Smith's contract reminiscent of Williams' pact

As Michael Crabtree(notes) continues to hold out for a better contract offer from the San Francisco 49ers, maybe he's haunted by the images of Leland Hardy and Andre Smith(notes).

Hardy, the lead negotiator for Master P's No Limit Sports agency, negotiated the deal of 1999 NFL draft pick and current Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams(notes). By all accounts, Williams' deal was one of the most ludicrous contracts in NFL history.

The contract was heavily weighted in incentives that were almost impossible for Williams, selected No. 5 by the New Orleans Saints, to reach. Williams' pact had a maximum value of $68 million and included a then-record signing bonus of $8.8 million. However, the bulk of those incentives were based on Williams surpassing the performance of former Denver running back Terrell Davis, who had the most productive four-year start to a career by any running back in NFL history. Williams, upon getting traded to the Miami Dolphins in 2002, restructured his contract so that he could earn incentives and increase his base pay in following years


Smith has been sidelined since fracturing his left foot a couple of days after signing with the Bengals.

(Tony Tribble/AP Photo)

The memory of the Williams deal was revived by Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith. Smith's odyssey to being the No. 6 overall pick is a misadventure by itself (some projected him to go as high as No. 2 before a series of goofs, such as leaving the NFL scouting combine early). However, his contract may rank right there with Williams as a show-stopper. Or in the case of agent Alvin Keels, a career stopper. Throw in the fact that Smith missed most of training camp while holding out and you have a deal that defies logic.

Smith essentially signed what is really a six-year contract (don't believe the four-year claim, the team can easily buy the last two years) worth an expected value of $42 million, assuming he hits all the normal thresholds. If Smith hits all the "Superman" clauses in the contract (he basically has to go to the Pro Bowl and Cincinnati has to get to the playoffs every year), he can make a maximum of $50 million.

Now, compare that deal to what quarterback Mark Sanchez(notes) got from the New York Jets at No. 5 and what wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey(notes) got from the Oakland Raiders at No. 7. Sanchez signed a five-year deal in which he will make $47.5 million if he hits the normal thresholds and can max out at $60 million.

In other words, Sanchez can make more money in less time. Of course, Keels can argue that Sanchez got the "quarterback premium," an unwritten rule of contracts. But that logic doesn't explain how Heyward-Bey, taken a pick later, did so much better than Smith. Like Sanchez, Heyward-Bey signed a five-year deal and can make $38.5 million with the reasonable thresholds and $54 million with the maximum thresholds.

And Heyward-Bey didn't have to hold out. Moreover, most people say Heyward-Bey was one of the biggest reaches of the first round this year.

To top all of that off, Smith could get only $21.5 million guaranteed because the deal was technically written as a four-year deal with a two-year club option (he's guaranteed to make $8 million more if the option is exercised).

All of that makes for one really bad contract. Or as one person with extensive knowledge of NFL contracts put it: "One of the worst contracts I've ever seen."


Understanding the big picture: It's worth bringing up another classic mistake in regards to Smith's representation. According to two agents who interviewed with Smith and his mother, the rookie was concerned about the percentage paid to an agent. One of the growing issues with potential first-round picks is that they don't want to pay the maximum 3 percent that agents are allowed to charge. While that's not unreasonable, it shouldn't be a determining factor because the difference between 2 and 3 percent on a contract is minimal compared to the difference between a good and a bad deal.

Put it this way: If you have an agent who charges two percent on a $20 million contract, the agent makes $400,000 and the player gets $19.6 million. But if you have an agent who charges three percent and is able to get $20.5 million for the contract, the agent makes $615,000, but the player gets $19.885 million.

Coaching drain ahead? A number of NFL assistant coaches are increasingly concerned about what their contracts for the 2011 season will look like with a lockout on the horizon.

Larry Kennan, the executive director of the NFL Coaches Association, said the assistants fear that teams will write their contracts with provisions if there is no season.

"Basically, there's going to be an amount if there is a season and a lot less if there's not," Kennan said. "That's what everybody is expecting and a lot of guys are worried about it."

There isn't much many assistant coaches can do about that, so expect a fair number of coaches to look at college jobs, where there will be more security in the short term. That could mean an exodus of assistants from the NFL ranks for a season or two.

"I could easily see that happening," Kennan said. "There's more security and, by and large, the lifestyle at the college level is a lot more manageable."

On a good note: One good bit of news for assistant coaches is that the NFL appears to be working hard on a solution to the benefits issue that came up earlier this offseason, when franchise owners voted to opt out of the plan for team employees, including coaches and front-office workers.

While only nine teams have opted out of the old plan and replaced it with new ones, the bigger concern was the mechanics of how assistant coaches would get vested in any new plans. The coaches were concerned that because they change teams so often, they would never attain the full vesting that came after 15 years under the previous plan.

"It's a real concern for a lot of guys," said New York Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff, who is fully vested after 24 years with the Jets and Dolphins. "You're in one place for two or three years, then another for a year or two. When that happens, it's hard to get anywhere if you keep changing plans."

However, both Westhoff and Kennan said that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league overall have been responsive to this concern.

"I really think they're working toward getting something done," Kennan said. "And I don't always believe that the NFL is going to do what they say they're going to do. But I feel good about this."

Don't expect Berthelsen to jump in: NFL owners hoping that longtime NFL Players Association attorney Richard Berthelsen would jump ship to the NHL Players Association will be disappointed to know that Berthelsen is unlikely to go anywhere.

Berthelsen was one of three finalists for the NHLPA job in 2007 before it went to Paul Kelly, who was fired earlier this month. While the NHLPA might be interested in talking to Berthelsen this time, there are two factors working against a possible move.

First, a big reason why the NHLPA picked Kelly over Berthelsen was that Kelly was younger and was expected to be on the job longer. Berthelsen hasn't gotten any younger.

Second, Berthelsen is troubled by the structure of the NHLPA job, a source familiar with the circumstances said. Hockey players have constructed a complicated system that includes an advisory board and independent employees outside the control of the executive director, making it difficult for anyone to have long-term success in the job.

Or as the source said, "The whole situation is set up for failure."

While Berthelsen has said he will retire after the negotiations for a new NFL collective bargaining agreement are completed, owners might prefer to see him go sooner than later. Berthelsen was the right-hand man to the late Gene Upshaw as the union progressively got the highest percentage of gross revenue (59 percent) of any of the major North American sports. Furthermore, the NFLPA got good enough at negotiations that it's the owners who opted out of the collective bargaining agreement this time.

Top five

1. Pittsburgh Steelers: It's an ugly formula for winning, but it works great.
2. Philadelphia Eagles: Donovan McNabb's(notes) injury is a concern, but they had a great road opener.
3. New York Giants: They may have the best front seven in the NFL.
4. Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning(notes)-to-Reggie Wayne at midseason form.
5. New England Patriots: Not much rust for Tom Brady(notes).

Bottom five

28. Cincinnati Bengals: One TD? At home? In the opener? Pitiful?
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Hey Byron Leftwich(notes), there are no radar guns in the NFL.
30. St. Louis Rams: Will pass Detroit for worst of the league by season's end.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: Don't be fooled, the loss to Baltimore wasn't that competitive.
32. Detroit Lions: Eighteen consecutive losses puts the Lions within two of the second-longest losing streak in NFL history.

Odds and ends

Kudos to the NFL for adding the TAR (target) category to the stats kept at every game. While it's not a perfect indicator for how many times a receiver was the intended target on a play, it's a good piece of information.


DeAngelo Hall

Washington Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall(notes) is one of the league's best quotes and a pretty good guy. However, he painted himself into a corner last week when asked about the upside of playing in New York. Said Hall: "I was always taught if you play well in New York and you play well in prime time, you will make a name for yourself. It is definitely one of those games that I think everybody on our team is going to be out there trying to perform and trying to make plays." However, after a rough day in the season-opening loss to the Giants, Hall said in an interview with Comcast: "I feel like the guy that just couldn't make a play to save my life. … You know, we definitely need to tackle better, myself probably No. 1 on that list. … Hell, I even made a stupid mistake on special teams, you know, got a block in the back. So all around, I just didn't execute and play to my ability at all."

Just after one week of play, we've already seen at least a couple of instances in which a player's bad judgment did or almost cost his team a victory. The Denver Broncos needed a miracle to survive after quarterback Kyle Orton(notes) failed to avoid a sack late in the fourth quarter when the Broncos were in field-goal range. The six-yard loss on third down forced the Broncos to punt. However, Buffalo Bills kick returner Leodis McKelvin(notes) wins the dubious honor with his poor decision to fight for yards on a return where the Bills had a lead at New England. His fumble cost the Bills a potential huge win.

Speaking of the Patriots, they better hope linebacker Jerod Mayo(notes) isn't out too long. If he is, that's a huge loss of speed in a front seven that is pretty darn slow. Buffalo's touchdown drive in the fourth quarter exposed that when that group gets stretched, it's in trouble.

While the Patriots may not be fast, they are among the best tacklers in the league, a point made by former New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks. "It's almost the exception instead of the rule," Banks said, lamenting the fact that so many teams exhibit such poor technique these days. "It's only going to get better when the coaching gets better. You can see that some teams make it a point of emphasis, even if they don't hit in practice like we used to. Pittsburgh, Baltimore, the Parcells teams like Miami and New England. But that's about it … last year, I was shocked with how many tackles I saw Indianapolis miss because of poor technique."


Mark Sanchez

Congrats to Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, who looked really good converting three third-down throws on the way to his first touchdown pass against Houston. However, Sanchez's interception was troubling because it came on a seam route. In June, Sanchez threw three interceptions in one practice on routes just like that because he failed to pick up defenders in that part of the field.

Good luck to NFL refs this season when they have to make judgments on those hits by defensive linemen who have fallen and then try to get the quarterback anyway. While it's understandable that the NFL wants to protect quarterbacks, the league did it at the expense of a hustle play that is based on reaction ingrained in players after years of coaching. For fans, the difference is that linemen can try to swipe with their arms, but can't drive with their shoulders. At full speed, good luck figuring it out.

Dear ESPN analysts Steve Young and Mike Golic: You're both great guys, but you should have watched the officiating video the NFL sent out last week in which Mike Pereira, the league's head of officials, went over the exact situation where Oakland wide receiver Louis Murphy's(notes) potential 19-yard touchdown in the first half was overturned. Pereira explained in detail that a receiver has to control the ball all the way to the ground for it to be a catch and that the league was emphasizing that point this season.

Dear Miami, the Wildcat offense was a nice trick last year. This year, it looks really old. If the Dolphins are going to get something out of second-round pick/quarterback Pat White(notes), they need to move him to wide receiver, the way Pittsburgh moved Antwaan Randle El(notes).

Dear Shawne Merriman(notes), love your choice of haircut, not your choice in women.