With the rest of the sports world seemingly on hold for a brief summer vacation, the NFL took center stage on a Wednesday afternoon in July with an interesting few hours and a flurry of action and contract negotiations.
Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, and Justin Houston were the three headline names, but the machinations behind the scenes — all three negotiation processes rolled out and done in unique ways — could be worth some day-after analysis, as well.
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Whereas information from both Bryant’s and Thomas’s situations were at times played out publicly (or, at the very least, on Twitter through threats and real-time updates), Justin Houston’s mega-deal with the Kansas City Chiefs was done in relative secrecy, catching much of the football world by surprise on Wednesday.
Perhaps not enough was made of just how monster a deal it was. Houston, a former 70th overall pick, is now the highest-paid linebacker in NFL history. History. His six-year, $101 million contract is second to only Ndamukong Suh’s in terms of defensive players.
The story behind the story could be the workings of Houston’s agent, Joel Segal. Based out of New York, Segal is rarely seen or heard from in the media, but is on quite a roll, having netted three historic player contracts over the past 12 months.
At the time of his signing, Patrick Peterson’s recent deal with the Cardinals made him the highest-paid cornerback in all of football. Mike Pouncey’s new pact with the Dolphins made him the richest center. And Justin Houston’s nets him more money than J.J. Watt, not only in overall salary, but in guarantees, as well. Houston’s deal caused ripples through the league, and was done so behind closed doors, from start to finish. Segal’s low-key, if not almost invisible, public profile makes his past 12 months all the more intriguing. Houston’s first contract-related tweet or Instagram post, of course, came when he signed his historic deal.
That’s sometimes how it goes.
Other times, it’s a bit more public. In the case of the two wide receivers’ deals, it at times felt like following a police chase on TV, with live updates and new twists and turns right up until the very moment both contracts were inked.
On Tuesday, sources notified FOX Sports that the NFLPA was in line to pursue collusion charges against the Cowboys and Broncos if long-term deals were not hammered out for Bryant and Thomas before Wednesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline. Formal letters were sent to both teams on Monday and I’m told the NFLPA was more than just willing to go down this road, but also quite prepared to do so.
Such news was not kept quiet.
Sources told FOX Sports that the NFLPA had evidence that conversations between the two teams occurred in regards to both franchises’ ongoing negotiations with Bryant and Thomas, a clear violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and proof of collusion. Though sources from both teams denied any such nefarious wrongdoings — with John Elway doing so quite publicly on Wednesday — it’s a moot point now, anyway. Both players got paid, and that whole story will be quietly swept under a (albeit, very expensive) rug. Yes, the deals were eerily similar (five years, $70 million overall for both), and sure, the fact they occurred mere minutes apart caused a few raised eyebrows.
But one must also note some familiar bedfellows on the other side of the negotiating tables there, as well. Agent Tom Condon was the point person, working alongside Jay-Z’s Roc Nation team, on Bryant’s deal. Condon, of course, is a vital cog in CAA’s player representation wing. Demaryius Thomas, meanwhile, is represented by respected player agent Todd France. Sports Business Journal reported earlier this week that France’s 5 Star Athlete Management firm, is being purchased by CAA.
Small world? You better believe it. And it seems to only be getting smaller.
The collusion case will undoubtedly disappear, becoming a forgotten artifact from the 2015 NFL offseason and 24/7 news cycle beast.
In the end, all three players got the money they wanted, and though there was some hairy moments along the way, will continue to play for the teams that drafted them. The franchises are happy, too. Dallas, Denver, and Kansas City have all issued glowing statements about their players over the course of the last 24 hours. Each player turned to social media with joy.
The long-discussed Dez Bryant video (whether it’s out there or not) never surfaced and likely won’t be mentioned much moving forward.
Demaryius Thomas didn’t get "Megatron Money," but he came awfully close. He’ll be a Denver Bronco as long as Peyton Manning is.
And Justin Houston, who fell just a half-a-sack shy of Michael Strahan’s single-season record in 2014, will make more than Strahan ever did as a professional football player.
The agents are surely happy, too. Segal will continue on, fresh off his triple crown of mega-deals. Condon has another feather in a feather-filled cap that includes contracts for both Mannings, Drew Brees and Tony Romo. And France delivered for both his client and his soon-to-be new partners.
As is rarely the case with the NFL, all sides and parties are happy.