Crunch yet to fully hit home for NFL

Across the league, teams are laying off front office workers, ground keepers and, in the odd case of the Washington Redskins, even their salary cap analyst.

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These are strange economic times in the National Football League. The Commissioner takes a US$2.2million (Dh8m) pay cut while a cornerback for the Oakland Raiders signs a three-year contact worth $45m that includes $28.5m in guaranteed money in the first two seasons and an option for a third guaranteeing the remainder that must be picked up five days into the new pre-season or he becomes a free agent at the age of 29.

"Insanity,'' one rival NFL executive said, although it's unclear if he meant the pay cut or the pay raise. Maybe he meant both. When you add the fact the Raiders had to seek out a loan to afford the guy you are reminded how the economy came to collapse in the first place. Who is more valuable to the NFL, the guys who runs the place or a cornerback on one of the worst teams of the past decade? It depends on how you look at it, which is the story behind the story when it comes to the sagging economy's true effect on the NFL.

Across the league, teams are laying off front office workers, ground keepers and, in the odd case of the Washington Redskins, even their salary cap analyst, and then giving barrels full of cash to players who fall far below superstar level. Take the Redskins, they lay off 20 people then sign an often overweight defensive tackle named Albert Haynesworth to a seven-year, $100m contact with $41m guaranteed. Excuse me?

These are the same Redskins who laid off their salary cap analyst but retain 18 coaches in a game with only 22 positions. That includes three strength and conditioning coaches. Unlike the world economy, where the recession seems to have inflicted nearly universal pain, the first American depression of the new sporting millennium seems to have impacted on the NFL in spotty fashion. Top woman in the secretarial pool? See you. Fading running back? Back up the money truck.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's decision to take a 20 per cent pay cut from his $11m a year salary was a bold stroke of genius. It made the reduction of 15 per cent of the league's staff more palatable to some, but the leaders of the NFLPA, the players' union, believe it's all posturing to create the illusion that these troubled financial times mean the new contract between the league and the union should include a cutback from the 60 per cent of gross revenues that now go to their players via a $123m salary cap per team.

The chief concern is that the league's leading advertisers on its television broadcasts are auto-makers, like the all but bankrupt General Motors, and beverage manufacturers. People are still drinking, but nobody's buying a car. Yet while many of the 32 teams have gone on a cost-cutting binge it rings hollow when you see the Carolina Panthers lay off 20 low-salaried front office workers and then make Jordan Gross one of the highest paid left tackles, with $30m coming to him in the first three years of a six-year contract and then follow up by putting what is called the franchise tag on four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers, which means they will have to pay him $16.7m this year unless they trade him away. Last year, Peppers led the team with 14 ½ sacks. Two years ago he had 2 ½. His consistency is suspect even if his bank account is not.

The same is true for the NFL, which will cry the financial blues when negotiating a new service agreement with the players union while paying many of the union's members contracts like this one - $7m a year for four years to a guy, Laveranues Coles, who was cut by the New York Jets as too expensive at $6m a year two weeks earlier. Recession? Depression? In the NFL, it depends on who you ask.