A Closer Look at Russell Wilson’s Massive Contract

The numbers are now in on the Russell Wilson extension thanks to Ian Rapoport and it’s a big one.

Clearly there is some give and take on both sides, which I discussed today at the Sporting News, but now let’s focus on the cash flow of the contract to see just how big this deal is compared to the market. Continue reading A Closer Look at Russell Wilson’s Massive Contract »

Examining the Marginal Value Implied in Player Contracts

There are a number of ways to look at roster construction in the NFL, and Nick recently did a great job with his roster texture charts(which you should read if you haven’t already), but today I wanted to look to see how teams really derive their value when they build a roster. Normally when we look at a roster we look at two basic numbers- salary cap charges and contract annual value- and then compare franchises across the board. But I got to thinking, wouldn’t it be a much more accurate portrayal if we put those numbers in perspective by seeing how much marginal value a team is really assigning to their highest paid players?  For example Peyton Manning makes more than Darrelle Revis, but Manning plays a position where the average salary for a starter is over $12 million. Tehnically the Jets are giving up more by having Revis as the highest paid player on the team, even if Manning has a higher stated salary. So we can best define value by determining the cost above average a team spends on their top players on the team. Continue reading Examining the Marginal Value Implied in Player Contracts »

Can a Premier Contract Player Really be a Bargain?

I read an article by Jimmy Kempski of the Philadelphia Voice the other day about Fletcher Cox and came across an interesting quote by former NFL executive Joe Banner regarding the franchise signings.

Teams signing deals today are doing so because the contracts will be looked upon as cheap down the line given the rising salary cap. I think that’s true to an extent when discussing extensions, but I think application across the board doesn’t really work and in most cases does not work for the franchise tag contracts.

Continue reading Can a Premier Contract Player Really be a Bargain? »

Stock Up: Week 8


Every Monday during the season we will take a look back at three players who are entering important stages of their contract that may have helped their stock in upcoming negotiations with their play on Sunday. In addition we will also look at one player signed in the offseason to a new contract that exceeded all expectations and provided exceptional value to his team.

Stock Up

Lamarr Houston– The Raiders Defensive End is going to be one of the most sought after free agents on the market provided that he is not slapped with the Franchise tag, which would seem likely. Houston is one of those rare pass rushers in the NFL that can be just as effective against the run as he is sacking the QB. He finished Sundays game with 1 sack and 5 tackles, two of which were for a loss.  He is one of the most well rounded players at the position. The Raiders salary cap situation is so unique that he could find himself getting an incredibly lucrative front loaded contract if this level of play persists. He can be a force for a long time on what is becoming a formidable defense.

Andy Dalton– I had pretty much thrown Dalton out for the rest of this season when it came to contract talks next year, but over the last three weeks he has shown improvements and I think we can at least discuss the possibility of an early extension for the Bengals QB. Dalton ripped the Jets apart for 325 yards and 5 touchdowns bringing his 3 week total to 1,034 yards with 11 Td’s to just 2 interceptions. Statistically that is an incredible pace and way into the upper echelon of QB play in the NFL. Sure he still may miss a few deep throws here and there, but the bottom line right now is nobody can say that the Bengals are winning in spite of Andy Dalton. As they look to lock up their young core talent Dalton may be in line for that extension after all.

Antrel Rolle Rolle only has one more year remaining on his contract with the Giants and at a $9.25 million dollar cap charge he is either going to become a free agent or get extended. Rolle is the vocal leader of the Giants defense but put forth an effort where he was more than just vocal. Rolle began the day by intercepting the Eagles and helped set the tone for the Giants defense all day long. Rolle was all over the field with 4 tackles, a sack, and a pass broken up to go along with his interception.  Rolle is set to earn $7.25 million if he is not cut next season.  Big games like this one might give him the opportunity to earn that much money from the Giants or someone else.

New Contract Player Of The Week

Aaron Rodgers– Rodgers looked every bit the highest paid player in the NFL with his performance against the Vikings on Sunday night. Rodgers, despite his lack of receiving targets, sliced and diced his way through the Vikings defense with pinpoint accuracy. Some of the throws he made were incredibly difficult as he helped bring his team to a 41-17 point lead in the 4th quarter. This year has not been kind to the $20 million plus contract players except Rodgers, who is the only mega dollar player at the position who looks like he deserves the money and can justify the spending.

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Super Bowl Rings and the Overpricing of the Quarterback

With Tiki Barber taking to the airwaves again to make his latest outlandish statements, it immediately brings up the more modern TV made argument of just how important a Super Bowl ring is to the legacy of the QB. Since then its grown to become a difference maker in salaries and contracts for QBs who have outdistanced everyone else in the game by a wide margin now because of the correlation that is expected between QB and SB titles. Seems like a good topic.

To be honest I don’t really recall the “he just wins” argument being a big deal when I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. Obviously Montana would be the guy who won, but Montana also put up good stats for that era, specifically in the defense dominated NFC. He was  a perennial Pro Bowl guy  and was always in the upper 20’s in his Touchdowns when healthy.

I don’t recall (and maybe its just from being too young) people killing Dan Marino and John Elway on TV. I remember people talking about both as two of the greatest QB’s of all time. It wasn’t until much later on that I would hear people bringing up Elway’s Super Bowl wins as reasons that he was one of the best 3 or 4 of all time, which is a ridiculous argument since the Elway of the late 90’s was the one being carried to a title whereas the Elway of the 80s was the guy carrying really bad teams to title games, where the team would get exposed for being awful.

I don’t recall anyone putting Terry Bradshaw’s name on the list of greatest of all time. Hall of Famer sure, but whenever people talk of best ever does his name pop up?  Not really, despite all the Super Bowl success. Even Troy Aikman, leader of the famed 90’s Cowboys, doesn’t get brought up as the greatest ever because statistically he did not produce to the same level as other players of his time. If Aikman or Bradshaw played now they would not just be Hall of Famers but considered among the greatest to play the game because of the way the criteria changed at some point.

I always felt that the change in QB evaluation metrics came with the Patriots second Super Bowl Championship. ESPN or other media outlets wanted to create an argument that Tom Brady was better than Peyton Manning. Manning was the far more polished player, being drafted number 1 overall in 1998 and being considered the perfect prospect. Brady was an unknown playing for a defensive minded coach who was a failure in his first stint as a head coach in the NFL.

Statistically there was no comparison. Manning was consistently at 4,200 yards on a high powered offense that averaged 26 points a game. Brady was a 3,600 yard guy on a team around 22 points a game from 2001-2003. In 2003 they beat the Colts two times and in 2004, again, came out with another two victories. By the end of the 2004 season Brady was a bonafide playoff superstar and Manning was anything but. The debate was strictly turned to rings.

From that point forward playoff success has gone from the media right into the negotiating room. The ring became the biggest money maker in all of the NFL. In the pre-rings era players like Mark Rypien, Brad Johnson, Jay Schroder, Jeff Hostetler, Jim McMahon, Jim Plunkett, Ken Stabler, and so many more didn’t break the bank off a Super Bowl. In many cases they had to fight for long term job security and are more or less footnotes in history, rather than legends.

Teams now put so much value on that ring. Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning only had one championship when they were made the highest paid players at the position. Not multiple rings, just one. I think we all tend to forget that Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton only have one title each. Joe Flacco joined that club this season. Brees, Rodgers, and P. Manning are prolific passers but look at the difference in treatment Brees gets compared to a Tony Romo type, who in a different generation would probably be looked up very differently.

The question should be if teams better off by paying QB’s for past rings and past success at the current price levels we are seeing?  Brady may go down as one of the best QBs to play the game in part based on the fact that he has 3 Super Bowls. But when Brady put his name into the statistical arguments as well as “ring” argument how many does he have?  The answer is none. Brady the superstar Manning-esque level player  has lost two times. Manning got back once. Brees and Rodgers haven’t returned.

When I did a more statistical valuation of the QB marketplace the one clear this is that the market is overpaid based on actual production compared to an average player level. The difference is price is really attributed to past success and perceptions of future success. Is it worth it?  It is a debatable question. Here is the annual salary estimates presented as a percentage of the salary cap for the Super Bowl winning QBs from 2000-2012. For the uncapped year I assumed a cap of $129 million which was the expected number based on cap growth in the prior CBA.



% Cap (based on APY)





E. Manning












E. Manning



P. Manning




















The two highest cap eaters were the Manning brothers, with Roethlisberger being the only other player whose APY at the time ate up more than 10% of the unadjusted salary cap. It should be noted that both Eli and Roethlisberger were on extensions that allowed the total cap to be less than the new money APY used in these estimates.  They would be closer to the 11% mark looking at total contract value.

With the increased emphasis on rings the market has skyrocketed for the QB. In 2009 Manning’s Super Bowl driven APY was $16.25 million, highest in the NFL. Now that number only ranks 7th in the league.  Considering the way the cap has retreated to 2009 levels the positional spending on the QB has now spiked to incredible levels because of the “ring” part of the equation, except the highest prices are not necessarily providing more rings. Resources have to be moved out of other spots on a team to now pay for the QB. Here are the players that rank above the median Super Bowl champion in terms of cap percentage ( 7.88%) and their percentage of the current years salary cap:


% Cap            (based on APY)







P. Manning






E. Manning


















If any of the first six names win a championship this season it would represent the highest percentage of cap spent on a QB contract since 2000. The first 12 names all represent numbers greater than 10%, a feat only achieved by three players.

Teams are focusing on the wrong things with the QB payscale and it’s most likely the reason why a team like the Patriots pulled Brady back so much. For as great as he is his salary level was unsustainable if you are looking to build a complete team to win a championship.

With a good crop of young QB’s now in the NFL under a low wage system you will continue to see the trends of the lower cost player winning championships while those with the big money items struggle to find balance on their football teams. It is going to put teams at a competitive disadvantage, at least for the long term, with the overspending on a past Super Bowl on a team constructed with far less spend on the QB position.


Thoughts on Lions Extension of Matthew Stafford


According to multiple sources the Detroit Lions agreed to an extension with QB Matthew Stafford worth $75 million over the next 5 years. Stafford was due to earn $23.5 million on his old contract so technically the deal will be valued as a 3 year deal worth just over $17.1 million per season in new money. According to Pro Football Talk Stafford will receive a $27.5 million dollar signing bonus.

While the total structure of the contract is not known the cap relief the Lions will get from Stafford is not as significant as some may expect. The Lions had reworked his deal so many times in the past that it is one of the messier contracts in the NFL. Despite having just $75 million in cash flows over the next 5 years, the salary cap portion of the contract is actually $94.3 million dollars, due to the high prorated amounts remaining on his contract.

From a cap perspective, assuming PFT’s source is good (and there is no reason to think it isn’t) the most he can reduce his cap this year is from $20.82 million to $14.535 million. The contract reportedly contains $43 million in guarantees which would likely be all paid out between 2013 and 2015. In that case Stafford’s cap charges will most probably run in the $17-$19 million dollar range in 2014 and 2015. It is possible that the Lions could try to drop his charge lower in 2014 as the team faces a difficult salary cap situation and take a huge hit in 2015. Again the lowest they can go in 2014 is in the range of $14.5 million.  The backend of the deal should have cap hits around $20 million.

The cap value of the deal is right at the upper echelon of players which is going to make Stafford, who has had one winning season in his career, one of the most overpriced players in the NFL, unless he can turn things around starting this season. I had graded Stafford very negatively based on his play last season and consider him, at this stage of his career, more of a volume producer than a good player.His $18.87 effective cap per year on this contract is actually higher than Aaron Rodgers’ who will carry a cap value of $18.68 over the life of his deal and $17.75 over the next 5 seasons. It is a terrific illustration of a well managed club versus a poorly managed one. Based on the reported numbers Stafford should be a lock to remain on the Lions thru at least 2015, even if he did not have guarantees to protect him. In 2015 he will carry over $19 million in dead money if released. In 2016 the Lions will face $11 million in dead money charges, a high number but perhaps one that could be acceptable if Stafford fails to improve the fortunes of the team.

The Lions really have nowhere to go with Stafford because of their cap management issues. If anything Stafford probably could have gotten more money out of them, but instead he took a tradeoff where he will only be under contract for 3 additional years, getting the opportunity to cash in yet again before he turns 30. As a former number 1 pick with a very live arm he will have no problem finding work regardless of the results (see Carson Palmer for an example) and if he improves so will his earning. Realistically it would be hard to expect the Lions to compete for a Super Bowl the way the Ravens did last season so Stafford was likely not going to gain too much this year and would risk the threat of injury. The framework of the contract is likely centered upon the short term cap relief deal the New York Jets gave Mark Sanchez in 2012, though it is hard to say that Sanchez gave the Jets a discount, which Stafford may have done here.

The Role of Age in the Success of the NFL QB


In keeping up with our theme of extending Quarterbacks I decided to look at the age of QB’s advancing deep into the playoffs, meaning at least an appearance in a conference championship game.  Why team success instead of stats?  Primarily because QB’s are paid at an extremely high rate since teams are equating playoff success with QB play.

We’ll begin by breaking the numbers down by decade.


The 70’s were certainly a different brand of football. The average age of a Super Bowl participant was 31.4. The next closest decade was just 30.3. All 10 seasons in the 70’s had at least 2 QB’s over 30 and 6 years saw at least one over the age of 35. In the 33 years that have followed, only 15 seasons had at least 2 QBs over 30 leading their team to a conference championship game and only 11 seasons with a QB over the age of 35.

Focusing on 1980 thru 2012, we can begin to see some trends that develop. The following graph represents the percentage of players appearing in the championship game sorted by age, with a best fit line trend line added to smooth the data. We can call this a Quarterbacks lifecycle.


This chart really should be a guideline for teams when identifying talent and extension possibilities for the QB position.  47% of participants in the Championship game were ages 26 thru 29. It’s 54.5% if we extend it to 30. Beyond 30 the numbers begin to crumble. 18.2% were between the ages of 31 and 34 and the 35 and over category is just 10.6%.  The numbers just affirm the saying that “it’s a young mans game”.

The consistent plus 31 group is from an older generation. Joe Montana and Steve Young led the way with 4 appearances while John Elway and Jim Kelly both had 3. The only players whose careers did not begin before 1990 that made the list multiple times were Tom Brady and Brett Favre, both of whom made it two times past the age of 30. The other post 90 QB’s to do it were Brad Johnson,  Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning, Jake Plummer, and Donovan McNabb.  Of the 7 Super Bowl winners (in which I included Phil Simms due to so many starts even though he was injured for the playoffs) only Johnson would be considered a modern era QB. Of the 14 who played in the Super Bowl a total of 4 are from the modern era (Manning, Brady, and Warner along with Johnson).  That doesn’t mean nobody is going to do it again but it’s a hard task, especially if high cap charges for the aging QB, not an issue in the 80’s and even partially in the 90’s, compromise your ability to field the best roster.

As we look around the NFL there are a number of contracts that defy logic just based on the age criteria. Perhaps there is no worse contract in the NFL than the contract given to Peyton Manning. Manning fell into an age group that had a 7.6% chance of making it to at least the title game and in each season the odds get progressively worse. On average he gives the Broncos a 1.5% chance of making it and for that makes $19.2 million a season. The Broncos are paying $12.672 million per percent, by far the highest in the NFL. The Patriots, who were praised to no end (myself included) for the contract extension given to Tom Brady, have the second highest effective spend in the NFL on the position. Brady’s contract may be more difficult to escape than Manning’s, though Brady has been far more successful in the postseason and is one of the most likely candidates to make it back again to the title games as this generations Montana or Elway. Tony Romo is the 3rd worst bargain in the NFL and with no track record at all he is a prayer player for the deep playoff run.

When you look at the rookie contracts it just reinforces why teams should be considering the draft rather than overextending aging talent. Cam Newton, coming in at 22, would have about a 4.8% chance per year at making it over the terms of his rookie deal. Luck, a year older, would be at 7.7%. They both cost around $5.5 million a year, about 3.5 times less than Manning, and with a significantly higher chance at making it deep into the playoffs.

By extending a player earlier in their lifecycle a team can gain tremendous upside and flexibility.  Consider the option of extending Newton when he turns 25. A 5 year extension makes Newton property of the Panthers until the age of 30.  That 6 year period is the peak of the lifecycle with a 10% chance per year of making it deep into the playoffs.  By extending early and rolling the 4th rookie year into the contract the effective cap values of the contract can be smoothed out and rather than just having one low cost year and a few high seasons the Panthers have the ability to have a cap affordable contract over the entire 6 year period using the extra funds to improve the quality of the team for the long term.  In the event a player does not work out or you end up in cap trouble you can escape the contract with minimal cap penalties or potentially extend briefly into the low 30’s.

A perfect illustration of this is the cap killing contract of Joe Flacco versus that of Aaron Rodgers. While the two are at different stages of their careers Rodgers effective cap value is only $18.68 million a year compared to Flacco’s $20.1 million. The Ravens will be forced to extend Flacco at huge money figures when he turns 31. The effective age at which the Ravens will be able to escape Flacco is likely going to be 36 unless he fails so badly that they absorb major cap penalties when he is 32 or 33. Rodgers can be let go after the season in which he will be 34. It’s the benefit of extending early.

The worst thing a team could do is franchise their young QB. All a tag does is delay the inevitable of a long term deal. In Newton’s case you would pay a huge sum of money to invoke their 5th year option when he will be 26. Most likely you will extend the next year keeping him until he is 31 and on a contract with far less flexibility than one in which he was extended at the age of 25.

As difficult as it is for a team to let go it almost seems foolish to chase the dream with the overpriced aging QB, no matter what the track record of the player may be. Brady has probably exceeded all expectations but he is under a contract until he is 40 and in essence the deal is fully guaranteed if he remains on the team through the 2014 season. Structuring deals like the Brees contract that nearly ensures 5 years under contract is insanity. Now 34, Brees is in the age group that shows little upside, let alone at $20 million a season.

In a perfect world teams should be extending their QB’s at the ages of 25 or 26 and setting up contracts with exit strategies in the early 30s. If you must extend in the 30s the contracts need to be of the Alex Smith variety- 3 years with a rapid escape plan after 1 year. Everyone considers it a foregone conclusion that Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger will be extended in the next year or two. They probably will be and at least they have the pedigree to be the next group of post 30 stars, but the teams would likely be better off, if the draft quality is good, to trade such a player for multiple first round picks that can be turned into 22 or 23 year old QB’s. If a team does not have the guts to do that kind of move then the next best option is to draft QB’s in the later rounds until you find the successor.  If those teams do plan on extending the earlier they do it the better off they will be when it comes to long term health. It’s far better to extend Eli at 32 than at 34 or 35 years old.

This now leads into a discussion of players currently under contract with potential  extensions on the horizon, the most interesting of which looks to be Matt Ryan. I’ve said multiple times that Ryan is the best young player in the NFL, but Ryan will actually be 28 this season. This is the peak of his career and the Falcons may let him play things out. Signing him at 29 to a 5 or 6 year deal makes much less sense than locking him up at 28, though that is a better option than tagging him and then signing him at 30. Ryan probably should have been extended last season with the Falcons having plenty of options later in his career to use him to rebuild or to hope he is one of the late career success guys.

Jay Cutler will turn 30 this year, his final with the Bears. The Bears best option with him is to let him play the year out, tag him, and try to trade him to a team like the Browns or Buccaneers who will likely bid high in desperation for a QB. Phillip Rivers still has a few years remaining on his contract but with almost  no dead money the next two years this is essentially a free agent year for him. He will be 32 in 2013 and the Chargers should be doing everything in their power to trade him and get younger and cheaper at the position.

The young guys are all strong candidates if the play warrants it. Matt Stafford and Josh Freeman are only 25. I don’t think either has shown enough to be extended now though Stafford’s cap numbers may force the issue. Newton, Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick will all be eligible after this season for extensions. Their ages will be 25, 27, and 27 respectively, making Dalton and Kaepernick both very interesting decisions if they have decent seasons. They will be at that age where waiting is counterproductive once you have made the decision that the player will be your starter for the next few years. Better to make mistakes early in the lifecycle than later in it, which should push teams to extend players like this even if some questions persist.

The following table lists the veterans in the NFL and what their effective cap charges are over the entire terms of their contracts. $/percent represents the dollar figure paid for the chance to get to the Championship round. The more expensive the worse the deal is in terms of cap management.