The (Andrew) Luck Factor in Super Bowl 50

If not for his decision to stay at Stanford in 2011, the Super Bowl’s Golden Anniversary would likely feature QBs other than Cam Newton and Peyton Manning ... plus, a look at front offices in late January
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Before dealing with the business issues at hand this time of year, it struck me the other night that but for a Stanford junior who loved being in Palo Alto, we could very well have a different Super Bowl 50.

At this time five years ago, Andrew Luck was universally projected to be the top pick in the 2011 NFL draft, assuming he was to then go pro. Luck, however, chose the opportunity to stay another year in Palo Alto over the likelihood of moving to Charlotte as the first overall pick. Had Luck made a different decision, he likely would have been a Panther, leaving Cam Newton to the Broncos with the second pick, and Von Miller to the Bills with the third pick. Had Luck not been available as the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, Peyton Manning may not have had the five-year deal he signed with Indianapolis.

The Panthers and Broncos have built formidable teams, but they owe a bit of gratitude to the allure of Stanford University to Andrew Luck.

Now on to some business items...

Reserve Future Contracts

The NFL is a year-round business, with the book on 2015 long closed for front offices and preparations for 2016 well underway. While scouts crisscross the country at college all-star games, front offices are ready for next year, starting with the signing of roughly 10-15 players per team to Reserve/Future contracts. The name indicates this “no-man’s land” timing between the end of the 2015 season and the start of the 2016 League Year. Contracts thus are “Reserve/Future” until “released” as active contracts when the League Year begins in March.

These players—usually ones cut from recent training camps—will now participate in team offseason workouts, OTAs, training camp and preseason games. Unfortunately, here is the sobering reality: the vast majority of them will do everything they are asked to do, yet still be released at the end of training camp. Sure, there are always exceptions—I remember signing defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins in 2003, and he’s still a highly productive player—but the vast majority will be the names you see populating the waiver wire in late August and early September.

Pro Bowl Replacements and Pay

A few years ago, in a continuing effort to drum up interest in the Pro Bowl, the NFL moved the game from the week after the Super Bowl to the week before it. One obvious repercussion meant players elected to the Pro Bowl and playing in the Super Bowl would not be available for the Pro Bowl, turning a decent portion of the rosters into the all-star version of “The Replacements” (Elias is reporting a total of 133 players—about 7% of the league—selected for and/or participating through some mechanism in the game). The Panthers and Broncos were well represented on Pro Bowl rosters, opening up14 golden tickets to Hawaii for other players.

Added to Super Bowl no-shows are the usual dropouts due to injury, whether real or, ahem, not so real (I lived this in Green Bay with Brett Favre for many years). This year, quarterbacks alone dropping out included Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer and Tom Brady, opening up spots for suddenly “Pro Bowl quarterbacks” Tyrod Taylor, Jameis Winston, Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater. Nothing against those players, but one does not usually associate those names with the Pro Bowl.

At different times Roger Goodell has considered shelving the game entirely, replacing it with recognition at the NFL Honors program. To that idea, however, the NFLPA resisted, wanting the game for a variety of reasons. Players and agents always use the “Pro Bowl on the résumé” in negotiating (although when I would use “no Pro Bowls” against agents, it was then called “a popularity contest!”).

More importantly to the union, and even beyond the free week in Hawaii, is the money made by players for the game. Winning team members will receive $58,000; losing team members receive $29,000. Both of these amounts are more than any player made for the first two rounds of the playoffs; winning-team members also make more than losing-team members in the Super Bowl. And what about those 14 Super Bowl participant players? Though not part of the game, they will make the midpoint between the winning team and the losing team, $43,500, almost the same amount ($46,000) that all players made for participating in the AFC or NFC Championship games.

Finally, speaking of playoff pay, a quick follow-up on my column from last week. When I saw that the New England Patriots, bought by Robert Kraft in 1992 for a then-record price of $172 million, are now valued by Forbes at $3.2 billion, I had a thought: I wonder how much of that $3.2 billion value can be attributed to success in the postseason, built on the shoulders of players playing for relatively nominal amounts of—for the most part—less than $50,000 per game? The raised asset value from playoff success is yet another illustration of that inequity.

Relocation Aftermath

I continue to receive many questions about the NFL’s decision to move the Rams to Los Angeles, both about the Rams’ players and what will happen with the Chargers and Raiders. As to the players, their relocation expenses are covered under Article 36 of the CBA, a section primarily dealing with traded players. However, it also applies to “a member of a Club which relocates to a different home city,” providing “actual, ordinary and reasonable” moving expenses for the player and his immediate family. As to the higher state taxes in California, there is nothing in the CBA addressing that. Obviously, many disparities in tax rates— often used in recruiting by teams playing in states with no state taxes—already exist and the CBA does nothing to balance those inequities.

As to the continuing uncertainty over whether or not the Rams will have a partner in L.A. and who that partner might be, I have been a voice in the wilderness thinking neither the Chargers nor the Raiders end up there. Stan Kroenke certainly prefers an exclusive right to the L.A. market. I cannot see him offering the Chargers a “good deal” unless, of course, the NFL twists/bends/breaks his arm to do so. And if the NFL is going to do that, why wouldn’t they have done so when they had a chance at the meeting in Houston? Perhaps Kroenke and Dean Spanos will soon join arm-in-arm as partners in L.A., but I don’t see it.

Another reason why I continue to think the Chargers and Raiders will stay put is that the NFL has given each of them a $100 million gift—not a loan—as long as they return to their home markets. With this new-found $100 million in their negotiating arsenal, Dean Spanos and Mark Davis can now go back to their city and county leaders and ask/demand that they ante up at least that amount more than previously offered. And, of course, the two teams still have the continuing leverage of still having the opportunity to move to L.A. The NFL was strategic here in encouraging an outcome where San Diego and Oakland now have added incentive to keep their teams and will offer better terms than they previously have.

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