Last week it was mentioned in many outlets that Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham could potentially not participate in any OTAs because he would like a new contract. Graham is currently in the third year of a four year contract that he signed in 2015 and will earn $6.5 million this year. He is currently the 39th ranked contract by APY among defensive ends and pass rushing linebackers. So let’s look a little at his situation and see if he has any realistic hope of getting anything significant.
Players who are unhappy with their contract generally fall into one of two categories. One is that they are a player who improved considerably since signing his contract (think of WR Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh) and feel undervalued. The second is that they simply have regrets over the contract they signed. If we look at Graham’s impact stats it would certainly seem he falls into the second category.
|Year||Solo Tackles||Tackles for Loss||Sacks||QB Hits||Forced Fumbles|
In general you would look at those numbers and say the Eagles got virtually what they should have expected from him based on the numbers he put up in his “walk year” back in 2014 with the exception of the big pressures on the QB which have gone up.
There is one other area where things look majorly different for him- playing time- and you could look at that as either a positive or a negative. In 2014 Graham was still a part time situation type of player. He played in about 43% of the teams snaps in 2014 and just under 27% the year prior. Since signing his extension the Eagles bumped his playing time up over 70%.
If one of the issues with his signing back in 2015 was that the Eagles did not want to pay excessive money for a part time player Graham certainly should have a leg to stand on here as he is playing almost double the snaps he was playing at the time. That is a positive for him. However you can just as easily argue that you would expect bigger numbers with nearly double the play time. Instead its more or less the same impact stats just taking more plays to do so.
This is one of the hardest things when it comes to projecting how highly efficient players in limited snaps will do with a bigger role for the team. Graham used to have some pretty crazy pressure numbers IIRC in his early years with the team but never could get over that 40% hurdle. The hits did jump in line with the increase in snaps but everything else stayed the same. To me that indicates that Graham is still the same situational pass rusher that just happens to get more attempts now and is probably best suited for the 40-50% role he originally had.
Graham is, in many ways, a victim of circumstance when it comes to his contract. Graham had the typical attributes that everyone looks for in a pass rusher. He has high draft pedigree, highly efficient rush numbers, and was just 27 when he was slated to hit free agency.
For whatever reason the market that year never developed during free agency. Outside of Jared Odrick signing a surprising $8.5 million a year contract with the free money Jaguars it wasn’t until the summer when the market picked up. Rather than chancing free agency Graham, after seeing his options in the “legal tampering period” stayed with Philadelphia.
You can always argue with those decisions. If given a take it or leave it offer it may make sense to take it. That year no players really hit gold. Jerry Hughes took $9 million a year in the lone bargain contract the Bills signed in a five year period. Brian Orakpo and Pernell McPhee were both under $8 million while Derrick Morgan slightly beat Graham’s contract. I have no doubt that in free agency he would have bumped up to $7.5M a year but would that really change the situation now? Probably not.
By the summer prices started increasing as a number defensive ends began signing extensions and they exploded the following year in free agency when Olivier Vernon waltzed into free agency and signed a massive $17 million a year contract with the Giants. The timing simply wasn’t great.
Graham’s unhappiness is likely magnified by a number of factors, but none bigger than the Eagles 2016 extension for Vinny Curry. Curry, like Graham, was a situational player logging around 35% playtime. He probably wasn’t as effective as Graham, though he also had some decent efficiency numbers and posted an outstanding 9 sacks a few years earlier despite the lack of playing time.
Curry hit the perfect situation. The market had exploded and the Eagles front office had just undergone a big change when a power struggle between head coach Chip Kelly and GM Howie Roseman was won by Roseman and Kelly was fired. The Eagles became offseason market setters buying in big on the players that they had drafted and seemingly blaming Kelly for their failures on their rookie deals.
You can argue the merits of those signings but Curry seems like a clear whiff. He still is logging just under 45% playtime and has done little. Last year when Graham played well and really got after the QB the Eagles won more often than they lost. Curry was just there, win or lose, with no real impact either way. That contract makes it difficult to really look Graham in the eye and say that he doesn’t deserve a raise, but sometimes you benefit from circumstances and sometimes you don’t. Graham, like I said above, was a victim of circumstance.
There are probably other soft factors as well. The other contracts signed by the Eagles in 2016 were very lucrative compared to Grahams contract. This is the first year where a few draft picks will now slot above players like Graham when it comes to contract value. It’s one thing for Myles Garrett to earn more, but probably another for Solomon Thomas to do the same.
I don’t see any reason that the Eagles would re-open negotiations here unless they are just looking to do a solid for Graham, which could open a pandora’s box of future requests. The Eagles did a minor raise for Connor Barwin a few years ago but he had really outplayed that contract in that one season and its hard to see Graham having done anything like that. The Eagles have often gone to older veterans for pay cuts and it hard to see them justifying doing that while giving Graham a raise at the same time.
The contract for Graham did contain some big perks for Graham when signed so it wasn’t a “steal” by any means. The $14 million in guarantees, $13 million of which were guaranteed at signing, were pretty big numbers. Considering that his contract is worth $26 million in total, that full guarantee which is worth 50% of the total contract was really big and tracked above the top contracts while the total percent of contract guaranteed is basically a top 20 deal.
This situation just reiterates something that I seem to talk about a lot. When negotiating contracts for players at these premier positions you should be doing everything you can to incentivize the contract via escalators or performance based incentives. While its doubtful that Graham would have reached anything, its possible that that the playtime increase could have led to a higher salary. While they did eventually agree to just a four year deal, it also can be advantageous to take a bit lower salary/guarantee to get free agency again in two or three years before the turn past 30.
Maybe Philadelphia does something unexpected here and shifts a few dollars into this year, though they are right up against the cap so that probably would not work anyway, but my guess is they won’t do anything different here outside of guaranteeing some money he was already going to earn. The best thing Graham can do is go out and have the best year of his career and then hope that Philly looks to extend him in 2018 so that he can finish his career as an Eagle.
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.