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)

Potential Teddy Bridgewater Trade Destinations

With two solid showings in the preseason under his belt, Teddy Bridgewater has become a trade target for teams seeking a temporary upgrade that can provide a bridge to their next franchise quarterback… or at the least a reliable backup. The New York Jets have made it clear that Sam Darnold is their guy come Week 1, and Josh McCown proved last year that he can be a more than adequate #2. The Jets took a bit of a gamble signing Bridgewater to a one year, $6 million deal ($5 million non-guaranteed P5 base salary, $500k signing bonus, $500k workout bonus) that included an additional $9 million in incentives based on performance and percentage of playing time. These incentives (for example: $250k for every game he plays 50% of the snaps) effectively discourage the Jets from starting him. The gamble appears to have paid off whether the Jets ultimately decide to keep Bridgewater as a backup, especially considering that Josh McCown is 39 years old, or if they end up trading him for what could be a decent return.

2017 was the year of the backup QB. NFL teams understand now more than ever the importance of depth at the most vital position on the field. The Eagles proved that teams with stout defenses and a bevy of weapons can recover from the loss of an MVP-caliber QB if their backup is above average. The teams I selected as Bridgewater’s potential destinations all share one thing: a strong need for an upgraded QB2.

New York Giants – The Giants appear to have no reliable backup quarterback for Eli Manning, as Davis Webb’s two lackluster preseason performances have not inspired any confidence. While 4th round pick Kyle Lauletta has shown flashes and may develop into a quality quarterback, the adjustment from Division I-AA University of Richmond to the NFL will take some time. The Giants decided against jumpstarting a rebuild this offseason and instead are attempting one last push before Eli (37 years old) retires. It would be foolish with all they have invested in this offense, including consecutive first round draft picks in Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley, to allow it all go to waste should Eli get hurt.

The division rival Eagles obviously showed how crucial a good backup QB can be. But it doesn’t have to be a miraculous Super Bowl run; Teddy Bridgewater subbing in for Eli for a hypothetical 2-4 week injury could be the difference between a playoff berth or an early trip to the golf course in a highly competitive NFC East. Eli Manning carries a $22.2 million cap hit into 2018, which is the final year of his deal that includes guaranteed base salary. On the third day of the league year in 2019 he will earn a $5 million roster bonus, but if he is cut before then the only dead money the Giants will carry on the cap is the final $6.2 million of his signing bonus. The aforementioned Davis Webb and Kyle Lauletta are carrying a combined 2018 cap hit of just $1,528,456.

What likely prevents this move is the fact that the Giants have very little cap room, with just $1,481,401 currently available, and with Odell Beckham Jr. still seeking a new deal. However, Odell’s 5th year option currently counts for $8,459,000 against the cap for 2018 and that number could be reduced with a new deal that has a small base salary amount for 2018. This would certainly be a great concession for Odell and his agent to make that benefits both parties in the long run. Cutting former first round pick and major disappointment Ereck Flowers is certainly an option as well after the Giants signed Nate Solder to a huge deal to become their new starter at LT. One big factor that cannot be forgotten: Giants new head coach Pat Shurmur was the Vikings offensive coordinator the last two seasons and obviously knows Bridgewater well.

New Orleans Saints – If there is one surefire way to determine that a franchise does not believe they have their quarterback of the future on the roster it is playing him on special teams, which is exactly what the Saints did with Taysom Hill in 2017. Hill, an undrafted free agent out of BYU (where he was plagued by injury), has been referred to as the “heir apparent” to Drew Brees. Place me firmly in the camp that believes comments like these coming from the Saints are more an effort to boost Hill’s confidence than anything else. Rumors that the Saints were seriously considering drafting Lamar Jackson only bolster this belief.

Hill threw two interceptions on his first two drives in the Saints latest preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals, and while an argument could be made that one of them was more WR Cam Meredith’s fault, the second one was downright ugly. Hill displayed the athleticism that has caught the eye of the Saints with three carries for 43 yards, but he had a paltry 4.53 YPA on his fifteen passes. Suffice it to say, he is not the heir apparent to Drew Brees in New Orleans.

Tom Savage is the only other QB on the roster. The Saints are another team far too heavily invested in making a deep playoff push the next two seasons as Drew Brees’ career comes to an end to have it all collapse should Brees miss time. The NFC South is just as competitive as the NFC East, if not more so. Every game matters. The Saints’ defensive overhaul last season was very successful, and the Saints traded away their 2019 first round pick to move up for UTSA Edge rusher Marcus Davenport. Like the Giants, the Saints do not have a ton of cap room, due in part to a very questionable contract for free agent LB Demario Davis, which earned a spot on Jason’s “Worst of bad NFL contracts” list here. Regardless, trading for Bridgewater is something the Saints should certainly consider.

Denver Broncos – Paxton Lynch receiving a downpour of boos in Denver following another bad performance against the Chicago Bears in the Broncos’ most recent preseason game is just further confirmation that the QB situation behind Case Keenum is not in a good place. Perhaps no team in the NFL last year had an uglier QB carousel than Denver, completely derailing what is otherwise a very solid team at most positions on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

Keenum was signed to put an end to the disaster that was the Trevor Siemian/Brock Osweiler/Paxton Lynch trio. However, should Keenum go down, the Broncos will have to turn to Chad Kelly, the last overall draft pick in 2017. Kelly has impressed thus far in preseason and is certainly talented; an injury and character concerns killed his draft stock more than anything he ever did on the field. Nevertheless, Denver would be smart to ensure that their contingency plan if Keenum misses some time is better than two young, unproven quarterbacks (Lynch may be proven… proven he is indeed not an NFL caliber QB).

The Broncos have some cap room to work with, about $9.8 million. This team is also on the “too good to let a bad QB ruin their entire season” list.

Dallas Cowboys – This might make the most sense of any team on this list as the Dallas Cowboys currently have Cooper Rush, an undrafted free agent out of Central Michigan, as their #2 QB. Much like the division rival Eagles, the Cowboys have an elite offensive line that can make life easy for an above average quarterback. Dak Prescott may have suffered from a sophomore slump, or he may have sorely missed Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield, but whatever caused his struggles the fact is he was not great in 2017. Prescott clearly has the full trust and support of the coaching staff and front office in Dallas, but another rocky start may put that into question.

The big offseason storyline in Dallas was obviously the loss of Jason Witten to retirement and the release of Dez Bryant. The two accounted for a whopping 45.1% of Dak Prescott’s targets in 2017 and were replaced by a blocking tight end in Geoff Swaim (nine catches in three seasons in Dallas) and former Jacksonville Jaguars WR Allen Hurns. The Cowboys also drafted Michael Gallup, a wide receiver out of Colorado State, who has been impressive in camp and the preseason lining up in Dez’ old spot as the ‘X’ receiver. Replacing nearly half of Dak’s targets while losing the ultimate security blanket that was Jason Witten is no small task. With all of these new pieces working to build on their chemistry and skills in Dallas, a highly accurate quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater at the very least would provide a great benefit in practice.

The other big offseason storyline in Dallas has been the Cowboys’ pursuit of Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. With Cowboys safety Xavier Woods suffering an injury against the Bengals that reportedly may cause him to miss time in the regular season, adding a safety is likely their top priority, as it may be the most glaring weakness on the roster. This development may prevent a move for Bridgewater. The Cowboys may also elect to go with a cheaper option at safety which would leave room for Bridgewater. A move for Thomas would require a trade and likely a big new contract, something that has been extremely rare for safeties this offseason. There are plenty of theories for why this is, my personal belief is that all NFL teams have drastically reduced the value of safeties given the new lowering-the-helmet rule. It’s hard to justify spending top dollar on a position that the NFL rule book appears to have all but eliminated from the game (enough on that tangent, though I could certainly go on).

Houston Texans – The Texans may not want to add another QB to their roster with a history of significant knee issues considering what they had to endure after Deshaun Watson went down last season. The loss of Deshaun Watson to a torn ACL (the second of his career) effectively ended the Texans season in 2017 as they went 1-8 in their final nine games with Tom Savage at the helm. The Texans certainly have the talent to make some noise in the AFC South following a productive offseason. Houston added former Arizona Cardinals S/CB Tyrann Mathieu to a secondary that needed some help, as well as former Kansas City Chiefs guard Zach Fulton and former New Orleans Saints guard Senio Kelemete to an offensive line that needed a lot of help.

The NFL has yet to experience J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney sharing the field for an extended period, but there is no question that opposing offensive tackles and QBs are already shaking in their boots. Whitney Mercilus is an underrated pass rusher as well, he could be a nightmare for opposing offenses to deal with if they are forced to pay too much attention to the outside. Add in a healthy Will Fuller for Watson to target opposite Deandre Hopkins and this team could take a major leap in 2018.

I am less high on Deshaun Watson than everyone else on the planet seems to be, maybe (read: definitely) because I’m a die-hard Bears fan and am sick of hearing how Watson should have been drafted ahead of my guy Mitchell Trubisky. All jokes aside, Watson throws a ton of interceptable passes that go unnoticed because Deandre Hopkins is perhaps the best jump ball receiver in the NFL. Watson had a 3.9% interception rate, ranking above only Trevor Siemian and Deshone Kizer for QBs with 200 or more pass attempts in 2017. But most importantly, Watson’s backups are Brandon Weeden (who the Texans released in 2017 because they preferred Tom Savage and Brock Osweiler) and a special teams player in Joe Webb. The backup QB situation alone is enough of a reason for the Texans to take a serious look at making a move for Bridgewater. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the Texans currently have more than $34 million in cap space.

Miami Dolphins – Much like the Houston Texans, there is no shortage of knee issues for QBs already in Miami. On the other hand, losing Tannehill in 2017 forced the Dolphins to coax a lazy Jay Cutler out of retirement (for the not so cheap price tag of $10 million) because the backup QBs on their roster were not playable. That is still the case this season, with David Fales and Brock Osweiler currently slated to replace Tannehill should he get hurt in 2018. Fales earned the trust of Dolphins head coach Adam Gase when the two spent time together in Chicago, but he is no more than a solid QB room presence. Osweiler is on his fourth team in two years.

Unlike the first five teams mentioned, I don’t believe the Dolphins have a great shot to make the playoffs regardless of the situation at QB following a potential injury to Tannehill. I am not as bearish on Miami as many other pundits though, and the AFC is not a deep conference in 2018, so anything is possible.

After clearing several big contracts from the books this offseason (Ndamukong Suh for example), the Dolphins have $14.38 million in cap space. The Dolphins appear to believe in Tannehill, but it is impossible to predict the performance of any player coming off an ACL tear. The Dolphins are likely going through a mini rebuild and looking for their next gunslinger. I for one was shocked that they did not make a move in the draft for Josh Rosen, but that’s just one man’s opinion.

Seattle Seahawks – Last but not least the Seattle Seahawks; in my opinion the worst team on this list. Reports surfaced, and were subsequently disputed by some in the Seahawks organization, that Seattle reached out to the Colts offering a 2nd round pick for QB Jacoby Brissett. The compensation seems a bit excessive, but Seattle has made plenty of extremely puzzling moves this offseason, so it wouldn’t come as a total surprise. The Seahawks have holes to address at a ton of positions besides quarterback, but if Russell Wilson were to go down there is no doubt in my mind that backup QB Austin Davis would struggle to win a single game. The Seahawks have clearly shown that they are making a concerted effort to clear the books to focus on the future, but a one-year flyer on Bridgewater would not affect them long term.

If these rumors are true, I’d say this is very scary news for Seahawks fans. There is no indication that Russell Wilson has any plans of leaving when his contract expires in 2019, but this alleged move by Seattle would be the first warning sign. The offer of a second-round pick would be far less confusing if the Seahawks are working on a contingency plan for Wilson. It’s worth noting that this article could have been written about Jacoby Brissett as well, but with Andrew Luck’s health still a question mark I’d be shocked if the Colts traded a promising young QB with two years remaining on his rookie deal.

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

Cincinnati4
Dallas4
Green Bay4
Oakland4
Arizona3
Houston3
Minnesota2
Atlanta1
Baltimore1
Denver1
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:

SUMMARY OF COMPENSATORY DRAFT PICKS, 1994-2018

Baltimore49
Green Bay42
Dallas41
New England35
Los Angeles Rams33
Cincinnati32
Pittsburgh32
Philadelphia30
San Francisco30
Tennessee30
Seattle29
Buffalo28
Kansas City24
New York Giants24
Arizona22
Indianapolis22
Denver21
Detroit21
Oakland21
LA Chargers20
Miami20
Atlanta19
Jacksonville19
Minnesota19
Tampa Bay19
Carolina17
Chicago17
Houston15
New York Jets14
Cleveland13
Washington12
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:

2018

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) :

2019

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.

Thoughts on the Jaguars, That Superb Defense, and Blake Bortles

The Jaguars defense has played at an elite level this season. They have kept opponents to an average of just 15.3 points per game, a mark which no team has achieved since the 2013 Super Bowl-winning Seahawks (14.4).

They are talented and productive, while also being relatively young when you consider that several of their stars are aged between 23 and 26 — Jalen Ramsey is already a top shutdown corner at age 23; Telvin Smith at 26 has built on his hype and is entering his prime as one of the better defensive playmakers in the league; AJ Bouye is also 26 and has earned every cent of his big deal; and then there’s three players under 24 who are thriving in the system – Yannick Ngakoue, Myles Jack and Dante Fowler Jr. Continue reading Thoughts on the Jaguars, That Superb Defense, and Blake Bortles »

Thoughts on Dolphins QB Situation

With Ryan Tannehill potentially lost to injury the Dolphins have turned towards Jay Cutler to see if there is interest in taking over for the season. Cutler was released by the Bears this offseason and garnered little interest on the free agent market before deciding to go into a career in broadcasting. He has a history with Miami’s head coach, but it’s a move that I don’t think I would make unless the cost is very cheap.

The cost aspect is hard to judge. In free agency we can usually find many comparable situations but I’m not sure I can come up with a comparable in this case. The two most logical comparisons are Sam Bradford last year being traded to the Vikings and Chad Pennington way back in 2008 signing with the Dolphins during the summer.

However neither was unemployed for the entire year the way Cutler was. Bradford was slotted in as the starter of the Eagles and was traded when the opportunity presented itself. Pennington was well on his way to being named the starter for the Jets when they made a trade for Brett Favre. I guess you could throw Favre into the mix as well. I’m sure there must be some others I’m forgetting but with my Jets hat on, the most legit comp I could come up with was the Jets signing Vinny Testaverde off the couch in 2005 to try to salvage a season that got derailed when Pennington went down to injury early in the year.

Because two of those players came over via trade I don’t think they really have much meaning beyond the fact that both were paid high salaries and there was no attempt at a pay cut. The Jets and Vikings simply paid top dollar. Testaverde was at a point in his career where he was a minimum salaried player and was generally thrilled to get a chance to come back to New York so he was never going to push the issue.

Pennington is really the best example. He earned $4 million in base salary from the Dolphins in 2008 after being scheduled to earn $6 million with the Jets. He had played the prior season with the Jets for $4 million and was on a contract that paid him $5.25 million per year. Pennington also had another $1.75 in incentives which he earned which essentially let him earn back his Jets pay.

Cutler played last season on a contract that paid him $18.1 million per season and he earned $16 million in 2016. If we apply the same situation to Cutler as Pennington we are likely in a range of $13-16 million for the year with another $2-3 million in incentives. While its possible Cutler could sign for less, the end of his career seemed to have more to do with lack of good money offers than anything else. Cutler has made close to $118 million in his career and has never come across as the type that was playing just because he loved it ala Favre. He really doesn’t need the job unless Miami makes him a real concrete offer.

That’s a big price for a team with $18 million in cap room this year and more importantly just $3 million in estimated space for 2018. That kind of salary effectively puts Miami “all in” on 2017 and in looking at their roster I don’t know how wise of a decision that is.

While the Dolphins made the playoffs last year I don’t think anyone took them for real. In my efficiency rankings I do I believe they projected to be a 7 win team and most advanced metrics put them in the same range. I can’t point to anything they did this offseason as a major change and the Julius Thomas for Branden Albert move is probably a downgrade in overall impact.

Here is the thing with Cutler. For all the arm talent that he has and all the money he has earned, he has never really had a run in which you could point to him as the reason a team won games. He had a talented team around him in Chicago with Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, and Brandon Marshall and it never really amounted to much. As the talent around him fell so did the record.

If you are a team like the Texans that has had a dominant defense or running game I get the idea of a Cutler type since he’s a professional QB that is a known. If Russell Wilson went down with an injury in Seattle or Dak Prescott went down in Dallas I get the concept of bringing in Cutler. It’s the same reason why the Vikings, who had a young and very good defense, brought in Bradford to try to manage the offense while the defense won games.

That isn’t Miami. Miami has a pretty average defense and an inconsistent offense with a few pieces, none of whom can keep the QB upright. Miami isn’t much different than Baltimore and I cant imagine Baltimore considering bringing in a Cutler with the roster they have. Its not worth the resources.

Miami has Matt Moore on the team and is there that kind of difference between Moore and Cutler on this particular team?  I don’t think there is. Part of the issue with Moore, and probably why the Dolphins feel the need to make this move, is that he was a mess in the playoffs. Moore gives the team essentially no chance to compete against good teams. But Moore does give them a chance to win against teams like the Jets, Bills, Chargers, Saints, Ravens, Bucs, Titans, and Panthers.

Does that mix really change with Cutler?  Maybe hes not as embarrassing against a good team but hes never shown an ability to beat those teams either. There are games Moore could lose if he was on a team with a really good defense, but that’s not Miami either. To me this is just a lateral move that is more psychological because of the name. $5 million is fine for him, but once you are going over $10 million its just wasted money for the same result.

I don’t anticipate the Dolphins to be much different with Moore than they would have been with Tannehill.  The lone difference is that Tannehill still had some potential there and a ceiling that maybe we had not seen. Maybe the day was coming when Tannehill could win a game for the team. I cant look at Cutler and say he is going to win a game for the team that they would not have won anyway. Hes never done it on teams similar to this so why would it change now?

The other thing about the Dolphins is the future of Tannehill. Ive gotten some questions about this the last few days and I slant towards thinking that his Miami career could be over especially if they do sign Cutler. Since Cutler is giving up a broadcasting career to make this move and it would be hard to picture Fox, NBC, or CBS taking him right away again after this, he should look for a second year with the team.

Tannehill has also been injured two years running and there are a number of intriguing free agents next year. You cant wait forever for a QB to potentially develop and if you can sign Drew Brees or Kirk Cousins you will make that move. There are other options out there too next year that would be at worst lateral moves from Tannehill.

So when you hear about Tannehill wanting to avoid surgery again to rest the knee and hope for the best, its probably in his best interest to do so. If he at least sees the field this year he will give the Dolphins consideration to keep him at a $17.5 million salary next year. If he was to get injured later in the year and be forced to get surgery its likely that a $5.5 million injury guarantee would kick in and at least give Miami a good reason to not release him and to give him the opportunity to reclaim a starting job. So if he fights surgery I think there are a lot of reasons for him to do that.

NFL Cutdown Day 2015 Part I: Salary Cap Considerations

Its not often that the first cutdown day in the NFL brings with it much news, but over the last 24 hours there have been a few moves with cap implications and there may be more to come as teams need to reach 75 players by Tuesday at 4PM. I’ll keep this as a running thread for updates on some of the name players that are moving on from their teams over the next day so to discuss the cap implications so check back every now and then for updates. Continue reading NFL Cutdown Day 2015 Part I: Salary Cap Considerations »