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saintz08 06-07-2004 10:33 AM

Joe Horn's current deal makes him well worth the trouble for
Bayou bargain

Joe Horn's current deal makes him well worth the trouble for the Saints

Joe Horn will earn just $700,000 this year.

It's a pretty quiet week around the NFL. Teams are hosting their final organized offseason activities, such as passing camps and mini-camps, before heading into a month-long slumber period before training camp. Camps are delayed this year, by the way, because the first Sunday of the season is later than usual -- Sept. 12. So most teams won't start whacking each other until last couple of days of July.

I thought I would take a minute to talk about New Orleans wide receiver Joe Horn's contract, seeing as how he's topical. Last week, I wrote that you shouldn't be surprised if Horn, oftentimes the rock in the shoe of Saints coach Jim Haslett, was a June casualty by the Saints. It's something a rival general manager, a usually reliable source, had told me the previous week.

After it appeared in the column, New Orleans GM Mickey Loomis called. He said Horn wasn't going anywhere. He said the note had stirred up the media troops in the Crescent City, and he wanted to make sure I understood that, even though Horn could be a pretty big patience-tester and the Saints had loaded up with receivers recently, he will be a Saint this year.

"His contract's really pretty good for us this year,'' Loomis said.

That sent me scurrying to my contract information. And I discovered that Horn, this year anyway, will certainly be one of the best bargains in football. It's amazing to think that a man who has averaged 86 catches per season over the past four years, and who has scored 34 touchdowns in those four years, is going to earn $700,000. I mean, no need to weep for Joe Horn. But for an offensive force like him to count for less than one percent of the Saints' salary cap this year ... well, that's a great, great deal for the team, even if Horn acts up sometimes.

So you're asking: How did the Saints get by so cheaply with Horn?

The answer: They didn't.

Even after 11 years under the new salary-cap system, I still hear massive misconceptions about the way the process, and the cap itself, works. The reason the Saints are getting Horn so cheaply this year is because they paid him huge money last year, and they're going to pay him well in 2005, if he's on the team. (Which I doubt.) Horn signed a three-year, $13 million contract extension a year ago this week. A breakdown of the deal:

2003: $5.1 million signing bonus, $1.7 million roster bonus, $700,000 salary. (Total: $7.5 million.)

2004: $700,000 salary. (Total: $700,000)

2005: $1 million roster bonus, $3.8 million salary. (Total: $4.8 million.)

So even if Haslett wanted to cut Horn this year, even if he were tired of antics like the receiver pulling out a cellphone in the end zone during a game last season, he'd have to take a deep breath and say, "This man can help me win. He's making less than some of our backup linemen. And we can handle the other stuff."

A player almost always makes his big money in the first year of a contract that is three years or longer. The team almost always backloads a contract so it sounds richer than it really is by tacking money onto the last year of the contract that it never intends to pay. The middle year or years are the ones when the team usually has the advantage. It's the law of the NFL salary jungle.

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