This week’s Sports Illustrated includes an article about Edgerrin James and the fact that the Colts franchised him instead of giving him a long-term deal. All NFL players want that one big deal that includes the eight-figure signing bonus. Since most NFL contracts aren’t guaranteed, the signing bonus is peace of mind in two ways. It’s a ton of money, which sets a player up, and his posse if necessary, and it makes it very hard for the team to release said player without taking a massive salary cap hit.
Edgerrin James and Shaun Alexander, two of the top running backs in the NFL, both got franchise tenders instead of the expected long-term deals. A few years after the Dolphins traded two first-round picks for Ricky Williams, no NFL team was interested in giving even a second-round pick for these Pro Bowlers.
My main question is this: How did teams get so smart so quickly? When the Titans signed Eddie George to the uber extension after the 1999 season, it was a no-brainer. After the 2003 season, when George had no tread on the tire, the team had to take a considerable cap hit to let him go. Running backs age rapidly, and NFL general managers are turning into fantasy football players, in that younger is always better, and in their case cheaper.