The hurdles to signing Vick

Upon the conditional reinstatement of Michael Vick by Commissioner Roger Goodell this week, the former Falcons quarterback is now free to sign with any team in the NFL. However, much like the process when Terrell Owens was set free by the Dallas Cowboys earlier this offseason, many teams have already stepped up to announce they have no interest. This bizarre process of teams stating their lack of interest is emblematic of all the moving parts involved in the signing of a player who resonates as Vick does.

Vick is an electrifying talent; there is little debate about that. He would also help a team’s offense in a limited role, if for no other reason than the threat he would give them as a decoy to run or pass. Those traits, however, are certainly not enough for a team to add him. If they were, there would be teams lining up to sign Vick rather than lining up not to sign him, which is what’s happening now. More than anything else, this is an organizational decision with many layers. They are:


Prior to a team showing interest in Vick, ownership would have to buy in. This is a large hurdle since many owners or their families own dogs. That emotional and visceral reaction to the treatment of a dog will be paramount. And do not underestimate the reaction of owners’ wives and close friends in this matter.

Even if ownership were not deterred by Vick’s involvement in dogfighting, it would have to deal with the prospect of demonstrations, picketing and a public relations battle with animal rights groups – certainly an unattractive prospect.

And, of course, the bottom line is the bottom line. Signing Vick could cause harsh reactions from partners of all types, affecting revenue in a slumping economy.

For many, if not most, teams, the discussion on Vick ends with ownership. In the event it does not, the next discussion will be…


It’s easy to say that Vick is a talent and can help a team win. The more difficult question is whether Vick is a talent who can fit the scheme that a team runs and actually help it win. It is, in many ways, like a draft discussion. Scouts may identify a player as a first-round talent, but the tougher question is, “Would you take this player as OUR first-round pick?”

In the event the personnel department agrees that Vick is not only a talent worth signing but also a talent worth signing for its team, the next discussion will be…


Calls will be placed to former Vick coaches such as Dan Reeves, Jim Mora and others from any coach interested in having him on the team. There were concerns about Vick’s partying lifestyle even before he signed a $100-million contract. There were rumors that his first stop after his house arrest ended was a strip club. The key question from the coaching staff will be coachability. Will he listen? Will he assimilate and be part of the team? Will he be a positive or negative in the locker room?

Additionally, Vick will take practice reps and game plays away from other players. How will that affect things? Vick will cause coaches to develop new schemes, new plays and new wrinkles to an offense that has been painstakingly planned for the past six months.

In the event the coaching staff agrees that Vick can be coached and will not negatively affect the team, the next discussion will be…


I’ve talked about this many times before. There are obvious risks. Any front office is going to want a contract that’s as risk-free as possible. Translation: In the event the team decides to release Vick, it has not put any guaranteed or unearned money into him. The team essentially would want a pay-for-play model with potential upside while protecting the downside.

Can a team get this type of contract? It depends entirely on leverage and whether Vick has options. If he has more than one bidder, he can probably extract a better contract. If he is negotiating with only one team, the team can mine more favorable terms.

In the end, this may be the most important aspect in signing Vick. He was once the highest-paid player in the history of the sport. Now he might be looking at a minimum contract.

And, if the contract is on board, the next discussion will circle back to…

Community Relations/Corporate Sales

The signing will cause a stir. There are those who believe any publicity is good publicity, but this will not necessarily be the case here. Vick is a lightning rod; he will draw attention to the franchise and the community. Some will be positive, a lot will be negative. The community relations/public relations/external affairs/corporate sales departments – or whatever names they are called – should be prepared for a backlash and ready with responses.

After all of that, we will see if there’s a team or teams left standing to sign Michael Vick. Stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter: adbrandt

The head coach as agent

In 2003, I was talking to another well-known agent when he suddenly took a call from a first-year head coach. The conversation went something like this:

Head coach: “Where is my first-round pick?”

Agent: “Your owners are dragging their feet. I don’t think you’ll have him signed in time for camp. You may want to let them know how badly you need him or he may not be signed until late August.”

The agent went on to play victim to the coach, who was motivated to make sure he had all his weapons for his inaugural season.

When the agent hung up the phone, he looked at me with smile and said, “The owners are scared to death of this guy and will give him anything he wants.”

Basically, what the agent was doing was recruiting the coach to apply pressure to ownership to get the deal done. Believe it or not, this happens more frequently than most people realize.

The agent and coaching communities are growing closer all the time. Many player agents, large and small, are also representing a lot of head coaches throughout the NFL. Can you say “conflict”?

Maybe, maybe not. It’s not uncommon to see the icons of the NFL throwing ‘em back with top agents at the Combine or the Senior Bowl. As head coaches become more involved with front office decision-making, they can play important roles in getting deals done on time.

If the head coach absolutely needs his draft pick to contribute right away, he will want to be kept in the loop regarding negotiations.

Sometimes, he works through the media by saying, “Player X is missing valuable time. He’s falling behind and will have a tough time winning a job.” This usually prompts a panicked call from the player or his family to the agent to please get the deal done. The agent then calms the player and/or the family and explains that the head coach doesn’t always care about the business side of things and just wants his players in camp.APBill Parcells

Twenty years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for head coaches to call rookies directly and tell them they “better tell their agent to get the freaking deal done.” I once had the Patriots’ Bill Parcells call me and my player, Todd Rucci, a second-round pick, and try to intimidate us to get a deal done. I stood up to him, telling him never to call my client until the contract was done, and asked him to hear me out on the issues. Ten minutes later, Bill opened up to me and actually told me he that he had inherited the team’s negotiator, didn’t like him and that he would probably be gone by the end of the year.

After I hung up with Bill, an angry Patrick Forte, the Pats’ negotiator, called me and reluctantly gave me what I needed to get my client into camp. Like Bill said, he was eventually let go.

An NFL head coach can sometimes be the best agent for a player. If he surreptitiously leans on the GM and owner to get his player into camp on time, the front office and ownership will do whatever it takes to get the player signed.

On the contrary, if the head coach doesn’t need the player to contribute right away, the front office may take advantage of this and try to save ownership some money. The result: leverage for the team and an extended negotiation late into camp. A three-week impasse may save the owner $3 million.

With the competition among mega-agencies for first-round picks, different priorities and philosophies within a team, the amount of money at stake and the media attention in today’s information society, the young, hungry rookie may be a victim of some invisible politics of window dressing, power and money – none of which he knows or cares anything about.

Wednesday whys: A great coach is gone

Why is the loss of Jim Johnson being met with such sadness?

We have lost a masterful defensive football coach; everyone knows that. More important, we have lost a gem of a man who was adored and admired for his direct and refreshing manner. Having been around the Eagles for the past six months, the impact of Jim’s presence, and now his absence, resonates throughout the building.

In the rough and tumble world of coaching and its testosterone-laden machismo, Johnson had a presence that did not require that bravado. He was well respected and perhaps even loved by every employee and player I have talked to. It’s easy to see why.

The words that continue to be used to describe Jim are “a coach’s coach” and “a man’s man.” Others can go on about his coaching prowess; I witnessed it firsthand with the Packers over nine years as he frustrated our offensive game plans with his constant pressure. Beyond the coaching, it was his honesty, directness and care for other coaches, players and team employees that resounded throughout the office and community.

Too often in professional sports, coaches are like many friends and agents of players: They tell players what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. This enabling behavior may keep players happy for the moment but provides no lasting benefit. After talking to Eagles players, it’s clear that Johnson was not an enabler. He told players the direct and honest truth, pulling no punches about what they needed to hear.

Having been around him at the Eagles facility for a few months before he could no longer come to work, it was obvious Jim was hurting. However, he wanted no special treatment or assistance and no sympathy for what he was going through. I recall one day when I was near him as he lost his balance and was about to fall. I helped prop him up and assisted him back to his office. He apologized profusely and was genuinely sorry that I had to do that. He felt bad for me. Amazing.

Again, my time around Jim Johnson was brief compared to people who truly knew him. It didn’t take long, however, to realize the impact his presence had around the NovaCare facility in South Philadelphia.

As I continue to work on the Jeremy Maclin contract today for the Eagles, the passing of that elegant man in the office down the hall puts it all in perspective. Jim Johnson was an Eagle that truly soared.

Why did Brett Favre decide to stay retired?

That’s the Brett I know and love. Just when he and old friend Bus Cook, two smart men who play the role of unsophisticated country boys and are anything but, have the entire sporting public thinking Brett is coming back to play for the Vikings – whether for the money, because he can’t give it up, to spite the Packers, whatever – he does what no one expected and says he’s staying retired. The reason given is the physical and mental grind of the season, this after having avoided any potential grind from offseason workouts and mini-camps.

Brett is someone I have known for 10 years, and I’m still amazed by his ability to pull people back in just at the brink of pushing them away. Even with his enormous talents and accomplishments, there is insecurity in him that can make him both difficult and endearingly human at the same time.

The Wally Pipp factor was omnipresent with Brett. In Green Bay, he was well aware of how he got his job – an injury to Don Majkowski – and that was always in the back of his mind when a rising young player such as Matt Hasselbeck or Aaron Rodgers came along. And although he had limited relationships with teammates beyond a couple of close friends, he was a true friend to the “back room guys” at the Packers – the equipment managers, security officers, trainers and other assistants. He treated those people like gold.

We’ve been dealing with the “will he or won’t he” with Brett for the past decade. That’s part of the package. And it’s hard to believe that we’ve seen the end of it.

As I’ve written many times, I always had the impression that Brett wished he could do what Roger Clemens did in baseball — stay “retired” until midseason and pick a team to join for the stretch run. He loves playing the games; he hates the meetings and the regimented minutiae of the season. Unfortunately for Brett, he lives in a sport that requires schematic design and repetition. It’s not like a pitcher walking to the mound to go one-on-one with a hitter. Clemens could do what he did, and had the leverage to do so. Favre does not — or at least not yet. Stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter: adbrandt

Why players hold out

Before I became a full-time agent, I always had a very passionate opinion about holdouts by pro athletes. I couldn’t imagine that a deal couldn’t be reached and wondered why a player would want to miss one day or one month working for an NFL team. My first thoughts were always that the player and/or his agent were being greedy. And the media often explained the reason behind the holdout by reporting one side, usually the team’s.

Once I began representing higher-round draft choices in the early 1990s, I learned firsthand why players hold out: They’re usually not being treated fairly. I’m not saying it’s always the team’s fault, but it often is.

You must understand that when a player is drafted by an NFL team, he has no other option but to negotiate only with that team. If he can’t reach an agreement, he doesn’t have the right to say, “Sorry, Mr. Jones, but I don’t think you’re treating me fairly so I’m going to see if Mr. Snyder will give me a better deal.” As a result, teams know they have the leverage in their exclusivity. Additionally, many players and their families panic once camp starts and a deal is not done. Teams also know this to be commonplace, so some will test the player’s nerves.

A majority of players will listen to their agents when a contract is not reached by the start of camp. The holdout is not a strategy, it’s a reaction, the only way a player can say, “You’re not treating me fairly.” I should add, when rookies don’t make it to camp on time it technically should not be called a holdout because they’re not under contract. Veterans under contract can hold out.

When the agents are the problem

There have been certain agents or agencies over the past decade that have a history of not getting their rookie deals done in time for camp. We in the industry know who they are. Their methods are downright militant at times. They convince their clients that they have to “send a message” to ownership and that the team needs them more than they need the team. These agents usually try to get an unreasonable premium by holding the player hostage. Unfortunately, these guys think they’re working in the best interest of their clients. Most of the time, they’re trying to make names for themselves.

There is also a growing concern and frustration among general managers about one large agency that’s working at its own pace and disregarding camp opening dates. Four GMs and three team negotiators I’ve spoken to over the past seven days have told me that this firm is dictating its own timetable for getting deals done based on the order of draft picks they represent and the location of those picks in the first round. I’m being told that there’s no sense of urgency from this firm and that it won’t start talking seriously until camps open. My problem is that this strategy is not openly disclosed to players when they sign with the firm. The deals will ultimately get done, as they always do, but players may miss a week or more that they don’t have to.

The wait and see

Many agents, and even teams, hate doing deals until they get to see what deals or slots came in above or below them. They simply hate looking bad among their peers since early deals can be easily leap-frogged by later deals. So if an agent’s deal is inferior to others in the same round, his competitors will use it against him while recruiting next year’s class of clients. What happens is that everybody waits until the last minute. There’s a lot of that going on right now.

The position premium

Many times, if an agent has a player drafted in the first round – let’s say a quarterback with the 10th pick — the agent will make a case that he’s worth more than slots 9, 8 and/or 7 because he’s a QB. The team doesn’t like it because it has only allocated formulated cap dollars based on the slot, not the player’s position. But I personally believe that sometimes the slotting system has to be thrown out for QBs. I also think the agent for WR Michael Crabtree is trying to make the case that the slotting theory doesn’t apply to his client because he’s a special receiver who would have been a top three pick if he were not injured before the draft. I don’t see a problem with his position, but I’m sure the 49ers will.

The bottom line is that the average career of an NFL player lasts 3.5 years. It’s the agent’s job to see that he gets the most he can since he may never make it to a second contract.

Painters, plumbers, teachers and pipefitters have unions. CEOs have high-priced attorneys. Players have agents. Don’t begrudge a young man for getting the most the market can bear for his unique services. And don’t always believe what you read in the media about a holdout because you might not know what side the information is coming from. Be patient with the process and don’t judge a player because he didn’t make to camp on time. The players are usually clueless regarding the politics of team and agent procedures.

This year, I see more holdouts coming as owners tighten their purse strings and the larger agencies are more concerned about their competition than their clients. There has to be a better way.

Follow me on Twitter: jackbechta

Rookie contracts: Part 3

The Split

From the third to the seventh rounds (and for any undrafted free agents), every negotiation includes a discussion of a split contract based on a player becoming injured and moved off the active roster during the season.

The theory of a split is that, from a team’s perspective, a player should not earn full salary and cap value in the event he suffers a season-ending injury. The player will have to be replaced on the roster by another salary and cap value and will continue to count on the team’s payroll and cap, albeit at a lower number.

There are two types of splits, one being more onerous to players than the other.

Camp Split

The first type is referred to as a “camp split,” “preseason split” or “training camp split.” It operates to lower a player’s salary to the split amount in the event the player suffers a season-ending injury during training camp or before the time rosters are set for the opening of the season. In this case, should a player suffer this injury and be placed on the reserve/injured list, his salary would be superceded by a lower salary for the coming season.

The advantage of this type of split for players is that once rosters are set in early September and the season begins, the split goes away. Thus, once the player survives training camp without a season-ending injury, his “up” amount of salary is secure (assuming, of course, he is not released for skill reasons).

Full Split

The second type of split is called the “full split” or “game split.” It operates to reduce the player’s salary to the split amount in the event the player suffers a season-ending injury at any point in the preseason or season. The way these clauses are written is simply that a player will be paid the “up” amount at all times he’s a member of the team’s active/inactive 53-man roster and paid the “down” amount at any time he is not a member of such roster, meaning he has been moved to a reserve list.

Teams obviously prefer full splits; player agents obviously prefer camp splits. The annual question from agents about this, usually advanced by the union, is:

“Do you mean to tell me if that my guy has busted his butt for this team through training camp and into the season, playing hurt and sacrificing his body, that you will split his salary if he gets injured in, say, the 12th game of the season? That’s really unfair.”

Fair point. Heard it a hundred times. Here’s a response:

”Do you mean to tell me that if your guy makes it through camp and tears his Achilles on the first kickoff running down the field as a special teams player, we are supposed to pay his full salary for the year?”

The answer is usually a pause and then, “Yes.”

Leverage Rules

The number and type of splits in these rookie contracts is, like everything else, based on leverage. Undrafted rookies and seventh rounders typically will have two full splits. Fourth, fifth and sixth rounders will have two splits, with different combinations of full and camp splits depending on the team and its history. Third rounders now have splits in year one, with most of those being camp splits. Players picked above the third round do not have splits, although at one time, players in the third round did not.

The discussion of the split proves the misconception that these negotiations are all about filling in a dollar amount on the signing bonus. Yes, that’s the most important area of negotiation from a visceral standpoint, yet other structural issues like the escalator and the split end up usually taking more time and haggling than the money.

As I have said many times, negotiations are about allocating risk. The split is one way teams try to shift the risk of injury to the player while agents try to have the team bear that burden.

Follow me on Twitter: adbrandt

The draft goes prime time

The other shoe has dropped on coverage of the NFL Draft. The league does a masterful job holding interest in the sport long after the Vince Lombardi Trophy has been handed out, and now we’ve come to the next logical evolutionary step.

The draft has become an entity unto itself, with increasing interest every year in players who give hope and faith to NFL teams for the coming years. College players are poked, prodded, debated, broken down, analyzed and sifted through by teams, their fans and the media for four months leading up to the big event in New York at the end of April.

Now that event has taken two big steps that were really only a matter of time: The draft has gone prime-time, and it’s gone to three days, starting on television-friendly Thursday night.

The first round, the most popular viewing segment of the draft even with the most down time between selections, will now be on Thursday night, with the second and third rounds on Friday night and the lower rounds on Saturday.

Teams will have to adjust to a couple things logistically with the change. The date to present offer sheets to restricted free agents, whereby the incumbent team has a right to match an offer up to a day before the draft or not match and receive draft-pick compensation, has traditionally been the Friday eight days before the draft. It will now likely be moved to the Wednesday eight days before the Thursday kickoff.

Also, the annual frenzied chase of undrafted free agents will move up a day, from Sunday to Saturday, as teams will fill out their rosters a day earlier. It will also allow teams another day of preparation for mini-camps, most of which occur within days of the draft. An extra day to exhale after the draft before the rookies come in will be a welcome addition for teams.

The industry surrounding the NFL Draft will now continue to grow with the added day of focus. And the move to Thursday night (1) validates that this is the most important date in the busy NFL offseason calendar and (2) brings even more focus and attention on first-round draft picks.

As I’ve said in the past, we often hear more about first-round prospects in the NFL Draft in the weeks and months leading up to the draft than we do in their entire NFL careers. How much did we hear about Andre Smith – his suspension from the Sugar Bowl, his weight, his taking off early from the Combine and his dalliance with several agents – in the long winter of 2009? Probably much more than we’ll hear about him over the next few years (at least the Bengals hope so).

More so than any other incoming players in professional sports leagues, we as fans and media are well-acquainted with these players prior to their arrival into the league (and no one gives better information than our own Wes Bunting).

Now these players and the NFL enter prime-time in the offseason. It’s a testament to the power of the league and the power of this growth industry called the NFL Draft. For a drama show whose biggest action comes when the commissioner reads names at a podium, it’s a fascinating phenomenon that is now getting bigger. An eye-popping 39 million people watched last April. Now, with a Thursday prime-time show as the highlight of the programming, expect that number to rise significantly.

The popularity of the draft never ceases to amaze me. Perhaps it’s a hope, a regeneration, a spring fever, an infusion of football, anticipation, optimism and endless debate. And we all love football and debate.

The draftnik countdown begins. Only eight months to the April 22 draft, now appearing in prime time…

Wednesday whys: Vick has his options

First, thanks to all who wished me well on my climb up Mt. Whitney on Monday. We started our climb wearing headlamps at 3:35 a.m. and were able to summit the 14,600-foot peak by 10 a.m. before heading down – through a couple of hailstorms – and finishing in the afternoon. It was an awesome experience.

Now, on to Wednesday whys…

Why is Michael Vick still in a holding pattern with the NFL following his release from home confinement?

Commissioner Roger Goodell will rule on Vick soon and has no reason to be hasty. The fact that Vick now has his freedom is a factor in a pending ruling, but certainly not anything that makes a ruling necessary or imminent. Vick has now paid his debt through the legal system; he must now deal with his preferred employer and the NFL Personal Conduct Policy.

Goodell has said he wants to see “true remorse” from Vick. There appear to be no specific guidelines for the display of such remorse, but like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once famously said about pornography, Goodell will probably know it when he sees it.

Vick would appear to have another option if his re-entry into the NFL is barred. The United Football League is open to him playing there, which would give the league – and the Versus network – some name-brand recognition that would carry it through its first season. The league has some brands as coaches – Denny Green and Jim Fassel among them – and will have a smattering of middling names that NFL fans might know (J.P. Losman), but Vick would create another dimension as long as two things happen: (1) the UFL and Vick are able to agree to contract terms within the parameters the upstart league is establishing, and (2) the league is prepared to deal with the negative publicity and potential protests that will come along with his signing. On the latter, my sense is that the UFL will take the publicity, good or bad.

Meanwhile, as to the NFL, Vick will cool his heels for a while and hopefully is in the midst of a plan to show “true remorse” to the commissioner.

Why is singer Marc Anthony coming on board as a minority owner of the Dolphins?

The new majority owner of the Dolphins, Stephen Ross, has certainly shown his hand in a marketing strategy that is tried and true – use the appeal of celebrity to attract attention to the product.

First, Ross entered into a partnership with Jimmy Buffett on a short-term branding opportunity – Land Shark Stadium – for the facility. Buffett will certainly have some sort of role with the franchise, including concerts. Then Ross brought in Emilio and Gloria Estefan as minority owners, and now Anthony (married to Jennifer Lopez, which will help as well).

Ross, who purchased the bulk of the franchise from the classy Wayne Huizenga earlier this year, appears to have an eye toward creating a “buzz” – that elusive concept that brings sizzle to a franchise – in building on the Dolphins’ successful on-field exploits last season.

Ross has a plan for the Dolphins and an attraction to celebrity. Although the infusion of name-brand investors and performers will not help the team win games, it may help bring awareness, attention and even revenue to the Dolphins in a city with plenty of things to do and places to spend disposable income. Ross promises even more well-known investors and/or partners.

At the least, the Dolphins’ ownership will lead the league in record sales.

Why are so few deals at the top of the draft done with training camps opening this weekend?

Team negotiators and agents are still a bit hesitant to dip their toes in the water until the market sets in a little more. In the first round, the Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez deals may have some relevance for the top of the round – although teams will dismiss most of the results due to the “quarterback premium” – but there hasn’t been a pace set for the middle or lower parts of the round yet.

Things will pick up significantly in the coming days. Unlike free agency, these players can only sign with one team. And they all will.

Why is Brett Favre still making the Vikings wait for his decision?

Because he can.

Follow me on Twitter: adbrandt

Turning one job into another

Starting off as agent can lead to some prosperous opportunities. In football, there have been several agents who parlayed their agent businesses into other careers, most of them with NFL teams.

Bruce Allen, until recently the GM of the Buccaneers, started out as an agent. He built the Phoenix-based Sports Agency into one of the biggest and best. He subsequently leveraged his knowledge of contracts and a long-term relationship with Raiders owner Al Davis into managing the Raiders’ salary cap.

Our own Andrew Brandt was personally cherry-picked by Hall of Fame GM Ron Wolf of the Packers. As the salary cap grew, many of the true personnel guys like Wolf wanted a detailed numbers guy like Andrew to take over the day-to-day deal-making and cap management. Andrew went from representing players like QB Matt Hasselbeck to signing their checks.

Baseball agent Jeff Moorad went from working with Leigh Steinberg to managing the Arizona Diamondbacks to buying the San Diego Padres.

Cliff Stein, the Chicago Bears’ director of football administration and general counsel, started out as an agent. While working as an attorney doing union labor law mixed with some personal injury work, Cliff quietly built a stable of 10 players. His players weren’t household names, but they were making rosters and working their way into starting lineups.

About six years ago, when GM Jerry Angelo was looking for someone to be his cap guy, he reached out to Cliff, along with several others, to see if he was interested. Jerry was looking for an attorney who could handle more than just player contracts.

Cliff was introduced to Angelo by the National Football Post’s Michael Lombardi (Jersey boys). Jerry continued to get to know Cliff by talking to him over the years about players he represented. As the story goes, they once met at a Hampton-Howard game to check out some prospects. While other GMs and agents were attending Michigan vs. Ohio State, or Texas vs. Oklahoma, these two were getting some one-on-one time at a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game in the southeast. This obviously turned out to be an investment in time by Stein as the two are still working together in Chicago.

If your end goal is to work for a team, it may pay to start on the other side of the fence.

Comparing NFL and NBA contracts

There are a few flashpoint dates in the NFL calendar when teams pay retail or above in guaranteed money to secure the services of players with contracts that set new levels. The most prominent time for this luxury shopping are the first days of free agency at the end of February and beginning of March.

Another time when the guaranteed money stood out was last week around the July 15 deadline for teams to come to terms on long-term deals with players designated as franchise players within the free agency system. Certain teams and players tried unsuccessfully to come to terms – Julius Peppers with the Panthers, Karlos Dansby with the Cardinals – while others were able to agree on lengthy deals with eye-popping numbers. These numbers are startling, but compared to another sport having its free agency dance this time of year, perhaps not so much.

With Wednesday’s mega-deals for Matt Cassel and Terrell Suggs – both topping out at $63 million in total value — it got me thinking about how the best of the best deals compare to the NBA, another sport now going through its free agency ritual.

Here are some of the top guaranteed deals in the NFL – all but Peyton Manning in the last year — including the much-discussed rookie contracts of Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan and Mark Sanchez:

Matthew Stafford, Lions, $41.7M
Albert Haynesworth, Redskins, $41M
Terrell Suggs, Ravens, $38M
Peyton Manning, Colts, $34.5M
Matt Ryan, Falcons, $34M
Dwight Freeney, Colts, $31M
Jake Long, Dolphins, $30M
Chris Long, Rams, $29M
Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders, $28.5M
Matt Cassel, Chiefs, $28M
Mark Sanchez, Jets, $28M

These are the cream of the crop of NFL contracts in the all-important category of guaranteed money, meaning that regardless of injury or a downturn in performance and skill, the players will make their money (there’s still the question of forfeiture of these monies for bad behavior, although the players seem to be winning most of the cases).

Let’s compare these numbers to the NBA, which is in the middle of its free agency period, admittedly amidst tough times and economic concerns for the future. The NBA did not expect a robust free agency period this year. We’ve also heard about the “Summer of Love” a year from now as owners are keeping their hands in their pockets in 2009 for a possible seat at the table when the auction for LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade and others begins on July 1, 2010. And, more importantly, we’ve learned that the salary cap in the NBA for 2009-10 will go down $1 million from 2008-2009 – from $58.7M to $57.7M – with a corresponding drop in the luxury tax number and predictions of further dips in the uncertain economic future.

Keep in mind, the NFL salary cap went up from $116M to $123M, with another $5M in a CAM adjustment to make it $128M.

With all the gloom and doom of the NBA’s financial picture presented above, and with a relatively lackluster group of free agents on the market, here are some of the contracts that have been given out in the first weeks of the NBA’s shopping season (all contracts are for five years):

Ben Gordon, Pistons, $55M
Hedo Turkoglu, Raptors, $53M
Anderson Varejao, Cavaliers, $50M
Shawn Marion, Mavericks, $39M
Charlie Villanueva, Pistons, $35M
Martin Gortat, Magic, $34M
Paul Millsap, Jazz, $32M

Hardly a bunch of household names. More important, the numbers above are the amounts of the entire contracts, although the amounts of the entire contracts and the amount of the guaranteed portion in most NBA contracts is the same. Therefore, every dollar above is guaranteed money, unlike virtually all NFL contracts.

All of these players have more guaranteed money than all but three or four NFL players. Varejao, a role player with the LeBronairres, makes more guaranteed money – by almost 25 percent — than any player in football. Gortat, a backup center to Dwight Howard, who doesn’t come out of the game that often, makes about the same guaranteed money as one of the two or three best players in the NFL, Peyton Manning.

I know the arguments, and have made them myself: There’s only a fraction of the players in the NBA compared to the NFL, many more games, only five players playing at one time compared to eleven in football, etc. The stark reality is that the players above are not recognized “stars” – with the possible exceptions of Gordon and Turkoglu – while NFL stars are unlikely to receive anywhere close to these amounts of guaranteed money.

Like the situations of Cassel and Suggs, timing is everything, and the timing of the NBA players above, even with the economic forces in the NBA working against them, is fortunate. I have always said that free agency is like the Wild West; anything can happen, good or bad. It’s been all good for the NBA players above, players whose equals in football would not be looking at nearly the numbers these players are getting.

Whenever I discuss these facts with NFL players, I always get the same response: “I should have been taller!”

Follow me on Twitter: adbrandt

Points to consider in Cassel deal

There are rumblings in the agent community and even in the media that the Matt Cassel deal was under market and a win for the Chiefs.

First, let me say that agents will always be the first to criticize other agents’ deals – off the record, of course. Most reporters have one or two agents they go to for source information and opinion. The agent will always find something to criticize because it’s self-serving, although the reporter needs the information and wants an opinion. Even when an agent does rip one out of the park, you’ll never hear one of his contemporaries praise him. The industry is filled with too much competitiveness and jealousy for that to happen.

Consider the franchise tag of $14.65 million for QBs this year, which is what Cassel could have made this season, versus the security of $28 million in guaranteed money for a second-year starter. The fact he could have gone the franchise route again for a possible $17.58 million in 2010 does make this deal appear to be under market.

However, there are a few things to consider when evaluating this deal:

Chiefs GM Scott Pioli is a hard-line negotiator. I’ve had about five dealings with him over the past five years, and I know that if I were an owner, my money would be well spent with Scott because he works in small increments and rarely overpays for players. You won’t see a lot of premium deals coming out of K.C.

Scott knows Matt well and obviously doesn’t think he’s a one-hit wonder. Scott also knows that Matt probably benefited from the stable Patriots environment (system, players, coaches) and could struggle with a new cast around him in a less stable developing environment. Scott doesn’t want Matt to worry about having to set his value with a new team in a rebuilding year.

Injury. It doesn’t pay to get insured anymore. The cost of career-ending insurance for players is astronomical and rarely feasible. Furthermore, it’s hard to collect, and insurance companies are often reluctant to pay. So the old days of playing out the year and insuring what would have been your guaranteed money simply don’t apply.

The downside. I’m sure Cassel and his seasoned agent know that 2009 can be a challenging year because of the meshing process the Chiefs’ offense will be going through. If Matt and the offense struggle, he and his agent would have lost leverage and possibly even a 2010 franchise tag opportunity. Ouch.

Agents and players value deals on their three-year totals and guaranteed money. This one was about $27 million in guaranteed money and about $40 million for the first three years. An average of $13.5 million for three years does seem a bit below market, but if Matt struggles, he’ll still be paid. If he’s just average, he’ll be paid. If he blows up, well, he’ll be back at the table in 2012 with the leverage for a new deal.

As an agent, when there are too many unknowns or uncontrollable factors, such as new coaches and new systems, you have to take the money as the “known,” which is better than the “unknown.” If this is the highest Scott was willing to go, I also would have advised my client to take the money rather than the risk.

One more thing: Agents get paid only two percent of a contract if a player is franchised the first time, 1.5 percent the second time and one percent the third time – as opposed to being paid up to three percent for a negotiated salary. Maybe that’s one reason we don’t often see players play through consecutive franchise tags.