A Close Look at the Tyron Smith Contract Extension


Since we now have the basic details of the Cowboys extension with left tackle Tyron Smith, I thought it would be worth looking at why calling him the highest paid player at the position is not exactly accurate.

Though Smith carries the highest annual value of any tackle, $12.2 million versus $11.5 million for Joe Thomas, the cash flows will tell a slightly different story. Here are the running cash flows of the two contracts:

Year 1$20,700,000$20,000,000
Year 2$30,900,000$30,000,000
Year 3$42,000,000$40,000,000
Year 4$51,000,000$50,000,000
Year 5$60,500,000$60,000,000
Year 6$70,500,000$70,500,000
Year 7$80,500,000$84,000,000
Year 8$97,600,000

For the first five years of the contract Smith will trail Thomas before pulling even in year 6 and then ahead in the seventh and final year of the contract. These numbers do not take into account the fact that Thomas has roster bonus escalators in his contract in year 6 and 7. If Thomas reaches both escalators, which are based on Pro Bowls, His six year payout will rise to $72 million and his 7th year payout to $84 million.

Those escalators are more or less built in to the Smith contract, which is likely how the Cowboys arrived at the $84 million total. If both players continue to play at a high level this deep into their contracts the contracts are at best equivalent and realistically will always favor Thomas. The final year payout for Smith will ensure that he will always be the highest paid player among the current crop of players, pushing his annual value to $12.2 million, a number Thomas can not reach with this contract.

I read some complaints on Pro Football Talk about how the contract is crazy for Smith to sign due to the length of the contract. This now ties him to the Cowboys until he is 33 years old. But that opinion fails to realize that in order to achieve this type of contract it is a concession that you must make. Thomas did the same year ago when he signed his record setting deal and he will be 35 years old when he can next hit free agency, two years older than Smith. While it is true that Smith likely had more earning potential than Thomas, who was 23 when he entered the NFL and signed until he was 27, this is the path to the big contract.

Thomas is not the only individual who sacrificed years to gain big money.  D’Brickashaw Fergsuon of the Jets signed a six year $10 million contract extension in 2010 that would tie him to the Jets until he was 34. Like Smith, Ferguson was under contract for two more years when he signed the deal. Ferguson was generally considered overpaid (though his annual value is inflated by around $750,000), but he clearly sacrificed to get that $10 million number. These are concessions that must be made especially since the limited injury risk is now being taken off the player and absorbed onto the team.

One player who took a different route was Ryan Clady of the Denver Broncos. Clady was a franchise player and considered the best tackle in the game outside of Joe Thomas. Clady opted for the traditional five year deal (though it’s doubtful the Broncos offered other options) which gets him to free agency at 32, a bit younger than the others on this list. When we look at the percentage of payout over the five year value we see the big difference. Smith will consistently get a larger percentage of his contract over the first few years of the deal, with it not really smoothing out until the fourth season of the contract.


Year 133.3%28.6%
Year 250.0%43.8%
Year 366.7%62.9%
Year 483.3%81.0%
Year 5100.0%100.0%

The other thing that we should do when looking at Smith’s extension is an alternative cash flow analysis. In this case we hold off on the extension because we are unhappy with the length of the contract being offered by the Cowboys. Here we play out the contract and will be subject to the franchise tag in 2016 and potentially 2017. For all the issues that may exist with the Dallas Cowboys salary cap they have already shown a willingness to use the tag multiple times on one player (Anthony Spencer) in years where the cap was difficult to navigate. If anything their cap will be better in the future.

Assuming the tag jumps by around $2.5 million in 2016 here will be the new money cash flows over the next four years:


If we discount these at a 7% rate the earnings in the current contract are actually higher than in the second scenario by about $700,000.  We have also eliminated our risks of injury or skill decline during that period. In the above analysis Smith would likely sign a contract in either 2017 or 2018. The terms would be 5 years at that point, which would bring him to either 2021 or 2022. Is that really a material difference than being under contract in 2023? Probably not.

Might he be trading off some money in this situation?  Its possible. The 2018 through 2022 seasons would see him earn $54 million. Would the market jump higher than that in that time?  Im not sure. Clady’s deal was worth $52.5 million over five years and would be used as the barometer, which would indicate $54 million is a fair number. The salary cap will be rising (by how much nobody knows), but we cant be sure if money will funnel to this position or simply go to higher quarterback wages.

All things considered this is a good contract for both sides. Dallas has a bit more control over his salary cap charges and will pay a bit more now to potentially lock up a player at what might be reasonable terms in the future. Smith has more or less reduced risk in the short term and not really sacrificed much in his overall earning potential to do it. While he may not really be the highest paid player, he can now claim he is based on that additional contract year. He’s not the first nor will he be the last player to do that.




Status Update on the Eight Franchised Players


It was a big week for a few players playing under the Franchise Tag this season and I figured it was a good time to just check-in and see they are doing so far this season.

The Good:

Michael Johnson – Defensive End – Cincinnati Bengals – Tag $11,175,000

The Cincinnati Bengals defense is playing excellent football and at the heart of that success is Michael Johnson.  Johnson tied for 9th in the league last year with 11.5 sacks and although he has only recorded 1.5 sacks this year, there may not be a defensive end playing better football in the league right now than Johnson.  Johnson watched the Bengals pay out serious money in extensions to fellow defensive end Carlos Dunlap ($40 million) and All-Pro Defensive Tackle Geno Atkins ($55 million) this offseason and both haven’t played up to their billing through three games.  The Bengals have plenty of cap space but also have to worry about the monster deal coming for  All-Pro WR AJ Green and a new deal for Quarterback Andy Dalton (most likely).  With so much money already tied up in the defensive line and only so many dollars to go around, they Bengals might not have a choice but to let Johnson walk, especially if he keeps this elite level of play up leading to his free agency.

Branden Albert – Left Tackle – Kansas City Chiefs – Tag $9,828,000

Branden Albert had a tumultuous offseason to say the least.  It seems as if he was tagged for the sole purpose of being traded and was floated on the trade block leading up and through draft day while at the same time watching the Chiefs spend the 1st overall pick on what is believed to be his replacement, offensive tackle Eric Fisher.  Interestingly enough, Fisher is struggling mightily three games into his NFL career and Albert has protected new quarterback Alex Smith extremely well.  Through three games, Albert has only allowed 4 quarterback hurries and 1 sack despite sustaining a shoulder injury in week 2, which led to his worst performance of the season in week 3.  It will be interesting to see if Albert continues his solid play from the first two weeks or if the shoulder injury will hamper him.  Either way, I believe this will be the last season for Albert in Kansas City.

Pat McAfee – Punter/Kickoff Specialist – Indianapolis Colts – Tag $2,977,000

There isn’t much to talk about here seeing as I seriously lack any experience evaluating Punter’s performance.  But it is worth noting that McAfee has performed near the top third of the league in Punting according to Pro Football Focus, hasn’t showed up on the wrong end of any highlights and is healthy.  As we will see later, half the battle in making the good section of this article is staying out of the news and actually being able to suit up on game day.

The “Bad”:

Randy Starks – Defensive Tackle – Miami Dolphins – Tag $8,450,000

Despite a scheme and position change, Randy Starks has continued to be an extremely productive defensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins since joining the team via free agency prior to the 2008 season.  Starks thrived as one of the league’s best 3-4 defensive ends from 2008-2011 and now is getting the hang of playing defensive tackle in Kevin Coyle’s 4-3 defense.  Unfortunately, there have been some negative reports floating around about Starks during the offseason and now during the season.  One of which was a report that Starks believes the Dolphins punished him for missing offseason voluntary workouts and stripped him of his starting role while he was lobbying for a long-term deal.  While defensive tackles Paul Soliai and Jared Odrick are listed as starters ahead of Starks, the snap counts were all relatively similar prior to Soliai’s week 2 knee injury.  Starks regained his starting role, at least temporarily, after Soliai went down with a knee injury although he didn’t play particularly well in the Dolphins’ win against Atlanta.  To further complicate issues, Starks was caught on camera flipping the bird on the sidelines during the Dolphins’ week 1 victory against Cleveland.  Reports were the gesture was directed at the coaching staff but Starks claims it was him just joking on the sidelines with his teammates.  Who knows what the truth is, but Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin have been quick to rid themselves of players that cause distractions and the soon to be 30 year-old Starks in the headlines surely isn’t helping his cause to secure a long-term deal with the Dolphins this offseason.

Jairus Byrd – Free Safety – Buffalo Bills – Tag $6,916,000

Muddled in an ugly contract dispute, Jairus Byrd’s 2013 season hasn’t started smoothly to say the least.  As one of the leagues’ top safeties he was hoping to cash in big during the offseason but never could get close enough with the Bills to hammer out a deal.  Unhappy with his current situation, Byrd didn’t sign his franchise tender until August 20th and reportedly was asking to be traded.  To make matters worse, Byrd reported to the team complaining of sore feet, which was determined to be plantar fasciitis.  I can tell you first hand that dealing with plantar fasciitis is extremely painful and frustrating.  Citing his foot pain, Byrd has yet to suit up for the Bills this year despite the rest of their secondary also being decimated by injuries.  Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, Ron Brooks, and Leodis McKelvin are dealing with an assortment of injuries of their own.  What complicates Byrd’s injury and contract situation further is the discovery that he played through the injury last season.  Whether it’s fair or not, it looks as if Byrd was willing to play through the pain last year in search of a big payday and now doesn’t see it as worthwhile to risk playing through it this year.  You would have to figure we are going to see Byrd suit up for the Bills soon, but it may very well be the last season he plays for Buffalo unless of course the Bills decide to tag him again, since it would only cost around $8.3 million, and this whole drama plays out again next year.

The Ugly:

Henry Melton – Defensive Tackle – Chicago Bears – Tag $8,450,000

After back-to-back stellar years at the Defensive Tackle position Henry Melton’s shaky 2013 start went from bad to flat out devastating.  As we mentioned in previous articles, the Chicago Bears have a number of key players in contract years and franchised Henry Melton was one of them.  With the Bears thriving under new head coach Marc Trestman, it’s looking increasingly likely that a higher number of the players would be retained.  Unfortunately for Melton, he is going to be a perfect case study of why players value long-term contract security so much and fight so hard to avoid the franchise tag.  Melton suffered a torn ACL vs the Steelers this Sunday and not only is he going to miss the rest of the season, his value in free agency this upcoming offseason just took a crippling blow.  While it seems to be the trend that players can recover from ACL injuries faster and more efficiently than ever, Melton may have to take a shorter “prove it” deal instead of a more substantial free agency haul that he was looking forward to.

Anthony Spencer – Defensive End – Dallas Cowboys – Tag $10,627,200

In 2012, Spencer and the Cowboys were unable to reach a long-term deal and he ended up playing through the season on the $8,856,000 franchise tag.  Not only did he avoid serious injury, Spencer probably played the best football of his career.  With Monte Kiffin bringing in his Tampa 2 4-3 defense, Spencer was asked to switch from 3-4 Outside Linebacker to 4-3 Defensive End and the position change ending up being one of the contentious points that prevented the Cowboys and Spencer from seeing eye to eye on his value and reaching a long-term deal yet again this year.  The Cowboys and Spencer both seemed content to play the year out on the franchise tag again, but as mentioned above with Henry Melton, it comes with serious risk.  Spencer had offseason surgery on his left knee and after missing week 1 was able to play against Kansas City in week 2.  It’s unclear what happened during the game, but after missing week 3, news broke that Spencer would have micro-fracture surgery on his left knee and will miss the rest of the season.  Spencer is now in the same bucket as Melton and will have to prove to teams he is past his injury if he hopes to cash in next offseason in free agency.

Ryan Clady – Left Tackle – Denver Broncos – Tag $9,828,000****

Of the eight players who were franchise tagged this offseason, Ryan Clady was the sole player who reached a long-term extension with their team.  Trusted with protecting the blind-side of early-season MVP Peyton Manning, the Broncos agreed to a 5-year $52.5 million extension.  Clady becomes another example of why players fight so hard to avoid the franchise tag and hold out of team activities while they pursue long-term security from the teams.  Just two games into his new mega-deal, Clady’s foot suffered a season-ending Lisfranc sprain in a seemingly docile collision.  Of the three players now on season-ending IR, Clady is the only one with any multi-year security and doesn’t have to worry about proving his worth and health next offseason in search of a new deal.

The Difficulty of Valuing and Comparing Contracts


Whenever a new contract pops up our immediate reaction is to compare it with someone else often in an effort to make it sound greater than it really is. The reality is that it is often very difficult to compare contracts and one or two numbers is never going to paint the real picture. There are many factors that come into play with a deal and you may often come up with two answers based on how you decide to value a contract. I can safely say that Aaron Rodgers contract is worth far more money than Joe Flacco’s, but I can also safely say that Flacco’s deal is far more player friendly and has a higher likelihood of being earned. While I’m as guilty as anyone with the comparisons I do try to paint a complete picture of contract comparisons.  With Ryan Clady’s contract being the latest “biggest deal” I thought it was worth walking through some of the comparison difficulties.

New Money vs Total Money

This is the most difficult concept to work into contract comparisons. Contract extensions for the most part are contracts signed that have time remaining on the contract, often one year and sometimes more. When we value a deal we report the new money in the contract. To calculate new money you add together the yearly cash flows of the entire deal (for a 5 year extension with 1 year remaining that would be 6 years) and subtract out of that the cash flow component of the old contract. When we report on items like three year totals we are really adding many more years than three and subtracting the old money from the deal.

But is that fair?  Take Joe Thomas for example as he is the most likely comparison to Clady. His three year “new money” total is $42 million. Clady’s deal can’t compare with that, but Thomas’ take is over a 4 year period. His actual three year salary on the total contract is $38.9 million. Again that is more than Clady but it’s much closer. In order to really put the “new” money valuations in perspective you have to look at contract structure which we will touch on in a bit.

Length of Contract

The initial comparisons of deals often come in terms of annual value per year and guaranteed salary. But there are major differences in those numbers based on years. APY can be misleading. Is the deal frontloaded?  Is it backloaded?  Do the additional years bring up the value or diminish the value. The great player contracts have backend numbers that diminish the value which we can calculate by items such as percent paid out over x amount of years or APY per each year. Thomas’ deal fits into this category and so should Clady’s. The great team deal has backend salary that artificially inflates the APY, an example of which was D’Brickashaw Fergusons contract with the Jets.

Guarantees can also be misstated. I like to look at guarantee per year or percent guaranteed more than the total guarantee. If I am giving up 7 years of my career to a team I need to be compensated for it. Thomas’ contract contained a whopping $44 million in guarantees, but that is on a 7 year deal. On a per year basis that is $6.28 million. On a percentage basis its 54.6%. If we just take into account potential full guarantees those numbers reduce. With a reported $33 million in guarantees on a 5 year deal Clady’s guarantee is as high as $6.6 million a year and 62.9% of the total contract. Now which sounds better?

You can take it a step further as well and factor in life earnings. Assuming players complete their deals how old will they be when they can re-sign. Clady will be 32 when he re-enters free agency. Thomas will be 35. Who has a better chance of earning another deal?  Clearly the 32 year old. If the cap ever increases maybe Clady can make up that additional money Thomas received in his contract.

Contractual Structure

It is also important to take into consideration what happens if the player is not a great player over the life of the deal. Things change rapidly in the league and a deal that offers as much protection to the player as possible may be worth more than the deal with little protection that is valued higher. I often like to look at deals in terms of “virtual” guarantees, the point at which the salary cap implications begin to favor the release of the player. I tend to look at a few items when it comes to determining what is the true value of the contract.

Cap Savings- This is your very basic cap charge minus dead money in a given a year. Once it turns positive leverage goes from the player to the team and makes releasing the player more likely.

CSC Ratio- This calculation I use is the cap savings plus the cash savings divided by a players cap charge. I consider this to be a measurement of overall worth to a team to cutting a player. Remember a contract has both a cash and a cap component when you cut a player you save cash and may save or lose cap space. If the number is greater than the cap charge a team has reason to release.

Replacement Cost- While it is impossible to project this number ahead of time it puts more depth to the cap savings. This can be calculated by taking the cap savings of a release and subtracting out what cost a replacement player is. If you only save $2 million but the cost of a replacement is $5 million in cap dollars it is likely not worth cutting the player unless the cash component is that significant.

These are all important items to look at especially when we look at new money deals and seeing just how long those “new” years will really run. By agreeing to early extensions your contract structure is going to be much weaker than a newly signed deal.

Incentive Structures

This is often another big portion of confusion with a deal. We saw that tonight with Clady where the deal was originally reported as $57.5 million only to quickly learn that number included $5 million in potential escalators. Until earned we should always value at the base value of the contract. That $57.5 figure is likely important to Clady because it gives them a chance to reach the same APY as Thomas. The problem with that and as its being reported is that Thomas deal also contains $3.5 million in escalators, which , if earned, make his deal impossible to match.

With these escalators in place the details of earning them becomes important. Thomas’ are easier to earn because they are tied to Pro Bowls rather than All Pro nods, which is the condition of Clady’s. But Thomas’ seem to be tied to making Pro Bowls very late in his contract, which could be very difficult. Clady’s are reported to be available in tiers for each season and since his deal is only 5 years has more of a likelihood of actually being earned and paid.


These are just a few of the items that make comparisons difficult. It’s never as black and white as we like to make it seem when we quickly compare contracts, which is the best that can be done in 140 characters or a quick Sportscenter soundbite discussing how historic a contract is. With that in mind we will do our best when Clady’s details are made public to do as good a comparison as possible with the other big money deals on the market and try to determine just how much of the deal he will like see and when Denvers options to move on really begin.



Vesting vs Full Guarantees Focusing on the Broncos and Ryan Clady


One of our Twitter buddies had the following tidbit regarding Ryan Clady and his contract discussions:

On the surface that seems like a no-brainer of a contract for Clady. An $11 million APY in this market with $33 million guaranteed is a heist for the player. But whenever you see reports like this the first thing that should come into mind is whether the guarantees are real guarantees or not?

Guaranteed salary can take on many forms, only one type of which is truly guaranteed. We touch on this more in depth in our Caponomics videos, but the basics are that in the NFL you can be cut for skill, injury, or salary cap reasoning. Unless upon signing your salary is guaranteed for all three terminations the guarantees are nothing more than fancy words designed to make a deal sound amazing in the press when in reality the deal may be worth nothing close to the reported numbers.

The Broncos in particular rarely seem to fully guarantee players salary. They often use a “vesting” mechanism in which the player will convert a partial guarantee into a full guarantee by meeting some condition, typically being on the roster on a certain date. The vesting guarantees can be long horizon (more team friendly) or short horizon (more player friendly).  In the Broncos case it is normally the latter.  The structure of such guarantees are of even more importance when dealing with the Broncos who do not usually give their players large signing bonuses, which act as a deterrent towards early release due to salary cap implications.

So how do these deals work in practice?  We can first look at Peyton Manning who received a $96 million dollar contract. Technically the deal contains $96 million in guarantees, but the reality was just the first season was guaranteed. If released after that season and before the trigger event Manning would not have received another penny. To trigger his guarantees Manning has to pass a physical before the 2013 LY which activated $40 million in full guarantees, unless an injury occurs related to his original neck injury.  In 2015 and 2016 he has the ability to lock in yearly guarantees by passing a physical. This was both a player friendly structure (frontside) and team friendly (backside) with the rolling guarantee structure.

Wes Welker signed a 2 year $12 million dollar contract that was reported to be 100% guaranteed. That was only the case in regards to injury.  If Welker makes it thru the season in one piece and is released prior to the start of the 2014 League Year the Broncos will not owe him a penny. He needs to be on the roster to activate his guarantee.

Former Bronco Elvis Dumervil received tremendous press coverage when it was reported that his contract contained over $43 million in guaranteed money. As things turned out most of those guarantees were against injury only with him required to be on the roster every year for the guarantees to really mean anything. Dumervil missed out on $12 million in 2013 when he was released before the vesting date. Dumervil’s contract was incredibly team friendly.

So as we turn to Clady the question is just how much of the $33 million will be truly guaranteed and how much will need to be earned?  I would think it is doubtful that it would be fully guaranteed as the Broncos simply do not concede on that point. On top of that there is considerable precedence at the position. Joe Thomas,  D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Jake Long, and Duane Brown all have partial guaranteed contracts with possibilities of earning full guarantees along the way. None had their deals fully guaranteed upon signing.

Thomas’ deal could be a good starting point for an idea of potential structures.  Thomas’ contract was reported to contain $44 million in guaranteed money. The only amount fully guaranteed upon signing was a $6 million dollar signing bonus, $4 million roster bonus, and $8 million dollar Paragraph 5 salary. Another $20.5 million was guaranteed for injury and would become fully guaranteed by being on the roster a few days following the Super Bowl each year, a date that is considered more player friendly that dates pushing into the actual league year. $5.5 million was only guaranteed for injury.

Using that same structure and eliminating the portion of the guarantee that simply doesn’t vest we can get a signing bonus around $5 million and $10 million in fully guaranteed money that will be paid out in 2013. His 2014 salary would be $9.3 million and 2015 salary would be $8.7 million, both of which would be guaranteed for injury only and converted to full guarantees if he is on the roster in February of each year. Using that structure Clady’s cap charges would be $11 million, $10.3 million, and $9.7 million with backend charges of $11.5 and $12.5 million. His dead money in those last two years would only be $2 million and $1 million respectively which would fit in with the Broncos current Manning window.

So I’ll be very interested to see how it all breaks down, but I would not be surprised if its something similar to what I have outlined above.I think the key is just how much money they can push the Broncos on in the first two years. Those are two seasons where the guarantees are most likely to be realized. If Denver tries to push more vesting guarantees into 2015 then it is a deal Clady may reject unless he can earn those guarantees by being on the roster in 2014 rather than 2015.



The Franchise Tag and the July 15 Deadline


The NFL calendar is filled with little dates here and there that are very important for salary cap purposes that sometimes get lost in the shuffle. We are now coming up on one of those dates- July 15, just 9 days away from the time I am writing this. July 15 is the final day that a team can sign their Franchise player to a long term contract. If they fail to come to a contract agreement by 4:00 PM on the 15th the player can only play the season on a one year contract with his current team with no extension allowed until after the conclusion of the season.

I am not a big fan of allowing players to play out the season on the Franchise tag. It compromises your salary cap and puts you right back at square one after the season. Normally when you tag a player the players is an exceptional player and when his contract is up for extension again the following season he is still an exceptional player. His value doesn’t go down it is only going to go up.

Obviously drafting skilled players and hiring the right coaching staff are two major factors in team success, but much of a team’s success, specifically long term, is predicated  on efficient and effective contract management. The prime years for most NFL talent is between the ages of 26 and 29. The longer past the age of 30 a contract runs and the more dead money linked to those post 30 years the more compromised a team becomes in the future.

The problem with tagging a 26 or 27 year old player rather than signing a 5 year extension that runs until he is 30 or 31 comes at both the front end and back end of the contract. For example Anthony Spencer of the Cowboys had proven himself to be a pretty solid player thru 2011. Dallas had him play the year out on the tag in 2012, when he had just turned 28. Spencer did nothing to decrease his value as he is playing in the prime of his career, and if anything increased his value in free agency.

Rather than locking him up at 28 years of age the cap-strapped Cowboys put $8.85 million on their cap instead of using the benefits of proration and contract management to limit the cap obligations on the front end. Now 29 the Cowboys have tagged him again, this time at $10.63 million, contributing in part to the execution of a string of bad contract restructures to be cap compliant in 2013.

The Cowboys, who have called off negotiations with Spencer this season, supposedly still want to do a long term deal after this season. Assuming they do so they will have paid Spencer around $19.5 million in cash and cap for 2012 and 2013 and will now be stuck in a contract with him until 34 or 35 years old, with him likely earning the same deal and guarantees he would have earned back in 2012 with the Cowboys having an option to release at 31 years of age.

The only times the franchise tag is acceptable, in my opinion, is if you have a question mark “one season wonder” or it is an player on a win now team that has no intentions of ever re-signing the player to a long term deal. When the Carolina Panthers tagged Matt Moore it made sense because he was totally unproven and as things turned out he was pretty bad in a starting role and ended up as a backup in Miami. The tag saved Caroline a ton of money.  The New York Jets tagging of John Abraham in 2005 fit the second criteria, and helped the team control his rights to collect a first round pick for a player they had many reservations about keeping.

Our look at the positional Franchise players who could get deals done this week:

Branden Albert– Albert will turn 29 during the course of the 2013 season and the Chiefs really shot themselves in the foot by franchising him for the sole purpose of trading him. When they failed to accept what the market would offer they got stuck with a $9.8 million dollar cap charge on a player they don’t really want. Albert is versatile and you can get a few extra years out of that position than some others, but considering where both sides are it probably serves no purpose for the Chiefs to sign him long term, though the cost of the tag has hurt their cap flexibility with the season approaching.

Jairus Byrd– Byrd is 27 years old and one of the best two or three Safeties in the NFL. Bills could be thinking that two years of tagging at a low cost position rather than paying $8 million a year for top end of the market is worthwhile, especially on a team that should experience some defensive turnover in the next year or two. That would cost the Bills an extra $4 million in cap but save them about $4 million in cash over a two year period if benchmarking against Eric Weddle in San Diego. The Bills should extend him but my guess is they will not.

Ryan Clady– Clady is another 27 year old and a 3 time Pro Bowler. The cost of franchising an offensive lineman is high- $9.8 million, but finding a fair value contract for any lineman is difficult. The Broncos are built to win now and may perceive investment at the position not worth the long term cost. I think the decision should be made in part based on how many years the team expects Peyton Manning to start. Considering his salary in 2014 is fully guaranteed it puts Denver in a position to play the tag game again next year as its doubtful they will throw a rookie in at LT with Manning. As a point of reference Jake Long will only cost the Rams $13.5 million in cap over the next two years and an additional $10.5 million if they keep him in the third season. I have not heard anything about discussions between the two sides and they may be financially too far apart, but he is a player that should be signed long term.

Michael Johnson– A head scratcher. The Bengals have no cap issues and Johnson has produced 17.5 sacks over the last two seasons and is a vital part of the defense. He is only 26 years old and would give the Bengals a head start on extending a core of young players that can get very expensive n a few years. They should extend Johnson but may balk at Johnson looking for premier pass rusher money while the market for pass rushers has somewhat shrunk, though none as young as him. The Bengals should work hard on locking him up as the cost to franchise next season if prohibitive.

Henry Melton– Melton has produced 13 sacks the last two seasons and won’t turn 27 until October. Right now the Bears have limited long term visions with a number of high priced contracts set to expire. In many ways you can say the Bears have a cap filled with franchise tags based on the cost, lack of dead money, and remaining seasons on the contract.  Paying a DT on the tag is almost worthless due to the high cost compared to positional value. Bears should have never even tagged him in the first place. Based on everything the Bears are doing they are likely just giving one last shot with this group and will let Melton walk after this season.

Anthony Spencer– We discussed Spencer above and the Cowboys have really just botched this from day one. Their best option at this point would be to see if a team was willing to trade for Spencer. Dallas always has an inflated view of themselves and I am sure see themselves as a win it all this year type of club which will be the justification for keeping him this year on the franchise tag.

Randy Starks– Starks will be 30 towards the conclusion of the season and already has nine years of wear and tear on his body. The Dolphins clearly went all in on the season making the retention of Starks very important to the team. He is a solid player for a somewhat underrated defense and should be a key contributor in 2013. At his age a long term extension is really not a wise decision. Older players at this position often end up on lower cost one and two year deals and the Dolphins could look to that model for the future if the market dries up for him next year. He is one of those rare players where it makes more sense to play on the tag then extend, and I fully expect Miami to hold firm on Starks this year.