As a reply to a NFL segment on the lack of progress on a long term extension for Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones, Jones himself chimed in with his own thoughts as to what will happen if he doesn’t get a new deal.
Bell’s refusal to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018 was one of the most hotly debated subjects of the year with various opinions on the pros and cons (from me it was mainly cons) of sitting out. However there is one key difference in Jones’ situation when compared to Bell’s- how many times he has been tagged.
When Bell sat out in 2018 he had already played the 2017 season as a franchise player. Because of that the Steelers would have had to pay him at the QB franchise rate if they opted to tag him in 2019, which was a number that nobody is going to pay to any non-QB. While they could have transitioned tagged him at a lower number that type of tag does not prevent a player from getting legit offers in free agency the way a franchise tag effectively blocks free agency. So while one can certainly argue the logic in sitting out a year there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Because Jones is on his first tag, the Chiefs would still have the right to tag him again next year at a reasonable rate rather than the QB tag number which is what set Bell free. The only difference for Jones next year would be that the tag would only carry a 1st and 3rd round pick as compensation compared to two 1st round picks if he signed elsewhere. That is still a steep cost to another franchise and probably takes at least half the NFL out of the bidding process. Essentially he would have to sit for two seasons to get to the same place Bell was and that is an incredibly long time.
The franchise tag pretty much stinks for good players. I completely understand why it wasn’t a focus of the recent CBA negotiations since it only hampers a few players a year but it creates a bit of a bizarre system where if you are too good but not indispensable you can end up losing money in the long term while lesser players get the riches of free agency right away.
The tag was meant to be a way to keep a team from being torn apart in free agency and losing its most notable players who were considered the face of a franchise. With teams carrying so much salary cap space now its just used as a tool to keep players for a season or two that the team has no real desire to do a long term deal with. Between free agent movement being so common and far better cap managed contracts by teams it really has no place in the game other than to protect losing a quarterback.
July 15 is the deadline to do a long term deal with a franchise player. Jones’ should be looking for a contract in the $21-$22M per year range and I’m not sure the Chiefs are looking to go there, though we have seen last minute deals happen before.
Roster construction is a very interesting thing in the NFL. In many ways it’s a chess game where you have to adapt as the league changes, changes that are generally dictated by the offense. As passing games explode teams have to move away from the traditional construction focused on linebackers and run stuffers and generally move more to help in the secondary. I wanted to look at how teams are investing in the corner versus wide receiver game these days and seeing if it is something that can be tweaked.
The concept of receiver vs corner has always fascinated me. Really it goes back for me to the peak days of Darrelle Revis with the Jets in 2009 and 2010 when we came across debates of sorts as to who was better- Revis being thrown on often and breaking passes up or Nnamdi Asomugha who just never got targeted. My take on it then was that there was far more value in having a player like Revis because a breakup of a play is a complete shutdown. It’s a non-gain or a limited gain for the offense. Lack of targets just causes the ball to cycle from WR1 to WR2 and even if Asomugha matched up against the top target each play (he did not) the offense would still be efficient.
This was what wound up killing the Jets in the championship game that year against the Colts in which Revis pretty much made Reggie Wayne irrelevant, but around the end of the first half Peyton Manning realized that playing opposite Revis was Lito Sheppard and Dwight Lowery (at least I think those were the two) and Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon went off for nearly 300 yards. The Jets would come back the next year with a team that featured a high priced Revis, a high drafted and eventually highly paid Antonio Cromartie, and a 1st round draft pick in Kyle Wilson. Whether on purpose or by accident the Jets stumbled into a group that had the potential to essentially have two number 1 corners of varying ability and at worse a number 2. It never worked out that way as Wilson busted and Revis and Cromartie only really played two seasons together, but I thought the concept was good. Im sure there are other examples but as a Jets fan this was the group that always stood out to me in the more modern NFL era.
So I wanted to see if that same concept might hold today. I looked at PFF’s stats for WR’s since 2015 and ranked every WR by their position on the team based on targets between 1 and 5. Here is the expected performance.
The numbers make sense in that the 1st receiver is the most dominant target over the course of a season but most of those numbers are generally a byproduct of opportunity. If you look at the yards per target column the dropoff from a 1 to a 2 is only about 2.6%. This is one of those reasons why so many consider the QB the driver of offensive performance and one reason why there is so much variance on a weekly basis from receivers as the big game potential exists if they find a favorable matchup/gameplan. If you use a net yardage type formula which will bump the number 1 performance for 1st downs, touchdowns, etc…its about a 3.5% drop on an opportunity basis. A drop from a 1 to a 3 is about 8.5%, to a 4 is 11.5%, and to a 5 is 17.5%.
To that end I kind of wonder why (or if) more teams are not attempting to put supergroups together that do the best job possible of cycling off not just the top target on the field but trying to get the offense to be forced to spread out further and drop down to those 3rd, 4th and 5th players or to generally more ineffective routes for running backs and most tight ends.
Here is a look at how much the NFL spends for their cornerbacks, ranked 1 to 5 by salary. Since draft picks have a low salary relative to their expected contribution I converted the salary of any draft pick still on a rookie contract to the expected APY using the Fitzgerald-Spielberger valuations that Brad and I worked on in the Drafting Stage. The only exceptions were for those who had an option year in play as they were valued at the option value if it was picked up.
Here is the breakdown for wide receivers.
This isn’t meant to compare salaries (I’d say a quick takeaway is that teams find receivers about 18-20% more important to winning based on the numbers), but to give us an idea as to how teams construct their rosters.
In looking at the numbers teams more or less go with a matching strategy. 18 teams have at least one average paid number 1 corner while 16 have at least one number 1 receiver. 25 teams have at least one “high end” (an upper quartile 2) number 2 corner while 23 teams have at least one “high end” number 2 receiver. Here are some of the combinations that exist in terms of groupings of talent.
Avg 1 and High 2
Avg 1 and Avg 2
At least 2 Avg 2
At least 2 Avg 2 and Avg 3
At least 3 Avg 3
There is a little disparity as you get to the teams with at least two average number two or three average number 3 receivers, but nothing too crazy.
But in general offenses dictate matchups and we mentioned above there is not that kind of a dropoff if you force a team to go to their number 2 or even number 3 target. However, when you look at corners there is more of a disparity. The top player on a yards per target basis on a team gave up around 6.4 yards. The second jumps to 7.8. The average third is around 8.5. While the coverage assignments are playing a role in these numbers and one would really need to dig deeper I would think the best way to slow down a passing game is not to go 1 for 1 but to stock up on higher end talent via the draft, trade, and free agency to potentially field a team that can force teams out of their typical patterns of wiping out the weakest link on a team.
Surprisingly the concept of the “cornerback supergroup” really doesn’t exist. Only three teams in the NFL currently have three players under contract who would rank as either an average CB1 and CB2 in the adjusted salary scale I used here. Those teams are the Dolphins, Lions, and Ravens. This is on par with the offense that has three teams with at least 3 receivers who are paid above the average WR1 or WR2 level. However as we drop down there are 7 teams on offense that have at least 4 receivers that rank above the average for a WR3. Defensively we have just 1 that goes four deep- the Patriots.
This just seems short sighted especially since we do see variance not just player to player but often season to season. One of the ways to minimize that risk is to treat the roster just as you would a stock portfolio (similar to my concept of picking multiple top QBs in the draft if you can). Players are always going to bust but the impact of the bust is deadly when there is no alternative option. We reduce that risk dramatically by also investing in another high potential player.
As a way to go a little deeper into this I decided to look to our friends at Pro Football Focus and look at their coverage grades they assigned to corners between 2015 and 2019 who played 300+ snaps and then grouped each of those players by salary and contract type. The lines are the average PFF grade of about 65 and salary around $4 million.
Basically, in every grouping of talent, you see a pretty strong distribution of above and below average seasons. To remove some of the clutter here are the numbers in table form. Please note I broke the free agents up into high and low dollar figures ($5.75M was the cutoff)
High $ UFA/SFA
Low $ UFA/SFA
Because I cut off the numbers at 300 snaps you can discount the UDFA numbers because these are the best of the best UDFAs that warrant playing time. For the other groups the list is much more inclusive especially for free agent signings.
There were two things that caught my eye. One is that teams surprisingly seem to make pretty good extension decisions. The second is that spending on bigger money free agents is resulting in more success stories than those who are wasting money on the lower salary tier. If we go back to our original tables which identified an average number 2 corner at costing around $6 million basically spending below that level in free agency is going to provide diminishing returns.
What if we looked at the draft by round?
Here again you need to focus on the top rounds because the further we go the more misleading the numbers because we have disqualified so many seasons by having a 300 snap limit. Its basically going with a first round player and then the 2nd and 3rd. The other rounds aren’t planning for a starter they are basically lucking into one similar to the UDFA route.
Our goal is to best ensure we wind up with at least two good corners in any given season. If you have failed to do well in the draft in the past the best route to that is to sign two expensive players and draft a player high in the draft. If you happen to have landed a player you already know you are going to extend the best thing to do is to sign an expensive player and draft another where you are staggering the salaries. A rough estimate of a 3 corner matrix using some IPA fueled math in a few configurations would be as follows
3 Above Avg.
At least 2 Above Avg,
3 Below Avg.
Extension/1st rnd Draft/Exp UFA
2 Exp UFAs/1st Rnd Draft
1st round/2 Cheap UFAs
3 Cheap UFAs
The first scenario if you do it properly has two rookie contracts running concurrently for a period of time. Basically it means after the rookies 2nd year you know he is an extension candidate so you go in sign a free agent for year 3 and draft a rookie. By the time the first rookie is actually up for a new contract you should know if the 2nd 1st rounder is also great or not. If hes great you are a team with two extension quality players and you can decide what to do with the 3rd.
The 2nd scenario is when you have flamed out in the draft. You sign guys to improve the team ASAP while developing a 1st. You can do this after 1 season of a rookie contract or most of it concurrently. Doing it concurrently is a bit more of a blind bet but can make you much better faster.
The other two scenarios which are more in line with most NFL rosters (remember most don’t even have 3 third tier corners) doesn’t give you the odds needed to really hit a home run in your coverage. Its why there is probably an argument that if you aren’t going to spend on the position outside of one blind pick you may be better off just punting on the position and calling it a loss. That lone 1st round pick isn’t going to cut it.
The possibilities are pretty much endless but the gist of it is the more players you try to fill up the room the better chance you have of pushing the offense off their typical norms by optimizing the chance to hold down those first two and hopefully 3 targets in an offense.
Given the way the league has gone its far more important to be able to provide strong coverage in the secondary on 1,000 snaps in a year than provide a pressure on 80 snaps a season. There is a cost benefit here in free agency since corners are discounted at 20% on receivers and even more on pass rushers. Teams can exploit that by doing a bit more “supergroup” planning rather than just piecing the secondary together the way they currently are which has way too much over-reliance on one player.
The rumor mill is once again swirling around Jets All Pro safety Jamal Adams as the Jets are apparently hesitant to give him an extension which has Adams reportedly very upset again with the organization. Trade rumors started again which sources close to the Jets have denied but I think these are interesting situations and worth exploring.
Player’s like Adams are very hard to sometimes take a fair look at. On one side there is the player and there really are little holes in his game. He is arguably the best overall safety in the NFL. He plays up in the box, can rush the passer a bit more than others and can cover well enough in the secondary. He’s the best player on the Jets at the moment.
However, being the best player on a bad team sometimes doesn’t carry the same value as the same player on a good team. Since Adams arrived in New York the Jets are 16-32. His being the best safety has made little impact on the overall success or failure of the team. That isn’t a knock on him its just that there is only so much a safety can do to increase the chances of winning for a team. Adams being at the peak of his career isn’t going to make the Jets a 10 win team. It is also one of the reasons why the league values safety on the lower end of the salary spectrum, basically on par with running backs and tight ends.
That said to a good team that considers themselves a Super Bowl contender whatever added value that safety brings can be worth a lot because getting from 11 to 12 or 12 to 13 wins on a year is huge as is getting that one added win in the playoffs. While Adams isn’t going to make a bad team great or even good he can be considered a game changer in a different kind of situation. If that is something the Jets can exploit it can bring more value than the player himself.
Adams still has two years remaining on his current contract which makes him very valuable around the NFL. That value will diminish after this season as his salary increases from $3.5 to $9.86 million and teams lose that valuable year of control. So the max trade value is going to be in 2020 not 2021. My guess is a fair trade package would be a first round draft pick plus either a third or fourth round draft selection in return for Adams.
The final piece in evaluating a trade will be the money associated with it. My assumption is that Adams should be looking for $17 million a season from the Jets. He was being shopped for two number 1 picks last year and is considered the best player on the defense. The current high value contract on the Jets is CJ Mosley at $17M per season so I think it is a reasonable ask. Mosley did not play a high value position and the Jets went way over the top of the market to sign him. There is no reason that they should not do that for Adams. While Im sure some are going to argue that the Mosley contract is on the prior GM I think its also clear that that was an Adam Gase target not to mention that the contract guys are all the same now too. For the sake of argument lets say that Adams would sign for the standard safety number contract at $15M a season when considering a trade just because I am sure the Jet fan would like the cheapest number to consider.
With those numbers we can start some scenario analysis. The first scenario is to keep Adams and to just use your regular budget to address other positions having to spend $14.5M for someone like James Bradberry or $20M for a Yannick Ngakoue If he (or a similar player) was to shake loose.
The second scenario is the trade. If traded I would expect a mid first round draft pick to cost around $4.6 million a season and a mid third round pick will cost $1.1 million a year. That should leave the Jets with an extra $9.3 million per year to spend on a player or players in free agency. So now we are at a 1st, a 3rd, and $9.3 million.
Odds are you will not find a player who is as good as Adams with whatever first rounder you ultimately end up with but if you play the game better you may find someone more valuable. As I mentioned above the veteran salary scale would indicate that safety is not very valuable by themselves. But that first round pick could be used to help get a quarterback if Sam Darnold busts. Clearly that is more valuable. It can be used on an edge rusher, a wide receiver, or a cornerback. Each of those will likely provide more impact on the teams fortunes even if the player is a very good player but not the best at the position. Those are also players that you can not find, or rarely find, in free agency. The third round pick should provide a team with a solid “lunchpail” type player that can start or be a solid situational contributor.
Just to use some Jets players of the past who were not all time greats but might illustrate the kind of return would be something like Jamal Adams for Antonio Cromartie and Brian Winters. The savings could have been used in free agency to cover the cost of signing someone like Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix as a replacement safety and maybe a pairing of Kevin Johnson to help in the secondary and Shelby Harris to play on the line or just spend it all on a player like Chris Harris.
The key for a strategy like this to work is to find whatever way possible to maximize your return in the draft by using the main pick on a position that you rarely can buy in free agency and one that provides massive value between the rookie contract number and veteran contract number for an equivalent player. If you decide to be the Raiders and use a 1st rounder on a running back (or just draft another safety to replace Adams) you are negating the value of the trade.
Lets take this one step further. Lets say the Jets use that pick on a cornerback. While maybe it’s a 50-50 proposition he is good, free agency often isn’t much better as the Trumaine Johnson signing proved. You would have spent $14.5 million to sign a player in free agency. Now you don’t have to because you got an extra draft pick to use on a premier position like that. From that standpoint the Jets have actually opened up far more than what we mentioned above because they are addressing a need cheaply. When I mentioned Ngakoue and Bradberry above odds are you would not sign two expensive free agents in most years so if you play your cards right you are opening up the possibility to address both needs by drafting one spot and signing the other. If you had budgeted $14.5M to spend on a need you can divide that however you want now. That route doesn’t exist without the trade.
There are other factors that are negatives with a trade. One of the reasons I thought Adams would have been extended by now was because when the Jets did not finalize a trade last year and let it leak out they looked bad. Sometimes situations like that don’t exactly go over well in the locker room either. While the Jets draft picks in recent years have been average at best the fact is around that room they have seen Leonard Williams shipped out, Darron Lee shipped out, Robby Anderson shipped out, etc… while new faces have come in and taken the cash from the team. You cant really put a number on those kind of things.
It is also worth reiterating that these are just rumors. The Jets may simply have decided they don’t want to get into the concept of extending after 3 years. With a quarterback contract in the wings they probably need to see much more from Darnold before even entertaining that discussion and waiting here gives them more footing with Darnold and players in the future that waiting until after year 4 is the right way to do business with them. Perhaps they want to see where the contracts with Justin Simmons and Anthony Harris land if they sign new deals in July. It can also be as simple as the Jets being cautious with the pandemic and not frontloading a contract with less than expected revenues coming in.
But I just think when you are a team that is as bad as the Jets have been you have to consider trading away players who are labelled as cornerstone talents if you can find a viable path in which the trade actually makes the team better overall. I think this is a case where it could make the Jets better overall and certainly cant make them much worse than they have been the last three years.
Had a really good conversation on contracts with the guys at PFF today and right at the end of it some wacky news popped up about Dak Prescott that didn’t make much sense to me (and later I along with some others found it was a false rumor) but really opened up some strange discussions on Twitter about contracts. This also ties in with one of the first things we talked about on todays podcast which is what are the things you first look at when you see a contract and this seemed like as good a time as any to talk about that further using Prescott as example.
While reports on contracts often are about annual values, maximum values, and/or injury protection the real meat of the contract is the cash flow of the contract. From the perspective of the agent the more money up front the better. From the team side the opposite is true and they want to push more money to the back. All the other things are important to some extent but how the players get paid is really the primary factor with things like guarantees and structure being used as a way to mitigate the risk for the sides to some extent.
For the most part when we benchmark contracts we look at what’s referred to is “new money”. For whatever reason a lot of people find this confusing and get all mixed up with it but basically all this means is if a player is already under an existing contract we back the existing money and years out of the contract. When analyzing a contract I usually refer to the money earned over and above what was called for in their prior contract the “Year 0” earnings. For example if a player had $25M remaining on his old contract and his new contract called for a $49M payment in the same year he would have a “Year 0” salary of $24 million. It’s essentially a prepayment on the new contract years. Year 1 of the contract would be the first year the player would have been eligible to be a free agent has he simply played out his prior contract.
If you are looking to sign a top market contract your goal is to also likely set new cash benchmarks at the various points of a contract. The following is the breakdown of the running cash new money cash flows of the top multi-year QB contracts of currently active players.
As you can see the numbers that are on the front end of these contracts are massive. The average of the group is about $60 million in new money earned by the time they have finished what would have been the first year of a contract signed in free agency. Since Dak does not have a “Year 0” to consider you can jump right into Year 1 to see the kind of money he would be looking at. This is one of the reasons why I found the statements I was reading about a $45M salary being selfish. You can not find any QB on a big contract that doesn’t earn much more than that on the front end of the contract.
The reason why the front end numbers are important for a player is because those are the years of a contract that are easier to earn. Even if a player’s salary is not protected by a guarantee the front end contract years are usually where the player is more effective. There is usually still a honeymoon period between the team and player at that point. Usually the players dead money at that point is often so high that it is harder for the team to move on anyway.
Getting back to the benchmarks the top line numbers are basically Wilson at every level with $71M, $90M, $114M, and $140M. Those numbers are gigantic and lap the field. Its $10M more than any other player at the start of the contract and $7M more in the 2nd year. One of the best ways to compare this is to break down the contract into value per year at every stage of the contract.
While Wilson did not earn anything close to the supposed demands of a contract that fluctuated with the cap and other oddball things you can see how strong it is. His contract on a per year basis is $1.5M per year more than Goff and Rodgers but the gap is much wider on the front end, which are the most likely years that the players will earn. It is important to note that QB is a little different than other positions because the career is much longer than other positions but the concept still remains the same.
When constructing an offer for Prescott his numbers have to fit somewhere in here. That is another reason why the $45M final year was kind of ludicrous. If its part of the $175M he would wind up well below the average for the other players until that last year since you would be taking $20M of money in the first four years out so you could throw it in the final year of the contract. That is maybe a tactic for a lesser player at a lesser position but would probably be considered somewhat insulting for a QB.
Don’t be surprised if one of the hardest parts of any offer is first bridging the gap as to where these cash flows wind up. The compromises are generally what you see with the others. Goff and Rodgers have contracts that average the same amount of money but if there was an epic disaster that caused the teams to bail (and there were no full salary guarantees) the Rams would have saved $3.5M because they were able to push some money later into the deal. Similarly if you look at Matt Ryan and Carson Wentz you can see an average per year that has Wentz earning $2M more per season. Yet the two earn basically the same number through two years and its not until the end of Wentz’ contract that there is more divergence. These are all ways to find compromises so that both sides come out of the negotiation happy. But those are moderate deferrals not millions upon millions.
If you base an offer on the structures of the other contracts you would wind up with cash flows in the range of $60M, $87M, $113M, and then $140M. That gives you the average per year of the Wilson contract but a cash structure that is better than most of the others but only catches up with Wilson on the backend.
The fifth year is an interesting topic. The big contract change in the movement from 5 to 4 year contracts really began with Wentz and Goff with an assist from the three year contract signed by Kirk Cousins in free agency. The Seahawks were a four year contract team and there was nothing unique about Wilson getting a four year contract. The older guard on four year contracts were old players. There was no reason for teams to really worry about five years there as they are a different subset of comparables.
The difference you get with Wentz and Goff is that those players were obligated for at least 5 years of control due to the fact that they had option years in their rookie contracts. So a four year extension represented 9 years of a players career. For Prescott a four year contract represents 8 years of control. If four years is a sticking point I would imagine that Dallas’ argument is what’s the difference between tagging Prescott this year and then doing a four year deal next year? They risk prices going up due to team success but the only real market risk is Deshaun Watson with the Texans. Personally if I was a team I would prefer to get in before that only because the Texans have shown some odd tendencies at times but I would not go crazy about it.
There is leverage in that scenario for Dallas at least to a point. Dallas will have Prescott under contract this year for $31.4M. That number is far far far less than any of the other players on this list. Even f the tag dragged for two years the two year salary of $69.08M is way way way less than the two year salary of any of the players on the chart as well. If they tag this year and do a deal next year at $35M per year for four years its an average of $34.3M over five seasons. As long as Dallas keeps the salary down under $35.9M the five year value would not exceed $175M or exactly what he would earn taking a five year contract now.
Even if prices go up there is value in getting that fifth year under contract. Lets say Dallas had to go to a $38M offer that ran from 2021-2024. That would average out to $36.7M per year from 2020-2024. While that may be more on paper than what Dallas is offering now they would get that final year under contract. Even if that final year costs say $35-$38M it is probably less than it would cost to tag Prescott in 2024 if they agreed to a four year contract today.
The franchise tag is really only a benefit for the player if they are playing the long game. That is something you can do better at QB than any other position but you basically are giving up money now for the chance at earning it two years later. The odds would be against a team using a third franchise tag so you would be free to cash in on the market. That’s big. Take in $69M and then another $60-70M in the first year of a contract in 2022. If you are willing to wait and leave for another team that is the most lucrative path but its not one that most players take.
I would think the key to a five year contract is to take into account what the market would be next year if he played out this tag. In essence value this as “old money” and negotiate a four year extension on top of it. If they take $38M as the number its going to be five years for $36.7M mentioned above. Its not that far off a $35M per year contract. Bring it down to $36M and its effectively a four year, $37.2M extension.
From there you can go back to the cash flows to find a way to make it worthwhile to do the longer term beside the fifth year. Based on the Ryan contract I would assume a fair 5th year salary to be around $33.5M. That leaves the four year number at $146.5M. Let year 1 trail Wilson and run around $63M to be closer to what the rest of the market is. By year two he earns slightly more than Wilson ($90.75M to $90M), and then $4M more over the three year period and the $6.5M more in year four. That would likely give both sides positives in the contract and different ways to value the deal to make everyone happy about what they wound up doing rather than playing out the season and then going back to the drawing board.
But whenever you hear a leak about an offer see if you can find any rumors of the contract breakdown before you really evaluate it. And when something sounds completely out of whack like a back end $45M payment its probably worth questioning completely before really running with it as anything remotely valid.
The Dak Prescott story continues to give us some things to talk about with the discussions today turning to the salary cap impact of a contract extension hurting the teams chances to win. There was a post on Twitter looking at the lack of Super Bowl wins for top QBs since 2014 which garnered a great deal of attention todat so I wanted to expand on that a little.
While the Super Bowl is certainly aspirational it is so difficult that using that as the only judge of success can be limiting. So I wanted to look at what teams have spent and how much success they have had over that 14-19 timeframe. For the most part I think we measure success as making deep runs in the playoffs. So I awarded each team 1 point for completing the regular season, 2 points for losing in the wildcard round, 4 points for losing in the divisional round, 6 points for losing the conference championship, 8 points for losing the Super Bowl, and 10 points for the ultimate Super Bowl winner.
The following chart shows the results (yes I know its old logos) with the exception of the Patriots who throw everything out of whack. If you want to know where they would be its nearly 50 points with just slightly above league average QB spending.
The data pretty much indicates no correlation between spending and success. There are teams that spend big that are consistent deep playoff teams and those like the Lions and Giants who have basically stunk. There are teams with cheap QB rooms that do well and others on the Jets line who spend little and win little.
Still this can be a bit misleading because for many of these teams the arbitrary timeframe overlaps rookie contracts and non-rookie ones. So what if we just look at veteran players? Here is the list of QB’s who have totaled more than $25M in cap charges on veteran contracts (meaning Russell Wilsons 2014 would not count but 2015 would), played at least three “veteran years” and how they performed. I pulled Brady out from here just because he completely changes the ranges we have to show since he has been so successful.
Again it is basically the same story. You can win or lose with expensive QBs. Its more about who you spend it on than the cost itself. That brings up the other questions which is should you just draft or not? Here is how the average yearly performance of teams with rookies who primarily started matched up with the average performance of these veterans (again I took Brady out).
This gets a bit messy since I didn’t take out the names and so many rookies make little but I do think there is some evidence to suggest what intuitively makes sense- having so little spent on the QB position relative to the veteran should give teams more opportunities for success during that short window of time where they are on a rookie contract, which usually is years 2 to at the most 4, so a two to three year window. Even when a team is playing a sub par QB like Bortles and Mariota they may have had enough resources to use elsewhere to build a team that hides the QB. Of course many teams then make the mistake the Jaguars made and assume a Bortles can be successful when the reality is they were only successful because of what was built around him.
This is of course a completely different question for a team like Dallas. Its not an option to get Prescott under $10 million nor is it an option to land a top 10 pick which is where most of the good rookies come from. The question is does Prescott lock them into that bottom right area? If they think it does then bail, but if they thought that way the time to be auditioning replacements was 2018 and 2019, not waiting until 2021. It’s the one area that the Patriots did a good job which is somehow overlooked because of Bradys longevity- they were always looking to have a young guy behind Brady so they have an opportunity to have already looked at his replacement for a year or two in their system.
It’s a completely different strategy discussion but the concept would be to take a player like Prescott (or Goff or Wentz) and see before their fourth year how many first round picks you could turn them into. If its more than one you are probably giving yourself the ammunition to potentially upgrade the position at a far cheaper cost. Basically you are trying to exploit the fact that desperate teams that have failed in their quest to find a QB would be desperate in a trade and give the farm. That’s a topic for a different day.
But for today’s topic I don’t think that any of the data backs up the point that dropping from a Prescott to a cheap option like Dalton or Fitzpatrick type players will lead to any success nor that paying a QB completely eliminates the chance of winning. Its about finding the right players to pay and making the very difficult decisions on those who are not worth it.
With all the Dak Prescott discussion dominating the news cycle today with so many ranges of opinions I wanted to go back and look at some notable 2nd contracts signed in the last 8 years and if they can give us a more logical way to look at the situation.
Jared Goff, September 2019, $33.5 Million/4 Years
Goff was the first overall draft pick in 2016 and had completed three years in the NFL at the time of his signing. Goff’s contract did not set the market coming in at 4.3% less than the contract signed by Russell Wilson in 2018, but did expand on fellow draftee Carson Wentz’ $32.5 million contract signed three months earlier. Goff’s contract was worth about 4.7% more than Wentz’ deal. Goff also set a record for injury protection in a contract though the figure included money already guaranteed on his rookie contract. Goff had come off of back to back division titles and had played in the 2018 Super Bowl. Goff was selected to a Pro Bowl in 2018 as well.
Carson Wentz, June 2019, $32.5 Million/4 years
Wentz, the 2nd overall pick in the 2016 draft, signed a contract that was worth 8.6% less than the top of the market at the time of signing while narrowly setting a record for injury protection, though like with Goff above included significant money from his rookie deal. Wentz’ contract was the first young player of note to do a deal after Kirk Cousins’ three year contract signed in free agency in 2018. Wentz’ contract would average 14.3% more than Cousins contract. It also represented a jump of 6.7% over Matt Ryan’s 2018 contract that made him the NFL’s first $30M per year player. Wentz was a Pro Bowl player in 2017 and a candidate to win the NFL MVP when he was injured. The Eagles would go on to win the Super Bowl with Nick Foles that season. Wentz’ team did make the playoffs the following year but he was injured again and Foles was the driver of their regular season finish.
Kirk Cousins, March 2018, $28 Million/3 years
Cousins was the first QB of note to hit free agency since Peyton Manning in 2012. Cousins is in many ways the most comparable player to Dak Prescott. Cousins was a 4th round draft pick with no playoff success leading into his free agent seasons. Cousins was older than Prescott and tagged multiple times by the Redskins but in his career only had one playoff appearance which came along with a division title in 2016. Cousins was probably looked at as someone who was going to be a perennial 7 to 9 win QB unless he found himself in the optimum situation. Cousin’s had the unique distinction of having his entire three year term fully guaranteed at signing and getting an early opportunity at a second free agency which effectively made up for lost time due to the multiple tags used by the Redskins. Though the guarantee gets the focus on this contract the real lasting impact on the NFL was the term. At the time the norm was 5 seasons. After Cousins the norm dropped to 4. Cousins contract represented a 1.8% increase in annual value over Jimmy Garoppolo, making him the highest paid player in the NFL for a short period of time.
Jimmy Garoppolo, February 2018, $27.5 Million/5 years
This was a stunning contract by the 49ers who made Garoppolo with all of 7 career starts the highest paid player in the NFL. Garoppolo was a former 2nd round pick of the Patriots and the 49ers made an in-season trade for a 2nd round draft pick to acquire him in 2017. This contract was a 1.8% bump in annual value over Matt Stafford’s 2017 contract extension with the Lions. The only logic behind the 49ers going this high was the fear that the market dynamics could dramatically change with Cousins free agency which was coming a month later. The 49ers did get exceptional terms on the guarantee and per game bonus aspect of this contract as a tradeoff for the very bullish annual value on the contract. There are some similarities to the situation between Garoppolo and Prescott when it comes to leverage.
Derek Carr, June 2017, $25 million/5 years
Carr’s contract was the first real jump for a non-elite quarterback in quite some time. Carr was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft and quickly became the Raiders starter as a rookie. Carr led the team to a respectable 7 wins in 2015 and was named as an injury replacement to the Pro Bowl. He really came into his own in 2016 leading the Raiders to 12 win season before an injury ended his season before the playoffs. In many ways his career is a bit of a poor mans Carson Wentz in that his entire success was linked to that one season and post injury never really had that same form, but his extension came before that. Still the Raiders, who were just digging out of one of the darkest periods ever for an NFL franchise, had little reason to not extend him after a playoff loss without Carr had their offense looking minor league. Carr’s contract was a 1.7% raise over that of Andrew Luck.
Andrew Luck, June 2016, $24.6 Million/5 years
Luck’s contract was an interesting one. This was the first contract that significantly moved the QB market that had been completely stagnant for some time with the contract raising the market by 11.1% while carrying a record setting $87 million in guarantees. Still it was surprising he did not get more. Luck was considered the perfect prototype for what you want in a QB. He was the first overall pick in the NFL draft and unlike Carr was looked to be a prolific passer with two seasons over 4,000 yards and a few Pro Bowls thrown in. Prior to injury Luck had won 11 games in three straight seasons and led his team to the Conference Championship round in 2014 (where they got pummeled). I remember back around this time discussing that Luck should only take a short term contract from the Colts to play the tag game so I was surprised to see him sign this contract even though this is what set the stage for the run up to $30 million within two years after it took three years to get from $22 million to this contract.
Russell Wilson, July 2015, $21.9 Million/4 Years
This is probably the contract that gives Prescott’s group the most trouble even though its so old. By 2015 Wilson had won no less than 11 games, won two division titles, appeared three times in the playoffs, and twice in the Super Bowl, winning one and losing the second on a last second interception. There were only two possible reasons for Wilson to not have been the highest paid player in the NFL- one being that he was not yet throwing for a ton of yards a game and the second is that he was only a 3rd round draft selection. Wilson wound up signing for slightly less than Aaron Rodgers who capped the market off for ages on an extension signed in 2013.
Cam Newton, June 2015, $20.76 Million/5 Years
Newton was a former number one overall draft pick and while the face of the Panthers franchise still had his doubters. Newton’s teams had been pretty up and down winning 6, 7, 12, and 5 games prior to this extension. They had won the division in 2013 but failed to advance past the Wildcard round and went 1-1 in the 2014 playoffs winning a historically bad division at 7-9. Newton was probably not considered the typical passer but was a dual threat at QB that did win the offensive rookie of the year award in 2011. This fell about 5.5% short of Rodgers’ top market contract but did just beat out Matt Ryan’s 2013 contract. Ryan was much more accomplished as a passer at the time he signed his deal and I’m sure it was considered a win by him to get an offer for more. Newton would likely regret it a year later winning the NFL MVP award and leading the Panthers to the Super Bowl. Injuries piled up and Newton now has a road to climb to get to a third big contract.
Matt Ryan, July 2013, $20.75 Million/5 Years
Ryan, a 3rd overall draft pick, was firmly entrenched as a big QB by this time. In his five years in the NFL Ryan had twice thrown for over 4,000 yards and appeared in two Pro Bowls. Ryan’s teams were always successful. His win totals went 11-9-13-10-13 and his team made the playoffs in four of those five years- twice as a division winner and twice as a wildcard. The question around Ryan was whether or not those regular season successes would translate into playoff wins as the Falcons playoff record was poor. It was the lack of playoff success that saw Ryan fall about 5.5% short of Rodgers while increasing 3.2% over Joe Flacco who was the reverse of Ryan was a lower drafted 1st round with playoff success but a much more limited passing resume. Ryan eventually became the first $30 million player.
Joe Flacco, March 2013, $20.1 Million/6 years
The contract that really changed things for everyone Flacco rode an extremely successful playoff run that peaked at a time when he was set to be a free agent and his current team was in really bad salary cap shape. He used that to his advantage to be just the second player to sign for at least $20 million a season edging out Drew Brees by 0.5% in becoming the NFL’s highest paid player. Flacco really changed the dynamics of what does and does not define a QB contract as he never had a 4,000 yard season, never made a Pro Bowl, never threw for more than 25 touchdowns, and wasn’t a top 5 draft pick, all things that usually seemed to indicate financial success. His teams were very successful with two division titles, perennial appearances in the playoffs, and advancement in the playoffs as well as that Super Bowl win. I personally always consider this contract as the game changer for the position that really kicked us off into the modern era of QB contracts.
Ryan Tannehill, May 2015, $19.75 Million/4 Years
By this point in time QB contracts were usually driven by players who either had sustained runs of playoff success or some type of big statistical success until Tannehill who had neither. The former 8th overall pick has finished with no better than 8 wins in his first three years in the NFL and peaked with a 4,045/27TD season when Miami locked Tannehill up hoping to get a rising player on the cheap. Tannehill’s contract was a 0.2% raise over Colin Kaepernick’s 2014 contract and 4.5% less than Flacco’s contract. This started the push to where every QB that would be a starter was going to earn at least $20 million a season.
Colin Kaepernick, June 2014, $19 Million/5 Years
Kaepernick was a very interesting case at the time. Kaepernick was absolutely dynamic as a runner for San Francisco and while raw as a passer certainly had his moments. Since replacing Alex Smith he had been very successful leading the 49ers into the Super Bowl in 2012 and to a 12-4 record and NFC Conference Championship game performance. At the time it was a question mark as to whether or not Kaepernick could get to the $20 million mark the way Flacco did a year earlier. Flacco had higher draft pedigree and a much higher floor as a passer but Kaepernick’s ceiling seemed much higher. At the end of the day they came to an agreement with a big incentive package that could move him into that Flacco range. Many criticized the contract at the time as being too team friendly and there was probably some truth to that criticism.
Where Does Prescott Fit?
Here is the breakdown of the various deals and how much they were above or below the top market deal at the time.
Cap Inflated APY
% of Top Market
I think the first takeaway that I would have looking at this breakdown is that while there may be a case to be made for being the highest paid player in the NFL there amount of an increase based on past history would be very small and certainly under $36 million a year. The only first contract QB to earn a significant jump in salary was Luck. Luck’s contract came at a time when the QB market was flat for many years and had seen enough backend changes that were going to force a market correction. I’m not sure that exists right now unless one considers Cousins most recent contract to be a difference maker (I would not). Prescott is not Luck and I don’t think anyone would argue that. Luck’s number would be the equivalent to around a $39M per year contract and will be the starting point for Patrick Mahomes not Dak Prescott.
There probably also is justification for Dallas seeking a less favorable contract than what many say for Prescott. Prescott’s career is probably somewhat on par with that of Goff and Wentz as well as Newton and to a much lesser extent Ryan a generation ago. None set the market and on average wound up 6% under the top of that market. That would indicate something along the lines of a $33 million per year deal being a fair offer. The negative for Prescott when comparing to those players is that he does not have the draft status and perceived ceiling that any of those players had.
The question though is where was the market back then compared to where it is now because while those players did not reset there market we do have three comparable players who did and those players are actual better comparisons for Prescott. Those three are Cousins, Carr, and Garoppolo who each grew the market and that averages out to a 1.2% bump which works out to about $35.5M a season.
In the case of the players not resetting the market I think you had situations where the market itself was pretty set with a recent contract for a gold standard player setting a ceiling (Wilson in 2019 at the top and Rodgers in 2013 at the top) and enough of a gap between the top and bottom to negotiate somewhere in between (Cousins in 2018 and a bunch of deals at $18M for the earlier players). When the others moved the market I think you had projected market movement and changing dynamics with Carr really being the catalyst making up for Luck not pushing even higher.
It is hard to say whether or not the market has changed enough to justify a new top deal. It really all depends on how one views Cousins’ two year, $33 million extension. Two years is such a short term that using the annual value as a benchmark really is not the proper way to do it. If I were in Dallas’ shoes I would probably look at the contract as a five year, $30 million deal and predate the whole thing back to 2018. That still pushes the market but not to some massive extent. Ryan Tannehill at just under $30 million also would be considered a backend market pusher. But if you take Cousins at $33M (or even a 3 year $32M per year deal) combined with Tannehill I think you get enough to justify a contract over Goff and Wentz even if the success is less and the draft pedigree is much less. I think more would agree with that viewpoint than the market has not changed one.
As far as situations go Prescott’s is most comparable to Garoppolo’s in that Garoppolo would have likely been franchise tagged to block him from free agency. While Cousins may be a more comparable player the fact that he was a pure free agent takes that situation away. If you look at the Carr and Garoppolo deals you will see aspects that were team friendly. Carr got a miniscule signing bonus and had no prior year vesting guarantees (he did have waiver wire guarantees though). Garoppolo’s was similar with the mini signing bonus and unfavorable vesting schedule and $800K a year in per game bonuses.
Both ran 5 years and while the 4 year movement was not as prevalent as it is now there were a series of 4 years deals on the books at that point in time with Wilson being at the top followed by a number of big name veterans on their third contract. So I think there are logical reasons to say that if Prescott does wind up the highest paid it would likely be on a five rather than a four year deal. There is zero logic behind agreeing to a 3 year deal from Dallas’ perspective.
I think for Prescott to hit a new high he would need to concede on two issues. One is the years. I think it has to be five years if he gets the APY concession. The second is that the guarantees would vest similar to the Carr contract with vesting dates in February but in the year of the guarantee.
There isn’t really a reason to justify a massive increase over Wilson’s contract at all. As stated above it would be in the $35.4-$35.5M per year range. As far as guarantees go those would also likely be under Wentz and Goff who had million from their old contracts included in their guarantees. Neither Cousins nor Garoppolo reached Staffords number nor did Carr reach Luck. You would probably be looking at a guarantee in the $90M range rather than $110M range. When you look at the cap inflated values for the contracts I could see why Dallas would hedge at these numbers but I think there is enough reason for Prescott to dig in until that is offered. If he is looking for far more than this there should likewise be reason for Dallas to dig in and say no and force the year on the tag.
One of the questions I have been getting over and over recently has been what happens to the salary cap next year if the NFL season is impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. I talked about it a little bit on last weeks podcast and thought I would expand on it In a post. Obviously this isn’t something I (or anyone at the moment) would have a firm answer on but it is something that we can at least speculate about and discuss.
“Cancelled Games. If one or more weeks of any NFL season are cancelled or AR for any League Year substantially decreases, in either case due to a terrorist or military action, natural disaster, or similar event, the parties shall engage in good faith negotiations to adjust the provisions of this Agreement with respect to the projection of AR and the Salary Cap for the following League Year so that AR for the following League Year is projected in a fair manner consistent with the changed revenue projection caused by such action.”
What that tells me is that one the salary cap for 2020 by no means will be changed and that two the salary cap in 2021 can be changed, significantly, based on how much revenue is lost this season.
There are a few scenarios that are at play here. One is we have a major recovery by mid July and everything proceeds as normal with the NFL getting a full preseason, training camp, and so on. In that scenario nothing changes beyond just whatever lingering impacts there may be that drive certain sales and ad revenues down. In every other scenario the results should be much more impactful.
The other options would be some type of shortened season where they pick up camp in the fall and start the year in late October or early November. Perhaps a full season with no spectators or very limited spectators (say 1/3 capacity). That could happen either at home or in some type of neutral site season if some states do not allow sports while others do. Of course there could be no season at all which I think is the most unlikely but would certainly hurt the league.
The NFL essentially makes its revenue, which is what is used to calculate the salary cap, through three sources. Two are national in scope. The Tv Rights package is the big money numbers we always here thrown around about how much NBC, CBS, Fox, ESPN, DirectTV, and various internet properties and national radio entities pay for the NFL. In the prior lockout of 2011 there was talk that the TV contracts called for payment even if the NFL doesn’t play so perhaps these revenues are safe but we don’t really know one way or the other. For the sake of this lets assume they are ok if the NFL plays a majority of the year.
The second source is NFL Ventures. This is the revenue associated with the NFL Network and Red Zone channels along with money paid for the postseason, Game Pass, NFL Network games. etc…The impacts here probably depend on how much of a season there is. If there is no season I would guess people will begin to cancel their various subscriptions. Who know if there will or wont be a Thursday game package to license. My guess is most people are like myself and only carry the NFL Network and Red Zone packages through cable for the access to Thursday games and in season programming. The offseason stuff is fine and something to throw on the TV once in awhile but if there were no games on the Network I doubt I would subscribe and obviously Im a big fan of football. Still its hard to project what is and is not tied to these revenues.
The third source is local revenues. Local revenues are those that come for the operation of games . Ticket sales, stadium sales, merchandise, preseason rights fees, local radio rights, sponsorships, and so on… This would seem to be the things most impacted by any season that doesn’t take place in the home market or does not allow the attendance of fans to watch the games. There is potential for this part of the equation to more or less vanish.
The NFL has a formula by which they allocated the money from the various sources but with bands that essentially keep spending no matter what at 47% of revenues we can guesstimate that 47% of lost revenues will be allocated to the players.
How much will that be is a good question. The best that we can do to estimate anything is to look at the Packers financials which separate their revenue into National and Local income. Last year the Packers received National revenue of $274.3 million with $203.7 million coming from local income. The prior year the numbers were $255.9 and $199 million. Now the Packers may be understated a bit since they are considered a smaller market team and I don’t think these numbers would make it to the players share the last few years, but it would be close so lets say a fair estimate is that 45% of the league revenue is made up of local revenues and the rest comes from the revenue share from the big media packages.
Clearly this is going to be a big number. Based on the recent growth I think the Packers would likely have expected around $208 or $209 million in revenues. Lets just call it $210 and pretend that that goes for all teams. If you eliminate 70% of that figure about $78M of the losses would be attributed to the owners and $69M would be attributed to the players. Currently there is about an 80-20 split between salary cap and benefits for the player distribution which would mean we would be look at a decrease of around $55 million in cap space, assuming that the benefits are not sunk at a certain number, in which case the cap loss would be more. If you lost all local revenues you would probably be looking at an $80 million loss in cap space while a 40% loss would result in a $31 million drop in cap room.
None of this takes into account the loss of national revenues but even if that is a small number (and there will likely be some loss) my guess is that you are looking at the cap to drop anywhere from $40 million from projections to $85 million from projections for 2021. This would assume that 2021 growth remains steady pace from where 2020 was expected to be. We had projected a cap of about $215 million in 2021 based on players share increasing from 47 to 48% so anywhere from $130 million to $175 million. $130 million is where the NFL was in 2014 to give some context to it.
The higher number would result in about 14 teams projecting to be over the salary cap in 2021 and that doesn’t include rookies from this year since none are signed yet, so probably half the NFL. The big number would see all but four teams over the cap and really is not even workable.
Now the way that clause is written in the CBA it sounds as if the entire loss would be reflected the following year but I would imagine there has to be some wiggle room for a side negotiation to find a way to basically borrow from future salary caps to prevent teams from cutting most of their roster. Owners would probably hold more of the cards in this situation since they are the ones taking the massive hit and can start cutting players.
This is a situation that probably should be discussed now with the union rather than waiting. Why do I say this? The main reason is because as teams become more aware of this seasons outcome they will likely begin cutting veterans with non guaranteed contracts left and right to cut down on costs for the year and to maximize cap carryover for 2021. Almost every team in the NFL has already met the spending threshold for the current four year spending period so they can almost all run like the Dolphins did last season without worry.
But would there really be a reason to carry the player who is going to earn between $3 and $9 million who may be a situational player or one only on the team due to some cap considerations in 2020? Teams keep players sometimes hoping they can get one last year out of them if the cost to cut and cost to keep are close, but you can probably throw all of that out the window if you are expected to lose $100 million on the year and still face a situation next year where you have to make crazy decisions to be cap compliant and to find ways to make up for all the money that was lost in the Covid crisis. Cutting now and saving the salary lessens your losses on the year and increases your cap room the next year assuming the player was a likely cut anyway.
In addition if there is no season there is no reason to even consider paying players in the last year of their contract if their contracts will expire anyway or paying players who are of limited contribution anyway to the team.
The thing is the owners will have an idea by mid summer as to how dire the situation is and what their legal options are with these contracts. There should be a way to avoid this and make everyone make the best of a bad situation but if they don’t negotiate it early there are going to be some players whose fate is simply going to be a byproduct of the projected revenue loss and concerns for 2021. They can always hire the players back if the season returns or if they need them the next year, likely at a reduced cost. Waiting until the season is on the brink to figure out the plan would be negligent on both sides. Perhaps they are already discussing this but they have to determine how to handle this years contracts and next years salary cap if they land in a situation where the season is going to be very different than usual. If they aren’t discussing it someone should get them to the table ASAP to do just that.