For those with an interest in history, there are many people in and around the NFL who view the upcoming negotiations between quarterbacks Peyton Manning(notes) and Tom Brady(notes), and their respective clubs as akin to Fort Sumter in the Civil War.
It could be the beginning of a very ugly war between the players and the league. Specifically, it could indicate whether the NFL Players Association and league work out a new collective bargaining agreement or if players will be locked out by owners in 2011.
"If Manning [of the Indianapolis Colts] doesn't get the kind of contract we all expect or, worse, doesn't get a deal done at all, that really means it's going to be war," an agent said last week. "There has never been a player with more leverage than him. No one. If he can't get a deal done at his price, we're all in trouble."
While some players such as the New England Patriots' Vince Wilfork(notes), Jahri Evans(notes) of the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers' Patrick Willis(notes) have signed high-dollar extensions this offseason, none of those guys are in the expected tax bracket of Manning and New England's Brady, guys who could reset the wage scale in the NFL.
"Everything is based off what quarterbacks make," an executive with an AFC team said. "That's the top end in terms of the whole league … you might have some team where the quarterback isn't always the top-paid guy, but the top guys in the league are always going to be quarterbacks and it's going to work its way down from there."
Manning and Brady, former league MVPs and Super Bowls champion passers widely considered the top two passers of their era, currently are heading into the final year on their contracts. While the Colts' front office has openly discussed the desire to sign Manning soon, there is seemingly less reason for optimism between Brady and the Pats. Generally, the value of quarterbacks' contracts is always important, but there's even more attention paid to the Manning and Brady negotiations because of the collective bargaining agreement. While some people say that is only symbolic, many believe that monster contrast in the area of $25 million a year for Manning and perhaps $20 million a year for Brady would be a clear indication that football will be played in 2011.
"There's no way I could see that any owner is going to spend that kind of money on one player and not have football," the AFC executive said. "You spend $7 [million] or $8 million on somebody, OK, that's just common-sense business. You spend $20 [million] or $30 million, you're making a commitment."
If Manning, who's at the end of a seven-year, $99.2 million contract, is to sign a new long-term deal, the pact could easily include $50 million in guarantees, such as bonuses. Unlike base salaries, which are not guaranteed, the Colts would be paying Manning the guaranteed portion of his contract regardless of whether players are locked out next year.
While several teams have shied away from inking players to lucrative extensions this offseason, Manning's situation is unique. He is a four-time Most Valuable Player. He has never missed a game with injury and he's about as good a bet as you can have to play another four years at his current level. He has won one Super Bowl title and led his team to another. He probably will set every major passing record in the game by the time he is done. He is a team leader. Moreover, he is the top advertising face of the NFL.
At least with Brady, who signed a six-year, $60 million contract in 2005, the Patriots can argue that he is an injury risk. Even so, Brady ranks only second to Manning and perhaps equal to Drew Brees(notes) of New Orleans in terms of overall leverage.
That means that there's an expectation among so many players to see Manning cash in. Yeah, that may sound like greed. Welcome to the world. Players don't play for free and their chance to make money is limited. They cheer for each other to make more and more.
But they also know that no one will make more than Manning right now.
"Peyton is the man," Saints safety Darren Sharper(notes) said. "I'm not a quarterback, so I'm not getting quarterback money. But my [agent] can always argue, 'If a quarterback makes this much, this guy should make this much.' "
Medical community notices
The Sports Illustrated cover picture featuring quarterback Drew Brees, wife Brittany and infant son Braylen following New Orleans' 31-17 victory over Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV resonated with doctors who specialize in pediatric hearing issues. Specifically, their attention was drawn to the head phones worn by Braylen.
After the photo circulated, Brittany was contacted by the Wall Street Journal for an article about the headset.
"All the pediatric audiologists were loving my wife because they've been preaching for so long about how certain loud noises can have long-term effects on children," Brees said. "So here's an NFL wife putting the ear muffs on, doing something proactive."
While the medical community took the moment as an opportunity to promote a cause, the head phones serve a more practical purpose for Brees: The idea was to keep Braylen on a good sleep pattern and prevent some of the crankiness that comes with an over-tired child. A little less trouble for when a game-beaten dad comes home for some rest.
Then again …
"I want those moments, too," Brees said, showing an admirable bit of parental responsibility. "I want a little bit of everything as a father."
Addressing Johnson's contract situation
The first issue raised is that I failed to point out that Johnson saved some money by not using an agent, offsetting some of the projected $20 million lost by representing himself.
By rule of the NFL Players Association, agents are allowed to charge a maximum of 3 percent of any contract they negotiate. By that standard, if Johnson had hired an agent who successfully negotiated two contracts worth the $104 million I suggested he might have made, Johnson would have had to pay $3.12 million to an agent.
That would have left him with $100.88 million, as opposed to the $81.71 million he is set to make over the same period of time (12 years) under the two contracts he signed so far in his career. In other words, it still would have paid for Johnson to hire an agent. Furthermore, it's unknown if Johnson has paid anything to his uncle, Andre Melton, to serve as an adviser. Methinks that Melton got at least something for helping his nephew.
The second point that many readers make in various way is that they shouldn't feel sorry for Johnson. He's making plenty of money, shouldn't complain and if he does complain, he's just being greedy. Worse, some readers believe I was justifying greed.
The point of the article is not to feel sorry for Johnson. The point is to understand how decisions can have a long-term effect on a player and a team. Ultimately, Johnson is not happy about his contract and that's not good. If he had taken different steps, the situation would be different.
This and that
• Unknown fact: People around the Houston Texans often say the specter of an NCAA investigation of former USC running back Reggie Bush(notes) had much to do with the decision by the team to take defensive end Mario Williams(notes) over Bush. Bush scared the Texans by not returning calls right away after news of possible violations was broken by Yahoo! Sports. That's partially true, but the clincher in the deal was a bit of advice from then Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, a high-placed NFL source said recently. Parcells weighed in on the matter after being contacted by Texans owner Bob McNair.
• The Saints aren't exactly upset with offensive tackle Jammal Brown(notes) for not showing up this offseason, but Brown is not getting a contract extension and he's not getting cut (which is what he really wants), according to a team source. Brown, a former Pro Bowler, missed almost all of the 2009 season because of injury, will have to play on a one-year deal for approximately $3.5 million. Brown isn't happy because he's not getting a new contract and because he's not expected to start this season, meaning that his value in free agency will be lower than he hopes.
• A rumor floated on radio in New Orleans that the Saints might be interested in running back LenDale White(notes), who was recently cut by the Seattle Seahawks and is reportedly facing a four-game suspension from the NFL for violation of the substance abuse policy. While the Saints need a running back to replace departed Mike Bell(notes), White's questionable work ethic doesn't exactly fit the unselfish mold of player Sean Payton has been known to target. Beyond that, White probably isn't interested in playing second fiddle again to Bush, his former teammate at USC. White had a hard enough time playing that role with Chris Johnson for the Tennessee Titans.
- NFL Players Association