The most frequently asked question right now regarding the potential sale of the Washington Commanders is not if, but when. Details of the team’s recently signed player contracts might provide the answer.
The general practice among the NFL’s 32 teams has always been to pay out at least a portion of large signing bonuses within 15 to 30 days of the trade date. This cycle, commanders have extended the payment date by two months, according to multiple sources who have seen the contracts executed.
This meeting? May 12, 2023, according to people who saw defensive tackle Daron Payne and another newly signed free agent’s contract. Those and others involved with or familiar with NFL contracts have suggested Athleticism that this unusual aspect makes sense in conjunction with the expected expiration date of owner Dan Snyder’s franchise.
May 12 is two months after Washington’s 2022 sack leader Payne signed a four-year, $90 million contract with a signing bonus of $28 million. This delayed time not only differs from the industry standard, but is significantly longer than the payout structure used in previous expansions for wide receiver Terry McLaurin (2022), defensive tackle Jonathan Allen (2021), and former Washington offensive tackle Trent Williams (2016).
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Those people who spoke with Athleticismincluding a former Washington front office worker familiar with the team’s historic approach to contracts, were granted anonymity for their candor and insight.
“Compared to their previous contractors, it appears that they intentionally delayed the first payment of their signing bonuses,” the former front office worker said. “It’s very plausible that it’s related to the expected timing of a sale. … I think the payment dates are quite telling.
Another person who reviewed the Payne contract said, “It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?”
The March 26-29 NFL owners’ meetings in Phoenix have long been considered the first possible time on the league’s schedule where concrete sales news could occur. Snyder’s control over the franchise he co-owns with Tanya Snyder, his wife, will be a main topic anyway.
If there’s no sale, the other owners — with input from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell — could decide to remove Snyder if 24 of the 31 owners vote in favor. Colts owner Jim Irsay told reporters at the October meeting that it could “potentially happen.”
On November 2, the Snyders announced the hiring of Bank of America Securities to “review potential transactions.”
The same May 12 bonus payment date also appears in the one-year contract signed Wednesday by free agent quarterback Jacoby Brissett, according to a person who viewed the signed contract. Brissett’s $8 million guarantee includes a $4.5 million signing bonus.
Since 2020, Dan Snyder has been the subject of several investigations and reports regarding sexual harassment and possible financial improprieties within the organization. That includes an ongoing 13-month review into Snyder’s actions by attorney and NFL appointee Mary Jo White. However, Snyder’s financial considerations are believed to be a determining factor, if not the main one, in selling the franchise he has owned since 1999.
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The NFL approved a $450 million debt forgiveness in March 2021 for Snyder to purchase the 40.5% franchise owned by his three minority partners for $875 million. ESPN reported last month that federal prosecutors are investigating Snyder and the commanders for bank fraud, after his former partners alleged Snyder took out a $55 million line of credit without their approval.
The sale of the historic NFL franchise is expected to surpass the $4.65 billion purchase of the Denver Broncos last year, the record price paid for a North American sports franchise.
Snyder’s financial considerations and the impending potential sale have generated speculation as to whether the owner would allow contracts with large up-front payments during this transaction period. Washington signed Payne and several outside free agents this week, but delayed bonus payments would become the team owner’s responsibility on May 12 if a sale occurs before then.
The number of installments in NFL signing bonuses may differ between “cash-rich” and “cash-poor” teams, but they typically within 15-30 days of contract formalization. Payne’s $28 million bonus is split into three installments: $7 million due May 12, $9 million on September 15 and $12 million on April 1, 2024.
Athleticism reviewed parts of the contract payment schedule structure for McLaurin, Allen and Williams. They also show that the payments are spread over time, but all were within the standard time frame.
Williams, a seven-time Pro Bowl draft pick for Washington in the 2010s and now a 49ers star, signed a five-year, $66 million extension in 2015 that included an $8.5 million signing bonus. The contract stated that $6.25 million would be paid “within 15 days (after execution and approval by the NFL Board of Management)”.
Allen, Payne’s inside team partner on Washington’s defensive line, signed for four years and $72 million – with a $30 million signing bonus – hours before camp opened. team training in July 2021. The first of two $15 million payouts had a 21-day deadline from the contract fulfillment date. The other $15 million was due the following April.
McLaurin signed a three-year, $68.2 million extension last July. The agreement states that the initial eight-figure payment “will be payable … within 28 days of execution of the contract”. Four additional installments of various amounts, including another eight-figure payment in April, end on April 1, 2024.
Several potential bidders explored the possibility of buying the franchise, including a group led by Josh Harris, owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s New Jersey Devils. Billionaire businessman and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has also expressed interest.
The joker is Jeff Bezos. The Amazon founder worked with investment bank Allen & Co. while mulling his interest even though he was dropped from the bidding process.
(Photo by Dan Snyder: Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images