Ogden's deal is causing ripple effects throughout

ON THE NFL

July 21, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Now that pro basketball contracts have passed the $100 million barrier, pro football salaries pale by comparison.

Unlike NBA teams, NFL teams can't exceed the cap while signing their own players. So, Troy Aikman's $50 million deal is likely to stand as the sport's benchmark for the near future.

But there is one rookie contract that is raising eyebrows throughout the league -- Jonathan Ogden's seven-year deal with the Ravens. Although the total, which starts at $15.4 million and is likely to escalate to more than $20 million, wouldn't impress Shaquille O'Neal, it's the structure that has sparked controversy.

It features buybacks, voidable years and other bells and whistles that agents have used to get around the rookie salary cap for such quarterbacks as Drew Bledsoe, Rick Mirer, Heath Shuler and Trent Dilfer.

Because no quarterbacks were drafted high this year, the NFL thought it could avoid what one executive calls those "poison pills" this year. Kevin Hardy, the No. 2 pick, signed a straight six-year, $14.7 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars that didn't include any of them.

Ogden's deal, by contrast, could baffle an accountant. The short version is that the Ravens will kick another $825,000 into the $15.4 million deal at the start of the fourth season if they want to keep him for the fourth and fifth years, and then will give him the franchise number -- the average of the top five offensive linemen -- for the final three years if they keep him through the end of it.

That would make it about a $19.5 million contract under today's numbers. But since the franchise figure is sure to go up, it could easily wind up being a $21 million or $22 million deal.

On top of that, half the fifth year and the final two years could be guaranteed under certain circumstances, and most teams hate guaranteed contracts.

The NFL is said to be examining it closely, although agent Marvin Demoff is confident it would be upheld because most of the complicated clauses have been used in other contracts.

It could lead to long holdouts by Keyshawn Johnson, the first player picked by the New York Jets, and Simeon Rice, the third player picked by the Arizona Cardinals.

The first three players usually get more money than the fourth player picked, but the Jets and Cardinals are likely to balk at topping the Ogden deal. However, it's a bit late for the Jets to discover fiscal responsibility after an off-season spending spree.

Hardy is somewhat embarrassed because he signed his contract before Ogden and probably will wind up getting less than the Raven.

None of the NFL executives wanted to knock the Ravens on the record, but they were quick to point out the team had just cut Andre Rison for salary cap reasons and could get itself into another financial hole with such deals.

"That's why they had to move in the first place," said one executive who didn't want to be identified.

But David Modell, the son of owner Art Modell who negotiated with Demoff, said it's a good deal for the club. He said it gives the team several options at various points in the deal and avoided a holdout by the first player ever picked by the Ravens.

"We've had enough distractions," Modell said. "We didn't need a preseason marred by a prolonged holdout and acrimony."

He also said he didn't invent the voidability concept.

"I prefer vanilla deals, but this is the NFL world we live in," Modell said. "I'm sorry if other teams perceive we made their life more difficult, but I don't feel my team has done the earth-shattering deal of the century."

Price of fame

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin finally paid the price for being a celebrity last week.

Irvin has enjoyed many privileges over the years because of his special status. He likely thought he would not be convicted by a Dallas jury on a drug charge, and at first showed his disdain for the process by wearing a fur coat to court.

A topless dancer testified that Irvin strip-searched her and threatened her for testifying before a grand jury. Irvin told her he FTC was more powerful than the district attorney, she said.

The district attorney then showed Irvin just how powerful he could be. He turned what normally would have been a minor case into a full-scale production.

If he hadn't been Michael Irvin, it's unlikely he would have been indicted in the first place. The hotel employee who first called the police admitted he lied when he said there had been a complaint about noise in the room he was in. But a Dallas judge wasn't going to throw out this case and be accused of giving Irvin special treatment.

Instead, after Irvin accepted a plea bargain, the judge gave him 800 hours of community service (five months of 40-hour weeks) -- four times the normal amount.

There still were complaints he let him off easy by not jailing Irvin, although most first-time offenders get probation.

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