As expected, the NFL has lowered the boom on Colts owner Jim Irsay. And the NFL believes that it held Irsay to a higher standard than the league’s players.
The NFL is correct. Sort of.
A player who pleads guilty to a DUI ordinarily gets no suspension and a maximum fine of $50,000 for a first offense. Irsay received a six-game suspension and a fine of $500,000.
It was also a higher standard when compared to the 2007 DUI of Dr. Jerry Buss. The late Lakers owner was suspended only two games (they play 82 for the season) and fined $25,000. (The NFL may not want to completely embrace NBA precedent, in the event that an NFL owner eventually is illegally recorded during a private conversation saying things that objectively would be regarded as inappropriate.)
The appearance of holding Irsay to a higher standard masks the inadequacy of the financial penalty. The league office has advised PFT that there will be no monetary consequence beyond the $500,000. Which means that Irsay will otherwise lose none of the money that he will earn during the six weeks that he’s suspended.
While the NFL’s constitution and bylaws cap any fine at $500,000, the league has no limit on the money that can be withheld when someone is suspended. Saints coach Sean Payton, for example, lost more than $5 million during a full-year suspension for an overhyped bounty program that he had no involvement in establishing or maintaining.
Likewise, players routinely lose more than $500,000 during suspensions. Broncos receiver Wes Welker, for example, will lose 4/17th of his $3 million base salary, 4/17th of his $3 million roster bonus, and 4/17th of his $2 million signing bonus allocation as a result of his four-game suspension for violating the PED policy.
That’s $1,882,578 in lost revenue for Welker. And that’s well over three times what Irsay, a billionaire, will lose during a 50-percent longer suspension.
So while it generates a strong headline for an owner to be suspended, he’s not forfeiting anything close to the millions in revenue that will continue to flow into the team’s coffers. The team he’ll continue to own will continue to generate enormous profits that he’ll continue to be able to do with as he pleases.
Ultimately, it’s not a real suspension unless the suspension comes without pay. In this case, Irsay is being suspended with pay — minus an amount that, given his net worth and the revenue that will continue to be generated over the next six weeks, is roughly the equivalent of a speeding ticket.