End of an Era

Here is the Peyton Predicament part one, two, three and four.

We knew this was coming. The Colts will part ways with the face of their franchise for the last fourteen years, their iconic star Peyton Manning. Although there were some with wishful thinking that this marriage would continue, there were no tangible signs that it would.

Circumstances created the perfect storm for the release of Manning. They were: (1) the extraordinary financial commitment required to keep him, $35.4 million in this year alone; (2) multiple neck surgeries that put Manning's future level of performance in questions, and (3) a ready-made replacement in Andrew Luck, available to the Colts with the top pick in the Draft for a fraction of the price of Manning.

The contract, of course, also created the problem. Manning and agent Tom Condon leveraged a decision date from the Colts of this week that would force them to retain him or release him to the free agent market after paying him $26.4 million last season. As to Manning moving the option date backwards, that was never going to happen. He had no reason to do that.

The signs were all there. Irsay had cleaned house with a new coach and general manager, both of whom uncomfortably avoiding the topic of Manning at all costs. For them, this date couldn't get here soon enough.

In Green Bay in 2008, my sense was the decision was more about Aaron Rodgers than Brett Favre. And in Philadelphia in 2010, the decision was more about Kevin Kolb than Donovan McNabb. At some point the replacement is ready and it is time to move to the future. In Indianapolis, no one knows if Luck is ready but the feeling is that the gain that the organization receives by him waiting does not justify the cost.

In the end, Irsay's decision to part with Manning is an understandable business decision, ruling from his head rather than his heart. Organizations must evolve. Leaders must respect the past, but not be controlled by it.

Irsay just needed to communicate that to Manning in a professional and respectful way. We trust that he did.

Even for the best of the best players and the longest tenured stars aligned with one team, it rarely ends well. The business of football always wins.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt


The Packers’ decision today regarding whether to place the Franchise Tag (Tag) on quarterback Matt Flynn has several layers to peel back in weighing the choice. It is not as simple as “Tag and trade him!”

Freeing Flynn

Flynn signed a four-year rookie contract in 2008 that is now expiring. Thus, the only way for the Packers to retain him would be to extend his contract – doubtful with other teams looking at him as a starting quarterback – or tag him.

Of course, the Packers would be tagging Flynn with no intention of actually keeping him on their roster. Rather, the Tag would be a placeholder until trading Flynn for value back to the Packers.

Tougher Tag

When the Tag was introduced into the NFL it was designed to keep each team’s, well, “Franchise” player from entering the market: players such as John Elway, Troy Aikman, Brett Favre, Steve Young, etc.

That was then; this is now. The Tag has now become far more potent; it has become a tool to keep the team’s best free agent in a particular year. And the new ten-year CBA served to further enhance the Tag, lowering its amounts to give teams further advantage in tagging and in negotiations.

The Tag and trade of Matt Cassel to KC had different circumstances.

Tag and trade?

The Tag’s reach also continues to expand. Since the language of the Tag does not address intent, teams are using it beyond the original meaning of the Tag. I was once told the spirit of the Tag was that there had to be “intent to sign”, clearly not the case with Flynn. As to the Matt Cassel “tag and trade” in New England in 2009, there was cover due to Tom Brady’s rehabilitation from a season-ending injury.

Now I have been told the Tag requires “intent to employ”. Does that include intent to employ with another team? Probably. It appears a Tag and trade by the Packers will be allowed despite being on the edge of the spirit of the rule.

Leverage game

Flynn, if tagged, can immediately sign the projected $14.5 million one-year tender to make it guaranteed. And were I advising him, I would tell him to do so.

Flynn would have tremendous leverage with (1) the Packers, who could be stuck with a backup making $6.5 million more than Aaron Rodgers' $8 million salary; and (2) the trading team, who needs Flynn signed for more than one year.

Tagging Flynn also gives leverage to the trading team, who can firmly negotiate a trade knowing the Packers have to deal Flynn.

Which leads to…

Trade tampering?

The Packers, for reasons above, must be completely sure about a trade today, eight days prior to the March 13th start of the NFL trading period.

Teams are allowed to explore but not consummate trades prior to March 13th. Although the Packers may talk hypothetically about, say, a second-round pick for Flynn, one never knows what could happen between now and March 13th. What if, for instance, Peyton Manning becomes free in the interim – Thursday — and the trading team’s fancy turns from Flynn to Manning?

Player tampering?

And what about tampering with Flynn? With Flynn under contract to the Packers until at least March 13th, no team can “legally” talk to Flynn’s agent about a contract until that time. A trading team has to know Flynn will agree to a long-term contract, as it will not give up a high draft pick for having Flynn only 16 games.

If a trade goes through for a tagged Matt Flynn soon after March 13th, we will be led to believe the trade and contract suddenly after that date. And that the Easter Bunny brokered the deal…

Will Flynn get the Tag?

I don’t see it. I sat in that front office for nine years. The Packers are not a team to push the envelope with risk, and these decisions are all about risk.

To tag Flynn exposes them to risk that (1) they end up with Matt Flynn as a backup making $6.5 million more than the NFL MVP; (2) the trading team leverages a price lower than a second-round pick; (3) the NFL and/or NFLPA questions their decision; and (4) they tempt violation of tampering rules for having a trade in place prior to March 13.

I understand those who say for the Packers do whatever it takes to get compensation for Flynn. And I know firsthand how Ted Thompson craves second round draft picks. And it may well happen. I just don’t think it will.

The deadline is 4pm et today. Stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter adbrandt.

Not so Saintly behavior

On the Friday with NFL news consumed by the application of Franchise Tags by teams to players, a bombshell story has hit the news, one involving the New Orleans Saints in an extremely negative fashion.

The NFL announced today that the New Orleans Saints engaged in a bounty program under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams that involved more than 20 defensive players. The fact that the word “bounty” is something that will negatively affect the Saints franchise for some time to come.

It has been an initiative of Commissioner Roger Goodell from the moment he took office to maintain and promote the integrity and public confidence in the NFL. His signature Personal Conduct Policy has been vigilant in disciplining off-field behavior that negatively affects the image of the player, the team and league. And on the field Goodell and his staff have lorded over increased fines and suspensions for violent hits that affect the image of the game.

Now Goodell faces a situation that strikes at the heart of the integrity of the league. Players “gambling” with the health and safety of opposing players is something that belies the NFL shield and brand.

I remember, as a front office member of the Packers, how each year we would receive a memo from the NFL Management Council warning of stiff penalties for allowing “bounties” to exist within our players and coaching staff. I specifically remember one time where we were questioned about a comment our defensive players had made to the media about rewarding our defensive linemen with DVDs from Best Buy were we to hold Adrian Peterson under 100 yards in one game.

The NFL caught wind of those comments and inquired about them. When they used the word “bounty” in our call, it shocked me. We were talking about some DVDs from Best Buy! But, with the comments specifically concerning Peterson, who was coming off a record-breaking performance the week before, the league felt a need to ask us some questions. There was no punishment given, but it caused some a discussion to the entire team, especially the players involved in the incident.

The league will come down hard on the Saints. The timing of this announcement sets up for the loss of draft picks in the Draft that is six weeks away. And more.

The Saints offseason just got a lot worse. And Drew Brees, Carl Nicks and Marques Colston just got a lot more leverage, as the Saints need some good public relations news…soon.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

Receiver Roulette: Part 2

My first installment dissecting elite free agent wide receivers is here.

There is a surplus of talent at the wide receiver position in the free agent pool this offseason. Beyond the five players discussed in the first installment, six other notable receivers – Mike Wallace, Stevie Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Mario Manningham, and Robert Meachem – may be available when the bell rings for free agency on March 13th. Let's examine:

Mike Wallace

Wallace is a Restricted Free Agent (RFA), so the Steelers have two options: (1) tender the highest qualifying offer – about $2.75 million – giving them the right to match any offer sheet Wallace receives, or (2) apply the Franchise Tag (Tag) to hold Wallace’s rights for an amount north of $9.4 million. Despite mortgaging $26 million of players' contracts to stay afloat amidst their severe Cap issues, the Steelers are still highly leveraged and probably cannot afford to tag Wallace. Thus, the likely course is an RFA tender while the team holds it collective breath.

A quiet win for players in the recent Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations was a decrease in the maximum RFA tender available. The “super tender” of first and third round picks – the highest tender in the previous CBA – was eliminated, making it less prohibitive for other teams to poach RFAs.

Teams in need of a receiver drafting at the back end of the first round – Chicago (19), Cleveland (22), Baltimore (28) or San Francisco (30), among others – could possibly make a play for Wallace. Many have asked about the Patriots making a run at Wallace, having picks 27 and 31. I don't see it due to (1) greater needs on defense; (2) an organizational philosophy to not reward other teams’ free agents at that level; and (3) the standard operating procedure of Bill Belichick is to use low first-round picks to secure additional second-round picks or future selections.

Prediction: Wallace receives a first-round RFA tender and the Steelers hold their breath that Cap-rich teams such as the Bengals, Browns, Redskins or Jaguars do not present front-loaded offer sheets.

Johnson may be allowed by the Bills to test the market.

Stevie Johnson

After stellar 2010 and 2011 campaigns in which Johnson posted at least 75 catches, 1000 yards and 7 touchdowns each season, Johnson is looking for the Bills or another suitor to show him the money.

The Bills and Johnson exchanged proposals at the Combine, but no deal was reached. While the two sides appear close, if a long-term agreement is not made by March 5th then the Bills will most likely let the market decide Johnson’s worth. I don’t see a Tag here.

Despite his production, Johnson has some question marks. More important to him will be whether some of these other receivers make it to the market, pushing him down the list of top players available at the position.

Prediction: Johnson enters free agency, with the Bills hoping to match what the market bears.

Reggie Wayne/Pierre Garcon

While the Peyton Predicament continues, Manning’s reliable receiver Wayne is set to test free agency for the first time in his eleven-year career as his six-year $39.5 million contract expires. There has even been some chatter that the pair could come as a package deal.

Teams will focus on Wayne's age (33), but his agent will emphasize the 75 receptions and three 100-yard games catching passes from the likes of Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter in 2011. Wayne still has value; the key will be structuring a contract that allows a team to separate with limited risk after a year or two.

Unlike Wayne, the Colts have shown interest in retaining Garcon, who reportedly turned down a deal with a total value of $35 million. Whether due to the probable release of Manning or otherwise, Garcon appears ready and willing to become a former Colt.

Prediction: Wayne goes to the market and receives a one or two-year deal with a veteran team. Garcon goes to the market and receives a significant contract, although less than what the Colts had offered.

Mario Manningham

While his 2011 overall numbers (39 catches, 523 yards, 4 touchdowns) aren't nearly as gaudy as his counterparts, Manningham made the biggest play of the 2011 season in Super Bowl 46. Will this single catch increase his value? That will be hard to determine, although we have seen the value of players with memorable Super Bowl plays – such as Santonio Holmes – increase in part due to that moment.

With the emergence of — and a future investment ahead inVictor Cruz and previous investment in Hakeem Nicks, the Giants are likely to move on from Manningham. And with the Giants’ quarterbacks coach, known to be a fan of Manningham, moving to Tampa Bay, the Cap-rich Buccaneers look to be the clear favorite here.

Prediction: Manningham signs a four-year deal with the Buccaneers that is front-loaded to eat up some of their excess Cap room.

Robert Meachem

Despite showing flashes of promise, Meachem – the 27th pick in the 2007 Draft – has been overshadowed in the Saints' crowded wide receiver corps.

The Saints are overwhelmed with decisions on Pro Bowl free agents Drew Brees, Carl Nicks, and Marques Colston, so re-signing Meachem is a lower priority. Although Meachem’s money won't be nearly as exorbitant as these other names, the Saints may let him walk.

Prediction: Meachem goes to the market and slots under the players mentioned above.

In what will be a fascinating offseason free agent period, the first true offseason under the new CBA, the wide receiver position may be the most interesting group of all.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt

Tag Time

The clock is ticking toward Monday’s deadline for the application of Franchise Tags (the “Tag”) across the NFL. I expect a number of Tags, with teams waiting until the deadline to apply them. With that, I’ll try to answer some themes from the scores of questions I am getting about the Tag.

Why are Tag numbers down this season from last year?

As explained here in November, the new CBA formula for determining the Tag number is looking back five years at the top five Salaries at each position (“Salaries” include salaries plus proration), rather than a looking only to last year. The result of this calculation is that Tag numbers are down from last year an average of $2 million per position!

The lower numbers are advantageous to teams for a couple of reasons. First, it allows $2 million in savings to use on other areas of the team. More importantly, it sets a lower floor for negotiations, giving teams a lower starting point in negotiations on a long-term deal.

The Tag reduction is another nugget gleaned from the ten-year CBA as we enter the first offseason under the deal, a “win” for owners that may grow more important as the deal progresses.

What goes into the decision to place a Tag on a player?

Sometimes teams believe the agent and player are, well, delusional as to the player’s value. The Tag can put negotiations that are far apart on hold while allowing for future data to enter into the discussion.

ICONThe Titans used consecutive Tags on Haynesworth, not wanting to commit.

Also, teams may want to go “year-to-year” with players rather than committing to a long marriage. There may be concerns about longevity, durability and, most importantly, work ethic. The Tag gives the team the option to “pay as you go,” albeit for a large amount.

The primary example here is the when the Titans – concerned about motivation and work ethic with Albert Haynesworth – chose to apply the Tag to Haynesworth in consecutive years while making little to no effort to sign him beyond one year. The Redskins then sunk $41 million of guaranteed money into Haynesworth and have been trying to recover ever since.

Can teams apply the Tag repeatedly? Is there any limit?

In the event the teams apply the Tag for a third consecutive year, they must tender an amount of not 120% of the player’s previous salary – as in a second consecutive year – but 144% of that amount. That appears to be the only restriction on the continued use of the Tag.

For which positions is the Tag especially important?

The Tag gives teams an advantage with the two particular skill positions that have proven the most difficult to predict long-term success: running backs (projected Tag of $7.7 million) and wide receivers (projected Tag of $9.4 million).

These are the two positions where decline can come swiftly and irrevocably. The Tag allows teams to avoid being locked into a contract while such decline is happening before their eyes. I expect several Tags to be used here. As we speak, the Tag is being used as leverage in negotiations with running backs Ray Rice and Matt Forte, and receivers DeSean Jackson, Dwayne Bowe and Wes Welker.

An interesting situation is also occurring with kickers, where top deals exceed a $3 million average yet the Tag is projected at about $2.7 million. The Bills’ Rian Lindell recently decided to take a deal with the team, although not what he was hoping for, rather than being saddled with an under-market Tag. Other kickers faced with this dilemma may be Josh Scobee, Connor Barth, Neil Rackers, Matt Prater and Jay Feely.

Super Mario

As the top pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, Mario Williams' contract not only contained $26.5 million in guaranteed money, but also had a host of bells and whistles that the new CBA sought to eliminate (and did).

Williams’ 2011 salary was $13.8 million, above the projected $10.6 million Tag for defensive ends. Thus, his Tag number will be 120% of his 2011 “Salary” — a number that includes the proration from his option bonus and buyback bonus (don’t ask) — totaling $18.325 million. 120% of that number gives Williams a Tag number – should the Texans choose to apply it – of a staggering $21.99 million!

Thus, Williams will either make $22 million with the Texans or sign a long-term contract with the Texans or another team for guaranteed money that will certainly exceed $22 million. It’s good to be Mario.

The game of Tag will heat up in the coming days.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt

Combine Confidential

Finley finds a deal

Before getting to the Combine, a note on the two-year deal agreed to last night between the Packers and talented tight end Jermichael Finley, an agreement with a value of $14 million, with $10.2 million of that amount coming over the next 13 months. The deal makes sense for both sides.

ICONFinley re-ups with the Packers for two years.

For Finley, he avoids an under-market tight end Franchise Tag of $5.5 million and a potentially messy battle over whether he merits a wide receiver Tag number of $9.5 million.

The best news for Finley may be that he is a free agent again in two years at the tender age of 26! He will have another bite at the free agency apple in the prime of his career. And by that time, he and the Packers will know if Greg Jennings, whose contract expires after this season, will be retained or not.

Finley is a talent that the Packers did not want to lose. Now both sides have two more seasons together and more data points will be established prior to another showdown at the bargaining table.

On to the Combine….

While the Super Bowl – three weeks before the Combine – is the sizzle, the Combine is the steak. Here is some insight about what goes on:

The drills

The “meat market” part of the Combine is probably most striking. Players walk around in shirts and sweats displaying numbers and names. They are asked to stand in front of hundreds of scouts in only their gym shorts, then asked to turn around and sometimes asked to bend, while scouts write down in the notebooks observations about their frame.

Then come the measurables: speed, strength, agility, intelligence and, most importantly, medical, as each player is poked and prodded by all 32 NFL team doctors.

ICONScouts came back drooling at Vernon Davis's workout at the Combine.

As to whether teams place too much or too little emphasis on Combine measurables, my feeling is it is another set of metrics to go along with on-the-field game performance. Everything is data to be considered in evaluation.

Do freaks of nature surface at the Combine? Sure. I remember in 2006 when scouts came back from the week in Indianapolis raving nonstop about Mario Williams and Vernon Davis. But again, it's all a part of the process, soon to be followed by Pro Days, more interviews, more testing, more game tapes to watch, etc.

The agents

There will be approximately 900 NFL agents in Indianapolis this weekend, many of whom have no clients. The annual NFLPA meeting is scheduled on Friday and agents are required to attend as part of their certification. I was asked to speak there one year while with the Packers, having been an agent, but due to ongoing bargaining the Packers and NFL Management Council told me to refrain.

The meeting will be the first gathering since the negotiation of the new ten-year CBA with the NFL. Many agents felt ignored during the negotiation process and it will be interesting to see if the meeting becomes heated.

I remember when agents could roam (relatively) freely among the players' hotel. Now agents are barred from most areas; however, they attend to take their players out to meals, give pep talks, and provide moral support while, of course, protecting their new assets from potential poachers that lie in wait.

Agents have little to no influence in getting clients invited to the Combine. Or at least I did. I unsuccessfully tried to secure an invitation for a quarterback from Boston College named Matt Hasselbeck. Now fourteen years into a prosperous NFL career, Matt and I have a nice laugh every year while recalling the names of quarterbacks invited ahead of him that never played in the NFL.

The interviews

Beyond the physical workouts, players are shuttled from team to team for interviews. The answers are predictable – the most important person in their life is their mother, they are very coachable, the problem they had in college with their coach/teammate/girlfriend, etc. was an isolated incident, etc. The players have been “coached up” by agents and services specifically designed for these interviews.

One year I joined the Packers’ interviews. With my legal background and inquisitive nature, I tried to dig deeper and go off-script, asking a lot of questions that started with “Why?” and see how they could re-focus on changed circumstances. Since our time with these players was very limited, I was soon told to ease up on the interrogations.

The tampering

The timing of the Combine – which precedes the opening of free agency and trading – necessitates discussion of player contract negotiations and/or movement. Meetings between team negotiators and agents take place in hotel rooms and lobbies and restaurants throughout downtown Indianapolis. With the Packers, we stayed at the Omni hotel, as did several other teams, and we would each have our section of the lobby where we would meet agents.

Most of my meetings were about players that we had under contract already and we were either trying to re-sign (as the Finley deal last night) or listen to complaints about what the player was making. In the rare times where we were talking about potential free agents, I was careful to phrase questions such as “In the event your player is out of his contract next week, what would you be looking for?”

What became frustrating as a team negotiator was when I could not even talk to agents of our players with expiring contracts because the agent had so many meetings scheduled with other teams. Could I prove that he was talking about our player? No, as most agents have existing players on many teams. But it was maddening to watch agents ignore the player’s existing team to seek out other options.

Let the (Combine) games begin.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt

Peyton Predicament: Part 4

Here are the Peyton Predicament previous entries Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

As the NFL world once again descends on Indianapolis, the epicenter of the biggest offseason decision in the league, this is just getting weird. Colts owner, rock paraphernalia collector and tweet maven Jim Irsay has turned the decision on whether Peyton Manning stays with the Colts into its own reality show/soap opera. Unfortunately for Irsay, he is not the party with leverage in this negotiation.

The latest

We are now smack in the middle of a one-month window where Irsay must either exercise the option on Manning’s contract or release him into the open market. As I have written, the Colts cannot simply let the March 8th date pass (they would still owe him $28 million). They must exercise the option or release him.

All indications have been that the Colts would move on: Irsay first spun a potential split and advised the team’s new coach and general manager to avoid the topic like the plague.

Now, Irsay is publicly floating the notion of trying to work something out with his iconic star if, and only if, Manning would accept a lesser contract reflecting his compromised physical condition. Hmmmm.

The spin

In following this saga, I am reminded of the spin between the NFL and the NFL Players Association exactly one year ago.

When the lockout appeared inevitable, there was posturing by both sides to win the hearts and minds of football fans. The NFL insisted the NFLPA only wanted to decertify and head to court instead of negotiating to resolve the dispute. The NFLPA asserted – through “Let Us Play” campaigns – that it was the NFL, not them, killing football. Both sides pointed fingers and screamed, “It’s their fault!”

Here, Irsay and Manning have been similarly strategic. Irsay tweeted that he didn’t mind paying Manning $26 million last year, a passive-aggressive move in light of the next approaching payout of $28 million. He has called Manning a “politician” and talked about keeping things “in-house” while politically using the media to take things public.

Manning made sure news was disseminated that he is medically cleared by renowned doctors to resume playing football. With that, he shifted the focus back to the Colts and Irsay, who was quietly hoping that Manning would retire and take some role with the team.

All of this spinning is fine, but …

The contract

The contract was negotiated for the Colts to decide to (1) have Manning on a one- year deal, the year he just completed for $26.4 million, or (2) have Manning on a five-year deal for $90 million, with $35.4 million due in 2012. The choice is theirs.

The Colts made this deal with Manning following multiple surgeries and after allowing his previous contract to expire. They also had no backup plan for Manning, hastily rustling up Kerry Collins from the couch with $4 million to play for them.

As to whether Manning would renegotiate either the date of the option or the terms of the contract, the Colts can certainly ask. And Manning can certainly say “no.”

What’s next?

ICONCondon will bargain hard against a reduced contract.

If, as Irsay suggests, the Colts are actually negotiating with agent Tom Condon, my sense is they would be focusing on the reduction of the guaranteed money – $28 million – due to Manning as a result of his compromised physical condition.

For Manning to accept this type of deal, however, the Colts would have to provide enough upside to Manning in exchange for their reduced risk. For example, were the Colts to reduce the guaranteed portion from $28 million to, say, $20 million, Condon may require them to provide twice the amount of the reduction – $16 million – in upside potential performance incentives.

In this scenario, Manning would be able to make $36 milliona $20 million option bonus plus $16 million of incentives — plus his $7.4 million salary for a total of $43.4 million. And, due to the fact that Manning did not play last season, these incentives would be NLTBE (not likely to be earned) and would not count against the Salary Cap until after the 2012 season.

As to moving the date back, again, it serves Manning little to no purpose to allow the Colts more time, and Manning wants to know their decision as soon as possible. Having said that, everything is negotiable. The Colts can try to “buy time” by paying Manning to move the date back.

Manning’s options

My sense is Manning will have several teams interested despite his recent medical issues. And those options may include the Redskins and Dolphins, two teams with ownership history showing a willingness to pay a premium for name brands.

Options create leverage, and leverage creates large guaranteed contracts. Will that guarantee exceed the $28 million Manning is schedule to make? That’s a good question, but my sense is it would be close.

To the future

My continuing belief is that the Colts and Manning will part. The Colts know Andrew Luck is their future; moving on with him is a reasonable and understandable business decision. Organizations need to evolve.

Irsay just needs to tell Manning that. It would be a difficult and uncomfortable conversation, but all parties would eventually be better for it.

Before we get to that, however, I am sure there is much more ahead to “As the Manning Turns”. Part 5 of this series is inevitable.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

Receiver Roulette

The longest offseason in major professional sports has begun. While we wait for the next edition of “As Peyton Turns,” let’s examine a high-profile position group – wide receiver – that offers a substantial amount of talent. Among the group, five upper-tier players – Wes Welker, Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Marques Colston and Dwayne Bowe – are set to receive the Franchise Tag (“Tag”)or hit the open market. Let's examine:

Wes Welker

My sense is Brady will continue to have his favorite wide receiver on the Patriots.

Welker had a remarkable 2011 season (122 receptions, 1569 yards, 9 touchdowns) despite the disappointment of his last play. Regardless, his rapport with Tom Brady and prolific work product in New England – 554 receptions in five seasons – speaks for him being retained.

My sense is Welker will return to the Patriots, whether via a long-term deal or the Tag. Bill Belichick had long coveted Welker when he played for Miami and the Patriots will be competitive with Welker as long as his contract demands are not astronomical.

The Tag number for wide receivers is projected to be around $9.4 million and would represent a substantial increase for Welker, who earned $2.5 million last season.

Prediction: a deal gets done with the Patriots.

Vincent Jackson

The contentious relationship between Chargers general manager A.J. Smith and Jackson may finally end. In 2010 as a Restricted Free Agent – due to the uncapped rules in place – Jackson held out most of the season. Smith, who relishes a good battle with a player, responded by placing Jackson on the roster exempt list, suspended him three games and reduced the $3.7 million tender to the minimum – $583,000, prorated to $171,000 for the balance of the season.

In 2011, Jackson unhappily received the Tag once the lockout ended (if one can be unhappy earning $11.4 million). To tag him again in 2012, Jackson would receive $13.8 million – 120% of last year's salary – and considerably more than the $9.4 million Tag number for receivers.

Prediction: the Chargers are prepared to move on from Jackson, who is said to be seeking a 5-year $50 million deal (aren’t we all?).

DeSean Jackson

After ending his training camp holdout, Jackson arrived in July with an expectation of being compensated for outperforming a contract that paid $600,000 in 2011. That new deal never arrived, and Jackson watched as the Eagles spent cash freely on big tickets such as Nnamdi Asomugha and Michael Vick as well as mid-tier players such as Vince Young, Ronnie Brown and Steve Smith.

Jackson – admittedly distracted by his contract situation – was marred by inconsistency all season.

The Eagles thus find themselves in a precarious position. Jackson's big-play potential is undeniable yet his attitude, slight build, and concussion history are mitigating factors for a long-term deal. Also, Jackson's view of his value is in a different sphere than that of the Eagles front office.

Prediction: the Tag, while the Eagles subtly let teams know Jackson can be had for an attractive offer.

Marques Colston

Colston, a 7th round pick out of Hofstra in 2006, has been pure treasure for the Saints, topping 70 catches, 1000 yards and 7 touchdowns in each of the last three seasons.

Colston’s stay in New Orleans may be directly related to that of his quarterback Drew Brees. The Saints are in heavy negotiations with Brees and if they cannot secure him by March 5th they will certainly use their Tag.

The team may then be forced to choose between Colston or Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks, also set to become a free agent. Ultimately, with other priorities, a talented stable of receivers and concerns about Colston’s balky knee may rule the Saints decision.

Prediction: the Saints let Colston enter the market.

Dwayne Bowe

Bowe followed up his breakout 2010 season (72 catches, 1162 yards, and 15 touchdowns) with a solid performance in 2011, despite a carousel of quarterbacks slinging the ball his way.

The Chiefs have made it known that retaining Bowe and cornerback Brandon Carr are their priorities. One player will likely receive the Tag; the other a long-term deal. With Bowe naturally wanting a contract reflective of the market set by Santonio Holmes – five years, $45 million, $24 million guaranteed – the Chiefs might prefer to go year-to-year with Bowe, applying the Tag.

Prediction: Bowe receives the Tag.

Stay tuned, more top players in position groups to come.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.


Before dealing with the first significant move of the 2012 offseason — the Raiders' release of Stanford Routt — a note on former Raider Randy Moss wanting to play again.

Moss wants in

It is interesting that a good amount of attention was paid to Moss “UStreaming” that he wants to come back to the NFL. That is nice, but he needs a team to make that happen.

ICONMoss wants to be “unretired.”

Moss “retired” last season after surveying the NFL and not finding any mutual interest. That is not likely to change now.

The vast majority of NFL players do not retire. As with Moss – a truly special player in his prime – these players are “retired” by NFL teams' lack of interest, hoping that someone will “unretire” them.

Brett Favre was one of the lucky ones: the Vikings “unretired” him twice. Now more than ever, teams move on with younger players that have futures ahead of them, not pasts behind them.

Let’s be clear: whether Favre or Moss or Terrell Owens or Tiki Barber or any player returns to the NFL after being away a while is less about them than it is about a team willing to take them.

Moss may sign a one-year deal at some point, but I doubt it will be soon. My sense is teams will go through the offseason and perhaps bring him in for training camp with little risk in the contract.

And speaking of Moss and Favre, I will never forget trying to bring them together.

Raider woes

New Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie inherited a thorny contract and Cap situation. The Raiders possess several, shall we say, “player-friendly” contracts and have long been a favorite team of the agent community.

Routt’s deal was certainly one in that category. With his contract expiring last year at this time, Nnamdi Asomugha certain to sign elsewhere and the NFL heading into an indefinite lockout, the Raiders panicked and re-signed Routt to a three-year contract with total value of $31 million and potential guarantees up to $20 million. Around the same time, the Raiders also signed defensive end Richard Seymour to an eye-popping two-year, $30 million deal, a contract that was essentially fully guaranteed.

Now a year later, Routt is a former Raider and will receive approximately half of that $31 million – $15 million – for a performance of fifteen passes defended ($1 million per pass defended).

Routt's riches

Routt received $10 million in 2011 and was to earn an additional $5 million Friday were he on the Raiders roster. The Raiders released him Thursday to avoid that $5 million.

They cannot, however, avoid another $5 million. Routt has a $5 million guaranteed option bonus due in March. It was structured as a “second signing bonus” so the Raiders did not have to fund the payment in 2011, as per NFL rules. This structure is very similar to first-round rookie deals in the prior CBA, with large second-year option bonuses that shielded large sums from the Rookie Cap.

Here's a kicker — that $5 million to Routt in March is not offset against future money from another team. Thus, in 2012, Routt will receive $5 million from the Raiders plus any new contract money from where he signs next. And with the leverage of several teams being interested – Bills, Titans, Texans, Chiefs, Cowboys, Vikings – he will again have a nice contract.

This can rarely be said about a player just fired, but it’s good to be Stanford Routt.

Cap issues

The Raiders have some serious work to do just to get to a point that they can operate going into the 2012 League Year. Only the Steelers Cap situation is more dire (I’ll have a separate column upcoming on their situation).

The Cap was $120.375 million in 2011, with an additional $3 million that each team could “draw down” from the future, thus a practical Cap of about $123 million. The exact figure for the 2012 Cap will not be known for a couple weeks, but I don’t expect it to be much higher.

And, as discussed here in December, while teams can, for the first time, “bring forward” Cap room, those benefits are somewhat hollow for 2012 without team minimum spending requirements (not until 2013).

As we speak, teams such as these are restructuring contracts for short-term Cap relief while creating long-term consequences. Cap managers have to prepare for the 2012 Cap while accounting for tenders to their exclusive and restricted free agents, earned incentives from 2012, franchise or transition tenders, Rookie Pool, etc.

The business of football will dominate the next few months in the NFL, and the wheels have already started to turn.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt

Peyton Predicament: Part 3

First, here are Peyton Predicament Part 1 and Part 2.

As the Winter of Peyton continues with an expected divorce from the Colts (irreconcilable differences?), I have received scores of questions about the financial ramifications of such a move to the Colts. I will try to answer these both from a cash perspective and by pulling down the curtain on the closely guarded mechanics of the Salary Cap. Stay with me here…


As discussed previously, releasing Manning represents a significant and dramatic cash savings to the Colts. Were the option exercised, the team would be required to pay Manning a $28 million option payment plus a $7.4 million salary, for a total of $35.4 million in 2012. That, combined with the $26.4 million he received in 2011, would mean a combined $61.8 million over two seasons.

Salaries of $8.4, $9.4 and $10.4 million in 2013, 2014, and 2015 follow this year’s salary, although none of these amounts are guaranteed.

Were Manning to be terminated – his contract, not him – all of these numbers would be deleted from the Colts' ledgers.

ICONManning and Luck together would cost almost $51 million in 2012.

Thus, on a cash basis, the Colts would save $35.4 million in 2012 and $63.6 million over the next four years. And, as the Colts plan for the future, approximately $15 million of the 2012 savings and $23 million of the four-year savings will be allocated to the presumed top pick in the Draft, Andrew Luck.

Again, if somehow, contrary to all indications, the Colts exercise the option on Manning and draft Luck, the combined cash to the two players – who play the same position – would be close to $51 million paid in 2012. Paying $51 million for two players at the same position, only one of which will play, is untenable.


The Cap consequences to a Manning release are a bit more complicated.

One of the main features of Manning’s contract when it was negotiated in July was a $20 million signing bonus at its inception. As per the NFL Salary Cap – unchanged in the new CBA – signing bonuses are prorated over the length of the contract. Thus, the Cap charge for Manning’s signing bonus – before adding any salary — is $4 million per year every year from 2011-2015.

Remaining signing bonus proration accelerates upon release of a player. Thus, were Manning released, the entire remaining unamortized bonus — $16 million — would accelerate into the 2012 Cap. This charge is commonly referred to as “dead money”: amounts on a team’s Cap for players no longer on the roster.

During my nine years in Green Bay, I was always conscious of was making sure that when our Peyton Manning — Brett Favre — either retired or was traded (releasing him was never a thought), the Cap acceleration of his contract would not cripple the team. There are graveyards of dead money charges above $10 million upon the retirements/releases/trades of players such as John Elway, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Jeff Garcia, Mark Brunell, Steve McNair, etc. Favre's “dead money” charge to the Packers’ Cap upon being traded to the Jets was $600,000 (and yes, shameless tooting of my own horn!)

The Option Treatment

The Cap treatment of the option bonus, due to its timing, is rather unique. Since it is due and payable within the 2011 League Yearthe March 8th deadline precedes the March 13th 2012 League Year opening — the option amount is prorated into 2011 as well as future years of the contract. Thus, $5.6 million1/5th of the $28 million option bonus – was allocated as a Cap charge in every year of the original contract.

In the event Manning is released, the Cap charges for the option will come off the books, meaning the $5.6 million charge for 2012 will be deleted and the $5.6 million option proration amount in 2011 will then become a credit to the 2012 Cap, reducing the Colts' Cap charge on Manning by that amount.

Manning's Cap charge, if somehow the Colts exercise the option and keep him, is the following: $4 million (the amount of prorated signing bonus) PLUS $5.6 million (the amount of prorated option bonus) PLUS $7.4 million (the amount of salary) EQUALS $17 million.

So what is Manning’s 2012 Cap charge to the Colts if released?

$16 million (the amount of accelerated bonus proration) MINUS $5.6 million (the amount of credited option bonus proration) EQUALS $10.4 million.

Thus, if the Colts move on from Manning, the consequences of the contract signed five months ago will be $26.4 million in cash and $10.4 million in leftover “dead money” Cap charges.

Stay tuned. Test coming soon.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt