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Creative Accounting in the NFL

May 6, 2010

The San Francisco 49ers have been doing a bit of accounting legerdemain to get around the salary caps and extend the contract of one of their best players, Patrick Willis.

According to Yahoo Sports and Pro Football Talk, the team offered Willis two signing bonuses in order to intercept the 30 percent rule now imposed on teams. As the saying goes, rules were made to be broken, if not stretched. The team is offering Willis a five-year, $50 million extension with the help of a $15.5 million signing bonus, followed by a “supersede signing bonus” of $4.8 million next year. However, the second signing bonus is guaranteed for "injury only," which helps the team avoid fully funding the bonus right away.

Salary caps in the NFL seem to be just about as airtight as the limits on executive compensation at financial institutions that received the TARP funds. But at least Willis will provide a lot more entertainment for the fans than the Wall Street bankers who regularly get hauled in front of the C-SPAN cameras these days.

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