A Really Big Deal

By Bob Brookover
Updated: August 9, 2008

PITTSBURGH– The contract is loaded with incentives, voidable years, and pages and pages of addendums.

“I think it was the most complicated contract I’ve ever seen,” Eagles president Joe Banner said Friday night. “It’s definitely the longest contract I’ve ever seen. It was 52 pages of just addendums.”

All that matters, of course, is that it had enough dollars included to persuade star running back Brian Westbrook to agree to it, which is exactly what he did a few hours before the Eagles’ exhibition opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

Neither the Eagles nor Westbrook’s agent, Todd France, disclosed terms of the deal, but a source close to the situation said that $13 million is guaranteed this season and next year, and that Westbrook will make $21 million over the next three seasons.

The source said the deal also has escalators that could bump Westbrook’s salary to $24 million over the first three years of the deal. Banner said the contract was written as a six-year deal, but admitted that it’s more likely to be a three- or four-year deal if Westbrook continues to play at the level he has in the previous two seasons.

“It gives you that peace of mind and . . . that happiness, that confidence that the team has confidence in you,” Westbrook said. “I can go out there and do my job.”

Westbrook was scheduled to make $11 million in base salary the next three seasons and was paid a $1.5 million bonus during the off-season as part of the five-year, $24.9 million deal he signed in 2005.

The star running back’s value obviously went up immediately because he spent the entire game in coach Andy Reid’s player-protection program, standing on the visiting sideline, a safe distance away from the crashing bodies on the field.

Reid said Westbrook did not play because he had to go over the details of his new deal shortly before game time. Westbrook didn’t join his teammates on the field until the middle of the first quarter.

The fact that Westbrook didn’t play after getting a new deal was at least somewhat ironic because some people thought he might not play if a deal didn’t get done. France said he and Westbrook had established a deadline to get the deal done before the Eagles’ first preseason game, but Banner said the Eagles never felt pressured during negotiations.

“All of us wanted to get the deal done as quick as we could,” Banner said. “But Brian and his agent . . . they hung in there. There wasn’t a single moment when there was any threat. They couldn’t have been more positive or professional throughout the whole thing. Even this afternoon, they weren’t saying let’s hurry up or he’s not going to play in this game.”

Though France managed to get a deal done for Westbrook just 15 days after becoming the running back’s agent, the saga went on for much longer than that. Banner said the Eagles discussed the importance of reworking Westbrook’s deal shortly after the end of the 2007 season. Westbrook said his former agent, Fletcher Smith, sought a new contract as far back as the middle of last season.

Whatever the case, the talks between Smith and the Eagles stalled in June, and Westbrook went public with his discontent in early July before firing Smith.

“I can’t speak to why the deal didn’t get done before, but I know we kept hammering away in order to do something that made sense for the player,” France said. “From the first day I was able to represent Brian . . . we worked aggressively with the team to try to make something work. We tried to get very creative and find a structure that would allow us to get something done while still dealing with the rules that were in place.”

Banner said it was important for the Eagles to get the deal with Westbrook completed because they think so highly of the running back, who established a franchise record last season with 2,104 yards from scrimmage.

“The last time we did a contract right before a game in the preseason . . . with Brian Dawkins, we said then we think of him as a Hall of Fame player,” Banner said. “I feel like I’m standing up here again right before the first preseason game, and we’re talking about a Hall of Fame-caliber player.”