Amid the drama that unfolded over the past week around the Raiders and Antonio Brown, who since has been accused of rape in a lawsuit, another high-profile NFL wide receiver received a lucrative contract extension in a move that flew under the radar.
Tyreek Hill signed a three-year, $54 million extension with the Chiefs that puts him among the highest-paid players at his position. The deal reportedly included a $5.9 million signing bonus, $22.5 million guaranteed at signing and $35 million in injury guarantees. All this for a player who was suspended by the team for three months during the offseason while child abuse charges were investigated.
Hill, 25, skated on the legal matter when authorities could not determine whether he caused his 3-year-old son’s broken arm even though Crystal Espinal, the boy’s mother and Hill’s former fiancee, accused Hill on a recording of inflicting the injury. Somehow the NFL didn’t think the threats Hill made against Espinal, on top of his history of domestic violence, were enough to slap him with at least a six-game suspension.
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But why did the Chiefs feel compelled to extend Hill this year? What’s the urgency? He had a year left on his rookie deal, and Kansas City had the option of putting the franchise tag on him next year in the event they couldn’t get a deal done.
If the Chiefs were getting pushback from Hill and his agent regarding the 2019 salary he had outperformed, they could have appeased the receiver by adding some incentives based on performance tied to team success. When I was the Titans’ president in 2002, that’s what we did for Jevon Kearse after his third consecutive double-digit sack, Pro Bowl season on a contract he had outplayed. (Interestingly, the same agent who represents Hill now, Drew Rosenhaus, represented Kearse then.)
Kearse unfortunately suffered a broken foot that season and never hit his incentives. No such problem for the well-paid Hill, who is projected to miss 4-6 weeks with a shoulder injury suffered in Week 1 against Jacksonville.
Perhaps the Chiefs felt they got a relative bargain compared to the $20 million per year in new money (with $61 million guaranteed) Saints receiver Michael Thomas just received on his five-year extension. Julio Jones surpassed Thomas’ deal over the weekend ($66 million guaranteed). When you factor in the $1.965 million for which Hill is under contract this season, his total deal is just shy of $56 million over four years, or $14 million per year.
Team-friendly deal or not, I believe the Chiefs did this too soon — if indeed he ever deserves such lavish treatment. Given his history, I would not have drafted him in the first place.
Hill is fighting a public perception that he is a bad guy. The alleged incident with his son came after Hill pleaded guilty in 2014 to domestic assault and battery by strangulation on Espinal, who was then pregnant. That got him three years probation and a one-year batterer’s program. He was kicked off Oklahoma State’s football team, and he dropped to the fifth round of the 2016 draft, as most teams felt he was untouchable.
Red flags everywhere, yet the Chiefs have rewarded Hill with an extension.
As a three-time Pro Bowler coming off a season with 87 catches for 1,479 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, Hill clearly had outperformed his rookie deal — if only on-field matters are considered. I’m sure there are plenty of clauses in Hill’s contract that will protect the Chiefs and punish him with signing bonus give-back and voiding of guarantees if he is suspended by the team or league for any reason.
But off-field transgressions must count more than they did in his negotiations with Kansas City.
If I were Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, general manager Brett Veach or coach/quasi-GM Andy Reid and were more or less stuck with Hill, I would have made Hill prove over a significant period of time that he can stay out of trouble before giving him a long-term deal. I would have wanted to delay that second contract until at least July of 2020, or better yet 2021 with a year under the franchise tag, especially considering Hill was a little more than one month removed from his team-imposed suspension.
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Now Hill will have an opportunity to sign a top-market deal in another three years if he remains one of the game’s top receivers while staying away from off-field trouble. He is saying the right things, thanking the Chiefs for their “love and support” and saluting “Chiefs Kingdom, the best fans in the world.” But his future actions will speak louder than words.
The entire Hill saga reeks of inconsistency in the NFL personal conduct policy. The league claims it is not bound by what the legal system determines in a case, and that its standards for its players’ off-field behavior are at a higher level. Well, not in Hill’s case.
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Kansas City added insult to injury by giving a new contract to a player who should have been forced to prove his abysmal behavior is permanently in the past.
Jeff Diamond is a former president of the Titans and former vice president/general manager of the Vikings. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year in 1998. Diamond is currently a business and sports consultant who also does broadcast and online media work. He makes speaking appearances to corporate/civic groups and college classes on negotiation and sports business/sports management. He is the former chairman and CEO of The Ingram Group. Follow Jeff on Twitter: @jeffdiamondNFL.