Week two of our Best & Worst series starts with the Atlanta Falcons
Best Contract: Roddy White
Despite an injury plagued 2013 season which saw Roddy White post very pedestrian numbers, there is no doubt that White has been a tremendous bargain for the Atlanta Falcons since signing a $42.72 million contract extension back in 2009. Since then White has produced four 1,000 yard seasons, three of which have been at least 1,296 yards. He has been instrumental in the development of QB Matt Ryan and never caused any contractual headaches despite being one of the most underpaid receivers in the NFL.
Whether the Falcons got lucky by extending White right before contracts began going over the top at the position or by being tough on the contract, they snagged White for pennies on the dollar. White had already proven that he was a high end caliber receiver with back to back seasons of at least 1,200 yards when he signed which should have been enough to grab a true game changing contract. By 2010 lesser players pushed the market beyond White and nowadays just having the potential to produce at this level would earn a player $12 million a year.
White would never carry a cap charge of more than $9.125 million in a season and overall the contract would be a solid structure for the Falcons. During his prime years between the ages of 28 and 31 White’s cap figures would range from $6.5 to $8 million. At the age of 33 White carries just a $6.325 million cap charge which would be a reasonable expectation for a player at that age. The team used a modest signing and option bonus which made him easy to release during either of the last two seasons of the contract if they needed. White’s deal also never contained the balloon payment structure that forces renegotiations and/or extensions
While there has been talk of extending White, the Falcons maintain leverage with the contract which should allow them to offer a modest priced contract that reflects his age. As things stand White will play out his entire contract, which is a rarity in the NFL. That often is the sign of a very strong contract from the start. White has earned every penny of the contract while remaining one of the best bargains of recent times.
Worst Contract: Sam Baker
Part of me believes the Falcons’ front office has begun to move towards the thought process of playing solely for the present and paying less regard to negative future scenarios. That often happens to teams that are successful and trying to keep things running smoothly as they prepare to take the next step towards a championship. The Houston Texans followed a similar path with some extensions with little regard for the future and a focus solely on the present. The Texans fell apart and Atlanta will hope they don’t follow suit when they try to rebound from an injury filled 2013. While the team has few, if any, outlandish contracts the structures that they are using requires the players to maintain a strong level of play over a few year period to justify the charges.
Like I said last season, I don’t think Sam Baker is a bad player, the contract is just a bit of a reach on a player that should never have been considered a core player. The Falcons followed their typical procedure with the signing and option bonus payment, but in Baker’s case that 6th contract year is all about early contract salary cap reduction rather than true contract flexibility. It’s more of less no different than a voidable year. The $14 million in bonus payments also makes a very player friendly contract structure.
I think the comparison in Baker’s case was Will Beatty of the Giants. Both were decent players at important positions who tried to inch as close as possible to top mid-tier money. Baker will earn less overall than Beatty but has a better contract structure with nearly 66% of his five year value being paid in the first three years compared to Beatty’s 64%. Neither player gave the team injury protections, which arguably should have come in both contracts.
The bigger difference comes in the use of bonus money. Beatty received $12 million prorated over five years giving the Giants the ability to release him with $5 million remaining in acceleration come 2016, which represents around $4 million in cap savings. Baker will carry $6.4 million at the same time and only save the team about $1.6 million. That number I believe does a good job at protecting Baker’s four year contract value of $28 million while Beatty could be gone after three years and $24 million.
The contract looks worse now because Baker missed 12 games in 2013 and it reminded people of some injuries he has suffered throughout his career. It’s not that bad of a contract but its one in which the team could have gotten better protection and/or more cap flexibility. If Baker struggles in 2014 this is a contract that will likely be a focus of discussions concerning the Falcons moving forward especially since the Falcons spent a high draft pick on an offensive lineman, perhaps conceding the mistake that was made with Baker.
2013’s Best and Worst Falcons Contracts:
2013 Best Contract: Roddy White (In final year of contract- see above)
2013 Worst Contract: Sam Baker (Starting tackle Signed extension with Raiders-See above)