Before I get into the football business, a thought after giving a couple of talks last week to groups who know football primarily as football.
American model vs. European
I spoke to a couple of UEFA groups, both football club front office executives and ex-players, including the world famous Kaká (a good student). As I prepared for my talks comparing the American sports system and the European landscape, I was struck, as it always seems, by the contrast.
Compared to the American model, the European model, or any sporty model, for that matter, it looks like the Wild West. The business of American sports, especially the NFL, is very much what I call a “Law and Order” business. The NFL has built into its DNA many systematic rules, regulations, pros and cons that are absent from many other sports models. Those restrictions include the draft, salary cap, and free agency limitations (number of years required, franchise tag, compensatory draft picks, etc.), all restrictions that the less restrictive, more fluid model of European soccer finds strange. . Sure, UEFA has instituted financial fair play guidelines, but they are a long way from the salary cap. And then there is the draft.
The Europeans had such an interesting reaction to the draft, something that just happened in the NFL with so much fanfare and attention. The idea of players being “drafted” doesn’t make sense in any other context, even to sports executives who understand the concept of competitive balance. You mean, they would ask, That a player who grew up in Florida all his life and then goes to college in a place like Texas can be drafted by a team from Green Bay or Buffalo? Most readers of this space are saying, Well yeah, what’s wrong with that? What seems commonplace and natural to us Americans is truly foreign to foreigners.
And a final note on a question from some players who played for Manchester United and Manchester City. While we were meeting, the NFL announced its foreign games, prompting the question they ask every year: Why do they keep sending the Jacksonville Jaguars to London? curious minds…
Brown Trade adds to wide receiver’s offseason
Even with the move at quarterback this offseason, the transformation of power, and possible team strategies, at wide receiver is “the problem” of the 2022 offseason.
christian kirk started things in free agency, as Jacksonville overpaid to lure him into lowly jaguars (see previous question). So davante adams Y Tyreek Hill they forced his way out of receiving passes from Aaron Rogers Y patrick mahomes reach out to new teams—the raiders Y dolphins—willing to pay them at a new level for the position, as packers Y bosses he took cap space and draft picks. This transformation and the team’s decision-making at wide receiver carried over into the draft last week with a rare blockbuster trade involving, of course, an elite wide receiver.
The Eagles did what the Raiders and Dolphins did earlier in the offseason: (1) traded for a star receiver, in this case oh brownthat he’s having financial and/or relationship problems with his team, and (2) paying that star wide receiver at a new higher-market rate.
The Brown situation, in my opinion, is even more of a game changer than what happened with Kirk, Adams and Hill. Kirk was a free agent; that brings up a different kind of leverage. Adams and Hill have had many years of high performance for Super Bowl teams. Brown, however, is neither a free agent nor a player with a long history in the league. His situation is similar to deebo samuel, a player on the rise still on his rookie deal. As the 49ers are doing with Samuel, the titans he simply couldn’t react to rumors of discontent from Brown. Both represent great value to their teams: high-performing young players with one year left on an undervalued rookie deal.
Brown, unlike Samuel, was able to pull off the trifecta: (1) a trade away from Tennessee, (2) a massive new player-level contract with much longer production histories and (3) a reunion with his old friend. Jalen hurts into a more visible and valuable franchise.
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A question of value
The Brown situation has made teams take notice, and I think it was a good reason why so many receivers were taken early in the draft (six of the top 20 picks were wide receivers and 17 were taken in the first three rounds). ). Teams are seeing exactly what I just wrote and giving themselves a long window before players reach their leverage point.
The wide receiver position used to be a low-value position, one where teams would say: You can always find them along with running back, linebacker, safety, guard and tight end. Now the wide receiver is becoming more highly valued, due to more open and prolific offenses and, in turn, the financial value placed on the best players at the position. Wideout is getting closer to the importance of the quarterback, left tackle, pass-rusher and tight cornerback.
The team presidents I have spoken to are well aware of this transformation. We’ve now seen at least three teams (Packers, Chiefs and Titans) adopt the following strategy: (1) opt out of paying their star receiver at a higher level, (2) trade them for draft picks and salary-cap space , and (3) go young (and cheap) to replace them. After trading their star wide receivers, all three teams drafted wide receivers in the first or second round.
Christian Watson (Packers), Skyy Moore (Chiefs) and Treylon Burks (Titans) probably won’t reach the level of Adams, Hill and Brown any time soon. The acquiring teams (Raiders, Dolphins and Eagles) will clearly receive more value on the field in the short term. But that’s just a short-term snapshot and doesn’t take into account the financial value aspect.
Consider this: Will Adams, Hill and Brown, at roughly $24 million per year, be eight times more valuable than Watson, Moore and Burks at roughly $3 million per year? A fair question can now be asked as to which teams get the best value. As in almost all things, we’ll see.
No rookie contract negotiations
Finally, speaking of draft picks, I remember the old days in the early 2000s when signing them to their first contracts required real negotiations. I’d sit alone in the Packers’ offices in June and July, when all of our coaches and scouts were on vacation, banging my head against the wall trying to sign draft picks. All the agents wanted to wait so as not to lose face by being the first to sign.
Now, just over a week after the draft, several teams have signed or are close to signing all of their draft classes.
The last two “pre-negotiated” collective agreements for recruits; their contract amount is known at the time they are selected. The only items of negotiation are such things as signing bonus payment terms, forfeiture language, and, in the case of top picks, potential future collateral compensation. The CBA has removed any drama surrounding rookie contract negotiations and, by the way, has increased the penalties for rookies who refuse.
And the lack of trading is now reflected in agent fees, many of which are 1% or even lower for rookie contract trading. Agents perform many services for novice players; Unfortunately for them, their compensation model is tied to one of the easiest things they do: default contract negotiation.
More NFL coverage:
• MAQB: What you might not like about MNF’s ‘Doubleheaders’
• MMQB: The Falcons’ weird offseason, remaining free agents
• What the NFL didn’t reveal about its investigation of the Browns
• The most important takeaways from the entire NFL draft