Empowering a Predator

First, a note about my presence — or lack of presence — here at the National Football Post in recent months..

As many of you know, I joined ESPN in February of 2011 to provide insight and perspective on their broadcast platforms. This year, my role with ESPN was expanded to include regular columns for espn.com. With this increasing digital role at ESPN, my NFP partners and I agreed that I will no longer be contributing regular columns here.

I am not leaving completely, however. As co-founder and continuing stakeholder in NFP, I will occasionally add columns such as the one below.

NFP's continuing mission is to provide experienced and differentiated perspective into football. I hope I have served our readers well with my insights. Continued thanks to all of you for your loyalty and support….

On to the column…

With Thursday’s issuance of the Freeh Report (Report) addressing Penn State’s reaction to the atrocious acts of former coach Jerry Sandusky, my blood boiled once again, as it did when the tragedy was first reported in November. My initial bewilderment as to the breadth and length of its existence was unfortunately cemented by “active concealment” of past and future crimes that, sadly, could have been prevented by those with the wherewithal to do so.

Here is a sampling of some of the conclusions from the Report:

“From 1998–2011, Penn State’s 'Tone at the Top' for transparency, compliance, police reporting and child protection was completely wrong.”

“There was callous and shocking disregard for child victims.”

“At the very least, Mr. Paterno could have alerted the staff to prevent Sandusky from bringing another child into the Lasch Building.”

“The rapes of these boys occurred in the Lasch Building.”

And, perhaps, the most damning sentence of all:

“Nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity.”

The report outlines a culture that we suspected but wished were not the case; a culture with Joe Paterno lording over sycophant administrators, a culture with the university serving at the behest of the football program rather than vice versa.

Sandusky was brazen in his predatory behavior.


The fact that a predator such as Sandusky was allowed to bring young boys into the football facility after his crimes were known is not only beyond belief but heart-wrenching for the victims, especially ones brought into the lion’s den after his evil was already known.

Sandusky acted in ways that seemed to call out his evil as if to say, “Yes, I’m doing this. What are you going to do about it?”

As it turned out, Sandusky engaged in his deviant and criminal ways for one increasingly clear reason: because he could.

Ushering in a new era

Transgressions at places such as USC and Ohio State for agent contact and free tattoos now seem quite benign.

It is Penn State, with its pristine uniforms and previously clean reputation that had a predator acting with diplomatic immunity. At best, Penn State allowed Sandusky’s chilling behavior to exist without appropriate and necessary intervention. At worst, it enabled it. Future years of civil litigation against the university will determine where along the spectrum its actions lie.

Power and privilege

Having been around the business of football for 25 years I understand the sway that money brings. The $72 million in gross revenue brought in by Penn State football bestowed great power and privilege to Paterno and the program.

And Paterno, to be fair, used his power to bring some good to Penn State, especially his donations towards academic departments of the university. However, based on the Report, he abused that power to allow horrific acts to take place on his watch.

One can only imagine the conversation that took place between Paterno and Sandusky about the latter’s actions, if such a conversation ever took place. Did Paterno and Sandusky feel they were so far above the reach of university governance that this was a “private matter” that didn’t need to be addressed further?

The enduring theme of the Report is this: While innocent children were being victimized, adults in charge were either afraid or unwilling to do the right thing.

No one stepped up

At some point in every person’s life, in his or her own way, he or she is faced with a situation where there is an opportunity to “step up” and make a difference. With Sandusky a known predator lurking in their midst, Paterno and the administrators could have made a monumental difference in the lives of innocent children needing their intervention and future victims to come. Simply, they failed.

Maybe the silver lining in this terrible tragedy is that although it took a pedophile to do it, the age of entitlement for Penn State football has ended. At the least — we hope — Penn State football will serve at the behest of the University’s greater good, rather than vice versa. That won’t help the victims, but it may change a culture that failed them.

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All Saints Day in Court

Today in New York — in the midst of chilling and damning audio from Gregg Williams — Commissioner Roger Goodell will hear appeals from head coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, assistant coach Joe Vitt, and the organization in general — regarding the discipline levied due to the “bounty” system in place in 2009, 2010, and 2011. As per the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and Bylaws, the appeals are heard by the same office that originally levied the discipline, that of the Commissioner.

Why appeal?

Goodell handed out the penalties — which include a yearlong suspension to Payton, an eight game suspension to Loomis, and a six game suspension to Vitt — after a comprehensive and lengthy investigation by NFL Security. Among those questioned and allowed to explain their side of the story during the inquiry were, of course, Payton, Loomis, and Vitt. Therefore, an appeal appears futile, especially with the release of this explosive evidence today from Yahoo's Mike Silver.

However, for the simple price of asking, Payton and Loomis can have their “day in court” to challenge the harshness of the penalties. It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask.

Buying time

Delay allows Parcells to further explore returning to coach Saints.

Certainly, there are strategic reasons for the appeal. Payton wants to savor every minute he can before being banned from the Saints’ facility. Payton and Loomis can also map out their calendar with existing staff to better prepare the organization for their absence. And, of course, Payton can continue to explore his replacement, including the possibility of Bill Parcells serving in his stead.

The slight delay can also give guidance to Payton on what he can and cannot do over the coming months, although this seems clumsy to me. I find it to be a bit flimsy. After an exhaustive inquiry, a prelude announcement to sanctions a month ago, and the announced sanctions two weeks ago, Payton does not know what restrictions are placed upon him? Seriously?


The real reason for the appeal is for the representatives of the Saints, Payton, Loomis, and Joe Vitt to try to put the punishment in some kind of context. They will not challenge the fact they were wrong; they will challenge the severity of the discipline imposed.

Lawyers will likely be representing all parties. And lawyers love precedent. They will try to look to any similar situations in the past — “Spygate” among them — that Goodell or those before him have ruled on. They will try to compare situations and argue that the discipline is disproportionate to the misconduct involved.

The problem for the appealing parties is that precedent may simply not matter here.


A hallmark of Commissioner Goodell’s tenure has been the Personal Conduct Policy and having full authority to rule on player conduct and any appeals (a power unchanged in the new CBA despite carping from the NFLPA).

The most well known case of this involved star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for conduct that, while vile, did not result in criminal charges after a lengthy investigation. Nevertheless, Goodell suspended Roethlisberger for six games — later reduced to four — in the name of protecting the brand and the image of the NFL and its players.

Did Roethlisberger’s punishment fit the misconduct based on precedent? Probably not. Would a lesser known player have had the same discipline? Probably not.

Now the Saints have erred in the face of another primary initiative of Goodell: the health and safety of NFL players. As negligence lawsuits regarding concussions mount, the issue of intentional injury flies in the face of the NFL's priority on health and safety.

The behavior of the Saints’ employees was wrong and, perhaps more importantly, at the wrong time. Does their punishment fit their misconduct based on precedent, even what little there is? Probably not. However, to Goodell, there are issues bigger than this case here.

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Cap Control

At the NFL meetings this week my sense is things were a bit, uh, awkward. Earlier docked $36 million and $10 million, respectively, for Cap “abuse”” during the uncapped year of 2010, the Redskins' Dan Snyder and the Cowboys' Jerry Jones — faced with a 29-0 vote from ownership approving the sanctions against them — raised the stakes, filing a grievance against the NFL challenging the imposition of such penalties.

Beyond vague comments from Giants owner John Mara about the teams “violating the spirit of the uncapped year”, the league has been mum on details. Here is the best I can surmise as to what is behind this dispute.

The background

As NFL teams entered the uncapped year of 2010, many wondered if teams such as the Redskins and Cowboys would be “Steinbrenneresque” in their spending with none of the previous limits that the Cap had imposed in previous years.

As it turned out, the Cowboys and Redskins did not engage in disproportionate cash spending. However, they did engage in disproportionate Cap spending. To the league, therein lies the problem.

The deals

The Miles Austin contract caught the attention of the NFL.

Notorious for writing large signing bonuses to push out proration into future years and keep the first-year Cap number as low as possible, the Cowboys went the other way with Miles Austin. They loaded all $17 million of what would have ordinarily been a “bonus” into salary, thereby containing the Cap hit in 2010 alone.

Interestingly, this is the kind of Cap management that I have lauded, one being used in Tampa with their recent deals for Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks. This structure, however, was completely out of character for the Cowboys, and has been out of character since.

The Redskins, in contrast, did not front load new contracts in 2010, as the Austin deal described above. Rather, they restructured existing contracts, negotiated in 2009, to bring forward future proration amounts from the “out” years into 2010. Restructured contracts for DeAngelo Hall and Albert Haynesworth alone accelerated $15 and $21 million of future Cap into the uncapped year. That $36 million just so happens to be the amount the Redskins have been docked.

At the time, I noted how two teams that traditionally have pushed their Cap problems into the future had become more prudent. As it turned out, they were ignoring warnings not to do so.

The warnings

I remember the NFL Management Council starting to advise clubs as far back as 2007 that, in the event of an uncapped year, they could not press “File Delete” in 2010.

These warnings continued with more urgency in 2009, that it would be “taking unfair advantage” of the uncapped year in gaining a competitive edge by Cap-dumping into a year without a Cap.

Let’s look at the arguments from each side.


  • The Cowboys and Redskins will argue that there were no written warnings against what they did.
  • The NFL will argue that there were repeated and strident verbal warnings as far back as three years prior to the uncapped year.


  • The Cowboys and Redskins will argue that the front loaded negotiations and Cap restructures were approved by the NFL — as all contracts must be — which represented a tacit approval of their structure.
  • The NFL will argue that it is irrelevant that the contracts were approved. There was no Salary Cap and thus no Salary Cap rules to manage.

Competitive edge

  • The Cowboys and Redskins will argue that the league should look into teams like the Buccaneers and Chiefs, teams that underspent in 2010, and their competitive edge gained by under spending.
  • The NFL will argue that teams were not advised to spend or not to spend; only to not engage in accounting practices that took advantage of a unique year on the calendar.

The arbitration will be an intriguing study of the interplay, alliances and coalitions among NFL owners and the league office.

Whither the NFLPA?

Interestingly, the penalties to the Cowboys and Redskins were part of a joint agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA. The union’s primary concerns were to ensure (1) no reduction in Cap room league-wide, and (2) the team Cap number would exceed– if only barely — the number from 2011 (it did, with a $120.6 million number compared to $120.375 in 2011).

The problem for the NFLPA is that, in their zeal to prop up the 2012 Cap number, the NFLPA have borrowed from the future. Thus, the Cap “spike” that some project in 2014 when the new television contracts activate may not materialize the way the union, players and agents are hoping.

Fun times this week in South Florida this week. The faces of Jones and Snyder were quite red, a skin tone from anger rather than the sun.

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Inside the NFL Meetings

The 2012 NFL annual meetings open today, a rite of spring in which NFL owners and team personnel end their winter hibernation and surface in a plush resort to discuss the issues of the day affecting the league and its teams.

Aside from a show of relative austerity last year during the lockout – when the meetings were held in New Orleans — the meetings return to the idyllic Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

The itinerary takes a familiar pattern each year. Team personnel would arrive throughout the weekend, with an opening speaker on Sunday afternoon. I remember being especially intrigued by Eric Schmidt of Google one year, who gave a fascinating lecture. This year’s speaker was former President Bill Clinton.

Meeting rituals

The meetings open every year with a short film of the sights and sounds of the previous season, with the best that NFL Films has to offer. After the video, with everyone feeling the energy and passion of the season, Commissioner Roger Goodell welcomes the crowd and gives proper respect and mention to the two Super Bowl teams. He then moves on to address the state of the game and the challenges that lie ahead.

Goodell’s address is concise and purposeful. This year he will certainly speak to the security of labor peace yet the challenges ahead with increasing options for fans and viewers — a theme of this year’s meetings will certainly be the in-stadium presentation, with a priority for teams to improve the game day experience.

The gathering then splits with ownership and chief executives in one room and coaches and “working club executives,” as people like myself were identified, in another. The Competition Committee presents its report at different times to different audiences — honing its presentation before its owner presentation — on topics ranging from time of games, penalties, officiating points of emphasis, overtime rules, player safety, tampering rules and specific proposals for rule changes.

Proposals for rules changes – often prompted by an egregious call the previous season — will be offered to the group, explained by the owner or team official putting forth the proposed change, and at some point voted on. Those certain to pass will be submitted to vote; those fraught with controversy or extensive debate are usually “tabled” until a later meeting in May, if at all.

An interesting proposal this year will be the discussion of moving the trade deadline back from Week Six until Week Eight. It does not seem to be a bold proposal, but may add some “buzz” to the concept of trading that has been largely foreign to the NFL compared to other leagues.

ICONMike Brown can be a polarizing presence at the meetings.

Interesting interplay

There are always interesting encounters between owners at the meetings. Mike Brown of the Bengals will certainly make a point to draw the ire of large market owners. And we can expect the recent Cap reductions given to the Redskins and Cowboys to come up, perhaps with some red-faced intensity, by Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones, who have filed a grievance against challenging its ruling. Cocktail hour could be quite interesting tonight!

Also on Monday, teams are given a list of compensatory draft selections. The carping over compensatory picks is an annual rite of spring for team personnel.

It is also always interesting to see the annual picture of the head coaches assembled, with sometimes as many as a third of them new faces.


A few agents always attend. Drew Rosenhaus is a ubiquitous presence, notorious for parading both his players and having an attractive female companion with him to entice team executives to stop by. And some business is done with agents and negotiations. I spent many a breakfast or lunch visiting with agents at the meetings.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, coaches meet the media for breakfast, with coaches treating the mandatory sessions with everything from interest to indifference or impatience. Tuesday also features the coaches’ golf tournament, a time when owners have used their absence to pass rules changes.

The meetings wrap on Wednesday, with some voting on Competition Committee issues but little in the way of monumental decisions coming out of any meeting. Replay is usually extended with some possible modifications, and some officiating changes are made based on the hot-button issue from the prior season.

No conflict

I would be surprised if Goodell steps on some of the land mines in recent weeks — the Cap penalties to the Cowboys and Redskins and the harsh discipline invoked on the Saints. Although these are working meetings, this is a time for fellowship and a bit of relaxation among the membership; Goodell saves the hard conversations for private meetings away from the public view. Moreover, this is not a time to embarrass anyone, as there are short memories all around.

On Wednesday afternoon, the limos soon pull up and owners alert their private planes to fire up. The meetings have ended, recess is over, back to work.

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Stinging the Saints

I have always found the more interesting part of the NFL to be when there are no games being played. The NFL offseason is, to me, the “in-season” and never lacking for story lines or drama. Yesterday were two vivid testaments of such intrigue, with ramifications for several teams heading into 2012. Let’s look at each.

Unsaintly behavior

I certainly expected Commissioner Roger Goodell to levy the “Triple Cocktail of Discipline”: fines, suspensions, and the loss of draft picks. And all three were given, as per the NFL's statement, with the money quote from Goodell: “A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious.” Yikes.

The damage: indefinite suspension for Gregg Williams, one-year suspension for Sean Payton, eight-game suspension for Mickey Loomis, six-game suspension for Joe Vitt, loss of consecutive second-round picks, and a team fine of $500,000. Steep? Of course, it was expected to be severe.

Two major tenets of the NFL were in play here. First, a bounty program strikes at the heart of competitive balance and competitive integrity of the league. Reports of “bounties” and “cart-offs” put a sinister image on a game that is being sold not only as family entertainment but as competitively honest. Simply, the entire credibility of the sport was at issue with these activities.

Second, with the issue of concussions, head trauma, lawsuits and mentally infirm players so much in the news, player safety has never been more of a priority. The NFL has instituted several measures to ensure a safer product and the new CBA allows for players to have less contact and padded practices, all in the name of player health and safety. A “bounty” program belies these efforts.

Like the 2010 Ben Roethlisberger punishment for off-field misbehavior – a six-game suspension for vile, though not criminal conduct – the league erred on the side of being too harsh rather than too light. Penalty with a purpose.

Tebow's 2011 salary advance has become much in issue.

Advance altercation

As the Saints news was resonating around the NFL – and it certainly did resonate – there was a reported trade of a player with some name recognition, Tim Tebow, from the now Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos to the New York Jets. Soon after the report, however, there became a “not so fast” moment as a dispute developed over $5 million of the contract Tebow signed with the Broncos, a dispute that now appears resolved.

Tebow was drafted late in the first round of the 2010 draft, the final year of the “old system” of first-round picks. Under the terms of the previous CBA teams could “advance” (pay forward) future guaranteed portions of salary owed in later years. These advances, formerly “option bonuses”, were used to — in effect — create a “second Rookie Pool” for top picks to receive more than the Rookie Cap would allow.

The Broncos exercised their $6.27 million advance in March of 2011. And they had “paid forward” a remaining $5 million of Tebow's salaries due over the next three seasons, with the following breakdown:

• 2012: $1.425 million
• 2013: $1.69 million
• 2014: $1.92 million

With the purported trade, the Broncos expected repayment from the Jets for these advanced amounts to Tebow while the Jets resisted such payment as part of the trade, either due to a different interpretation of the contract or some other reasons. Regardless, it became a negotiation within a negotiation, settling with the Jets paying $2.53 million of the advance back to the Broncos over the next two seasons.

The Jets will pay the Broncos $1.5 million this year and $1.03 million next year, both paid throughout the regular season in weekly installments.

I have not seen the contract but in the vast majority of advances, an acquiring team in a trade has to pay the trading team back. This dispute, however, appears to be settled outside of the contract, as part of the trade. And despite what I sense was having the contract language on their side, the Broncos were motivated sellers of Tebow.

Finally — and thankfully — under the new CBA, such salary advances (except for that of first-year salary) are now prohibited.

The Tim Tebow spinoff from the Peyton Choice will continue in New York. Stay tuned.

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Peyton picks his place

In the story of the 2012 offseason, the Peyton Predicament is coming to a conclusion. Manning has agreed to join the Denver Broncos, setting in motion movement to come for Tim Tebow. Here are ten thoughts on Peyton’s soft landing in Denver after his turbulent exit from Indianapolis:

1. It is not always the case, but in this situation, the first visit mattered. Just as it was telling when Mario Williams began free agency with a visit to Buffalo, there was a reason that Manning took his first trip to Denver. Of the dozen teams contacting Manning following his release from the Colts, he chose the Broncos as his first meeting. And they were also the last, watching him throw at Duke on Friday. First in, last out was telling in this case.

2. My sense is John Elway was a major factor for a couple of reasons. First, he may be the only team executive with the experience and gravitas that Manning can say “I want to hear what this guy has to tell me.” In other cases, Manning would have respect for his bosses, but not respect borne of someone who has been through similar experiences and more. I also think that a laid-back defensive coach in John Fox was a plus to Manning. Fox will not get in Manning's way.

Fox and Elway liked Tebow, but craved Manning.

3. As to Elway and Fox's comments about Tebow during his extraordinary run this year, what else could they say? They couldn't state “We are happy with Tim, unless someone like Peyton Manning comes along!” Not only was Tebow taking the country by storm but he was their quarterback for the foreseeable future. My sense is that Elway and Fox had to know there was a strong possibility that Manning would be released, as the contract was set up for his release with the Colts careening towards Andrew Luck.

4. As to Denver having an advantage over other teams with Cap room, that may have helped but I don’t think it was a major factor. Believe me: Cap room or not, the 49ers, Titans, and other teams would have done what was necessary to sign Manning.

5. Speaking of finances, I found it interesting that Peyton's decision was made in advance of instructing his agent Tom Condon to negotiate a contract. Of course, my sense is that the parameters of the deal — reportedly five years for $95 million — were in place from all finalist-teams prior to making a choice. Although detailed negotiations did not commence, these teams were “pre-qualified” to be finalists.

6. The contract price would not have been a surprise to anyone here. As I noted here, this was never going to be an “incentive-laden contract.” It will be interesting to see the structure of the deal in terms of risk allocation: How are the Broncos protected if Peyton is compromised and cannot play? How much is completely guaranteed? How much in the early years of the deal? And how much upside potential is there if he becomes the Peyton Manning of old?

7. Athletes are known to say that “It's not about the money,” which usually means It's all about the money”. Here, however, it truly may not be about the money. Manning had several teams prepared to make a serious contract offer, four neck surgeries and all. Indeed, Titans' owner Bud Adams said he was willing to “do what it takes” to sign Manning, words that surely made the Titans front office quiver. In the end, however, Manning did not leverage that statement to get a mega-contract from the Titans.

8. Interestingly, the person negotiating the contract for the Broncos is Mike Sullivan, the former agent at Octagon who certainly knows what players look for in contracts. Mike and I negotiated Aaron Rodgers' first contract together, and I am proud he is following in my footsteps from the agent to the team side.

9. As I have said before, the impact of Luck cannot be overestimated. If the Colts did not have a grooved path to Luck, they would have had to pay Manning his $28 million option bonus and he would have been their quarterback. Can you imagine the Colts with, say, the 3rd pick in the Draft cutting Peyton Manning to take an offensive lineman? No chance. Had the Colts won one more game, Manning would still be in Indianapolis and Tebow would be the Broncos quarterback for the foreseeable future.

10. Speaking of the Colts, it will soon sink in with their fans that they will get nothing in return for the loss of Peyton. No draft picks and no compensatory draft picks. They released Peyton Manning, entitling them to no compensation. That is sad for those fans.

The chase is over; the press conference is set. Colts out, Broncos in. The business of football continues.

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Catching Contracts

As per the annual ritual of the opening bell of free agency, the “chosen few” players were beneficiaries of the unrestricted free agency system brought into the NFL in 1993. Teams desiring to make purchases on the opening day of the buying season have to pay retail prices; they know that going in.

First, a couple of mantras from my years of watching free agency (and hoping in Green Bay that we would avoid the “stupid money” payouts of the first few days shopping sprees):

  • Some of the best deals made are the ones not made
  • Never let impulse or emotion override rational decision making, and
  • Teams that “win” March rarely play in January

Free agency moved at warp speed for one position group. A talented group of wide receivers made their presence felt throughout the league with a trade and some marquee signings designed to upgrade sluggish offenses. Let’s look at some of the new wide receiver riches…

Calvin Johnson

This deal is so big it will receive a column to itself, but here are a couple instant thoughts.

NFL owners were adamant about changing the rookie pay at the top of the Draft for reasons beyond the oversized guarantees. The real issue was that these contracts have what I call “exploding escalators” in the latter years of the deal, resulting in onerous and unworkable numbers for the team. This happened with Johnson, as it did with Larry Fitzgerald when he secured his first of two record-breaking contracts.

The Lions had the least leverage of any team dealing with an existing player. They could not field a competitive roster with Johnson's enormous Cap and cash numbers in this year and next. They were stuck, and Johnson was the beneficiary.

The other takeaway from the Johnson deal is that he and Fitzgerald have zoomed past the established receiver market to set a market of their own. This deal will now affect positions beyond wide receiver and it may have an interesting effect on the stagnant negotiations between the Saints and Drew Brees.

ICONMarshall brings great talent but some baggage.

Brandon Marshall

Marshall, traded to the Bears for two third-round picks, is a talent; I remember watching him run through our defense when I was with the Packers. However, he has had some brushes with the law, including as late as this week. I am sure that Lovie Smith and his staff think they can “handle him,” but that may be a wish and not a plan. The test will come if and when things go south, and they will. All eyes will be on Marshall in how he handles adversity.

The Bears will inherit the remaining three years of Marshall’s five-year deal, with salaries of $9.3 million this year and $9.1 million in 2013 and 2014.

DeSean Jackson

After a disenchanted 2011 season followed by the Franchise Tag (“Tag”) Jackson is now rewarded with a five-year deal. While it is certainly good news for Jackson to have signed a long-term deal, it appears to be a curious one.

Jackson was scheduled to make $9.5 million playing under the Tag in 2012. Jackson will now make — from bonuses and salary — $11 million in 2012, a relatively modest increase of $1.5 million. In 2013, Jackson will make $7 million in bonus and salaries, $4 million of which is fully guaranteed, the rest guaranteed only for injury (if he is unable to play in 2013 due to injury). And in 2014, Jackson will make $10.5 million, only $250,000 of which is guaranteed.

Certainly, $15 million is better than $9.5 million, but I would have expected a larger guaranteed amount for Jackson to give up four additional years beyond this Tag year. This deal feels light.

Marques Colston

Colston was the beneficiary of three factors: (1) the pending free agent deadline, using the leverage of the hours leading up to free agency to obtain the Saints’s best offer; (2) the cloud of the “bounty” scandal hanging over the Saints; and (3) unsuccessful negotiations with other Saints’ Pro Bowl players, Brees and Carl Nicks, now with Tampa Bay.

Thus, Colston secured a five-year deal with a total value of $40 million with $19 million guaranteed. That guarantee places him behind last year’s trendsetter in free agency, Santonio Holmes ($24 million), but ahead of guarantees for players such as Stevie Johnson ($18 million) and Roddy White ($18.6 million).

And for some more receiver signings…

Cap-less crackdown

The NFL’s stripping of Cap room from the Redskins and Cowboys – and, to a much lesser extent, the Saints and Raiders – is a striking punishment for actions that seemed innocent enough when they occurred during the 2010 uncapped season.

The following are excerpts from my column on September 24th, 2010. At that time lauded the Redskins and Cowboys for their treatment of monies paid then. As it turns out, those contracts, in the NFL’s words “created an unacceptable risk to future competitive balance.” Thus, $36 million and $10 million are being taken from the Redskins and Cowboys Caps, respectively, and placed into a pool to be shared by 28 other clubs (with the Saints and Raiders excluded for minor violations themselves.)

Now 18 months later, it is interesting to read my analysis – and praise – of what was done then, knowing what it has caused now. Here it is:

The two perennial NFL Cap spendthrifts – the Redskins and Cowboys – are being – gasp – fiscally prudent in this uncapped year. They are structuring their biggest contracts in a way that indicates that whenever a new collective bargaining agreement does get negotiated, the NFL will continue in a capped system that rewards sound and prudent Cap management.

Two teams, however, that were never known for conservative Cap management have been the Redskins and Cowboys. Now, however, in this unique year, their biggest deals are structured that way.

Haynesworth and Hall one-year impact

There is a technical rule of Cap management that if a team inserts a player voidable clause – allowing the player to end his contract early – then a signing bonus following the voidable clause will not prorate through the remainder of the contract. In other words, the Cap charge of the signing bonus will be contained in the year it is earned.

Albert Haynesworth – everyone’s favorite punching bag this year – had a $21 million bonus this year that was restructured in the manner described above to have the entire amount count in 2010 with no accounting in future years. DeAngelo Hall had a $15 million bonus restructured in the same manner. Both players had voidable clauses in their sole control, allowing them to cut short their contracts assuming they repaid their bonuses (which, of course, they would never do as that money has already been spent).

Thus, for Cap accounting, both amounts count solely in 2010 and are not prorated if and when the Cap returns in 2011 or beyond. That is $36 million of money hitting 2010, the year without a Cap, and no remaining Cap hits on that money in future years. And, perhaps best of all, the Redskins can now dump Haynesworth without Cap consequence next season, a move I fully expect them to make.

ICONAustin's contract is highly scrutinized.

Austin all in

Similarly in Dallas, the Cowboys have structured their latest big receiver contract – following a couple disaster contracts for receivers Terrell Owens and Roy Williams – in a similar fashion.

As part of his new contract, Miles Austin will make $17 million in 2010 from the Cowboys. They have frontloaded the money from a cash and – acting as if there were one – Cap standpoint, limiting hits against future Caps.

Kudos to two teams protecting their Cap future that have not previously operated with such forethought. The uncapped year, of all things, has spurred the Cowboys and Redskins to operate more prudently in their Cap management. Who knew?

It's quite strange that these contracts are now being scrutinized, given that the NFL Management Council approves all NFL contracts. While the previous CBA made no explicit warning, oral warnings were issued to teams at the beginning of 2010 and also at NFL Owners Meetings throughout the year.

Every team in the NFL feels that the league office, at some level, favors other teams. In Green Bay, we certainly had that complex, as we felt to be ignored at times since we lacked a true owner. Today, there are probably several owners who feel that the Redskins and Cowboys now have to face the music after being allowed to skate on the edges of the rules for some time.

The timing of the league's announcement is strategic as well. Rather than mete out punishment at the start of the 2011 League Year – during the harried frenzy of finalizing the new CBA – the NFL waited until it secured NFLPA approval. This happened to coincide with the announcement of the 2012 Cap number and the eve of free agency.

The punishment to the Redskins and Cowboys is substantial. However, it will serve to foster a return to their modus operandi – ignoring future Cap issues by prorating over a number of years in order to spend freely in the present.

As to the way the previous column ended, that was eerie in itself. Who knew?

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Jets' Gesture

In the NFL, contracts are often not what they appear to be. This maxim was the case two years ago in the extension between the Redskins and Donovan McNabb and appears to be the case with the three-year extension signed Friday night between the Jets and quarterback Mark Sanchez. The signing put to rest the team’s pursuit of Peyton Manning; a pursuit I am told that was lukewarm at best.

Reports immediately surfaced that Sanchez had a guarantee level in his new contract of $20.5 million, and that the extension was worth a total value of $58. 25 million. Well, not exactly. While those numbers are technically acccurate, they are a bit of a stretch. Let's examine.

Sanchez's rookie contract had two years remaining.

Two existing years

Sanchez was the fifth pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, and rewarded with a substantial contract, this prior to the “correction” of top rookie contracts in the new CBA.

That rookie contract had two years remaining, now adjusted in the new extension. Let's look at those two years:


Sanchez was scheduled to make $11.75 million. Sanchez will now make…..$11.75 million.

Instead of earning the entire amount in salary, Sanchez will now receive an $8 million signing bonus and a $3.25 million guaranteed salary, along with an offseason workout bonus of $500,000.

The signing bonus, as per Cap treatement, is prorated over the five remaining years of the contract at $1.6 million per year, reducing the $11.75 million Cap number to $5.35 million, a savings of $6.4 million to the Jets’ Cap.

The Jets were not going to release Mark Sanchez, making the guarantee a nice gesture, but one with little meaning. In other words, Sanchez makes no new money in 2012 than he was already scheduled to make.


Sanchez was scheduled to make a nonguaranteed $6 million. He will now make a guaranteed $8.25 million plus a $500,000 workout bonus for a total of $8.75 milliona $2.75 million increase.

This guarantee carries a bit more weight than the 2012 guarantee, although Sanchez would need a truly poor season for the Jets to shed him before next season. And there is no “offset” in the guarantee, meaning that if the Jets release Sanchez, they will owe him despite what he makes from another club. The Jets have made an $8.25 million bet that Sanchez will be their quarterback in 2013.

Thus, for 2012-2013, Sanchez will receive $20.5 million guaranteed compared to $17.75 million not guaranteed, a raise of $2.75 million. The guarantee this year has little to no value. As to next year, there is some value to it, although not great.


For adding the guarantees and $2.75 million to Sanchez’s compensation over the next two years, the Jets also are able to attach three nonguaranteed years to the contract, ensuring he will be a Jet – if they so desire – through 2016. The years are as follows:

Salary Roster Bonus Workout Bonus
2014 $9 million $2 million $500,000
2015 $12.5 million $1 million $500,000
2016 $10.75 million $1 million $500,000

The roster bonuses are due the 15th day of the League Year for each year, giving the Jets time to trade or release Sanchez for two weeks prior to the money becoming due.

The escalator

The escalator has been reported as a potential of $10 million. That is correct, although the Jets and Sanchez would have to win four Super Bowls for him to receive that.

The escalator adds $500,000 to Sanchez’s subsequent year salary if he reaches the Super Bowl in any year. This part of the escalator does not “stack” in future years, simply paid as an add-on to the subsequent year.

In the event Sanchez wins the Super Bowl in any year – while playing at least 60% of the offensive plays – it would add $1 million to all of the remaining years of the contract, a number that “stacks” to add a maximum of $10 million if Sanchez were to win the next four Super Bowls. Jets fans can only hope…

The takeaway

The Jets professed their “like” for Sanchez – this contract does not profess “love” – with limited risk to them.

To be fair, there is value to Sanchez in having 2013 guaranteed but, in my view, not enough to add three prime years of his career to the contract. Perhaps, after reports of the Jets’ toxic locker room and the passing flirtation with Manning, Sanchez felt that this kind of deal at this particular time was the right tonic entering the offseason.

With many things in life – especially NFL contracts – the truth is not always what it appears to be.

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Peyton's Next Place

First, a thought on how lucky – or technically, Lucky – Jim Irsay and the Colts are. Had the Colts not finished with the worst record in the NFL, giving them a grooved path to a replacement for Manning in Andrew Luck, how would they have been able to part from Peyton Manning? Despite “circumstances”, “Cap problems” and Manning’s neck health, there would have been no way to justify moving on from Manning to take, say, a defensive lineman with the fifth pick in the Draft. Had the Colts won one more game they would, in my opinion, be exercising the $28 million option on Manning’s contract today.

But alas, time marches on; the speculation on Manning’s next address has been in full throat for months. Let’s examine.

ICONManning will have several suitors.

The next contract

As noted in this space often, contract negotiations are about options, as options create leverage. I sense Manning will have options. And he will have leverage.

Many have suggested that Manning’s next contract will be “incentive-laden”. Uh, no. “Incentive-laden” contracts are for players that have little to no leverage, usually having one option. Manning will have several.

This is not to say that there will not be incentives in Manning’s next contract. And those incentives will not count against the Cap, as Cap treatment of incentives relates to a player’s performance in the prior year, where Manning had no performance in 2011. However, the incentives will be layered over a serious contract, complete with heavy guarantees forged by the leverage of multiple bidders.

How much guaranteed? Hard to say, but it could potentially approach the $28 million that Manning was scheduled to receive if his contract was in place after today with the Colts.

The teams

Manning fits in the wheelhouse of two teams, both of which do not have strong emotional or financial commitments to a quarterback.

The Redskins and Dolphins both have ownership with a history of being enamored with name brands and willing to pay a premium for them. My sense is that they will be first in line at the door to sign Manning.

I also see the Seahawks as a realistic contender, replete with cash and only having limited ties to quarterbacks Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst. The issue there may be their potential pursuit of Matt Flynn, a favorite of general manager John Schneider from his time with the Packers. Flynn may also factor in discussions with the Dolphins.

Previously engaged

I believe that a team and its management have to stand for something. Otherwise, the organization moves with the wind with no real values in place. Therefore, I would not see Manning landing in places where the team has made commitments to quarterbacks in the past couple of years which say to them – emotionally and financially – “You’re our guy!”

To me, that rules out the Cardinals, who committed $60 million and $21 million guaranteed to Kevin Kolb. That rules out the Chiefs, who committed $63 million and $28 million guaranteed to Matt Cassel. That rules out the Texans, who committed $48 million and a $21 million guaranteed to Matt Schaub. And that rules out the Jets, who have committed $44 million and $28 million guaranteed to Mark Sanchez.

I know what you're saying: “But this is Peyton Manning! He's better than those guys!” And some of those organizations may be thinking the same thing. But personally, I just don’t think that style works. Not only is it telling your quarterback that he is expendable, it is telling every player in the locker room the same thing. Again, organizations have to stand for something, even at the expense of resisting temptation on Peyton Manning.

Truly free

Regardless, Manning becomes available in the marketplace. That, in itself, is an extraordinary statement. Players of his pedigree at the quarterback position simply do not become available in the NFL…ever. We’ve seen bounties paid – perhaps a poor choice of words – for the right to acquire quarterbacks such as Carson Palmer and Jay Cutler due to low supply and high demand. And that demand will be sky high for the NFL’s newest free agent, Peyton Manning, neck surgeries and all.

Let the bidding begin.

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