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.

Looking at the Cowboys Contract with Ezekiel Elliott

The numbers are now in on Ezekiel Elliot’s 6 year, $90 million contract from ESPN’s Todd Archer so let’s break the deal down.

Cash Flows of the Contract

This is a pretty straightforward contract that simply takes the most recent top of the market contract and slightly builds on it. Essentially it is what we are used to seeing happen with quarterbacks when each newly signed player jumps the last by a few dollars. Here is the new money breakdown by season.

Player Year 0 Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Year 6
Ezekiel Elliott $15,100,000 $24,700,000 $37,100,000 $48,000,000 $58,000,000 $73,400,000 $90,000,000
Todd Gurley $15,000,022 $28,050,022 $37,050,022 $47,050,022 $57,500,000  – – 
Le’Veon Bell $14,500,000 $28,000,000 $39,500,000 $52,500,000  – – 
David Johnson $12,000,000 $18,750,000 $30,000,000 $39,000,000  –  – – 

For the most part Elliott will outearn Gurley by $100,000 over the prior existing years of the contract, $50,000 by the 2nd year of the deal, $100,000 by the 3rd year of the deal, and $500,000 by the 4th year of the contract. That is when Gurley’s contract ends. Those two contracts are really in a class all by themselves compared to the other players.

There are two differences here which do work in Dallas’ favor. One is that they they do get a nice discount through the first “new year” of the contract, which is the 2021 season. They will pay Elliott $3.35 million less than the Rams will Gurley over the same timeframe. I think this is important for two reasons. One is that Dallas does have a number of free agents coming up and while I don’t anticipate them being cash starved this does give them more room to work with their current players. The second, and more on this in a minute, is that there is a fair reason to believe that Elliott will void his guarantees at some point so the less money paid early in the contract the more that will be saved overall.

The second difference is that Gurley does have $2.5 million in escalators in his contract that can increase his salary on the tail end, which I do not believe that Elliott has. Gurley has already earned $1 million of that so his potential earnings should exceed Elliott’s over the same timeframe. If I am wrong and Elliott has escalators than this is not something in the Cowboys favor and simply continues to mimic the Gurley contract.

Guarantee Structure

Again we have a contract that more or less mimics Gurley’s guarantee dates with Elliott receiving guarantees on his 2021 salary by being on the roster in 2020 where his salary was already guaranteed and then guarantees on his 2022 salary in 2021 when his salary is already guaranteed for that year.  Those are very favorable guarantee structures for a player because it creates a situation where you are paying a lot of money to a player just to make sure his salary the next year does not exist.

Effectively what it means is that Dallas would have to pay Elliott $19.8 million in 2020 to avoid his $9.6 million 2021 salary from guaranteeing or $9.6 million in 2021 to prevent his 2022 $12.4 million salary from guaranteeing. The odds of that are slim and none.

That said the way the salaries work do benefit the Cowboys as to where they are after 2020.

Elliott Gurley
Fully Guaranteed At Signing $28,052,137 $21,950,000
Fully Guaranteed Year after Signing $37,652,137 $40,000,000
Fully Guaranteed Two Years After Signing $50,052,137 $45,000,000

While in most cases I would say that this slight difference in relatively meaningless I look at Elliott similar to the way I look at Le’Veon Bell, although for different reasons. Guarantees in NFL contracts are easily voided in most cases. At the very least a NFL suspension for any reason would void the guarantees in a contract. If Dallas got very aggressive with Elliott you could probably find a way to void a guarantee for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and having an incident reflect poorly on the organization.

If the guarantees do void then Dallas has the potential to escape at an earlier date either via a release or a renegotiation. Again not likely but Dallas has built in a better structure for that purpose than the Rams did.

Other Contract Mechanism Comparisons

Both Gurley and Elliott received essentially the same prorated bonus money. Prorated bonus money is the stuff that sticks to the salary cap as dead money in the event that a player is cut so the more the better for the player. Gurley received $21 million while Elliott will receive $20.5 million as a signing and an option bonus. For the Rams the $21 million should give them more protection in the event of a contract breach since signing bonus prorations can be recaptured. Recapturing option bonuses are more limited in scope and Elliott has a $13.5 million option.

Gurley’s contract is stronger in regard to roster bonuses where he has millions coming his way either for being on the roster in March or reporting to training camp. These are harder to recover in the event of suspension whereas Elliot’s salary, all base salary other than the two prorated bonuses, would all be lost on a proportionate basis if suspended. These are minor things but stronger for Dallas than LA.    

The Salary Cap Consequences.

While the cap charts for Elliott may look like there are early escape points there really are not. Barring a suspension there is no reason to think that Elliott will not earn his $50 million. The cost to cut on the salary cap in 2020 would be a whopping $25.8 million. If he is on the roster in 2020 than the cost to cut in 2021 grows from $14.9 million to $24.5 million. Once on the roster in 2021 than the cost to cut in 2022 grows to $23.2 million. This is all because of the favorable vesting schedule on his base salary guarantees. If Dallas negotiated 5th day of the same league year vesting dates those 2021 and 2022 years would be $14.9 and $10.8 million during the offseason which are not great but doable. So unless the guarantees void for some reason his cap hits of $13.7 and $16.5 million will happen in 2021 and 2022.

The true exit year of the contract is 2023 when his dead money is just $6.7 million on a $15 million salary cap charge. If his performance declines by then it is certainly feasible to release him or renegotiate a lower salary at that point with no problems.

One thing in looking at this contract is that Dallas should make 100% certain they never touch it for cap relief. Right now 2023 is a viable escape. Its not if they start converting salary to bonuses in 2021 or 2022. Due to the large prorated bonuses this should immediately be moved to the never restructure pile.

The Six Year Length

The contract runs 6 new years which means Dallas controls his rights for 8 years. I have seen some people say that this was a big thing for Dallas since the longer you control a player the better but with a running back I don’t think it matters. The odds of Elliott being effective at this salary level for 8 seasons is very slim.  Basically those added years allowed them to hit a $15 million rather than $14.5 million annual value, but other than that there is really nothing gained or lost by either side for doing the long contract.

The one area where it could benefit Dallas is with Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper. Dallas has strongly favored long contracts for their players that run much longer than NFL norms. This is the case for all their contracts and is the case with Elliott as well. By doing a long deal with Elliott that should allow them to continue to stand their ground on looking for a long term deal with the other two players.

What Took So Long

In seeing how the deal shakes out there is absolutely zero reason that this should have taken all of camp to accomplish. It is too close to the Gurley deal for this to have really been an issue. I don’t know if one side or the other was just being unreasonable but if the contract looks very much like another NFL contract it is one that should not take that long to complete.

Alternative Course of Action

Had Dallas played out the franchise tag process the contracts would likely have been able to tag Elliott at charges somewhere around $11.5 million in 2021 and $13.8 million in 2022, which also would have been his cap charges in those years, both of which are lower than his current cap charges.  He will earn about $12 million more by playing on a contract than going through the tag process, assuming of course the tag doesn’t change in the new CBA.

The tag process is the optimum way to manage a running back but it also creates a constant headache with an unhappy player which can spill into the locker room as well.

In my mind Dallas only had two courses of action. Either do what they did and do a big deal now or fight for four years about the tag. By doing the deal now Dallas basically folds $13 million of virtually guaranteed existing salary into a new contract and gets the benefit of prorating now rather than years from now making it harder to cut. That’s why waiting until 2020 or 2021 to extend makes no sense.

The tag process is easier said than done. The option year is more or less a tag and we see how that is working out for the Chargers and Melvin Gordon or how the actual tag worked out with Bell and the Steelers last season. With so many free agents coming up I can understand why that wasn’t a pathDallas wanted to follow .

Projecting an extension for Cody Whitehair

By: Brad Spielberger  

Throughout the 2018 off-season, the Bears were in talks for an extension with their 2015 second-round pick out of Florida State, nose tackle Eddie Goldman. Ryan Pace extended one of the players that he was personally responsible for drafting in Chicago for the first time. So far the returns have been positive. Early extensions such as Goldman’s enable teams to have a better understanding of both their roster and salary cap situation for the following offseason before that offseason arrives. Last year the Bears knew they wanted to keep Goldman around. Agreeing to a deal as he was entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract was the smart decision to move up the timing of his deal before the market increased.

This off-season is no different. 

By the numbers

The second-round draft pick at No. 56 overall for the Bears in 2016 was Kansas State interior offensive lineman Cody Whitehair. Like Goldman, the veteran interior lineman is entering the last season of a four-year rookie contract. 

At every step of the way during his tenure with the Bears, Whitehair has demonstrated exactly what the Bears were seeking when they drafted him three years ago: versatility and reliability. Whitehair has shifted back and forth between center and left guard multiple times already and has featured well in both spots. He has even handled some duties at right guard in emergency situations. That the veteran has missed only 25 total snaps in three years (per TheQuantEdge), demonstrates just how dependable of a player he is. 

Pro Football Focus deemed Whitehair’s rookie season third-best among all centers since they began recording statistics in 2006. Here is what the analytics database had to say about Whitehair’s second season in 2017: 

“Though tasked with playing guard to the tune of 259 offensive snaps last season, Whitehair still predominantly played center and played extremely well at the position in 2017. Whitehair ranked fifth in run-block grade (81.8) and fourth in run-block success percentage (17.6) in 2017.”

Whitehair was not only PFF’s third-highest-graded center in 2016, he was No. 13 in 2017, and No. 10 in 2018. At the initial peak of his accomplished career, he allowed a grand total of zero sacks and zero QB hits in 2018. This was while playing every offensive snap. 

Run blocking may have suffered a bit for the whole Bears’ offensive line unit in 2018, which will have to be mitigated in coming years. But it was Whitehair and the Bears’ collective pass protection that took a major leap forward. 

Here was PFF’s review of the whole season for the big men up front in Chicago: 

“The Bears finished the season with the league’s second-best pass blocking efficiency of any offensive line, and this was yet another team without a real weak link. Rookie James Daniels ended up earning their lowest grade at 62.3 overall, but Charles Leno Jr., Bobby Massie, and Cody Whitehair were all over 70.0.” 

All of these accolades are great, which brings up an important query: why are the Bears moving Whitehair to left guard after he was one of the NFL’s premier centers (according to at least one metric) in the last three years? It’s a multi-faceted answer.

First, James Daniels is the more natural center, as it was his college position. Second, Whitehair struggled mightily with shotgun snaps in 2018. Matt Nagy utilized the shotgun formation on 79 percent of all offensive snaps in 2018, which was tied for the second-highest percentage in the NFL. The Bears cannot afford to be stressing over quality shotgun snaps. It should be a routine exchange and the more natural center in Daniels gives them that drilled regimen.

What’s most important in Whitehair’s position shift is getting the rest of the Bears’ offensive line to ascend. PFF had complements for Charles Leno Jr. and his run blocking, but the rest of the big boys struggled mightily. Pairing Whitehair and Leno Jr. together on the left side is a calculated decision from Nagy, Pace, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. Tarik Cohen and David Montgomery are elite change-of-direction running backs who need space to work with before they can create magic out of thin air. Thanks to the presence of these two dynamic backs, I expect there to be a heavy usage of counters and cutbacks to the left side behind Leno Jr. and Whitehair. 

Taylor Gabriel and Cordarrelle Patterson running jet sweeps from the right side to the left should also be a feature of the Chicago offense in 2019. According to SharpFootball’s 2019 NFL preview, the Bears ran the ball behind the center and to the left more than they did to the right in 2018. This may have had something to do with Kyle Long’s absence. An understandable point considering Long’s proficiency as a bruiser in the running game. But I see this trend continuing, and perhaps expanding, in 2019.

While purely speculative, one can also assume that the Bears did not want to put too much on James Daniels’ plate in Year 1. It’s difficult enough to be a rookie in the NFL. If Daniels also had to learn all of the cadences and snap counts of a brand-new offense (along with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky), it could have been a disaster. The shift from center to left guard for Cody Whitehair and vice versa for James Daniels in 2019 makes plenty of sense, and better suits both of their skill-sets long term.

Now what effect does moving Whitehair from center to left guard have on his contract? Many seem to believe that left guards get paid significantly more than centers, but that is not the case. 

Below is a table with the top-five free agent contracts in each off-season based on average per year for both left guards and centers:

Top Five Free Agent Signings by APY

As you can see above, only in 2018 did the top-five contracts at left guard have a higher average APY than those at center. This is primarily a result of somewhat of an outlier of a contract – Andrew Norwell’s $13,300,000 per year free agent deal with the Jaguars. Norwell may have proven to be a cautionary tale for teams looking to extend their guards to big deals: he missed five games in 2018 and did not play particularly well in the other 11. In the 2019 free agency cycle, Rodger Saffold, another second-round draft pick and perhaps the best comparison to Whitehair’s situation, was the only left guard to top $7,000,000 APY. However, Mitch Morse, Maurkice Pouncey, and Matt Paradis all topped the $9,000,000 mark at center, and technically these are Whitehair’s cohorts of the past three seasons. 

Saffold received an overall PFF grade of 73.2 in his 2018 season with the Rams, compared to Cody Whitehair’s 70.4. A discrepancy that small doesn’t mean a great deal, both were good players last year. Whitehair has the benefit of youth, as he is just 27-years-old whereas Saffold is 31. 

If we look at the centers specifically, Morse is 27 and Paradis is 29. Two guys more relatable in age to Whitehair. They also played the same position as the Bears’ interior swingman the past few seasons. That makes them a potentially better gauge of his true market, even though he is sliding over to left guard for 2019. 

Morse was drafted No. 49 overall in the 2015 draft, one year before Cody Whitehair was selected at No. 56. Morse played out his rookie contract with the Chiefs and became an unrestricted free agent this off-season. While Morse did play at a high level when healthy, he missed five games in 2018 after missing nine games in 2017. There are some concerns about his concussion history, as he has already been diagnosed with three, and he remains in the Bills’ concussion protocol as of today, August 21st.

Paradis, meanwhile, is a journeyman center that was selected in the sixth round in 2014 and eventually placed on the Broncos’ practice squad. He became a UFA in 2019 after playing on a second-round RFA tender for $2.914 million in 2018. Paradis also missed seven games in 2018, though he hadn’t missed a snap in three years prior to that. Managing a PFF grade of 79 was all the more impressive in a shortened 2018 season.

Below is a table with each of the four player’s PFF grades since 2016: 

PFF Grades

While PFF grades are not the end-all be-all authority on player effectiveness, this table demonstrates the type of impact that draft pedigree can have on contract negotiations. Paradis is the only player taken later than the second round. Though he grades out better than the other three players above, he will have received the smallest contract of the group. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I believe Whitehair will come out with the largest contract of his peers.

The largest APY signing at left guard in 2018 was Norwell with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Norwell was an undrafted free agent with the Panthers and played on a RFA tender in 2017 before agreeing to terms in Jacksonville. It should be noted that the Jaguars went on a spending spree in 2018, shelling out the fourth-most cash in the league. Norwell’s three-year PFF grade average prior to 2018 was a 79.37. Norwell’s $13.3M APY extension under the 2018 salary cap equates to $14,125,620.80 APY under the 2019 salary cap. Norwell received $30 million fully guaranteed at signing out of a $66 million total, which is roughly 45 percent. Rodger Saffold, Mitch Morse, and Matt Paradis all received similar guaranteed-at-signing percentages of around 45 percent. 

While Ryan Pace, Joey Laine and Co. have presumably attempted to negotiate a lower number by offering the extension a year early (a la Jaylon Smith in Dallas), Whitehair’s camp is still probably looking for top dollar. Pace had no problem making Eddie Goldman one of the highest-paid defensive tackles in the NFL last off-season after his third season. Expecting anything but a similar contract at left guard for Whitehair may be foolhardy. The goal for the Bears’ front office at this point should be to just keep the eventual number below Norwell’s.

Whitehair’s contract projection: 

Four years, $49 million ($12.25M APY), $22.5 million fully guaranteed at signing ($14.5 million signing bonus, $1.5 million 2019 base salary, $3 million 2020 base salary, $3.5 million 2020 roster bonus). 

In this deal, there will also be a 2021 roster bonus of $3.5 million guaranteed for injury only at signing. The roster bonus will become fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2021 league year. Whitehair is currently due a $1,026,078 base salary in 2019 and the remainder of his rookie contract signing bonus is for $318,103. 

Below is a table with the full contract details, including a small $473,922 pay-bump to his 2019 base salary that becomes fully guaranteed:

Whitehair has too many positives working in his favor to not receive a strong, secure contract extension. He’s 27, a former second-round draft pick, extremely dependable and reliable, and capable of playing at a high level at multiple positions. The change of position in the contract year muddles negotiations a bit, but the left guard and center market are still pretty similar.

This projection is a very nice payday for Whitehair, especially when considering that the extension is a year early as he enters the fourth year of his rookie deal. For comparison’s sake, Jaylon Smith of the Dallas Cowboys just became the fourth highest paid inside linebacker (based on APY) in the NFL after starting just 22 games since being drafted in the second round of the 2016 draft (at No. 34 he went 22 picks ahead of Whitehair). As I mentioned at the top of the article, Cody Whitehair has missed only 25 snaps in his three year career out of a possible 3,073… Jaylon Smith has missed 26 starts out of a possible 48. The inside linebacker and interior offensive line market have nothing to do with each other, but consistency brings huge value, particularly to a position that relies on the unit to develop chemistry. 

Whitehair becoming the fourth highest paid left guard/center in terms of APY would mean his APY falls around $11 million. This estimate of $11 million APY was essentially where my Whitehair projection began, but the more I dove into the (scarce) resources available to determine Whitehair’s market, the more that number moved upward. 

All of the Bears’ moves to clear cap space prior to the 2019 free agency period and most recently with Charles Leno Jr. were not for naught, as another draft pick will be rewarded before the 2019 season kicks off. This hypothetical move will take up roughly $3.4 million in 2019 salary cap space, lowering the Bears’ number to around $18 million (per the NFLPA Public Salary Cap report dated 8/21/2019)

The Texans Options with Jadeveon Clowney

The Texans had months to figure out what to do with Edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney, but somehow failed to come up with anything. Now with just a few weeks left to go before the season begins the Texans “GM by committee” has apparently decided that trying to trade Clowney is the best idea. So lets explore the situation a bit.

One of the first things to note is that the Texans can not just trade Clowney. Clowney is tendered at the moment and counts against the Texans salary cap, but he is not under contract to the organization. The NFL does not allow a team to trade the rights to a player so if they want to trade Clowney, Clowney needs to agree to the trade.

While that may seem like an easy task given that Clowney seemingly would like out of Houston at this point, Clowney would likely have some demands of his own. Currently Clowney is scheduled to earn $15,967,200 as a Franchise player. That number is based on his designation as a linebacker which is a point of contention. If classified as a defensive end Clowney would earn $17.1 million. At the very least he would likely want that higher salary to make his move out of Houston.

Clowney’s trade value would also be at an all time low if traded now. Not only does he carry a high salary cap figure that probably only 1/3 of the NFL could deal with, but a team would not be permitted, by the rules of the CBA, to extend him. So in essence this is a one year rental with a franchise tag provision. Had the Texans orchestrated a trade prior to July 15 a team would have been able to sign him to a long term contract the same way the 49ers did with Dee Ford when they negotiated a sign and trade. Clowney could as a condition of the trade go so far as to ask for a no franchise provision to further put pressure on the Texans to accept low compensation if he were to hold firm to that demand.

Clowney’s value, under normal circumstances, should fall somewhere between Khalil Mack’s multi first round trade and the 49ers 2nd rounder for Ford. Probably something like a first round pick and a mid round selection or a player thrown in on the trade. With the Texans looking as if they are in crisis mode the best they may be able to do is a second round pick.

The Texans best option, in my opinion, is to just hit the reset switch on the whole scenario and wait it out until next season when they actually have a GM making decisions. If Clowney fails to play this year he does not earn any salary. For each week he misses the Texans will get a $939,247 salary cap credit. The Texans would also retain the rights to Clowney next year and would have the ability to franchise tag him again. The Texans have a ridiculous amount of cap space next year (in the ballpark of $110 million) so holding a tender for Clowney is not difficult.

If tagged next year the franchise compensation falls from two first round picks to a first and third rounder. That is reasonable enough that it would not be a surprise if another team signed Clowney in free agency under those terms. At the very least they would be able to get a first round pick for him given that he would sign a long term deal with a new team as soon as the trade was executed.

There is no downside to this option. If Clowney refuses to report the Texans don’t spend a dime, don’t have Clowney, and have the rights to tag him again and trade him next year. If he does report they get Clowney for a season, hope it’s a good year, and retain his right to tag him and trade him next year. If they are aggressive with the trade market they should be able to get a pick in the 2020 draft the same as if they were to trade him now for pennies on the dollar. Who knows maybe they even come to terms on a long term contract.

If the Texans do go and find a trade scenario this year they have to make certain that unless they do get a first round pick, that any trade will escalate to a first round pick if the team that trades for him signs him to a long term contract. This is a trade condition that was used by the Jets years ago in a trade with the Saints which saw the Jets get added compensation if the Saints extended Jonathan Vilma. The Saints got around the condition by waiting a day into free agency to sign a new contract but that wrinkle was erased when the Jets, this time on the other side of a trade, agreed to something similar with the Seattle Seahawks with Percy Harvin. In this case the Seahawks drove the timeframe for a roster condition well into the late spring.

The worst thing that the Texans can do is take option 3 which is to trade him for a 3rd round pick because that’s the maximum compensatory pick they could expect. That is simply a sign of panic.

Some people have questioned how the Texans got in this position in the first place and did not do a long term deal with Clowney, but I can understand that one. Clowney has always reminded me of another former Texan- Mario Williams. Both players are/were Pro Bowl caliber players but neither, in my opinion, were once in a lifetime type of talents. However their draft status combined with the fact that they are high level players sets a salary expectation that is probably much higher than a team like the Texans sees fit.

Williams hit free agency when the Texans allowed him to walk and he signed an absolute monster of a contract with the Bills for $16 million a season. That contract in today’s salary cap environment would be worth just under $25 million a year, larger than the Mack record setting deal signed last season with the Bears. Clowney if he hit free agency could see that same kind of payday since there are a number of teams that are going to see his physical ability as so high that its worth the cost. It’s simply a situation where Clowney could never accept anything the Texans were going to offer that was “low” and the Texans likely saw no reason to make him earn such a monstrous salary when years ago they didn’t have to do the same for JJ Watt.

The Texans offseason has been nothing short of a disaster and this is just going to add to it if they don’t think this out and rush into a trade that strongly benefits another team.

Tom Brady and Voidable Contract Years

So Tom Brady signed a new contract yesterday and it was widely reported as a two year extension that would tie him to the Patriots until 2021. More details came out today that completely changed the story- Brady actually received a raise for this year from the Patriots but the two extra years are voidable years meaning the Patriots have no rights to Brady past 2019. The question that Im getting now after that information came out is what exactly are void years?

Voidable contract years are basically fake contract seasons that are simply used for salary cap manipulation. I’m not entirely sure where they began but they have been used for ages dating back to old rookie contracts where void years were used to defer when teams would take a cap charge for a bonus. The purpose of the void year is to allow a team to pay a player a signing bonus and prorate for more years than actually exists on the contract. Basically its buying on credit with the cap- buy now and pay later.

Because this deals with Brady and the Patriots and there has always been this feeling that those two work hand in hand to gain an edge some are wondering if this is some sneaky Patriots shenanigans, but this is a common thing in the NFL. In fact teams like the Eagles and Saints live by using voidable contract years for many of their players.

The reason New England needed to use this with Brady is because they were not going to have the cap room to give Brady a raise. Did they have to give Brady a raise? No, but last year Brady was unhappy with his $15 million salary and they added incentives to earn another $5 million so it would make sense that the two sides would do a new deal since he was playing on the same $15 million salary this year.

The Patriots had in the ballpark of $7.5 million in cap room before the new deal with Brady which obviously is not enough to give Brady a straight raise. Even a moderate raise would run them so close to the cap limit once they go to a regular season accounting system so they had to find a way to reduce Brady’s cap charge while giving him a raise.

By my calculations the Patriots likely gave Brady a $20.25 million bonus and reduced his base salary from $15 to $2.75 million. They will now get to prorate that $20.25 million over three seasons ($6.75M a season) rather than take the hit all this year, lowering his cap hit by $5.5 million even though they increased his compensation. By lowering his cap figure it technically also would have made it even easier for the Patriots to franchise tag him after the year, hence the no tag provision in the contract.

Here is how the cap charges work out on this contract with a void and without a void.

Year Void Contract Non-Void Contract
2019 $21,500,000 $35,000,000
2020 $6,750,000 $0
2021 $6,750,000 $0

So as you can see it’s a pretty big swing in cap room for 2019 by using the void. In both cases they have to account for $35 million on the cap its just the timing that the void changes.

The way the contract will work is as follows. Brady will play with the Patriots this season just as he would have had there been no raise. The Patriots and Brady as the season plays out can work on an extension that would keep Brady as a Patriot. The two sides have until the day before free agency begins in 2020 to sign an extension. If they sign a new deal before that date Brady will have to account for $6.75 million in proration from the $20.25 million bonus in 2020 and 2021.

If Brady and the Patriots fail to reach a new agreement by that date Brady’s remaining two contract years will void and he becomes a free agent. If that happens, Brady’s $6.75 million proration from 2021 will accelerate into 2020, meaning the team would need to account for $13.5 million in cap charges next year just from this contract. Nothing would prohibit Brady from signing back with the Patriots after the contract voids but the Patriots would have to account for that added $6.75 million on the cap in addition to any new salary.

Void years are not really a bad thing if used properly. The big downside is when you use the void years well beyond what is the expected playing time for a player you are setting yourself up for a massive cap charge down the line for a player not on the team. I guess you can argue that if a Brady or a Drew Brees retires you are going to go into such a deep rebuilding mode than it doesn’t matter what the cap charge is since you are pulling back and don’t care about the cap but teams that use it for multiple players can waste valuable space if they don’t have any intention of bringing the player back.

From a quick glance at this deal my guess is the Patriots are internally thinking Brady will likely be a starter for at least 2019 and 2020 and perhaps 2021. $13.5 million in dead money next year would not be a killer if things really went south and $6.75 million in 2021 is certainly manageable. In that respect this is better than the Brees contract where voids were not staggered as well and would cost the Saints over $20 million if he retired after this season.

But the real gist of the contract is that the Patriots were doing a raise for Brady and this was the way they could do it from a cap perspective. Given Brady’s age its easier to work year by year than negotiating a long term deal and most likely they agree on a new one year deal in February and keep going and going in that manner until Brady one day shows his age.