The focus of today’s best and worst contracts is the Cleveland Browns.
Best Contract: Ben Tate
From the moment the Browns traded RB Trent Richardson all we heard was how hot they were for Ben Tate. At the time Tate, a member of the Texans, was one of the higher regarded backup runners in the NFL, someone who usually stepped in when Arian Foster needed a break and put up great numbers in those limited chances. People talked about how Tate could be a featured back in the league and was going to be asking for a contract in the same realm as players like Ray Rice and Matt Forte. Though the Browns front office had some changes in 2014 the rumors held firm about how Tate was a perfect fit for the offense and that the Browns wanted him.
Cleveland wisely waited free agency out while free agent after free agent running back signed elsewhere. Toby Gerhart received $4.5 million guaranteed in Jacksonville. Donald Brown signed in San Diego for $4 million guaranteed. Joique Bell re-upped with a $4.3 million guarantee from the Lions. The Giants dropped $2.98 million on Rashad Jennings. Tate should have earned more than these players, even following his injury plagued 2013 campaign, but the Browns ended up locking him up for $2.5 million guaranteed.
If healthy, Tate would earn $3.25 million in the first year of his contract, the lowest of the group besides Jennings who would earn $3 million. Jennings would carry, however, over $1.6 million in dead cap charges if released in 2015 while Tate carries just $750,000, giving him much less protection in the contract.
While nobody knows if Tate can be effective as a starter, the Browns have nothing significant invested in him in the event he flops. A total of $1.45 million of the contract is tied to health to further reduce costs in the event he does not play well. In a season where so many unprovens were earning close to mid tier starter money the Browns sneaked in and grabbed the highest regarded one for low tier money. No matter how things go they will never look at this contract and feel that they compromised the future of the franchise.
Worst Contract: Paul Kruger
There were more than a few choices for this one as the Browns have gone deep on a few players in recent years to take advantage of the cap surpluses they have had the last few years. The choice for this came down to Paul Kruger and Karlos Dansby. It is close between the two as there are positives and negatives to both guys. The values of both contracts seem overly based on one season and likely will result in negative results for the team. While it was hard to decide I felt the magnitude of the Kruger deal outweighed the age negative for Dansby.
Kruger came off a breakout season in 2012 when he rose to prominence during the Ravens Super Bowl run and became a frequent point of discussion among media and fans. But Kruger had never been a standout performer before that season and had never been a starter. Unlike the Tate contract, the Browns did not hesitate when it came to Kruger. There was no time to realize that he market was changing in regards to the one season breakout player.
The Browns ended up shelling out a contract worth $40.5 million with $20 million in guarantees for a player who had 6 career starts in four years and just 6.5 sacks in his first three years in the NFL. The year before a far superior player in Cameron Wake signed a contract worth $8.3 million a year and minimal guarantees while Elvis Dumervil, another superior player, replaced Kruger in Baltimore with a deal worth $5.2 million a season. In context it’s near impossible to justify what the Browns were willing to give Kruger.
In fairness to the Browns they did use a smaller signing bonus of just $6 million that may make it acceptable to release Kruger after two seasons. But its still going to cost them $20 million to get a look at him in those first two seasons, and that is a huge figure.
Not surprisingly Kruger struggled in his first season with the Browns and saw his number trend closer to his first seasons in the NFL and not his standout season in 2012. If he has another 4.5 sack season he likely won’t be around to be the worst contract on the Browns in 2015.
2013’s Best and Worst Browns Contracts:
2013 Best Contract: Joe Thomas (Remains one of best left tackles in the NFL)
2013 Worst Contract: Paul Kruger (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.