Monday, March 13, 2006

Kampman, Packers agree to $21 million deal

Posted: March 13, 2006

Green Bay - Defensive end Aaron Kampman joined a select group of National Football League players whose contracts actually are better than they look.

This isn’t one of those all-too-common contracts loaded with funny money at the end of the deal just to make player and agent look good among their peers.

The four-year, $21 million contract that Kampman agreed to Friday night with the Green Bay Packers was structured just right if you’re a player or agent.

“I think it’s a very fair deal,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “When free agency shakes out, I think both sides will be very pleased with it.”

What made the deal remarkably sweet for Kampman was that $12 million of the total was fully guaranteed.

The guaranteed money included an $8 million signing bonus plus a $3 million roster bonus, a $900,000 base salary and a $105,720 workout bonus, all payable in 2006. That accounted for 57.1% of the total compensation, a stunning figure in the era of back-loaded contracts.

With $30.504 million of room beneath their adjusted salary cap of $103.737 million on Friday morning, the Packers actually wanted to eat up cap room on Kampman. So his cap salary for 2006 of $6.005 million is the highest in the deal. Next year, his cap salary decreases to $4 million, followed by $5 million in 2008 and $6 million in ’09.

Kampman’s base salaries will be $1.9 million in 2007, $2.9 million in ’08 and $3.9 million in ’09. He also has a $100,000 workout bonus each of those years.

The Packers worked to re-sign Kampman for months. They didn’t reach agreement until Friday night, a few hours before the 11:01 start of free agency.

“I think some of the dynamics in our league changed with the new collective bargaining agreement,” general manager Ted Thompson said. “We’re still walking off into unknown territory.”

The average per year of Kampman’s contract, $5.25 million, is good but not exceptional by NFL standards.

The six-year, $33 million contract that defensive end Joe Johnson signed in March 2002 averaged $5.5 million. The seven-year, $37.3 million deal that defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila signed in April 2003 averaged $5.3 million. The six-year, $25.35 million contract that defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt signed in March 2003 averaged $4.225 million.

However, the fact that 57.1% of Kampman’s money was guaranteed made it astonishingly lucrative.

By comparison, Johnson had 21.7% guaranteed money, “KGB” had 37.3% guaranteed and Hunt had 26.5% guaranteed.

One of the Packers’ few contracts to be front-loaded to the extent of Kampman’s was awarded to Reggie White in April 1993. That deal, $17 million over four years, contained 52.9% guaranteed money and $12.15 million in the first two years.

In the last few days, three other defensive ends signed huge deals.

Anthony Weaver went from Baltimore to Houston for a reported $26.5 million over five years. Trevor Pryce, who had been cut by Denver, signed a five-year, $25 million deal with 24% guaranteed. Darren Howard went from New Orleans to Philadelphia for a reported $30.5 million over six years.

By signing for just four years, Kampman also might have the chance to sign another big deal because he will be just 30 when his contract expires.

The decision to give Kampman a blockbuster contract was considered to be a no-brainer by the Packers. They viewed him as the anchor of their defense and someone with a work ethic that wouldn’t be compromised by money.

“He’s done it the hard way,” Thompson said.

“He wasn’t a high pick. He didn’t get all the glamour starting out. He sort of had to work his way up. I think he’s well-deserving.”

But Kampman was drafted in the fifth round in 2002 for a reason. He isn’t a great talent by the standards of highly paid defensive ends, as evidenced by his career total of 13½ sacks.

“He’s the type of guy you hate to stick money into because it’s not like he has a tremendous up side,” said a defensive line coach for another NFL team who studied tape of Kampman this winter. “He’s not going to turn around and get 10, 11, 12 sacks. There’s just no way. He’s doesn’t have that ability. He’s a marginal athlete.”

In the next breath, however, the coach offered high praise to Kampman
“All he does is play good football,” he said. “All he does is play his (expletive) off. He does a real good job in the run game, comes off blocks and makes plays. Never going to be a great pass rusher but has a little knack. Good guy.

“But I’d hate to have been the team that did it. It’s a weird deal. When you sign an end you’re saying, ‘He can get us 10 sacks a year.’ I don’t think there’s any way they can say that. That’s an awesome deal for him. He’s really not worthy of that money, but you can see them giving it to him.”

Quarterback Brett Favre currently counts the most against the Packers’ cap at $12.633 million. Kampman vaulted into second at $6.005 million, followed by Gbaja-Biamila at $5.421 million, tackle Chad Clifton at $5.092 million and Hunt, a classic example of re-signings gone bad, at $3.6 million.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Deal Helps Free Agents and Top Draft Picks

March 10, 2006

By JUDY BATTISTA, New York Times

Now for the shopping spree.

The completion of an extension to the National Football League's collective-bargaining agreement means labor peace for another six years. But it also means a potential bonanza for free agents and draft picks this year. Free agency, delayed twice while the agreement was being negotiated, starts tomorrow, and teams have hit the salary-cap lottery. The cap is set at $102 million for 2006, an enormous one-time leap of $16.5 million over the $85.5 million in cap dollars teams had available in 2005. It will be $109 million in 2007.

Leigh Steinberg, an agent who represents the Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart, projected to be one of the top three picks in the April draft, said he anticipated that the N.F.L. could ultimately have contracts comparable to those in baseball and basketball. The N.F.L.'s new television contracts, worth $3.7 billion annually starting in 2006, grow in value in the later years of the agreement. That will put more money into the revenue-sharing stream, giving teams the cash to lavish on the biggest stars. The $37 million in guaranteed money that Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick received in the 10-year, $130 million contract he signed in December 2004 might just be the start.

This year, Steinberg said, he would not be surprised if the top pick in the draft received nearly $30 million in guaranteed money. Last year's first pick, San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith, received $24.5 million. Signing bonuses for veterans and rookies are expected to become larger, in part because they can be amortized over a longer period of time under the new deal than if there were no deal. Steinberg estimated that if an extension had not been completed, it would have been difficult to get a contract with $15 million in guaranteed money because the amortization period was shorter.

"It's the return of the signing bonus," Steinberg said. "Happy days are here again."

Players already in the league, and the teams that want to sign them, will benefit most from the new deal.

"This mega-increase in the cap affords teams the opportunity to do an extreme makeover of their roster," Steinberg said. "It allows a team that was close to the cap to retain the integrity of its roster. But it also allows a team that wants to exploit the ability to dramatically improve itself the ability to be extremely aggressive in free agency. They can do some of what people perceived would happen in an uncapped year, because they have so much cap room."

The teams who will benefit most in the short term are those that had salary-cap problems before. The Washington Redskins would probably have had to make sweeping cuts to get under the cap. Now, they have an opportunity to keep a playoff team nearly intact. With the expansion of the cap, the Indianapolis Colts can at least try to retain Edgerrin James, the top running back on the market, although it is not clear whether they will be able to re-sign him. The Raiders can keep quarterback Kerry Collins, whom they had released earlier. Teams that were struggling to get under the cap — the Redskins and the Dolphins, among others — can be more active in free agency than if there had been no deal.

"This year, free agency will be a more vibrant and robust market for teams and players," the agent Neil Cornrich said.

And because sweeping cuts will not be necessary for teams to get under the salary cap, as was feared when it was set at $94.5 million before the extension was completed, there will not be a glut of talent on the free-agent market with few teams in a position to spend. The larger cap number, in turn, could mean less pressure on teams to release aging but still effective veterans. Steinberg said it could lead to more players spending their careers with one team.

"There would have been a lot of unhappy guys and a lot of talent on the street," the agent Ralph Cindrich said. "Now, I don't think there's any question it's going to mirror more the past years of free agency. There's an abundance of money."

There is also an abundance of relief. Nearly everyone in the N.F.L. had been in a holding pattern for weeks, wondering what financial conditions they would operate under next season. Finally, one set of plans — the dire, tight cost-control ones — can be ripped up and teams can get on with the business of the off-season.

"The landscape is going to be very similar to the way it's been; it's going to be normal," Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi said. "If there wouldn't have been an agreement, it wouldn't have been normalcy. We would have been in uncharted waters."

Instead, it is smooth sailing.

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