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Stephen A. Smith contract, explained: How Pat McAfee could help ESPN star nab $100 million paycheck

Stephen A. Smith looks slated to make himself a historic bag this summer. If he does, he could have a fellow ESPN colleague to thank: Pat McAfee.

The punter-turned-podcaster has delivered on his promise of garnering viewership for the Worldwide Leader in Sports since inking a five-year, $85 million deal with the Disney-owned company last year. That’s come at a cost for his corporate overseers, however, as McAfee’s loose-cannon style of operating has put him at odds with ESPN leadership throughout the past year.

That could serve to help an ESPN lifer like Smith, whose contract expires next July. Smith has expressed a desire to make Jalen Brunson-type money if he hits the open market. McAfee can help him do that, in a roundabout way.

Here’s what you need to know as Smith attempts to leverage McAfee’s tomfoolery to add some zeroes to his paycheck.

MORE: Pat McAfee’s timeline of controversies at ESPN

Stephen A. Smith contract, explained

Smith has but one year remaining on his current ESPN deal, which sees him make roughly $12 million annually. The Worldwide Leader reportedly penned a contract extension that would see Smith earn $18 million a year. However, he’s believed to be seeking $25 million a year for his services, per Puck’s John Ourand, a figure that would see him surpass McAfee ($17 million), Joe Buck ($15 million), and Troy Aikman ($18 million) to become ESPN’s highest-paid employee.

McAfee could prove a pivotal figure when Smith comes to the negotiating table, per Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy. The polarizing podcaster has developed a reputation as something of a bad boy since sliding into ESPN’s orbit, playing a pivotal role in Aaron Rodgers’ public feud with Jimmy Kimmel and referring to Fever star Caitlin Clark as a “white b—.” He’s also shown a disregard for his superiors, even goading them into spats in an effort to test the limits of their authority.

There was also his clash with longtime ESPN executive Norby Williamson in January, highlighted by McAfee’s public declaration that Williamson was a “rat” seeking to “sabotage” his show, or perhaps his support of The Athletic’s Shams Charania, a noted rival of ESPN’s go-to NBA insider, Adrian Wojnarowski.

“Shams was our guy. Shams is our NBA guy,” McAfee said in June.

Either way you slice it, McAfee is unpredictable. For a media company hoping to establish itself as a middle-of-the-aisle home for sports news, that’s not an ideal situation.

MORE: Stephen A. Smith-Pat McAfee argument, explained

McAfee’s erratic nature stands in stark contrast to Smith, who cuts a more composed and team-friendly figure when it comes to broadcasting. He’s seen as a company man through-and-through, rarely kicking up a fuss while working underneath the ESPN banner.

“I’ve got to give Stephen A. credit. He’s used that McAfee is such a bad team player to his own advantage. He brings on only ESPN people; McAfee brings on Shams [Charania]. That’s the kind of thing Stephen A. Smith would never do,” an anonymous television insider told Front Office Sports. “He lets Pat McAfee frustrate the ESPN executives so much, they’re like, ‘F— it. Stephen A. is a good team player.’” 

Smith offers platforms for ESPN’s budding talent to appear on popular programs. He routinely features on less-popular television shows, lending a bit of his star power elsewhere for the good of the company. That’s not to mention his willingness to offer his services outside the confines of his job. Burke Magnus, ESPN’s No. 2 executive, revealed as much during an appearance on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast, brandishing the 56-year-old with the title, “bona fide superstar”

“Nobody works harder than him. He is everywhere all the time,” Magnus said. “Everything we ask him to do, from a different show, a particular appearance or can you join this meeting with sales because it’s an important client meeting, and they’d really love to have you stop by and meet the client. He’ll do that. He never says no. He’s great in that regard, and First Take, which is his primary assignment, is a juggernaut.”

MORE: Did Stephen A. Smith play basketball?

Now, Smith doesn’t have the sort of independence nor creative freedom that McAfee does. McAfee is more of a contractor than an ESPN analyst, granting the network access to a portion of his daily podcasts. He’s not subject to the same rules as Smith is.

Nevertheless, Smith’s willingness to stick to company policy has earned him plenty of supporters within ESPN’s boardroom. Perhaps that can land him a big-time contract, too.

Much like McAfee, Smith has stepped into multiple different avenues. He, too, has a podcast where he lets loose, as he did when he eviscerated The Blaze’s Jason Whitlock earlier in the year. He’s also made numerous appearances on right-leaning Fox News and Outkick, both of which ruffle ESPN’s feathers but also speak to his presence away from the shine of the ESPN brand.

He even cited McAfee as an inspiration as he attempted to expand himself beyond the bounds of ESPN’s grasp after McAfee received his big-money deal with Smith’s employers.

“Two things. Number 1: I don’t give a damn. [McAfee] negotiated his deal a few weeks ago. I negotiated my deal a few years ago. The situation is not the same. I’m a big boy. I’ve been to hell and back. This does not faze me at all. Pat McAfee deserves it,” Smith said on his podcast when news of McAfee’s contract figures broke. “You lookin’ for some haterade here, wrong place. I admire what he has done. I respect what he has done, so much so that I’m doing it. It’s people like Pat McAfee I get to thank for that.”

If Smith were to ink the figures he’s rumored to desire, he might have McAfee to thank for that, as well.

Stephen A. Smith net worth

Smith is valued at $25 million, per Celebrity Net Worth. The ESPN standout has been a part of the network since 2003, going from strength-to-strength over the course of his career. Smith first joined the network as a basketball analyst. He’s since transitioned to becoming a do-it-all force, although his sporting knowledge certainly could leave something to be desired.

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