NFL: Economy not affecting free agents
By Jim Litke
Associated Press columnistDespite the current economic climate, NFL teams are throwing around money the way Wall Street banks used to. Instead of having to defend the use of corporate jets, they’re minting a class of free agents who could afford to fly to games on magic carpets.
Albert Haynesworth got $100 million for seven years by moving from Tennessee to Washington, though a more accurate measure is the $41 million he received in guaranteed money. Bart Scott took $48 million for six years, almost half of it guaranteed, by shuttling from Baltimore to the New York Jets. Jason Brown’s move to St. Louis from Baltimore earned him $37.5 million for five years, including $20 million guaranteed.
And that was just in the first 24 hours of the unrestricted free-agency signing period. So buckle up ó it extends until mid-July.
A total of 132 UFAs changed teams last season, compared with some 30 so far. Another three dozen have already re-signed with their current employer, but there’s still 300 or so UFAs on the loose, including big-money targets Ray Lewis and Kurt Warner. In most years, the average NFL team turns over about a third of its roster.
So rather than guess whether the current feeding frenzy will eventually outstrip previous years, the better question to ask at the moment is why now?
Granted, the NFL doesn’t appear anywhere as vulnerable to an economic downturn as North America’s other pro sports leagues. Just last week, salary caps for each team climbed from $123 million to $127 million.
But that’s not to say the NFL isn’t being squeezed.
League staff was trimmed by 15 percent, about 170 people, and teams have shed another 200 jobs in recent weeks. Commissioner Roger Goodell is taking a pay cut of 20-25 percent on his $11 million salary. Just about everybody who makes their living off the game is feeling the pain, except the players.
“The top-end guys, they’ll get paid,” agent Gary Wichard told ESPN.com just hours before the free-agent signing period started. “If I’m a player away (from a championship), the economy isn’t going to scare me away.”