Best and Worst Contracts 2016: Dallas Cowboys

Best: Tyron Smith, 8 years, $97.6 million, $22.1M guaranteed

Nobody ever associates Dallas with negotiating the best contracts in the NFL, but in this instance they arguably have the best contract in the entire league. Smith is considered the best left tackle in the NFL and pretty much was considered the best tackle in the NFL when he signed this contract. His contract does not come close to reflecting that. Smith’s deal was one of the first extensions signed for a first round player in the new CBA and Dallas hit a home run by proactively approaching this deal.

In most cased veteran players in the NFL should look to sign contracts for as short a term as possible unless there is a major concession on the team end. For example when Calvin Johnson agreed to a historic contract he received around $50 million in guarantees and a contract structure that functionally guaranteed far more than that. He also received an outlier type of contract that was so far above the rest of the receiver market that he would never be considered “underpaid”.

Smith gave up 8 years of his career to sign this contract and received none of that. He landed the highest APY at the position by a few hundred thousand a year more than Joe Thomas. He received just $22 million in guarantees. Within two years his contract APY was nearly matched by the likes of Cordy Glenn and Eric Fisher and he’s fallen behind Terron Armstead and Trent Williams. Where do you think he will rank come 2018 or 2019 let alone 2023. He gave up his entire career in this one contract.

Dallas holds all the cards in this contract. They can restructure it 4 times over and it wont make a difference. Maybe they exploited the close to $100M number. Maybe he gave the team a discount. Whatever it is this is as great a contract as you will see a team negotiate in the NFL.

Worst: Brandon Carr, 1 year, $5.5 million, $1M guaranteed

Don’t read into the $5.5 million number for Carr. The real contract here is a $50.1 million contract that they signed with Carr in 2012 that allows Carr to remain on the team at this salary. It’s pretty much accepted as a fact that if a player makes it to the end of his contract that the contract was likely a big winner for the team. The exception to that rule is Carr and the amazing fact that he made it through four years of this contract without any pay cut and only accepted a minor pay cut in the final year of the deal.

Carr’s contract pretty much hits on all the qualities that are destined to make a contract terrible within a year of signing it. Classic overvaluation of a player?  Check. Significant signing bonus?  Check. Massive guarantees?  Check. Restructured early in the contract for cap relief?  Check. Adding void years to meet a short term cap problem?  Check.

Dallas never had an out because it was never viable from a cap perspective to dump Carr. Once they decided to restructure his contract with a massive $13.85 million conversion of salary to bonus it locked him in. Cutting him last year would have left Dallas with over $10 million in dead money. They reportedly approached him on a pay cut and he said no. He had the leverage in that spot because Dallas had no talent at the position and the cost to release him was so high they would have had a hard time finding an equal on field value. Even this year the dead money in the contact likely kept them from bringing down his salary as much as they would have liked.

He’ll leave the Cowboys with a parting gift of $2.7 million in dead money next year after his contract expires just to remind everyone how bad of a deal this was. Hopefully for Dallas fans this will be the last time that they do one like this.