CJ Spiller and the Mysterious Player Option

I’ve been getting a large number of questions recently about CJ Spiller of the Buffalo Bills in regards to a player option that I wanted to address. The confusion seems to come from a contract info blurb on Rotoworld that was picked up from a report back in 2010. Rotoworld’s contract information was later used by Spotrac and Forbes in reporting that Spiller could opt into his contract next season. Both are incorrect and were based on a misinterpretation of the original report from 2010. Since this relates to a few other players this offseason I thought it was a good topic to address.

In the old CBA players that were drafted in the top portion of the draft were eligible to sign 6 year contracts. However the 6 year maximum was not mandated and the actual contract length was negotiated between the team and the agents. These contracts were often very complex because of the need to comply with the constraints of the 25% rule and Year One rookie pools.

Obviously the goal for most players is to be able to enter free agency as soon as possible after the draft. Players also wanted to earn as much as possible under their rookie contracts. There were two ways that teams met these demands. One was to make the 6th year salary astronomically high once incentives were earned to force an extension or make it worth the player’s lost year of free agency. Often, though, the compromise was reached to add a sixth year onto a players’ contract that was essentially a “dummy year”, a year that in all likelihood would never be valid when that season occurred.

The “dummy year” was essentially a salary cap placeholder for prorated money from an option bonus paid in the second year of a player’s contract. The way the process worked is the team would have the option of picking up the 6th year of the contract which would allow the option bonus value to be maximized and comply with the rules.

The catch is that the contract year is voidable. Once the player hits a minimum playtime threshold the void kicks in. There is no option on the void, it’s an automatic termination of the contract once earned. Typically minimum playtime was 45% in any year thereafter to earn the void. If unearned the season would remain and the team could choose to honor or not honor the contract just as they would any other player.

It was a rarity for the void to not be earned and the player to still be on an active rookie contract—usually if you were that bad you were released before the final year of the contract.  The only recent example I can think of was last season when Larry English just narrowly missed out on a void that many of us, myself included, thought he earned. He was eventually released anyway.

Spiller should have easily earned this void back in 2012, but regardless there is no player option that exists. The contract either voids or does not void.  The salary that is listed for him is simply a placeholder salary agreed upon in the event the void did not occur. That salary will vanish once the void kicks in and just his prorated money will be left on the books. For Spiller and most of the rookies this will happen a few days following the Super Bowl.  Then the players will become a free agent in March just like all other unrestricted free agents.

With the new rookie contract system in place this will be the final year that we encounter these contracts. Other player’s who will be treated the same as Spiller and are on pace to become free agents include:

Ndamukong Suh, DT, Lions

Tyson Alualu, DE, Jaguars

Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers

Brandon Graham, LB, Eagles

Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants

Derrick Morgan, DE, Titans

Of those players I believe Graham is the only one who has never played very often. The other players whose contracts contained voidable years have either been extended (Gerald McCoy, Anthony Davis, Joe Haden) or released (Rolando McClain).

NFL Stock Down: Week 7


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 hurt 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 did not live up to the expectations that his contract sets for the player.

Stock Down

Brian Hoyer– Maybe Hoyer was reading into the press clippings too much but this was a dog of a game that looked more backup level quarterback than competent starter. To complete 39% of your passes against Jacksonville is about as bad a game a player can have in the NFL. For a player at his level he cant afford many games like this.

CJ Spiller– I always dislike putting an injured player in this category, but this was really devastating for Spiller who will likely miss the rest of the season. Spiller needed more of an opportunity in his walk year to do something special enough to warrant a mid tier contract. Now he could be looking at either a one year “prove it” type contract in the same pay range of Knowshon Moreno or a far lesser two year contract like Ben Tate.

Osi Umenyiora– Another game and another empty stat sheet for Umenyiora. The Falcons are not out of the race because the NFC South is so bad, but if there is a player they should trade its Osi, who doesn’t fit in the system and isn’t benefitting either side by remaining in Atlanta.


New Contract Disappointment Of The Week

Andy Dalton– When Dalton is bad he can be atrocious and after a hot start it looks like the Bengals have entered the bad Dalton period of the season. The franchise QB finished the day 18 of 38 for a sad 126 yards and no scores. That can’t be what the Bengals expected when they signed Dalton to a $16 million a year extension this offseason.

Stock Down: Week 3


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 hurt 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 did not live up to the expectations that his contract sets for the player.

Stock Down

Colin Kaepernick– Coming into 2013 I often received numerous tweets or emails concerning Kaepernick and how can the 49ers afford him going forward. Kaepernick caught fire last season when he replaced Alex Smith and helped lead the team to the Super Bowl. He added another dimension to the 49ers and looked to be the next big thing with some very well respected media personalities going so far as to say he has the ability to be the best QB of all time. When asked about Kaepernick I’ve always been cautious because the sample size last year was next to nothing and his situation was the perfect storm as teams spent months preparing for Smith, who had no arm and was a standard scrambler, and ended up getting Kaepernick who had a rocket for an arm and was a fantastic runner. Teams adjust and the last two weeks they got him good. Kaepernick followed up a disaster in Seattle with another disaster, except this time at home and against the Colts, a team not considered a juggernaut on defense. He threw for just 150 yards on 48% passing and only added 20 rushing yards. The 49ers always prefer to extend players early and Kaepernick’s first season of eligibility for a new contract was after the completion of the 2013 season. He has now played the worst two games of his career in back to back weeks which is going to put the process on hold if it keeps up.

Jared Allen– The Vikings allowed Allen to play out his contract and he needed a big season to prove to a team that he could still be an elite pass rusher as he makes the turn into his 30s. Allen was nowhere to be seen on Sunday against a team that threw the ball 54 times. Allen registered just one pressure on the day according to Pro Football Focus which is not the kind of game that will get Allen the double digit APY he supposedly is looking for in 2014. Allen’s pace for the season is not strong considering the circumstances. His 1 sack in three games has him on pace for his lowest sack total  of his career and these have been in games where teams are averaging over 45 attempts a game. In terms of pressures he is only generating pressure on around 8% of his pass rush attempts compared to 11.5% the last few seasons.  With the team off to an 0-3 start and the defense looking below average Allen has a chance to be lost in obscurity this year with teams feeling he was unable to do anything in the few early season meaningful games they played.

CJ Spiller– It was a miserable day for Spiller rushing for just 9 yards on 10 carries before leaving the game on Sunday against the Jets. Spiller was expected to carry the Bills offense following his explosion in 2012 when he was arguably the second most productive back in the NFL behind the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson. Spiller was explosive and difficult to contain, finally living up to the draft day promises. This season was set to be the perfect storm for Spiller. The Bills were starting a young QB, considered to be a bit of a project, making him the man to carry the offense. Players like Ray Rice, Chris Johnson, etc…were able to use that to their benefit in getting lucrative contracts in the last few years. With some relatively heavier escalators possible to be earned in his contract 2014 should be an extension year for Spiller. But Spiller has had a difficult time this season with 2 of 3 games seeing him held under 50 yards and none will ever be worse than Sunday’s contest against the Jets.

New Contract Disappointment Of The Week

Will Beatty– Beatty, signed to a $7.5 million dollar a year contract extension in the offseason by the Giants, was abused by the Panthers’ Greg Hardy. While Hardy is a terrific player Beatty was expected to be a top line tackle. Instead he looked like a 4th quarter throw in from the first Preseason game of the year.  He was out-muscled all day and never looked like he could match up physically with the Panthers.  There was no technique helping him cope with the pressure. He was a revolving door and it set the tone for what turned into a blowout for the Giants.

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Revaluing the Running Back Marketplace


Now that contracts have kind of slowed down I wanted to get back into doing positional valuations, this time with a focus on Running Backs. As is usual the raw data comes from Pro Football Focus with the analysis of numbers being somewhat unique. In general I want to grade running backs on 3 categories: Yards After Contact,  Player Generated Yards Before Contact, and Player Generated Yards Per Target.

Yards After Contact

I think this is pretty simple and straightforward. Once touched whatever yards a runner gains are essentially all due to his effort. The average in the league last year was around 2.5. Of runners with more than 50 attempts the best average was actually Justin Forsett, now of the Jaguars, with 4.11 YAC per attempt. Adrian Peterson was second at 3.93 and CJ Spiller third at 3.58.  The bottom three were Beanie Wells, Danny Woodhead, and Bilal Powell. This is the one pure PFF stat.

Player Generated Yards Before Contact

Running the rushing numbers for all teams we can determine just how many rushing yards are attributed to an offensive line keeping hands off a player. Last season the top 3 were the Chiefs (2.59), Titans(2.23), and Seahawks(2.15) while the Panthers pulled up the rear (0.98). I adjusted each teams numbers to exclude the specific runner in question which allows us to determine just how many yards before contact that player generates compared to all other runners on the team. In essence this tells us if a player is hitting the hole faster than others and determining yards before contact that are attributed to the runner as much as the up front blocking. The top 3 in this category were Chris Johnson (1.74), Jamaal Charles (1.36), and Maurice Jones-Drew (1.15). The worst three were Peyton Hills (-1.71), Rashad Jennings (-1.21), and Fred Jackson (-0.98).

Player Generated Yards Per Target

The average YPT last year among runners was about 6.19. With that in mind we can calculate how many additional yards a player generated on pass routes than an average running back. On a per catch basis the best players with at least 20 targets were Isaac Redman(6.0), Ahmad Bradshaw(3.7), and Danny Woodhead(3.42).


By adding those numbers up we can calculate how many additional yards a player generated for his team last season as well as his average Yards Per Touch. It should come as no shock that Adrian Peterson comes in first with 1504.9 credited yards. Quite simply Peterson carried that team in a manner few other players could. He generated close to 600 yards of additional offense compared to a regular player. The next closest player was Alfred Morris at 1069.6 yards but he only generated around 185 yards of additional offense.

That being said the most interesting number might be that of the Bills CJ Spiller. Spiller only touched the ball 250 times last year but in doing so generated 1019 additional yards. At 4.08 YPT he actually rates even higher than Peterson, who was second at 3.88. This is based primarily on the fact that Spiller is a terrific receiver while Peterson is below average. On a Yards Per Run basis Peterson outpaced Spiller 4.55 to 4.35. While it is certainly questionable that Spiller can carry the ball as much as Peterson and continue to hold up those two are so far and away the best in the NFL that nobody should even debate anyone else at this point as being the best two backs.  Of course you cant pay Spiller at that level until he proves he can handle the ball as much as some of these other players, but he’s deadly.

When you look for “cross your fingers” high upside players, Mike Goodson and Justin Forsett come to mind. Both barely made the 50 touch minimum cutoff but both put up good numbers in limited showings.  Montell Owens and Isaac Redman were also surprising high finishers. Owens is a limited showing guy while Redman is strictly from his efforts in the passing game last year. I was also shocked o see DeAngelo Williams in the top 10. Maybe his team being so bad up front and his lack of usage has more to do with how poor his regular numbers are moreso than his play.

On the opposite end of the spectrum come names like Shonn Greene who was below average in every category but got tons of touches to create decent overall numbers. Still he was far better than Darren McFadden, a high priced bust on the Raiders who should be let go based on his numbers while Trent Richardson was an absolute disaster as a rookie averaging just 1.19 player generated yards per touch.

Financial Analysis

I wanted to create a matrix that would re-distribute the dollars that are currently being spent on the NFL players that made my 50 touch cutoff. To do this I added up all the APY values for the players in the current NFL season to create the “runners market”. For those players who are without deals I just assumed they would be replaced by a UDFA making an average of $495,000 per year. The average APY is around $2.692 million and total value just under $210 million.

Originally I just planned to determine a players total yards generated above the average and use that as his value above the baseline of $2.692 million. Great, except immediately I realized how badly that was overstating players values who got a lot of use (Greene, Richardson, Steven Jackson, etc…) to inflate their yards despite the fact that it was not productive use. Now that does not mean that you simply look at a category like Yards per Touch to determine value either. Some credit needs to be given for a player who is capable of shouldering a load even though the numbers are so bad. My gut feeling tells me that their numbers would likely be better if used less and maybe that is something for teams to consider when signing such players.  I tend to think that was the feeling the Titans had with Greene.

To best compensate I calculated the players yards and compared it to the expected yardage of an average player. If the ratio was below 1 I penalized the player. For example Richardson only gained about 70% of the expected yards so I considered his 379 yards to be equivalent to paying for 265 yards. With those adjustments in place I was able to redistribute all the league dollars based on performance above or below the average score.

The Results

Not surprisingly the numbers work out that the upper echelon of the market is hyperinflated, which is certainly no surprise. Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson are both position busters and could almost never do anything to justify the salary they receive. Peterson had arguably the best season a back has ever had but there are enough good backs and ultra low salaries that the value just is not there at the high end. Peterson’s salary under this formula would be just under $11.4 million, a 19.8% decrease from his current APY.

I have 15 backs in my actual salary database that make over $5 million a year and of those 15 this metric indicates that only CJ Spiller, Jamaal Charles, and Marshawn Lynch are underpaid. Most of the others are grossly overpaid. McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew and Jonathan Stewart should have their salaries reduced by over 70% each. The big money jumpers would obviously be the rookies, with Alfred Morris leading the way giving you an $8 million or so performance on an APY less than 600K a year.  The Redskins are getting absolutely incredible production from Morris and fellow rookie QB RGIII for pennies which is how they survived last year despite major salary cap problems.

Of those players unsigned, Ahmad Bradshaw and Michael Turner should be able to give a team something significant and Felix Jones would also be an interesting player. In some ways its hard to believe they are not signed. In Turners case it probably needs to be the right situation in that he likely benefitted from an explosive offense making some situations a bit easier. Bradshaw and Jones have to have the injuries scaring teams off, Bradshaw in particular. Bradshaws numbers are all very good but he is injured a lot. It is difficult for teams to prepare when you have a player constantly coming in and out of the starting lineup. Still if he performs as he did last year he will give you around $5 million in value for probably the veteran’s minimum. If you make certain your offense is never in a position to over-rely on his presence you can mitigate the injury risk.

There were a handful of players whose projected salaries were so low that they don’t belong in the NFL anymore. They were Curtis Brinkley, Peyton Hills, Rashad Jennings, Ryan Williams, Shaun Draughn, Tashard Choice, and Toby Gerhart. Hillis was arguably the worst back in the NFL last season. Other players who would be close are Fred Jackson, whose projection probably does not meet his minimum salary, and Cedric Benson.

Here is the full list of players: All headers should be sortable. Please note that players like Bradshaw have their salary change based on a rookie FA salary.


Adrian Peterson1369215.8-79.91504.93.88$11,397,526-19.8%
Alfred Morris100184.4-15.81069.63.09$8,100,4801357.5%
Marshawn Lynch872157.122.81051.93.11$7,966,3416.2%
C.J. Spiller742158.6118.81019.44.08$7,720,41250.4%
Chris Johnson557480.5-34.21003.33.22$7,598,393-43.7%
Jamaal Charles634387.2-30.0991.23.10$7,506,97539.0%
Doug Martin1005-207.488.5886.12.41$6,710,657295.5%
Matt Forte597186.3-25.0758.32.60$5,743,010-24.4%
Frank Gore68237.823.7743.52.60$5,630,966-12.1%
Ray Rice606146.7-16.9735.82.31$5,572,579-20.4%
BenJarvus Green-Ellis576190.7-56.8689.52.37$5,222,08174.1%
Reggie Bush468193.5-4.9656.62.51$4,972,63624.3%
Ahmad Bradshaw55020.384.2654.52.68$4,956,630901.3%
DeAngelo Williams56212.469.5643.83.46$4,876,168-43.3%
Arian Foster76643.1-110.8570.11.79$4,317,651-50.4%
Stevan Ridley716-52.3-17.0553.12.18$4,189,244467.4%
Vick Ballard531-2.03.5513.12.34$3,886,102592.5%
Michael Turner50367.1-51.4472.22.15$3,575,946622.4%
LeSean McCoy5046.1-22.7465.31.92$3,523,733-60.8%
Willis McGahee39633.029.2458.22.37$3,470,29846.1%
Steven Jackson693-183.117.9444.81.78$3,368,961-15.8%
Jonathan Dwyer43358.8-48.6443.12.55$3,356,100153.7%
DeMarco Murray40026.5-2.6422.62.16$3,200,461330.5%
Isaac Redman332-45.5114.1400.63.11$3,033,620129.3%
Pierre Thomas29227.675.6395.22.74$2,993,1048.4%
Shonn Greene593-76.5-9.8379.51.72$2,874,326-13.8%
Joique Bell24529.982.9357.82.67$2,709,851330.1%
Ryan Mathews479-20.5-69.7341.71.74$2,587,756-45.3%
Bryce Brown382-14.9-55.3311.72.44$2,360,931339.1%
Daryl Richardson27266.6-28.8309.82.54$2,346,592374.1%
Bernard Pierce376-67.3-14.9293.92.56$2,225,577235.2%
Danny Woodhead12927.4136.7293.12.53$2,220,09826.9%
Donald Brown25918.112.6289.62.48$2,193,6275.1%
Jacquizz Rodgers256-14.237.0278.81.90$2,111,443278.6%
Darren Sproles9092.891.7274.52.23$2,079,117-40.6%
Felix Jones232-3.451.7272.92.06$2,066,420317.5%
Mike Goodson1714.496.0271.55.32$2,055,882-10.6%
Justin Forsett259-1.213.3271.14.11$2,052,990105.3%
Jonathan Stewart23514.120.9270.02.45$2,044,662-72.0%
Maurice Jones-Drew19698.5-25.3269.12.69$2,038,387-73.3%
Trent Richardson558-168.4-10.3264.81.19$2,005,300-60.9%
Darren McFadden41818.9-100.8251.01.30$1,901,153-72.9%
Marcel Reece200-7.956.8248.92.24$1,884,75592.0%
Andre Brown245-13.3-0.6231.12.72$1,750,570-13.5%
Mikel Leshoure431-45.7-64.4227.01.29$1,719,523100.3%
Robert Turbin1794.038.7221.72.24$1,679,213162.7%
Knowshon Moreno296-44.318.5220.21.70$1,667,998-51.2%
Kendall Hunter20328.3-14.2217.12.68$1,644,193165.3%
Shane Vereen133-3.987.1216.23.09$1,637,33589.2%
Montell Owens9153.751.1195.83.92$1,483,214-51.9%
David Wilson18927.5-21.7194.82.60$1,475,158-11.7%
Mark Ingram431-124.9-32.9192.91.69$1,460,766-21.2%
Ronnie Brown11551.724.6191.32.01$1,448,43072.4%
Mike Tolbert139-10.651.5179.92.22$1,362,421-45.5%
Bilal Powell19756.6-39.4179.11.69$1,356,771122.4%
Michael Bush262-61.415.0165.41.75$1,252,535-64.2%
Jackie Battle208-26.915.2164.91.78$1,248,732152.3%
Brandon Bolden1622.6-1.4163.22.81$1,236,285154.9%
Montario Hardesty13636.9-8.7157.72.45$1,194,01367.9%
Lamar Miller14013.11.7154.82.72$1,172,13381.3%
Alex Green284-27.5-48.2149.81.36$1,134,49676.1%
William Powell13523.6-10.3143.21.88$1,084,677126.0%
Rashard Mendenhall12210.46.3138.82.31$1,050,943-58.0%
Ronnie Hillman15716.1-12.2126.41.69$957,24127.6%
Cedric Benson156-14.64.2123.71.71$936,50113.5%
Beanie Wells12030.217.8122.41.89$927,35287.3%
LaRod Stephens-Howling257-24.8-67.2120.21.30$910,66316.8%
Daniel Thomas212-82.726.1119.61.47$905,64911.9%
Ben Tate171-13.5-19.0119.01.82$901,59523.4%
James Starks158-8.4-6.1115.21.91$872,16171.0%
Fred Jackson276-112.5-$735,882-83.1%
Curtis Brinkley76-12.92.852.01.29$394,038-20.4%
Ryan Williams136-40.0-17.950.81.20$384,463-69.3%
Toby Gerhart95-30.30.449.80.93$377,414-61.4%
Shaun Draughn107-30.9-$367,905-11.3%
Rashad Jennings195-122.9-12.329.50.50$223,669-64.5%
Tashard Choice923.7-46.728.50.96$216,083-72.3%
Peyton Hillis206-145.1-$151,535-69.4%