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saintz08 03-26-2004 11:34 AM

Notebook: Big checkbooks are killing small-market teams
Notebook: Big checkbooks are killing small-market teams
March 25, 2004
By Pete Prisco Senior Writer
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They just couldn't help themselves, these NFL owners with the big checkbooks and the even bigger egos that somehow lead them to spend.

The lure of a Super Bowl can sometimes be deadly to a team -- cap troubles surely to follow those that spend money like a rap star from MTV's Cribs.

Dan Snyder's big spending is sending shockwaves around the league.(Getty Images)
After a couple of years of fiscal restraint, seemingly smacking these supposedly wise businessmen back to reality, we've had Boys Gone Wild during this free agency period, an orgy of free spending that seems like a chapter out of the Enron debacle.

"Can you believe some of those signing bonuses?" said one NFC coach. "It's unbelievable. Try and figure out how much signing bonus money has been paid out so far. It's ridiculous."

The Washington Redskins, and their does-he-print-money owner Dan Snyder, lead the league in signing bonus monies spent so far. Snyder has doled out over $60 million in bonus money.

But he is not alone. Free spending is an epidemic.

And this does not include the signing bonus money given to players for restructured deals that are done simply for cap reasons. Instead, this is just new money to players who were free, either as an unrestricted free agent or a restricted free agent.

Re-do deals, such as the $6.65 million Miami paid to linebacker Zach Thomas to give them some cap relief, do not count. That money would have been paid anyway in the form of salary. That's just bookkeeping, although the team does have to come off the hip for that bonus money all at once, instead of paying it weekly in salary.

Doling out $11.5 million signing bonus money to running back Clinton Portis, which the Redskins did after getting him in a trade, is the kind of money that does count.

"Signing bonus is king," said Indianapolis Colts owner Jimmy Irsay. "It's not the cap. It's cash over cap."

The Colts have paid out $40 million in signing bonuses, but $34.05 of that goes to quarterback Peyton Manning as part of his $98-million deal.

Denver has paid out about $34 million, followed by Seattle at $28 million, Philadelphia at $24 million and Detroit at $22 million. All four of those teams have something in common with the Redskins: New stadiums that generate big-time revenues in terms of luxury seating.

Irsay and some of the other small-market owners can't compete with that. Irsay's stadium in Indianapolis, the outdated RCA Dome, simply does not allow him to generate the same kind of revenues as Snyder's stadium in Washington or Paul Allen's in Seattle.

Even small-market teams like the Cincinnati Bengals that do have a new revenue-generating stadium can't compete from a cash standpoint with the Redskins because they can't charge as much for suites and club seats.

So, in essence, the NFL motto of sharing revenues in an attempt to keep things on equal footing is slipping away. The NFL Trust, which refers to the agreement among teams to have the league serve as the licensing agent for club trademarks and logos, is set to expire at the end of the month. It will be discussed next week at the winter meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., and there is talk that a few individual teams might want to handle their licensing in-house, which would again create a disparity in revenues. Power teams like the Cowboys, who market to an entire country, could make a lot more than a small-market team like the Colts or Bengals in that scenario.

Expect suite revenues to be another topic broached next week, according to Irsay.

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