtis in 1992 while talking to Jerry Angelo, at the time the personnel director of the Bucs and now the current Bears general manager. We were discussing a few of my new clients when Jerry said, “Jack, you need to take a look at this safety at Texas A&M-Commerce. When I walked into the stadium, it sounded like bombs were going off. This Buckley kid was blasting people on special teams and on defense. I don’t think he’ll make it as a safety, but he might have a shot as a special teams player.”

So I took Jerry’s advice and painstakingly tracked downed Curtis after the season. This was before every college kid had a cell phone, so finding him wasn’t easy. After a few weeks, I finally met him at a mall in a small Texas town. I brought a contract and he happily signed it, and all he asked me was to loan him $50 so he could eat for the next month. I gave him $200. He never asked me for another thing — no loans, no training, no phone, nothing. He was old, old school.

There was no all-star game or Combine invitation for Curtis, and only a few people showed up for his college pro day. He ran an unimpressive 4.78 in the 40. Now I’m starting to wonder, “What in the hell was Angelo thinking?” The draft came and went with no calls. A few days later, Angelo and the Bucs finally signed him as their last undrafted free agent.

A few weeks before the start of camp, I called Jerry to check on my guys. He told me that Buckley wasn’t fast, wasn’t big and was struggling to learn the safety spot and that he would probably be cut before camp even started. I pleaded with Jerry to give Curtis at least two preseason games and reminded him why he originally recommended Curtis to me: special teams. Jerry agreed to give him a few more weeks.

What happened next is the reason Curtis made the Bucs. During a live intra-squad scrimmage, he was lined up as a gunner (the tackler farthest to the outside) on the punt team with two defenders in his face trying to prevent him from getting down field. Standing five yards away on the sideline were head coach Sam Wyche, GM Rich McKay and Angelo. The three decision-makers were chatting and watching the practice when Cutis did something that blew all three away. When the ball was snapped and the defenders tried jamming him at the line, Curtis did a somersault between and over top of them, landed on his butt, picked himself off the ground and ran down the field to make the tackle. Sam’s jaw was on the ground. Rich and Jerry looked at each other in amazement as Sam asked Jerry, “Who the hell is that kid?”

That was the moment, the one play, when Sam fell in love with Curtis and the brass witnessed something they had never seen before.

That play led to Curtis getting some prominent reps on special teams. While lining up for the opening preseason kickoff, he again did something unusual for a rookie. He started to ignite the crowd by waving his arms and then performed a back-flip, which fired up the crowd even more. He then blasted his way down field, made the tackle and then did a front flip. This might be the kind of thing some coaches would cut a guy for, but it ingratiated Curtis to Sam and launched a four-year love affair with Bucs fans.

Curtis went on to be a legendary NFL special teams player for seven years. His antics were such that he’s still a special teams coach’s best tale. I’ll share more Curtis Buckley stories over the next few days.

I once had a player who was cut by Bill Parcells. His personnel director told me, “Jack, with Bill and a lot of head coaches, it can be one thing, one play, that makes or breaks a player’s chances.”

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First-rounders are cashing in

While we all wonder when the two last picks standing – Andre Smith of the Bengals and Michael Crabtree of the 49ers – will put their signatures on documents that will provide them with long-term financial security, I thought I’d look at three other picks in the top 10 who have actually done so. Smith and Crabtree will eventually sign – believe me, they will.

Earlier in the offseason, when the first and fifth picks in the draft — quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez – inked their mega-contracts, a familiar outcry was heard about how rookie contracts are ruining the sport. At least one veteran quarterback was happy to see it, however. Stafford’s outrageous $41.7-million guarantee – still the largest guarantee in the history of the NFL – was Exhibit A for agent Tom Condon in his recent negotiation for Eli Manning, pointing out the same inequities that the league and management point out about the rookie system that Condon and others are exploiting.

Beyond the quarterbacks, there have been some interesting deals at the top.

Tyson Jackson, Kansas City Chiefs

The contract for the third pick in the 2009 draft has the fingerprints of Tyson Jackson’s agent, Eugene Parker, all over it.

Parker is all about getting the shortest deals possible (with, of course, the most money possible). While many picks at the top, such as Stafford, opt for the maximum allowable six-year term to secure the greatest possible bonus money, Parker is always insistent on a five-year deal. He really wants deals to be four years but can’t find any support among his agent peers to try to get to that length. I’m sure he’s trying in vain with the 49ers to procure a four-year deal for Crabtree.

Parker believes the true value in professional football is having not one, but two opportunities for a highly leveraged contract in a player’s career. His recent deals for Larry Fitzgerald and Greg Jennings, in my opinion, are masterpiece contracts for the players since they provide top-of-market wide receiver earnings with an opportunity to hit free agency again in four years, at age 29, thereby maximizing their high earning potential.

Jackson received a five-year deal from the Chiefs with a total value of $49 million, or an APY (average per year) of $9.8M. He has another $8 million of upside based on his performance on defense and sack production, giving the five-year contract a maximum value of $57M, of which $31M is guaranteed. The guarantee is $3M more than Sanchez two picks behind him, another contract done for five, rather than six, years.

It’s hard to compare Jackson’s deal to the pick last year, which was a “quarterback-premium” deal for Matt Ryan with the Falcons.

Aaron Curry, Seattle Seahawks

At No. 4, Curry went for the biggest possible bonus and guarantee in taking the six-year deal. And he and his agents at Octagon also did quite well.

Curry’s six-year deal with the Seahawks is worth a total value of $48.1M, or an APY of $8M. Curry also has $12M of potential upside based on performance and sack production, giving him a six-year contract with a maximum value of $60M.

Curry’s guaranteed amount is $34 million. That’s $3M more than the pick above him, Tyson Jackson, albeit with another year on the deal.

Curry’s deal is eerily similar to the contract given recently to Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel. That’s where we’ve come: Top picks in the draft are paid similarly to the going rate for franchise quarterbacks.

Last year’s fourth pick, Darren McFadden, received $26M in guaranteed money, meaning that Curry was able to garner an increase of more than 30 percent over last year. This also means that next year’s fourth pick in the NFL Draft can reasonably expect to receive guaranteed money on a six-year contract in the range of a 30-percent increase over $34M, or about $44M, which would eclipse Matthew Stafford as the highest guaranteed contract in the NFL! And that, of course, would be for the fourth pick, which would be bettered by the top three.

These geometric annual increases that teams are agreeing to with the top picks in the draft appear to be a vicious spiral with no end in sight — unless and until collective bargaining negotiations do something about it.

As I’ve written, the vast majority of rookie contracts represent a fixed and reasonable cost for NFL teams, but the disproportionate pay at the top is mind-boggling.

B.J. Raji, Green Bay Packers

A bit further down, the Packers came to terms with the ninth pick in the draft, B.J. Raji.

Although written as a six-year deal, it’s really a five-year deal since the sixth year is just there to contain proration for the second-year option. The sixth-year voids with minimum playing time.

Raji will receive a total value of $22.5M, with $17.7M of that amount, or 79 percent, guaranteed. While Raji’s increase over Keith Rivers’ deal last year is a relatively reasonable 14 percent, the fact that nearly 80 percent of the contract is guaranteed is cause for concern among management. As the picks go further down in the round, this trend continues, with many of the picks receiving around 75 percent of their contracts guaranteed.

This has become a rallying cry for the union and the players as much as the eye-popping numbers at the top. First-round picks are becoming a new class of players in the NFL, with virtually guaranteed contracts, and are moving toward the model set in the NBA and Major League Baseball.

Whether it’s the amounts or the percentage of guarantees, rookie contracts at the top of the draft are setting off alarms throughout the league. Theoretically, teams have the leverage – the players are not going to go back to school or play another sport – but year after year, teams have a hard time saying no to these prized possessions.

Coming soon: More analysis of contracts for first-round picks as well as a deeper look inside the Eli Manning deal.

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Do broadcast deals help owners?

Broadcast Deals Extended

In the midst of this economic downturn, the NFL has extended important broadcast deals with its partners for two more years. Set to expire following the 2011 season — if there is a 2011 season — the league’s deals with the following partners will run through the 2013 season: Fox, CBS, DirectTV and now NBC, as the NFL announced it has extended its six-year agreement with the network for two more seasons of Sunday Night Football. Reports indicate the extension has an increase of two percent over current levels.

Although the exact payment terms of these deals have not been released, the most important point in these extensions is the answer to the following question: Do payments to the NFL continue in the event there’s no football in 2011 because of a lockout of the players by ownership?

Although the answer to that question is unclear regarding the network deals, a source with knowledge of them confirms that, at the least, the DirecTV deal does include payments as scheduled in 2011, with or without football.

Thus, if the lockout scenario were to take place and there were no football revenues to be shared with the players in 2011, ownership would still have a revenue source coming in even without the games. Of course, we’re a long way from that time, but the discussion will continue to ramp up over the coming months.

Just the Facts, Plax

Plaxico Burress finally faced reality, perhaps for the first time in his life. An enormous talent that was rewarded at this time a year ago with a large contract extension with the Giants, Burress has been around yes-men and enablers his entire life. As it usually is with people who have no reality in their lives, his crew has always told him what he wanted to hear rather than what he needed to hear.

Somehow, some way, someone got to Burress. Notorious for his continued self-delusional behavior, he decided to not con himself any longer and accepted a two-year prison term. In the past six months, Burress had turned down deals from both the Giants and the prosecutors. He probably wishes he took both as he now faces the harsh truth.

Venus, Serena Swim In

Stephen Ross continues to leverage celebrity in his nascent ownership of the Dolphins. First, it was Jimmy Buffett and his Land Shark Lager branding opportunity. Then Ross brought in Emilio and Gloria Estefan as minority owners, followed by Marc Anthony (and his wife Jennifer Lopez). Now, two of the most marketable and well-known female athletes in the world, Venus and Serena Williams, have joined the gathering, reportedly the latest in the group of renowned minority investors of the team. I would expect that Venus and Serena would use this investment as a cross-promotion opportunity for their other brands in tennis, fashion and design.

Ross has made his intentions clear in trying to find that elusive concept of “buzz” in a marketplace crowded with options. Kudos for having the gumption to try and give the Dolphins the cachet of a Lakers game in the NBA, with equal parts watching the game and gazing at the stars.

Treasure to Trash

There have been a couple of recent examples of one of my favorite mantras about free agency in the NFL: A team’s treasure can become – sooner than you’d think – its trash.

Jason David was a the recipient of a generous offer sheet from the Saints two years ago, which he signed on April 30, 2007. David leveraged his Super Bowl-champion performance into a strong contract with the Saints at top-level cornerback proportions.

Two seasons later, David is gone, replaced by shinier new parts of the Saints such as free agent Jabari Greer and first-round pick Malcolm Jenkins. David went from a big free agent signing to termination in two years.

And, in a much shorter time frame, a couple of players intertwined with the Raiders were signed by their teams in the spring to only be released in the summer. I worked on a small deal with former Raiders safety Rashad Baker with the Eagles in March – complete with a Capitol Grille dinner with Baker and his two agents – and heard the story of how he put the Eagles in the playoffs last season by intercepting a pass for the Raiders to seal a win against the Buccaneers. Baker’s upfront amount was nominal — $25,000 — but he was released this week by the Eagles.

Baker was signed back by the Raiders (he probably shouldn’t have left), causing a ripple effect in which Oakland released venerable fullback Lorenzo Neal, who was signed on May 8 for a minimum-salary benefit contract (a contract paying Neal his 10-year minimum but only counting as a two-year minimum against the salary cap).

Between Baker and Neal, the total amount of at-risk dollars for the teams was $25,000, and the teams are no worse for having signed them. It just shows how things change in the perception of players, sometimes within a few months.

Wednesday whys: It's all about Brett

Why is it no surprise that Brett Favre signed with the Vikings?

The bigger news is that this surprises anyone. Having lived through Brett’s long bouts of indecisiveness for many years, I know that this is predictable behavior from someone who’s a good guy but troubled by having to make decisions without a clear, apparent choice. He would much rather have someone else, through his or her actions or words, make the decision for him.

On June 20, 2008, Favre had “the conversation” with Packers coach Mike McCarthy. Brett expressed his desire to get his helmet back from the Packers, a conversation that the Packers certainly should have expected. That’s when McCarthy said those three poignant words: “We’ve moved on.” That stung Brett and continues to resonate more than a year later.

Through all the drama about Brett over the past several years, I have never felt any sense of closure from him about playing football. He retired a year ago because he wanted the Packers to court, woo and recruit him to play another year, as they had in the past. But he didn’t get that affection from the team he felt he had put into the national consciousness. Brett wanted the Packers to make the decision on his return last year so that he wouldn’t have to. As it turned out, they did (it’s no coincidence that Brett retired on the day Randy Moss returned to the Patriots after another brief dalliance with the Packers in free agency).

I always felt Brett wanted to do in football what Roger Clemens was able to do in baseball: join a team early in the season, bypass the minutiae of training camp and the offseason and just play the games. Now he’s able to do that – sort of.

Why is there also no surprise as to the team signing Favre?

The Vikings have placed an added value on players and coaches associated with Green Bay. Brad Childress strategically used the fact he was about to interview with the Packers to secure a contract with the Vikings before boarding a plane to Green Bay. The Vikings paid premiums for players such as Darren Sharper and Ryan Longwell and chased other Packers players such as William Henderson, Craig Nall and Aaron Kampman. They even took a coaches’ assistant away from Green Bay. Now they’ve landed the biggest fish that ever swam in the Green Bay waters, albeit a year removed from being a Packer.

Brett wanted to play for the Vikings last year, and there was mutual interest. That, thanks to the Packers controlling his rights, was not an option. The Vikings left the light on for him for over a year and he finally accepted their long-standing invitation. The early financial returns on his signing validate their decision from a financial point of view.

Darrell Bevell was the quarterbacks coach in Green Bay from 2003-2005. Interestingly, Brett took a while to warm up to Bevell – Darrell had to earn Brett’s respect as a young coach with little experience, and Brett had a hard time listening to him. They eventually developed a relationship, which is the genesis of this marriage.

Why is the contract he signed d

How players can avoid going broke

Playing in the NFL can make a player rich, but it doesn't guarantee he'll stay that way when his career is over. Consider this: 75 percent of former NFL players are broke.

That’s right. Within five years after an NFL player has retired from the game (assuming he played three years or more), chances are he’s lost all the money he made in his career. The amazing part about this number is that it also applies to players who played 10 years or more. To compound the problem, about 75 percent of NFL players are also divorced, according to a recent story in the New York Times.

This is an issue I’ve written about in the past. As an agent, it frustrates me that this number hasn’t changed. You’d think that the legions of new players would learn from the mistakes of those who preceded them. They haven’t. You’d think that the NFL Players Association financial advisory watchdog registration plan would weed out bad advisers. It hasn’t. You’d think that the millions spent on player development resources by the NFL and team owners would help. It hasn’t. You’d think that the army of seasoned agents in place today could surround their clients with good financial people. They’re haven’t.

There are a lot of reasons why the 75-percent figure is not going away any time soon. Here are five:

1. Large agencies and financial firms help create bad habits. When firms are competing to sign first-round picks, one of the biggest tools in their arsenal is the “line of credit” or “up-front loan.” It can also be disguised as a ”marketing advance.” They range in size from $50,000 to $500,000. Between the draftee’s last college game and the day he signs his first contract, he has cash to burn with little or no accountability. Thus, bad habit No. 1 begins: Spend money before you make it.

Solution: Put a cap of $75,000 on loans from agents and financial advisers registered with the NFLPA and create sizable penalties for breaking these rules. But I doubt this will ever happen.

2. Taking care of the family is a noble thing, but have a plan. Many draftees can’t wait to take care of their parents, extended family and even their friends. The problem is that once you turn on the faucet, it’s very difficult to turn it off. It’s like a drug, and you’re giving it away for free. Remember, the brother or aunt who is two months behind in their car payment will always be behind. If you help them out, it’s only a short-term fix to a long-term problem. Also, don’t finance other people’s dreams, especially if they don’t have the skill set or experience to run a business. Their dream will turn into your nightmare.

Solution: Build your savings for three years and allocate a portion to income-producing securities like low-risk tax-free bonds. Use the “income only” to help out immediate family members, thus holding on to your principles. Also, put yourself on a tight allowance and let it be known that you don’t have instant access to your money. Make the financial adviser the bad guy. If you want to help out your parents, pay down and or pay off their mortgage and get your name on the title. I actually had a client do this, and his parents started taking out home equity loans and ran their debt right back up to the number he paid off. Paying off a mortgage will increase their cash flow. One of the hardest things for young players to do is say no to family.

3. I’ve seen about 70 percent of my clients make loans to friends and families. I’ve also seen very few ever get paid back. Once again, it’s hard for these young men to say no to friends and family.

Solution: Have zero tolerance for loans and don’t ever co-sign for a loan.

4. There’s a perception among the poor and underprivileged that material things such as cars, houses and jewelry represent wealth. Unfortunately, people with these things only have money, but people with investments are the ones who have wealth. I always ask my clients, ”Do you want to be rich or do you want to be wealthy?” Boring investments will make you wealthy. Having material things may make you look and feel rich, but they’re depreciating assets that eventually make you poorer.

Solution: There really isn’t a solution other than education. The need to have material things, such as four cars or $500,000 worth of jewelry, is a learned behavior that can be promoted by a rap video of a flashy investment adviser.

5. Easy come, easy go. If there isn’t a watchdog keeping track of daily spending, then the spending will always gradually increase. Players have a lot of time on their hands in the offseason, and their wives who don’t work, raise kids or volunteer may have even more free time. Idle time often results in spending sprees on home remodels, clothing, vacations, toys and other things that don’t have appreciating values. Simply put, young couples live beyond their means because they don’t exercise discipline. Flying first class, renting private jets and blowing $50,000 in Vegas a few times a year adds up quickly.

Solution: Get rid of the yes people in your life and surround yourself with professionals who aren’t afraid to call you out on your spending habits. Have a strict budget and don’t let yourself exceed it under any circumstances. Many agents and financial advisers don’t have the guts or interest to interfere in the financial affairs of their players because they’re scared they’ll be fired. The ones who do are the ones who really care.

The NFL offers one of the best retirement plans in all of sports. However, a lot of work still needs to be done to educate young men on their fiduciary health and responsibilities. My theory and experience has been that bad habits can be changed, but it’s difficult to do when you’re surrounded by a peer group that’s in the same boat.

Unfortunately, I think I may be writing about this subject once a year.

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The last picks standing

First, I ask for your indulgence to note the passing of Eunice Shriver last week. Shriver was the founder, defining voice and embodiment of a movement that will hopefully live on in perpetuity: the Special Olympics. She used her name and influence for something that resonates with every sports fan and pulls at the heartstrings of everyone of the power of hope. She was the Special Olympics.

I grew up and went to school with her sons, who were and are very involved with the Special Olympics. I remember attending an event in an area of Washington, D.C., that can charitably be described as rundown. There were gangs, sirens blaring and chaos all around us, but she cheerfully stood there handing out sandwiches to the participants and hugging every competitor.

Eunice Shriver gave thousands of people a chance. She believed in them more than they believed in themselves. She will be missed

The Last Picks Standing

As we have now entered the start of preseason games with a handful of first-round picks still unsigned, it’s time to take stock of what’s going on.

There usually ends up being a draft pick or two who, from the moment they’re selected, look as though they might have the makings of a long absence from training camp.

This year, there are two rookie deals that – from the moment the players were drafted –shaped up as difficult and challenging negotiations. What’s interesting is that Darrius Heyward-Bey, picked No. 7 overall by the Raiders, is an important factor in both.

49ers/Michael Crabtree

This negotiation, which I discussed last Monday, set up as a holdout from the moment Crabtree slid past the top five in the draft. The fact that the team is the 49ers is not really the issue; Crabtree would be holding out from most, if not all, teams as a player picked far below what he thought he would be.

Eugene Parker is one of the better agents in the business. He is professional and respectful. I negotiated two No. 1 picks with Eugene over a four-year span (Ahmad Carroll in 2004 and Justin Harrell in 2007) and know him to be tough but fair. Both of those picks were done without a holdout situation.

A top-10 pick, however, is a different animal for Eugene, and my sense is that Crabtree and his camp are different clients. The agent and the player have strong principles about value and will hold tight to them for, it appears, as long as it takes. Parker seems to have no interest in paying attention to either the B.J. Raji contract, done right before him at No. 9 ($18 million guaranteed), or the Eugene Monroe contract at No. 8 ($19 million guaranteed). Rather, this negotiation has been about nearing, matching or outdistancing the Heyward-Bey contract at No. 7 ($23.5 million guaranteed), a strong contract for a player Crabtree feels is not at his level.

The 49ers, of course, will stick with the slotting system that has been part and parcel of the draft compensation system since its inception, willing to slot in behind Raji.

Parker and the 49ers appear at a standstill. Parker will wait and presumably has a client with no worries about missing August. What can the 49ers do? They can pull the offer or reduce it and hope it brings the situation to the head. Parker, however, knows they won’t and will continue to wait for the right deal.

With the Crabtree negotiation on hold, the next pick, Aaron Maybin of the Bills, waits and watches. Maybin’s clear preference is to slot in behind the Crabtree deal whenever that happens, assured that the deal will look good and the player and agent will not be trumped by a more superior contract right above them.

We’re headed toward a battle of wills and a question of who will blink first with Crabtree and, by extension, Maybin.

Bengals/Andre Smith

A bit higher in the round at No. 6, the Andre Smith/Bengals negotiation has always appeared to be destined for drama. Smith was picked right behind Mark Sanchez, who had a strong deal with $28M in guaranteed money. The Bengals can rightfully play the “quarterback premium” card with the Sanchez deal, but that doesn’t appear to be the issue.

After Smith’s eventful offseason and musical-chairs games with agents, he now has to deal with a traditionally tough team in the Bengals.

As to this negotiation, the Bengals feel that the Monroe contract – another offensive lineman two picks away — more accurately set a standard for guaranteed money ($19M) rather than the Heyward-Bey contract ($23.5M) sandwiched in the middle.

The Bengals, as well as some other teams, are fans of the Jaguars, who stood their ground on a holdout last season by Derrick Harvey in the same part of the draft. The insanity at the top of the first round came to a grinding halt with the Harvey deal.

The two picks above Harvey in the 2008 draft, the sixth and seventh selections, had increases in their APY (Average Per Year) of the following:

Vernon Gholston of the Jets, 48 percent
Sedrick Ellis of the Saints, 39 percent

This is not to say that Harvey didn’t get an appropriate increase from the 2007 draft (he received a 19-percent increase); it is to say that his increase was in the more normalized range compared to picks above Harvey. The Bengals would like the Jaguars and Monroe to set the market for Smith and the Bengals rather than the Heyward-Bey contract that seems to be a factor in both of these rookie absences.

Regarding these last few rookie negotiations, as the Snickers commercial says, “This may take a while.”

Whither Strasburg?

The 49ers and Bengals may be wishing the NFL had the system now in place in Major League Baseball. There, a deadline of midnight tonight takes care of any lingering drama about whether players will sign with their teams. After midnight (sounds like a song), any unsigned draft choices from the 2009 MLB draft will have to wait for the 2010 draft to sign with a team. The deadline in baseball serves as a leverage point for both sides to end the rhetoric and haggling and do a deal — or not.

Stephen Strasburg was the presumptive top pick in the MLB draft and represents more than a draft pick to the Washington Nationals.

Although they’ve had a surge of late, the Nationals have been a long-running sad-sack franchise back to the days of my childhood following the Washington Senators. Yes, I was a diehard Senators fan and cried when they left Washington (for the second time) and moved to Texas. Although they were the worst team in baseball, they were a team nonetheless. As the venerable Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich said of losing the team at the time, “Halitosis is better than no breath at all!”

Now, Strasburg’s agent, the inimitable Scott Boras, and the Nationals enter a showdown as the hours tick away. Both sides have already agreed to shatter the previous signing-bonus record for a draft choice in baseball, the $10.5M received by Mark Prior years ago. The National have reportedly made an offer in the $15-$16M range. Boras, who sees this negotiation as a chance to use his formidable leverage to create an entirely new way of paying rookie players – i.e., more like veteran free agent players – is scoffing at that record-breaking number.

This one is up to Boras and Strasburg. In the event the record-setting offer by the Nationals is not enough to bring him under contract by midnight, Strasburg will be looking at a year in an independent l
eague or overseas, somewhere besides Major League Baseball. Perhaps he should realize that halitosis is better than no breath at all….

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