Getting back to our best and worst series with a look at the New Orleans Saints
Best Contract: Junior Galette
The Saints are kind of a strange team when it comes to contracts. On one end of the spectrum they do a pretty poor job with planning for tomorrow due to restructures, void years, etc… but on the other end of the spectrum they also find these really good bargains on players. Marques Colston is one of the better players in the NFL, and has been that way for years, but they more or less pigeonholed him as a “slot receiver” creating a lower cost position. Zack Strief is an excellent tackle and they seemed to get him at a pretty reasonable discount this offseason. But I will stick with my selection of Junior Galette as the best deal on the team.
What the Saints did with Galette is a textbook example of how you handle a part time player who flashes tremendous potential and has huge upside. When Galette was signed he played about 30% of the defensive snaps for the Saints, as a pass rushing defensive end. That year I had created a metric using Pro Football Focus’ raw data sets that identified Galette as the third most productive rusher in the NFL on a per snap basis. It was clear that there was major upside. The Saints locked him up for $2.5 million a year, which was a discount on even his production as a 30% player. The following is what I wrote before last season on Galette:
The upside is gigantic with Galette and if he develops into a 600 to 800 snap player, the Saints will have someone on the team carrying a cap figure that is going to be about 1/3 of the production amount. This is the type of deal that allows them to carry the salary for Drew Brees. At worst he remains a pure situational player and he is still a bargain even at this price if he continues to produce at his current rate.
Galette developed into a starter, played 848 snaps, and sacked the QB 12 times. His cap charge was just $1.7 million. This year it will be just $2.9 million. His guarantee was $3.5 million. Compare his contract to that of Everson Griffen. Griffen was also never a starter but he did play more snaps. Despite the added opportunities he was, at best, of similar production to Galette. But Griffen showed some upside and ended up received a deal that will never carry a cap charge below $8.2 million and contains $19.8 million guaranteed. This illustrates just how good the Galette deal really was.
Now Galette can actually void his contract if he grabs another 12 sacks this season, which was the concession the Saints had to make. While he may do that I don’t consider that a major negative on the contract. As long as this contract remains he is not just one of the best contracts on the Saints, but in the entire NFL.
Worst Contract: Curtis Lofton
I could easily see giving the nod to either of the Guards, who have both gone through restructures and are near the top of the food chain, but both are higher quality players and have already made it through a majority of their contracts. While Curtis Lofton is not the highest paid player on the team his contract illustrates all of the problems that the New Orleans Saints seem to have when it comes to contracts with their player. While the $5.5 million a year is a reasonable enough figure for Lofton, the $12.8 million virtually guaranteed was on par with players who earned $2 million more a season than Lofton did.
Needing to keep his salary cap charge low in the first year of his contract, the team deferred $5 million, in the form of a roster bonus, to 2013, which would have led to a salary cap charge of $7.1 million. In fact the Saints littered the contract with offseason roster bonuses in 2014 and 2015 as well. These are dangerous because it gives the team almost no time to work on pay reductions for a player and instead forces them in to what can be hasty decisions. In 2013 the Saints converted his $5 million roster bonus to a prorated bonus and added a voidable contract year to further reduce Lofton’s cap charges.
His cap charge in 2015 now sits at $9 million with dead money having rising from just $2 million to $5. Lofton has a large roster bonus coming his way ($4.5 million) so the Saints will need to find a way to rework the contract. If he opts to try free agency rather than take a pay cut all his money will accelerate to the cap, and in the end could still just end up back in New Orleans if they really want him. If they did not use the roster bonus mechanism this would be a much easier task to accomplish.
The $5 million in dead money gives Lofton some decent leverage with the team. If you consider that $5 million sunk it means the Saints need to find a replacement that can come in under $4 million in cap charges for the year to keep the positional budgeting at $9 million. While there are ways to work the numbers to do that it is mostly a lower quality player that will be attracted to the position, unless the team is looking to add to an already bad future cap situation. They likely, at best, would make a lateral move on the position. Had there been no restructures they would have had $6 million or so to spend in cap dollars to break even. That is a different tier of player than where they will be looking now.
2013’s Best and Worst Panthers Contracts:
2013 Best Contract: Junior Galette (See above)
2013 Worst Contract: Will Smith (Released by Saints)