Over the summer we’ll be putting up our selections for the best and worst contract on each team. Our journey through the AFC East continues with the New England Patriots
The Patriots have a few contenders for this one that I thought deserved serious consideration. Tom Brady historically has had some very team friendly contracts, but I passed on him at this point because of his age and huge signing bonus commitment. Sebastian Vollmer has a pretty unique contract that puts a good deal of risk on the player and allows the Patriots to kind of control the upside. But the Gronkowski deal at this point I think stands out above all the others.
While many will just assume that the Gronkowski deal is a great contract because of how good he turned out there is more to it than that. The contract was really a tremendous example of how to use all the leverage you may have to take advantage of a possible situation. New England was one of the last teams in the NFL to take advantage of the rules that allowed you to extend a rookie after just his second season in the NFL. With two years left before free agency the Patriots were able to sign Gronkowski to a contract worth $9 million a season, which seemed like a huge number at the time, but with terms attached that really limited the true value of the contract.
The Gronkowski contract was a true contract within a contract in which the team basically bought out two years of possible franchise tag conflicts for about $8.5 million per year before having the ability to decide whether or not to exercise a four year option worth just north of $9 million a season. This was a pretty great structure for the Patriots who not only had the ability to see where Gronkowski was as a player before picking up his option but also could see where salaries at the position were headed and if their team still was in a mode where they needed a high priced receiver to win. Because they set an option date prior to the end of the prior season it also gave New England cap relief if Gronkowski was released and the ability to earn a compensatory pick.
The contract also covered 6 full new seasons giving the Patriots controlling rights until he is 30. Based on the way the position typically goes that means they locked him up for what will likely be the dominant portion of his career. They also put in pretty large per game roster bonuses as he aged to further protect themselves. To put the numbers in perspective, by 2014 Jimmy Graham would earn over $10 million a year in his first two years and that was with giving up just four rather than six years of a career, so we are probably looking at a $5-$6 million discount, if not more. This really was a picture perfect contract that has Gronk tied up for years now at well below market prices.
Cannon is a versatile player that can pitch in across the line but outside of that I’m not sure what the Patriots saw in him to justify a contract extension that would pay him $4.25 million a season. Canon had started 11 games across four seasons and really looked like he should be nothing more than a journeyman type of backup player. There is nothing wrong with signing players like that as insurance policies, but this price was a bit excessive for that role.
The Patriots paid Cannon a $3.2 million signing bonus which was 37% of the total contract value, significantly higher than others at the position. Starters like Breno Giacomini and Zach Strief, who had the benefits of free agency received two year cash payouts of $9 million and $8.5 million respectively. Those teams continued to control the players rights if they outplayed those contracts. The Patriots committed $8.5 million to Cannon and held no rights beyond 2016 if he outplayed his contract.
The Patriots already had good tackles on the team so its not as if this was one of those situations where they assumed they couldn’t find anyone better and felt locked in. It was just an odd decision, one in which they paid their backup almost as much as Sebastian Vollmer in base value. About the only positive is because it is just a two year contract they only had to guarantee the signing bonus meaning Canon can be cut this summer and they can just chalk this up as a one year mistake.
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.