A few weeks ago Jason LaCanfora published a list of best and worst contracts in the NFL so I thought it might make a good idea for us to do the same here at OTC, with a team by team approach. I’ll try to be a bit more analytical in terms of why money was paid and how it fits in the market, but the general premise is the same. The one key difference is outside of restructured rookie contracts under the old CBA we will only use veteran contracts as there is a big difference between best draft picks and best contracts. Please note that there is a difference between a bad player and a bad contract when discussing some of the selections. Clicking on a players name will take you to his salary cap page.
Best Contract: Dominic Raiola
I have had a difficult time coming up with names on some teams, but none more difficult that the Lions (though I have a feeling the Panthers will prove even harder). From a cap standpoint it is really hard for me to find a bright light for this team. Outside of the rookie contracts there just is not much good on the team. They have overvalued so many players relative to their skill level and for those valued well the contract structures have become a mess.
So why Raiola? Of all the guys on lower level deals he is at least a proven commodity. He has been in the NFL forever and gives the Lions a steady force on their offensive line. Plus the Lions went in and slashed his pay for the year dropping his salary from over $4 million to $1 million. Due to prior prorated money he will still carry a cap charge that is about middle of the pack in the NFL, but he will play every snap and give Matt Stafford a familiar person to work with as Stafford tries to improve on last season.
That doesn’t mean the Lions got it totally right with Raiola. Had they released him as a procedural move and then re-signed him he would have qualified for the Minimum Salary Benefit and saved Detroit around $400,000 in cap space while allowing him to earn the same cash compensation.
Worst Contract: Ndamukong Suh
Trust me I understand that the old CBA dictated Suh’s salary and to some extent his contract structure. What the old CBA did not dictate was multiple restructures that will cripple a teams salary cap well beyond the terms of the original contract. When you are a team that is in salary cap trouble as the Lions have been and continue to be, tough decisions are necessary. You either need to release players for cap relief or begin to restructure contracts to keep your team intact.
However, when you select option B you have to use the restructure on either older players that you won’t re-sign or younger players where the restructure will not completely cripple your negotiations. The Lions were always going to re-sign Matt Stafford. While the restructures did them no favors his cap numbers were still within the QB market plus its a high priced position to begin with. Stafford has the upside to be a top 5 QB which means you have a chance at a Super Bowl if he realizes the upside. Suh presents a different case.
Suh does not play at a high priced position. Suh does not play at a game changing position. Suh is not the best DT in the NFL and likely never will be. Even after multiple restructures Suh’s cap hit this season is 3rd in the NFL. Next season, his final under contract, it jumps to over $21 million. That is $8 million more than the next highest player and almost $5 million more than the Cleveland Browns entire spending on DT’s in 2014. The Browns have the 2nd largest spend at the position in the NFL to the Lions.
The Defensive Tackle market maxes out around $9 million a year unless Geno Atkins, the best in the league, signs for more money with the Bengals. Suh should maybe earn a maximum of $8 million, but the handling of his contract has completely compromised the Lions position. The cost of releasing Suh next season is nearly $20 million dollars. The cost of letting Suh become a free agent in 2015 is $9.7 million dollars. Those numbers are the fault of the Lions managerial decisions not the CBA. Gerald McCoy, another high pick DT, will only carry $5.2 million in dead money if cut in his last contract year, $14 million or so less than Suh.
What leverage do you have at this point? He is due to earn over $11 million and why should he give the Lions any discount. They can’t threaten to cut him. They can’t even threaten to let him play it out. The costs of him playing his contract out and not extending him is not workable. They have backed themselves into a corner to where Suh will likely be the highest paid DT in the NFL because the Lions have no other options. They had those options open to them before and can only blame themselves for whatever dollars they are forced to pay in the future.
Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles
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.