Before we get to the football business, a thought after giving a couple of talks last week to groups that know football primarily as fútbol.
American vs. European model
I’ve spoken to a few groups at UEFA, both front-office executives at football clubs and ex-players, including the world-famous Kaká (a pretty good student). As I prepared for my talks comparing the American sports system and the European landscape, I was, as I always seem to be, struck by the contrast.
Compared to the American model, the European model – or any sports model for that matter – looks like the Wild West. The business of American sports, particularly the NFL, is very much what I call a law and order business. The NFL has many systematic rules, regulations, do’s and don’ts baked into its DNA that many other sports models lack. These restrictions include the draft, salary cap and agency restrictions (number of years required, franchise tag, compensating draft picks, etc.) – all restrictions that the more free-flowing, less restrictive European football model finds odd. Sure, UEFA has introduced financial fair play guidelines, but they’re a far cry from the salary cap. And then there is the design.
The Europeans had such an interesting reaction to the draft, something that’s 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 for sports managers who understand the concept of competitive balance. you want to say you would ask that a player who grows 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 room say Well, what’s wrong with that? What seems commonplace and self-evident to us Americans is really foreign to foreigners.
And a final comment on a question from some players who have played for Manchester United and Manchester City. When we met, the NFL announced their overseas games, which got me the question they ask every year: Why do they keep sending the Jacksonville Jaguars to London? Inquiring minds…
Brown Trade complements the wide receiver’s offseason
Despite the quarterback’s movement this offseason, transforming the power — and potential team strategies — at the wide receiver position is “the theme” of the 2022 offseason.
Christian Kirk Things got off to a flying start when Jacksonville overpaid to lure him to the lowly jaguars (See question above). then Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill forced their way out of receiving passports Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes to get to new teams – the robber and dolphins— willing to pay her for the position at a new level than that packer and bosses took the cap space and draft picks. That transformation and team choice at wide receivers carried over into the draft last week in a rare, blockbuster trade involving, of course, an elite wide receiver.
That Eagle did what the Raiders and Dolphins did earlier in the offseason: (1) traded for a star receiver in this case AJ Brownwho is experiencing financial and/or relationship problems with their team, and (2) pay that star recipient at a new maximum market rate.
The Brown situation is even more groundbreaking in my opinion than what happened with Kirk, Adams and Hill. Kirk was a free agent; this creates a different kind of leverage. Adams and Hill have been excellent performers for Super Bowl teams for many years. However, Brown is neither a free agent nor a player with a long history in the league. His situation is similar to that of Debbo Samuel, a rising player who still has his rookie contract. Like the 49ers do with Samuel, the Titans just couldn’t respond to any dissatisfied growls from Brown. Both represent great value for their teams: high-performing young players with a year left on an undervalued rookie contract.
Brown, unlike Samuel, was able to achieve threefold: (1) a trade from Tennessee, (2) a massive new contract at the level of players with much longer production histories, and (3) a reunion with his old friend Jalen hurts to a more visible and valuable franchise.
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A matter of value
Teams took notice of Brown’s situation, and I think that was a good part of why so many receivers were picked early in the draft (six of the first 20 picks were wide receivers and 17 were picked in the first three rounds). Teams see exactly what I just wrote about, and they give themselves a long window of opportunity before players reach their point of influence.
The wide receiver position used to be a low value position, a position where teams would say: you can always find her along with running back, linebacker, safety, guard, and tight end. Now, wide receiver is valued higher and higher due to more open and productive attacks and, in turn, the monetary value accorded to top players at that position. Wideout approaches the meaning of quarterback, left tackle, pass rusher, and shutdown cornerback.
Team Presidents I spoke to are very aware of this transformation. We’ve now seen that at least three teams—Packers, Chiefs, and Titans—use the following strategy: (1) choose not to pay their star receiver at a higher level, (2) choose them against draft picks and cap space trade and (3) go young (and cheap) to replace them. After ceding their star receivers, all three teams drafted wide receivers in the first or second round.
Christian Watson (Packers), Skyy Moore (Chiefs) and Treylon Burks (Titans) almost certainly won’t reach the level of Adams, Hill and Brown any time soon. The taking over teams – Raiders, Dolphins and Eagles – will receive significantly 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 about $24 million a year, be worth eight times what Watson, Moore, and Burks are, at about $3 million a year? A fair question can now be asked as to which teams get the better value. As with almost all things, we shall see.
Rookie contract non-negotiations
Finally, speaking of draft picks, I remember the old days in the early 2000s when signing their first contracts required actual negotiations. I would 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 agents wanted to wait so as not to look bad by signing first.
Now, a little over a week after the draft, several teams have or are about to sign their entire draft classes.
The last two collective agreements for conscripts “pre-negotiated”; Your contract amount is known the moment you are selected. The only items for negotiation are issues such as signing premium payment terms, expiration language, and in the case of top picks, the possible offsetting of future guarantees. The CBA has eliminated any drama in rookie contract negotiations and incidentally increased penalties for rookie holdouts.
And the lack of negotiation is now reflected in brokerage fees, many of which are 1% or even less for negotiating rookie deals. Agents provide many services for beginners; Unfortunately, their compensation model is tied to one of the simpler things they do: negotiating the pre-determined contract.
More NFL Coverage:
• MAQB: What you might not like about MNF’s “double headers”.
• MMQB: The Falcons’ Strange Offseason, Free Agents Remaining
• What the NFL hasn’t revealed about its Browns investigation
• Biggest draft takeaways from across the NFL