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Bill O’Brien’s buyout would be affordable for an NFL owner

Bill O'Brien

Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien gestures toward an official during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Indiana in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)


Penn State has signed head coach Bill O’Brien to a new contract that would make it very expensive for him to leave for another college job, but affordable for him to leave for an NFL job.

O’Brien’s new contract, which has been posted online by Penn State, gives him a $1 million raise this season as a reward for doing stellar work last year in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. But it’s the new contract’s buyout clause that will be of interest to NFL fans.

If O’Brien chooses to leave Penn State for another college job, he would have to pay Penn State an amount equal to his total pay times the number of years left on his contract. That total pay includes not just his base salary but the additional income from radio and TV deals, and his portion of the school’s endorsement deal with Nike. That additional income is about $1.35 million a year, and its inclusion in the buyout clause means O’Brien will almost certainly not quit to coach another college team -- no college would spend the $13 million it would take just to get O’Brien away from Penn State next year, before paying his salary.

But if O’Brien quits to take an NFL job, he would only have to pay an amount equal to the remaining years on his contract times his base salary, without the additional income. So it would be relatively inexpensive for O’Brien to jump to the NFL.

In 2013, O’Brien’s buyout for an NFL job would be $7.73 million. That’s expensive, although it’s something that any NFL owner could afford if he believes O’Brien is the coach to lead his team to a Super Bowl. In 2014, O’Brien’s buyout would drop to $3.41 million. That’s very affordable for an NFL owner. And the buyout gets down to $3.30 million in 2015 and $1.73 million in 2016, assuming O’Brien is still working on the same contract by then.

The bottom line is that O’Brien’s new contract means that as long as he’s a college football coach, he’s going to be the coach at Penn State. But the deal gives him an out if he jumps for the NFL.