CHARLOTTE -- The Carolina Panthers were more interested in covering themselves than becoming a trendsetter.
But many around the league believe the contract they wrote for first-round pick Jon Beason could become the standard in coming years, as teams try to avoid the language in rookie deals which hung up the Beason negotiations for so long.
The Panthers refused to give Beason a so-called option bonus because of a court ruling that prevented teams from recouping such payments if players hold out or default on the contract for other reasons. That led to an eight-day holdout by the Miami linebacker, though both sides eventually got what they wanted.
Beason received a five-year deal which was originally reported as being worth $12.5 million. But according to documents obtained by The Herald, the real maximum value is closer to $11.3 million, but is built with innovative wording which protects the team in the future and puts more money in Beason's pockets earlier.
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney refused to comment on any of the specifics, but made clear in the past the option bonus was something they simply wouldn't accept in the negotiations. He was hesitant to expound on the deal's impact around the league or take credit for blazing any trails.
"I would never want to speak on what other teams might do," Hurney said. "But obviously, it was something we wanted to do and it's just the manner we want to do business."
Thus, Beason's third-year bonus payment of $2.552 million will be treated as a signing bonus (which the Panthers could get back if Beason holds out or defaults on his contract) since they wrote it as part of a a "superseding contract." In essence, it stands as the first re-negotiation of the deal, since the contract is built on the assumption the bonus will be paid.
According sources with knowledge of the situation, only Detroit has written a comparably worded contract for second overall pick Calvin Johnson, and Tampa Bay used a vaguely similar structure for fourth overall pick Gaines Adams of Clemson. Several agents, none of whom wanted to be named, said the Beason deal could quickly become the norm for teams who want to avoid giving players money they couldn't get back if things went wrong.
While there's a chance some teams could continue to give out non-refundable option bonuses, the consensus is the genie's now out of the bottle because the Panthers were able to push it through. However, one source with knowledge of contracts league-wide said the language the Panthers used was so new, it was hard to gauge the long-term effects.
Under the terms of the deal, Beason's second bonus would kick in the day after the 2008 season (rookie deals can't be re-done before then), provided Beason plays either 35 percent of the defensive snaps this year or 45 percent in 2008. In fact, if he hits the mark this season, he'd get a $500,000 escalator to next year's $370,000 base salary, and the 2009 payment would be $2.052 million.
That would go along with the $3 million signing bonus he received earlier this month, plus a $242,500 guaranteed roster bonus in 2008.
Assuming he triggers the bonus, and barring injury, that should happen, Beason stands to pocket roughly $4.6 million the first two years, and $7.5 million the first three years if he reaches some reasonable playing-time incentives.
That puts him at or ahead of the same-time levels reached by the four players chosen ahead of him, a fact his representatives were happy to point out. And since most first-rounders never see the original provisions of the last year of their rookie deals -- teams either part ways if they're busts or restructure if they're playing at or above expectations -- the early money's the salient point.
Once the Panthers pay the 2009 bonus, the contract stipulates that Beason's base salaries would drop to $650,000 in 2009, $708,800 in 2010 and $745,000 in 2011, or a total of $467,800 less than the original bases listed for those years ($735,000, $857,500 and $980,000).
Beason's deal also includes a number of sweeteners beginning in 2009 which are based on his playing time, and the expectation of him becoming a starter.
Beason's 2009 base salary will go up $100,000 if he plays 60 percent of the defensive snaps in one year, $150,000 for 75 percent of the snaps and $200,000 for 85 percent. Since that clause covers each of the first two years, he could make an extra $400,000 in base salary in 2009 if he's a full-time player his first two seasons.
The same breakdowns apply to subsequent years, meaning he could add up to $600,000 to his 2010 earnings and $800,000 to his 2011 base salaries if he plays 85 percent of the defensive snaps each year.
If he gets to 85 percent each of the first four years of his deal, that could net him an extra $1.8 million over the third through fifth years of the deal. Even at the 60 percent level, he could add another $900,000.
Beason can also earn escalators if he makes the Pro Bowl: $50,000 for one, $100,000 for the second, $200,000 if he makes three and $250,000 if he makes four trips to Hawaii.
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