As it turns out, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson shouldn’t send Browns owner Randy Lerner a ham.
But Richardson also shouldn’t send G.M. Marty Hurney a dead fish.
When we saw last night that the Browns had signed quarterback Jake Delhomme to a contract that will pay him $7 million in 2010, we assumed that Hurney had protected the franchise for which he works by ensuring that an offset would apply as to any money Delhomme earns elsewhere this year. When we thereafter saw that Delhomme possibly gets to double dip, earning nearly $20 million in 2010, we assumed that Hurney had committed an apparent blunder even more egregious than, say, understanding that a cap hit still applies to players cut before the start of the uncapped year.
Annnnnnd that’s why they’re called assumptions.
We’ve spoken with Delhomme’s agent, Rick Smith. (It was what other media types would call an “exclusive” interview, but only because Smith was talking “exclusively” to us at that specific time.) And Smith explained to us in detail the realities of the deal.
Smith said that Delhomme’s 2009 contract extension included $12.7 million in guaranteed money due and payable in future years as an alternative to a large signing bonus earned at the time the deal was finalized. The Panthers were facing serious cap issues last year, given that the franchise tag applied to defensive end Julius Peppers and long-term deal paid to tackle Jordan Gross as the Panthers faced the possibility of letting Peppers or Gross hit the open market due to the availability of only one franchise tag.
So the present and future guarantees of $12.7 million were part of a $19 million signing bonus on a five-year deal — numbers that aren’t all that out of line given the overall quarterback market. Smith worked with the Panthers to structure the deal in a manner that gave the team maximum cap space in 2009, and that ensured Delhomme would definitely get the money, in the same way he would have definitely gotten the money if he had received a $19 million signing bonus in 2009 with payments deferred into future years.
The concept is simple. With teams using exotic structures to save cap space, the players should not have been penalized for cooperating.
Thus, the contract was negotiated to simulate a $19 million signing bonus. Hurney and Smith intentionally placed the guarantees into future years, and they intentionally added and omitted terms aimed at ensuring that the money will be paid. For example, the contract fully guaranteed the future payments for injury, skill, and cap, unlike the Julius Peppers deal. And the contract did not include a term allowing the Panthers to derive an offset based on the money he makes elsewhere in 2010 or beyond.
So that’s the story. And it’s honorable, in our view, for Smith to take the high road by publicly defending Hurney’s role in the process. Though the Panthers fairly can be criticized for giving Delhomme what amounted to a $19 million signing bonus on a five-year deal only weeks after he coughed up six turnovers in a playoff game the Panthers were supposed to win, the $12.7 million that Delhomme will make from the Panthers in 2010 is money that, but for cap issues in Carolina, Delhomme would have earned upon signing the deal in 2009.
It wasn’t, then, about Smith snookering the Panthers or Hurney blowing $12.7 million of his employer’s money. It was an arm’s-length transaction from which both sides derived a benefit. The Panthers got theirs in 2009, and Delhomme is getting his in 2010.