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: Junior Galette
For as much grief as I give the Saints for the way that they have constructed their salary cap, they do have a number of good contracts on the team. The three that stand out are those of Marques Colston, Darren Sproles, and Junior Galette. I know some had asked me about Brian De La Puente, but because he is on a RFA contract I eliminated him from consideration since there are solid long terms deals on the team as well. So why Galette and not Colston or Sproles?
Colston gives tremendous production for his price tag and he was one of the first “prolific” wide receivers to seemingly get discounted because he lined up a lot in the slot. The tradeoff was some heavier guarantees which in turn make cutting him at any point expensive, which the Saints compounded with a restructure for cap relief this year. So that’s a bit of a negative. Sproles is a dangerous all around threat that the Saints never got tricked into paying too much for and had an easy escape from his deal once he hit 30 if needed. That said he doesn’t have the high level of upside that I think Galette has.
In his brief amount of snaps last season (around 30%) Galette was terrific as a pass rusher. In my own analysis of Pro Football Focus’ stats he was one of the best 43DE’s in the NFL in terms of productivity per play. He ranked third among 43DE’s in that category and while his numbers in such a metric will drop when not simply a pass rush specialist, on this team and in a pass happy division the drop might not be as significant as others. Even with the small amount of snaps he played, the pass rush production was worth a contract worth around $4 million a year. His deal with the Saints is only for $2.5 million per year.
The upside is gigantic with Galette and if he develops into a 600 to 800 snap player, the Saints will have someone on the team carrying a cap figure that is going to be about 1/3 of the production amount. This is the type of deal that allows them to carry the salary for Drew Brees. At worst he remains a pure situational player and he is still a bargain even at this price if he continues to produce at his current rate.
If he doesn’t realize the potential and fails, the contract only cost the Saints $3.5 million for an extended one year look at him in 2013. They can release him next season for just $1.8 million in cap charges or the year thereafter at $900,000. With cap charges never running higher than $2.9 million and the fact that he is only 25 there really should be no need for the Saints to move on anyway. With the deal structured as it is, an extension can be struck at any time if he hits it big to keep him a Saint until he is in his early 30’s at some cap friendly prices. A solid contract for the team.
Worst Contract: Will Smith
The Saints are another team with a number of bad contracts. The contracts are not so much overvalued like the Cowboys are or Raiders were nor were they bizarre decisions like those of the Panthers, but more just a tangled mess created by restructures and a resistance from moving on from certain players. I think Roman Harper was a good example of this. Harper really should have simply been cut, but they opted instead to redo his contract with Harper taking a paycut of sorts in 2013 for extension years that ensure his place on the team through 2014, which is probably a mistake. Curtis Lofton’s deal was an example of restructure that has bad future consequences because they needed cap relief to maintain other players.
One of those other players that money was needed to retain was Will Smith. Smith has only produced 12.5 sacks the last two seasons , a low amount considering how often he should be in a position to rush the passer. Whereas Galette was one of the most productive pass rushers per attempt in the NFL, Smith was one of the worst. The same formula estimated his pass rush worth to be $2.3 million. His cap number this year is around $8 million.
2012 is really where it all went wrong for the Saints with Smith. Smith had already passed the age of 30 and had seen his stats fall for two years, following the 13 sack season in 2009. At that point Smith would have cost the Saints $4 million to release, not including the signing bonus forfeiture from his suspension, which drove that cost down even more. Smith’s cap charge that year was going to be around $10 million with $8 million coming in the form of base salary and a roster bonus. Rather than trying to drive the price down due to the cap savings realized by cutting him they rolled all of the maximum amount of the offseason money into a signing bonus.
The decision was not a good one. The team saved nearly $5 million in cap but increased his 2013 dead money from just $2 million to nearly $7 million with a cap charge over $14 million. The Saints did finally push for a paycut in 2013, but by that time the damage was done. Even in reducing his pay from $9 to $3 million Smith still has a cap charge of $8 million this season putting him around the top 15 at the position. When they do release him next season he will still carry over $2 million in cap penalties due to that 2012 restructure.
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.