Monday, August 15, 2011

Kreutz the Gladiator Leaves Chicago

One of Chicago's most beloved gladiators is gone. Chicago Bears fans, teammates and management were sad to see Olin Kreutz leave the team this summer after rejecting the Bears final offer of a reported one-year $4 million contract. Unless “you are in the room” as they say, you never know what really goes on in these negotiations, but no deal was reached. He will be missed perhaps more for the intangibles than the tangibles he brings to the team at this point in his career. Nevertheless, sports contracts are about performance, risks and rewards on the playing field—and the Bears best offer was turned down.

I have thought that the most difficult thing for management is cutting players—at least ones that have been loyal and hard-working. I suspect the most difficult thing for a player is when he is cut. The Kreutz-Bears negotiation was one of those situations where there were offers and counteroffers, but none consummated in a deal—in a sense both parties walk away.

It could not have been painless for either side, but I think in the end each side was able to walk away with its head up. I know these things are complicated—players have agents and owners have accountants, lawyers and managers—it can’t be simple.

When it was announced that Olin Kreutz and the Bears were parting company, I felt more than a little inadequate in my knowledge of the pro-salaries and the going rate for Centers. I did a little digging, but football contracts are complicated and perhaps the bare facts of the contract that can be gleamed by the public can be misleading—just part of the picture.

I also looked briefly at what seems to be going on in the rest of the league. There were several centers on the move this year.

This posting is what I found, but it by no means would qualify as comprehensive research. I make no judgments here about the Bears or Kreutz.

First, in the context of the negotiation, it might be helpful to review the offensive rankings for 2010.

NFL Offensive Ranking for 2010 by

1. Indianapolis Colts
2. San Diego Chargers
3. New Orleans Saints
4. Houston Texans
5. Green Bay Packers
6. Dallas Cowboys
7. Denver Broncos
8. Washington Redskins
9. Philadelphia Eagles
10. New York Giants
11. New England Patriots
12. Detroit Lions
13. Cincinnati Bengals
14. Pittsburgh Steelers
15. Atlanta Falcons
16. Miami Dolphins
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
18. San Francisco 49ers
19. Seattle Seahawks
20. Baltimore Ravens
21. St. Louis Rams
22. New York Jets
23. Oakland Raiders
24. Buffalo Bills
25. Tennessee Titans
26. Minnesota Vikings
27. Jacksonville Jaguars
28. Chicago Bears
29. Cleveland Browns
30. Kansas City Chiefs
31. Arizona Cardinals
32. Carolina Panthers

The Bears were ranked near the bottom on offense in 2010 and many writers pointed at the offensive line. Few people blamed Kreutz for this and most gave him credit for holding things together. The Bears' Jay Cutler’s quarterback rating was somewhere near the middle (16th according to ESPN), but he was sacked the highest number of times in the NFL—52 compared with 40 for Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens, the second highest sacked quarterback last year.

I think with the Bears poor offensive showing, that most every position on the offensive line was on the table. While there were a number of writers who suggested that Kreutz was nowhere near the top of his game, there were several reports that the Bears wanted to sign Kreutz because he was the anchor on the offensive line and one of the leaders in the locker room.

Still, there were some inklings several weeks ago that Kreutz and the Bears may not get a deal consummated because the Bears center was in the waning years of his career and it is often difficult for both sides to agree to terms in such circumstances.

Kreutz was known as someone who would played at the highest level of intensity. He is a man's man and played hurt without complaint. In a negotiation, a player may well remember the blood, sweat and tears left on the field year after year. A player and his agent may look backward as well as forward. Some may even count on media and fan influences to pressure a team to make a deal with a popular player. Alternatively, a football club may look more at the potential risks-rewards of making a new deal.

When negotiating a new contract, like anyone in a high profile job, I suspect a professional football player looks around at his peers to try to get a sense of his worth in the market. Who knows what information Kreutz may have seen and how that impacted his thinking?

In one exit interview given to Peggy Kusinsky of NBC, it appeared that after the dust settled, Kreutz took the high road with his parting of ways with the Bears and did not seem bitter. I think that’s good and I think more of him because of it.

Movement at Center and Salaries

It can be complicated to discern value for an offensive center. I think one of the complicating factors is the fact that in some cases offensive guards can and are successfully moved over to the center position. Salaries also seem to be all over the map.

The Bears were not the only team to see movement in the center position this season. The NY Giants released center Shaun O'Hara who had been considered one of the finest centers in the league a few seasons ago and signed ex-49er David Baas to fill O'Hara's post. SF media indicated that the 49ers wanted to keep Bass, but like Kruetz signing, it didn’t happen.

San Francisco 49ers signed center Jonathan Goodwin formerly of the New Orleans Saints to a reportedly three-year, $10.9 million deal to replace Bass. (I found salary information available from Spotrac that I used for this posting).
It was New Orleans that signed center Olin Kruetz formerly of the Chicago Bears to replace Jonathan Goodwin. According to Spotrac, Kruetz is getting $2 Million in his one-year deal—just half of what the Bears reportedly offered. It’s been suggested that larger contract offers may have been turned down because Kruetz was only interested in certain teams that had the right fit and perhaps offered a potential Super Bowl opportunity.

The Chicago Bears signed center Chris Spencer formerly of the Seattle Seahawks to replace Olin Kreutz. However, the Bears have moved veteran guard Roberto Garza over to start at center--at least for now. Spencer is not being replaced as such at Seattle at least at the time of this posting. The Seahawks Max Unger was injured last year, but in 2009 had moved over from guard to center for the final three games.

Kansas City Chiefs Casey Wiegman signed a new one-year contract for $2.5 million this year. Wiegman owns a consecutive snaps streak of over 10,000, which started in 2001. He has been a yeoman center for the Chiefs. He had played for the Bears for a few seasons along with a few other teams before settling in KC.

Jason Brown looks solid for the St. Louis Rams. According to Spotrac, Brown’s contract called for the following: 2009: $4 Million; 2010: $5 Million; 2011: $4 Million; 2012: $5 Million; 2013: $6.2 Million.

Ryan Kalis of the Carolina Panthers had a three-year $3.5 Million contract that seems by most standards to have been a deal for his team. He is considered one of the finest centers. Coming into the 2011 season, he agreed to a one-year deal that pays him an incredible $10 Million according to Spotrac, but there are a lot of contributing factors to this contract that involve complex rules. He has been “franchise tagged” by Carolina and both sides are working towards a new contract extension this fall.

Center Joe Berger at Miami is in the last year of a $2.5 Million three year contract that according to Spotrac called for $375,000 signing bonus and the following: 2009: $675,000 2010: $700,000; 2011: $800,000. Berger, however, faces much competition for his spot on this year’s roster including that from rookie Mike Pouncey who was selected 15th overall in the draft.

Jeff Saturday is a Pro-Bowl Center for the Indianapolis Colts. Saturday is in the last year of a $13.3 Million contract that according to Spotrac included a $7.45 Million signing bonus and the following: 2008: $3 Million; 2009: $1.95 Million; 2010: $1.95 Million; 2011: $1.95 Million.

Matt Birk, who is in the final year of a 3-year $12 Million contact is one of the highest rated centers in the league. Birk who plays for the Balimore Ravens, is recovering from surgery, but is only expected to miss the preseason. Birk had played in Minnesota under a 7-year deal from 2001-2007 for a reported $21 million.
Andre Gurode of the Dallas Cowboys is a four-time pro-bowler who according to Spotrac extended an existing contract in 2007 to one that pays him $30 Million through 2012. His contract included a $10 Million signing bonus and the following: 2007 ; $600,000; 2008: $2 Million; 2009: $2.4 Million; 2010: $3 Million; 2011: $5.5 Million; 2012: $6.5 Million.

Alex Mack center for the Cleveland Browns was a first round draft pick in the 2009 draft. He signed a five-year $12.5 Million contact that is guaranteed at $8.3 Million and includes $2.8 Million in incentives.. According to Spotrac the contract calls for 2009: $816,000; 2010: $700,000; 2011: $774,000; 2012: $1,303,00; 2013: $1,932,000.

Nick Mangold of the NY Jets is considered by many to be the best center in the NFL. He began his career in 2006 and according to Spotrac in 2010 signed a 7-year $54.075 Million extension that includes $22 Million in guarantees, a $6.373 Million bonus in 2010; a $9.724 Million bonus in 2011; a $3 Million bonus in 2013; a $2.645 Million workout bonus along with the following salary amounts: 2010: $ 959,400; 2011: $2,260,800; 2012: $2,334,700; 2013: $3,008,600; 2014: $3,032,500; 2015: $3,456,400; 2016: $3,880,300; 2017: $4,304,200.

Green Bay center is Scott Wells. Wells is in the last year of a 5-year $15 Million contract that included a $2 Million signing bonus, $5 Million guaranteed and payments as follows: 2006: $6.8 Million; 2007: $510,000; 2008: $740,000; 2009: $1.5 Million; 2010: $2.25 Million; 2011: $2.75 Million.

Dominic Raiola in his tenth year with the Lions has been a steady player at center. According to Spotrac in his tenure with the Lions he received a 4-year $2.7 Million contract for 2001-4 that included $1.3 Million in bonuses. His 2005-2009 contract called for $17.5 Million including a $4.35 Million signing bonus and his 2010-2013 contract calls for $20 with a $9 Million guarantee and pays $4.680 Million in 2010; $2.4 Million in 2011; $3.4 Million in 2012 and $4.05 Million in 2013. Raiola was named team captain five-straight seasons from 2006 to 2010.

In Minnesota, three players will be vying for the starting position at Center including veteran John Sullivan, Jon Cooper and promising rookie Brandon Fusco. Sullivan is in the last year of 4-year $1.8 Million contract and Jon Cooper is in the final year of a 3-year $1.215 Million contract.

A Jumble

There is no doubt there is lot of money being paid to centers these days, but like other contracts, it’s complicated and the duration and variation in terms make it difficult to sort out. Some of the money is guaranteed, some is not. The various bonuses add great complication. One way and by no means a perfect way of sorting out the top paid centers is simply to look at their annual salary for 2011. In the Spotrac list for 2011, they have placed Olin Kreutz $2 Million between the 13th and 14th highest salaries for centers for the year. If he would have taken the $4 Million offered by the Bears, his 2011 salary would have been ranked 4th. But this method does not take into account bonuses, which can sway things considerably for top centers whose contracts are laced with those. As noted above, Nick Mangold receives a $9.724 Million bonus for 2011--this demonstrates the problem with just looking at salaries.

How much did Kreutz make playing for the Bears?

According to Spotrac, his first contract included the following: from 2002-2007, a six year $23 Million contract that provided a $7 Million signing bonus and the following salary: 2002: $525,00; 2003: $1.5 Million; 2004: $1.5 Million; 2005: $2.5 Million; 2006: $12,444,444; and 2007: $1.5 Million. In 2008, he was given a $17.5 Million three-year contact. If these numbers are accurate, Kruetz made over $40 Million with the Bears. If Kreutz was looking for $4.5 Million as was reported in some articles, such a contract would have paid him above his average annual take over his Bears career. If reports of the $4 Million offer that was left on the table are accurate, the Bears were willing to pay him just under his average annual take over the years.

Again, for those of us who were not a party to the negotiations, there is no way of understanding what went on and what motivated each party. It may seem like a sad end to a long Bears career, but Kreutz looks like a strong guy who is smart, healthy, wealthy and still a young man by non-football standards. He is not the first player or the last to change teams in his final season or two.

Copyright 2011 Sporting Chance Press

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