Dollar signs point to NFL Teams, players eager to reap bonanza from $17.6 billion TV deal

'You'll see a $10 million QB'

But some say game, networks might suffer

January 16, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The NFL gold rush is on.

In the wake of the record $17.6 billion TV deal forged this week, the NFL is seeing dollar signs everywhere.

Owners, players and agents can't wait to get their hands on the money. It would have been cheaper for the networks to simply buy all 30 teams.

There's talk of $400 million franchises, $12 million quarterbacks and $75 million salary caps because of the deal that will bring each team an average of $73 million per season for eight years. They get about $40 million in the deal that expires after the Super Bowl.

"Certainly, you'll see a $10 million quarterback in a couple of years," said Leigh Steinberg, who represents many of the top quarterbacks. "Then a $12 million quarterback."

Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys owner who played a major role in negotiating the deal, said, "The money that doesn't go to players can make the teams sounder, reduce debt and create stability."

Doug Allen, assistant executive director of the NFL Players Association, said, "It'll mean more money for players."

The players get 63 percent of the designated gross revenues, and their take usually mirrors the TV contracts. For example, last year's cap was $41.45 million and the TV revenue for each team was about $40 million.

If this trend continues, the 53 players on a roster would divvy up about $75 million, which would translate into an average salary of more than $1 million per player.

By contrast, when the players went on strike in 1982, the average salary was $90,000.

All this money, though, won't start flowing into the pockets of the owners immediately. The average will be $73 million per team, but the payments are likely to be staggered.

This year's payment is more likely to be in the $50 million range per team, with a salary cap in the same area, but not all teams can rush into the free-agent market with a fistful of cash.

Teams such as the Ravens and Miami Dolphins, however, both of whom were charged about $7 million last year for players no longer on their rosters, will have the advantage of having that money along with the new influx of TV money.

"We were going to be active in free agency even before this TV deal was made," Ravens owner Art Modell said. "We'll be aggressive."

Signing free agents, though, may be more difficult because the new TV contract is likely to raise players' expectations.

And despite the influx of new money, not all the owners share Jones' view that the new contract is a bonanza for the league.

Owners Mike Brown of the Cincinnati Bengals and Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers are concerned that the networks will lose money on the deal.

They remember the days when the philosophy of former commissioner Pete Rozelle and Modell, who then headed the TV committee, was that the networks were in a partnership with the NFL and should make money on the NFL.

"We always had a good working relationship with the networks because we never extracted from them the last ounce of gold," Brown said. "When you enter a deal where one side may not be making money, that makes me think that somewhere down the line, you're going to share in that problem."

Rooney said, "It's a lot of money. Maybe too much."

Modell, who negotiated $8 billion worth of TV deals in 31 years before leaving the committee in 1993, said, "I did it differently, but I don't want to get into that. Dan and Mike Brown remember what we did years ago. We insisted the networks make a profit so they'd come back again."

Brown also worries that the new infusion of money may hurt the NFL game.

"I don't know that the National Football League gets better because we get money," Brown said. "Sometimes, I wonder about that."

With free agents moving from team to team, it's become more hTC difficult for teams to maintain continuity.

"It's good for the players who are playing now, but I don't know if it's good for the coaches, players, fans or even the cities where some of these teams are located," Brown said. "I compare it with what we had before and I'm fully convinced it doesn't work as well as what we had before."

But it's the system the NFL will have to live with, and the first effects will be seen when the free-agency period starts next month. The free agents are likely to raise their asking prices.

Bill Bidwill Jr., son of Arizona Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill, said, "We're the cork in the bathtub and the water is going up."

Making it official

How the NFL's new TV deal will be implemented:

Owners will meet in San Diego next Thursday to ratify the deal.

The Players Association will get official notification five days after the contracts are signed.

Accountants for the owners and the Players Association will meet by mid-February to determine the 1998 salary cap.

Pub Date: 1/16/98

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