Making sense of the McCoy signing; pondering what Brees is worth
Unless LeSean McCoy gets seriously injured, Eagles got a deal in new contract
Drew Brees deserves $21M a year compared to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning
Thoughts on Jonathan Vilma's lawsuit; commencement speech highlights; more
LONDON -- I walked the crosswalk of Abbey Road Saturday evening (the ZEB-ra, short "e" crossing), the one made famous by the Beatles album cover of my youth. I saw test-match cricket, which I presumed would be deadly dull but wasn't. I spent a day at the Fenway of world cricket. All in all, a very nice weekend with my brother Ken (who has lived in England since 1983) and his family, and some cricket fun with Neil Hornsby of Pro Football Focus too.
Before I get on the plane home, a few football notes, a lesson from Rod Smith, some commencement fragments and what the NFL can learn from sports over here. Such as this scene from Lord's cricket ground, when a batsman for underdog West Indies hit the ball and scored four runs for his team. (No, I'm definitely not going to bore you with the details and rules of cricket, except to say I've seen the Ichiro of world cricket, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, a left-handed batter for the West Indies team who's impossible to get out.) So the English crowd of 30,000 or so, many of the men in suits and the women in fine dresses and heels, politely clapped when the West Indies batsman, Adrian Barath, scored four runs. Sitting halfway up in the stands, I asked my brother why they were cheering.
"Because it was a good play,'' Ken, eight years my senior, said. "It's about sportsmanship. Barath's a good player. He might be from another country, but you appreciate good play.''
What a concept ... appreciating good play from the opposition. I'll get back to that in this unorthodox column (Monday Morning Wicket Keeper, a few of the Twitter Worldlies suggested I call it today), but let's go football first.
What the LeSean McCoy signing came down to for the Eagles.
The most amazing thing about McCoy is not how precocious he's been in his first three seasons, averaging 1,414 yards from scrimmage a season. It's that he's 23. The Eagles signed him to a five-year deal Thursday, and five-year deals for running backs are always dangerous. But Steven Jackson will take his first carry of this season for St. Louis at age 29, and Michael Turner is 30, and both could easily finish in the top five in the league in rushing this year. McCoy will take the last carry of this contract at age 28.
"There was a moment in time when we were able to find the right balance in these negotiations,'' Eagles GM Howie Roseman told me over the weekend. "To do a deal like this one, you've got to have the right player, the right person, the right talent, in the right offense, and you've got to be comfortable knowing the risks in signing a running back long-term.''
That risk, obviously, is McCoy's age. A year from now, the Eagles wouldn't have valued McCoy as highly because a five-year contract for a back at age 25 (which is how old he'd be on opening day 2013) is riskier than a five-year contract for a back at age 24. It's mincing words, yes. But with backs, the longer you wait to pay them, the worse you sleep three and four years down the road.
"Obviously there's an inherent risk in paying any player,'' Roseman said. "But if you're worried, and you're constantly conservative, you won't be able to build the kind of team that you hope can win a championship.''
This contract continues the Eagles' run of multiyear deals for valuable players still young enough to give the team multiple seasons. The McCoy deal doesn't strike me as dangerous, particularly considering how dangerous it would have been if McCoy amassed, say, 2,200 combined yards and 17 touchdowns in the 2012 season. If the Eagles had waited a year and he had that kind of season, there's no way he'd be a $9-million-a-year player, which this contract defines him as. He'd be more costly. And with other backs (Ray Rice, Matt Forte) out there battling for new deals, there's no telling where the market would be then.
I don't know how good McCoy is going to be, but I don't see how, unless there's a disastrous injury, this deal isn't a good one for the Eagles.
So what's fair for Drew Brees?
First, other than rookie receiver Nick Toon, no one should really care if Drew Brees is quarterbacking the Saints during Organized Team Activities, or during full-squad minicamps with the Saints. (If they were really important, there wouldn't be a "mini" prefixing "camps.") So with opening day 16 weeks from yesterday, I'm not going to be too concerned about Brees missing time until, say, about Aug. 20. Reason being: He's such a pro, and he's commanding a veteran offense, and the only new piece likely to play any role with 30 or more touches (and that could be a stretch) is Toon, the fourth-rounder from Wisconsin. So let's keep in perspective the fact that Brees and the team are conflicted over the lack of a new contract.
But I'm going to show you some numbers, and then I'm going to make a point about why I think Brees is more in the right in this case of Saints vs. Brees in the big-money department.
These are the numbers of three top quarterbacks in football over the past six years. (I exclude Aaron Rodgers because he's played only since 2008, and Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger because they haven't been great for as long as these three.) It's hard to look at this list and divine that Peyton Manning, over the past six years, has been $25.7 million better than Drew Brees, and Tom Brady $14.3 million better.
Stats of Brees, Brady and Peyton Manning since 2006, football and monetary, follow. The "NFL earnings'' category includes money earned since March 2006 through the end of the 2011 season. Brady's yards per season number includes the one quarter he played in 2008 before being lost for the season with a torn knee ligament; but his total yards was divided by five seasons, not six.
One other point: On Opening Day, Brees will be 33, Brady 35 and Manning 36. That matters too.
The Saints feel they should be credited for taking a medical risk with Brees in 2006. He was coming off serious shoulder reconstruction, and no team was willing to offer him $10 million a year. True. But by almost any measure Brees outplayed his contract. He's been the most statistically productive quarterback, and he didn't miss any significant time; Brady and Manning each missed a season due to injury.
So what is Brees worth? He doesn't have the medical red flag of Manning. It's easy to argue he'll be healthier longer than either other player, obviously because he's younger, but also because he hasn't had anything notably wrong with him since the end of the 2005 season.
One more thing: When you look at the earnings of the three men, remember that Brady's bottom line in some ways has been depressed slightly because of his unwillingness to be a pig in negotiations. He hasn't gotten jobbed, but he's never been a bandit either.
Manning, coming off a dangerous neck injury and surgery, is making $18 million this year. Brady, who signed his deal 20 months ago, is entering the third year of a contract paying an average of $18 million a year.
Brees is younger, has been more durable, has been more productive ... and the Saints are entering a season unlike any a quarterback has ever had to pilot through, considering the suspensions and unrest in New Orleans. I think the Saints will pay him before the middle of August, and it'll be somewhere around $21 million a year. Looking at the precedents, that's only fair.
Bridge to somewhere.
I knew Jim Miller when he worked for three teams in the NFL -- including the Saints as contract negotiator and vice president of administration -- before he changed paths and took the athletic director's job at the University of New Orleans in 2003. I'd lost track of him since, until I saw that he'd written a book, Where the Water Kept Rising: A College Athletic Director's Fight to Save a New Orleans Sports Institution. It's an emotional account of bringing the university's athletic program, and his own family, through the trials of Hurricane Katrina.
I always respected Miller as a negotiator, so I asked him for his thoughts on the stalemate between Drew Brees and the Saints. His thoughts:
Hall of Fame general manager Jim Finks, who pulled the New Orleans Saints from the bayou muck of 19 straight winless seasons, had more expressions than beads at Mardi Gras. One of his favorites was, "I don't understand all I know about this thing" which comes as close as any to describing the inability of Drew Brees and the Saints to reach agreement on a new contract.
"It's been extremely frustrating," Brees told WWL radio on Wednesday. "I know we've reached out on quite a few occasions, and, at times, I know I've been frustrated with the lack of response."
"He wants to be here right now; I want him to be here right now," Saints GM Mickey Loomis said Friday in response to Brees' comments. "Drew loves the Saints and we love Drew."
So we know Brees is frustrated but loves the Saints, and we know the Saints love Brees and want him signed. Meanwhile, standing innocently outside like the children of a messy marriage are the faithful Who Dats, hearing both sides but knowing only they don't have a deal. Why haven't the Saints and Brees' agent, Tom Condon, reached an agreement? The reason is because no template exists on how to conduct contract negotiations for high-priced athletes. They all exist in their own vacuum.
Even Finks failed in his last negotiation with a starting quarterback when turbulent talks resulted in Bobby Hebert sitting out the 1990 season. I assisted Finks in negotiations with the Saints between 1986 and his death in 1994, and I recall a major snag was Finks' characterization of Hebert's then-wife as "a little redneck who should stay out of it."
Sometimes contracts are delivered on a velvet pillow. After I left the Saints, I was chief negotiator for the Chicago Bears, during which time we drafted linebacker Brian Urlacher. When I met Urlacher's agent for the first time, he shocked me by saying the contract must be signed before July 1, a full three weeks before camp opened. His reason? Urlacher was betrothed to a woman the agent did not trust. Under applicable law, any property brought into the marriage by either party before July 1 was not subject to community property laws which were triggered by the matrimonial vows. The agent wanted to protect the signing bonus in the event the marriage failed. Urlacher became the first player in the 2000 NFL draft to sign a contract, and he did eventually divorce his wife.
The only positive news about the Brees negotiation is that money appears to be the major issue. Jack Donlan, the NFL's lead labor negotiator in the 1980s, believed any negotiation where money is the issue should never result in a prolonged stalemate. One side starts high, the other starts lower and the two sides eventually settle in the middle. Agent Condon is insisting the Saints make Brees the league's highest-paid quarterback, which is justifiable. The sticking point is probably over how much of the total contract is guaranteed or earned in the first three years.
Six years ago, the Saints took a chance on an injured quarterback and became the beneficiary of what turned out to be a major bargain. Now it's time to consider back pay, rolled into a long-term contract that would give Brees the highest all-time average per year while Condon gives the Saints some relief on when it is earned.
Until a resolution appears, members of Who Dat Nation wait anxiously, confused by what they know. They know the numbers being discussed are astronomical, and they also know that backup Chase Daniel likely will be taking snaps with the first team when on-field workouts begin this week. Most importantly, they know the clouds of Bountygate will hover until their hero Brees signs.
But, as Jim Finks said years before, they just don't understand all they know about this thing.