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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