Sports business expert Andrew Brandt brings a wealth of experience from the NFL’s human resources department and has already negotiated various contracts, including Aaron Rodgers’ rookie deal with the Green Bay Packers. In an interview with SPOX, he reveals what that squeaking point was.
In addition, the former Green Bay Packers vice president of finance / general counsel discusses the current contracts for several star quarterbacks, the concept of salary caps and the day Rodgers slipped through to the Packers in the 2005 draft.
Mr. Brandt, please describe your responsibilities at the time with Green Bay Packers.
Andrew Brandt: I was in Green Bay from 1999 to 2008, and I was in charge of free agent contracts, managing our pay ceiling and our entire player finances. I have dealt with undisciplined penalties as well as issues with players’ agents. And then I became the link between the team and the NFL in areas, money, salary cap and any football issues in addition to scouting and coaching.
Talking about salary caps: What is your general position on this topic?
Brandt: Basically, the wage cap is a self-regulating factor that really exists to protect team owners from themselves. And in the NFL, it’s really a good thing. I was with the Green Bay Packers and we were the smallest market in the league – that’s still the case today. And it would have been impossible for us to keep up with the big markets in New York, Los Angeles or Dallas without a wage cap. Because otherwise we would have a situation like in baseball, where a team with $ 50 million plays against a team with a salary of $ 300 million. It could never happen in a payroll league. When I negotiated for the Packers, I just knew my budget for the team – and we did not have a single team owner, so I set our budget from the ceiling. So if our ceiling was $ 150 million for 60-70 players, that was the number I was working on. So it was pretty simple – you could only invest up to the limit – neither more nor less.
Brandt: “Green Bay could not keep up without a wage cap”
What do you think of the increasingly widespread practice of adding invalid years to contract expiration to improve a team’s cap situation?
Brandt: I have never had to resort to such methods. These are really just ways to squeeze more cap space out. So if you have a two-year contract, you add a few fake years and make it five years, over which you can distribute a signing bonus. I am not a supporter of this as I have always believed in the payroll process and always wanted to reconcile cash and cap hits as much as possible. This way, you do not have to worry about future problems. Invalid years create dead money and it affects your ceiling so you may not be able to sign new players.
You also worked as an agent for a while. What are the main differences in contract negotiations as a team representative and as an agent?
Brandt: As an agent, your main focus is on getting the best out of the player. It’s about maximizing your income and performance incentives. On the other hand, from the team’s point of view, it is never just about a negotiation with one player. As a team, it is always about setting a precedent, which is then important for the next negotiation. So when I negotiated a contract with one player, I always had to make sure that there were no clauses in there that were out of the ordinary so that one player did not get what another did not get. Because if I had done that, everyone would suddenly have been standing in front of my door and would have asked for the same thing. The conclusion is that it has always been much harder for the team side to negotiate, because on the player side you are only interested in your own player and nothing else. On the team side, on the other hand, you have to look at the whole squad.
One player who definitely stands a little above the others on the list is Aaron Rodgers. You were there in 2005 when he was appointed. Did you know at the time that he wanted to be something special?
Brandt: I was not involved in scouting, but we really liked him. No one knew he would become the player he is today. But the special thing about that day was two things: First, almost all the players we wanted, except one, went off the board very quickly. Second was the player still on our table, Aaron Rodgers. No one pulled it and it surprised us a lot. We had heard at the time that some teams would definitely take him in front of us. And that led us to a crucial moment, because we did not need a quarterback, we had one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game (Brett Favre ed.), Who was still in his prime, our coaches really wanted it another player who would have helped us right away and then we had a longer discussion. Then we waited for what happened next and would listen to possible trading offers for our selection. But the phone just did not ring. We had no idea if anyone wanted Aaron Rodgers at all. So we took him and everyone buzzed and the media criticized us across the board. But in that moment, you have to have the courage and the conviction that he may not want to help us right away, but later he will.
Rodgers’ rookie contract was easy to negotiate
How were the negotiations with Aaron Rodgers at the time? Was it difficult then?
Brandt: I was lucky because I negotiated his rookie contract. I did not have to negotiate his subsequent contracts. With his rookie deal, we knew what we were going to pay him. But the difficult thing was the incentives and when they started. He and his agent wanted lucrative incentives if Aaron were to become a Starter. And with numbers that were at starter level. And I was not ready at that time to do it for a young player who had not yet reached his top level. That was what the negotiations were about at the time. Again, that was easy compared to what the Packers are dealing with now. Today, he earns $ 50 million a year.
You take up Rodgers’ new contract. You have said on several occasions that you see this contract with the Packers as just a one-year deal that will be seen next year. What brings you to this point of view?
Brandt: There have been various reports that he has signed for three years and $ 150 million. But when I look at the contract, it is a very rare contract. All of his option bonuses will take effect next year, and the Packers must pull those options. This again means that his dead money will increase markedly when he finally leaves, which is after next year or the year after. And I have never seen a contract where the dead money increases with the duration and does not decrease. So from my perspective, it’s more like a year and $ 42 million into 2022 before the option bonuses start. And that’s the only way you can look at this contract right now – a commitment from the team and from Aaron Rodgers for a year. And we still have to follow developments further.
Let’s talk about another famous quarterback. How do you see the situation around Deshaun Watson and his new contract with the Cleveland Browns? How was this possible?
Brandt: It’s an important moment in the NFL. I have been advising players for years to do what they can to seek out fully guaranteed contracts as you see in basketball and baseball. It never happened. And of all the players who could have done it, it was this player who did it. And I’ve said this before: I think Deshaun Watson, through his own offense, created the ideal situation for such a contract to become a reality.
You have to explain!
Brandt: Well, the Houston Texans did not want him anymore and agreed that teams could talk to them. And when they agreed to a deal, they allowed the teams to talk to Watson about a deal. And then Watson kind of created that opportunity, with Atlanta and New Orleans dropping out when Cleveland reached that number. It’s a fantastic contract. $ 46 million a year is the highest average ever. $ 230 million fully guaranteed – also the highest amount ever – and the contract is safe from suspension this year because suspensions only affect the salary, not the signing bonus. His salary has been reduced to a minimum and the agreement provides protection against a ban the following year. I have never seen a contract like this, especially from a player whose circumstances involve such an offense. But here we are now.