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)

Roquan Smith Contract Delay

Panic has not yet set in for Bears fans over the team’s inability to wrap up contract negotiations with first-round pick Roquan Smith, but they are starting to lose their patience. With Chicago set to face off against the Ravens in this Thursday’s Hall of Fame game (August 2nd – 8pm ET), the Bears were one of the first teams to report to camp on July 19th. Almost immediately, a certain player’s absence became a bigger headline than the guys there.

Fast forward to July 31st, all 32 NFL teams have reported to camp, and Roquan Smith is now the only unsigned draft pick from the 2018 NFL Draft. Jets 3rd overall pick QB Sam Darnold inked his deal yesterday after holding out over similar concerns. Both Smith and Darnold are represented by mega-agency Creative Artists Agency; CAA also represented nine other first round draft picks (full agency breakdown here). Roquan Smith’s deal will be in the $18.5-$18.8 million range over four years, fully guaranteed, with a signing bonus around $11.5-$11.8 million.

Initial reports on the holdup with Darnold claimed that the issue was related to offset language. Newer reports indicated, much like the reports about Roquan Smith, that guaranteed money void/forfeiture language was causing the delay. With respect to an offset, if the Jets and Darnold part ways before this contract is up and Darnold signs with another team, the Jets would want his new contract to offset some of the money he is owed from them. Darnold and his agent, on the other hand, would like to be able to collect from the Jets in addition to this hypothetical new contract; this is often called “double dipping.” (More in-depth breakdown of offsets as well as Darnold and the Jets’ situation from Jason Fitzgerald here).

With Darnold officially signed, some details about the major contract sticking points were revealed by Pro Football Talk:

It appears Sam Darnold’s agent did a wonderful job securing guaranteed money ASAP, as well as eliminating void language. Darnold and his agent did however relent on the offset issue. Odds are that Baker Mayfield’s contract including offset language did not make for an easy negotiation there.

So… why is Roquan Smith, also represented by CAA, the last man standing? According to reports there are a few reasons, with one known factor being a disagreement over guaranteed money forfeiture following a potential fine or suspension under the NFL’s new helmet-to-helmet rule. In many NFL contracts there are clauses that allow the team to void part of the guaranteed money owed to the player if he were to be suspended or fined stemming from an incident either on or off the field. NFL players are paid on a bi-weekly basis like many standard salaried employees, with their base salary split into increments of 16 for each game in the regular season. Missing two games for a suspension could mean losing 1/8th of your yearly salary if there is forfeiture language to that effect in your contract. A common example would be if a player were to fail a drug test for PEDs. This helmet-to-helmet issue is unprecedented territory, however, as no one in the NFL truly knows what to expect from the rule.

The helmet-to-helmet rule is brand new for 2018 and it has already been very poorly received throughout the league. Members of the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles were perplexed following a meeting with NFL referees. With the new rule already causing confusion, several players including Giants 2nd overall pick RB Saquon Barkley and recently extended Rams RB Todd Gurley made sure there were no clauses in their contracts allowing the team to void guaranteed money if they are fined/suspended for lowering their helmet under the new rule. On the other hand, Denver Broncos 5th overall pick DE Bradley Chubb and Indianapolis Colts 6th overall pick LG Quenton Nelson do not have the language excluded. NFL fans likely do not need reminding about the total mess that was the NFL’s “catch rule,” a very ambiguously worded and rarely consistent rule that thankfully was rewritten for 2018. Unfortunately, it appears the NFL may have replaced that mess with a new mess, the helmet-to-helmet rule. Only with this rule, the implications of a questionable call can go far beyond the playing field.

So, why aren’t there any other draft picks still fighting this fight? First and foremost, the issue affects certain positions more than others. Middle linebacker is arguably the position most affected by the new rule. However, the Bills #16 overall selection MLB Tremaine Edmunds, who has the same agent as Roquan Smith, signed on May 12th. The Bills reportedly had no issue excluding language that subjected their player to a loss of guaranteed money following punishment under the new rule. For the Bears to go to war over this issue with a physical middle linebacker like Roquan Smith, drafted to the self-proclaimed “Monsters of the Midway,” a franchise known for its ferocious defense delivering crushing blows to their opponents, seems like a crazy hill to die on. Chicago is essentially fighting to put Roquan in a situation that would lead to timid play and second-guessing himself as he also learns the nuances of the NFL game. Just last season, Bears MLB Danny Trevathan laid a big hit on Packers WR Davante Adams that was not deemed by the on-field referees to be deserving of an ejection. In fact, if you watch the video, the refs didn’t even think it was deserving of a flag until they saw the condition Davante Adams was in. Then, following review from the league office, Trevathan was given a two game suspension. Long story short, football produces some big hits. Aaron Rodgers spoke after the game about how he believed Trevathan had no intention of going for Davante’s head, it just happened to work out that way. So Roquan Smith and his camp cannot be blamed for wanting protection from a rule that no one has seen in action thus far.

Neither side appears eager to relent, and as a result Roquan Smith has missed almost two weeks of his first training camp. There is plenty of time before the season starts for Roquan to get fully immersed into the defense, but why start off the relationship with your alleged franchise cornerstone player on defense in this manner?

It appears the Bears just couldn’t have one off-season where positivity reigned supreme. After inking several high-priority free agents in Allen Robinson, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel; hiring an exciting new head coach in former Chiefs OC Matt Nagy; aggressively maneuvering in the draft to land their guys (like trading away next year’s second-round pick to move up for Memphis WR Anthony Miller); and bringing back important contributors from 2017 such as CBs Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara… they just had to get in a contract dispute with their first-round pick and have the last remaining unsigned draftee.

Front Office Scheme Bolstered by Ability to Trade Compensatory Picks

On Friday, February 23 the NFL released its annual list of compensatory picks for the draft on April 26th (see here). Thirty-two draft picks were awarded to fifteen teams, with the Bengals, Cowboys, Packers and Raiders leading the way with four each. In a nutshell, teams receive a compensatory draft pick for each of their unrestricted free agents signed away by another team in a given offseason, minus the amount of unrestricted free agents they sign from other teams, up to a maximum of four. The teams that are awarded the picks, as well as the round in which the picks fall, are determined by the NFL using a “secret formula.” (For a detailed overview see Over The Cap: Comp Picks Explained). Full 2018 list:

2018 NFL Compensatory Draft Picks

Green Bay4
Kansas City1
LA Chargers1
New England1
New York Giants1
Tampa Bay1

With the introduction of compensatory draft picks in the 1993 Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL sought to provide relief for teams that lost quality players in free agency. The picks serve as a consolation prize for a team potentially losing a key player within their organization. As with any new provision in a CBA, there are always loopholes to be exploited (and they’re usually first discovered by the Patriots). The advent of the compensatory pick was no different, and many tricks of the trade have since come to the surface.

One such example may have played a role in the Packers’ early dismissal of Martellus Bennett this past season. Putting his struggles on the field aside, Bennett was projected to count against the Packers’ compensatory pick considerations in this upcoming draft. However, one stipulation of the compensatory pick determination dictates that if a team cuts a player before Week 10 that player won’t count against their picks (it’s an added bonus when someone claims the player off waivers and bears the full burden of their contract, which is what the Patriots did with Bennett).

Beginning with the 2017 draft, the NFL owners voted to allow compensatory draft picks to be traded. This update provided further incentive for teams to stockpile comp picks, and it will likely lead to a strong uptick in another popular front office maneuver involving the comp pick formula. With 2018 free agency in full swing, prepare to see more contracts that include team options on the back end, and here’s why:

If a team decides they no longer want a player that has years remaining on his contract, they must cut him before the first day of the league year (March 14th for 2018). If a player is cut, thereby terminating his contract before its natural end, the player cannot count towards a team’s compensatory draft pick award when another team signs him. On the other hand, if a team no longer wants a player whose contract includes a club option for the upcoming season, declining to pick up the option is not considered terminating a contract before its natural end.

Although the result of a cut and declined option is the same; the team foregoes their exclusive right to retain a player, one may result in the team receiving a draft pick while the other cannot. This trick was already enticing to clubs prior to the rule change in 2017, and now that these picks may be traded we should expect to see it even more often. The traditional club option includes an option bonus; a lump sum of money treated as a signing bonus, if the team picks it up then the player has the option bonus amount prorated over the remaining years on the contract. These options were usually attached to the later years of a contract, four or five years after its execution. Recently, teams have begun including club options in contracts that are not tied to an option bonus, but are merely an agreement that the club has the right to terminate the players’ contract at the end of a season without it being considered a true cut. These “options” provide a lot of flexibility for the franchise at essentially no cost, and teams like the Ravens have begun including them after each season of a contract (more on this later).

A prime example of a club option where the team planned for a compensatory pick was Darrelle Revis’ contract with the Patriots. New England signed Revis in the 2014 offseason for 2 years, $32 million. However, here’s the contract breakdown:

($10 million total signing bonus)

Year 1 – 2014

2014 P5 Base Salary of $1.5 million fully guaranteed

2014 Per-game Roster Bonus of $500,000 (total of $500,000 over 16 games)

2014 Signing bonus of $5 million fully guaranteed

Year 2 – 2015 (Club Option)

2015 P5 Base Salary of $7.5 million

2015 Roster Bonus $12 million

2015 Per-game Roster Bonus of $500,000 (total of $500,000 over 16 games)

2015 Signing bonus of $5 million fully guaranteed

The Patriots effectively got Revis, considered by many to be the best cornerback in the NFL, for one-year, $12 million ($10 million signing bonus, $1.5 million 2014 P5 base salary, $500,000 per-game roster bonus for 2014), and won a Super Bowl in the process. The $20 million price tag for exercising the club option on Revis in 2015 ($7.5 million 2015 P5, $12 million offseason Roster Bonus, $500,000 per-game roster bonus for 2015) was presumably not going to be picked up, especially by the Patriots. Revis instead signed a monster deal with the New York Jets, and the Patriots received the second highest compensatory pick in the 2016 NFL draft, the 96th overall pick in the 3rd round.

Although perhaps not the primary reason for including the option, another example of this practice occurred in the 2017 offseason, and it certainly paid off in a big way. Prior to the start of the 2016 season the Denver Broncos signed Russell Okung (who was acting as his own agent which cannot be ignored) to a 5-year / $53 million-dollar contract. However, the contract included a club option after 2016, and the details left virtually zero incentive for the Broncos to retain Okung after one year. Take a look at the breakdown of Okung’s deal:

Year 1 – 2016

P5 Base Salary: $2 million non-guaranteed

Roster Bonus: $2 million non-guaranteed

Rehab Bonus: $1 million non-guaranteed (Okung had offseason shoulder surgery)

Okung performed adequately in 2016, but anything short of dropping back under center and slinging a few TD passes for the QB desperate Broncos pretty much assured that his club option would not be picked up. The team option ($1 million) going into Year 2, if exercised, provided Okung the following:

Year 2 – 2017

2017 P5 Base Salary of $2 million fully guaranteed

2017 Roster Bonus of $8 million fully guaranteed

2018 P5 Base Salary of $9.5 million fully guaranteed

Had the Broncos exercised Okung’s option they would have been on the hook for $19.5 million dollars fully guaranteed, after not guaranteeing him a penny in Year 1. This was never going to happen, but when Okung signed with the LA Chargers before the 2017 season (4 years / $53 million) his final contribution to Denver came in the form of the third highest compensatory pick in the entire 2018 draft. Denver selected Isaac Yiadom with the 99th overall selection in the 3rd round of 2018 thanks to Okung and a club option that all but ensured he was gone after a year. This scheme can yield tremendous returns for teams, and there is almost no downside. One can only imagine the impact on contract construction across the league now that these compensatory picks are eligible for trade, thus driving up their value.

Compensatory pick scheming can also backfire, such as a team insulting a player with a tender offer, where it is clear the only reason they extended the offer was in hopes of receiving a comp pick. This was the case with the Patriots’ handling of LeGarrette Blount. In the 2017 offseason, the Patriots extended a tender offer to Blount for one-year, $1.1 million dollars. The offer came on the last day that NFL teams would receive a comp pick if they lost a player to free agency. The Patriots had seven other running backs on their roster and had previously shown no interest in retaining Blount. New England was taking a gamble that someone else would top their offer, with the risk of just over one million dollars worth taking. Sure enough, the Eagles stepped in and beat New England’s offer, leaving the Patriots with the right to match it or potentially receive a comp pick. According to our comp pick expert, Nick Korte, Blount was just outside of the 32-compensatory pick limit, and will award the Patriots nothing. Blount certainly has the last laugh for now after steamrolling New England in the Super Bowl to the tune of 90 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries.

Now, you may be thinking there is no way a late-round draft pick could possibly make up for the loss of a good player. Well, as previously mentioned, the Patriots are known for their excellence in exploiting all that the CBA has to offer. New England used a comp pick in 2000 when they drafted a QB prospect out of Michigan by the name of Tom Brady in the 6th Round with the 199th overall (compensatory) pick. The list of notable compensatory pick selections is a long one, with franchise cornerstone players including:

Mike Vrabel – Pittsburgh Steelers, Round 3, Pick No. 91 overall, 1997

Matt Hasselbeck – Green Bay Packers, Round 6, Pick No. 187 overall, 1998

Marques Colston – New Orleans Saints, Round 7, Pick No. 252 overall, 2006

La’Roi Glover – Oakland Raiders, Round 5, Pick No. 166 overall, 1996

Hines Ward – Pittsburgh Steelers, Round 3, Pick No. 92 overall, 1998

Josh Sitton – Green Bay Packers, Round 4, Pick No. 135 overall, 2008

Antoine Bethea – Indianapolis Colts, Round 6, Pick No. 207 overall, 2006

Pierre Garcon – Indianapolis Colts, Round 6, Pick No. 205 overall, 2008

Dak Prescott – Dallas Cowboys, Round 4, Pick No. 135 overall, 2016

David Tyree – New York Giants, Round 6, Pick No. 211 overall, 2003

Malcolm Smith – Seattle Seahawks, Round 7, Pick No. 242 overall, 2011

Ahmad Bradshaw – New York Giants, Round 7, Pick No. 250 overall, 2007

Super Bowl MVPs, perennial Pro-Bowlers, and the greatest Quarterback that ever lived are just some of the compensatory picks from years past. Certain NFL teams prioritize acquiring compensatory picks far more than others, with the Ravens topping the all-time list with 49 (roughly two per draft since 1994), and the Saints bringing up the rear with just 10. Here is the full list:


Green Bay42
New England35
Los Angeles Rams33
San Francisco30
Kansas City24
New York Giants24
LA Chargers20
Tampa Bay19
New York Jets14
New Orleans10

Contract Construction

Player agents would be wise to leverage the possibility of their client awarding the team a comp pick during contract negotiations, considering the team will likely be the one to introduce the idea of a club option. Draft picks have a ton of value, this was clearly evidenced by the Browns who last year paid $16 Million for a 2nd Round Pick. The Ravens, who love to stick as many club options into their contracts as possible, included a club option in every year of Brandon Carr’s contract. The ability to decide at the end of each season whether a player is worth retaining, or whether you would prefer to let him hit the open market and potentially receive a draft pick in the process, is a very nice position to be in.

Here is the list of players who had club options built into their contracts for the upcoming 2018 season:


Brandon Carr CB Baltimore Ravens – $7,000,000 (Exercised)

Adam “Pacman” Jones CB Cincinnati Bengals – $6,447,918 (Declined)

Austin Howard RT Baltimore Ravens – $5,000,000 (Declined)

Torrey Smith WR Philadelphia Eagles – $5,000,000 (Traded)

Alan Branch DT New England Patriots – $4,550,000 (Declined)

Elvis Dumervil OLB San Francisco 49ers – $4, 250,000 (Declined)

Cordarrelle Patterson WR Oakland Raiders – $3,250,000 (Traded)

Josh Robinson CB Tampa Bay Buccaneers – $1,875,000 (Exercised)

Here are some notable players who have a club option in their contract for the 2019 season (with 2019 Salary Cap Hit) :


Jason Peters    LT       Philadelphia Eagles     $10,666,668

Pierre Garcon  WR      San Francisco 49ers    $8,400,000

Menelik Watson RT    Denver Broncos          $7,458,334

Brandon Carr  CB       Baltimore Ravens       $7,000,000

Jerick McKinnon RB  San Francisco 49ers    $6,000,000

Kyle Juszczyk FB       San Francisco 49ers    $5,950,000

Recent Signings

It should be no surprise that some of the biggest contracts signed so far in free agency (excluding Quarterbacks), are full of club options:

Andrew Norwell G Jacksonville Jaguars 5 yrs/$66.5 million – Club Option 2020, 2021, 2022

Malcolm Butler CB Tennessee Titans 5 yrs/$61.25 million – Club Option 2020, 2021, 2022

Weston Richburg C San Francisco 49ers 5 yrs/$47.5 million – Club Option 2021, 2022

Anthony Hitchens LB Kansas City Chiefs 5 yrs/$45 million – Club Option 2020, 2021, 2022

Nigel Bradham LB Philadelphia Eagles 5 yrs/$40 million – Club Option 2020, 2021, 2022

Jerick McKinnon RB San Francisco 49ers 4yrs/$30 million – Club Option 2019, 2020, 2021

Most of these new club options do NOT include an option bonus, thereby giving all the benefit to the team while the player must enter each offseason with questions about their future. It is quite a luxury when managing a roster headed into the offseason. Additionally, having a stash of compensatory picks during the draft leads to plenty of maneuvering and creativity. Cincinnati, Green Bay, Oakland and Arizona – 4 of the top 5 teams in terms of 2018 compensatory pick allotment – all made trades in the first round of the NFL Draft (Green Bay and Oakland made multiple). With more ammunition in their arsenal, and with the new ability to use compensatory picks in draft day trades, these teams were very active throughout the draft. Whether or not the picks work out is a different story, but what is for certain is because of comp pick capital these teams were aggressive in landing their targeted guys in the draft at the moments they felt necessary.

With some teams carrying up to twelve total draft picks (Green Bay had eight standard picks and four compensatory picks), they can package these in trades to maneuver around the draft board, and ideally get the seven-to-eight guys they want most. In the case of the Packers, they traded back in the first round from 14 to 27 and secured a 2019 first-round pick from the Saints in the process. Green Bay then traded back down with the Seahawks to 18 to take Jaire Alexander from Louisville, sending Seattle their 3rd and 6th round picks and recouping a 7th rounder. They then traded a 4th and 5th round pick to move up to the 88th overall pick in the 3rd round and land Oren Burks from Vanderbilt. With all this maneuvering they still drafted eleven players. They traded away their 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th round picks, but it hardly mattered considering they had two 4ths, a 5th and a 6th in compensatory picks. Whether or not the players pan out remains to be seen, but the Packers did not have to rely on taking the “Best Player Available,” they didn’t sit in their war room hoping a guy they liked would fall to them, they were able to go get the guys they wanted when they felt they needed to.

It is probably no coincidence that the top four teams on the all-time list of compensatory picks (Baltimore, Green Bay, Dallas, New England) happen to be four of the best teams in the NFL at producing home-grown talent. They simply have a higher likelihood of one or two of their draft picks working out when they bring eight-to-ten new draft picks into camp every year.

Falcons and Julio Jones Agree to Mega-Contract Extension

The Falcons have extended the contract of receiver Julio Jones to the tune of $71.25 million over five years according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. The extension had long been rumored and the $14.25 million per year average salary will make him the second highest paid receiver in the NFL. Mortensen reported that $47 million of the contract is guaranteed but it is likely that the full guaratee is less than that and in line with the $32 and $35 million guarantees earned by Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas.  Continue reading Falcons and Julio Jones Agree to Mega-Contract Extension »

DeMarco Murray and the Team Building Strategies of the Cowboys and Eagles

For someone who played quarterback and wide receiver throughout his entire football career, I’ve strangely fallen in love with analyzing the running back since I’ve started writing here. I think part of it is knowing how completely wrong I was on the first article I wrote on Over The Cap and then digging deeper to rectify it led me to really appreciate the complexity of the position during a time where we’ve, wrongfully (myself included at one point), begun to devalue an important position.

In my first article running backs article, I discussed how out of whack the Vikings spending was in 2013, which is true, but which was an outlier compared to league-wide spending at the position. I did have some good points like the incredible value of the Patriots backfield in 2013 compared to the Vikings, and that kind of thinking is something I’ll explore below. I did finish the article with the right idea, what’s the next big trend?

In my second article on the position, I discussed my theory on the running back position being that a team should draft their running backs as that’s the best way to construct a backfield. I argued against signing running backs to multi-year deals in free agency, but as we’ve seen this year, that’s still a tactic that’s in place and, of course, it should be as most great running backs play well until they’re 30 and if you have a chance to get a great running back, you should.

I cited Bill Brandwell’s Grantland article explaining the horrible investments in running back the last few years, but I do think that this year’s class has some young guys with a lot left in the tank like DeMarco Murray, Shane Vereen, Ryan Mathews, and CJ Spiller to name a few. I’m in love with what the Eagles did this offseason, so I am not 100% committed to drafting your backfield because for what Chip Kelly wants his offense to do, he set his team up perfectly. When you look at the percentage of the cap that the Eagles backfield takes up and what Kelly’s 2012 Oregon Ducks running backs did, I see and understand his vision for the 2015 Eagles and it really excites me as an NFL fan, it should be a lot of fun to watch.

In writing Caponomics, I’ve come across a new valuation system that I’m trying to create. It’s very, very simple; I take the amount of yards a player generates and then divide it by their cap percentage, the solution will be the value created per 1% of cap used. I don’t know if it will end up being something we can use, but I do think there’s a major evaluation opportunity in creating a stat for “per 1% of cap.”

I use yards because they’re the simplest statistic we have and in my opinion, you can’t score over the course of 16 games and the playoffs if you don’t move the football on offense. It’s very rudimentary, but for my statistical analysis and valuations, I’m trying to start simple rather than dive into new age stats because I don’t want to distract myself, or you guys, from the salary cap. That’s at the core of what we do here and that’s what I’m better at.

In analyzing quarterbacks, I don’t see a widespread use for a “per 1% of cap” stat against yards because there were about 15 quarterbacks who threw between 3500 and 5000 yards this season. Plus, the value of a quarterback isn’t just in yards, it includes not turning the ball over, managing the offense, elusiveness, escaping sacks, running for first downs, leadership and so much more. Of course, the value of a running back isn’t just in yards, but I feel it could be a large indicator in the value of a running back or a running back group on a team, football teams need to move the ball to win a Super Bowl and, especially late in the season and the playoffs, running backs have consistently been a major part of it.

Football is such a difficult sport to valuate individual players in because it’s the ultimate team sport. A lot of statistical companies are out there trying to find the true value of individual players, which is really critical work and it’s why we’re trying to figure out something to evaluate these individual players against their salaries.

Speaking of Murray, the Cowboys may have given us the best example of how to build an NFL backfield in 2014. When you construct a great offensive line, you have made it so you’re not heavily reliant on one player for your rush offense, but rather a unit where no one player’s injury can completely disintegrate the unit. It’s a kind of risk management and if you have a great, versatile sixth lineman like Mackenzy Bernadeau who the Cowboys had in 2014, then you’ve really decreased your risk.

The new Cowboys under Stephen Jones leadership are much more fiscally responsible than the Jerry Jones Cowboys, something we saw on display this offseason. Rather than chase after Murray at a cap number that they didn’t want him at, they seemed to have stuck to their valuation of him heading into the offseason and let him go to a division rival, which I’m sure wasn’t easy for them. They have since signed Darren McFadden on a very team friendly contract for someone who has shown immense talent, but has been injured too often to invest heavily in. I also see them drafting their long-term solution in a running back rich draft in May, which is, again, a very intelligent move. It’s smart because it takes advantage of their offensive line by saving money at running back.

Football Outsiders have the Cowboys as the NFL leaders with 4.39 adjusted line yards, which is a huge indication that no matter who they put behind them, the running back will be successful. It’s worth noting that the Cowboys were second in their open field rank, but that’s nothing they can’t overcome with a good combination of running backs.

Murray averaged 4.7 yards per carry, Joseph Randle 6.7, and Lance Dunbar 3.4, while my father and I have loved the way Murray runs the ball back to his days at Oklahoma and thought he’d be a big star in the league earlier than 2014, the Cowboys made the right move letting him go considering how cap-strapped they are.

The Cowboys are going to have a top rushing attack with McFadden, Randle and whoever they draft in the early rounds of this years draft. As of now, the Cowboys only have 2.81% of the cap invested in the running back position and it won’t be more than 5% heading into the season even if they draft a running back in the first round, which is a huge cap saver as they’ll get production out of the position that will far exceed the low cost.

Behind that great line in 2014, Murray ran for 1845 yards, while taking up 1.20% of the cap, which means he had a value of 1538 yards per 1% of cap. By comparison, LeSean McCoy took up 7.29% of the cap and his 1319 yards are valued at 181 yards per 1%. By going low-cost at running back, the Cowboys give themselves money to spend elsewhere, while they will still have a great running game because of the great offensive line. By the Eagles getting rid of McCoy, they’ve actually gotten a less expensive and better lead running back this year in Murray, with a deeper backfield to support the offense they want to run.

What we have with the Cowboys letting Murray go and his signing with the Eagles is two teams who both know who they are and have made decisions that will make them both better teams. As I’ve seen in my cap research is that it’s vital that an organization knows who they are and what they need to succeed, this is why the Patriots, Ravens, Steelers and Packers have been so competitive for so long. Every year that I look at their roster, I see the same kind of players on it.

The Cowboys recognized that with a great line, you don’t need to have DeMarco Murray at $5-9 million a season because the line allows you to put just about anyone back there and they’ll run for at least 4 yards a carry, which is about the NFL average. They can spend the money they saved on improving their defense, which they have already by signing Greg Hardy and spending some of that money on offense on well to improve their passing game.

The Eagles are structuring their team a lot like Chip Kelly’s Oregon teams with multiple running backs to throw at you, each of them with their own strengths and another set of fresh legs to run down your tired defense in the fourth quarter with that hurry up offense.

While the Cowboys have realized they don’t need to spend big money on running backs, the Eagles realized they do, but they need to do it with multiple backs like Kelly had at Oregon. Because Oregon is a spread team, so often we forget that they’ve been a dominant rushing team for about a decade because we associate spread offenses with passing the football.

Down the stretch in the three years before Kelly left for the NFL, he had an incredible three-headed attack in the backfield each year. This is what he’s recreated in Philadelphia and it’s a great example of the way that the best organizations are building a roster to what they need.

In 2010, LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and Remene Alston combined for 2638 yards rushing, 345 receiving and 37 total touchdowns. Quarterbacks Darron Thomas and Nate Costa added 624 yards and seven touchdowns, while current Eagles wide receiver Josh Huff added another 214 yards rushing and two touchdowns with an astounding 17.8 yards per on his 12 carries. As a team, they averaged 286.2 yards per game rushing, 3.2 rush touchdowns per game and 5.9 yards per carry.

In 2011, they stepped up with James back carrying the load, but Kenjon Barner, who is currently on the Eagles practice squad almost running for 1000 yards of his own, De’Anthony Thomas was the third back, playing the role Darren Sproles’ in now and was remarkable. Together, the three of them ran for 3339, added another 999 yards receiving and had 49 offensive touchdowns, which are some remarkable statistics from a three-pronged backfield. The team averaged 299.2 yards rushing at 6.7 yards a clip, and 3.0 touchdowns per game. Quarterbacks Thomas and Brian Bennett combined for 206 yards and three touchdowns. Fourth and fifth running backs Tra Carson and Ayele Forde had 400 rushing yards and three touchdowns, just a stacked backfield.

In 2012, Kelly’s last year in Eugene, they had their best year rushing with Barner, Thomas and Byron Marshall totaling 2915 rushing, 715 receiving and 43 offensive touchdowns. It was Mariota who put them over the top with 752 rushing and Bennett added another 165 before transferring to Southeastern Louisiana, they had 11 touchdowns rushing. As a team, they averaged 315 rush yards per game at 6.0 per carry and 3.7 rush touchdowns per game.

While we know Sam Bradford is no running quarterback, I still contend that I wouldn’t put it past Kelly to try to trade into position to draft Mariota, I stand by the fact that when a coach can get the quarterback that he knows he wants to lead them into the future, he has to go out and get him. Considering how Kelly feels about Mariota, I still think he’s going to attempt to get him.

What this rushing attack of Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles will allow Kelly to do is have an offense like the one at Oregon, where he can run the no huddle, spread attack offense and just wear you down with a new running back every other play. In the fourth quarter, when your defense is tired, Ryan Mathews will be taking his fifth or sixth carry of the game. They’ve still got depth beyond those three with Chris Polk as the fourth back, which was always used in a Kelly Oregon team.

I keep saying it in articles, but what I see with the analysis I’m doing of past Super Bowl champions and great organizations is that these teams know what they need to succeed. This is why it was so important for Chip Kelly to become the de facto general manager and why the best teams have this same structure with Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick in charge.

Looking at the Patriots, like I said in “The Patriot Way” article I wrote during the season, for years, they’ve been getting the same kinds of players at positions for years now. At running back, there’s always been a pass-catcher like Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, or Shane Vereen and a bigger, more powerful lead back like Antowain Smith, Corey Dillon, Laurence Maroney, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Steven Ridley, and LeGarrette Blount. They’ve always had a short, quick slot player like Troy Brown, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, and Julian Edelman. And speking of those Patriots running backs, they have the same strategy as Kelly, they’ve just done it less expensively.

The Ravens signing Justin Forsett was the perfect player to back-up Ray Rice and it paid off big-time this season when Rice went down. He was a very similar player to Rice, which means he fits into what the Ravens do as an offense and that’s what you want in a back-up, especially when it’s questionable if the starter is on the downtrend with their career. The Ravens also have had similar players at tight end like going straight from Todd Heap to Dennis Pitta, having physical receivers who can block well like Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, then Steve Smith this year. Drafting CJ Mosley in the first round this year, one year after Ray Lewis’ retirement. Always having fantastic edge rushers.

Ozzie Newsome is one of the best general managers in the league, largely because he’s always worked well with the head coaches he’s had., it helps that he’s a former player for the Browns, a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history.

What happens when you put the right people in charge of these organizations is that they do things that we at Over The Cap get fired up about! It’s exciting to see teams making smart decisions, making moves that make real sense for what has worked for them in the past!

There’s a reason why the Ravens have never had a great WR3, it’s because they don’t need anything more than a Jacoby Jones type player who can do big things in key spots, but isn’t going to give you 1000 yards receiving, that’s not what their offense needs to succeed. There’s a reason Chip Kelly made so many crazy moves the other week because he knew that McCoy wasn’t the guy he wanted at running back and he wanted to go out and get a stable of backs. Now he’s got the best RB from 2014, a first rounder from 2010 who I LOVED coming out of college and has shown flashes when healthy and Sproles who fits the pass-catcher role he needs. By having three backs, he’ll also lessen the load on them, which will allow them to stay healthy and effective longer.

Ozzie Newsome said something very poignant after they let Anquan Boldin go to San Francisco for a sixth rounder after the 2012 season. The Ravens did not plan on going for broke in pursuit of a second straight title in 2013. They were more concerned with remaining competitive for the long-haul, because if you’re in the tournament every year, like Baltimore was from 2008 to 2012, you’re bound to win one eventually.

That’s the attitude great organizations take into every offseason, free agency, the draft and the season. They have created a structure, a plan, and they create a team for the long-haul based on that plan. Rejoice Cowboys and Eagles fans, your organization is acting like great organizations, now you and Giants just get to beat up on each other as three great organizations going up against each other six times a season altogether. The NFC East is going to be a pleasure to watch for the next half decade at minimum.

I wanted to give you guys a heads up to a new podcast from Joe DeFranco of the DeFranco’s Gym at the Onnit Academy! I’m helping him with his “Industrial Strength Show,” and he’ll be having on New York Giants’ great and DeFranco’s Disciple, David Diehl, on the show next week and I wanted to let you guys know to tweet me @ZackMooreNFL or tweet Joe, @DeFrancosGym, with any questions you may have for the New York Giant great and current Fox Broadcaster! Here’s a link to Joe’s podcast if you want to download and subscribe! Last week’s podcast with his father George, hit #1 on the Fitness and Nutrition charts this week!

If you want to purchase The First Annual Caponomics: Understanding NFL Roster Building through Super Bowl Champion Salary Cap Analysis, please e-mail me at, so that I can put you on our e-mail list for people interested in purchasing the book. If you join our e-mail list, I will send you the first chapter on the 2014 Lions and then the 2014 Patriots once it’s completed. I might even throw in a bonus Super Bowl champ in. 


I’m currently in the process of getting some legal stuff handled for the book and then I can put the pre-order up on Amazon, otherwise, it would already be up there. Thanks for your support and feel free to send me any questions or ideas to that e-mail address.

Details of Kenny Britt’s Contract with Rams


The signing of WR Kenny Britt by the St. Louis Rams became official yesterday and via a source with knowledge of the contract we have the full breakdown of the contract.

Britt’s contract carries a value of $1,400,000 with $550,000 fully guaranteed. Britt will earn $1,000,000 in base salary in 2014, $500,000 of which is fully guaranteed for skill, injury, and salary cap termination. Britt also received a $50,000 bonus upon signing the contract. Britt can earn a $150,000 roster bonus for being on the active 53 man roster for the first game of the season, up to $100,000 in gameday active roster bonuses and a $100,000 offseason workout bonus. I believe Britt was active for 12 games last season so the initial cap charge should be $1,375,000. Britt can earn up to an additional $1.5 million in incentives, based on playing time, performance, and team success.

All things considered this is a strong contract for Britt. Between injuries, off the field issues, and lack of playing time from the Titans he would have seemed to be a candidate for a one year minimum salary deal. But Britt does have talent and the Rams were willing to go a bit higher in the hopes of finding a decent receiver, someone they have lacked for many years.



Reaction: Jason Peters Extended


The Philadelphia Eagles extended franchise LT Jason Peters today.  Peters’ contract was set to expire after the coming season; he was due a $9.65 million base salary this coming year with $350,000 more due in bonuses ($10 million in cash). His 2014 cap hit was $10.29 million.

While I am waiting on Jason for the contract specifics, the deal is reportedly worth $51.3 million with $19.55 million guaranteed. Peters is apparently set to earn $10 million in bonuses before July 1, and the Eagles will reportedly save around $2 million in 2014 cap space.  This means  that some of Peters’ 2014 base salary was converted into a prorated bonus.

All in all, this deal seems fair for both sides.  Peters, at 32 years old, gets another $10 million guaranteed in his pocket.  At the same time, he leverages himself against the prospect of injury or having a very down 2014 (which is unlikely).

The Eagles clear up some more cap space for the 2015 season, while essentially guaranteeing Peters a 2015 roster spot (a scenario that was likely anyways).  After 2015 they’ll have to reevaluate Peters’ worth on a year-to-year basis, as they’ll be able to cut him without incurring a huge dead money hit.  His base salaries will still be large in 2016-2018, meaning it’s highly doubtful that Peters makes it through the life of this contract.

This extra cap space will only help Philadelphia’s already comfortable cap situation.  Expect Philly to be players for some of the top free agent’s when the market opens on March 11th.

Andrew Cohen