NFL Stock Up: Week 6


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

Cam Newton– I’ve been hard on Newton this year but he has not put together two very solid games and this past Sunday put together probably his most dominating performance since his rookie season. Newton looked like the guy the Panthers drafted for the first time in ages, throwing for 280+ yards and adding another 107 on the ground.  He was a one man show against what was supposed to be a dominant defense.

Jordan Cameron– Cameron has been injured most of the season, but exploded against the Steelers to the tune of 102 yards on just three receptions. The Browns look to have a nice young core of talent and loads of cap space much of which should go towards extending the young tight end before his drives his asking price higher.

Ndamukong Suh– The Lions are having a great year on defense and Suh is a major part of why that is the case. With the Buccaneers struggling Suh has seemingly locked down the best available defensive tackle award from Gerald McCoy. With two more sacks on Sunday Suh is pretty much hammering home that he is worth whatever outlandish price he wants.


New Contract Player Of The Week

Jay Cutler– Another player I am usually negative on, Cutler went into a hostile environment in what was essentially a must win game and had his most complete game of the season. The Bears will need more of this in the future if they want to stay in the race through week 17.


Is Alex Smith Worth $18 Million a Season?


Earlier today there was some discussion about Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs negotiations being pretty much at a standstill due to Smith believing he should be paid upwards of $18 million a season. This figure should come as no surprise to those who listen to the podcast or follow my Twitter feed as I’ve mentioned that number many times in the past. Smith was basically considered a bust for the first six or seven years or his career and little more than a game manager at his best, but the marketplace puts a premium on QB play and there is little mid tier market that exists at the position anymore.

It was not that long ago that the QB market was kind of filled with a few tiers of players. At the top tier you had Drew Brees and Peyton Manning making around $20 million. Following that grouping was Matt Schaub and Mike Vick in the $16 million range. A step down from there were players like Carson Palmer, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Mark Sanchez in the $13 million range. In between it all you had the outdated contracts or Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger that had set the market a few years back.

Slowly that mid tier of Vick and Schaub through Sanchez evaporated. The new NFL has essentially divided the QB position into high paid veterans and rookies. Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, and Joe Flacco all make over $20 million a season. The low floor was set when Tony Romo, a statistical gem but with a lack of success, made $18 million a season in a new contract signed in 2013. Matt Stafford, a former number 1 overall pick, signed for about $17.7 million. From there you drop all the way down to Smith at $9.3 million and Palmer at $8 million to get a recent reference point (Tom Brady took unique $11.4 million a year deal that won’t be applicable to anyone else).  After that it becomes rookie ball and hanger ons.

My assumption last season was that Jay Cutler of the Bears would be the player to re-define that mid tier contract in the $15-$16 million range. Cutler was a classic player to fit that mold. He was talented and had that draft pedigree but there were flaws which never saw the talent turn into stats or incredibly productive team performance. He was the type of player a contending team would never give up on, but probably not the type of player you build around.

Somehow he ended up surpassing Romo in annual value at $18.1 million a season. That should have sent shockwaves around front offices in the NFL because it signaled that talented veterans were going to get paid at a very high level moving forward. It opened the door for Smith, who had been a bargain the last two seasons, to really reach for the stars in contract talks.

Here are how Romo, Cutler, and Smith stack up in some key categories. Please note that these stats are three year averages and are for the seasons leading up to the extension, meaning 2010-2012 for Romo and 2011-2013 for the other two.

Win %44.7%61.1%74.4%
Comp %66.4%59.9%62.7%

Outside of age and record it is difficult to see any manner in which Cutler compared favorably to Romo. In fact he was outdistanced by Romo in every other category. Smith and Cutler are certainly comparable players. Cutler is going to throw for more yards but that comes with a far higher risk than Smith, who is not nearly as turnover prone. That probably intensifies the game manager label for Smith, but you are also paying for more games when you get Smith. Though the Bears did not sign a pricey backup for Cutler, most teams would consider signing a higher priced backup due to the injury history. Dallas did that with Kyle Orton in the event Romo had another bad injury. Smith has been durable.

Turning to more advanced metrics which are provided by Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus, Advanced Football Analytics, Pro Football Reference and ESPN we get the following:

Total QBR65.657.555.4
PFF Pass13.34.477.33
Air Yards/Comp6.617.45.76
Avg. YAC5.024.665.40

Even moreso than traditional numbers, these categories are dominated by Romo. What Cutler did besides being younger than Romo to warrant a similar contract is hard to imagine. In these categories Smith would be considered a bit superior to Cutler. Cutler’s main strength is that he throws the ball further down the field than Smith. The YAC is not as strong for Cutler, but he would seem more reliable in getting yards without help compared to the others.

Regardless of how you look at the numbers I think it is clear that Smith has a strong argument to match or slightly exceed Cutler’s salary. Smith is one year younger and in the last three seasons been much more successful. While some of Smith’s wins are attributed to being on an excellent team in San Francisco he should benefit greatly from his trade to Kansas City where the team went from worst in the NFL to a double digit win team with Smith at QB. It has marked three straight years that his teams have gone to the playoffs.

Kansas City’s salary cap situation may make things difficult if Smith signs a Cutler size contract. Their salary cap is incredibly tight and it may require a contract with heavy prorated bonus money. The Bears signed Cutler on terms they wanted. The Chiefs probably can not do that with Smith. If they are not sold on Smith at these numbers then its best to hold off before doing a contract even if, in the long run, it makes the cap numbers more difficult to manage. If they still believe that Smith is a game manager that has been lucky by circumstance the last few years then they are better off waiting on a new contract. If things go poorly for him this year they will reap the benefits down the line. This was one of the mistakes Houston made when they extended Schaub a season too early only to regret the decision before the ink even dried on the contract.

Realistically it is hard to believe that Smith could increase his value that much more by winning a championship.  The current low value player who received the salary boost from a Super Bowl win is Joe Flacco at $20.1 million. Flacco was 28 when he signed his contract, three years younger than Smith will be if his contract expires. So you are not looking at a difference of $4-5 million per year if he wins as was the case with Flacco.

The bigger risk for the Chiefs in waiting is what happens with the turnover from the 2004 QB draft class, all of whom are in situations that likely will require extensions by the 2015 season. Manning, Roethlisberger, and Rivers are all playing on contracts that really have no valid place in the market.  They only have one more year of NFL experience than Smith and could be comparison points for him. If they all end up over $20 million it could push the value for Smith, even if he has a similar season as he had in 2013. That could also benefit the Chiefs if those contracts do not surpass the $20 million barrier and barely surpass the Cutler contract. Manning and Roethlisberger have more championships and ties to their cities while Rivers is going to be a much stronger statistical performer than Smith.  Having a strong understanding of where those contracts could be headed might be important in the Chiefs decision making process.

But the $18 million asking price is not outlandish based on what Smith has done the last few seasons. It’s a valid asking price given the Cutler contract and will likely be around what Smith earns from the Chiefs or another team in the NFL. We’ll see how it plays out over the summer.




Details on Slauson and Jennings Contracts with Bears


Both contracts are a bit unique in that they contain roster bonuses rather than signing bonuses, however in both cases a portion of the roster bonus if fully guaranteed, which allows it to be prorated over the life of the contract just like a signing bonus. What this does, however, is limit the teams’ ability to ever recover money through a forfeiture. In both cases the players entire roster bonus is guaranteed for injury, but with no games to be played between the signing of the contract and the due date I would say its unlikely that such a clause matters.

Jennings contract is worth $22.8 million of which $11.8 million will be fully guaranteed by the 3rd day of the 2014 League year. That is a great deal for Jennings who will be 31 years old in 2014. His annual value of $5.6 million and 52.7% fully guaranteed essentially upon signing blows away the second tier deals signed last season by Sean Smith ($5.5M per year, 45.2% guaranteed) and Kyle Arrington ($4M per year, 46.9% guaranteed). Perhaps this might indicate an expected upswing in salaries for cornerbacks in 2014.

Jennings will carry cap charges of $5.25 million per year for the next two seasons and then $5.75 and $6.1 million in the final two seasons. With minimal dead money in the contract this will work out to be a two year, $12 million deal.

Slauson will earn $3.2 million a year with $3.9 million essentially guaranteed upon signing. The additional $1 million guaranteed being reported is simply an injury guarantee and is does not vest on a given date. Slauson’s deal could wind up being a one year contract worth $4 million as the team would save $2.015 million in cap room in 2015 if they decided to release him.

Slauson’s cap chargers will be $2.75M, $3.27M, $3.37M, and $3.42M over the life of the contract. $3.2 million is a pretty big raise for Slauson who will now be paid as a lower level starter, a pretty fair price for what he brings to the table. There are also small escalators at the backend of his contract.

The Bears have significantly cut down on their cap space through the five extensions they have doled out in the last week. Between Jay Cutler, Slauson, Jennings, Robbie Gould, and Tony Fiammetta they have used up $33,827,500 in cap room for 2014. Cutler’s deal is certainly open to immediate restructure, but as things now stand the Bears salary for 2014 should be around $114 million giving them around $13 million in expected cap space to use on 20 players to bring the roster from 33 to 53 players.

If the intention is to leave Cutler’s deal alone that it should be a given that Julius Peppers will be released as soon as the NFL allows it, which would free up an additional $9.817 million in cap space. It may also indicate that Chicago is open to extending WR Brandon Marshall who has a cap charge of $9.3 million and is in the final year of his contract. Bringing his cap number down along with the release of Peppers would give the Bears some additional space to use this offseason.

View Matt Slauson’s Contract and Salary Cap Page

View Tim Jennings Contract and Salary Cap Page




Jay Cutler Gets Paid: Thoughts on the Bears Big Moves


The Chicago Bears were a busy team today re-signing starting QB Jay Cutler, G Matt Slauson, and CB Tim Jennings. With the exception of the Oakland Raiders the Bears had the smallest committed roster in the NFL in 2014 with 28 unrestricted free agents as of two weeks ago. The Bears have now reduced that number to 23 following the singings of these three players to follow up the extensions of K Robbie Gould and FB Tony Fiammetta towards the end of the season.

The reason I would assume that these three signings took place this week instead of last week was the lack of 2013 salary cap space that the Bears had. Prior to the Gould and Fiammetta signings, Chicago only had $1.7 million in cap room. Any contracts signed prior to the end of the regular season that contained signing bonuses would see the bonuses prorate in 2013, which the Bears would not have had room to use. While option bonuses could have been used for 2014 those do not give the team the same protection when it comes to forfeiture clauses.

The rapid extension of Cutler was a bit surprising. Most, myself included, assumed they would have franchised Cutler and potentially shopped him to the highest bidder. To me Cutler is a tough player to judge. He has a tremendous arm but that arm has not translated into wins or statistics, but he has been compromised by a poor performing offensive line and terrible receiving corps. until this season.

Terms of the deal are unknown but his teammate Brandon Marshall seemed to indicate it was 7 years for $18 million a season and it was also reported that he would earn $54 million in the first three years of the contract. Those numbers are essentially identical to the numbers of Tony Romo’s contract with Dallas which was a 6 year, $18 million a year extension with $54 million in the first three years.

That seems like an incredibly steep price for Cutler who has not played 16 games since 2009. He has failed to throw for more than 3300 yards since the 2009 season, though his 238 yards per game in 2013 was his highest total since 2008. By contrast Romo’s lowest total was 255 yards a game, which happened this season. There are better statistical measures to compare the two which can at least paint Cutler in a better light if he threw the ball more often, which I would guess is something that the Bears believe he can do with Marc Trestman as head coach. If you want a comparison of Cutler with Romo prior to this year you can do so by checking out this link to an earlier article I wrote.

I have to assume because of the injury history that a significant amount of money in this contract is tied to being active on gameday. Aaron Rodgers, the highest paid QB in the NFL, has such bonuses in his deal. The length of the deal is likely an indication of two things. One is that significant money is tied in the final two years of the contract and the second is that there will be possible bonuses paid out in year 2 and 3 of the contract that can be prorated for cap relief.

Like the Romo contract its probably best for the Bears, who were going to enter the year with about $36 million in cap space, to simply have base salary in those years and consider prorating it later on once they determine how much cap room is truly needed in 2015 and 2016. Provided that the salary is not fully guaranteed upon signing that can also provide some relief if Cutler does not develop  as expected or is injured and you want to negotiate the price tag down.  That also helps in trade talks in the event another QB emerges from nowhere to take a job when someone is injured.

Romo’s contract contains $54 million over the first three years but then just $14 million in year 4 to bring his 4 year total to $17 million season before the salaries rise again in the 5th and 6th seasons of the contract, two years that he will likely never see. I have to think the cash flows for Cutler would be very similar with a year 4 number that is very affordable and drags the 4 year annual value down to Romo’s level or below. Considering his is 7 years I would also think that the 5 year annual value could be $17 million or less as he should be earning less than Romo and perhaps that was the compromise the two sides reached.

Cutler’s contract also illustrates the lack of NFL talent at the QB position in the NFL and how the CBA has re-shuffled money so poorly to the QB that even questionable QB’s that have talent and a pedigree will be rewarded. This contract has to make Alex Smith, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Phillip Rivers very happy as they prepare for potential extensions in the next two years. Teams realize if they don’t have a high draft pick the odds of finding a championship caliber QB are almost nil so its best to stick with what you have if your QB has a pulse.

Free agency for the QB position is non-existent. With Cutler gone from the market the next best available player will likely be Matt Schaub who should be released by the Texans. Given the lack of options even coming off a terrible season it may help him get a modest salary. Beyond Schaub is Matt Cassel, who can void the remaining year of his contract in February, and the pure free agents of the always injured Mike Vick and Jaguars starter Chad Henne. Its an awful marketplace.

The re-signing of Slauson and Jennings is a solid move for the team. Slauson was an underrated guard of the Jets who fell out of favor with Rex Ryan and the front office for reasons unbeknownst to me. He is a tough player who helped solidify what had been a terrible line for Chicago. He played for about $820,000 in 2013 and had another $585,000 in available incentives but his goal was to play for a home and he has now found one. Slauson will just be 28 years old next season so Chicago should have him for the prime of his career.

Jennings is a quality veteran cornerback that has been productive in the Bears defense. He made the Pro Bowl in 2012 and is a player capable of creating interceptions which is always a trait teams pay for. There is always the possibility of a cornerback playing Safety on the backend of the contract making a four year contract a solid investment.

The next question for Chicago may be what to do with QB Josh McCown who excelled against an easy schedule in the offense this season. Given Cutler’s injury history it would seem smart to keep McCown who should be one of the more sought after backup QB’s on the market despite being 35 next season. The Bears can’t sign to a new contract worth more than the minimum until March due to his playing on a minimum salary benefit qualifying contract but they could agree in principle on a new contract and then wait until the start of the new League Year to execute the deal. He’ll likely be able to push for a Kyle Orton style contract worth in the $3 million a year range.

Chicago still has a number of free agents to decide on as well as a possible extension  for WR Brandon Marshall, who is entering the final year of his contract. The Bears should also negotiate with DE Julius Peppers to see how open he is to a pay reduction. Peppers is slated to earn $14 million in 2014 with a cap figure of $18.183 million. Releasing Peppers frees up $9.8 million in cap room. If he were to agree to a salary of about $6 million the cap hit for Peppers should be about equal to what it would cost to release him and sign a replacement player worth $2 million to take his spot. Considering he could have upside that is a price that may be worth considering.




A Closer Look at McCown vs Cutler and the Bears Future Decisions


One of the hot debates in the NFL right now involves the Chicago Bears decision concerning Quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Josh McCown. The two QB’s are almost polar opposites. Cutler is a former first round draft selection with an arm that is among the strongest in the NFL. McCown is the definition of a journeyman, having played on five teams in twelve seasons and only starting a total of 28 games. Cutler will be a free agent in the offseason and a candidate for a franchise tag. McCown will be a free agent as well, and entering the season would have been lucky to receive a $65,000 bonus.

But McCown has captivated the Bears fanbase as well as the eyes of the media. He is the classic underdog that is outperforming the higher paid and better known player. Cutler should soon be returning from injury and Bears head coach Marc Trestman has stated that Cutler will regain the starting job, which is a decision already being criticized. The debate even rages to the offseason with some reasoning that the Bears are better off keeping McCown and letting Cutler walk in free agency.

One can not discount the success that McCown has had since getting his opportunity to QB the Bears. In terms of Yards Per Attempt McCown has surpassed Cutler on every type of throw this season.

Cutler McCown YPA

In terms of incremental yards, a statistic I keep that measures how many yards a QB generates compared to the average NFL performance based on distance of throw, McCown has generated a positive 249.9 yards compared to a negative 24.6 yards for Cutler.

cutler mccown incremental yards

Interceptions only push the scales in favor of McCown further. McCown has thrown just 1 interception while being expected to throw 5.5. Cutler has thrown 8 picks on a set of throws that should have produced 7.3 interceptions.

That said sometimes these stats don’t tell the full story. Though the two players play on the same team, the strength of schedule has been incredibly different for the two players. Taking out Cutler’s game against the Redskins and McCown’s game against the Lions (since both were short cameos) the pass defenses that the two have faced have put up these numbers in games against other QB’s:

cutlermccown opponents

Overall Cutler has had a much more difficult schedule this season, with the only better areas being the 40 yard pass category and pass rush faced. Lets break down the actual percentage increase or decrease that Cutler and McCown post in each category based on their strength of schedule:

cutlermccown improvement

This paints a pretty different picture. McCown is producing slightly more yards per attempt but partially that is from working against such a bad defensive set. His completion percentage actually represents less of an increase than Cutler’s has this season. McCown clearly is producing less interceptions, but given his career history it would be amazing for that level to keep up. Cutler produces more touchdowns and is far and away the more productive big play passer, though both are below average.  Cutler has also done a better job avoiding sacks this season, though both are good in that regard.

When looking at the numbers in this manner you can see how an argument can be made for Cutler beyond just having more name value. The difference is not great and Cutler has the higher upside to run a more explosive offense.

When it comes to 2014, however, the numbers are close enough to say that there is far more value in the 35 year old McCown at a few million for the year than tagging Jay Cutler for $16 million, But this conclusion is only valid if the Bears do not believe Cutler is a long term solution at the position.  To expect McCown to blossom into a quality starter after all these years of being a journeyman is lunacy. Rich Gannon and Steve Beuerlein are the only two to probably have success this late in the career after never establishing themselves as a starter. Gannon would go to have multiple good seasons as QB of the Oakland Raiders while Beuerlein fizzled out.

Bears GM Phil Emery indicated a reluctance to using the franchise tag on Cutler because of the cost of the tag and impact it would have on the salary cap. Emery was willing to spend over $14 million on a relatively unproductive pass rusher in Julius Peppers this season so I think that debunks the fact that $16 million on a QB is unsustainable, especially in light of the Bears cap situation being very open next year compared to  this season. In addition the $16 million cap figure in 2014 would rank around 10th in the NFL, nowhere near the top of the position.

The problem with tagging Cutler can be that it sets a baseline value in negotiations that the Bears do not value Cutler at. If you tag Cutler at $16 million and he signs the tender you will need to work that figure into the new contract. Even if he fails to sign it the argument is going to be that the Bears need to negotiate up from that price not down. Cutler is realistically closer to a $11.5 to $13 million per year performer, a number the Bears might not be able to get to if they tag him.

If the Bears new GM sees no reason to sign Cutler long term than there is no need to waste $16 million in cap room and be stuck with someone you do not want. That is exactly what happened with the Chiefs and LT Branden Albert this offseason. Though Albert worked out well for Kansas City and was one of the most effective Left Tackles in the game they only tagged him to trade him. When they were unable to work out a trade that were stuck with a player they did not want and they ended up with a much tighter salary cap situation than they wanted in the first place. That could be a situation Emery wants to avoid.

If the Bears allow Cutler to walk they will not receive compensation for him. They have so many holes to fill and so much cap room there is almost no way that they would not offset his loss in free agency to gain a 3rd round compensatory selection. The Bears gave away multiple first round picks for Cutler a few years back and tagging him gives them a chance to recoup some of that cost from a desperate QB team.

But I don’t think this is a situation where the Bears can simply view McCown as the better player or as a long term answer.  This is a situation where the decision is going to be made based on what the Bears internally think of Jay Cutler and if they want to move forward with him. The Bears could be in full rebuild mode next season and when you do that you are better off working in either a young draft pick or a cheap veteran than paying $16 million on a one year rental if they plan on blowing the team up. But it’s not a decision based on McCown’s current performance changing the course of action for Chicago. Chicago was going to face the same decision making process if Matt Flynn was the backup QB. McCown just may make it easier to sell to the public.




State of Rebuild – Chicago Bears

How do you build a winning football team?  Over the next few weeks I am going to look at a handful of teams that are either relatively early in their rebuilding process or on the verge of a possible rebuild.  The purpose of this is not to reflect on past regime decisions compared to the current decisions but rather to start the analysis from day one and evaluate personnel decisions along with contract structures and styles to see if certain trends help produce a winning franchise.

State of the Franchise and Front Office

When the Bears hired Phil Emery to replace Jerry Angelo as General Manager a year ago, it was said that then Head Coach Lovie Smith was safe for the year.  With one of the most feared defenses in the league and a defensive-minded head coach, Emery made it a priority to improve a struggling offense by trading a pair of 3rd round picks to the Miami Dolphins for mercurial wide receiver Brandon Marshall.  The defense continued its dominance in 2012, but despite an All-Pro season from Brandon Marshall, the Bears offense overall struggled again and ranked near the bottom of the league.  Despite the poor offense, the Bears managed to finish the season 10-6, with all 6 of their losses coming at the hands of playoff teams.  However, 10 wins were not enough to make the playoffs, losing a tiebreaker to the division rival Vikings, nor enough to convince Emery to retain Lovie Smith (or his long-time defensive anchor Brian Urlacher).  Again looking to improve the Bears offense, Emery hired offensive-minded Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman to fill the vacated head coaching position.

trestman emery

HC Marc Trestman and GM Phil Emery

Trestman spent 17 years in the NFL, mostly as an offensive coordinator and quarterback’s coach, before becoming the head coach of the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes.  Trestman lead the Alouettes to three Grey Cup appearances and back-to-back- championships in 2009 and 2010.  Personally, as a law student, the most interesting aspect of Trestman’s road to the NFL is prior to joining the University of Miami Hurricanes football program as a volunteer coach and quarterback’s coach; Trestman earned his law degree from the University of Miami School of Law and became a member of the Florida bar.

Contract Strategies and Trends

Finishing up his second offseason as General Manager, Emery has utilized standard roster bonuses, per-game roster bonuses, and workout bonuses to continue the improvement of the Bears offense.  After slapping the franchise tag on running back Matt Forte last year, and a contentious negotiation, the Bears and Forte agreed to a four-year extension through 2015 worth roughly $30.4 million.  Forte’s deal has a few nuances worth taking a look at.

The first of which is why Forte had a $5 million roster bonus due in the first year of his extension in 2012 compared to such a low P5 (base) salary of $800,000.  I am assuming that the roster bonus is paid up front and is not deferred, which is sometimes the case.  I first came across a scenario like this when looking at Paul Kruger’s new deal with the Cleveland Browns (Julius Peppers has a similar structure that was done under former GM Jerry Angelo).  Kruger is due a $6,285,000 roster bonus compared to his $715,000 P5 (base) salary in 2013, the first year of his new deal.  At first I could not wrap my head around the purpose of this.  Forte and Kruger were both guaranteed to make the team in the first year of their deals, so why make that guaranteed money a roster bonus and not just guaranteed P5 (base) salary or part of the signing bonus?  After some discussions with Jason and a little digging into the CBA, a few reasons made sense.

From the team’s point of view, they are creating cap flexibility by limiting 3rd year guarantees and higher prorated bonus hits by guaranteeing the money up front in a roster bonus.  This could be done through the P5 (base) salary as well, but players prefer to have the money up front rather than later in increments.  The trade-off for the team is a higher cap hit in year 1 of the deal, but with lower guarantees later, making it easier for the team to move on.  A look at Forte’s contract shows that he is not guaranteed any money in 2014 and 2015 and the only possible dead money costs would be the prorated amount of his signing bonus of $1 million each year, a cost of only $2 million to move on before the 2014 season and $1 million before the 2015 season with cap savings of $5,500,000 and $7,800,000 respectively.

From the player’s perspective, receiving the guaranteed money in the form of a roster bonus presents two interesting perks.  The first of which is rather simple and was mentioned earlier – when given the choice of receiving a $5,000,000 bonus, would you rather receive it in one lump sum up front or in weekly, monthly, or even yearly increments?  NFL players, like everyone else,  prefer to have that cash in hand as soon as possible; which is why they prefer the guaranteed amount in a lump sum roster bonus as opposed to P5 (base) salary in game checks.  The second perk for the players derives itself from one simple sentence in the CBA, which states,

“With respect to roster bonus, option bonus and reporting bonus, a forfeiture may only occur if the Forfeitable Breach occurs in the same League Year in which the bonus is scheduled to be earned.”

What this means is unless the player receiving the roster bonus, in this case Matt Forte, had breached his contract to the point where a forfeiture of salary was in order, the breach had to be in 2012, the same league year in which the roster bonus was received.  If Forte breaches his contract during the 2013 season, his $5 million dollar roster bonus would not be part of his possible salary forfeiture.  In contrast, if the same $5 million had been part of the player’s signing bonus or P5 (base) salary, the signing bonus money can always be attacked regardless of which year the breach occurred in or the player could forfeit P5 (base) salary if suspended.

The other interesting part about Forte’s contract is use of both standard and per-game roster bonuses throughout his deal.  On top of the $5 million standard roster bonus Forte received in 2012, he is due a $4 million standard roster bonus and $468,750 in per-game roster bonuses.  The 2013 per-game roster bonus is actually $31,250 per game but because Forte missed one game in 2012, for cap purposes the per-game roster bonus is treated as a LTBE (likely to be earned) incentive.  If Forte plays in all 16 games this year, he will earn $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses (31,250 x 16) and his cap number will be adjusted up accordingly.  The opposite is also true if Forte plays less than 15 games.  Forte is also due per-game roster bonuses of $53,125 per game in 2014 and $65,625 per game in 2015 as well as yearly $100,000 workout bonuses.

Another tool Emery has used to add veteran players without compromising future cap space is the Minimum Salary Benefit.  For a more detailed description of how the MSB works, click here to look at an article Jason wrote earlier this year.  The long and short of the MSB’s purpose is to help teams avoid signing a younger player over a veteran if the main reason is cost.  The CBA mandates a higher minimum salary for veterans based on how many years they have played in the league.  The choice of a cheaper younger player or an older more expensive veteran provides little incentive for the team to choose the veteran.  The MSB looks to provide an incentive to choose veterans who if not for the mandated CBA salary would likely play for cheaper to stay in the league.  Veterans have to meet the following criteria, which I grabbed from Jason’s article, in order to qualify for a MSB contract.

All players with at least 4 credited seasons are eligible for the MSB. However, to qualify for MSB treatment your contract has to meet specific criteria, explained as follows:

1.  The contract must only be 1 year in length

2.  Additional compensation can not exceed $65,000 in 2013 (this number rises by $15,000 every 3 years, with the next increase set for 2015), and that includes bonuses from other teams

3.  P5 guarantees can not exceed the P5 salary of a 2nd year player, which is $555,000 in 2013

The end result is veteran players who qualify can be signed and paid their mandated minimum salary but for cap purposes are only charged the amount it would sign for a player who has been in the league for 2 seasons.  The Bears have used the MSB on a handful of players including Zack Bowman, Jonathan Scott, and Kelvin Hayden, who was just lost for the season with a hamstring tear.

A quick look at the two major free agent signings for the Bears this offseason shows a very simple contractual setup. Left Tackle Jermon Bushrod received a 5-year/$35.965 million deal with $11.715 million guaranteed while Tight End Martellus Bennett received a 4-year/$20.4 million deal with $5.215 million guaranteed.  Both players received the first year of their deal guaranteed ($715,000 each), with no roster bonuses, and a yearly $100,000 workout bonus.

Biggest Upcoming Roster Decisionbears FA

The Bears are not rebuilding.  They weren’t rebuilding last year and they aren’t rebuilding this year.  They finished last season 10-6 and barely missed the playoffs.  They also are loaded with talent, having four All-Pro’s last year, with WR Brandon Marshall and CB Charles Tillman earning 1st Team honors and DE Julius Peppers and CB Tim Jennings earning 2nd team honors.  So why do I think the Bears should be looked at during our State of Rebuild Series?  A glance at the free agency statuses of the projected offensive, defensive, and special teams starters should help provide a little clarity.

Through most of the offseason, the fact that so many projected starters will be free agents after the 2013 season was enough for many pundits to speculate that Emery would be doing a serious roster overhaul next offseason.  Jason actually took a look at the Bears current status and upcoming decisions in his article The Chicago Bears: Past, Present, and Future, which touches on a lot of the premises discussed here.  With starting quarterback Jay Cutler, franchised defensive tackle Henry Melton, strong safety Major Wright and All-Pro cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman among others all set to be free agents after this season, the team was set to look a little different even with a few extensions.  Then Emery said this,

“…where we’re at with our current salary cap and the room that we have in our cap in our efforts to put together a championship team in 2013, I do not anticipate that we will do any extensions of contracts during this season. All those will occur, with the players it will occur with, will happen in 2014 and not during the 2013 season.”

While the Bears do only have $2,192,768 of cap room right now, after saving $555,000 with the release of DE Jamaal Anderson today, a few extensions could easily create some sizable room. Emery’s decision to wait on any possible extensions until after the 2013 season only furthers the speculation that this year’s Chicago Bears could look considerably different than next year’s team.  Considering that it would cost nothing for the Bears to move on from WR Brandon Marshall, $1 million to move on from OLB Lance Briggs, and $2 million to move on from RB Matt Forte, if they wished to do so, we could be looking at a possible ground-zero rebuild going into next offseason.  The fact of the matter is if this team flourishes under new head coach Marc Trestman, all of this is moot.  But for now, it remains a very plausible possibility that the Chicago Bears will be rebuilding next year.

So what is actually the single biggest upcoming roster decision for the Chicago Bears?  It could be what to do with All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers in the event of a full rebuild.  Peppers is still due almost $37 million between the 2014 and 2015 season, and would cost $6,366,668 in dead money if cut or traded before 2014 and $3,183,335 if cut or traded before 2015.  It is highly unlikely that the Bears would outright release Peppers, but how much could they really fetch in a trade for a 34 or 35 year old defensive end?  If I had to pick one, it is whether to retain Jay Cutler.  Jason coincidentally wrote an enlightening article here, describing how Cutler’s market value may not match his play-level – barring a Joe Flacco -esque stock rise after his Super Bowl run.  However the simple answer is to close your eyes and throw a dart at the depth chart.  The question isn’t which single player presents the biggest question mark but rather whether the team as a whole will be remade.

Past ‘State of Rebuild’ Articles

Buffalo Bills

San Diego Chargers

Ryan Feder
Tulane University Law School
J.D. Candidate 2015

Is Jay Cutler Worth Even Close to $20 Million a Season?


Mike Sando had an interesting piece on ESPN yesterday looking at the big free agent QB’s and prices they may command (subscription required).  Unfortunately its an insider piece but since posted some comments from it we’ll do the same here. Sando was able to get a cap manager of one of the teams to discuss some potential contracts for players. This was the one that floored me and everyone else:

Jay Cutler is going to eventually get $20 million no matter how much he deserves it. I think there will be a team desperate for a quarterback who doesn’t like the quarterbacks in the draft. Maybe they think they’re close and the GM says Jay Cutler is no different from Joe Flacco, that you can win a championship with him. It just takes one of 32 teams to make that judgment, and I think there’s a good chance someone will. Cutler can still be pretty darn good.

I have to admit I was stunned that a person in charge of managing the cap for his team would believe that Cutler would fetch $20 million dollars per year. Currently there are only four players in the $20 million dollar per year club- Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, and Aaron Rodgers.  Each is there for a number of reasons. Brees is a prolific passer who was a Super Bowl MVP. Flacco is considered to have tremendous upside and put together a tremendous stretch of games that culminated in his Super Bowl MVP trophy.  Its also worth noting that Flacco was only going to receive around $16 million a year before the Super Bowl win and the Ravens were not going to hand him $20 milion a year because “you can win with a guy like Flacco”. Matt Ryan is considered the best young passer in the NFL and looks to be on his way to becoming a 5,000 yard passer. Rodgers is the best QB in the NFL, putting up tremendous statistics and winning a large amount of games.  Cutler is not even in the discussion right now with these four players.

I think sometimes we forget that Cutler is not a young player anymore. There is an argument to be made that Matt Ryan was paid on the dreaded P word- “Potential”.  Now in Ryan’s case it was the potential to win a Super Bowl not be a great passer as he had already established himself as a passer. It is the same reason Philip Rivers became the second highest paid QB in the NFL in 2009. He had enough numbers and success to convince teams that he was going to win it all just like Eli Manning. Ryan and Rivers, in the season of signing, were both 28, right about to enter the prime of their careers. Jay Cutler will be 31 when he takes the field for a new team in 2014.

Potential doesn’t come into play over 30 and it should never cloud the judgment of a team. Cutler’s “potential” year came off his last season in Denver when he threw for 4,500 yards and looked like he had that Rivers/Ryan potential. The Bears traded for Cutler the following season and did extend him at just under $14.7 million a year in new money, which was near the top of the market at the time, but he opted for the short term extension assuming he would cash in after winning some big games for Chicago where Cutler was to be the missing piece to the puzzle. That money was based on potential.

Four years later and no potential was realized. His numbers have plummeted while the average QB numbers, in general, have risen. He has thrown for less yards in his last two healthy seasons than Mark Sanchez of the Jets.  You don’t go back to what a player did at 25 when he is 31 to come up with a pricing point.

It doesn’t mean Cutler has had an easy time of it in Chicago. They have had a revolving door of bad offensive coaches, bad decision makers selecting poor wide receivers and horrific offensive lineman. Cutler did himself no favors either as he carries himself with a bit of an attitude that rubbed many players, specifically veteran defenders, the wrong way. Players didn’t come to his defense and I don’t think he ever assumed a leadership role with the team.

The highest end comparisons you could make for Cutler are Matt Schaub of the Texans and Tony Romo of the Cowboys. Schaub was 31 when he signed his extension and Romo will be 33 this season. Schaub earns $15.5 million a season while Romo earns an inflated $18 million. Neither comes close to $20 million. One of the difficult items in comparing Cutler to other players is the pressure he deals with in Chicago. Last year Cutler saw pressure on 37.5% of his dropbacks according to Pro Football Focus. Romo and Schaub are closer to 30%. That said Cutler deals with it well and is one of the rare QB’s who has very limited decline statistically under duress, perhaps because he is so used to dealing with it. Last season Cutler completed 60.5% of his non-pressured passes and 54.1% of his pressure attempts.

Looking at the last two more or less healthy seasons of work for each QB and breaking things down into yards per pass attempt by throw distance you get the following look at the players:

Jay Cutler YPA

Cutler is considerably less effective than both Romo and Schaub passing down the field and for most QB’s this is where they get paid, not by throwing little dink and dunk passes. For what it’s worth the presence of Brandon Marshall did little to the results and his yardage totals actually decreased, significantly in the 10 to 19 yard category, in 2012 compared to 2010.  I often look at something I call incremental yards which more or less measures actual yardage produced by distance compared to the average NFL QB.

jay cutler incremental yards

Romo pretty much makes his living throwing the ball down the field while Schaub is an intermediate passer. Cutlers failures down the field have made him an average QB overall. Part of that is the Bears offensive design faults and some may be Cutler’s decision making. Romo completes over 40% of his passes over 20 yards. Cutler completes only 28.5%, yet Cutler’s pass selection sees 15.6% of his passes travel over 20 yards while Romo is under 12%.

Those decisions hurt Cutler even more than just yardage, but also in turnovers.  Schaub only throws 9.2% of his passes deep because there is no upside to him doing so.  Even though he completes over 36% of his down the field passes his interceptions per attempt are 8.7%. That works out to a 23.8% interception to completion ratio which is a ridiculous number, so the Texans just avoid it. Cutler is at 8.3% I/A and a whopping 28.9% I/C. Someone needs to just have him stop those passes. Despite the arm strength that is not his game in Chicago and may not be anywhere else.

The bottom line is that he is nowhere near as productive as your next tier of salaried QB’s. I think you can argue about Romo vs Schaub and make a strong case that Romo’s salary should be closer to Schaub’s, but I’m not sure the rationale behind arguing that Cutler should make as much as either of the 30+ year old players, let alone $20 million a season.

The most realistic data point for Cutler should be that of Carson Palmer. Palmer is one of the “potential” graded QB’s simply because of where he was drafted and how he played very early in his career. By the time his days were coming to an end in Cincinnati he was unproductive, even moreso than Cutler, but the distance passing results were nearly identical:

Jay Cutler vs Carson Palmer

The major difference is just the short yardage passing which helped him produce more productive yards than Palmer. Because of his limitations Palmer rarely threw the football deep(8.2% of his attempts)  as a Bengal, a model maybe the Bears should consider with Cutler. The Raiders ended up trading for Palmer in 2011 and then extending his contract for cap relief.

Palmer, a former number 1 pick that the Raiders had bet the farm on, only received a deal worth $10.75 million per year. The Raiders were, at the time, the worst managed team in football and that figure represented a 40% decline from Peyton Manning’s top of the market $18 million per year contract from the Colts. Palmer was 32 years old and 7 years removed from his draft when he signed with Oakland, very similar to Cutler’s situation next year. The Raiders traded Palmer in 2013.

If we bring those dollar figures into today’s salary market, Cutler should be looking at a deal worth $13.1 million a season, a far cry from the $20 million mentioned by the cap manager. Cutler is a bit better than Palmer so maybe we push that to $14 million, but that range is likely going to max out somewhere below $15 million. Those figures are assuming the Raiders contract with Palmer was considered legitimate in the eyes of the rest of the NFL. Given their history it may have been viewed as an inflated price tag.

Of course we can throw this all out the window if Cutler goes out and wins a Super Bowl and is named Super Bowl MVP. If that occurs he has something that Romo, Schaub and Palmer do not, and as we have seen with Eli Manning and Flacco, albeit at a much younger age, the Super Bowl trophy means big dollars to teams. I still don’t think this would bring him to $20 million a year but it may at least be a discussion since teams are certainly showing a willingness to spend big on the plus 30 QB. But without it there is no way a team can pay him based on what they have seen for 8 seasons.

Cutler will have another coach this year that is supposed to be an offensive expert. He has his old buddy Marshall again at Wide Receiver and they brought in Martellus Bennett to play Tight End. The team signed a new Left Tackle and Left Guard. They still have a capable runner and pass catcher out of the backfield in Matt Forte. Cutler is going to need to see his stats go way up this season and see the team go into the playoffs to bring himself into the Schaub/Romo conversation. If he continues to be the same QB we have seen I just can not picture a team going long term into Cutler at the upper tier price level.  Moderate price, sure, but the upper level is going to be very difficult for him to achieve without going on a tremendous run in 2013.