Today I get to look at my favorite team, the New York Jets.
Best Contract: Eric Decker
In the last few years the Jets have basically been in a holding pattern while dealing with a tight salary cap situation and a number of players that they needed to release. With so few signings, picking a “best” contract on the Jets is not that easy. My first inclination was to go with Chris Ivory since he played well when healthy last year, but a $2.25 million bonus for an always injured running back is more of a gamble than a good contract. I thought about a few of the high upside low cost contract players like Leger Douzable, but most of those deals are one year contracts which could lead to bigger deals down the line.
I went with Eric Decker based primarily on the price tag being so low. At $7.25 million per season, Decker’s contract ranks 18th among wide receivers, despite the fact that Decker has caught 80 passes and produced over 1,000 yards in the last two seasons. At the least that should equate to top “low tier” number 1 money which would be just above Pierre Garcon’s $8.5 million and around Greg Jennings $9 million a year.
Decker fell victim to being a member of the Denver Broncos passing attack which featured Peyton Manning at quarterback. I’m not sure where this new phenomenon has come from with receivers. Rob Gronkowski became the highest paid Tight End playing with Tom Brady. Jimmy Graham, whose numbers are ultra inflated in the Saints passing offense with Drew Brees, surpassed Gronkowki. Mike Wallace earned $12 million a year playing with Ben Roethlisberger and not being anywhere near as productive. Garcon put up lesser numbers with Manning in Indianapolis, but somehow validated his skills by being a 900 yard receiver in the year Manning was injured. Garcon was a 4th year pro in that season. Decker as a second year player put up 600 yards with Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton. Jennings’ numbers were not superior to Decker’s and came playing with Aaron Rodgers.
The Jets did seem to break somewhat from what people thought would be the salary cap strategy with new contracts, in that he received a signing bonus, but at $7.5 million its not that high. Decker’s highest cap charge will be $9 million and that comes in the final year of the contract. If Decker fails to play well the team could release him after just two years and $15 million in payments with just $4.5 million left in dead money. His three year payout is just slightly over $21 million. It’s one of those contracts that has almost no downside outside of the threat of injury that impacts every player in the NFL.
Worst Contract: David Harris
Harris is a nice football player. He can rush the QB a bit. He’s a fundamentally sound team player. He is not Patrick Willis, but the Jets paid him as if he was. Harris’ contract was a landmine since day 1. Running only 4 years the Jets guaranteed Harris nearly 70% of his entire contract upon signing, the largest of any veteran player in the NFL at the position. His $24.9 million dollar guarantee was higher than anyone else at ILB in the league. Harris’ percentage of total contract guaranteed only trails four first round rookies whose contracts are guaranteed just because of draft status. The next closest percentage guaranteed on a large contract is the 50% guarantee the Cleveland Browns gave Karlos Dansby this offseason. The guarantee per year of $6.225 million is more than $2 million more a year than Willis’ face value guarantee.
When Harris signed the 4 year contract his agent mentioned how the Jets wanted to do a longer deal but they turned it down. Of course they did. The Jets gave Harris all the perks of a long term contract without the long term, giving him a wonderful opportunity to have his cake and eat it too. Harris’ contract contained no offset language giving the Jets no recourse in the event that his play dropped after signing, which it did.
Harris benefitted from uncertainty around the end of the prior CBA which saw the Jets apply the franchise tag to Harris despite the tag being over $10 million. Harris ran and signed the tender because the value of it was much higher than what he would have expected to earn in free agency. That decision put them at an immediate disadvantage in negotiations. Harris also benefitted from the Jets desire to make an example of how they treat a player who did not hold out despite not having a favorable contract as a direct shot at Darrelle Revis, who had a very public hold out with the Jets the prior year.
Harris’ statistical performance from 2008-2010 was closer to that of former Jet Jonathan Vilma and other mid tier ILB’s. My valuation at the time indicated that Harris should be worth around $6.5 million a year to a team. The Jets gave him $9. As the team began to break apart around him all the warts that you could kind of see in his lack of output leading into the contract extension shone brightly. He wasn’t fast enough to be an impact player and not strong enough to shed blockers who were no longer being occupied by another ILB or Nose Tackle. He is too slow to cover down the field, a major concern with more spread offenses that feature a Tight End.
The bottom line is Harris is a nice player to have on a good defense, but he is by no means a player that you build a defense around, and the Jets did just that with their financial commitment to him. In 2012 and 2013 Harris carried league high cap charges of $12 and $13 million. His $7 million cap charge this year is 5th in the NFL and it could have been Harris’ $13 million dollar cap charge is the highest for an ILB in the NFL and his $7 million dollar cap charge in 2014 will be in the top 10. This is a great players’ contract, one that will see the Jets pay $36 million on for a pretty average linebacker.
2013’s Best and Worst Jets Contracts:
2013 Best Contract: Antonio Cromartie (Released; Signed with Cardinals)
2013 Worst Contract: David Harris (See above)
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.