Championship success improves financial gain for NFL free agents
In the buildup to the 1997 Super Bowl, agent Leigh Steinberg put together a projection for one of his clients, Desmond Howard. Howard was set to become a free agent after the season, and Steinberg let him know what he could reasonably expect financially.
“He could play the position of wide receiver but essentially his greatest value at that point was returning kicks,” Steinberg said.
Then Howard returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, piled up 90 punt return yards and was named Super Bowl MVP in the Packers’ win against the Patriots. Howard signed with the Raiders, and Steinberg’s initial projection was nullified.
“We greatly exceeded that,” Steinberg said, laughing. “He ended up getting a significant Super Bowl premium because he had done that.”
Howard’s case is not unique. Every year, teams that make deep playoff runs must deal with the fact that some of their top performers will be valued more as a result.
The Seahawks are no different. Just look at the contracts handed out this week to Michael Bennett, Golden Tate (Lions), Clinton McDonald (Buccaneers) and Chris Maragos (Eagles). Even lightly used linebacker O’Brien Schofield received an unexpectedly large contract from the Giants before a problem with his physical killed the deal.
Sports Illustrated’s Greg Bedard recently released his list of the top 50 free agents. Bennett checked in at No. 3. Last year, he was ranked 13th. This year Bennett signed a four-year contract with Seattle worth $28 million.
Last year, a chilly market led him to sign a one-year deal for $5 million (Both Tate and McDonald also appeared in Bedard’s top 50 this year).
When the Seahawks released McDonald before the season last year, it didn’t send waves. This year, after being one of Seattle’s most productive pass-rushers, he signed a four-year deal with the Buccaneers worth $12 million.
Seattle locked up Bennett – its top offseason priority – on Monday. But the markets for McDonald and Tate made it too tough to bring them back.
There are many factors at play here. A large part of it is that the salary cap took a significant jump this year, meaning teams have more money to spend.
Another part of it is simply that players got better. Tate improved each year he was with the Seahawks, so of course he is more valued after the fourth year than he would have been if he became a free agent after the third year.
But some of it also stems from the fact that all three played well on a high profile team that won.
“Teams want guys from winning programs,” said former agent Joel Corry.