Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Lovie Smith may get a contract extension, but he shouldn’t expect a raise after Mike McCarthy signs his reported new deal with the Green Bay Packers.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Packers’ coach will soon sign a three-year contract extension that will pay him $5 million per season. Since that’s the same amount written on Smith’s current W-2, it will be more difficult for the Bears’ coach to persuade general manager Jerry Angelo and president Ted Phillips to add a bump in salary as well as more years to his new deal.
How can Smith claim he is worth more than the coach of the defending Super Bowl champions?
NFL coaching salaries are leveling off or going down, not up. The coaches who would demand the most money — Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher, for example — will keep their broadcast jobs for another year. While Pete Carroll got big money from the Seattle Seahawks and it took $7 million annually to deliver Mike Shanahan to the Washington Redskins at this time last season, the most recent vacancies around the league have been filled mostly by former assistants without head coaching experience who don’t demand as high a salary as coaches with a Lombardi Trophy on their resume.
The highest-profile hire came when ex-Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh was lured away from Stanford. It cost the 49ers — you guessed it — $5 million per year.
Smith can argue that he deserves more than Harbaugh. He has led his team on two deep playoff runs in the last five seasons while Harbaugh has no NFL coaching experience. It’s a tougher argument with McCarthy, especially after the Packers defeated the Bears twice last season, including in the NFC Championship Game.
With NFL coaching salaries holding steady, it seems logical that Smith would be offered a two-year extension at his current salary. There’s no real downside to such a proposal from the team’s point of view. If Smith accepts it, the Bears would have a proven coach at market value; if he rejects it, he would enter the final year of his deal with the ultimate risk-reward scenario in play.
If the Bears underachieve in 2011, they could decide not to offer Smith a new deal, saving them what could be a costly buyout down the road. If they win the Super Bowl, Smith would have all the leverage — but that’s a good problem to have. Writing a big check to a Super Bowl-winning coach is something ownership should relish doing.
If Smith accepts the two-year extension, he would be contractually bound until after the 2013 season, which is when Angelo’s deal expires. That would give Smith a decade-long run as Bears coach while also giving the organization a chance to start over with a new general manager and coach if they decide a change is in order.
If Smith rejects it, players will know their coach’s future with the team could be in jeopardy for the second straight year. Players rallied around Smith last season in part because they knew his job could be in danger if the team missed the playoffs for a fourth straight season. Smith entering the final year of his contract could be a motivating factor once again.
There’s no reason to rush this decision, especially with a lockout looming. The draft is the next date circled on the Bears’ calender, and it’s critical to the team’s future success. Since there will be no free agency without a new collective-bargaining agreement, there will be plenty of time for the Bears to make an offer and for Smith to mull it.
Thanks to McCarthy, what should already have been a straight-forward negotiation has become even more so.