On May 13th, the MLSPA announced their annual release of the salaries and guaranteed compensation for every player in MLS. One FC Dallas player’s salary figure stood out for obvious reasons. This week, we’ll take a look at Franco Jara’s contract: how and why it came to be, what it means for the club in the present and what it means for the club going forward.
How we got here
Prior to signing with FC Dallas ahead of the 2020 season, Franco Jara was a regular starter for Pachuca in Liga MX, signing with Los Tuzos in 2015 and ultimately making over 150 appearances for the club. When FC Dallas matched up with Pachuca in the quarter finals of the 2017 CONCACAF Champions League, Jara, at that time aged 26, played a starring role, scoring in the first few minutes in the home leg for Pachuca before adding another goal and an assist in Frisco to help knock FCD out of the competition. It seems that those matches kicked off FCD’s interest in Jara, largely led by owner and president Dan Hunt, who “promised [himself] that [he] would work to get him in an FC Dallas uniform.”
Hunt did make good on that promise, however, due to FCD’s reluctance to pay Pachuca what would be necessary to give up their starting striker, Jara was not signed until his contract ran out with Pachuca, over three years after Jara’s strong performances against Dallas in CCL. When he did finally arrive, it was in the middle of the COVID shortened 2020 season, which made a challenging situation, integrating a major player, even more challenging.
In terms of the contract itself, right from the start it was confirmed that it was the largest contract in FC Dallas history, a three year deal with additional club option years. But, as is the case with any signing in MLS, the actual dollar figure of the contract was not announced. When it finally was announced, as part of the MLSPA’s annual release of MLS player salary figures, the size of the contract caught fans and media by surprise.
What it means now
According to the MLSPA release of player salary information, Franco Jara’s 2021 base salary is $2.29 million with a guaranteed compensation of $2.977 million. Based on guaranteed compensation (not including performance bonuses, those are not included in the MLSPA release), Jara is the 10th highest paid player in MLS. He is being paid more in 2021 than Seattle’s Nicolas Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz, Orlando City’s Nani, Sporting KC’s Alan Pulido and the Columbus Crew’s Lucas Zelarayan. In addition to being the only FC Dallas player to earn over $1 million in 2021, Jara’s $2.977 million in guaranteed compensation is 3.5 times higher than FCD’s second highest paid player, Matt Hedges. Bryan Acosta, the other FC Dallas designated player, is making less than a quarter of what Jara stands to make in 2021. For a club known for keeping player salaries low and where paying a player over $1 million annually is a big deal, Jara’s contract is truly staggering.
But as Dan Hunt said when Jara was signed, the Argentine is a “star” and if clubs want to attract stars, especially goal scoring stars, they’re going to have to drop some cash. The problem is, although Jara may have had some seasons in Mexico that would be classified as making him a “star” (in all fairness to Jara, he did have three different 20+ goal scoring seasons in Liga MX with Pachuca), he is clearly on the downswing of his career at age 32 (33 in July) and really has not shown any of the goal scoring prowess he exhibited in Mexico. In his first season with FC Dallas, Jara scored 7 goals in 19 appearances. That is not a terrible return, but when compared to other players making similar amounts of money in MLS, those numbers pale in comparison.
Perhaps more importantly, Jara’s play style is clearly not suited to the way FC Dallas wants to use their high striker. Based on what we saw from the team in 2019, when the primary strikers were Jesus Ferreira, Dominique Badji and Zdenek Ondrasek, Luchi Gonzalez wants his strikers to be engaged in the press defensively and stay high to offer an option in attack and be ready to pounce on chances in the box. Jara, on the other hand, in addition to being almost painfully slow at times, seems to want to drop deep to get touches on the ball and involve himself in the build up, playing almost as a false 9 at times. All too often this has led to chances created for FC Dallas where Jara is nowhere close to the position he needs to be in to get on the end of balls put into the box. These are issues that fans hoped would be rectified with Jara getting a full offseason and preseason with the team, but thus far in 2021, nothing seems to have changed and Jara has failed to score in the first four games of the season.
Generally when players are not productive and are clearly a poor fit for the overall team, those players are benched and used as substitutes instead of starts playing upwards of 60 and 70 minutes a game. That has not been the case for Jara, who has started all but 4 games for the club since he arrived. If fans are able to see that things don’t seem to be working with Jara in the starting lineup, Jara’s teammates are certainly going to be able to see the same thing. Currently, Jara’s backup is 18 year old homegrown Ricardo Pepi, who has scored a goal in one substitute appearance in 2021 and looked very bright in his single start against Portland in which FCD won 4-1. It begs the question of why Jara continues to get so many minutes when the team seems to look so much better without him on the field and the very large looming sign in the shape of an almost $3 million contract seems to be the obvious answer. It also raises concerns about potential locker room issues, either Jara continues to start, likely frustrating parts of the locker room, or Jara, who is getting paid far more than any of his teammates (and many of them combined), starts to sit on the bench, in which case he may raise his own locker room issues. Guys who get paid that much don’t generally enjoy sitting on the bench. Jara already had an awkward interaction with Luchi Gonzalez just from being subbed out of a game in 2020, who knows what a string of sub appearances could cause?
What it means in the future
In addition to the issues with Jara in the 2020 and 2021 seasons, FC Dallas is on the hook for his contract at least through the end of the 2022 season. With Jara’s current production compared to his salary, FCD has basically no chance of being able to sell Jara in the transfer market. Strikers nearing their mid-30s in age that struggle to produce goals in MLS do not tend to have a great deal of value, especially with an almost $3 million salary tied to the contract. FCD’s only real option to get out of the contract prior to the end of the 2022 season would be to buy Jara out of the contract, which would come at great expense to the club and the ownership in particular. Buying out Jara’s contract would essentially amount to Dan Hunt admitting that he got it wrong, which just does not feel likely to happen.
Jara is the biggest designated player the club has brought in since their first ever designated player, Denilson. Denilson still regularly tops lists of the worst MLS DPs of all time and his failure with the club is often given as a reason that the Hunts are reluctant to spend a lot of money on a single player. I have concerns that fans will see a repeat of this behavior is Jara is not able to increase his production. Even though this signing was led primarily by Dan Hunt himself, he may see the failure of the signing as another piece of evidence to support the idea that the club should not be splashing the cash on big signings going forward.
All things told, the absolute best case scenario is that things change with Jara, he adapts to the team and starts scoring at a similar rate to what he was doing when he was with Pachuca in Liga MX. If he is able to do so, the club and fans will have much less of an issue with the massive contract. But if things continue as they have been, Jara may end up rivaling Denilson as one of the worst signings in the history of the club.
How do you feel about FCD’s highest paid player? How could the club better spend the money being spent on Jara? Sound off in the comments below!
Featured Image: MLSSoccer.com/Fox Sports 1