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Jul 22

Best & Worst Contracts: The Atlanta Falcons

A few weeks ago Jason LaCanfora published a list of best and worst contracts in the NFL so I thought it might make a good idea for us to do the same here at OTC, with a team by team approach. I’ll try to be a bit more analytical in terms of why money was paid and how it fits in the market, but the general premise is the same. The one key difference is outside of restructured rookie contracts under the old CBA we will only use veteran contracts as there is a big difference between best draft picks and best contracts.  Please note that there is a difference between a bad player and a bad contract when discussing some of the selections. Clicking on a players name will take you to his salary cap page.

Roddy WhiteBest Contract: Roddy White

Wide Receiver has become one of the premier pay spots in the NFL. The position has escaped the market correction that seems to have impacted Defensive Ends, Left Tackles, and Cornerbacks and the top of the market makes around $12 million a year in free agency often based just on hope for “what they can do” without those players actually doing it. There is no need to hope for White. White is simply the real deal.

You will not find many players in the NFL as consistent as White. You can pretty much pencil him in for 100 receptions and 1300 yards every season. You can probably make an argument that he is one of the five most consistent and productive players at the position in the NFL. He fits perfectly in the Falcons offense and was helpful in the early stages of development of QB Matt Ryan. There is little to not like about White outside of the fact that he will be 32 this season which could mean bouts of declining productivity.

At just over $8.5 million a season, White is a steal in this overinflated WR marketplace. One of the best in the NFL, his salary ranks middle of the pack among starters. Part of the reason is because his deal was signed in 2009 before salaries exploded, but he earns less than Miles Austin and far less than Brandon Marshall, two players signed just one year later. Marshall, at $11.2 million a season represents what White should be earning.

The Falcons also should be given credit for the structure of his deal. Players such as Steve  Smith and Andre Johnson had contracts that would see more balloon type payments as the players got older leaving a team with a very difficult decision. The Falcons wisely kept White’s cap hits steady and marked the 2013 season as a possible jettison point, a logical year based on age. White’s cap this year is over $9 million and with $3.85 million in dead money an easy negotiating point to force a player into a “paycut or be cut” scenario.  Of course with how White played that never became an issue but it was clearly planned for.

White will only count for $6.325 million against the 2014 salary cap assuming no incentives or escalators are reached. The dead money in 2014 is just $1.325 million giving the Falcons as many options as they want with him. They can offer a Reggie Wayne type “ride off into the sunset” contract where he finishes his career in Atlanta at continued reasonable cap charges or just let him play it out at just over a $6 million dollar cap charge. There is little more than you could ever expect out of a player than what White has given the Falcons over the course of his contract.

Sam BakerWorst Contract: Sam Baker

I went back and forth on a few names here. The Falcons don’t really have anything that screams at you as bad. They are more like a handful of some mid tier contracts that you say maybe could be better than they were. Part of me wanted to go with William Moore who I think is paid more because of fear of losing him and the unknown than what he actually brings to the field relative to the position, but its still a contract that they can escape from after two seasons if they wanted to. The same can not be said for Baker.

Baker isn’t  a bad player and played pretty well last season, but I don’t think many people equate Baker with being a core building block that can not be replaced. The Falcons more or less have given him a contract structure that won’t allow them to replace him. To get the deal done Atlanta had to use both the signing bonus and option bonus mechanism, prorating money over 6 years and making the backend dead money more difficult to deal with.

I think a fair comparison here is Will Beatty of the Giants who is actually going to be paid more on an annual but has a friendlier contract structure. Beatty will see 64% of his contract paid out in the first three seasons. Baker will earn 65.9% of his five year total in the first three seasons. Maybe that was a tradeoff for a 6th year, but that 6th year was mainly only added for cap purposes. So it’s the same or more than the higher priced player.

Despite the higher payout Beatty’s dead money consistently runs lower than Bakers. Beatty will carry a $5 million dead hit if cut in the 4th year of his contract. Baker will carry $6.4 million. The following season Beatty is at $2.5 while Baker is at $3.6. Those are the kind of numbers that gives teams some leverage to renegotiate contracts if the player doesn’t perform. Baker is pretty much safe for 4 seasons. So while I would not consider this a really bad contract by any stretch, if there is a spot to go where the Falcons may have overreached a little I’d give that nod to Baker’s contract.

Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles

AFC East: Buffalo BillsMiami DolphinsNew England PatriotsNew York Jets

AFC North: Baltimore RavensCincinnati BengalsCleveland BrownsPittsburgh Steelers

AFC South: Houston TexansIndianapolis ColtsJacksonville JaguarsTennessee Titans

AFC West: Denver BroncosKansas City ChiefsOakland RaidersSan Diego Chargers

NFC East: Dallas CowboysNew York GiantsPhiladelphia EaglesWashington Redskins

NFC North: Chicago BearsDetroit LionsGreen Bay PackersMinnesota Vikings

NFC South: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers (July 24)