Free-agency, the salary cap and money-savvy players could be on the verge of turning this NFL off-season into a recruiting circus.
Soon, a top-echelon NFL free agent’s decision might depend on the friendliness of a team’s boosters.
Monday, I listened as radio sports philosopher Rush Limbaugh debated the pros and cons of a recent deal that Sega Genesis allegedly offered Deion Sanders, the gold-necklaced-and-earringed San Francisco 49ers defensive back, Reds outfielder and wack rapper.
Sega allegedly - Sanders and the Niners deny it - has drawn up an endorsement contract that will pay Prime Time $1 million more if he plays in San Francisco next season as opposed to any other city.
Sega - which produces, among other things, those widely popular Joe Montana and John Madden football video games - obviously feels Sanders is more marketable playing with the 49ers, perennial Super Bowl contenders.
Sanders is the league’s top free agent. And because of salary-cap restrictions, the Super Bowl champion Niners probably don’t have the cash to retain Prime Time’s services.
And even if they did, it might not make good economic sense to pay Deion $5 million or $6 million a year - that’s what Sanders will command on the open market - because they’d probably have to add $2 million or $3 million to all-world receiver Jerry Rice’s deal to bring him to Prime Time Level.
That’s what makes Sega’s alleged offer so interesting. And so disturbing.
According to an ABC report Sunday by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, the Atlanta Falcons are formally protesting Sanders’ alleged deal.
Sanders’ deal circumvents the intention of the salary cap, and if deals such as these become commonplace among the league’s top players, the Falcons will be at a disadvantage competing for the top stars against established powers and the New York, L.A. and Chicago teams.
Many in the NFL already believe Nike, desiring an image-enhancing Super Bowl ring for Sanders, ponied up a substantial amount of money for him to play in the Bay this past season. Sanders and Nike deny it. Yet the Saints and Dolphins offered Deion more money than the Niners.
If the Nike allegation is true, then Nike is just as responsible for the 49ers’ Super Bowl as club president Carmen Policy. Because without Sanders, the Niners wouldn’t have secured home-field advantage, and they wouldn’t have beaten Dallas in the NFC championship game.
There’s absolutely nothing illegal about the alleged deals. Sanders is just being a good businessman, and Sega is just trying to get the most from its investment. But the deal is troubling because it’s probably only the beginning of outside entities directly and openly influencing the rosters of pro sports teams.
The Cowboys have several attractive free agents, including receivers Michael Irvin and Alvin Harper. Now, what stops an oil company in a football-crazed state like Texas from supplementing Irvin’s salary so he can stay in Dallas for less money?
You may think that sounds farfetched. But remember that millionaire boosters send 18-year-olds shoe boxes of money, hoping they might attend their favorite university. There are just as many millionaire sportsmen who have the same kind of loyalty to pro sports teams.
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