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Volume 24 No. 217

Leagues and Governing Bodies

Cousins' contract makes him the first player to sign a top-tier, fully guaranteed multiyear deal
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The Vikings and QB Kirk Cousins yesterday "stunned the NFL" with news of a fully guaranteed, three-year, $84M contract -- an "unprecedented player-friendly deal for a league in which teams routinely pull the plug early on players and contracts deemed cost-ineffective," according to Matthew Paras of the WASHINGTON TIMES. The contract would "not only make Cousins the highest-paid player in the NFL, but also the first to sign a top-tier, multiyear deal fully guaranteed" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 3/14). In N.Y., Mark Cannizzaro writes in a league of owners that -- to date -- has "deftly avoided dishing out fully guaranteed contracts, thus holding the hammer over most players, this impending Cousins transaction has the potential to shift the NFL’s free-agent landscape dramatically." Cannizzaro: "Will this open the floodgates to more top-tier free agents landing fully guaranteed deals in the near future? How can it not?" Cousins is about to "score a landmark deal that could benefit some of his fellow players in the near future." When news broke of Cousins' deal, Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin tweeted, "Now we need more players to bet on themselves until fully guaranteed contracts are the norm and not the exception." What Cousins has done is "change the way coveted free agents negotiate with teams" (N.Y. POST, 3/14). FS1’s Jason Whitlock said, "I'm a football person and I love football, but if you guaranteed all the contracts, the game would be diminished. That's just a fact" (“Speak for Yourself,” FS1, 3/13). NFL Network's Ian Rapoport: "I'm sure the owners won't think it's cool ... Rarely do you see someone maximize his leverage as Kirk Cousins has done" ("NFL Free Agency Frenzy," NFL Network, 3/13).

PERFECT TIMING: ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt said “you knew (Cousins) was going to re-set the market because he’s was the rarest commodity in the NFL: a quarterback to hit the free agent market in his prime, and early prime at that. He’s not even 30 yet” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 3/14).) ESPN’s Bill Polian said, "This is a guy who arguably is not a top 15 quarterback in the league. What about those other 15 guys?" (“NFL Live,” ESPN, 3/13). ESPN's Cari Champion said it is a "tragedy" that Cousins is the "highest paid quarterback" ("SportsNation," ESPN, 3/13). ESPN’s Dan Le Batard: "You have to pay more if you feel like you’re a piece away" (“Highly Questionable,” ESPN, 3/13). 

WHO'S NEXT? THE RINGER's Kevin Clark wrote, "It is possible we look back on this week and see it as the start of a new era of NFL free agency." The NFL "abhors giving out guaranteed deals, even to its biggest stars." Cousins' deal will have "major ramifications on a select group of players." If Cousins can get a "full deal guaranteed, what can [Aaron] Rodgers get?" The NFL "does not want to abandon its business model, which includes being generally crappy to its players in contract negotiations." But Cousins landed this deal, in part, because the sport "does not think rationally about its quarterbacks." That is "great for the passers themselves, but less so for the other 21 players on a football field" (THERINGER.com, 3/13). FS1’s Greg Jennings: "I don't think this is for every player in the league, but I think every player is excited now, specifically quarterbacks” (“Speak for Yourself,” FS1, 3/13). CBSSN’s Adam Schein said of Cousins' contract, "If I'm Aaron Rodgers, I'm laughing" (“Time to Schein,” CBSSN, 3/13). ESPN's Marcellus Wiley said of Saints QB Drew Brees' new deal in comparison to Cousins, "He left himself no leverage because New Orleans knew that he loved that place." Wiley: "Brees should have used that to get more money and set the market even higher" ("SportsNation," ESPN, 3/13).

BREAK ON THROUGH: YAHOO SPORTS' Charles Robinson noted Cousins did something "no other player has done in this kind of circumstance -- essentially winning on the front and back end of a deal." But for it to become a standard would take Falcons QB Matt Ryan and Rodgers "following suit." For it to "spread outside of the quarterback elites" would take someone like Texans DE Jadeveon Clowney "forcing a team to do a fully guaranteed deal for a cornerstone defensive player." That is a lot of "needles left to thread." But in all of this, "one this is clear: Elite NFL players are thinking more about the power they hold over teams." Cousins "went through the wall." Where NFL stars go with this "stunning new momentum could shape the league for decades" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/13). 

UP-TEMPO OFFENSE: In L.A., Sam Farmer noted several factors help explain the uptick in NFL "trade activity in recent years, one that reached a fever pitch in February and early March." Most of the old-guard GMs are gone and the business is "dominated by younger, often more aggressive executives who are more willing to make bold moves to change the course of an organization." Then there are the "enhanced methods of communication" (L.A. TIMES, 3/11). THE MMQB's Peter King noted there are "three reasons that we've seen a spate of trades prior to free agency, when in most years we'd seen none." First, the "paranoia to trade is gone." Second, there is a "familiarity among GMs." Finally, there is the innovation of "texting" (SI.com, 3/12).

Tod Leiweke, who yesterday stepped down as NFL COO, is "expected to join the Oak View Group in a top executive position to help run" Seattle's anticipated NHL expansion franchise, according to Geoff Baker of the SEATTLE TIMES. The NHL has "yet to award Seattle an expansion team expected to play at a remodeled KeyArena" starting in October '20, but that move is "expected to come" at a league BOG meeting in June. OVG along with potential team owners David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer recently "launched a highly successful season-ticket initiative that attracted 33,000 deposits of $500 and $1,000 within two days" (SEATTLE TIMES, 3/14). In Seattle, Stephen Cohen noted Leiweke is a name that "should sound familiar to Seattle sports fans" as he served as the Seahawks CEO from '03-10. Under Leiweke, the Seahawks "doubled their season-ticket base and advanced to their first ever Super Bowl following" the '05 season (SEATTLEPI.com, 3/13). Also in Seattle, Danny O'Neil wrote the market's NHL future "just got a whole lot brighter." Leiweke "stands alone" in the city’s sports history. He is "quite simply the most successful" sports exec Seattle has "ever known." Seattle's hockey fans "should be doing cartwheels because there’s no one in Seattle sports history whose touch has been as golden as Leiweke when it comes to building successful franchises" (MYNORTHWEST.com, 3/13).

ON PARK AVENUE: NFL President of Digital Media Maryann Turcke is replacing Leiweke as COO, and in N.Y., Ken Belson writes the league will "no doubt be congratulated for promoting a woman to such a lofty position." One of the "tougher issues she will face may be pushing out longtime employees and hiring replacements -- or not." Sources said that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is "reshaping his staff for what will likely be his stretch run." He also "wants to groom a potential successor," and Leiweke's departure leaves Chief Media & Business Officer Brian Rolapp as the "leading internal candidate to take over." But more immediately, Goodell "needs to placate owners who want a more streamlined -- and downsized -- league headquarters that focuses more heavily on on-field issues and creating revenue" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/14). PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio wrote if "more changes are coming" to the league office, it will "be interesting to see if the news breaks while most of the reporters covering the league are otherwise tracking free agency, which essentially gives the league an extended Friday afternoon bad-news dump" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 3/13).

There are still logistics to work out on the initiative, including potential hurdles with the Liga MX schedule
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Yesterday's announcement of a long-term initiative between MLS and Liga MX is "just the beginning" of the partnership between the two North American soccer leagues, according to Dylan Butler of PRO SOCCER USA. Liga MX President Enrique Bonilla said, "The Campeones Cup is only the first step. It's a big step, as [MLS Commissioner Don Garber] said it's going to be the Super Bowl of soccer in North America. We're going to do a lot of things. We're going to work with minors, we're going to work with best practices and, at the end, we're sure we're going to have better football for great fans we have in the [U.S.] and in Mexico and in Canada." Garber said that the new partnership between MLS and Liga MX will "aim to heal cultural divides as well." Future All-Star competitions between the leagues would be "whole 'futbol fiestas,' allowing the two soccer communities to join together in celebration of the sport regardless of political climate." Bonilla said that Liga MX can "learn from MLS' marketing acumen and from the game-day experience most of its clubs offer." However, Butler noted there remains "unanswered questions when it comes to the future All-Star game." There are still logistics to "work out -- and some potential hurdles with the Liga MX schedule -- but both sides said they are committed to what Garber called a 'quintessentially North American' concept" (PROSOCCERUSA.com, 3/13).

START OF SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL: In Dallas, Dan Crooke noted the Campeones Cup is the "first competition solely between U.S. and Mexican clubs since SuperLiga ended" after the '10 season (DALLASNEWS.com, 3/13). FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja said of the partnership, "It's great, especially because of the proximity of the countries." In Dallas, Jon Arnold noted MLS also will "tweak its All-Star Game." While this season's ASG in Atlanta "likely will feature the current format of the MLS All-Stars playing a big European team on a preseason tour of the U.S., future games are expected to pit the MLS All-Stars against a Liga MX All-Star team" (DALLASNEWS.com, 3/13).

CLOSING THE GAP: The Red Bulls, Sounders and Toronto FC each won their opening legs of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, and PRO SOCCER USA's Butler wrote the "stunning sweep of their Mexican rivals ... has many talking about how close" MLS is getting to Liga MX in terms of quality. Garber said, "MLS teams want to win the Champions League and we have not been able to do that. That's a real test for us. To see three of our clubs getting to this point is something we're excited about." Butler noted neither Garber nor Bonilla believe the Campeones Cup will "take away from the CCL" and, in fact, they "think the exact opposite." Garber: "This is going to elevate (the Champions League). Its whole purpose is to serve as a vehicle to make the CONCACAF Champions League more valuable" (PROSOCCERUSA.com, 3/13).

CAUSE FOR CONCERN: SI.com's Grant Wahl noted the newly created U.S. Soccer men's GM position has "yet to be filled." Sources said that the job is "being seen as unattractive by many of the people who were originally intended to be targets for it." The sources said that the GM job as it is designed "isn't nearly powerful enough and doesn't have any control over youth development." There is also "concern" as USSF Secretary General & CEO Dan Flynn is "not planning to stay on for the long term that it could be a bad fit when the new CEO comes in to replace Flynn and oversee the GM" (SI.com, 3/13).

DeRozan is among those who have acknowledged they were dealing with mental health issues while playing
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

The NBA and the NBPA are close to naming a Dir of Mental Health & Wellness, a role that would "run an independent mental wellness program that is being jointly funded by the league and union," according to David Aldridge of NBA.com. The league has had programs "dealing with wellness be part of the Rookie Transition Program, Team Awareness meetings with players during the season and its Player Assistance Program over the years," but this new effort will be the "most comprehensive program dealing with mental wellness created to date." The new program, which is the result of almost a "year of discussions" between the two sides, "will allow players to seek treatment and counseling outside of the framework of their individual teams." Current team physicians and other resources "will still be available to them." But it is "not clear if the director will have the ability to unilaterally decide if a player dealing with a mental wellness issue should not play in a given game or games to deal with those issues, regardless of what the player’s team medical staff may think." The new program also "dovetails with the league reviewing mental health and wellness policies and programs in the NBA, WNBA and G League." Jed Foundation Chief Medical Officer Victor Schwartz since last year has been "reviewing the NBA’s policies." Mental wellness outreach also will be a part of the inaugural Jr. NBA World Championships in Orlando next August. Many players in recent years have "acknowledged they were dealing with mental health issues while playing," including Raptors G DeMar DeRozan and Cavaliers F Kevin Love (NBA.com, 3/12).

DIFFERENT TAKES: ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said of the program, "I totally applaud what they are doing. My issue is with it being publicized, because I think the more aware Joe Public is about the help provided to multimillionaire athletes, I think it's going to elevate the level of cynicism, dissipate the level of empathy and sympathy, and as a result who knows what that's going to materialize into." ESPN’s Max Kellerman: "It’s good if people see publicly that even these big strong athletes can deal with it. This relates to all kinds of issues, from domestic violence to drug abuse and a lot of that overlaps, to suicide to serious societal issues, and if athletes can be an example publicly for this, that they are also strong enough to accept help and to seek it out, and the league is smart enough to offer it, I think it's a good thing if it's publicized” (“First Take,” ESPN, 3/13).

In DC, Barry Svrluga notes people inside MLB, including those who work for clubs and some who represent players, believe the "next three or four years are a monumental time for the sport." A significant number believe the "chances of a strike" at the conclusion of this CBA, which runs through the '21 season, are "very good." Some think it is "inevitable." Some agents and players believe this offseason was "just the start of behavior modification by ownership, that the way free agents were approached this winter changed drastically -- with fewer, and in some cases no, offers and counteroffers exchanged" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/14).

EXTRA PRACTICE: In Tampa, Greg Auman noted the Buccaneers' new indoor practice facility on March 25 "will play host to an NFL pre-draft combine for 100 invited prospects." The league will run the combine, which is "intended for the best draft prospects who weren't among the 336 at the official NFL combine earlier this month in Indianapolis, as well as unsigned players not on current NFL rosters." In past years, the league "has run 'regional combines' across the country for players who weren't invited to Indianapolis" (TAMPABAY.com, 3/13).

BIGGEST LOSER: NBA TV's J.E. Skeets noted "eight or nine teams" could be part of the NBA's "tanking race" over the last month of the season. He added, "There could be some very, very weird games in terms of maneuvering, in terms of who's hurt who's playing, how long are they playing. We've already seen it, it could get even more extreme as we get into the final couple of weeks" ("The Starters," NBA TV, 3/13).