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Jun 20

The 49′ers Get a Bargain with Justin Smith

The numbers became official today for DE Justin Smith and his two year extension with the 49’ers- 2 years at an average of $4.35 million a season. By many accounts it is a very team friendly contract but I may as well add my two cents in on the topic as well.

The three obvious comparison points here are the contracts signed by John Abraham in 2012 and Osi Umenyiora and Dwight Freeney in 2013 and we will use these deals as a point of reference. But before we present the contracts I want to make a point that while the stated guarantee on Smith’s new deal is $9.56 million in reality he was going to be on the 49’ers in 2013 and the $7.5 million base salary for the year was going to be earned. For that purpose we will only consider the contract to contain $2 million in new money guarantees. Here are how the dollars stack up:

 

Name

Age

Years

APY

1st Year Cash

Guarantee

John Abraham

34

3

$5,833,333

$4,500,000

$2,250,000

Dwight Freeney

33

2

$4,375,000

$5,250,000

$4,750,000

Osi Umenyiora

32

2

$4,250,000

$5,000,000

$3,750,000

Justin Smith

34

2

$4,350,000

$4,650,000

$2,000,000

 

Clearly the value of the extension was designed to fit between the Umenyiora and Freeney contracts. Abraham is no longer in the NFL having been released from his contract after one season. Smith will earn less than both Umenyiora and Freeney in first year extension compensation and has a higher probability of not seeing that money due to a limited guarantee in his extension years.

Smith should have had far more leverage than either Freeney or Umenyiora had even factoring in age and his triceps injury from last season.  Here is the base statistical breakdown of the players:

 

Name

Snaps

Sacks

Tackles

Dwight Freeney

768

5

12

Osi Umenyiora

653

6

43

Justin Smith

1018

3

66

 

Despite playing from a non-rush position Smith did generate 3 sacks and significantly more tackles than either Freeney or Umenyiora.  It is also worth nothing that Smith has made 4 straight Pro Bowls and was a 1st and 2sn team All Pro in 2012 and 2013. Freeney’s last Pro Bowl was in 2011 and All Pro season in 2009. Umenyiora was a 2nd team All NFL player in 2010.

One of the big reasons for the increased production and postseason honors is because Smith is a full time player as evidenced by his snap count being over 1000 last season. The other two are situational players. In terms of financial planning that means when you sign Justin Smith you only need to sign Justin Smith. When you sign either of the other players you need to also sign a rotational player to make up for the 400 snaps when they will not be on the field. Most likely it means a cap hit ranging from $555,000 to $1.25 million for the role player, making the true spend on the other two players closer to $5 million a year and $6 million in first year cash. Rather than being awarded for his durability Smith was not. If we place their dollar value on per snaps played Smith is the clear loser.

 

Name

Per snap APY

Per snap Guar

Per Snap 1 year cash

Dwight Freeney

$5,697

$6,185

$6,836

Osi Umenyiora

$6,508

$5,743

$7,657

Justin Smith

$4,273

$1,965

$4,568

 

At a minimum he should have been earning $6 million a year with $7 million paid out in the first year of which $6 million was guaranteed just by taking him as an equal player to the other two. Factoring in the actual performance each of those numbers should be bumped by at least $1 million. It’s a bargain basement contract for a premier player.

Smith should have had even more leverage based on the 49’ers salary cap situation. As we discussed last month the 49’ers did not have enough cap room to function in the 2013 NFL season. Suggested moves were extending Smith or perhaps extending S Donte Whitner or CB Tarell Brown.  With limited cap upside to the latter moves, barring a release,  Smith should have been in a position to either get large guarantees in 2014 or two funny money void seasons in return for playing nice with the salary cap.

Smith was in a position to hold the 49’ers feet to the fire due to the cap. Freeney was allowed to play his deal out on a monster 2012 cap figure while Umenyiora simply took a void year and a slight raise to help the Giants out with their salary cap in 2012.  Like Smith, Umenyiora fired his agent to get that contract done himself, a contract that was far more player friendly due to the void year than this one. Instead Smith chose option C which was to do everything in his power to help the team and get almost no raise in the process. Smith was scheduled to earn $8 million in 2013- he will now earn $8.1 million.

While the particulars of the contract have not been made public in regards to the roster bonuses, my experience with the 49’ers and salary cap in general would tell me that $400,000 per year is probably tied to being on the active 53 man roster. Freeney’s contract contains similar incentives and Umenyiora’s deal with the Giants in 2012 also contained such provisions. At least part of the roster bonuses, according to Corry,  are capable of being turned into a signing bonus to further lessen the cap burden in the future if needed without having to go back to the bargaining table if Smith again has an All Pro caliber year and looks for more money to be a salary cap aide. The Niners hold all the cards.

As fans we often get wrapped up in the negative side of the money equation focusing on the players who get big money and then fail to perform to the level of the contract. Sometimes we should focus on a player like Smith who potentially gave away millions for the chance to win a Super Bowl and finish his career in a specific city. This is not the first time Smith has done this. Smith agreed back towards the end of the prior CBA to a void/buyback provision in his contract that allowed the 49’ers to use up their remaining cap space in the final capped year and reduce his cap charges once the cap returned in 2011. Smith gave up his dead money protection from release in future contract years by agreeing to the restructure.

Smith has really been a bigger behind the scenes help to the 49’ers than most will realize. The decision to buy in back in 2009 has helped San Francisco with their cap in 2011 and 2012 and now  he is helping them again in 2013 and 2014 with a very team friendly contract. Regardless of the how the 49’ers season turns out it will likely be better simply because of Smith’s willingness and desire to remain in San Francisco and “play ball” with the 49’ers front office n their terms. Very few players would be willing to do that. Smith has time and time again.