We had Tyrann Mathieu’s contract estimates up on Friday but because we were uncertain how accurate they were I decided not to write a post on the subject. With Mike Florio confirming our estimates I wanted to look a bit deeper into the deal and explain how this was a major win for the Arizona Cardinals.
Mathieu’s slot in the draft called for a contract with $662,500 paid in the form of a signing bonus, fully guaranteed. The Cardinals upped the potential guarantee of the contract but made the guarantees conditional, primarily on Mathieu’s ability to avoid suspension for drugs or any other NFL related incident. The guarantees come in the form of a $265,000 signing bonus, a series of roster bonuses, and some protected base salary.
In the NFL there are provisions for forfeitable salary that are essentially mandatory provided a player is suspended due to drug policy violations. When the player is suspended they will lose a prorated portion of their signing bonus allocated to that particular season as well as prorated portions of their offseason bonuses. For purposes of forfeitable salary the offseason bonuses are treated as signing bonuses despite their treatment on the salary cap.
This is where the big win comes in for Arizona. Not only did the Cardinals get Mathieu to not take the full signing bonus but they got him to agree to a roster bonus payment schedule where his bonuses are not paid until the following calendar year and are contingent upon being on the roster for 16 games. Even if he was to have an illegal hit that resulted in suspension that would seem to void his roster bonus for that season.
Two other troubled players in the recent past- Justin Blackmon of the Jaguars and Janoris Jenkins of the Rams- took on somewhat similar structured deals, however those players receive their roster bonuses before the start of the season. For forfeiture purposes those players will only lose (and in Blackmon’s case is going to lose) 4/17th of their roster bonus, as if the bonus was prorated over the life of the deal. So if the player has a $1.7 million dollar roster bonus due in the 2nd year of a 3 year deal and its already earned for forfeiture purposes only $566,666 counts for the year in question with the player only giving up $133,333 of the bonus. The following chart illustrates the amount of money that Mathieu will give up if he is suspended for a 4 game drug violation under the three scenarios. Please note that these are my interpretations of the CBA and if there are any corrections please let me know.
The normal slot has a higher forfeiture provision because all money is paid in year 1 and the player is also protected in the future. Once suspended the guarantees on future bonuses vanish making the player cuttable under both roster bonus options. Regardless this contract structure puts Mathieu at the potential to risk far more salary than he would have if he could have gotten better terms on the conditions of his roster bonus.
There are going to be some who argue that Mathieu got above slot on the contract as a reward if he stays clean. Last year Bryan Anger, selected in the same slot, received a contract worth $2.877 million. That would have worked out to be about $2.967 million in 2013 dollars. Mathieu has the potential to earn $3.052 million.
The problem with that belief is that all positional players (which ironically Anger is not) are eligible for the Proven Performance Escalator in year 4 which will bump the salary of the player in the final year of his contract to that of a RFA tendered player. The bump in salary is conditional upon playing either 35% of the snaps in 2 of 3 seasons or 35% of the cumulative total of snaps over 3 years. That salary increase takes into account not only your P5, but any roster, workout, or other bonuses or incentives, essentially rendering the 4th year bonus as worthless other than as a mechanism to be paid earlier or to get your release earlier in free agency. For the most part if a player cant earn the PPE, unless he is just a special teams phenom he will be released.
Over the first three years of his contract Mathieu will earn about $2.2 million while Anger would have earned just under $2.17 million. When you consider minimum salaries have increased by $15,000 over the Anger contract, Mathieu really is not being paid over slot. The only way that this is an over=slotted contract is if he has injury problems that prevent him from achieving that PPE.
So the reality is this is a major negotiating win for the Cardinals. They have the chance to avoid multiple payments if Mathieu is suspended rather than the standard proportionate recovery. Simply put if he does not stay clean he does not get paid. He gives up excessive amounts of salary and will void his future guarantees. There is limited upside in the deal and it gives him every financial incentive to not have any issues that result in a suspension for any period of time from the league.