Best and Worst Contracts 2016: Baltimore Ravens

In Week 2 of our Best and Worst series we turn our attention to the AFC North and the Baltimore Ravens.

Best: Elvis Dumervil, 5 years, $26 million, $8.5 million guaranteed

While the Ravens I think struggle a bit with the contracts that they offer to homegrown talent, they generally drive great bargains with players that come from outside the organization. The Dumervil situation was one of the more unique ones and the Ravens pounced on the opportunity, really signing a great contract with a terrific pass rusher. Continue reading Best and Worst Contracts 2016: Baltimore Ravens »

Stock Down: Week 9


Every Monday during the season we will take a look back at three players who are entering important stages of their contract that may have hurt their stock in upcoming negotiations with their play on Sunday. In addition we will also look at one player signed in the offseason to a new contract that did not live up to the expectations that his contract sets for the player.

Stock Down

Willis McGahee– Most people thought McGahee was finished when the Broncos released him this offseason, but he ended up with a great opportunity when the Cleveland Browns brought him n to replace Trent Richardson. Unfortunately for McGahee he has not made the most of his chance to prove the doubters wrong, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry this year. The Browns gave him 21 chances with the ball on Sunday and he averaged 1.5 yards per carry. This will likely signal the end of his career.

Darren McFadden– 5 carries for 12 yards and then leaving with an injury pretty much sums up the career for McFadden. He is doing nothing to dispel the notion that he can’t be effective in the NFL as this is his second sub 15 yard day this season and his 5th day carrying for less than 3.3 yards a run. McFadden said all the right things in the offseason about how he was going to prove to everyone he deserved a big contract. Now he is going to have to find a way to prove that the Raiders system somehow is causing him to get injured and be ineffective. That’s going to be a tall task.

Johnathan Joseph– Joseph had an incredibly difficult time last night covering TY Hilton in the second half as the Colts stormed back to beat the Texans in the 4th quarter. Joseph could be in a difficult position in 2014. The Texans are a bad football team that has to strongly consider if this is a group that they can make another run with or if it needs to be broken down. Joseph is set to carry an $11.25 million hit next year and earn $7.5 million in the process. The way the corner market has gone he could find himself having to take a short term deal for a few million less than that if he is released.

New Contract Disappointment Of The Week

Joe Flacco– Sunday was pretty close to a must win game for the Baltimore Ravens and all the team could do was muster 18 points in a losing effort. The Ravens paid Joe Flacco to be great and he has had a hard time living up to the price tag. Pro Football Focus rates Flacco as the 3rd worst starting QB in the NFL this season, only ahead of two rookies. On Sunday Flacco was outplayed by Jason Campbell, a journeyman in every sense of the word just holding on to a NFL career.  Between he and Matt Ryan it seems to be a weekly duel as to whose team overpaid more for the QB.




Super Bowl Rings and the Overpricing of the Quarterback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



% Cap (based on APY)





E. Manning












E. Manning



P. Manning




















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

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


% Cap            (based on APY)







P. Manning






E. Manning


















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

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

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


Best & Worst Contracts: The Baltimore Ravens


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

Marshal YandaBest Contract: Marshal Yanda

The Ravens have some interesting deals on the books. They get lower guarantees to help drive the price down but in return will structure deals in a way that are cap friendly on the front end but more difficult to move on from at the end. Yanda’s contract didn’t originally fit into that structure giving the team tremendous flexibility with a really good player. They restructured his contract in 2012, but even then maintained a structure that was still team friendly at the backend.

Yanda is one of the best Guards in the NFL and one of those players that brings the Ravens their identity. Yanda is just a nasty physical player that sets the tone for his team and a game with his play in the trenches. He can fill in at tackle if needed which only increases his value to the team. Guards don’t often get much notoriety unless they block for an explosive offense, but Yanda deserves it.

At $6.4 million a year his contract ranks 10th among Guards. He is better than every player making more money than he is at the position. The Ravens took higher backend cap charges following the restructure allowing them to account for low cap allocations in 2011 and 2012, but even in 2013 his cap charge is only 4th in the NFL at the position. More importantly if his play declined the contractual structure allows them to walk away from the backend higher charges if they need to, charges which are not cap killers in the first place. It is just a nice team friendly contract below the market value of a really good player.

Joe FlaccoWorst Contract: Joe Flacco

While it’s no secret that I think Flacco is grossly overpaid based on his performance it’s fair to say that this is the nature of the position. But even that does not excuse a contract just filled with explosive for the Ravens that has the potential to cripple the franchise for seasons if Flacco does not make the same leap other young Quarterbacks made after Super Bowl wins propelled them to fortunes.

Flacco will carry a cap charge of $28.55 million in 2016, an unreasonable figure barring a gigantic leap in salary cap limits for a team. The Ravens can’t move on from him at that point either- his dead money charge is nearly $26 million. Even if he were to fail to live up to the lofty expectations of his contract the Ravens are already locked into $10.55 million in prorated charges in both 2016 and 2017. With $15.3 million in dead money in 2017 it more or less locks the Ravens into a second extension with Flacco that will see a price based on cap leverage as much as skill.

How high are those dead money charges?  In Eli Manning’s similar record setting deal he carried dead money charges of $12.7 million and $7.6 million in the 4th and 5th years of his contract.   Those numbers represented 13% and 7.8% of his overall contract charge and 77% and 41% of his cap charges in those seasons. Flacco’s numbers represent 21.4% and 12.7% of the overall deal and 90% and 49% of his cap figures. It’s a great contract for the player, perhaps the best in the NFL. For the team it’s a mess just waiting to happen.

Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles

AFC East: Buffalo BillsMiami DolphinsNew England PatriotsNew York Jets

AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals (June 29)

The Role of Age in the Success of the NFL QB


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Extending Early or Waiting Until Free Agency Begins?


With so many QB’s being extension possibilities over the next year I wanted to look at some of the things that maybe should be considered when weighing the option of extending a young player early or letting him play out his contract and dealing with him as he is ready to enter free agency.

The agent for Joe Flacco, Joe Linta, recently called the Baltimore Ravens “dumb” for not extending Flacco sooner. Flacco is likely going to be become the poster child for extending a contract early. According to Linta the Ravens had an offer on the table for about $16 million a year which they turned down and instead chose to roll the dice on Flacco continuing a rocky career with highs and lows that most likely would have seen his salary settle somewhere in the Jay Cutler region of like $13-14 million a season. Flacco’s financial future completely changed when the Denver Broncos inexplicably failed to defend almost the only type of play the Ravens could run in desperation time and the Ravens then advanced to the Super Bowl, where they held off a late charge by the 49’ers. Flacco, who has never had a 4,000 yard season, ended up earning over $20 million a season based on the Super Bowl win and now the Ravens have to hope that he makes the same turn that Eli Manning made following his first Super Bowl.  Baltimore’s cap situation only complicated matters as they had no real possibility of franchising Flacco only to watch him sign a contract with the Cleveland Browns that their cap did not allow them to match. They gambled and lost.

But the situation can work both ways. The New York Jets decided to extend their young QB Mark Sanchez in 2012 to a 3 year extension worth $13.491 million a season. Sanchez was a higher pick than Flacco and, like Flacco, had some postseason success, going to two conference championship games in the first two seasons he played in the NFL. Statistically Sanchez was not a good QB, far worse than Flacco, but had a higher pedigree.  The Jets thought process may have been a bit convoluted with Sanchez, as reports were that team officials felt the extension would motivate him to improve (plus the Jets needed salary cap relief), but in essence they gambled on extending the young QB early and getting what they felt were cap friendly terms over the long haul. The Jets seemed married to this idea that something magic happens with QB’s in year 4 because of Manning (trust me that was never going to be the case) and locked in an asset at a low cost. Sanchez’ contract isn’t a cap killer- his highest cap charge is $15.6 million in 2015 and there is minimal dead money to cut him in the future-, which is the benefit of the move, but he regressed so badly he is not worth 10 cents and the Jets cant cut him now because he is in that early guaranteed portion of the extension. If you flip the script and Sanchez wins a Super Bowl the Jets won big time because Sanchez would have earned $21 million a year heading into free agency. But he didn’t and the Jets look like fools. They gambled and lost.

Those are the two examples of the bad that the move can be, but there is plenty of good as well. The Packers took a bet on Aaron Rodgers at a pretty early point in time and locked up an MVP for under $13 million a season, which has driven the effective cost of his current contract down well below the stated $22 million figure. The Steelers extended their star QB, Ben Roethlisberger, early in his career to a deal that is worth under $15 million a year, an absolute bargain in the NFL, again with an effective value much lower than the extension amount. On the other side of the spectrum the Minnesota Vikings waited on Daunte Culpepper, who suffered a terrible injury, and he became the Dolphins contract headache. It works both ways.

There are a number of factors that have to go into the decision to extend early, a decision that is going to face many teams over the coming year. The biggest ones are Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, and Josh Freeman, three first round draft picks whose contracts are governed under the old NFL CBA, and Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, and Colin Kaepernick, all picks signed under the new CBA who will be eligible for extensions after the 2013 NFL season. Let’s look at the factors that a team should consider in making the decision:

1.       Other Options

I’ll start with the non-financial aspects here. Remember when discussing a QB there are very limited options in free agency.  Drew Brees is the one lone young star that really hit free agency and even that was off injury. Occasionally the older star becomes available such as Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. Teams have traded (and paid a hefty price for) Alex Smith, Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler, and Matt Cassel.   As you look at the present day NFL the starters that will come from outside the organization at most will number 8. The names include Brees and Manning at the top followed by Schaub, Cutler, Vick, Palmer, Kolb, and Hoyer.

Most likely if the concern is inconsistency, which is going to be a factor for Freeman and Stafford and potentially Kaepernick who has no track record yet, it is not as if there will be a be a significantly better option in free agency. If you view yourself as a win now team will bringing in a Cutler, who will likely be the “hot” veteran in the 2014 offseason, bring you that much better of a chance?  Probably not. Most likely your options are to start a low draft pick you made, trade for a teams “high upside” low draft pick (Kirk Cousins, Nick Foles, etc…) or pick up a garbage player who flopped with his original team (Sanchez, Blaine Gabbert, etc…).  If these options do not appeal to you or are not going to exist by all means you should enter the negotiating room. The longer you wait the more apparent it becomes to an agent that you have no other options at the position.

2.       Quality of Team

This goes hand in hand a little with the above category, but for two reasons. The first is what I would call the Sanchez syndrome and I would think could apply to Freeman this season as well as Dalton and perhaps Kaepernick depending on how things go now that teams have film to study. A QB is linked with a teams’ success and failures far beyond the true point of correlation. If you have a good football team that is capable of making a run to the playoffs it makes the QB more valuable that he statistically is.  “All he does is win”.  It sounds crazy, but it is what happens. If Flacco doesn’t win that Super Bowl he isn’t a 20 million dollar player. If Sanchez doesn’t get to the playoffs those two seasons he is not on the Jets. One or two games should not make a $5 million dollar difference but it does in the NFL. So if you have that quality team, you should know that the players’ value is most likely only going to go up by waiting.  Atlanta, with a terrific shot at the Super Bowl, has almost zero to gain by waiting on Ryan.

The second reason is that the quality of your team often dictates what you can do year after year. We saw that list of free agents leading teams. It’s not exactly murders row. Brees was really the lone anomaly and he was a somewhat unique situation. Nobody else has won a championship nor come close. Favre had the one year with the Vikings and lost out to Brees. He was done the next year and the Vikings had to reset their team. The last QB to win prior to Brees that was not drafted by his team was Brad Johnson in 2002. The reality is a team should be prepared to go back into the draft and re-build rather than going into free agency/trade. Players agents should know this and know it leaves teams little options. If you as a GM are not ready to pull the plug on the team as constituted there is little benefit to waiting on a player who is capable of being a quality NFL QB. You just end up paying more for a player and make escaping that contract take more time in the event he doesn’t get better.

3. Market Movers

One of the most dangerous occurrences for a team in the NFL is the “market mover” contract. While many think the market is capped out with Rodgers making $22 million Im not sure. Rodgers took a contract that was significantly lower than I (and I think many others) projected. Part of it is doing business with the Packers and players may point to that when discussing options with other teams. There are a few names who worry me. One is Stafford. Stafford has never won a playoff game. He has only once had a winning record. He is inconsistent despite big numbers and throws to the best receiver in the NFL. His team is lousy and always playing catch up allowing for numbers to grow that are not meaningful.

But the Lions are one of the worst run front offices in the NFL, a team littered with insane cap charges, poor positional dollar allocations, huge dead money void years, and no cap space. One of the reasons is because of Stafford who is set to count for around $20 million in cap room each of the next two years. Quite frankly the Lions are going to get backed into a corner with him and that can lead to a tremendously overblown contract. Even if he fails to surpass Rodgers, just coming close opens the floodgates for Newton and especially Ryan.  Roethlisberger and Manning both will be up for new deals soon and there is always a chance they jump Rodgers as well. Roethlisberger has cap advantages on his side to force the Steelers into a high priced deal while Manning plays in the big market and is a two time Super Bowl MVP. The Giants already made him the highest paid player once and I could see them doing it again. Every new deal pushes everyone below it. Teams have to be aware of the situations and how it could affect contracts.

4. Cap Constraints

This really applied with Flacco in that the Ravens were completely hamstrung due to the salary cap when his contract was set to expire. The Ravens’ options with Flacco were to apply the Franchise tag or the Exclusive Franchise Tag. The regular tag is cheaper but allows the player to test free agency and you get the option of first refusal on a contract. The exclusive tag is more expensive but blocks movement. The issue here was that the Ravens cap was so tight that placing the exclusive tag on Flacco was unrealistic. They could not carry that salary cap number and function. They could carry him on the regular tag but were going to be capped out in the event a team signed him a frontloaded offer sheet. Teams like the Browns had so much cap room they could have afforded to take on a cap charge of $30 million in year 1 and $15 million in year 2 with no problems. The Ravens could never match that. Their cap forced them to sign him to a deal with low cap hits at the early end and deal with a leveraged restructure three years down the line. This is clearly an issue for the Lions and potentially, but to a far lesser extent than Flacco, for the Falcons. It could be an issue for the Panthers but they have other options which we will discuss in our next factor.

 5. Cap Management

Of course in all of this the biggest factors often come down to salary cap. A team has multiple options with these players. For players drafted under the old CBA the franchise tag designations are a viable mechanism to protect their interest. For Kaepernick and Dalton the franchise tag is also an option. For Newton the Panthers hold a low cost option for the fifth season. Each scenario and player is different. For Stafford, due to his high cap charges the Lions need to consider a tag value and cap fee of $23.18 million to tag him. Ryan would be looking at a tag of $18.9 million on the exclusive tender assuming the Cowboys restructure the contract of Tony Romo. Freeman would probably be around $15 million as would Kaepernick and Dalton a year later. Newton’s one time tag value looks right now to be around $17.5 million.

Teams have to consider that tagging a player serves almost no purpose if you see a long term future with the player. Playing out the franchise tag means no proration. It means no accounting of guarantees. It’s really just a 1 year contract that is delaying the inevitable extension which will come the next year. Tagging the player does nothing but compromise your cap. It should only be used, IMO, on a veteran player on a win now team and has no business even being considered other than for negotiating tactics for a young player at this position, unless you just want one more try with the player rather than blowing it up by drafting a young talent.

When you lock a player up early one of the major benefits is the accounting benefits you get. Flacco’s deal is pure $20.1 million a year.  In some way, shape, or form the Ravens need to account for $120.6 million over the next 6 seasons. He is really uncuttable until 2018 and in all likelihood will get another lucrative extension in 2016 just due to cap issues. Rodgers $22 million dollar deal is worth in real terms $18.68 million a year. That leads to a team having ways to manipulate the cap that benefit the team much moreso than the player.

While Rodgers will carry higher cap hits than Flacco the next three seasons the Packers are essentially insulated from cap issues on the backend because of their decision to extend early. Rodgers carries no dead money in 2018 and 2019 when he will be 35 and 36 years old. If his play nosedives they will survive without problem. In the event he plays great they could have a bargain since there is no early contract prorated money to account for in those seasons. Its pure pay for performance at that point.

Flacco’s last two seasons have dead money charges of $15.3 and $4.75 million. There is a lot sunk in the backend of his contract. He doenst have to perform to earn those backend salaries. Even if the Ravens restructure they are stuck with at least $10.55 million in prorated money  in 2016 and 2017, meaning there is little for Baltimore to do to get anything resembling a low cap season out of Flacco at this point. Rodgers would only have $7 million in prorations with none at the end of the deal, simply because the Packers are able to manipulate the cap.

So organizationally if you are a team that sees future potential for big dollars needed to maintain free agents it is likely in the best interest of the team to extend early on. If you are a team that may be headed the young player route with the QB as the only ultra high priced talent you may be able to wait it out, but remember the longer you wait the more it impacts your ability to maintain high end players that make the turn off their rookie contracts.


While I used the QB as the prime example here I think many of these options also apply to other positions as well. While they may not compromise the cap as much they are integral part of the cap. Cap management cant be based on a philosophy of 53 individual contracts. Cap management must be based on a portfolio of 53 assets that complement each other so that a team can get the most team value and best on field performance for the money spent. What you do with Matt Stafford doesn’t just impact one player- it impacts what you can do with 52 other players.

So what would we do with our group?  While normally I would put numeric grades down on a scale of 1-10 I think for this a quick qualitative chart will suffice.  Freeman is the only player from the old CBA worth waiting on and I would let Dalton play his deal out too unless he did something miraculous this season. For the young guys they cant be extended until after the season so opinions will change though I think I have seen enough of Newton to say he is worth extending early barring injury.

PlayerOther OptionsTeam QualityMarket Cap issuesCap mgmtDecision


Thoughts on the Aaron Rodgers Extension


Full details were released today on the Aaron Rodgers extension and while we happened to guess the structure correct in our Twitter musings lets give full credit here to Aaron Wilson of who confirmed the guess with his breakdown of the contract. There is really no need for me to rehash the contract details as you can simply click to read those, but what I wanted to touch on was the impact of this contract. When the story came out that Rodgers received a $110 million dollar extension my first thought was that it was a win for the Packers and the details pretty much confirm it. Why?

The QB market has more or less gone crazy since since the 2004 class started getting their extensions which in turn led to the elite veterans like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees getting mega contracts. The craziness more or less hit a peak a few months ago when Joe Flacco, fresh off a Super Bowl win, received a contract worth $20.1 million a year, highest in the NFL. The deal immediately sent shockwaves because Flacco, who has had plenty of postseason success, has never had a statistical year that even approached the elite in the game.

When I looked at a market for Aaron Rodgers earlier this month I felt that Flacco needed to be looked at the same way Ben Roethlisberger was looked at years ago. Roethlisberger had the terrific teams out in Pittsburgh, made big plays when it counted, but was not really considered the driving force in the game. He set a market which was later surpassed by the higher drafted and bigger market player in Eli Manning. To me Flacco would be Big Ben while Matt Ryan would be Eli. Using those data points Rodgers, who clearly would be the role of Peyton or Brees, could have earned upwards of $26 million a year following the model where Ben represents the young floor and Eli the ceiling. The Packers got what they wanted by getting Flacco to be considered the young ceiling for the most part. The raise Rodgers receives over Flacco is 9.45% very close to the 10.8% raise Peyton earned over his brother. In contrast Peytons raise over Roethlisberger was close to 18%.

So what we really have here is a major market setting contract that leaves almost no room for Ryan or Matt Stafford to get anywhere near what they were hoping for as they move into contract negotiations. Even if things break perfect for them they are probably only going to earn slightly more than Flacco. Had Rodgers earned more it would have been a far more lucrative market for this new generation of star QB.

The Packers also received a major win in the contract by having Rodgers agree to $3,600,000 in game day active bonuses, which means if Rodgers is hurt he is not paid. Taking those out of the contract the real base value is $106.4 million or $21.28 million a year. Flacco has no clauses in his deal and its a pure 21.1 million a year regardless of injury. That is only going to add further pressure onto other QB’s who are looking for contracts.

The Cash Flow Comparison of the contract is as follows between Rodgers and Flacco

FlaccoRodgersAPY Difference
Year 1$30,000,000$41,750,000$11,750,000
Year 2$51,000,000$54,350,000$1,675,000
Year 3$62,000,000$68,000,000$2,000,000
Year 4$80,000,000$88,900,000$2,225,000
Year 5$100,600,000$110,000,000$1,880,000

Outside or Year 1, which is really 3 years worth of payments less the old money in the contract the difference in APY each year is more or less representative of the general $1.9 million a year difference in total APY between the two players. So there is no real part of the deal that indicates Rodgers was to earn significantly more than Flacco in real terms.

In terms of functional money Rodgers is only protected through two extension years at which point he will only have $7 million in dead money remaining on his contract. His deal contains no dead money in years 4 and 5. Flacco is protected all the way until the final year of his extension provided the Ravens pick up his option bonus in 2014 which more or less a formality. That makes Flacco’s deal a far stronger deal for the player. Though clearly nobody expects Rodgers to break down in the next 5 or 6 years the league is a funny place and one bad hit can change alot of things in a players fortunes.

All in all the Packers come out with a major win here. They capped an exploding market and got a contract on their terms- protected roster bonuses and no back end contractual dead money. That is great cap management and perhaps having the right system that gets the players to buy in and take contracts that are more team friendly than other organizations are able to get from their players. The league is probably pretty happy with the contract as well.