Thoughts on Byron Jones Contract

After a roster teardown last season, the Miami Dolphins have started the process of reconstructing their roster through free agency. In the first day of the NFL legal tampering window, the team kept busy, reaching agreements with Clayton Fejedelum, Shaq Lawson, Ereck Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, and most notably, Byron Jones. Jones’s deal is reported to be a 5-year pact worth $82.5M, with $46M guaranteed at signing. While the deal sets new benchmarks by APY, total guarantees, and fully guarantees, the cornerback market, which I wrote about in September, remains stagnant. To further elaborate, the table below illustrates several notable deals in the CB market by APY, APY as % of cap, and length.

            When looking at Jones’s deal from a dollar figure, he leads the CB market by APY, leapfrogging the incumbent and new teammate, Xavien Howard, by 9.6%. This is a solid number for Jones but if we want to understand how his deal fits in discussion with market growth for CBs, it’s important to value the deal by looking at the APY as a % of cap. This method prevents older deals from being negated because of salary cap growth. For example, while Patrick Peterson’s APY is $2.5M less than Jones’s, the extension that Peterson signed in 2014, when adjusting salaries for cap inflation, would lead the CB market with an annual value of $20.878 in 2020. So, while Jones’s deal might be perceived to be a breakthrough for the CB market, the reality is the market will remain stagnant until we see a player sign a deal with an APY valued higher than 10.5%.  Again, this isn’t to say that Jones signed a bad deal. His APY as % of cap of 8.32% sits between Josh Norman’s 9.7% figure and Trumaine Johnson’s 8.2% figure. I wouldn’t have expected Jones to get a deal near Norman’s percentage of cap as Norman was coming off an all-pro season and was arguably the best cover corner leading up to him hitting the open market. For the CB market to see significant growth, it will require a player like Jalen Ramsey or Marlon Humphrey to maximize their leverage. For Ramsey, the LA Rams gave up tons of draft capital and it would be shame for them to do so for a two-year rental. I could see Humphrey as another player getting a new deal in the future with an APY around 10.5%. He’s a player who really established himself last year and has the same representation as Patrick Peterson.

            Moving onto cashflows of Jones’s deal, the below table illustrate running cashflows for a few of Jones’s peers.

            In his first year, Jones’s contract pays out more than any cornerback with exception of Johnson’s Year 1 cashflow he received in 2018. However, where Jones’s deal separates itself is Year 2 and Year 3. The Year 3 cashflow of $54.375M is also the total guaranteed value of the deal.

Another interesting thing to look at is the sum of Jones’s and Howard’s cash flow for the 2020 season. The Dolphins will be spending $37.925M in cash for their top 2 CBs and $44.835M for all CBs on their roster. To put these number into perspective, the Ravens are second in the league in cash spending for CBs at $28.615M, per OTC numbers. The average cash spending by teams for CBs in 2020 is approx. $14.4M. Obviously this number will fluctuate as we get through the rest of FA, draft, and potential extensions, but I’d still expect the Dolphins to be at the top in CB spending for at least this year. That being said, anything short of a top 10 pass defense this season will be seen as a disappointment.            In looking at Jones’s contract structure, it is pretty player friendly. Jones will receive a $15M signing bonus, and fully guaranteed 2020 and 2021 salaries. In 2022, when Jones turns 30, Jones has a $14.375M base salary. Of that amount, $6M is already guaranteed and another $8.375M becomes guaranteed on the 5th day of the 2022 league year. That being said, if things go terrible with Jones and the Dolphins, the team can walk away from him before the 5th day of the 2022 league year and avoid paying the additional $8.375M in base salary for 2022. However, at that point, they would have paid Jones $46M for just two seasons, which would come out to an average of $23M. For Dolphins fans, lets hope that won’t be the case.

Revisiting the Top Free Agents of 2019

Assuming the NFL does not push the start of the league year back we are just a few days away from the start of NFL free agency. Every year teams throw some big money at free agents and this year should be no different. The teams generally get the most offseason publicity as people rave about the impact these new players will have on the team. Then the regular season begins and opinions quickly change. So with that in mind I thought it would be interesting to back and look at the biggest free agent contracts signed in 2019.

Nick Foles, Jaguars- 4 years, $88 million, $50.125M guaranteed

Foles was supposed to lead the offensively challenged Jaguars to the promised land but an early injury set the team back and then when Foles returned he struggled and was quickly benched in hopes of sparking the team. We valued Foles’ performance for the year around $1.9 million, that of a low level backup, The Jaguars will be desperate to trade Foles as cutting him will cost nearly $34 million on the salary cap with another $5 million becoming guaranteed in early March. Woof.

Trey Flowers, Lions- 5 years, $90 million, $56 million guaranteed

While some fans may have been disappointed in Flowers not putting up gaudy stats, the Lions were likely fine with the performance which came close to his “contract year” performance as well. Flowers numbers in 2018 were 57 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 78 pressures to 51-7-62. Whether that is enough for an $18 million a year player is a different debate and Flowers failed to see action in much more than 60% of the defensive snaps, a low number such a high priced player but unless the Lions fell into the trap of expecting him to expand significantly on what he did in New England there should be no regrets yet about this deal. We valued Flowers around $11.9 million on the season, which would be representative of a solid but not overly outstanding defensive end.

CJ Mosley, Jets- 5 years, $85 million, $51 million guaranteed

One of the most ambitious contracts of 2019, Mosley missed almost the entire season with injury. Mosley saw action in week 1, was hurt, sat a few weeks and was seemingly rushed back into the lineup only to get injured again which was an odd way of handling a star player. Mosley didn’t have the kind of injury history that should have warned against this- he only missed three games in his career prior to 2019— so you give this a pass for now. Mosley needs to have a great season in 2020 because he is locked in for 2021.

Trent Brown, Raiders- 4 years, $66 million, $36.25 million guaranteed

Also a very ambitious contract especially when it became clear that Brown was going to play right tackle. The salary alone was going to be hard to ever live up to because right tackles have been paid so much less than their left side counterparts but since the Raiders signed him with that in mind I guess it was not a concern for them. Brown was fine when he played this year and was selected to the Pro Bowl but he missed 5 games with a pec injury and availability has been an issue with him in the past. If they can get 16 games at the same level they will likely be happy.

Za’Darius Smith, Packers- 4 years, $66 million, $20 million guaranteed

I killed this contract when it was signed and boy was I wrong on this one. Smith was as good a pass rusher as anyone in the league this year. PFF graded him just under a 90 on the season while he set career highs in sacks (13.5), solo tackles (41), tackles for loss (17), QB hits (37), and pressures (104). He was also on the field for 84% of the Packers defensive plays. It’s rare that players who are situational/part time guys really blow up when switching teams but Smith did just that. We valued his contribution as being worth nearly $21 million to the Packers this season.

Antonio Brown, Patriots- 2 years, $30.5 million, $10 million guaranteed

Technically this wasn’t an offseason contract but I don’t think you can discount it. Brown came with a glowing buyer beware sticker but that did not concern the Patriots, who were rumored to have made Brown aware of the fact that they would sign him if the Raiders released him. Brown played a game before essentially being banished from the NFL. The Patriots are hoping that they don’t have to pay him his full guarantee.

Landon Collins, Redskins- 6 years, $84 million, $44.5 million guaranteed

The Redskins grabbed the headlines for a day with this contract which made Collins the highest paid safety in the NFL. Collins pretty much is what he is- a good in the box safety with limited coverage skills. Is that worth $14 million?  No, but Im not sure what the Redskins really expected here. Collins is not going anywhere for a few years and he will need to make a few splashy plays next year to prevent people from realizing how bloated of a deal this is.

Tyrann Mathieu, Chiefs- 3 years, $42 million, $26.8 million guaranteed

Mathieu would go on to have a pretty solid season with the Chiefs which led to an All Pro nod for the safety. Mathieu was a big part of the Chiefs ability to cover in the secondary and his four interceptions were a pretty big number. If he was signed on a bad team to this contract people would probably question it but on a good team he’s a perfect player. This turned out to be a perfect fit for the two sides.

Earl Thomas, Ravens- 4 years, $55 million, $32 million guaranteed

Thomas had a solid enough season in Baltimore, finishing the year with two interceptions and a Pro Bowl appearance. PFF graded Thomas at a 75 which is certainly good but nowhere near the elite levels that everyone was accustomed to with Thomas. His 53 run defense grade was by far the lowest of his career and there may be some questions as to whether he is slowing down or not. Certainly not a terrible signing but if the Ravens were looking for a home run he probably did not give them that just yet.

Kwon Alexander, 49ers- 4 years, $54 million, $27.5 million guaranteed

This was the signing that got the ball rolling for the Mosley deal mentioned above and it’s a move I didn’t get then and don’t really get now. Alexander played in just 8 games and unlike hard luck injuries that you can’t plan on, Alexander is always hurt, appearing in more than 12 games just once in his five year career. PFF graded him under a 53 on the season and when healthy we valued him around $5 million. They already restructured his contract for some cap relief so they are in for the long haul here and he will need a healthy bounce back season in 2020.

Anthony Barr, Vikings- 5 years, $67.5 million, $33 million guaranteed

Barr actually verbally agreed to a contract with the Jets but then got cold feet and went back to the Vikings to see if they could get a deal done. This was just a mistake on the Vikings part from day one. At the price they agreed upon they should have been able to do a deal the year before while Barr was on his option to lessen the effective guarantee they paid him. The Vikings front office makes almost no mistakes on their contracts but in my opinion this was one. Barr was fine for the season but fine basically means you are worth around $5 to $7 million not $13.5 million. Barr could be a 2021 cap casualty if he doesn’t play at a Pro Bowl level in 2020.

Le’Veon Bell, Jets- 4 years, $52 million, $35 million guaranteed

This seemed like a signing to grab the headlines and grab the headlines they did when they signed Bell. They grabbed them again mid season when it was rumored they were ready to trade him if the right deal came along and will grab them again this spring if they can find a taker. Bell had the worst season of his career averaging just 3.2 yards a carry while he and the staff seemed to struggle to find the right mix of plays for him. Bell was a trooper for the year never complaining about a bad situation but its hard to see it getting much better this year.

Preston Smith, Packers- 4 years, $52 million, $16 million guaranteed

Green Bay got another one right with this Smith once again proving why it’s a good thing I’m not a football scout. Smith had a career high 12 sacks on the season and while that number was a bit of a fluky high conversion rate he was still a solid player on the season. Smith is not going to be a game changer but as a secondary rusher on a team he’ll be ok. No regrets for them here.

Ja’Wuan James, Broncos- 4 years, $51 million, $32 million guaranteed

A questionable deal at signing and James ended up battling knee problems all year long and only appeared in three games. This is somewhere in between the Mosley and Alexander situations. James had missed a good chunk of time two years ago but didn’t have the more extensive history like Alexander. The Broncos kept attempting to get James back onto the field only for him to keep reinjuring himself. Like with Mosley and the Jets what did the Broncos expect to gain from doing that? James’ salary for the year is guaranteed so he is going nowhere and the Broncos will just hope he can play 16 games.

Sheldon Richardson, Browns- 3 years, $37 million, $21.5 million guaranteed

The Browns made their attempt at the “Dream Team” season and while that was a total flop the addition of Richardson was perfectly fine. Richardson will never be the player he was in his early career with the Jets but his salary level is that of a solid but not flashy player and that’s what Richardson is. Richardson played about 73% of the time for the Browns, posted over 40 tackles, had a few sacks, and pressures. We valued him around $10 million on the year and considering our valuation puts rookies and veterans on the same scale that easily justifies this contract.

Just How Much Has Tom Brady Given Up In His Career

Tom Brady will get his first ever chance at free agency which of course has brought out the Brady discount discussions. The numbers get a bit insane when people get into these discussions. People look at career earnings and see Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, etc… above Brady and immediately consider that as a justification to say he’s given up close to $100M in earnings in his career. Those things completely throw out things like where a player was drafted, timing of contracts, the market at the time and so on. So let’s discuss the Brady contracts.

The first areas that should immediately be thrown out when it comes to Brady are his early career earnings. Brady, as a late round pick, essentially earned nothing as a rookie nor did he have any leverage on his early contract extension. This is in contrast to Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, and countless others who have earned more than Brady who were top picks that earned monster contracts right off the bat. Brady’s first contract in the NFL averaged just over $288,000 a year compared to Peyton who averaged $7.7 million a year. Even Drew Brees averaged just over $900,000 a year as a 2nd round pick.

Contract number two came in for Brady in 2002. This was one year after winning the Super Bowl and the Patriots deciding that Brady was their guy instead of Drew Bledsoe who the team has signed just one year earlier to a 9 year contract that averaged $10.6 million a season. Brady of course was far from established at this point in time. Brady’s deal averaged $7.4 million in new money a year but only ran four years. It’s also worth noting that Brady would have been a RFA in 2003 and that tender was in the ballpark of $1.3M. Factoring that in brings us closer to a contract that really was a three year extension worth $9.4 million and change. Regardless of how you wish to value this contract I think its fair to say that this did not represent a discount.

Contract number three came in 2005 following Brady’s third Super Bowl victory and his best season as a pro, throwing for nearly 3,700 yards and 28 touchdowns while running a much more aggressive passing game than they had played in the past. Brady and the Patriots clearly had the number of Manning and the Colts but Manning was also considered the clear cut number one QB in 2005 and anyone thinking otherwise is bringing up revisionist history. Manning in 2004 threw for an obscene 4,557 yards and 49 touchdowns. His only season throwing for less than 4,000 yards was as a rookie in 1998. Manning had signed a contract that ran for 7 seasons and averaged $14 million a year. Brady took a four year extension that averaged $12 million a season, which was $1 million a year more than Brett Favre, $1.5 million more than Steve McNair, and $3 million more than Chad Pennington (oh Jets). On a side note the actual high water mark for contracts was Carson Palmer at just under $16.2 million a year but nobody gave much credence to that contract since it was signed with four years remaining on his rookie contract and would run for 11 years in total.

Would I consider Brady underpaid?  Maybe slightly and it depends on how you view Mike Vick, who was a phenom at the time. Vick signed an extension toward the end of the 2004 season that paid him $13 million a year. While Brady should not have been paid higher than Manning I think you can argue he should have made more than Vick. There is also the years factor though and what discount that should be given. Manning and Vick were locked for seven years and Brady just four. Taking that all into account its not much of a give up by Brady.

Contract four was signed in 2010 and by this point in time Brady was not only the established “winner” from his early 2000s run but also considered right up there with Manning as the best player in the NFL. It was reflected in his contract which made him the highest paid player in the NFL at $18 million a year, about $1.75 million more a year than the other Manning who signed a year prior. Peyton, a year later, would sign for the identical $18 million a season. So unless you want to say Peyton was playing for pennies this was clearly not taking less money for the good of the team.

Contract five is where things get interesting and we do indeed get a price break. The Patriots went to Brady in 2013 and got him to agree to a super low three year contract extension in order to help them create cap space in 2013. The contract added three years at just $9 million a year. The number was so low we didn’t even value it on OTC at that number and instead just looked at it as a five year contract that averaged $11.4 million.

The concept at the time seemed to be that the Patriots were grooming a replacement for Brady. He would be 38, 39, and 40 in the extension years and the entire contract was virtually guaranteed (they would have had to cut Brady before the 2014 regular season ended to avoid paying him from 15 to 17). Plenty of quarterbacks broke down around the age of 35 so you could perhaps sell this as something reasonable though it clearly was not.

This is where things get more complicated with Brady’s contracts and the differences between salary cap management and massive discounts being taken. If you follow the cash trail, which is the most important thing for a player, Brady was set to earn $30 million in 2013 and 2014 on his original contract and wound up earning $33 million as part of the new contract. At the same time his cap number fell from $21.8M in 2013 and 14 to $13.8 and $14.8 million respectively. That’s the wackiness of the cap- get paid more but count less.

However Brady would have been looking at a new contract in 2015 had he not signed this deal and even at an older age he would have done well for himself. He essentially gave that up for $10 million in 2015 and just a few bucks in 16 and 17. Now Brady never got to the franchise tag in his career and most QBs don’t get there so to estimate how much he game up we really have to go back and look at the market in 2014, which is when he would have signed an extension. The QB market in 2014 was still pretty stagnant and showed no movement until 2016 when values started to jump past $24 million. I’d say as a rough estimate he would have come in just under Rodgers at something like $21.5 or $21.75M a year on a four year contract. That does seem like a big difference.

Still its not as cut and dry as comparing those two sets of numbers because the Patriots, other than in 2015, kept tweaking his deal to push cash forward to keep the earnings more in line with reality. First they added an extra $3M in salary to the contract starting in 2015. Then in 2016 the Patriots signed Brady to a two year extension worth $20.5 million a season. In this one he ended up earning $30 million in the “old years” that were left from his old contract (2016 and 2017) rather than the original negotiated rate of $17 million. That’s still a discount for Brady but its not as bad as it originally looked.

In 2018 the Patriots added another $5 million in incentives to the deal to give him a chance to earn $20 million rather than $15 million though he failed to earn the bonus money. In 2019 they more or less made good on it giving him an $8 million raise to bring his salary to $23 million which was somewhat in line with the $25 million that was paid to Drew Brees.

The right way to compare the contract outcomes is to look at what he likely would have earned signing a real market contract in 2015 after playing out the 2013 and 2014 years versus what he actually earned.  This table shows the estimated running cash flows that would have occurred vs what actually did occur.

Year Theoretical Actual
2013 $15,000,000 $31,000,000
2014 $30,000,000 $33,000,000
2015 $51,750,000 $41,000,000
2016 $73,500,000 $70,000,000
2017 $95,250,000 $71,000,000
2018 $117,000,000 $86,000,000
2019 $140,000,000 $109,000,000

The difference here is $31 million, with the majority of the discount coming from 2015 to 2018,  a savings of nearly $8M a year during that timeframe. The $23M he earned in 2019 matches Brees’ 2019 salary but was $2M under Brees annual contract value. So the ultimate discount he gave New England is about $33 million, maybe a few million more if you want to give him a bump for coming in under Vick early in his career.

If you compare Brady’s career starting in 2005 with Manning’s starting in 2004 (the year both signed new contracts and when Brady was considered a top line QB) its true that Manning had far better contracts but it was not until the final years of Manning’s career in Denver where he grossly pulls away from Brady. That coincides with those big discount years for Brady that began in 2014. The difference was as big as $39.4 million and wound up at $29.4 million. But its important to see how while there were always fluctuations in Manning’s favor the bottom line amount was a $9.4 million difference before the few true discount years for Brady took off.

Year Manning Brady Difference
Year 1 $35,035,000 $15,500,000 $19,535,000
Year 2 $35,700,000 $31,500,000 $4,200,000
Year 3 $45,700,000 $37,500,000 $8,200,000
Year 4 $56,700,000 $45,500,000 $11,200,000
Year 5 $68,200,000 $53,500,000 $14,700,000
Year 6 $82,200,000 $80,000,000 $2,200,000
Year 7 $98,000,000 $90,000,000 $8,000,000
Year 8 $124,400,000 $102,000,000 $22,400,000
Year 9 $142,400,000 $133,000,000 $9,400,000
Year 10 $167,400,000 $135,000,000 $32,400,000
Year 11 $182,400,000 $143,000,000 $39,400,000
Year 12 $201,400,000 $172,000,000 $29,400,000

So Brady certainly has helped out the Patriots but it hasn’t been during his entire career. For the most part it was over a three or four year period and its certainly nowhere near the numbers that seem to get thrown around that Brady has sacrificed over $60 million to help the Patriots. A lot of what the Patriots have done is to use Brady to manipulate the salary cap which makes the impact look bigger than what it is. This is a gamble that mainly paid off but very easily could have been a catastrophe like what occurred with Dallas and Tony Romo. The Patriots as it stands now may carry $13.5M for Brady if he does not return this year and that’s because of the way they have kept aggressively pushing the cap off for Brady.

The team has also used this narrative to push the “Patriot way” on other players as often team friendly aspects of a proven QB contract can easily be driven onto others on the team. Unlike Brady those players did not receive raises or new deals at various stages of their contracts. This is one of those soft benefits of what Brady did that probably had a bigger impact than the Brady “pay cuts” did on their own. You cant really measure this but I think it exists.

In hindsight Id think the Patriots strategy with Brady was to use that one contract in 2013 to get their salary cap and contracts in order with a plan in mind to keep finding ways to give Brady raises to keep him reasonably compensated during most of his time with the team. My guess is they also thought he would at some point break down and actually finish his career earning a lower salary (in the $8 to $13M range) to balance out all the prorated money that they pushed in his contract deep into his 40s. That part never really happened though.

While its fair to say that Brady never pushed the issue in his career how many quarterbacks have?  Most of the time QB contracts are fairly simple. Almost nobody gets to free agency. Few even get to the tag. We sometimes speculate about how nasty things could get but it never gets that bad. How many nasty negotiations can you think of in the last 10 years?  Kirk Cousins with the Redskins. Who else?  Maybe Brees’ first big deal with the Saints was a little testy. E. Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Philip Rivers all got done easy enough. No problem with Aaron Rodgers. Ditto Andrew Luck, Matt Stafford, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Russell Wilson and everyone else.

Regardless of what people like me say about how a player is worth so much based on his impact the fact is the QB position is paid a ton of money and they have long careers that usually span multiple contracts.  When you get into the kind of money we are talking about for the Brady’s of the world there comes a point where its all going to sound fine and they just want to get out there and play football. Its different than the other positions on the field where the job security isn’t there. Most of the good players at QB are going to play until their mid to late 30s and get paid incredibly well while also getting the majority of the endorsements in the local and national campaigns.

Brady has likely taken the biggest discount and for a majority of his career and has probably had the most chummy relationship ever with a team but this has become somewhat overblown over time.

Dead Money and Matt Stafford

I didn’t bother posting anything about the Matt Stafford contract the other day simply because I thought that it was so unlikely he would be traded that it wasn’t worth doing it, but for whatever reason yesterday we got blamed in a sense by PFT for having some incorrect numbers online regarding a trade so I wanted to set the record straight on that and explain the way that his contract likely works in the event of trade.

First of all its important to note that we do make mistakes on cap figures (this was not one of those times despite what was said) and do our best to keep them as accurate as possible. There are also at times issues with our dead money calculations. We generate those numbers pretty much on the fly and when you have contracts that do not conform to the norms (which Stafford’s does not) things can go a little haywire. Because a contract like Stafford’s is a one in a 1000 type of deal (probably more than that) to create a conditional equation for this particular situation is simply not worth the effort.

As soon as the reports came out about Stafford, which I don’t believe was first by PFT, I immediately put out a tweet that said the numbers being reported about a dead money charge of over $30 million were incorrect. Here is that tweet.

Secondly I don’t think there was one outlet of the original news stories that attributed that number to us or to Spotrac, which is the other site that tracks contract data generally by ripping from here but that’s neither here nor there at this point, so to turn around and then blame the websites for incorrect details is a bit ridiculous when you didn’t credit either of them in the first place. Still our numbers were incorrect in the dead money so here is why.

The Lions, like a number of teams late last season, made a number of contract adjustments to create cap room in 2020 in the event that the 2020 season is played under the final year of the CBA. Rules in place this year with the salary cap make it much more difficult to do the standard salary to signing bonus conversion that we see every February by teams with bad salary cap situations. So proactive teams like Detroit had to go to great lengths to modify deals at the end of the year to comply with the rules while also creating cap space in 2020.

Stafford was to earn $21.5 million on his original contract in 2020 and have a $31.5 million cap charge. What the Lions did was guarantee a $6 million roster bonus that is paid early in 2020 (the 5th day of the league year) causing it to prorate starting in 2019. They then converted part of Stafford’s salary into an option bonus which the team does not have to exercise for quite some time (basically the start of the regular season) which prorates starting in 2020. This brought his cap number down to $21.3 million.

From a technical standpoint both of these prorated figures count on the salary cap as if they were already paid and the league technically considers the roster bonus paid in 2019 (weve updated our pages to not make the same assumption). This is where the confusion comes in since if Stafford is traded the Lions did not actually pay him that money. There are relatively few examples historically where a trade happens in these instances but here is what I believe (not saying with 100% will but believe) would happen based on my understanding of the CBA.

If Stafford was traded before the roster bonus is actually paid the dead money for Stafford would be $21.2 million. This would be the prorated amount of his roster bonus this year and acceleration from his massive signing bonus from a few years back. There should be no acceleration of the roster or option since neither was paid and I don’t believe the option proration from this year would count either (they could just decline it prior to the trade to ensure it didn’t) . The deadline for this should be March 22.

Things should get a bit more complicated because if this is indeed the final league year the team should get credit on the cap immediately for money paid on the cap but not paid to the player unlike in a normal season where that comes as a cap adjustment the following season. So in this case the Lions should receive an immediate credit of $2.4 million to offset the prorated charges attributed to 2019 and 2020 for the unpaid roster bonus (if this years proration from the option remained it would also be credited). That brings the effective dead charge down to $18.8M. Again Im not saying this with 100% accuracy as this is a one in a million scenario (there has only been one other final league year cap rules and that was back in 2009) so I have little to compare it to, but I believe this is how it works.

Now if Stafford is traded after the roster bonus is paid out by Detroit the dead money increases. In this case Stafford’s dead money would be the old signing bonus money plus the prorated money from the roster bonus. This is $24.8 million, which is the number PFT mentioned in their latest article. There would be no offset number on this since the roster bonus was earned. Since the option was not yet exercised there should be no charge for that at this point.

If for some reason the Lions exercised the option and traded Stafford then you get to the full $32 million number everyone originally was going with and how its listed on OTC. That would make no sense for Detroit to do since the option timeframe is so long. If anything if the Lions have the cap space in the summer or at the end of the season I would expect them to decline the option and just take the full charge on the cap this season so waiting makes sense for them whether they truly want to trade Stafford or keep him.  

So that’s my take on how the Stafford contract unfold in the very unlikely event he is traded before or after the roster bonus is earned. I still dont see it occurring but those are the particulars in this contract.

Injury Adjusted Salary in 2019

The NFL has a number of reserve lists for players who miss time, the most prominent of which is injured reserve. So often every year we hear about how injured teams were and how they have so many players on IR, but sometimes that doesn’t always tell the full story. Sometimes a team has a large number of players on IR but they may not be expensive players and thus the loss not that big. Other times the player doesn’t land on IR until late in the season and his injury may have minimal impact on the season. So what I wanted to do was to create a salary adjusted IR list that would better put into perspective the actual magnitude of the impact of injury on a team’s roster.

To create the adjusted injury salary I first looked at every player who was on IR, PUP, and NFI and is still in the NFL as of week 16. I then turned to our friends at Rostermon.com to get a listing of every player who was designated for return from IR or activated from PUP or NFI during the year.

For the next step I was originally going to assign games missed on reserve but then I realized just how often teams carry players in the slim hope they will get better only to put them on IR at a later date (see CJ Mosely of the Jets as a perfect example of carrying a hurt guy on the active roster for no real reason). So instead of games missed to IR, PUP, or NFI the list was based on snaps played. If a player who eventually landed on a reserve list did not play a snap in a given week I considered that a game lost due to injury. This isn’t perfect either as it overstates the value lost to injury for players who were benched for not being good and then got hurt later on, but I think it does a better job of capturing real weeks missed versus official weeks on reserve.

The player’s game total was then used to adjust the players annual salary to put into perspective the amount lost to injury. So for example a player with a $16 million a year salary that missed 8 games would have $8 million lost to IR. If that same player only missed the last three games of the year we would consider this $3 million lost to IR.    

So who lost the most to injury through last week? The Redskins with a staggering $67.3M in lost salary to players on reserve. The big impacts here were Alex Smith who spent the year on PUP and Trent Williams who sat out before being placed on NFI as soon as he reported. Jordan Reed was also a major loss.

The Jets came in at number 2 with $59.1 million lost to injury. Unlike the Redskins, who had time to plan for the Smith injury, the Jets did not have that luxury. They lost big money players in Mosley, Quincy Enunwa, Trumaine Johnson, and Avery Williamson while also losing a pretty sizeable number for Ryan Kalil and Brian Winters.

Number 3 is the Jaguars at $47 million though that number is a little inflated with Nick Foles missing some games due to being terrible. Rounding out the top 5 were the Steelers and Panthers who both lost their QBs early.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the super healthy teams. The Vikings have only lost an adjusted $2.1 million to injury this year. Now they did lose Adam Thielen for a few games and he never went on IR but this is a crazy total. Basically it’s a perfect storm for a good season.

The Rams were the major disappointment of the injury free teams. They are eliminated from the playoffs and only lost $4 million this season. So they were healthy and just didn’t perform up to expectations. The Bills on the other hand lost just $5 million and made the most of it with a playoff run. My guess is when the season is over the Bills are going to be considered to have checked a lot of the boxes for a “one season wonder” and this would certainly be one of those boxes. The Saints are the only other team under $10 million though they also lost Brees for a few weeks to a non-IR injury.

Here is a table with the totals and below that is a graph plotting adjusted salary lost to IR vs a team’s record. Not surprisingly the teams that are the healthiest are generally in the playoff hunt (teams in the top left quadrant). Those who are riddled with injury are mainly out of it (bottom right quadrant) showing how difficult it is to overcome injury.

The one team that looks real strange in the graph is the Bengals and in part that is because they kept their $15 million receive on the active roster all season even though he was never going to play. Why? Who knows but they really should be around $35M to $40M. That’s not an excuse for being so bad but they should be on the other side.

The teams like the Giants, Cowboys, and Browns were all pretty healthy this year so you would attribute their horrible showings to coaching, poor roster construction, or a combination of both. All three will likely be looking for a new head coach. On the other hand the 49ers should be given a medal for navigating more than average injuries and having one of the best records in the NFL.  

TEAM Salary Lost
Redskins $67,321,768
Jets $59,154,244
Jaguars $47,175,078
Panthers $45,282,028
Steelers $45,266,806
Dolphins $39,527,055
Broncos $36,353,233
49ers $29,415,389
Lions $26,473,099
Eagles $25,996,198
Texans $25,393,498
Chargers $23,444,789
Bears $22,858,638
Cardinals $21,948,023
Falcons $21,495,459
Titans $21,007,461
Bengals $20,587,906
Ravens $19,619,755
Colts $19,088,815
Browns $17,655,690
Seahawks $17,635,399
Patriots $17,297,012
Raiders $15,960,727
Cowboys $14,417,555
Chiefs $12,503,872
Buccaneers $12,472,319
Giants $12,205,607
Packers $11,260,100
Saints $8,470,811
Bills $5,027,248
Rams $4,000,491
Vikings $2,091,055
Avg. $24,012,723

Patriots Release Antonio Brown

In a story that just seems to keep repeating itself Antonio Brown has been released again this time by the Patriots and again questions come up regarding his contract. Ill preface this article by saying that this is a situation Ive really never seen before so I’m just offering an opinion based on my understanding of the rules and what has been said about his contract.

Brown signed his contract with New England on the 9th of September following a public divorce with the Raiders just a few days earlier. The contract structure was stunning to me because of how Brown had behaved all offseason. Rather than tying most of the contract to being on the team and active the Patriots went all in with $10 million in guarantees, $9 million of which came as a signing bonus, and just $500,000 tied to playing on Sunday. All of this was absurd because signing bonus money is not the easiest thing to recover if things go south. Salary is a different story.

I can only venture that the Patriots did this because they had salary cap troubles (they had a very tight cap situation) and wanted to be able to split the charges for Brown over two years by including a second season on the contract worth $20 million that for all intents and purposes was a void year used to dump $4.5 million from the signing bonus. I’m going to assume they had enough of a relationship with Drew Rosenhaus that they were convinced that Brown was fine and only looking to leave Oakland and didn’t do much to really see if there was any additional off the field that could be a concern. This would explain why the deal came together so quickly.

The NFL CBA is pretty strict with what can cause forfeiture of a signing bonus. Refusing to practice triggers forfeiture. Going to jail triggers forfeiture. Non football injuries trigger forfeiture. PED violations trigger forfeiture. Retirement triggers forfeiture. Being accused in a civil matter does not trigger forfeiture. Being a bad guy does not trigger forfeiture. Being a distraction does not trigger forfeiture. All those things trigger is the internal question of “why did we sign this guy in the first place”.

Forfeiture is also not an all or nothing situation. It more or less proportionate for the time missed due to whatever triggers it and it is based on the prorated portion of the bonus, not the entire bonus. At the initial stage there can be a lump sum loss(I believe its 25% of the prorated number in the regular season) but then it moves into weekly forfeiture. I cant see forfeiture being in play at all.

Now this is not the only avenue for the Patriots to try to recover the bonus. It has been reported that the first installment of Brown’s signing bonus was set to be paid on September 23. This, to me, explains the timing of the release as the Patriots will have him all cleared out from the organization when they decide to withhold payment. The question is whether they have a leg to stand on.

Most Patriots contracts contain what are essentially morals clauses. Such language states that the player has represented that he is not engaged and will not engage in any unlawful or immoral conduct and that there are no pre-existing circumstances that would prevent the player from fulfilling the contract. These clauses extend to the signing bonus as well as any other parts of the deal. So the Patriots more or less will need to prove that Brown was either engaged in some type of immoral behavior that they were not made aware of before signing the contract or after signing the contract.

If the Patriots do not make the payment Brown will file a grievance against the Patriots to force them to pay the $9 million. They will be an arbitration issue and while I have not really followed all the drama surrounding Brown the last few days because I was pretty much just sick of it my assumption is they will argue that this is a private matter between two (or more) adults. Perhaps it was juvenile but not immoral and illegal especially if no charges were filed prior to his release. I would also think that there are probably more than a few other Patriots in history that they can point to as example of what would be considered similar ‘immoral’ conduct that were allowed to complete their contract. That’s not a knock on the Patriots as it would likely happen with every other team just that it’s the Patriots treatment of similar situation that would be an issue in the grievance not how the other 31 would have handled it.  

Brown also has a $1 million salary guarantee. Guarantees generally have much broader language regarding the voiding of the guarantee. Conduct detrimental to the team, speaking badly about the team, harming the teams reputation through actions, etc…My guess is they can point to these as hurting the teams reputation as a way to void the guarantee. If so Brown would likely file a grievance as well on that. Brown will have earned two weeks salary regardless of the guarantee so, $125,000 has already been paid. Even if the guarantee was voided Brown should be entitled to $250,000 in termination pay if he decided to file for it which is an additional $125,000. I would imagine that there are also offsets on the guarantee if some other team decides to take the plunge on him. The $500,000 in per game bonuses is lost to Brown with the exception of the $33K he earned for the first game.  

So all told my feeling is that Brown will count for $5.75 million against the Patriots salary cap this year (the guaranteed salary, the signing bonus proration, and the proration of his per game bonuses) and $4.75 million next year with a grievance pending if they withhold payments. If he is successful with his grievance the only change will be a $466,667 credit applied to the Patriots 2020 salary cap for per game bonuses that counted on the cap but were unearned.

If Brown were to lose a grievance the Patriots should be a $4.5 million cap credit in 2020 for the signing bonus, an $875,000 credit for guaranteed salary that was voided, and the same $466,667 credit for the roster bonuses.  The $4.5 million dead money from the signing bonus in 2020 would also vanish from the books. There would be a chance that they would take a charge for $125,000 in termination pay if he filed that following the loss of a grievance.

There are a few other scenarios depending on what they do with the guarantee and if he signs elsewhere, but for the most part it will be one of these two situations. I would lean towards the first one being the most likely outcome where he would win a grievance but again that’s just my opinion on it.

I can’t say Ive seen anything like this before. At the start of the year Brown was set to earn $15.125 million with Pittsburgh. He was then scheduled to earn the same from Oakland following a trade in March with a guarantee for another $14.5 million. He lost most of that. He then signed with the Pats set to earn up to $15 million with incentives. He may have lost most of that.

If the Patriots play hardball and Brown is unsuccessful with a grievance he will end up making around $1 million this season- one weeks salary from the Raiders and two weeks salary plus a per game roster bonus payment from the Patriots. In the meantime Brown will have left the three organizations with somewhere around a combined $28 million in dead money while only playing one game this year.

A Look at the NFL Cornerback Market

The market for several positional groups on defense have experienced robust growth due to salary cap growth and free agency spending.  In just the last year, the average salary for the 5 highest paid linebackers grew a bullish 36.86%. Players like C.J. Mosley and Kwon Alexander reaped the benefits of hitting free agency at the right time while non-expendable players like Bobby Wagner, Deion Jones, and Myles Jack were locked up via extensions. Elite edge rushers have also cashed in. After Khalil Mack reset the market in every major contract metric last year, Demarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark, and Trey Flowers all signed new deals this summer to contribute to the 9.07% YOY growth in the top 5 of the edge rushers market. Looking at safeties, the top of the market has already been reset twice this year. During free agency, the Washington Redskins awarded Landon Collins the title of highest paid safety with an APY value of $14M until Kevin Byard eclipsed that figure at $14.1M a few months later.  Free Agent deals of Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu were also factors in uplifting the top 5 of the safety market by 15.91% over the last year. The top 5 of the cornerback market, however, hasn’t experienced nearly the same growth.

Below is a chart to compare how the average APY of the top 5 players from each defensive positional group fares with salary cap growth. For the purpose of this article, middle linebackers and 4-3 outside linebackers are considered one group. 3-4 outside linebackers and 4-3 defensive ends fall in the edge rusher group, and 3-4 defensive ends, 4-3 defensive tackles, and nose tackles are in the interior DL group.

As illustrated on the graph above, since 2015, the top of the market for safeties, linebackers, and edge rushers have experienced a faster growth rate than the salary cap. However, interior DL and cornerbacks have failed to keep up with salary cap inflation, posting growth figures of 17.57% and 9.91% respectively. Despite the interior DL Market falling behind salary cap growth, it has still shown positive signs. New benchmarks were set last year when Aaron Donald signed an extension worth an annual value of $22.5M and $86.892M in total guarantees, an 18% and 37% increase over the previous benchmarks. Additionally players Chris Jones, DeForest Buckner, and Kenny Clark will likely continue to strengthen the market. Benchmarks in the cornerback market, however, have experienced little movement.

The Cornerback Market

            Until earlier this year, Josh Norman’s $15M APY was the benchmark in the cornerback market, virtually since 2016. The exception was in 2017 when Trumaine Johnson played under a franchise tag valued at $16.742M. The next season, Johnson signed a lucrative free agent deal with the New York Jets, but Norman regained the highest paid cornerback title. This past May, the Miami Dolphins signed Pro-Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard to a 5 Year, $75.25M extension with $46M in total guarantees. While Howard’s APY of $15.05M holds as the new benchmark in the cornerback market, the growth is minimal when factoring salary cap inflation. Below is a table
comparing Howard’s and the four other currently highest paid cornerbacks by APY.

As you can see by the APY as a % of cap at signing, Howard’s APY would rank last when factoring in cap inflation. Furthermore, Norman’s contract still holds the benchmark for total guarantees at $50M. So the question is why hasn’t the cornerback market, arguably the most important position on defense, seen a stronger uplift in recent years? First, there haven’t been many upper echelon cornerbacks hit free agency.  The second point relates to Patrick Peterson’s deal. Peterson’s extension at signing was a whopping 10.53% of the cap and has essentially been set as the ceiling in the market. With Peterson arguably considered the best cornerback over the last few years, it will likely take an All-Pro or Pro Bowl caliber cornerback to broach a contract structure in the range of Peterson’s. Below are a few young cornerbacks who should spike the market.

Jalen Ramsey

The former 5th overall pick has established himself arguably as the best young cornerback in the NFL. In his 3 year career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Ramsey has been selected to two Pro Bowls and was voted 1st Team All-Pro in 2017. It’s clear he’s the nucleus to the Jaguars defense and should be rewarded as such. Earlier this year, the Jaguars exercised the 5th year option giving team control at least through the 2020 season. However, it would be smart for the team to work towards an extension sooner rather than later. The longer a team waits to extend a good player, the more expensive it becomes. If both parties are willing to get a deal hammered out this season, I would expect Ramsey’s deal to have annual value in the ballpark of $19M, which would put the deal around 10% of salary cap and uplift the top of the market by 26%. Prolonging extension talks to next year, could put Ramsey in the $20M+ territory, assuming another year of salary cap growth and a new CBA on the horizon.

Byron Jones

            The Dallas Cowboys selected Byron Jones 27th overall in the 2015 NFL draft. In his first 3 seasons, Jones played a combination of safety and cornerback before settling as a full time cornerback last year. The new permanent position fared well in the first year. Per Pro Football Focus, in 2018, Jones was targeted by opposing quarterbacks once every 8.8 coverage snaps, ranking him as the eighth-most avoided cornerback. With Jones playing this season under the 5th Year option, Dallas will have a difficult decision to make next year. Both Dak Prescott’s and Amari Cooper’s deals expire next season as well and Jones could be the left as the odd man out.

Marcus Peters

            In his first three seasons with the Kansas Chiefs, Marcus Peters was viewed as the next best young cornerback in the NFL. He earned the 2015 AP Defense Rookie of the Year, 2 Pro Bowl nods, was voted First Team All Pro in 2016, and was a turnover machine with 19 interceptions over a 3 year span. While Peters still leads the league in interceptions, with 22, since entering the league, his play declined in his first year with the Los Angeles Rams. Per Pro Football Focus, Peters gave up over 100 receiving yards on four separate occasions. Peters’ performance did improve towards the end of the season and if he can carry that momentum as he enters the final year of his deal, he could be in for a nice payday.

Other Candidates

Other candidates who have the potential to change the landscape of the Top 5 of the cornerback market include Marshon Lattimore, Marlon Humphrey, and Tre’Davious White. All three players were selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft and will be eligible for a contract extension after the end of the 2019 NFL season. Furthermore, Pro Football Focus named all three players on their Top 25 NFL Players under 25 for 2019. The list is filled with impressive talent that includes Quarterback Patrick Mahomes.