Friday, February 20, 2009

Al Davis and a $45 million wrecking ball

Execs taken aback by Asomugha, Lechler deals

By Jason Cole

INDIANAPOLIS – Reaction was swift and ugly Thursday to the deals the Oakland Raiders gave CB Nnamdi Asomugha and punter Shane Lechler over the past two days.

"How many different ways can you say, 'What were they thinking?' " a team executive who declined to be identified said after being told the terms of Asomugha's three-year, $45 million contract.

"Insanity, stupidity, whatever you want to attach to it. Yeah, the kid is the best cornerback in the league. They paid for quality. I'll give them that. But that deal wrecks the league. Absolutely wrecks it. … I'm sure Al doesn't care, but it's deals like that that change the league for the worse."

Actually, that last point alone probably explains the move.

Sure, Al Davis just bloated his payroll by paying a starting corner $15 million a year... but by paying such a high price, he has performed a little sports economics trick called setting the market.

By paying a top corner like Asomugha $45 million over 3 seasons, every other talented free agent corner will demand that a prospective team pay them at least that much for their services. You know agents like Drew Rosenhaus will take this line of negotiation and refuse any deal for his players that isn't close to Asomugha's salary. Likewise, by signing punter Shane Lechler (a punter!) for 4 years and $16 million, Davis has set a ridiculous price at two positions.

Even if most teams balk at paying such a price to subsequent top talent at these positions... if one team with, say, a desperate need at a position caves and offers a particular top player the requested cash, that's all that matters: Aside from further solidifying the excessive market price, now that particular team has bloated their payroll by an excessive amount for the services of one player, while they still need to find a way to get 52 other players paid under the salary cap, and field a competitive NFL team in the process.

In effect, Al Davis' ridiculous contract for Asomugha screws the payrolls of his competitors. With every team working against the mandated NFL salary cap, they now also have to deal with top corners in the league asking exorbitant prices. As Cole mentions later in the article, the deal could also have a ripple effect on negotiations with top players in other positions, such as free agent defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth.

If NFL teams don't sign these players, they now have to scramble to procure other, often lesser talent, who themselves ask for bloated wages in comparison to the bloated salaries of top players such as Asomugha. Davis has set the market so high that it chop-blocks the efforts of his competitors to build a competitive team.

Couldn't other teams in the league just refuse to pay any corner that much and in effect bring the price down? Sure, never minding the risk of charges of collusion, which would be true if every team actively stonewalled said players. But again, all it takes is one GM caving in and offering the requested money to a top free agent, and it's all for naught.

Sure, you can also say Davis has screwed himself by setting high prices. But he's also got a top player (and a punter) locked up. The other NFL teams scrambling to fill roster needs not only cannot say the same, but now must do so at a premium. Al Davis, in effect, has taken a $45 million wrecking ball to several teams' offseasons.

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