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NFL: There's no guarantees, except contract money

Sunday, March 31, 2002

What's the big deal about guaranteed contracts in the NFL? The Steelers reacted to Kris Brown's deal as if he were demanding stock in the franchise.

They were unwilling to guarantee a portion of his salary in the final two years of the four-year deal he signed with Houston. Instead, they wanted him to move that $750,000 up front into a signing bonus. That's like saying you don't believe in the Easter Bunny but Santa's the real thing.

They did not want to set a precedent by giving a player a contract that guaranteed part of his salary. Yet, the Steelers and other teams do it every day. They call them signing bonuses.

You don't think the Dallas Cowboys signed guard/tackle Larry Allen, 30, to a guaranteed contract when they gave him a $12.35 million signing bonus over six years? What about the $6 million the Steelers gave Jerome Bettis in a signing bonus last season? The Bettis deal officially lasts six years but in reality the deal was only for two or three years. That's a pretty good guarantee for that amount of time.

The fact the Steelers were willing to shift the portion of Brown's guaranteed salary into a signing bonus if he were willing to restructure it shows it's not the guarantee they were worried about. It was calling it a guarantee.

Dan Ferens is the Houston Texans' chief negotiator after working for the Steelers for 20 years. He knew that by writing a contract that guaranteed a portion of Brown's salary in the final two years, the Steelers would balk at matching it. The Texans and Brown's agent made sure everyone knew about the guarantee.

But what's wrong with guaranteed contracts in the NFL, or at least guaranteeing a portion of them? Get rid of the signing bonuses and guarantee the salaries. It would make better sense under the NFL salary cap rules. Teams would be better able to trade players and manage their salary cap, or if a player sustained a career-ending injury.

Take the Bettis deal, for example. It calls for him to earn $30 million over six years, including that $6 million signing bonus. Bettis knows he won't play that long and will never see at least the final two and maybe three years of that deal.

If he were to be traded or cut after this season, the entire $4 million left of his pro-rated signing bonus would immediately count against their cap in 2003, instead of the $1 million it does now. However, instead of a signing bonus, if they guaranteed him $1 million in salary for each of the six seasons, plus whatever original salary he was scheduled to earn in the first two years, it would make better sense. Bettis would still be guaranteed his $6 million plus the salaries in his first two seasons. Then, when he retires, he would count $1 million against their cap in each season through 2006. If he keeps playing longer, it would still work for him and the club. And, if for some reason, the Steelers traded him, he would no longer count on their salary cap, his new team would assume that.

You say the players won't go for that? Kris Brown wanted to -- and not to that extreme -- but it was the Steelers who wanted to restructure his deal and move more money into a signing bonus.

It's all a matter of perception.

Quick slants

Forget what you see or hear about Houston taking quarterback Joey Harrington with the first pick in the draft. The Texans have decided on quarterback David Carr.

Instead of paying too much, the Texans believe they landed Kris Brown at a relatively cheap price on a four-year, $4.7 million contract.

"We're getting a young place-kicker who is very talented and who is going into the prime of his career," GM Charley Casserly said. "He will be a big asset for us. Clearly, kicking field goals will be a crucial part of our game in our first couple of years as we build this football team. Pittsburgh struggled with trying to decide if they were going to match this offer, and we do know that there were some people there who wanted him back."

The San Diego Chargers have spent more than $53 million on free agents the past month, including $18 million in guaranteed money.

New Orleans wasted little time in dismantling a team that went from the playoffs in 2000 to 7-9. They've either traded, cut or lost in free agency Ricky Williams, La'Roi Glover, Willie Roaf, Joe Johnson, Cam Cleeland, Jeff Blake and Chris Naeole. They add up to 12 Pro Bowl appearances. Next on the chopping block could be Willie Jackson and Keith Mitchell.

"If anybody thought there wasn't going to be changes after the last month of the season they were probably kidding themselves," GM Randy Mueller said. "We've chosen to go this direction. Our team failed miserably the last month. We can't allow that again."

Wide receiver Chris Doering was more than happy to leave Coach Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville and re-join his former Florida coach, Steve Spurrier, in Washington.

"I don't think you have to have that uptight military style. I had a terrible time when I left Florida. I got drafted by Jacksonville. With Coughlin there, there couldn't be two more extremes. I was miserable. I think you can have a laid back atmosphere where people still work hard, and you can win if you show the players that you can be successful that way and I think [Spurrier's] record proves it."

Owner Ralph Wilson has put a lot of faith in his management team of Tom Donahoe and Tom Modrak, both formerly with the Steelers, to rebuild the 3-13 Bills. "We have the best organization we've ever had in terms of talent evaluation."

Showing them the way? The Patriots, who won a championship for the first time in their 42 years, will be guests tomorrow of the Boston Red Sox when they open the season in Fenway Park. The Red Sox haven't won a championship since Babe Ruth took the mound for them at Fenway.

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