We kick off week 3 with our look at the contracts of the Tennessee Titans
Best Contract: Michael Roos
Michael Roos is a terrific tackle and should be mentioned when we discuss the top tier left tackles of the last 10 years. Roos often gets overlooked because he was not a top draft choice and plays in relative anonymity in Tennessee. Roos consistently grades as one of the better tackles in the NFL and is a durable as they come, missing just one game in his nine year career.
Roos’ career should have trended with some of the highest compensated players of the era. He was eligible for a new contract during the timeframe where there was an overemphasis on the position and, league wide, left tackles were becoming one of the highest paid players on the team. The position more or less peaked when D’Brickashaw Ferguson of the Jets received a $10 million a year contract in 2010.
Not that much should have separated Roos and Ferguson, but the Titans moved swiftly with Roos and locked him up for just over $7 million a season with $12.8 million in full guarantees in 2008. The highest base cap charge for Roos was just $7.5 million, which would occur late in the contract, making him a tremendous bargain for the team. Most players at the position and his skill level would carry at least $9 million a season in charges so the Titans have saved a great deal of cap space with Roos.
The deal was structured to run a long time, from 2008-2014, giving the Titans exclusive rights to him until he will turn 32 years old. With no back end bloated salary figures or dead money charges the Titans are one of the few teams to honestly be able to say that they locked up a core player for his entire career with no worries of restructures or renegotiations due to cap concerns. He will be a rarity in the NFL to sign a long term contract and not have the contract modified for any reason nor be released. Playing a contract out is so rare and Roos will do just that. All teams in the NFL would hope to have a contract as good as this one on their books for a six or seven year period.
Worst Contract: Michael Oher
Before Chris Johnson was released, the worst contract on the team was a pretty easy choice. With Johnson gone it becomes more challenging. Tennessee is one of those teams that rarely locks into big contracts, but tends to overpay on a number of lower tier players in the league. When I think of the Titans I think of a team that avoids tougher contracts but is more than willing to go above and beyond on a low value contract since the money is less concerning in the event a player fails than it would be on a player like Johnson. Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster are two recent ones that both fit that bill, but I feel that the Michael Oher contract is the one that stands out the most.
Oher is a former first round draft pick and rose to some level of prominence when his life story was the subject of the movie the Blindside. It’s an amazing story, but his NFL career has been very inconsistent and the Baltimore Ravens realized they needed to move on from Oher and look elsewhere for a starting right tackle. Pro Football Focus rated Oher one of the worst tackles in the NFL in 2013.
As free agency approached it was not thought that Oher would be very sought after around the NFL. I think most figured he would receive a moderate one or two year contract with a strong chance to start and use that as a launching pad to a long term deal. As things turned out he received the third highest contract among free agent right tackles at $5 million a season and $6 million fully guaranteed. Oher has another $3.35 million guaranteed in 2015 for injury that becomes fully guaranteed a few days following the Super Bowl, a very strong guarantee for the player. Overall the contract ranks in the top 10 for the position.
The contract structure is nowhere near as bad as many of the other contracts we have discussed. The could walk away after paying him $6 million and absorbing a $3 million dead cap charge after just one season, but that $6 million for Oher just seems so expensive. If he sticks for two years he will receive $10 million in salary and leave the team with $2 million in dead money. So this is not a “lock you in forever” contract, but one that I have a difficult time believing most other teams in the NFL would have signed.
2013’s Best and Worst Titans Contracts:
2013 Best Contract: Michael Roos (See above)
2013 Worst Contract: Chris Johnson (Released; Signed with New York Jets)
Key Additions: Michael Oher ($5M per year), Wesley Woodyard ($3.9M), Dexter McCluster ($3M), Shaun Phillips ($2.5M), Charlie Whitehurst ($2.1M), Al Woods ($2M)
Key Re-Signings: Ropati Pitoitua ($3.2M per year), Antonio Johnson ($1.2M),
Key Losses: Alterraun Verner (Buccaneers), Kenny Britt (Rams)
Major Cuts: David Stewart ($6.4M cap savings), Chris Johnson ($6M), Ryan Fitzpatrick ($3.3M),
Free Agency Thoughts:
The Titans finally made the smart decision to get Chris Johnson’s contract off the books this season. That contract was a disaster from day one and he seemed to make it known that he was not going to significantly rework the deal for the team. He really left them no options, though waiting as long as they did seemed to make them seem a bit petty.
The loss of Alterraun Verner was a head scratcher. He signed for little in Tampa Bay and the Titans secondary could have used him. Verner played very well last season so I would imagine that the decision had to do with the new coaching staff not believing he would fit in with the defense.
Likewise signing Michael Oher to a $5 million a year contract was equally surprising. Oher never really maximized the potential in Baltimore but they saw something in him that I doubt any other team saw. They will pay him $6 million this season and he has an offseason vesting guarantee in 2015, so this will likely end up a 2 year contract. His dead money in 2016 is just $2 million, but it’s hard to believe they were bidding against anyone for his services in this price range.
The signing of Shaun Phillips and Wesley Woodyard could both be good short term additions to the team. Phillips does put up sacks but has yet to really find a team to overpay for that production. The Titans gave him more than most, but it is not a contract that carries any risk. Woodyard’s contract is on the higher side of his production and history, but he should add to the defense.
Charlie Whitehurst is amazingly in his ninth season as a pro. He’s only thrown 155 total passes, his last coming in 2011. Somehow the Titans guaranteed him $2 million for that, which is more than Mark Sanchez received. Whitehurst was brought in because of his familiarity with the coach, but with Jake Lockers injury history they may have been better off keeping Ryan Fitzpatrick around.
Dexter McCluster received a nice deal from the team to return kicks and pitch in as a short target in the passing game. His $4 million guarantee is quite steep for his production level and an example of a team not really worrying about the money on what they view as a lower cost player. I dislike that line of thinking but the Titans are not the only team to do this.
Overall Grade: C
I feel as if the Titans could have done much more this offseason than they did. Maybe they did not want to overspend on higher priced players in light of some of the contracts they had signed in the past, but they have one of the lower payrolls in the NFL and had they released Chris Johnson sooner would have had the cap space to do more. I’m not sure you can point to any contract here and say they received a good deal or that they greatly improved the team. They won’t get into much trouble down the line with any of the players’ contracts, which is a positive, but that doesn’t change the fact that most are contracts that other teams would likely not even consider. I do like the fact that they finally released Johnson, which is why they get a C rather than C-, but Im not sure anyone looks at this team as any better than they were before free agency and it is unlikely any player will aid for the long term growth of the franchise.
Yesterday Titans DE/LB Kamerion Wimbley agreed to a massive paycut to remain a member of the Tennessee Titans. Wimbley, scheduled to earn $6 million in 2014, slashed his 2014 salary to $3 million and in return received $1.25 million in guarantees, paid out as a $500,000 roster bonus and $750,000 base salary guarantee. Wimbley is also eligible for a $250,000 offseason workout bonus so realistically the guarantee on the contract is $1.5 million.
In 2015 Wimbley can now earn $2.75 million, $900,000 of which is a roster bonus. This represents a reduction in salary of $3.75 million. In 2016 Wimbley can earn $3.25 million, down from his original $7 million total.
In summary Wimbley’s new deal is for $9 million which is a $10.5 million salary cut from his original contract. Because no signing bonus was paid Wimbley’s potential dead money charges remain the same. In 2015 his cap figure will be $950,000 higher than the cost of cutting him, which is probably enough to not make him safe in 2015 unless his performance improves.
A little while ago, Jay Glazer reported that Steve Hutchinson of the Tennessee Titans will announce his retirement tomorrow. Hutchinson was a seven-time All Pro guard and seven-time Pro Bowler among his time with the Seahawks and Vikings, and played the final year of his stellar career last season in Tennessee. Of course, what many fans will remember Hutchinson for is the famous “Poison Pill” contract that Minnesota used to lure him away from Seattle.
The poison pill contract worked essentially like this. After the 2005 season, Hutchinson was an unrestricted free agent but was slapped with the transition tag by the Seahawks which gave the team the right of first refusal on any offer sheet Hutchinson may sign. The Vikings subsequently signed Hutchinson to an offer sheet for seven years and $49 million. The controversial part, however, was a provision included in the offer sheet that stated Hutchinson’s entire salary over the life of the contract would be guaranteed if he was not the highest paid offensive lineman on the team. In a normal scenario, this likely wouldn’t be a tough issue for a team to handle when the player is one of Steve Hutchinson’s caliber. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, this was not a normal scenario. In the previous offseason, Seattle had resigned Walter Jones, one of the greatest left tackles of all-time, to a contract that would pay him more than what the Vikings offered Hutchinson. Thus, if the Seahawks had matched the Vikings’ offer sheet, the poison pill would have automatically kicked in from the very beginning and Hutchinson’s entire seven-year deal would be guaranteed. This would have given Seattle incredible salary cap issues as two extremely high-paid offensive lineman would be on the roster, one of which would have every dollar guaranteed. The Seahawks obviously did not match this deal, but gained a bit of retribution against Minnesota by signing Vikings receiver Nate Burleson to a similarly structured poison pill contract that same offseason.
I wasn’t going to get into the famous poison pill contract in Hutchinson’s career, but seeing as this is a site designed to explain contract and salary cap issues, once I started I figured it was a necessity. The original reason I started writing this post was to recap Hutchinson’s career cap hits. Usually when a player retires, an article here and there will recap how much money that player has made over the course of his career. When an NFL player retires, it’s a little more fun not to look at how much total money they pulled in, but instead to see just what that player’s cap hits were every year. As such, as best as I could find, here are Hutchinson’s cap hits over the course of his amazing career:
2001: $1.2 million
2002: $1.310 million
2003: $1.399 million
2004: $1.465 million
2005: $3.510 million
2006: $13.335 million
2007: $7.135 million
2008: $6.5 million
2009: $7.5 million
2010: $8.6 million
2011: $6.730 million
2012: $3.5 million
2013 (if he didn’t retire): $6.75 million (Titans save $3.75 million against cap this year).
Over 12 seasons, Hutchinson’s cap hits totaled $62.184 million. This averages out to a charge of $5.182 million per year. Not bad for a potential Hall of Famer.