The world of sports contract negotiation is an ever escalating sequence of percentage increases. The New Orleans Saints, who have in the past two years negotiated long-term deals with Aaron Brooks and Joe Horn, face by far their toughest test yet with the best player on the team and the key to the offense, runningback Deuce McAllister.
Agent Ben Dogra will be pushing for McAllister's fair market value, despite McAllister's interest as a burgeoning businessman with involvement in a Mississippi Nissan dealership and possibly a hotel.
Which is about to go up.
Reports from San Diego are that runningback LaDainian Tomlinson is soon to be the highest-paid runningback in the league, stealing the title from Redskins back Clinton Portis who will have held the honor for only a few months. Tomlinson, who joins McAllister, Portis and a select few others in the ranks of the runningback elite, will likely not hold that honor himself for long.
The Saints have been negotiating long-term deals with their two best players, McAllister and defensive end Darren Howard. Howard is currently operating under the franchise tag, a one year strong-arm tactic for NFL teams to use against superstar players that won't agree to a long-term deal. McAllister, 26, has been quietly operating on his rookie contract, which based on his late-first round draft position will pay him a mere $470,000 this season and runs through 2006.
Portis received in excess of $50.5 million over eight years this past offseason, a stunningly large contract in both dollars and years. Accepting the nature of NFL contracts, Portis will almost certainly play and earn less than half that under the terms of the contract as it stands. A void clause or renegotiation is a near certainty, but the facts remain and his contract is the current benchmark for contracts signed by top flight young runningbacks.
Soon, Tomlinson's contract will be the benchmark. Aside from it being a great boon to the team for a marquee player to choose to resign with the struggling franchise, it is a mark on the gun for Tomlinson's super agent Tom Condon.
Ben Dogra, McAllister's agent, is looking for a similar mark. Dogra held McAllister out of his rookie training camp in 2001 for eight days, a tactic that he may or may not be able to convince McAllister to try again. Portis received a $17 million signing bonus after only two seasons. Last offseason the Chiefs augmented Priest Holmes' contract with an extension that alone included $10 million in guaranteed money. Colts superstar Edgerrin James will be a free agent after this year. His new contract with whatever team he signs with will also have an impact on McAllister's eventual deal. In fact, the two sides may wait to see James' deal on paper in the spring of 2005 to serve as a prototype for the money involved.
The Saints have not made much public hay about the upcoming negotiations. But the two sides share a common interest, both want McAllister to land his well deserved, big-money, long-term contract. It will be the 'big-money' portion that presents the most problems.
For a cash-strapped team in a tiny NFL market and an aging facility, meeting huge signing bonuses can be a difficult financial decision and a gamble that is tough to justify. This offseason another small-market team, the Indianapolis Colts, handed out the biggest signing bonus in NFL history to keep Peyton Manning, but the team likely mortgaged its future to ink the deal.