Contract Showdown: The $14 Million Players

With Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas joining the $14 million club today, I thought it would be interesting to see how their money breaks down compared to some other players. I think that helps us draw some perspective on the negotiating process and the way various contracts can be used to help constuct a deal acceptable to both sides. So let’s see how things break down for the players/

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Revis Comes Back to the Jets

In a scene right out of professional wretling, Darrelle Revis and the Jets have mended fences after a two year split and Revis is “coming home” to wash out the taste of the last two years. According to Manish Mehta its a big deal with $48 million in the first three years and $70 million as the total contract value.

It’s a bit of an odd contract in that the last two years are actually designed to push the value of the contract down from an annual value perspetive, which is often not the case, at least not to this extent. It gives the Jets a sense of a “compromise” on the deal while also being some type of bagaining chip in future negotiations with younger players who would be productive at the back end.  Revis can also claim he took less than his worth to come back to the team he loved. At heart this is a 3 year deal for $16 million, the number Revis always craves. In many ways the deal is the contract that Revis wanted, at east on the front end, in 2010 when the relationship between the team and player began to go bad.

Speaking as a Jets fan I think this was a move the team had to make. This isn’t a football move. This is about recapturing a fanbase that was disgusted with the Jets the last two years, primarily in 2014. It is well known that Revis made an attempt to come back last season to the Jets but the Jets wouldnt really even take the call. When things got so bad at the end of the year owner Woody Johnson basically came out and said if he knew Revis would have played for $12 million last season he would have made the move for him. That is going to open the Jets up to tampering charges since Revis was under contract at the time, but coming off the darkest run since 95-96 he had little option.

Because the Jets spent no money the last two seasons and built up a giant salary cap surplus the move really has no negative repercussions financially. They have so much space that adding one player at $16M per year in cap dollars isn’t a major problem, especially with no viable QB on the roster that will be due an extension. By the time they find a QB Revis will either be off the team or making $11 million per year, a much more manageable number.

Revis played his hand perfectly last year, which was something I talked about when he signed with New England. The cornerback market was depressed and Revis came off a lame season in Tampa Bay that saw limited interest. He wisely took what he expected to be a one year contract (though he almost outsmarted himself by continuing to aim for the $16 million metric) to allow Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman reset the cornerback market. The minute you saw Byron Maxwell and Kareem Jackson getting huge money you knew Revis was going to score big if he got to free agency.

We’ll see where things go for the Jets, but their new front office is off to the kind of start that will keep them popular with fans and media of the team. Thats important to surviving the town and making it look like you are making every effort to get better fast. The team has made moves that are reminiscent of the Mike Tannenbaum run in 2008 and 2009 that completely remade the image of the team from the Herman Edwards/Chad Pennington group to the Rex Ryan/Revis group that nearly made the Super Bowl.  Nobody can predict the future but it’s at least a start in changing the culture of the team.

Revis Unhappy With Patriots Contract?

A new league year is almost upon us and according to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, Darrelle Revis won’t be happy if he is asked to play out his current contract in 2015.  The gist of the PFT article is typical of most of the issues that Revis had as a member of the Jets for many years in which a contract is signed by both parties but Revis has a very different understanding of the context of the contract.

Since 2010, Revis’s side has lobbied hard for certain contract metrics pertaining to being the highest paid defensive player in the NFL. In 2010 he held out from the Jets in an attempt to exceed the 3 year, $45 million contract signed by Nnamdi Asomugha of the Oakland Raiders. At the time Revis still had three seasons remaining under contract to the Jets. Asomugha’s contract was also considered an outlier by every team in the NFL due to the Raiders handling of contracts at the time.

After some pleading from his coach Rex Ryan to get a deal done the Jets agreed to sign Revis to a new four year contract. The compromise was that the Jets would not match the annual value of the Asomugha contract but woould hit a two year payout of $32.5 million that would esentially mimic the cash flows of the Asomugha deal. In order to get the Jets to agree to the contract Revis had to agree to very strict contract language regarding holdouts in the future.  To fit Revis under the salary cap the Jets had to add a number of voidable contract years to prorate a large bonus paid in 2011.

Almost immeiately upon signing the contract Revis described the deal as a “band-aid contract” that he felt was a two year contract that would be revisited in 2012. That logic flew in the face of everything contained in the actual contract but it was picked up nationally as fact.  In 2012 Revis’ team sent out feelers about the reaction to another Revis holdout. The Jets more or less let it be known that would not be tolerated and if he held out reminded him that the voidable years of his contract would be contractually replaced with a number of low cost seasons. Revis was injured that season and with more holdout talk occuring in 2013 he was traded to the Buccaneers for a first round pick.

With Tampa Bay Revis received what he wanted from the Jets in 2010- a contract with an annual value of $16 million.  There was a catch however to this contract as well- Revis would receive absolutely no guarantees in the contract, making it possible to release him after just one season with no adverse impact on the Buccaneers salary cap. This is very rare for big name players and specifically for the Buccaneers who, at the time, were guaranteeing a minimum of two years worth of salary for their free agent acquisitions. But this was the way to $16 million a year. Despite an extremely different cash breakdown that the contract he was now hoping to match signed by Mario Williams Revis got his number.

Following his release from Tampa the market seemed somewhat lukewarm for Revis, who at the least was one of the two best cornerbacks in the NFL. After unsuccessfully trying to draw his former team of te Jets o the negotiating table Revis agreed to terms with the Patriots.  The Patriots were only willing to pay Revis $12 million for his season with the team. That number was a far cry from the $16 million he earned the year before and the contracts that were going to be signed by the young crop of corners (Sherman, Peterson, and Haden). To make the deal happen Revis needed a funny money year that would count for $25 million against the salary cap. That contract year pushed the annual value of the contract to (you guessed it) $16 million.

According to Florio the contract year was always designed to be a placeholder, a term recently used by Jonathan Kraft as well:

From the player’s perspective, the second year was aimed at allowing the Patriots to divide the signing bonus over two years, for cap purposes.  So, from the player’s perspective, the potential alternatives are:  (1) sign a new contract with the Patriots; or (2) be released by March 9 and sign a new deal elsewhere

The problem with the quote is that there were plenty of mechanisms that would allow the Patriots to divide the bonus over two seasons without the need for a high priced option year. The void year used by the Jets would have been a simple mechanism that would split the bonus over two years. In this case Revis either signs a new contract with New England or becomes a free agent on March 10, meeting both items from the players perspective described above. The catch is that using the void year would have seen Revis’ contract properly valued as a 1 year contract worth $12 rather than $16 million. I’d imagine that the second “placeholder” year had more to do with Revis’ wants than the Patriots at the time of signing.

Now Revis finds himself with the possibility of being asked to play out the season next year rather than finding a long term deal with another team, possibly the cash heavy Jets or eager to improve Bills.  While the $25 million cap charge is ridiculous, the $20 million salary may be viewed as reasonable by the Patriots if they feel it is important to keep Revis.

Since signing his new contract the dynamics of the cornerback market changed. I believe that was always anticipated by Revis’ agents when they agreed to the one year deal, assuming the $25 million cap cost was enough to push Revis to free agency in a market that was more agreeable to spend on the position than they were the year before. If we look at the new money cash flows of the cornerback contracts you will see some interesting numbers:

PlayerYear 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5

The numbers here are staggering and it is likely that a long term deal with Revis would see him landing more than $35 million over a two year period and likely more than $20 million in the first year of his deal. So from the Patriots perspective if they really want Revis but dont care about the long term with him the $20 million is not as unreasonable as first thought, nor is the $32 million from a two year perspective.

Only time will tell if Revis is forced into a 2015 year with the Patriots and if there are any fireworks along the way, but his last two contracts should prove an example for people to study about the negative tradeoffs that can happen when agreeing to certain contract structures.

Should the Buccaneers Keep Darrelle Revis?


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ season that is spiraling out of control brought up a number of questions last night about the future of CB Darrelle Revis in Tampa, so I thought this might be a good time to look at the situation from a few angles.

The Revis Contract

I’ve covered Revis’ contract battles pretty extensively on my nyjetscap site and then again here when Revis moved to Tampa Bay, so I’m at least somewhat familiar with the battles he has had with the Jets in the past. Revis’ side had always been motivated by the ultimate in dollar signs. Not that this is any great revelation and most people in life want to make the most that they can, but it always came across as extremely important to their team, more than any other player I can remember.

As a rookie Revis had a difficult time agreeing to a contract with a fight over years and money which eventually led to him signing a contract that busted the draft slot salary about 3 or 4 positions(meaning that Revis’ 14th slot had the chance to be paid like the 10th or 11th pick).  Just three years later he held out looking for a contract that would surpass the annual value of Nnamdi Asomugha’s deal with the Oakland Raiders. In this case a compromise was reached where Revis would earn the same two year annual value of Asomugha’s contract but not the overall annual value. This was when phrases like “QB of the defense” began to arise and it was clear that the end game was to be paid at a level similar to that of a QB.

In 2012 pass rusher Mario Williams signed a record setting $16 million dollar a year contract with the Buffalo Bills giving Revis a new number to aim for. Another holdout was threatened but the Jets held some contractual power that saw Revis take the field and unfortunately injure his knee right at the start of the season. New York knew that the contract would become an issue in 2013 and prepared for life without Revis. Their goal was to find a team desperate enough to not just trade a high draft pick but pay him the $16 million dollar a year figure.

The Buccaneers were willing to deal with Revis and the Jets but there was a condition attached- if Revis wanted to be the highest paid defensive player in the NFL they would not include any guarantees in his contract. Williams had received nearly $25 million in full guarantees upon signing and $50 million in total guarantees on his $96 million dollar deal. For Revis, who fought with the Jets over guaranteed salary offers in 2010, that $16 million dollar number was so important that he was willing to take no guaranteed money in his contract.

Revis’ contract is not that different in structure than many of the Buccaneers contracts in that no signing bonus is included. However,  most of the players have guaranteed base salaries for the first  two years of their contracts. Revis does not. His contract contains an annual payout of $16 million each year. If Revis is cut the cost to the Buccaneers is zero on the salary cap. If Revis is traded the cost is zero on the salary cap. So Tampa left themselves many avenues to easily escape the deal.

Tampa’s Situation

Tampa Bay certainly looked like an intriguing team this year. They were competitive last year and had sunk considerable money into their offensive line, wide receivers, and secondary with the addition of Revis and Safety Dashon Goldson. They had other talented players via the draft as well.

Unfortunately for Tampa the Quarterback situation blew up on the team and the team has seemingly lost faith in their head coach Greg Schiano. At 0-7 and pretty much non-competitive the last few weeks the team could be in line for a major shakeup. GM Mark Dominik, who has been in that role since 2009, has only once delivered a winning record and will have gone through two hires in the last five years. It is debatable if he gets to hire a third coach.

Dominik has structured the roster in a way where they can create millions in cap space by moving on from a number of “name” value players. The question for Tampa becomes do they believe that just the coach is a problem or that the organization is fundamentally flawed?  If the answer is the former then expect Dominik to bring in a more experienced coach and to hit free agency or trades to bring in a Jay Cutler and go the route that the Arizona Cardinals are trying with Carson Palmer. If the answer is the latter then expect a number of roster moves, one of whom could be Revis.

The Buccaneers have already parted with a number 1 pick for Revis. They also owe the Jets a 3rd round pick in 2014 provided that Revis is on the Buccaneers roster beyond the 3rd day of the 2014 League Year. If he is not the draft pick falls to a 4th. Tampa has a strong probabilty to be the top pick in the NFL draft making the 3rd rounder much more valuable than Tampa ever considered. If Revis is moved that pick drops to a 4th rounder. For a team potentially rebuilding that could be a point worth considering.

Trading Revis

From the Buccaneers point of view their best chance to trade Revis would be to make a mad dash to the phones and get a deal done over the weekend. Revis would cost a team $6.88 million for the remainder of the season. A few teams can take on that cap figure including the Bills, whose defensive coordinator has a relationship with Revis, Packers, Dolphins, and Eagles. Green Bay and Miami are both playoff contenders.

If Revis is going to cost the Buccaneers at least a 4thround pick next year it might be worth seeing if someone is willing to take on Revis for a playoff run for a 2ndor 3rd round pick to lessen the blow. That trade possibility will only exist, in my opinion, if a trade is made now for the stretch run rental. If they wait until next season there will be no trade market. We’ll touch on that aspect of this below.


The Value of the Non-QB Position

The average quarterback contract for a starter in the NFL is around $10 million per year. The average veteran contract, which is a more realistic number to use when addressing true QB value, is about $15 million a year. There are only six other players in the NFL that earn in the vicinity of “QB money”. Those players are Calvin Johnson ($16.2 million), Larry Fitzgerald ($16.1 million), Revis ($16 million), Williams ($16 million),  Adrian Peterson ($14.2 million), and Juilus Peppers ($14 million).

The combined records of the teams featuring those players since they signed their mega-deals is 69-100 through Thursdays Buccaneers/Panthers game. The only playoff team was Peterson’s Vikings in 2012 when Peterson had the historic rushing year. They lost in the first round. Johnson’s Lions are in a position to make it this season. Only Peppers and Peterson experienced a winning season and I’d imagine Johnson will join that group this season.

This of course brings up the debate as to whether or not non-QB’s can be worth this kind of money?  I think most teams would answer no to this question. To some extent all of those other positions can be taken away from a gameplan. That can not really be done with a Quarterback which is why they are so valuable, though the prices on the QB have become far too high as well.

Revis is such a unique talent because he may be the only true lockdown corner in the NFL. While in New York, Revis didn’t just play a side while in man on defense. He didn’t play zone and pass off responsibility. Revis simply picked a player and followed him. He followed him out of the huddle and across the field. He was good enough to break assignments in the middle of a play while he sniffed out where the ball was actually going. And this did not always mean Revis was on the best player. Often he seemed to match against the player the Jets thought the play was designed to go to.

But to get the most out of Revis it takes a great deal of confidence in your defense and your personnel. Say what you will about Rex Ryan, the one thing he has is the utmost confidence in his team. He pushed to bring in another excellent corner(both through the draft in Kyle Wilson and free agency in Antonio Cromartie) to play alongside Revis to prevent teams from being able to use the strategy of just throwing away from him at a below average player.  It also required a coach to believe that he can just leave a player out there to “do his thing” and not have the support in place.

What we see in Tampa is the approach where Revis is forced to fit into a defense rather than the  “defense plus 1” strategy that was a success in New York. I don’t think many teams in the NFL would be willing to do what Ryan did with Revis in New York. It was the perfect marriage. But if a team is going to zone Revis out then how can he be the “QB of a defense”. He can’t.

In Revis’ case a team acquiring him in a trade next season would need to be willing to pay him $16 million in cap and cash each year  to honor his contract. While they could juggle some numbers to make it more cap friendly than the current contract, the bottom line number remains the same- every year will cost the team $16 million in cash. A team might be willing to pay him for 9 weeks at that rate knowing they are a playoff team, but on a yearly basis?  Doubtful. That’s why at least exploring trades now might not be a bad option for Tampa.

The Revis Gamble

The lack of guarantees and dead money protection really makes the deal nothing more than a one year contract with yearly options. It was a gamble on  his part that he could lose. The cornerback market considerably softened in 2013. Players expecting mega deals or franchise tags signed for less than $5 million a season. Others took one year contracts hoping that the salary cap situation would improve in 2014 for most teams. Whether that was because of the spread offenses in the NFL further diminishing the value of one player or some other reason, teams just are not spending there yet. In hindsight it makes Revis’ contract look ludicrous.

Revis earns almost $6 million more per season than the next closest priced corner, who is Champ Bailey of the Denver Broncos. It is almost impossible for Revis to be worth that much more than the second highest paid player at the position especially in the defense Tampa is running. The other high end players are anywhere no more than $4 million above the second highest paid player at the position. It’s pretty much an unsustainable salary for Revis if Tampa Bay decided to move on.

By no means does that mean Revis is going to starve but if he enters free agency and there are a group of young cornerbacks that are going to push the envelope on pricing in the near future, but I don’t think a team would be willing to really go much above the $12 million dollar level. His willingness to go with no guarantees could potentially lead to some pretty big changes not just in Tampa but for everyone else at the position.

The cornerback market wants a player like Revis to earn $16 million because it gives them a target to aim for. Richard Sherman of the Seahawks would love to have a data point to go after when his contract comes up for renewal. If that data point drops to $12 million his leverage is going to be hurt. The whole market can benefit from players like Revis breaking the bank. Players need Revis to succeed where the others have failed to help increase their asking price. But with 0-7 and a bleak future staring the Buccaneers in the face this may prove to be nothing more than a failed one year contract.


Projecting a Contract for the Saints Jimmy Graham


One of the biggest name free agents in 2014 will be Tight End Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints. Because of his incredible start to the season, racking up 593 yards in just 4 weeks, he and his pending contract have become discussion points around the league, so we’ll take our look as well at Graham and see what could lie in store.

Statistically Speaking

I think there is a perception around the NFL that Graham had little to gain by having another incredible season this year. I actually agreed with that until running some of the numbers on Graham for the last two years where and comparing them with a number of other “high end” Tight Ends in the NFL over the same time frame. While Graham produced the most yards of any player at the position over the two year period he was also the most targeted player at the position.  His numbers were actually behind those of Rob Gronkowski on a per game basis. Here are the two year averages at the position for the top 10 in cumulative yards from 2011 and 2012.

TE market 1

Had Graham been extended before this season I would think it would be arguable about approaching the contract numbers of Gronkowski. Unless the argument is strictly based on games (which is certainly important) Graham would not track as the best in the NFL at the position. That changes for Graham this season.

Graham is on pace for a 118 reception season for a ridiculous 1897 yards. His catch rate is up to nearly 70% and he is averaging 16 yards per reception. With Gronkowski on the shelf with another set of injuries Graham has distanced himself from the field and even if he slows down on the year, he should have done enough to break away from the pack. But if Graham finished the year with 1000-1100 yards I don’t think his leverage would nearly be as high as many people believed coming into the season.

Pushing Beyond the Position

Graham is going to shatter records this year with the type of season he is having which is going to bring up the major question of whether or not Graham should be treated as a Wide Receiver or a Tight End.  From a contract standpoint there is a major difference between the two positions. The highest paid Tight End averages $9 million a season. $9 million is less than Miles Austin makes per year with the Dallas Cowboys. So the disparity between the two positions is great. But this is an argument that no player has been able to win in the past. Can Graham?

The current highest ever receiving total for a Tight End is 1,397 yards which was accomplished by Gronkowski in 2011. Graham’s 2011 output of 1,310 yards ranks second all time. Only four players in the history of the NFL have produced more than 1,200 yards at the Tight End position. So the type of numbers Graham is producing are historic, but are they WR contract worthy?

For Graham to be in the conversation we obviously need to make some assumptions. The assumption I will make is that he will finish the year with about 1,540 yards, meaning he’ll produce for 13 weeks this season at his current rate and have three games of no production.    This averages out to about 90 yards a game down the stretch of the season which is not unreasonable all things considered.

I want to take the three year averages for Graham and compare them to the top 10 paid receivers in the NFL at the time they signed their contracts. So for Brandon Marshall we will be looking at his 3 year stats from 2007 through 2009 with the Denver Broncos and not with the Dolphins or Bears since those stats had no bearing on the contract he received. I will also include Gronkowski’s numbers for the last three seasons in the mix.

TE market

Graham, if he meets the production levels of the assumption, does not just track with the most highly compensated players in the NFL, he exceeds their performance. He ranks 2nd in receptions, 5th in targets, 2nd in yards, 2nd in touchdowns, 3rd in yards per game, 3rd in catch rate, 9th in yards per reception, and 7th in yards per target. Those would be exceptional numbers and he will likely be the first Tight End to produce at this kind of level walking into a contract year (I say likely because Tony Gonzalez possibly could have been in a similar spot back in 2005).

One of the arguments against Graham will likely be the offense that he plays in inflates his stats because of all the weapons the team has at their disposal. While there is some truth to that he is the most targeted receiver on his team the last few years and is the player who should get the most defensive attention on the Saints team. Saints QB Drew Brees does spread the football around so he may not be a number 1 like a Brandon Marshall who has the entire passing game run through him, but it does compare favorably to many on this list including Wallace, Jackson and Harvin.

Perhaps the bigger argument against Graham will be age. Graham, despite so few years in the NFL, will be 28 in 2014. So this is not signing a very young player like Gronkowski who will only be 25 next season. He is going to be looked at as more of a veteran in terms of years ahead of him. Still this is a prime age and the continued success of Witten, Gonzalez, Gates, plus numerous Wide Receivers over the age of 30 should help him fight any such arguments.

The Saints First Move

In hindsight the Saints probably made a mistake not extending Graham this season. Part of that was circumstances as the Saints had, and continue to have, a poor salary cap situation and they decided to try to keep the team intact rather than creating room that could have allowed for an extension that would have been slightly less than the one given to Gronkowski. Now he should surpass Gronkowski by quite a bit. At this point I’m not sure the Saints would even benefit from an extension now rather than next season.

The Saints, despite the cap woes, will apply the Franchise tag to Graham to control his rights next season. This is where Graham will need to argue that he is a WR and not a TE with the League. The Franchise tag for a Tight End is in the ballpark of $6 million compared to $10.5 million for a Wide Receiver.  The Saints will need to shave significant salary to be cap compliant in 2014 so that extra $4.5 million is of major importance. Getting the WR designation would also remove the threat of the Exclusive franchise tag as it would be in the ballpark of $14.5 million for a receiver and just $8.5 million for a TE.

Removing that threat is important for Graham, who will not want to play under any tag provisions that will only bring him closer to 30 when true free agency finally begins. In 2012 the Saints applied the Exclusive tag to QB Drew Brees. The two sides fought over a contract until mid-July when the Saints finally gave in to Brees’ desire to earn $20 million a season. Graham’s best contract will come from a situation where he can shop himself around the NFL even at the cost of a number 1 draft pick. If he gets that WR designation the Saints will be in a position where they are forced to negotiate for cap purposes.

I do think that Brees’ contract is also helpful in that Brees was the first player in the NFL to break the $20 million dollar barrier. At the time the highest paid player in the NFL was Peyton Manning at $19.2 million and behind him was Tom Brady at a shade above $18 million. In terms of percentage raise over top of the market that would place Graham somewhere between $9.4 and $9.9 million a year which I would guess would be the absolute least he would take if his played trailed off dramatically over the next 11 games. Graham is superior to Gronkowski at this point so arguing a raise should be simple. At the least Graham should be making it a point to be the first TE to break the $10 million a year barrier the same way that Brees was the guy who broke the $20 million number.

Contract Guesstimates

Now even though the numbers are projected to be exceptional for Graham and he is going to enter a contract period off his best season, dreaming of Fitzgerald/Johnson money is ludicrous. These are players I refer to as “break the system” players in that their salaries are so far above the norms for elite players that they have broken the contract system in place in the NFL.

Last year Calvin Johnson’s contract represented a 67% increase over the 5th highest salary at the WR position.  In other words he(well actually Fitzgerald since he was the original huge contract) broke the pay system in place. That number has decreased now (44.7%), but in part that is because Johnson’s and Fitzgerald’s contracts raised the market for the likes of Bowe and Wallace. Other position busters include Adrian Peterson (86.3%, around 65% at time of signing) and Darrelle Revis (64.1%). You have to be a special talent to break the system. The other player who did it would be Chris Johnson, who set the standard a few days before Peterson received his extension from Minnesota. That is really it.

If I am Jimmy Graham I want to break the system. That has to be my goal in this negotiation. While in the worst possible case I may settler for $10 million a year the reality is that I want Graham to be a position buster. Gronkowski failed to do that. His $9 million a year salary represented a 24% increase over the 5th highest paid player at his position. Using this logic helps me avoid the WR vs TE debate. I will agree Graham is a Tight End provided that the Saints agree that he has separated himself apart from the field the way all the others have. I think that is an easier argument to have than first going down the Wide Receiver versus Tight End route.

The two star receivers were unique. They were devastating number 1 targets that could not be replaced and had created a great deal of separation between themselves and the rest of the receivers in the NFL. The two running backs were unique and had were the only non-QB’s in the NFL that teams felt they could build around. Revis, in his prime with the Jets, had no peer. All of these players impacted the game beyond the norms of their position.  Graham is that same type of player.

This is not a negotiation about earning “receiver money”. It should be a negotiation about recognizing how great the separation is between Graham and Jason Witten or Jared Cook. The numbers show how superior Graham is to those players.   You can compare him to a WR the way Revis could be compared to a pass rusher or Peterson to a QB. Those players could find ways to back that up and so can Graham if he finishes this season over 1,500 yards.

I want to be somewhere around that 65% raise level that most of the others were at the time they signed their contracts. Once Graham is signed the 5th highest contract on the books should be that of Antonio Gates at $7.235 million. That works Graham out to be just under $11.94 million a season.  That should be the fair number for him. It will ensure that he is the highest paid Tight End for, most likely, the entire contract.

Graham will probably earn anywhere from 48% to 50% of the contract in the first three years, based on some of the other contracts that we want to use as a guideline. Revis receives 50% over the first three years, though his deal contained no guarantees. Fitzgerald earned nearly 52.5% of the 6 year contract value in his first three new money years while Calvin Johnson and Peterson earned 48%.  Chris Johnson’s contract was just 4 years in length so we will throw that one out. Looking at those numbers it’s reasonable for Graham to receive around $34.38 million within the first three seasons of his contract. That number will far surpass the $30 million earned by Gronkowski .

In terms of a first year cash payout we come up with the following: Revis earned 16.7%, Peterson 20.8%, Fitzgerald 34%, and Johnson 29.7%. I think it’s also worth mentioning that Gronkowski earned 22% of his contract in the first year and that the Saints were willing to go to 40% of the contract value for Brees. Knowing that Tight End is not considered a premier position, I don’t think I would touch the WR numbers. Peterson and Revis would be in similar less importance positions and accordingly received much less up front. I think I would be happy hitting the same percentage as Gronkowski, which works out to a payout of $15.76 million in 2014. Regardless, he needs to earn about 34% of his deal in the first two years to keep pace with the “system breakers”.

How to Keep Him on the Saints

Some of the numbers we are talking about are pretty steep. I currently have the Saints estimates around $138 million in 2014 cap commitments. Just to reach the salary cap limits they will need to bring that number down to around $124.5 million. $11.5 million will be created by releasing Will Smith and from there they will need to begin restructuring contracts to get below the salary cap limits and have room for completing their roster. Their cap does not get much better in 2015 either, so Graham is going to need to carry low cap figures in the first two years of his contract.

That will work in Graham’s favor because it is going to require the use of multiple prorated bonuses to artificially lower his cap numbers while keeping the cash outflows high.  Though I don’t believe the Saints are a big option bonus team I would imagine that the contract will either contain an option bonus in 2015 or be designed to allow for a conversion of salary to prorated bonus.

My proposed contract structure will contain a minimum salary in 2014 and close to the minimum in 2015. I would use a $15 million dollar signing bonus and a $7.5 million option bonus payable in 2014. I’d have the first two years salaries fully guaranteed with an injury guarantee in 2016. I don’t believe that the Saints would need to go higher than that on the guarantees unless they need to backup the option with a guarantee. Considering the dead money in the deal Graham probably can concede on the paper guarantees. Here would be a proposed contract structure:

graham proposed cap

And here is how our cash flows will work out:

Graham proposed cash

This is going to be a very player friendly contract that will essentially ensure him of earning those first three seasons. His fourth year is virtually guaranteed unless the Saints choose to designate him a June 1 cut. For that reason I would imagine in this structure a roster bonus of $4-$5 million being in place in 2017 to ensure a quick decision by New Orleans. The high cap figures in 2017 and 2018 should force the Saints into an early extension or a release which at 31 and 32 years old would be a final chance to cash in.

The Saints get the low cap figures in the first two years. Applying an exclusive tag to Graham in 2014 would cost around $8.5 million. Under this proposed deal he is only going to carry $9.33 million in salary cap charges in 2014 and 2015 combined. That is a major benefit for the Saints. The cap structure is flexible enough to keep the June 1 release a possibility in the fourth year so they would have some outs after investing around $34 million in Graham for three years in the event he or the team goes south.

Overall I would think if Graham keeps this pace up he will have an exceptional chance at reaching the numbers discussed here. In the NFL teams will always find a way to keep the players that they feel are irreplaceable and I would be quite surprised if Graham is wearing another uniform at any point over the next few years. I’d expect this deal to be done certainly before the 2014 offseason begins and maybe even this year if the Saints feel that they have unused cap room that can be used towards the contract.

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A Look at Pricing Points for Richard Sherman and the Seahawks


I had a few comments today about CB Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks and what he could be worth in the future to Seattle, so I thought why not take a look at Sherman and his potential value. Sherman is currently in the 3rd year of a rookie contract signed in 2011 and can be extended following the season, so this is clearly a big year for him.

The Performance

I think most people universally recognized Sherman as the best cornerback in the NFL last season.  I maintain a few different evaluation criteria by which I look at cornerbacks, usually using the raw data from Pro Football Focus. One such evaluation matrix looks at corners in four categories: percent passes caught, QBR against,  percent active breakups ((PD + Int)/Tgt), and YAC.

Last season, which was Sherman’s breakout year, he ranked 5th, 2nd, 1st, and 17th among corners with at least 50% playtime. The only other players with three top 10 rankings in the categories were Casey Heyward of the Green Bay Packers, who ranked 2nd, 1st, 2nd, and 62nd, and Antonio Cromartie of the Jets who ranked 3rd, 12th, 7th, and 8th.  Here are how the three stack up compared to last years’ league average.

corner performance

Comparing Sherman and Heyward is a bit difficult (besides defensive scheme differences) because they cover different types of receivers. Heyward plays primarily in the slot, which is a reason why his YAC is so poor. Often when you trail a guy in the slot the player is going to catch the ball running and keep going. Likewise that also can improve the QBR since the formula takes into account things like TD’s which more often than not hit outside targets.

In terms of veteran talent really nobody came close. Players like Champ Bailey and Brandon Flowers were nowhere near these levels and Cortland Finnegan was awful. Of course Darrelle Revis was injured. So in terms of outside play Sherman was the clear cut number 1 corner.

Now Revis’ 2009 season is considered the gold standard of cornerbacks while his work in 2010 and 2011 continued to be excellent once fully recovered from injury. Using Revis’ numbers from 2009 through 2011 we come up with some interesting takeaways comparing the two players.

sherman vs revis

With the exception of reception rates, Sherman’s 2012 season compares favorably with Revis over the 3 year prime period he had with the Jets. While none of this means Sherman is a better player I think it at least brings up the thought that it is worth looking deeper into the stats to see how they compare.

Another set of stats that I keep are stats that deal with expected versus actual performance. These numbers are based on expected WR performance, which is to be targeted 20.2% of the time on a pass play with an outside catch rater of 58.6% for 14.2 YPC. I also factor in slot play which is 64.9% for 12.6 YPC.  Using these numbers I calculate what is called the “Shutdown Stats” which identify how many receptions and yards a player prevents his target from getting in a game.

A second category Team Category which was I considered when Nnamdi Asomugha was playing dreadful in Philadelphia in 2011 when thrown on but he was still rarely being thrown at.  This assumes that the corner plays across from an average player and that “shutting down” his opponent doesn’t necessarily lead to an incompletion, just a throw to a different target. This should be a consideration  if paying one corner means bringing in below average talent at the other corner spots. Few teams are so dominant with one main WR that it can eliminate the effectiveness of the highly paid cornerback.

sherman vs revis 2

Under this set of criteria Sherman falls short of Revis at his peak, though these are still exceptional numbers. The reason for the disparity between Sherman and Revis in the team categories has to do more with the notion of what is typically called a shutdown corner.

Revis is extremely unique in that despite his reputation he got thrown on often, particularly in the 2009 season. In 2009 Revis was targeted nearly 20% of the time he was in coverage. In contrast Asomugha, who was always considered a “shutdown” player, was targeted less than 7% of the time in Oakland. Revis’ numbers were more in line with Sherman’s over the next two seasons. Sherman was targeted 14.6% of the time last season.

So even though he does not match with Revis in this criteria these are still excellent numbers and he has done it for two years in a row. The team yard discrepancy is just a byproduct of being targeted less than Revis and considering the system in Seattle is excellent the numbers are skewed because the secondary targets are all well covered, not all that different from the Revis/Cromartie tandem in NY.

Recent veteran players that have put up numbers like Sherman’s were those who earned big money contracts or were named Franchise Players.

The Marketplace

There may be no more difficult market to balance right now than the cornerback market. To say it crashed would be the understatement of the year. Players that many thought could be potentially franchised were signing $4 and $5 million dollar per year contracts. It stands to be seen whether or not this was people like myself simply overvaluing a group of players or if the new spread offenses are convincing teams that overspending on one player is not as important as balance in the secondary.  Sherman’s new contract will likely put that in perspective.

At the top of the market is Revis at $16 million a season.  Not only is Revis’ contract an outlier but for Revis to get that money, which he was desperate to get as it was extremely important to he and his agents to be the highest paid defensive player, he gave up all guaranteed money. Considering he is coming off an ACL injury that is a very risky move for a player.

If the high end market still exists Sherman will probably work from the contracts given to Brandon Carr, Brandon Flowers and Cortland Finnegan who would be the young player comparables. Also in that upper echelon pay group is Champ Bailey who is significantly older and has more of his money tied in incentives, but because of age I don’t consider Bailey to be a consideration.

In addition I think an important contract to look at is the contract Revis had leading into 2013 with the New York Jets. That contract was specifically designed to be a somewhat “fair market” value contract when an outlier existed. In that case it was Asomugha earning over $16 million a year from the Raiders.

Corner cap chart

The Price

I think the fact that Sherman is on the Seahawks will work to his advantage in setting a price for a few reasons. One is that he is incredibly important to their defense and at its core the Seahawks are a defensive team. He will turn 26 in 2014 and will be entering the prime of career so there should be less concern than there would be with an older player.

But most important is that Sherman has a specific player to point to within the organization as a reason for holding the Seahawks feet to the fire. That player is WR Percy Harvin. With one season left on his contract the Seahawks turned around and gave Harvin, nowhere as accomplished of a player as Sherman,  a stunning contract worth nearly $13 million a year. In the past Seattle has also overextended a bit for TE Zach Miller, WR Sidney Rice, and RB Marshawn Lynch.

In general I would say that they are a team that clearly pays for what they believe is future performance rather than relying on past performance as an indicator of worth. So the data points are specifically there with this team to receive a top of the market contract.

Though Sherman is not Revis I think that he should make a strong push for a 3 year payout similar to what Revis received from the Jets. That would shatter the $33 million threshold for the other players. Because Sherman will have one low cost year remaining on his contract, meaning his three year payout can be spread among 4 years, the Seahawks can likely get the cap dollars to work out in his contract moreso than if they wait until after the 2014 season. I don’t know if he can reach the annual value of Revis’ old contract given the market conditions but $11 million a year I think would actually be acceptable to both sides.

Remember that both sides should have a reason to get a deal done this offseason. In the case of the Seahawks a $55 million dollar extension signed next year will really be a 6 year $56.4 million dollar deal for cap purposes, a bargain compared to the contracts that were earned in free agency. It’s the lone justification they had for Harvin’s contract. From Sherman’s perspective not only does he get money up front but he eliminates the Franchise tag from play, which impacts his ability to earn a third contract in his early 30s, and the uncertainty of free agency. Though teams will surely bid high for Sherman will they overbid or will they consider decent players earning $4 or $5 million as a baseline to work from?

The Changing Dynamic of the Seahawks

Seattle, which finally found success in 2012 after years of rebuilding, is now entering a phase where philosophically they may need to make some changes for salary cap purposes.   Seattle has been able to be active in free agency and trade market because of having so many quality players on relatively low cost rookie contracts.

The process has already started with extensions given to DE Red Bryant and  C Max Unger in 2012 and S Kam Chancellor in 2013. Those were players on 4th, 2nd, and 5th round contracts that are now either top 10 or close to it contracts.  Sherman has been paid as a 5th rounder and will now be paid as one of the top players at the position. Also up soon for contracts are S Earl Thomas (FA in 2015), who is going to want more than Chancellor,  T Russell Okung (FA in 2016), CB Brandon Browner (FA in 2014), and of course QB Russell Wilson (extension can occur in 2015).

Seattle already has a high payroll in 2014 which will likely be quickly solved by the releases of some combination of veterans such as Rice, Miller, Cliff Avril, and Chris Clemons, whose salary cap numbers will be replaced by the extended players. But once those salaries are replaced by younger home grown Seahawks the ability to jump into free agency and trades may be severely compromised.

As a fan of the Jets I have very closely watched a similar situation play out in New York. It was not long ago that the Jets went to back to back AFC Championship games with a roster that was built through a combination of quality relatively low cost draft picks, trading for rookie contract players and overextending somewhat in free agency. Eventually those low cost players- Revis, Nick Mangold, D’Brickashaw Ferguson,   David Harris, Antonio Cromartie, and Santonio Holmes- all became high priced veterans over the course of two offseasons and the whole dynamic changed.

Now the Jets have had other problems beyond those signings, but once you move into major extensions for young talent it leaves you no margin for error. They were unable to bring in other pieces due to long term cap considerations and had no choice but to draft well to replenish the roster with low cost studs. Unfortunately for the Jets their drafts from 2008 thru 2010 proved to be complete disasters. Of 13 players drafted only 1 is currently starting for the Jets (G Vlad Ducasse) and only 3 are on the Jets (Ducasse, CB Kyle Wilson, and QB Mark Sanchez). With the salary cap the way it is it is almost impossible to have success when you have no low cost contributors on the team. It only took two seasons for the Jets to go from Super Bowl contenders to being considered one of the worst teams in the NFL and in part it’s because the team could not fall back on what got them to the dance in terms of trades and free agency because the cap no longer allowed it. At best they could hit the bargain bin for 1 year contracts for “prove it” players like S Laron Landry.

With that in mind the 2012 to 2014 draft classes will be of the utmost importance to the Seahawks. Wilson will be extended early, but almost everyone else could be in a position where they have to play their deals out. You need a high hit rate to make up for all these new contracts that will be hitting the books next season.  Turning to free agency for anything more than a stopgap will be difficult. Trading away draft picks will be very difficult. It’s a good situation to have but it’s one that teams have to begin preparing for long before the new deals actually hit the books for the team.

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Jets Release QB Tim Tebow


The New York Jets announced this morning that they have waived QB Tim Tebow. The Jets acquired Tebow in a much publicized trade last season in which they gave a 4th round pick to the Denver Broncos as well as an agreement to pay the Broncos $2,531,875 in cash as repayment for a salary advance the Broncos had paid Tebow in 2011. The Jets still owe the Broncos $1,531,875 of that total which will count as dead money on the teams salary cap unless Tebow is claimed by another team which is highly unlikely. The move brings the Jets dead money for the season to about $21.6 million, which, by my estimates, is 3rd highest in the NFL behind the Raiders and Jaguars.

This will mark the second player in the last week that the Jets have removed from the roster that will continue to cost the team actual cash. CB Darrelle Revis is still owed $1 million by the Jets due to a roster bonus that was earned in early March. The Jets could have avoided that payment had they been able to come to a trade agreement sooner with the Buccaneers. Had the Jets waived Tebow late last season when the Jets made the decision to play Greg McElroy over Tebow they may have been able to avoid the cash payment owed to Denver since the Jaguars likely would have claimed the QB, though without knowing the specifics of the salary advance repayment I can only guess that is the case.

Some will question the timing of the move because it was well known that Tebow would not be in the Jets plans this season and, that being the case, releasing him before free agency began gives the player the most chance to find a home in the NFL. But this is just the way things work in the NFL. I am sure the Jets spent the better part of the weekend desperately trying to find a team to surrender a draft pick for Tebow. When they found no takers the only option left is the release of the player. Tebow is one of many that will be released over the next week due to draft happenings. Back in 2010 the Jets released G Alan Faneca right after the draft when they drafted Vlad Ducasse, who the Jets felt would take over Faneca’s job.

Though some will say that this is happening because the Jets drafted QB Geno Smith in the 2nd round, most likely it was a decision made long before the draft. As a young QB Smith is logically replacing either Matt Simms or McElroy on the roster now, not Tebow, and then Mark Sanchez in the future. . Maybe it makes for a convenient story but my guess is Tim was going to be released today no matter who was drafted. Even in the weeks leading up to this GM John Idzik was always hesitant to speak about Tebow, much in the same way he spoke about Revis. Today is the first day the Jets can begin Phase II of their offseason workout program in which coaches are allowed to begin to instruct players on a practice field, which is something that saw no need to do with Tebow.

At the least this will get the story of Sanchez’ future off the front pages for a day or two. Sanchez has a hefty guarantee in his contract and could be replaced by Smith as early as the first game of the year. While many are of the opinion that Sanchez’ cash guarantee protects him remember that Faneca, as mentioned above, was paid $5.5 million to walk away from the Jets after they drafted Ducasse. Faneca was owed $5.25 million in fully guaranteed base salary plus a $250,000 workout bonus. Faneca was an example of a freak situation as his salary vested right after the Super Bowl, but because of the special rules of the uncapped year the Jets were unable to release him before the contract became guaranteed. The Jets did not have the 2009 cap space to execute the move. So all things considered the money for Sanchez is not going to be an obstacle, but most likely they will hope a team will trade for him over the coming months with the Jets eating a good portion of the salary.

At the end of the day the Jets ended up paying $4,104,375 for Tebows services in 2012 for about 150 yards of total offensive production. That is one of the many reasons that GM Mike Tannenbaum ended up losing his job last season and the Jets are left with the task of cleaning up a roster filled with untalented and overpaid players. The release of Tebow clears up $1.055 million in cap room, which will lead to an effective gain of $575,000 in cap space once he is replaced on the roster by the current 52nd player, who makes $480,000.