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: Justin Blackmon
While I said I was more or less going to avoid all rookie deals when doing this I felt that Blackmon’s deal deserved special praise. Ever since the new CBA came into existence all we hear is how dummy proof the process is, and for the most part that’s true. The financial parameters of these contracts are all in place long before anyone signs and for the most part we predicted almost every contract correctly on the site. But there are little things that teams and players can still fight for and in this case Jacksonville fought and won big.
The standard contract for Blackmon’s slot was a large signing bonus and a fully guaranteed contract with no offsets. The Jaguars knowing that they took a risk on Blackmon due to his troubled past held firm on protecting their cash flows by giving him a smaller than slotted bonus and making up the difference via a series of fully guaranteed roster bonuses that would be treated as a signing bonus for cap purposes.
The main benefit of this mechanism is that if suspended the future contractual guarantees would all void. This is different than forfeited money in a suspension. If suspended for 4 games the most the Jaguars can recover is 4 weeks worth of signing bonus money attributed to the season of suspension. Under this contract they recover the 4 weeks of money, 4 weeks of roster bonus money, and all future guarantees void thus giving the Jaguars limited cap penalties if off the field issues cause them to release Blackmon.
Needless to say that Blackmon has already been suspended and now all his future guarantees have voided. If for whatever reason they decide they want to release him they will save themselves about $3.1 million in cash and cap acceleration due to the contractual structure, money that would have been lost to them using the standard signing bonus structure.
Worst Contract: Marcedes Lewis
Lewis is a prime example of why draft status unfairly means so much even years after a draft occurs. Lewis was a late first round draft pick in 2006 and in general did nothing for four seasons. From 2007 thru 2009 Lewis averaged just under 37 receptions a year and 466 yards a season, numbers that at the time would have been around 20th or so in the league.
But in his contract season all the stars aligned for Lewis. Lewis would post career highs in receptions, yards, and most importantly touchdowns. His stat line was 58-700-10, numbers that pushed in right into the top 10 and one of the best TD threats in the sport. The team was a respectable 8-8 and he seemed like an invaluable piece on a team that did not have much receiving talent. He made the Pro Bowl and next thing you know the Jaguars made him the team’s franchise player as the league headed for lockout.
Lewis would have been one of the rare younger players where the franchise tag made sense. Here was a “one hit wonder” so to speak and those players are the kind you should want to see it at least twice from before committing. But Lewis had that first round cache and when you have that all it takes is one season around contract time to hit the lottery and the Jaguars obliged.
Lewis’ 5 year deal averaged $6.8 million a year and the fully guaranteed portion of the contract was $8.65 million. There was another $3 million in a virtually guaranteed roster bonus plus $4.2 million in a second year rolling guarantee that was essentially fully guarantee for all intents and purposes putting the full guarantee around $14 million, right at the upper echelon of the position.
With the big extension in place Lewis fell right back into his normal track. In 2011 and 2012 he averaged 45-500-2. Sure he can block a little bit but you don’t pay tight ends for that anymore. Even today if the Jaguars wanted to cut ties with Lewis it would cost them $1.15 million in cash due to the final installment of rolling guarantees in his deal. Lewis will likely be cut next year after earning $20.35 million for doing basically nothing and owing everything to a poor decision making process that looked at a draft number and one year of stats and discounting a four year history of pretty average play.
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.