You know the drill by now. Player agrees to terms. Numbers get leaked to reporter who passes them along without scrutiny, analysis, or caveat. Real numbers come out later, exposing that the initial number was a lie.
Multiple league sources, based on history and some of the details already emerging about the deal signed Saturday night by cornerback Richard Sherman in San Francisco, predict that the three-year, $39 million package first reported by Ian Rapoport of NFL Media) is “a mirage.”
Already, signs are emerging that the deal may not be what it seems. Josina Anderson of ESPN tweeted on Saturday night that Sherman told her the deal is worth “up to $39.15 million.” The key words there are “up to,” because it implies a ceiling based on incentives and other payments tied to playing time or performance. Which means that Sherman’s base deal is lower than $39.15 million.
Tom Pelissero of NFL Media has since posted the breakdown for the first year: $5 million signing bonus, $2 million base salary (there’s no mention as to whether it’s guaranteed, but as a practical matter it most likely is), $2 million in 46-man per-game roster bonuses, $1 million playing-time incentives, and a $3 million Pro Bowl incentive. (One source cautions that the “Pro Bowl” incentive may be an “All-Pro” incentive, which is harder to achieve since only two are selected for the entire league.)
Per Pelissero, if Sherman makes it to the Pro Bowl (or, possibly, All-Pro), $16 million of the deal becomes fully guaranteed over 2019 and 2020.
While those details aren’t nearly enough to show that the “three-year, $39 million” figure is a “mirage” (Pelissero may be trying to avoid committing NFL Media-on-NFL Media crime), it’s a strong clue that the contract isn’t what Rapoport reported it to be. Pelissero’s breakdown shows a maximum package of $13 million for 2018 (one third of $39 million), if Sherman dresses for all 16 regular-season games, achieves the total playing-time threshold, and make it to the NFC Pro Bowl team (or, possibly, the AP All-Pro team.)
Soon enough, the real numbers will emerge. And it could be the first example of what perhaps will be multiple instances of a common dynamic in the reporting of NFL contracts: In order to be first, reporters often will willingly be not entirely accurate.