The general practice among all 32 NFL teams has historically been to pay out at least a portion of large signing bonuses within 15 to 30 days of the transaction date. This cycle, commanders have extended the payout date by two months, according to multiple sources who have seen the executed contracts.
That date? May 12, 2023, according to people who have seen the contract for defensive tackle Daron Payne and another recently signed free agent. They and other people involved in or familiar with NFL contracts suggested that Athletics that this unusual aspect makes sense in the context of owner Dan Snyder’s anticipated final franchise sale date.
May 12 is two months after Payne, Washington’s sack leader in 2022, signed a four-year, $90 million contract with a $28 million signing bonus. The delayed timeline not only differs from the industry standard, but it is significantly longer than the payout structure used in previous extensions for wide receiver Terry McLaurin (2022), defensive tackle Jonathan Allen (2021) and former Washington offensive tackle Trent Williams (2016) .
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These people who talked to Athleticsincluding a former Washington front office employee familiar with the team’s historic approach to contracts, granted anonymity for their openness and insight.
“In relation to their previous contract precedents, it appears that they have intentionally delayed the first installment of their signing bonuses,” the former front office official said. “Very plausible that it’s related to the expected timeline of a sale. … I think the payout dates are pretty telling.”
Another person who reviewed the Payne contract said, “It’s kind of obvious, isn’t it?”
The NFL owners meetings on 26-29 March in Phoenix has long been seen as the first possible time on the league’s calendar when concrete sales news can occur. Snyder’s control of the franchise, which he co-owns with Tanya Snyder, his wife, will be a primary issue regardless.
If there is 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, Snyders announced the hiring of Bank of America Securities to “consider potential transactions.”
The same bonus payment date of May 12 is also in the one-year contract signed by free-agent quarterback Jacoby Brissett on Wednesday, according to a person who saw the executed contract. Brissett’s $8 million guarantee includes a $4.5 million signing bonus.
Since 2020, Dan Snyder has been the subject of numerous investigations and news reports regarding sexual harassment and possible financial improprieties within the organization. This includes an ongoing 13-month investigation into Snyder’s actions by attorney and NFL draftee Mary Jo White. However, Snyder’s financial considerations are believed to be a driving — if not the leading — factor in selling the franchise he has owned since 1999.
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The NFL approved a $450 million debt waiver in March 2021 for Snyder to buy the 40.5 percent of the franchise owned by his three minority partners for $875 million. ESPN reported last month that federal prosecutors were investigating Snyder and the Commanders for bank fraud after his now-former partners alleged that Snyder took out a $55 million line of credit without their approval.
The sale of the historic NFL franchise is expected to top last year’s $4.65 billion purchase of the Denver Broncos, the record price for a North American sports franchise.
Snyder’s financial considerations and the looming potential sale created speculation as to whether the owner would approve contracts with significant upfront payments during this transaction period. Washington signed Payne and several outside free agents this week, but the delayed bonus payments would become the responsibility of whoever owns the team on May 12 if a sale occurs before then.
The number of installments in NFL signing bonuses can vary between “cash-rich” and “cash-poor” teams, but they are typically within 15 to 30 days of the contract becoming official. Payne’s $28 million bonus payment will come in three installments: $7 million due on May 12, $9 million on September 15 and $12 million on April 1, 2024.
Athletics reviewed the payout calendar structure portion of contracts for McLaurin, Allen and Williams. They also show that payouts are spread out over time, but all were within the standard timeline.
Williams, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection for Washington in the 2010s and now a star for the 49ers, signed a five-year, $66 million extension in 2015 that included an $8.5 million signing bonus. The contract said the $6.25 million would be paid “within 15 days (of execution and approval by the NFL Management Council).”
Allen, Payne’s interior tag-team partner on Washington’s defensive line, signed for four years and $72 million — with a $30 million signing bonus — hours before the team opened training camp in July 2021. The first of two $15 million payments had a 21-day deadline from the date of execution of the contract. 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 “must be paid … within 28 days of completion of the contract.” Four additional installments of varying amounts, including a second eight-figure payout in April, will end on April 1, 2024.
Several potential bidders have explored the possibility of buying the franchise, including a group led by Josh Harris, owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. Billionaire businessman and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has also expressed interest.
The wild card is Jeff Bezos. The Amazon founder has been working with investment bank Allen & Co. while considering his interest, although he was shut out of the bidding process.
(Photo by Dan Snyder: Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images