Wednesday whys: All about Pro Bowl bonuses

Why is selection to the Pro Bowl so important to NFL players?

Many can look at the Pro Bowl list every year and dismiss the selections as a popularity contest and not a true assessment of the talent on the field (those are usually agents and the players who were not selected). But to players who do make it (and their agents), the Pro Bowl is vitally important for financial and prestige reasons.

First, there’s the compensation for the Pro Bowl itself. This year, players on the losing team will receive $22,500, and players on the winning team will receive $45,000. Although that may be pocket change to many of them, it does add a sense of urgency to the fourth quarter when the stakes are raised for double the prize money to the victors.

Then there are the Pro Bowl bonuses. There are hundreds of NFL players with Pro Bowl incentives and/or escalators in their contracts. The difference is that an incentive is earned and paid out in February after the game; an escalator is money added to future-year(s) salaries. For example, the deal I negotiated with Charles Woodson for the Packers has a $1.5-million escalator for salary the year following Woodson’s selection to the Pro Bowl (with a maximum involved). Also, $250,000 that will be added to Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson’s 2011 salary based on his Pro Bowl selection Tuesday.

The incentives range from a few thousand dollars all the way to the Julius Peppers level of $1.5 million (with this incentive now earned, Peppers’ 2009 compensation is now over $18M as discussed here). Dozens of players – and their wives, family and others — anxiously awaited last night’s roll call of selections with their earnings in play.

The other issue with the Pro Bowl selection involves future or even existing contracts. Once a player makes a Pro Bowl, the agent is now armed with a badge of honor that will have significant bargaining muscle behind it. An agent can now compare his player to other players with Pro Bowl on their resumes, and these are usually players who have been rewarded by previously using the same flawed logic.

I experienced the “Pro Bowl problem” in negotiations several times. Players return from Hawaii — now Miami this year — with whispers in their ear about how they are underpaid now that they’ve made the Pro Bowl and that it’s high time for a contract renegotiation. While maddening at times, it became an annual ritual in February and March to address the newly enlightened players — sometimes accompanied by newly hired agents — with their newly elevated status of Pro Bowl player.

Finally, the Pro Bowl selections are personally gratifying as there are four players named with whom I negotiated contracts (Woodson and Nick Collins of the Packers and Jason Peters and Leonard Weaver of the Eagles), three others who are longtime friends (Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers and Darren Sharper) and one I watched run around as a kid 10 years ago in Green Bay, Jairus Byrd, son of Gil Byrd, the former standout player who worked with the Packers. Congrats to them.

Why does the language in Pro Bowl bonuses need to change?

The Pro Bowl has traditionally been held the week following the Super Bowl in Hawaii. As we know, that has changed this year and the game will be played the week before the Super Bowl in the same location, Miami. So participants in the Super Bowl will not participate in the Pro Bowl.

The language from a Pro Bowl incentive has always been something similar to the following:

“Player will receive a bonus in the amount of — in the event he is named as a Starter or Back-up on the initial Pro Bowl Ballot and participates in the Pro Bowl game following the regular season, unless medically excused.”

Now language needs to be adjusted to say “…unless medically excused or Player is excused due to the Club’s participation in the Super Bowl.”

Some recent contracts have similar language. If the playing of the Pro Bowl prior to the Super Bowl continues, all Pro Bowl bonuses will need to be modified. In the interim, although the strict reading of the contract would allow teams in the Super Bowl to not pay players Pro Bowl bonuses, there is no way that would happen. There would be a revolt.

Why are the Pro Bowl selections evidence that big splashes in free agency are usually more noise in March than February?

The big signings this year when the bell rang for free agency were monster contracts given to players who set new markets for the positions they play. Among them were the contracts of Albert Haynesworth of the Redskins (defensive tackle), Jason Brown of the Rams (center), Bart Scott of the Jets (linebacker), and T.J. Housmandzadeh of the Seahawks (wide receiver).

None of these players was selected to the Pro Bowl. Moreover, it appears that only three – Brian Dawkins, Leonard Weaver and Darren Sharper – who switched teams during the 2009 free agency period were selected to play in the game, and the latter two signed for modest one-year contracts. (Jason Peters also switched teams due to a trade, and Brett Favre was signed out of retirement).

The point is that players who sign huge contracts in free agency are expected to play to the level of their contracts, which means a Pro Bowl level. But football is not baseball or basketball; it’s a game of schemes and systems, as Haynesworth is finding out in Washington. Players do not plug in as easily.

And for my final pet peeve Why of the Week for the year, and one that may be unpopular:

Why is there such outrage over the Colts’ decision to abandon the quest for an undefeated season?

The job of those looking out for the best interests of the team is to put the team in position to win the ultimate prize, which is not to be undefeated during the regular season but to be undefeated during the postseason.

What would have happened had the Colts continued to play their starters and Dwight Freeney, Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne or even the kingfish, Peyton Manning, been injured?

Although we don’t like to admit it, the last week or two of the season has become the de facto fifth or sixth week of the exhibition season for some teams, a necessary nuisance on the schedule with the primary goal of not getting anyone hurt. Since football is a sport in which every active player is “one play away” from being an inactive player, protection of the prime assets of an organization is overriding.

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For a glance at a potential Packers-Vikings playoff matchup, check out this article from Bleacher Report.

Texas Tech fires Mike Leach

From the Houston Chronicle:

Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach was fired Wednesday, two days after he was suspended amid allegations he acted improperly in the treatment of injured wide receiver Adam James.

Leach was set to appear before a Lubbock County district court on Wednesday seeking a temporary restraining order that would reinstate him in time to coach in Saturday’s game against Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl.

Before the hearing, Leach’s attorney Ted Liggett was handed a termination letter that Leach is “terminated with cause effective immediately.”

According to his contract, Leach will receive $1.6 million for the remaining four years of the agreement. It is unclear whether Leach will receive the $800,000 bonus he was due if he was the team’s coach on Dec. 31.

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Who are the Pro Bowl snubs?

Let’s take a look at some players who I felt were worthy of making the trip down to Miami for this year’s game. Could they replace the current players on this year’s Pro Bowl roster? That, as always, is up for debate.

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: 4,108 yards, 23 TDs, 12 INTs

Felt that this was Roethlisberger’s best season as a pro, because for the first time this Steelers team was not led by their defense. How many times did we watch Big Ben make plays for this offense — or even better — make plays out of nothing? The 13 INTs is high, but that is what you get with a QB that takes some chances. I would have to take Roethlisberger over Patriots QB Tom Brady, which was based on name recognition.

Vincent Jackson, Chargers: 68 receptions, 1,167 yards, 9 TDs

I see Jackson as the biggest snub of the ’09 season. We tend to forget that Jackson plays in an offensive system that is predicated on running the football in the down hill power game to set up the big play down the field. And, Jackson has delivered in that category, averaging over 17-yards a catch. Would the Chargers have won 10 straight without him? No chance.

London Fletcher, Redskins: 134 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, I FF
Not super gaudy stats from Fletcher, but it is time that we give him what he deserves — and that is a spot on the roster. He is a tackling machine and a leader on that Redskins defense, which would be lost without him.

Randy Moss, Patriots: 78 receptions, 1,189 yards, 13 TDs
Yes, three of his thirteen TDs came last week, but looking at the numbers, can Moss really be left off of the list? I understand that the Carolina game might have defined his season from a media and fan standpoint, but the production is there once again.

Leon Hall/ Jonathan Joseph, Bengals: 12 INTs combined
Tough to find a spot for these guys, but Cincinnati is a ten-win team because of Mike Zimmer’s defense, and this unit helped sweep the entire AFC North in ’09. Two corners who don’t have the name recognition, and although they are up against big name competition (Revis, Bailey, Ashomuga), I think they deserve some credit today.

Brent Celek, Eagles: 69 receptions, 875 yards, 8 TDs

I have to include Celek based on the fact that Donovan McNabb and the Eagles offense would look much different without him. He is a red zone weapon, and as we are seeing, is becoming more and more a part of the offense as the season has progressed. In the mold of a Jason Witten from Dallas. Will find a home on the roster next season.

Matt Schaub, Texans: 4,467 yards, 27 TDs, 14 INTs

Schaub leads the entire NFL in passing yards and has finally stayed healthy for an entire season. He is a long shot to make it over the current players on the AFC roster, but he does have the numbers and has his team on the cusp of the playoffs — even if they need help to get it the back door.

Ryan Grant, Packers: 1,202 yards, 10 TDs

Grant is a wild card in this discussion. He has the same yards per carry average (4.4) as Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jaguars (who was voted to the AFC roster), and you can make an argument that he could replace DeAngelo Williams of the Panthers on the NFC roster. Plays for a ten-win team that throws the ball in the red zone.

Sheldon Brown, Eagles: 51 tackles, 5 INTs

You could make a case that Brown should be on the roster with his teammate, Asante Samuel, and I actually prefer seeing Brown down in Miami over Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie from Arizona. What do you think?

Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders: 24-27 FGs, long of 61

Hey, why not? Janikowski is kicking field goals at almost an 89% clip and in his last three games has made kicks of 54, 54 and 61 yards. The guy has been money this season, and our own Wes Bunting loves Raider Nation.

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Childress: Refs blew call just before Peterson's fumble

From TwinCities.com:

After watching the film, Vikings coach Brad Childress knows that running back Adrian Peterson was grabbed by his face mask before he committed a critical fumble in overtime at Chicago.

Peterson’s fumble put the Bears in position to score on the next play and win the game. Replays showed that Chicago’s Zackary Bowman held on to Peterson’s face mask with his left hand, turning his head, before Hunter Hillenmeyer poked the ball out of Peterson’s arm.

The play drew no penalty. If officials had thrown a flag for the face mask, it would have nullified the fumble.

“I thought his face mask got grabbed as he put the football on the ground … but still, in all, he’s got to keep that thing in our possession,” Childress said Tuesday.

Childress likes that Peterson takes mistakes personally. He said he appreciates Peterson’s competitive nature.

But Childress doesn’t want Peterson to dwell on the mistake too much, even though he believes players must be accountable for what happens on the field.

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Biggs: Giants' Jacobs to have knee surgery

The New York Giants’ season ended last week with a stunning loss at home to the Carolina Panthers, and running back Brandon Jacobs’ season is finished now.

Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News reports that Jacobs will sit out the finale this week and undergo arthroscopic knee surgery next week. Jacobs has battled knee issues all season. Vacchiano reports he has a partially torn meniscus, and the scope will be done just as a cleanup procedure.

“I think Brandon’s always had some issues that he’s had to deal with,” Coughlin said. “He wouldn’t use it as an excuse and I won’t either.”

Jacobs rushed for only 835 yards this season and averaged only 3.7 yards per carry. He signed a four-year contract with $13 million guaranteed in the offseason.

Follow me on Twitter: BradBiggs

NFL likely headed toward uncapped year

From Mark Maske of The Washington Post:

The NFL is headed toward a season without a salary cap next year, and it will take an unexpected breakthrough in the sport’s labor negotiations to avoid it.

Negotiators for owners and the NFL Players Association have made modest progress toward resolving the major financial issues at stake in ongoing discussions about a possible extension of their labor deal, sources familiar with the deliberations said. However, people on both sides of the negotiations said in recent days they consider it unlikely that the owners and the players’ union will complete a deal in time to prevent next season from being played minus a salary cap. In fact, one source, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to comment publicly on the talks, said it’s “becoming close to a certainty.”

A system that has helped to promote competitive balance among the teams since being put in place in 1993, greatly boosting the sport’s prosperity and popularity, would be replaced by a system in which teams could spend what they wish on players while facing other restrictions on free agency that NFL officials say would serve to preserve competitive balance.

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Biggs: Chicago CB Tillman still hospitalized

Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman remains hospitalized at Northwestern Memorial in stable condition with cracked ribs and a lung contusion following Monday’s victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Tillman was carted off the field at the start of the fourth quarter and taken directly to the hospital after receiving a crushing hit in his side from teammate Craig Steltz as they converged on Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. Steltz hit his teammate with his helmet.

No surgery will be required for Tillman, and he will not play in the season finale Sunday at Detroit. Tillman’s rib cage moved with the hit, causing lung damage that will require a month or two to heal, according to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.

The Bears got good news when it came to the condition of rookie wide receiver Johnny Knox, a second alternate for the Pro Bowl as a return specialist. He also left the game on a cart but it turned out he suffered just a badly sprained left ankle. Originally, the team feared a broken ankle or significant ligament damage.

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Diner morning news: Pro Bowl misses

QUOTE: “The worst pain a man can suffer: to have insight into much and power over nothing.” — Herodotus

The Pro Bowl votes are in, and from my viewpoint, there are a few players who get in on reputation and few who get overlooked. Here are some notes:

2010 Selection Breakdown

3 rookies (LB Brian Cushing, S Jarius Byrd, LB Brian Orakpo)
23 1st-time selections (8 AFC, 15 NFC)
24 2nd-time selections (17 AFC, 7 NFC)
9 3rd-time selections (3 AFC, 6 NFC)
8 4th-time selections (3 AFC, 5 NFC)
8 5th-time selections (4 AFC, 4 NFC)
4 6th-time selections (A. Gates, Ed Reed, J. Witten, C. Woodson)
1 7th-time selection (Steve Hutchinson)
1 8th-time selection (Brian Dawkins)
2 9th-time selections (Champ Bailey, Alan Faneca)
2 10th-time selection (Ray Lewis, Peyton Manning)
1 11th-time selection (Brett Favre)

Most selections

Vikings 8
Cowboys 6
Colts 6
Eagles 6
Ravens 5
Broncos 5
Saints 5
Chargers 5

Teams without selections
W-L
Bengals 10-5
Falcons 8-7
Seahawks 5-10
Chiefs 3-12
Buccaneers 3-12
Lions 2-13

Do Not Belong

1. Jake Long, OT, Miami: Love Long, but this year was not a Pro Bowl year. He’s struggled to be consistent and never gives the appearance that he is a lockdown pass protector.

2. Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore: I know Lewis was a great player, but he’s not one right now. This is a veteran vote, not a performance vote.

3. Jason Peters, OT, Philadelphia: He’s a good player, but from
watching tape, he was not the best left tackle in the NFC this season. Donald Penn of the Bucs might be better.

4. Jon Stinchcomb, OT, New Orleans: This was a surprise, although when a team wins 13 games, many players seem to go. But watch Stinchcomb in the playoffs – he’s not a lock down tackle.

Some who should have been considered

Donovan McNabb
Tony Romo
Matt Schaub
Pat Williams
London Fletcher
Will Smith
Ricky Williams
Ryan Grant
Roddy White
Cedric Benson
Chad Ochocinco

Here are some notes I jotted down from the weekend games, but because I was down and out, I was unable to post them. Enjoy.

1. Never judge Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb by his completion percentage. Judge him by his ability to make one or two plays in a game that ultimately results in helping his team win. Case in point: Facing a third-and-25, McNabb scrambled for a first down, outracing Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams for the yard marker. As the drive continued, the Eagles were forced to punt, but because of McNabb’s run, the Broncos were pinned back inside their own 10. The Broncos then failed to get a first down and punted back to the Eagles. With the ball at midfield and needing only a field goal to win the game, McNabb made a great throw to rookie Jeremy Maclin, who made an even better catch setting up the win.

2. Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart has always been one of my favorite runners, first in college at Oregon and now in the pros. His stocky build, combined with his balance and burst, makes him difficult to tackle. In fact, just ask the Giants defenders who gave up more than 200 yards to Stewart, the most yards rushing by a Giants defense since 1978. Well done, Mr. Stewart.

3. Break up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after winning their second game in a row and beating the once-undefeated Saints in come-from-behind fashion. Trailing 17-0 at halftime, the Bucs held the Saints scoreless in the second half, which is a great achievement in itself. Bucs running back Cadillac Williams ran as well as I’ve seen him run in some time.

4. Panthers quarterback Matt Moore makes his second consecutive appearance in the Sunday Best, but this time it’s to anoint him the starter when the Panthers return to training camp next summer. I’m not sure whom the competition might be, but in my mind, his recent play has earned Moore the right to be the starter. Former starter Jake Delhomme can hold the clipboard.

5. The Chargers are hot, and quarterback Philip Rivers is even hotter. The Chargers are sneaky good, and like the Saints and Eagles in the NFC, they have some shortcomings on defense, but their offense can score points at will.

6. Panthers head coach John Fox is insisting that he’s either given an extension or is fired, but he doesn’t want to come back as a lame duck in 2010. Based on his team’s play the past three weeks, he might have a strong case for an extension.

7. In about two weeks, I’m certain that former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan will have his furniture-matching drapes on display in his new office at Redskin Park as he tries to rebuild the Redskins. Then Albert Haynesworth will become his problem.

8. There was once a time when a game between the Ravens and Steelers meant many more punts than points, but no longer. Both teams are in steady decline in terms of their ability to dominate games with their defense.

Follow me on Twitter: michaelombardi

For a closer look at the NFC playoff picture, check out this article from Bleacher Report.