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Chris Jones Signs Four Year, $80 Million Contract with Chiefs

In some surprising news (to me at least) the Chiefs and franchised defensive tackle Chris Jones came to an agreement on a new four year, $80 million contract. My gut reaction after hearing the numbers was that the Chiefs moved up their offers in order to maintain a harmonious locker room and make sure there was no threat of Jones holding out.  After Mike Florio had the details for PFT I would change that opinion and put this in the category of the Chiefs getting a solid deal on their terms.

The cash breakdown of the contract is very team friendly. The Chiefs will not spend a penny more in cash or on the salary cap in 2020 than they would have had Jones played the year on the franchise tag. For a tagged player to not receive a raise over the tag itself in the first year is very rare. Had the Chiefs tagged him a second time the cost would have been $19.35 million. Per Florio’s report Jones will only receive a $2.15 million raise over that figure. Id say the typical starting raise is in the ballpark of 10-13% and then higher depending on the quality of player.

In a year by year look at the contract the Chiefs will basically get a front end bargain compared to the higher end deals on the market before bumping the salaries to reach an annual value of $20 million a year. Here is how the contract compares to the other big name defensive tackles.

PlayerYear 1Year 2Year 3Year 4
Chris Jones$16,126,000$37,626,000$60,000,000$80,000,000
Aaron Donald$43,108,000$60,108,000$80,000,000$94,250,000
DeForest Buckner$28,000,000$44,000,000$63,750,000$84,000,000
Fletcher Cox$28,500,000$40,000,000$55,600,000$69,500,000
Grady Jarrett$24,500,000$38,000,000$51,500,000$68,000,000

Jones front end cash will trail both Jarretts and Cox’ in the first two seasons which puts that part of the contract more in line with the $17 million players before making the big turn in year 3. To make up for the difference it sounds as if the third year is virtually guaranteed at signing so this will be a real $20 million a year deal even if the way it gets there is not very traditional. It should also be noted that Donald and Cox have longer contracts that also benefit their cash flows while the other three will be free agents after four years.

The first thing I would wonder here is if Jones received a no trade clause or not. Surprisingly the Chiefs used no signing bonus at all which keeps his cap number this year intact. It also leaves him with $21.5 million cap hit next season in a year when the Chiefs will be right up against the salary cap. While they can convert salary into bonus money the structure itself would lend itself to a trade, giving the Chiefs the best of both worlds in having a relatively team friendly contract with an ability to trade as if you tagged again next year. If there is a no trade clause then all of this conjecture will make no difference.

In return for the lower cash flows up front Jones did get the strongest guarantee of the group with a $15 million per year guarantee topping even Donald’s contract that averaged $14.48 million per year guaranteed. This seems to be the Chiefs way right now of doing business, keeping cash flows and annual values at a respectable level and in return being more generous with the guarantees. Teams in general will (or at least should) almost always be willing to push guarantees for better cash terms and the Chiefs are doing very well in that regard.  

I would guess that the willingness to get to $20 million a year even if in an unconventional manner was what got this contract done. $20 million per year has been the magic number for defensive players for the last two offseasons. Locking in two years of salary may have also been beneficial if Covid causes havoc on the 2021 salary cap harming free agency prospects in the event Jones was not tagged for a second time.

As for the Chiefs it will be interesting to see how they manage this. The contract for Jones will technically give them two defensive players earning $20 million a year to go along with Patrick Mahomes at an effective value of $40 million and Tyreek Hill near the top of the receiver market.  They also have Tyrann Mathieu at the top of the safety market and four key players who should be looking for extensions next year- left tackle Eric Fisher, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, tight end Travis Kelce, and Mathieu.

While the team did a good job staggering the Frank Clark and Jones deals (In theory Clark could be cut when Jones contract truly becomes a $20 million deal), they have pretty much officially entered the superstar contract roster building strategy. Teams in the past that have gone this route have included the Seahawks during the Legion of Boom era, the Packers at the peak of Aaron Rodgers run, the Eagles for the last few seasons, and the Falcons of the last few years. The Vikings and Rams quickly got out from that after basically one year.

It’s always interesting to see what happens. Most of the teams that get into these types of roster constructions do so after a high period- most of these teams did off a Super Bowl appearance- and in some cases the teams have continued to do well while in others they have declined. Everyone gets praise when they do a bunch of high priced contracts and fit them under the cap but the test is what happens two to three years from now?  Can the team maintain or improve to have a Conference Championship round caliber roster or do they blow up and wind up like the Rams this year with $36 million in dead money just two years after being praised for finding a way to keep Donald, Brandin Cooks, and Todd Gurley and a year removed from getting praise for adding Jared Goff and trading for Jalen Ramsey into the cap mix. Only time will tell where the Chiefs wind up in the grand scheme of things.

NFL and NFLPA Trade Proposals on Covid Impact

After months of avoiding the possible devastating impacts of the Covid pandemic on the NFL, the league and the NFL Players Association are finally at the bargaining table trying to sort things out. Both sides need some clarity on the issues- teams need to know rules for cap planning and budgeting and players need to know the risks involved with playing this season and how it may impact them in the future. Here are some of the tidbits that have come out so far and some other issues that they still need to discuss

  • NFL Proposed 35% Salary in Escrow

I talked about this in detail on the podcast this week, but it was a pretty vague request from the NFL. The NFL stated that they wanted to withhold salary in escrow to help with cash flows for the year but typically an escrow account would not help with that so I am assuming that they want the players to defer 35% of their salary to next year. I would guess payment would be around a date that coincides with the teams collecting season ticket revenues. Salary deferrals in contracts are not uncommon but on a full leaguewide basis they certainly would be. Assuming that this is just Paragraph 5 salary that we are talking about the NFL would basically call for the deferral of between an average of $40 to $45 million per team.

Not surprisingly the players very quickly came out against this proposal. A 35% deferral would really hit the big earners incredibly hard- about 12% of the players would account for 50% of all deferred money- and it would come across as the NFL owners using the salaries from the top players to cover a good chunk of their player obligations on the low end of the roster. Others have correctly pointed out that it is not the players obligation to manage the cash flows of an organization.

However, I would not, if I were the union, call something like this completely dead. Any downturn in revenue impacts the salary cap in the future and is going to limit spending. A large number of mid tier veterans would be the ones who face the brunt of that impact as they are the roster spots most at risk. If in return for a 35% deferral the NFL capped losses at no more than $45M with an agreement to wipe out 25% of the impact (technically 2020 revenue impact should not have any bearing on 2021 to 2023 spending but it will because of the way the CBA is written) and take the rest of the hit over the next three years at $10-$11 million per year I think the players would end up way ahead. Not sure the NFL would go for this suggestion but I do think the players would benefit and at the least can use this as a negotiating tool.

  • NFLPA Proposed Flat Cap in 2021

This is a reasonable ask, but for a first offer it was not a good one by the NFLPA. The goal with this obviously is to keep the cap as is next year to not impact spending and force the brunt of the impact on this years players. The problem is a flat cap isn’t really flat. NFL minimums will rise pretty significantly- rookies will make $50K a year more, 1st year players $105K a year more, 2nd year players $100K more, and 3rd year players $95K more. So in reality a flat cap is actually going to be a reduction somewhere between $5 and $6 million per team. They really needed to include a “cost of living” increase here to keep things somewhat in check.

The NFL would probably be pretty agreeable to this one. If the NFL season would proceed as normal in 2021 the cap likely would have been around $210 million so they would be getting a $12 million kickback from the NFLPA if they do a flat cap. This is also better than the alternative which is how the CBA would currently handle this leading to a cap in the $150M or lower range. That would be a disaster for the league and players.  

  • NFLPA Proposed to Defer 2020 Losses as Adjustments from 2022-2030

I wrote about something similar at the beginning of June so I think this is a reasonable idea, especially if 2021 is not counting toward it, effectively giving the owners back a few million. The one reason I think the NFL would be against this is that the timeframe to recover losses is too long. If owners are looking at $90M in losses for example and it would take them 10 years to recover it on the cap they may see this as a bit of an interest free loan to the players. The next CBA spending bucket runs from 2021-2023 so my guess is they would counter with the impact covering those three seasons.

Assuming that the NFL goes to a 17 game year and begins new TV negotiations that kind of short period adjustment would likely lead to three years in a row of a flat cap that would mimic what happened at the front end of the last CBA where the cap went from over $123 million in 2009 to $120.4 million in 2011 to $120.6 million in 2012 to $123 million in 2013 and teams were able to navigate those limits easily enough.

I do think it is important to point out one key difference though that is being lost when people bring up 2011. In 2011 owners earned more than they were earning in the past. The drop in cap was attributed to a change in cap calculations that dramatically shifted revenues to owners. This was a pure accounting issue and a football consideration for teams. This cap loss is directly related to loss of revenue which takes it beyond football only. So they are going to look for the most reasonable way to recover that money quickly. They will take the football side obviously into account but those revenue losses make me think they want this done by 2023.

  • NFLPA Proposed All Guaranteed Money Paid No Matter What

I do not see the NFL going for this at all. Guaranteed money covers contract termination not teams not playing games. The league and union have to have a discussion on tolling before they can get into these things. If contracts are going to toll (basically it would be as if 2020 never happened so every 2020 contract year becomes 2021) in the event of no season then the guarantees would toll with it. Are those players going to play for free in 2021 because the contract guarantee was already paid?  If contracts will not toll then this is a different story completely.

The way the standard NFL contract is written salary for the year is fully earned if a game is played. So I think if 1 game is played that all guaranteed and other salary for players should be paid. They should clarify that before the season rather than waiting for court stuff to play out, but it seems that is the way the contracts are written.

 If no games are played then this is a totally different scenario. The NFLPA did propose a stipend if games are cancelled and that is a much more reasonable way to give players cash to use this year if games are cancelled then just randomly picking winners and losers based on whether or not they had their salary guaranteed for this season.

  • Other Items to Discuss: Player Opt Outs

We have only seen some very brief mention of this. With the pandemic you are asking players to take on unexpected risks that were not part of their original deals. Having asthma for instance wasn’t going to make you more or less likely to suffer a torn ACL however it may put you at a much higher risk for Covid complications. You are also taking risk home with you to your family. I don’t think the NFL can ask players to play in those conditions.

Right now if a player opted out they would fall under the categories of not reporting to camp or leaving the team. Basically, it would be a hold out scenario and they would be open to fines and forfeiture. That certainly should not happen if a player falls into a high risk category. It also probably should not impact those who have legit family concerns though Im not sure how you quantify that.

The rules that govern the NFI list here would be most appropriate. There is no guarantee that a team pays the player during their stint on NFI but the contract continues to run, with the exception of the final contract year, and the player is not fined. Certainly for the high risk player this is fair. For those that don’t have immediate personal risk there may be more involved such as paying back bonuses for the year.

While NFI can be a season ender depending on when its used I think for these scenarios you would put in rules where it is not a season ending designation if a player reports then doesn’t feel safe and bails.  To prevent competitive advantages that may occur I think you have the first 10 weeks of the year being open for any player reactivating themselves as conditions change but after that 10th week the season is over for the player.

Other Items to Discuss: Player Tests Positive for Covid

Normally I would think that this is pretty easy. A player tests positive, he goes on a paid exempt list for 2 weeks while quarantined, and comes off the list when healthy. However whenever I think its easy I remind myself of when Lawrence Tynes of the Buccaneers contracted MRSA at the Buccaneers facility and they classified his status as a non-football illness. Though I believe the team did pay Tynes his salary his status on NFI could have limited his salary.

The NFL can not get into a situation where they are placing players on NFI for contracting the virus and then not paying them. Might there be an exception if players don’t follow the guidelines and catch the virus by going out to eat, having a party, etc…?  I guess but they need to clearly define the protocols for how players and their salaries will be handled if they get sick.

Franchise Tag Extension Deadline Approaching

The deadline for extensions for franchise players is now less than a week away so if things are going to heat up with contract negotiations this is the time. Here is a look at this years franchise players with some thoughts on their situations.

Dak Prescott, Cowboys

I’ve discussed Prescott’s contract over and over so there really isn’t much more to say about it. Prescott has wanted a four year contract and Dallas prefers a five year deal. In my opinion it makes little sense for the two sides to not get this contract done- Dallas can use the cap relief in 2021 and there is no reason for Prescott not to do a deal unless he is prepared to hold out another year. .  I don’t believe the Mahomes contract changes much here, but Dallas might benefit getting a contract done before the Texans and Deshaun Watson come to an agreement. I still believe that the solution here is a five year contract where the money over the tag averages somewhere over the Russell Wilson $35 million a year contact. Prescott already signed his tender so that is easily workable. Jerry Jones has often done some last minute pitches so I’d lean toward them finding a way to complete this contract.

Chris Jones, Chiefs

Unlike Prescott, Jones has insinuated that he has no intention to sign the tag to play the year. Jones should be looking for a contract that averages in the ballpark of $21 million a year and that may be too expensive for the Chiefs who already invested in Frank Clark on the defensive line and have a number of players coming up for extensions in two years. Throughout the offseason I have never gotten the feeling that the Chiefs value Jones at the level he should be compensated at and they also have some salary cap concerns. The Mahomes contract did little to improve their cap room nor to increase his salary over the next two years so I’m not sure if that bodes well for a mega-extension here. The Chiefs are setting the stage for taking to less so the team overall can make more so maybe they convince Jones to but into that. I’d lean toward this one not getting done and Jones being a late report to camp.

Yannick Ngakoue, Jaguars

The Jaguars are a mess right now and I am not sure many of the older guard players want to really even be there at this point. Ngakoue took to Twitter to basically share those thoughts with Tony Khan and asked to be traded. This has potential to get messy with such a short window to make a trade and agree on a $20 million or so a year contract. This was probably something that could have been done in the offseason so both sides could save face and move on but this has potential to be real drama as the season approaches. I would be very surprised if this contract was done.

AJ Green, Bengals

I actually forgot that Green was a franchise player this year as there has been such little news out of this one. Green has had a great career and likely wants to be compensated similar to Julio Jones who signed a $22 million extension. Cincinnati did make Green the highest paid receiver in the NFL the last time they agreed to a contract but Green has been hurt two of the last three seasons and the team may want to see how Green meshes with their young QB. The Bengals are not a big injury guarantee team so I would think the long term impact of injury should not weigh heavily on them since Green previously agreed to a low guarantee on his last deal, but they may also be afraid of getting little ROI, especially in the middle of a pandemic. This is one that would be nice to see get done but I would lean toward it not getting finalized.

Matt Judon, Ravens

There has been no drama at all here. Judon has been pretty accepting of the franchise tag which is not surprising since this would be his first real payday in the NFL. Judon started 16 games last year and has been a pretty steady sack numbers guy. 90% of the time I would have thought that the Ravens would have let Judon walk but with a rookie QB coming off an MVP season there should be reason to keep him at least for this year. Former teammate Za’Darius Smith earned $16.5 million as a free agent in 2018 so Judon’s number should be slightly higher. Smith signed his one year deal long ago and I would think if there is a holdup here it is that the Ravens don’t want to invest this kind of money on a long term deal knowing that their QB could be in line for a hefty raise following this year.

Justin Simmons, Broncos

Of all the players on the tag this is the one that would surprise me the most if it did not get done. It would not take much for the Broncos to make Simmons the highest paid safety in the NFL with a $15 million a year contract and for a team that is sold on a rookie QB who will be under a cheap deal for the next two years it makes no sense to put this off. There is absolutely nothing to gain for the Broncos to wait and play this out for a season. It’s actually been a bit surprising that this one is not complete yet and I could see this being the first deal done this week.

Leonard Williams, Giants

This one was the worst use of the franchise tag, but the Giants backed themselves into a corner by trading for Williams last year in a season where the Giants were more likely to finish with the worst record in the NFL than in the playoffs. Williams signed his tender way back in April to lock in his salary for the year as this is the best case scenario for him anyway. Williams tracks more with the DJ Reader group of players who earn in the $13 million a year range but his talent and draft status have him looking for somewhere in the $17 to $20 million range. If he had a big year pressuring the QB he might just get there. This disparity is so big I can not see a deal even being considered by either side.

Shaq Barrett, Buccaneers

Barrett was everything the Buccaneers ever could have dreamed of last year nothing 19.5 sacks while making just $5 million. The problem for Barrett was that he was too good. A good year for Barrett would have put him in the discussion for earning $10 to $13 million a season as a 2nd tier pass rusher but there is no way he could sign for that after this kind of season. This type of season earns you a contract worth $20 million a year. While the Bucs are certainly all in on this season I am not so certain that they can get that far in on a player who a year ago signed for $4 million while trying to prove he could be a starter. Barrett has said he is torn on signing the franchise tag but I can not see a hold out. I think it would be more about just waiting on things before having to report. I would be pretty surprised if this deal was done in the next week.

Brandon Scherff, Redskins

Scherff was also an early adopter of the tag likely realizing that the odds of a long term deal were not great so it made sense to lock the tag in early. Scherff was on track to be the highest paid guard in the NFL but some injuries in the last few years may have made Washington more cautious. Washington may be undergoing some dramatic changes in the next year especially if Haskins does not play significantly better this season. Not sure that getting into a long term expensive investment on a guard makes sense until they have that sorted out. I think this is a one of those deals where both sides are better off with the player on the tag.

Bud Dupree, Steelers

A very typical use of the franchise tag. Dupree was a first round pick who was by no means a bust but certainly was not a top line player either but he made the most of his walk year recording 11.5 sacks, 68 tackles, and 16 tackles for loss. Off a season like that there is no way the Steelers could let him walk. A lot should ride on Dupree’s season as a duplicate year should move him way up the salary chain while a fallback would drop him down a notch. In both cases he will do well for himself but in a blowup year he is going to be in that $17-18 million a year category. The Steelers have cap issues next year so he could be free and clear if he plays on the tender he signed back in April. I would guess the Steelers will make an offer this week they deem fair but there may be much more to gain playing on the tag.

Joe Thuney, Patriots

I think the contract aspect of this one is very similar to that of Scherff in that the Patriots may or may not have a QB on the roster. New England is also a really old football team and if for some reason things go sideways there is probably more benefit in tagging Thuney again next year and trading him than offering him a big extension this year. Thuney’s ultimate salary should not be as high as Scherff’s but should certainly be in the $13 million a year range. The one thing is that the Patriots could use the cap room this year. If they could agree on a contract that didn’t pay him a penny over his tag number this year but gave the team cap relief that would be a way to maintain their trade rights without making an additional investment. That may be a difficult game to play but strategically maybe it makes some sense. I would lean toward no contract.

Anthony Harris, Vikings

This was a tag that surprised me when it happened. I thought the Vikings were going through some changes and they would have allowed Harris to walk away while they reset their salary cap and roster. Harris had 6 interceptions last year and it would probably make more sense for the Vikings to extend him and walk away from Harrison Smith but it seems as if they are deferring both decisions until next year. I think Harris’ salary ceiling will be lower than Simmons but in that $13 million a year range. If the Vikings do plan on a long term with Harris then not extending him now makes little sense. They made the same mistake with Anthony Barr a few years ago, ultimately having it cost more in the long run. Probably won’t be a deal at the deadline.

Derrick Henry, Titans

Reportedly the two sides have been in discussions but nothing looks to be getting done, which would be the best outcome for the Titans. Thus far the Titans have done everything right here by not rushing into an extension that puts Henry in that $13M+ a year club. Henry had a terrific year and may very well have a terrific season again, but any long term contract over $10 million at this position is risky. Henry already signed his tender so the Titans should be in no hurry to do a deal unless it is on their terms. If they make a resonable offer Henry should strongly consider it rather than hoping for a big free agent contract in 2021 or 2022.

Hunter Henry, Chargers

Henry is a terrific player when healthy and health is the reason why he hasn’t been extended yet. Would it shock me if the two sides came to an agreement in the coming days? Not really since the position is so undervalued at the top. Even if Henry was to get hurt again this year hes still going to get an upper level contract. He could benefit from George Kittle getting an extension and significantly raising the market which would probably tip the scales in favor of him playing on the tag unless the Chargers offer him the top contract at the position.

Raheem Mostert Wants a Trade

Running back Raheem Mostert of the 49ers has been attempting to renegotiate his contract with the 49ers and apparently it has not gone well. Mostert’s agent Brett Tessler just posted this to Twitter today:

Mostert’s career has been a great story about determination and hard work paying off as he has bounced around the NFL for a few years before finding a home in San Francisco. Last year was Mostert’s best season as a pro rushing for a career high 772 yards in the regular season and having a true playoff moment with a 220 yard effort in the NFC title game.

I would not have expected the 49ers to entertain a new contract for Mostert despite this so this is not really a surprise. Mostert was a restricted free agent in 2019 and had been tendered at the $2.025 million level. Mostert had finished the last two seasons on IR and was primarily a special teams player. The 49ers made him an offer that guaranteed him $2.4 million in 2019 (with an upside of $2.65M) and gave him an additional $600,000 in injury protection on his 2020 salary.

In return rather than hitting free agency in 2020 he would effectively sign a two year contract extension with the team. The three year contract is worth $2.9 million a season and if we valued it as a two year extension the annual value would be $3.3 million per year, which is the amount exclusive the RFA tender for the added two years.

Mostert’s contract was likely based somewhat off Damien Williams $2.55 million a year contract with the Chiefs, which was for a player who was a special teams player that participated a bit on offense. Still I would argue, and I am sure the 49ers did, that those numbers are not just representative of just a special teams player. Recently Latavius Murray signed for $3.6 million a year, Jalen Richard for $3.5 million a year, and Carlos Hyde for $2.75M and this deal was higher than the Williams contract.

Another issue for Mostert here is that he and the 49ers agreed to up to $1 million a season in incentives that would compensate him if he developed into more of a full time offensive player. So from their perspective his contract already accounted for the possibility of more playing time and performance levels that would pay him around the base value of teammate Tevin Coleman.

Per a league source with knowledge of the contract the incentives in the contract are highly unusual in that they exist in two but not three years. My assumption is that this is because the rules at the time of the negotiation would have seen incentives count on the 2020 salary cap immediately if earned which would have been hard for teams. That would explain why Mostert has a 2021 escalator tied to 2020 performance as that would avoid the cap treatment. This escalator, however, was not guaranteed if earned.

If my theory is correct the 49ers should be willing to move that escalator back into the 2020 incentive column since the salary cap issue with the prior CBA no longer exists. That would be a fair compromise on their part. Maybe even adding a few dollars two it to account for even more yards would be fine. Still the fact that these incentives exist makes it much more difficult to argue that the team in this case is taking advantage of a situation.

Im not sure how much more Mostert would receive had he been a free agent. Running backs have very difficult times in free agency and how much higher would they go than where he is at now? Maybe a few hundred thousand but that is not a given and how many teams would extend after a trade? Former teammate Matt Breida (623 yards last year) was traded and did not receive any extension and is playing the year for $3.259 million on a tender.

Maybe the Breida trade gives Mostert a little leverage since the 49ers are down a proven running back from last year, but given the way this contract was structured and the fact that the 49ers are one of the better front offices in the NFL I’m not sure I really see them giving in here outside of some incentive tweaks and making a trade demand public could give the 49ers some incentive to even resist that.

Browns and Olivier Vernon Agree to New Contract

According to ESPN’s Field Yates, the Browns and defensive end Olivier Vernon have renegotiated the terms of his contract.

This is a typical thing that happens as we get closer to camps starting and something we may see more of this year as veterans get pinched due to concerns over revenue. The Browns will save $4.5 million with the pay cut. I would imagine that Vernon’s signing bonus is safe and would be paid even in the event the season is cancelled.

The Browns certainly have no salary cap issues long term or short term (they have the most cap space in the NFL in 2020 and the most cap flexibility in 2021) but they had been flirting with Jadeveon Clowney who likely would have taken a spot on the roster and given this renegotiation I would argue that the spot would have been Vernon’s.

Vernon was traded to the Browns last season and appeared in 10 games, playing in just under 48% of the Browns defensive snaps. Vernon is a solid player who has had a rough run of injuries, limiting him to appearing in 12, 11, and 10 games in the last three seasons. This will give him the opportunity to play out his contract and head to free agency next year which is a far better scenario than being cut this year and landing in a crowded field of available defensive players.