With the numbers now official on Terrell Suggs’ new contract I wanted to compare his situation to that of DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys, since many are saying that this should be a barometer for Ware. So let’s see what Suggs’ contract may tell us about a reasonable extension for Ware that provides cap relief for Dallas while keeping Ware at a reasonable future cost.
Suggs and Ware were both considered preeminent pass rushers in the NFL throughout most of their careers. Ware was a devastating player that produced double digit sacks six times in his nine year career while Suggs put together five double digit sack seasons in his career, could contribute in both coverage and run defense, and was considered a game changer on a terrific Ravens defense. Though Ware has less years in the NFL both players will be 32 years old in 2014.
The two had contractual histories that were very similar. Suggs struck gold first with a six year, $62.5 million contract in July of 2009. The contract was heavily frontloaded with Suggs earning $43.4 million in the first three years of the deal and incredible dead money protection that was going to protect him through at least four and possibly five years of the contract regardless of his play.
Ware signed his deal in October of 2009 and reached the $78 million mark over six years. However despite the huge price tag on the deal Ware would only earn $1.6 million more over the first three years of the contract and $2.7 more over the first four years than Suggs. Ware did not have the same dead money protection as Suggs upon signing, though multiple restructures would eventually turn Ware into a major cap headache at the tail end of his contract.
2014 was really the first year where the Ravens could reasonably threaten to release Suggs from his contract and not have it affect their cap. Releasing Suggs would save the Ravens $7.8 million in cash and salary cap. So it made sense for the two sides to come to an agreement on a new deal that would be more cap friendly for Baltimore and ensure that Suggs finished his career a Raven.
Suggs can certainly still play. Though he was injured in an off the field situation in 2012 he did manage double digit sacks in 2013 and has now produced 35 sacks in his last three non-injured seasons. With the expectation that his skills will diminish the Ravens offered him an extension that would pay him just $5.175 million a year in new money, basically half of what he was earning on his prior contract.
To get the deal done the Ravens increased his cash salary by 53.8% and guaranteed him $16 million upon signing. The $16 million is a bit misleading because if the Ravens planned on keeping Suggs at $7.8 million for the year the guarantee is more like $8.2 million. Considering the franchise tag value for Suggs in 2015 would be nearly $15 million the added money is basically a 50% discount on the worst case scenario from the team perspective on a two year window for Suggs.
The contract essentially balances out Suggs’ cap charges over the life of the contract all in the $6 million range. Most likely the team is hoping that they can get something out of him through 2016 when the cap charge to keep him or release him is about the same. At the least it’s a situation where they may be able to get Suggs to take one final paycut before riding off into the sunset.
2014 will be the first year that the Cowboys can threaten Ware with a release. While the dead money would be incredibly high ($8.57 million), the team would save $7.4 million in cap and $12.75 million in cash. For a team projected to be nearly $25 million over the salary cap that $7.4 million in savings is quite large. Ware is also coming off his worst year as a pro, notching just 6 sacks over an injury plagued 13 games. That’s probably the end of the comparisons.
Ware is already set to earn $27 million over the next two years compared to Suggs’ $7.8 million followed by free agency. Remember Suggs gets a pretty hefty raise in 2014 for signing the extension. The same percentage raise for Ware would translate to a salary of about $20.4 million. Considering Dallas is already deep into Ware that kind of salary will not do much for their salary cap situation.
The organizations are also very different as Dallas is almost never going to have leverage in these situations. The Ravens front office has a very different reputation than that of the Cowboys. While the Ravens certainly caved in on the Joe Flacco contract, historically they have been tough on their veterans. When LB Ray Lewis was a free agent in 2009 the Ravens held firm eventually getting him to sign an affordable deal for just under $6.4 million a year a few weeks after free agency began. Last season the cap strapped Ravens let S Ed Reed walk away without blinking.
Dallas’ reputation is to spend, spend, and spend more to keep as many players in a Cowboys uniform as long as possible. While the Cowboys were tougher on G Doug Free and CB Orlando Scandrick last year, neither were star players. Ware’s people know that Dallas will not find an equivalent player to Ware for $12.75 million and they have a contract that has 4 years to dump prorated charges into because Dallas has already added two voidable contract years to his deal. From their perspective the fair thing (and expected thing) is to simply restructure Ware’s contract yet again for cap relief and then touch on the contract next year when Ware has just one year left.
Suggs’ deal is one that can make both sides happy. Suggs gets a raise in 2014 and a guaranteed roster spot in 2015. For the Cowboys to be happy Ware is going to have to take a paycut, at least on paper, to really make the numbers work. Dallas’ job over the next few weeks is to drill home the point that if Ware is released his salary will end up being closer to that of Suggs, meaning at most $18-$20 million over two years. To make it work Dallas will need to pay Ware more real cash in 2014 and find a way to make the numbers cap friendly. Here is one suggested structure that might meet the framework of the Suggs deal:
That contract brings Dallas $7.35 million in cap relief in 2014 and $6.85 million in cap relief in 2015. If you wanted to smooth that out you could shuffle an extra million from 2015 into 2014 if desired. 2016 would essentially be an option year with the equal cap and dead charges, though his dead money is going to be very high because of the old sunk costs that are already built into the contract.
From a cash perspective here is how the contract compares in real terms to the Suggs deal:
This structure will keep Ware around 25% above Suggs in terms of pay, which should show Ware that the Cowboys still hold him in high esteem. The pay should be at least what he would earn over the next two years if he was released by the Cowboys this season and he gets a few million more in 2014 than he would under his original deal. Ware also avoids the risk of being injured and/or ineffective playing out 2014 on his current which would drastically cut his potential earnings in 2015 with another team. An example to point to would be Dwight Freeney who trended down at 31 and 32 and was forced to take a deal worth about $5 million at age 33 with the Chargers after spending his whole career in Indianapolis. If that occurred Ware would likely make $18 million over two years and then be out of the NFL. Under this proposal Ware likely earns $26 million over three years.
I would not expect the two sides to quickly come to an agreement the way the Ravens did with Suggs, but there is definitely a comparable in place for the Cowboys to get the cap relief they need and keep Ware a Cowboy for life. It is an extremely important negotiation for their future and one they have to follow through on threats if he refuses to take a new contract from the team.
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.