Best and Worst Contracts 2021: NFC East

Welcome to our fourth installment of our summer series looking at the best and worst contracts in the NFL. Each of these is written based on the team perspective rather than the player perspective and is strictly just based on my opinion of the deal. A bad contract doesn’t mean a bad player (in many cases it is a good player who did a great deal for themselves) nor does a good contract mean a great player on the cheap. Let’s take a look at the NFC East this week

Dallas Cowboys

Best: Tyron Smith, 8 years, $97.6M, $40M guaranteed

This Smith contract was one of the great steals of all time. Other than the recent Patrick Mahomes extension I am not sure if there has been a more team friendly contract in the NFL since this deal was signed in 2014.  Somehow the Cowboys convinced Smith to effectively sign his career away at the age of 24 on a contract that just barely made him the highest paid player at the position. Since signing, Smith has made 6 Pro Bowls and been named All Pro twice.

It wasn’t long before Smith contract was obsolete with left tackles topping $15 million a season. Under normal circumstances Smith would have been a free agent or up for an extension either after the 2019 or 2020 season and likely scored a deal in the $15-17 million per year range. Instead he is locked up for the next three years at $12.5 million per year. Dallas has restructured this contract 5 times since 2015, but it was so long and so reasonably priced it never has gotten out of control despite all the bonuses. One of the great deals in the NFL.

Worst: Ezekiel Elliott, 6 years, $90M, $50M guaranteed

There were three places to go here- Dak Prescott with the great player structure and four year term and Jaylon Smith for the price- but it was hard to not go with Elliott. Elliott pulled off a great hold out at a time when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was seemingly convinced that Elliott was the heart of the offense and before they had to open up the purse strings for Dak Prescott. Elliott was able to build off his draft status and the recent contract signed by Todd Gurley to lock down a $50 million guarantee with a favorable vesting schedule that pretty much made it a full guarantee. Only one player since Elliott has signed for more money and if anything the running back position has seen a minor pull back into the $12 to $13 million per year range with far less money guaranteed.

About halfway through the second year of this contract it looked like a disaster. Elliott struggled in the offense and saw his yardage drop to 65 yards per game from 85 yards per game the prior year and 95 games per game the year before that. He will have a $13.7 million cap hit this year and $16.5 million cap hit in 2022, both the highest in the NFL. With over $23 million dead if cut next year the Cowboys are going to be stuck with him and need him to have a career revival this year to justify the costs. Jones pretty much admitted he overpaid for Zeke and it is hard to argue with him about that.

New York Giants

Best: Blake Martinez, 3 years, $30.75M, $19M guaranteed

I had a difficult time with the Giants as they have more than a few deals that are perfectly fair but none that stand out as particularly great.  Part of that may be that the team has moved clearly into a shorter term contract length phase where many of the benefits are based on trying to get better three year costs than comparable valued contracts of a greater length.

The Martinez contract was one of those contracts that was a solid deal at a position where sometimes prices can escalate. The Giants held reasonably firm on the deal and didn’t overshoot the market when they brought Martinez on board. The strategy mentioned above will see the Giants pay Martinez $30.75M over three years which is less than Eric Kendricks and Anthony Hitchens, both players who earn less per year but are signed for more years. The $19 million in guarantees is the second lowest among linebackers who earn $19 million a year. Structure wise the contract is fine and maxes out at $14M in cap charges but only against $5.5 million in dead money giving the Giants options if Martinez takes a step back this year.

Worst: Adoree Jackson, 3 years, $39M, $26.5M guaranteed

Of all the contracts on the team that might be considered questionable this one just seemed indefensible on almost every level. Jackson was cut from the Titans who did not want to pay him a $10.244 million salary this year. Somehow the Giants wound up doing a deal with Jackson that would pay him $16 million this year alone and guarantee him $24.5 million. This is incredibly rare for a player to get cut and land this type of contract. He is the highest paid street free agent at the position and the second highest paid in all of the NFL.

While it is not fair to play the what if game, it is safe to wonder why the Giants didn’t just call up the Titans and offer a 7th rounder for him at the lower price. Given how his career had gone they could have likely locked him up to a three year contract extension that at least would have given them more potential control and probably not cost them much more. There is zero short term or long term upside with this structure. The Giants need him to be an A player to justify this decision.

Philadelphia Eagles

Best: Anthony Harris, 1 year, $4M, $4M guaranteed

This one was a steal for the Eagles who get access to a safety just one year removed from being a franchise player to a very cost effective contract. The safety market is often one where if you jump in fast you pay a lot but if you can be patient you often find a bargain and there was not a better bargain this past free agency than Harris.

Harris should be plenty motivated to have a big season knowing that this will likely be his last chance at scoring a major contract. If he plays well and the Eagles struggle he should have really good trade value bringing the Eagles a relatively high draft pick for a small investment. By the same token if he plays well and he is not traded the Eagles could be in line for a 3rd or more likely 4th round draft compensatory pick in 2023. Both scenarios make the $4 million an easy pill to swallow.  

Worst: Brandon Brooks, 4 years, $56.2M, $32.7M guaranteed

The Eagles occasionally rush into contract extensions for salary cap purposes and, in my opinion, market manipulation and this was one where they clearly did that. Brooks was extended at the age of 30 in the middle of the 2019 season less than one year after tearing his Achilles and promptly injured his shoulder and tore his other Achilles, missing all of the 2020 season.

I would guess that the Eagles were hoping with the early extension to have Brooks for two more years at a price around $13 million a season but they took on about an additional $27 million in injury risk to make that bet and this may not have been the right player to make that bet on. The Eagles have paid signing/option bonuses to Brooks in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and now 2021 for cap purposes making this one of the most leveraged contracts in the NFL. It will cost $15.7M on the cap if they want to move on next season which would actually be a savings over his $19.4M cap hit which is second among all guards in 2022. They need a decent and injury free year from Brooks to keep their options open.

Washington Football Team

Best: Charles Leno, 1 year, $4M, $3M guaranteed

The Bears cap issues was Washington’s gain as the Football Team swooped in and signed a solid left tackle for about as bottom of a market cost as you can find a tackle in the NFL. It was surprising that there wasn’t stronger interest in Leno across the NFL but the timing did not work in his favor as most teams had already made their decisions at the position. Washington cut through all the noise that was floated about interest to sign Leno at a really affordable price.

The signing of Leno allowed Washington to release Morgan Moses who would have cost $3.75 million more than Leno, making this a solid move from a salary cap standpoint even if someone wants to look at the move as a wash in terms of overall impact on the offensive line. Like mentioned above regarding Harris, Leno should carry trade value as well as compensatory pick potential.  There is nothing to dislike about this signing at all.

Worst: Landon Collins, 6 years, $84M, $44.5M guaranteed

Free agency is often a lot about name value and using that name value to blindside a team into a bad contract. Washington likely thought they were putting a major blow to their rival Giants and got talked into a contract that was just massive for a very good in the box safety who was almost assured to disappoint at this salary level where he would be expected to be a savior of the defense.

Collins $45M three year contract value is number two among all safeties, only behind the $46.5M earned by the recently signed Justin Simmons. His $15M signing bonus is tops among safeties and the $44.5 million in guarantees is nearly $10 million more than the next closest player. From a salary cap perspective this was a home run for Collins. Washington paid $21M in prorated bonuses in the first two years of the contract to keep his salary cap figure below $4M in the first year. The number jumped to $14.2M last season and hits $16.9M this year.  Next year it will cost over $9 million in dead money to release him. Collins has played 23 games in two years for Washington.


The Benefits of an Aaron Rodgers Opt-Out

Mike Florio had an interesting thought today at PFT in which he speculated that Aaron Rodgers could decide to use the Covid protocols to opt out of his contract for the year and avoid the potential hold out fight that might occur during the summer if he chooses to not attend camp. Rodgers is widely known to be at odds with the Packers over his future and the Packers have done little to pacify the situation which could make for an explosive summer. Rodgers has millions of dollars at risk if he holds out for the season (he has up to $13.7M in forfeiture that is possible) but none if he opts out. That doesn’t make Rodgers free and clear but it does pause the clock for both sides for a year and really would put the Packers in a stronger position next year.

If Rodgers opts out of the year his cap charge would drop from $36.702 million to $6.8 million, a savings of $29.902 million. That is money that the salary cap starved Packers could use to extend a player like Davante Adams or simply carry over to next year when the Packers situation goes from bad to worse. Next year Green Bay is projected to be $35 million over the salary cap.

With an opt out Rodgers contract from 2021 would toll to 2022. That would drop his salary cap number from $39.852 million to $30.402 million, a savings of $9.45 million. Ultimately that would mean that via the opt out the Packers would go from $35 million over the cap to about $4 million under the salary cap. The opt out would give the Packers essentially a free opportunity to look at 2nd year player Jordan Love as the starter for the team and gather the information necessary about Rodgers future.

When the Packers drafted Love the plan was likely to allow Rodgers to start in 2020 and most likely 2021 with a chance to phase out during the year if Rodgers did not play well. If Rodgers played poorly in 2020 they would have made the move to Love this year. Rodgers may have thrown a monkey wrench into those plans when he was spectacular in 2020 giving him all kinds of leverage to not only expect to be the starter for all of 2021 but to basically look for an assurance that he would be the starter the next few years and if they would not do that then they should trade him.

Trading Rodgers was always going to be near impossible this year. There is no way to sell a fanbase or veteran team on trading the MVP of the league for a complete unknown. In turn the Packers have gone on a bit of a campaign trying to paint Rodgers the villain calling him complicated and publicly admitting that he is tearing apart their fanbase this offseason with his feud with the team in the event that he does not show up or is able to force a trade. Packers management would look terrible if they traded Rodgers, even under those circumstances, and he flourished while Love struggled.

The cost to trade Rodgers would remain high ($31.556M) next year but there would be no rush for Green Bay to execute the move and they could in theory even delay it to June 2 if they found a partner to play ball since his cap number would have dropped by so much following the opt out. The decision would also be far easier for all involved since they would have 16 games of Love to evaluate. If Love is terrible then they know it is time to mend the fences with Rodgers and continue the relationship with no threat of benching for the next three years. If Love is good they can trade Rodgers without all the negativity that would come with it this year.

The Packers would also retain the same rights to forfeiture as they currently hold next year if there was another blow up between the two sides. When the contract goes on pause due to Covid all the rights transfer forward even those pertaining to recovery of a $6.8 million bonus that was paid this March. So really there is no harm to Green Bay at all unless they are worried about Love starting at all this season and if they were we probably wouldnt be here right now because they would have gone well out of their way to make up with Rodgers. So definitely an interesting theory even if it is a big longshot.

Steelers Release David DeCastro

In a surprising move the Steelers announced the release of starting guard David DeCastro. DeCastro is a 9 year pro who has been named to six Pro Bowls and was a two time All Pro and has played his entire career with the Steelers. DeCastro was entering the final year of a five year, $50 million contract extension that he signed in 2016 and was to count $14.2975 million against the salary cap. His release clears $8.75 million for the Steelers and will leave them with $5.5475 million in dead money.

Everything about this release is odd. DeCastro’s $8.75 million salary was certainly reasonable and a fair market or better value for a player with his history. Had the Steelers looked for a pay cut that would have come back in February so it is doubtful that it would have been in play here.

While the release does bring the Steelers some salary cap relief that is relief that would have been needed in March, not June. Since DeCastro is in the final year of his contract nothing is gained by waiting until June to release him. The Steelers cap is in order for the season by this point so I don’t see a salary cap angle here either.

Some have hinted at retirement and while I guess that is a possibility you would think after a nine year career with a team they would give you a retirement sendoff and place you on the reserve list not tweet out an announcement about his release.

I had not followed his situation closely but from my timeline on Twitter it does look as if he was absent from most offseason activities so there must have been more there than just the typical veteran decision to not attend offseason programs. Perhaps he just wanted to go and the Steelers honored his wishes, but I’m genuinely surprised by this release and usually you can see most releases coming from a mile away. This one I didnt have on the radar at all.

Edit: Just after posting this I was told that DeCastro’s release carried a non-football injury designation. I would guess that this means he has been hurt and the Steelers are indicating that he was hurt outside of the course of football work. So at least that sheds a little light on why they might be releasing him.

OTC Podcast: June 22, 2021

In today’s OTC Podcast:

  • With Howard upset in Miami I look at some of the critical analysis that should go into contract planning
  • A quick look at our QB Market Overview
  • Answers to all your questions from the week

Listen on Google Play Music

Thanks to Adam Hehrer for the podcast edits, especially this week on such short notice. You can follow or contact Adam on Twitter @Defiantslave

NFL Sets Salary Cap Maximum of $208.2 Million in 2022

In a pretty strange move the NFL and NFLPA have apparently agreed to a cap on the salary cap in 2022 with the cap ceiling being set to $208.2 million. I can not recall the NFL ever doing this before. I have seen floors set for the league, such as this past year, but never a ceiling. In terms of planning this really adds an element of certainty that the league has probably not had before.

The league and the union deferred millions of dollars in cap losses from the pandemic to 2022 and possibly 2023 to prevent the cap from falling down into the $150 to $160 million range in 2021. We had estimated that under a normal growth rate adjusted for lower attendance that this would likely bring the cap to about $203 million in 2022 assuming that they put at a pretty good amount of the remaining shortage from 2020 into 2022. The fact that they agreed to this makes me think that the league is now projecting a much higher adjustment for 2021.

The league by rule has to more or less provide a good faith estimate of revenues in the early winter. Those revenue projections become the basis for the salary cap that year. When the cap was set this year the pandemic was still a strong consideration and I would assume that this was reflected in estimates of local revenues that would reflect 50 to 70% capacity. Now the pandemic looks to be in the rearview mirror (knock on wood) and the expected capacity leaguewide should be 100%. That makes this years estimated way lower than expected which could lead to a very big positive adjustment on the cap, one that perhaps far outweighs the remaining negative one from last year.

By making an agreement to “cap the cap” the league maintains cost certainty and prevents a potential big uptick in salaries to meet CBA mandated requirements. Since 2011 the NFL has done everything in its power to maintain very steady increases in the cap. This was in direct contrast to old CBA agreements in particular the 2006 agreement that saw a massive jump in the cap which in turn led to massive increases in player contracts almost immediately. The 2011 CBA prevented that. My guess is this increase, which will be about 14%, reflects the maximum the NFL would want to see the cap increase year over year and will allow them to pay back whatever benefits and other losses were deferred due to the pandemic. It probably gives some insight into what may also occur once the big TV deals begin to roll in starting in 2023.

In any event I think this is a good faith gesture by the NFLPA to agree to this. They and the owners did a fair job of navigating the pandemic and they prevented what could have been a bloodbath among veteran players. This is good news for most teams in the NFL though it also takes out the chance to get a salary cap miracle for teams like the Packers, Cowboys, Rams, Saints, and Texans all of whom project to be over the $208 million cap next year. The NFL is good with these projections and the same way that the floor for 2021 ended up as the cap I would expect them to reach this ceiling next year. We have updated all the cap charges on the site to reflect the salary cap limit for next year.

2022 Compensatory Picks Update (5/4/2021)

Not that the first Monday after the draft has passed, it’s time take a look at where OTC’s projection for the 2022 compensatory picks stand. If you have any questions about how this list is generated, please take a look at the cancellation charts for all 32 teams here, and also refer to OTC’s compensatory formula page as a reference for where certain contracts are ranked.

Continue reading 2022 Compensatory Picks Update (5/4/2021) »

Expected Drafted Player Snaps Over Rookie Years

The other day on Twitter I posted something looking at average snaps per year played by draft picks and UDFAs and I had a few requests for a larger time period so I went back and looked at every draft since 2011 to look at the snaps played by draft picks. Just to get a bit of the calculations out of the way the snaps are just for snaps played for the team that drafted the player (i.e. in 2021 any snaps played by Sam Darnold for Carolina would count as a 0 for the pick). Secondly I calculated the average snaps for each slot by year so I could easily adjust the numbers for players in the middle of their rookie contracts. I then summed up the average for each contract year to come up with the expected 4 year total. Here is what the data looks like.

The results here are pretty much what you would expect with a pretty predictable decline as we travel through the draft. While not all snaps are created equal it is somewhat notable that a good percentage of 2nd round picks track similar to many of the 1st round picks. This pretty much goes right in line with the findings Brad and I had in the Drafting Stage (and many others have had when doing draft research) that the gap traditionally assigned to draft picks makes little sense and that it is more based on the emotion involved that leads to the “we cant miss” attitude that leads to big trade ups. If you hold that false assumption that every trade up is going to land you Patrick Mahomes rather than Mitch Trubisky it makes sense to overpay but in probably about 75% of the cases you land Trubisky.

Using the numbers above I calculated the expected “return” for a draft slot. For the most part this was the average of the four draft slots before the pick and then three after the pick. There are other ways to do it but this was a quick and dirty method for something I wanted to do which was see what teams had gotten the most or least out of their draft picks since 2011. Here is a look at the average snaps above expected per year for each teams draft picks since 2011.

Basically the teams in the top right had a lot of picks and did really well with those picks while those in the top left hit a home run despite a limited quantity of picks. For those on the bottom the results have been poor in the draft. The avg. line isn’t at zero because of the method I used to calculate the projected snaps which wasn’t going to zero out.

Since 2011 the Falcons have been the top drafting team with pretty big contributions from players like DeVondre Campbell, Grady Jarrett, Ricardo Allen, etc… and not really busting out at the top though they did have misses in the second round. The Falcons players averaged about 50 snaps more per year than expected based on where they were selected. That produced around a total of 3,800 excess snaps per contract year for their draft picks.

The worst team was New England. This was in part driven by the use of a 2nd round pick on Jimmy Garoppolo who never had a chance to really play because of Tom Brady but they also had major whiffs with Ras-I Dowling, Dominique Easley, Cyrus Jones, Duke Dawson, etc… which wasn’t enough to overcome the picks of players like Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason. The average of 50 snaps per year less than expected per player was worst in the NFL.

Here is how the teams stack up since 2017.

We have the Bills in the top spot over the last few years which is a big reason why the team has made such a turnaround. The Patriots have still struggled and have maintained their spot as the worst return on the draft. I think the performance of the Packers and Seahawks picks should be troubling for their future as clearly their strength was prior to 2017.

Here are the numbers for each team in a table format.

TeamDraft PicksExcess Snaps/YearSnaps/PlayerDraft Picks 17-20Excess Snaps/Year, 17-20Snaps/Player
Football Team89225925.436178449.6