Emmanuel Sanders, a free-agent wide receiver from the Pittsburgh Steelers signed a new three-year deal with the Denver Broncos worth a reported $18 million. $6 million of the money is guaranteed. The manner in which Sanders got the deal with Denver is under scrutiny, however. Call it business as usual for highly-sought NFL players or just wheeling and dealing, but Sanders will be taking passes from Peyton Manning in 2014.
The Steelers questioned Sanders' health at times during his tenure with the team, but the organization matched a one-year, $2.5 million contract offer from the New England Patriots in 2013 in order to retain him for the 2013 NFL Season. During that time, Sanders caught 67 passes for 740 yards and six touchdowns. Sanders played in all 16 games as well. With a screw in each foot and other medical concerns, his long-term endurance was in question, as was the number of dropped passes by the receiver. Content to let Sanders test the free agent market, Sanders did just that.
Touted as one of the top free-agent receivers, several teams were interested in the 27-year-old. Sanders' name was connected with interest from the Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prior to interest shown by the Broncos. The Broncos were in need of receiver aid following the exit of Eric Decker to the New York Jets in free agency. It was believed that Sanders was looking for a deal close to one that former Seahawks receiver Golden Tate received from the Detroit Lions; five years for $31.5 million.
In what some NFL insiders consider to be a questionable move, Sanders allowed agent Steve Weinberg to offer a verbal agreement to terms with the Chiefs as Weinberg continued to 'shop' his client to other teams. Weinberg accepted a deal with Kansas City 'in principle', but engaged in negotiations with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as well, according to NFL sources. Later the same evening, Weinberg agreed to terms with the Broncos on behalf of his client, Sanders, while making an agreement to visit the 49ers then pulling out. According to NFL.com, Weinberg declined to comment on allegations that he was involved in any wrong-doing on Saturday night.
Weinberg is based in Dallas and was barred and decertified as an agent in 2003 by the NFL Players Association when it discovered he had allegedly diverted assets to an offshore account in the midst of a dispute with Los Angeles agent Howard F. Silber and premature collection of a fee from running back Stephen Davis. Prior to his being barred, Weinberg had 42 clients on NFL teams. Weinberg currently has less than five clients, including Sanders.
The Sanders deal is completely legal according to NFL rules, but not everyone is happy with how the situation was handled. The Broncos organization has claimed a lack of knowledge of any prior negotiations with other teams prior to their deal with Sanders.
“That entire situation is a business ordeal that some people will turn into a personal matter,” Sanders said at the press conference announcing his signing in Denver. “Situations like that happen all the time over the National Football League. There was no handshake. There was no kind of agreement in terms of—we were close to a deal, but it wasn’t anything official just yet. In terms of shopping around, we didn’t shop around. Teams were still calling. Teams were still trying to get involved. That’s what happened. Steve Weinberg, he did an exceptional job in terms of the whole free-agency process. At times, I was like, ‘Steve, what is going on? Am I flying East Coast or West Coast?’ But I believe in him. Everything that he said was going to happen, happened. I ended up at the place that I needed to be. I’m excited and he’s excited also.”
Andrew Brandt, sports business expert for TheMMQB.com, used Twitter to attempt to explain deals such as this. "Re player/agent reneging on one deal/team to sign w/another, it happens, been there. Learned a deal's never a deal until signed," said one message. Another said, "Yes, as my agent friends point out, teams play dirty on contracts also. Free agency does not come with an ethics/etiquette manual."
While some cry foul, others are debating the ethics of the deal. Proper and respectful or not, the culture and nature of NFL contracts, like the National Football League itself, have changed. There is no indication that Sanders was involved in anything disreputable, but some organizations feel that Weinberg wouldn't have acted without the consent of the receiver. Without proof and solid sources that can verify the information, there is no reasonable answer.
Note: Weinberg's profile on Strongright.com does not give client information, but claims he has worked four deals in 2014. Further search of the site returns a "page not found" error response. His credentials are listed as follows: State Bar of Texas: Member since November 24, 1980 (SBN#: 21085500), NBPA Certified MLBPA Certified and CFLPA Certified as of today. No mention of NFLPA Certification is listed.
In Confessions of ... a sports agent, David Canter talks about his dealings with Weinberg and the securing of a new contract for Davis and a deal for kicker Jaret Holmes.