“The days of free-spending free-agency are over. The salary cap is beginning to work.” With those words, Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver echoed the sentiments of his fellow NFL owners; the lottery is over. Weaver and quarterback Mark Brunell agreed at the “11th hour and 57th minute” on a four year, $30 million deal with an $8 million signing bonus.
“It’s fair to both sides,” Brunell said by phone from a weekend camping trip in Clay County with his children. “We both achieved our goals. They kept their quarterback and I’m staying in Jacksonville. I wanted to remain a Jaguar.”
After presenting initial ideas ranging to over $100 million and $20 million in a signing bonus, Brunell and his agent Leigh Steinberg realized Weaver was not going to go for those numbers. Both Bret Favre and Drew Bledsoe received announced contracts for more than $100 million.
“Those are phony numbers,” according to Weaver. “They’ll never see that kind of money.”
Both sides had agreed early on that $30 million over 4 years was the fair market value for Brunell. Taking less than what his fellow quarterbacks announced they received is something Brunell had to get over, and eventually did, with the potential of a trade to Kansas City, Seattle or Detroit helping convince him.
“Jacksonville is my home and I wanted to stay here. My parents live here, my church is here, I wanted to stay,” Brunell added.
Weaver seemed genuinely surprised at the number of assembled media for the 4 pm announcement. “I don’t know why you’re all here. We’re doing what I said all along, we’ve signed Mark Brunell to a new contract,” is how the Jaguars owner opened the press conference.
Neither side is completely happy, and neither side thinks they lost. In other words, it’s exactly what is supposed to happen in a negotiation. Brunell doesn’t think this is his last contract either. “I hope to have the chance to go through this again,” he said.
Both Brunell and Weaver expect his teammates t understand the business nature of this deal, and the strain it put on the franchise during the early weeks of free agency. What is still in question is how the fans will react to Brunell when he takes the field this fall. Fan sentiment ran strongly against Brunell, with the perception being that his delay in signing a deal cost the team a chance to keep players like Leon Searcy and Mike Logan.
Brunell said, “in situations like this, some people understand, some don’t. You just have to move on.”
“I think the fans want Mark Brunell as their quarterback,” Weaver added. “If we get to the Super Bowl, Mark Brunell is the quarterback who will take us there.”
Putting a competitive team on the field right away is the first concern for the Jaguars administration. Weaver mentioned Jeff Smith and Todd Forham, both free agents, several times, and said the team will attempt to offer them deals so they’ll return. Both can be solid linemen, know the system, played together last year, and will be key to any success the Jaguars might have.
Although he wouldn’t say how much the Jaguars now had under the cap, Weaver did note, “it’ll be enough to sign the minimum of 51 players.” The team immediately moved on one player, signing Jamie Martin to a one-year deal to backup Brunell. Martin is an insurance policy in case Jonathan Quinn doesn’t perform well in NFL Europe.
Weaver is right when he says the salary cap is working. Over 100 veteran players were cut by the deadline last month, and only a few have signed deals near their previous market value. “Teams know they can’t sign these long-term, big-money deals and defer their problems. We’re the poster child for that,” the Jaguars owner added.
He also said he was against the idea of a “Larry Bird” exemption in the NFL where teams could keep some veteran players on the roster and have them not count against the cap. Weaver said, “I think that’s a bad rule. All teams are learning to deal with the salary cap the way it is.”
In the end, the Jaguars owner was able to keep the “$100 million” label away from any of his players, holding the line against that number with his biggest star. In that vein, he won in this round of negotiations. Only time will tell if signing Brunell, and not trading him translates into more actual on field wins in the future.