Last offseason J.R. Sweezy was one of the big offseason signings notching a surprising five year $32.5 million contract with $12 million effectively guaranteed at signing and another $2.5 million guaranteed for injury. Sweezy never played a down for the Buccaneers last season as a back injury kept him on the Physically Unable to Perform list for the entire season. Just one season later, according to Field Yates and Jenna Laine of ESPN, he has reworked his contract to account for that injury in a manner that sounds like it accomplished much more than it really did.
Sweezy’s original contract had a salary of $5 million in 2017. The salary consisted of a fully guaranteed $2.5 million roster bonus and an injury guaranteed $2.5 million paragraph 5 salary. The P5 salary was to become fully guaranteed this March but the Buccaneers and Sweezy reworked this contract before that occurred to push the vesting date back a few weeks while they hammered out a new contract.
Normally in these situations I would say that a team would make one of two decisions. They would either cut the player, pay him his guaranteed salary, and chalk the deal up as a mistake or they would take the contract for the year and keep their fingers crossed that he could play this year. The Buccaneers chose a different path which changed a bunch of the terms of the contract, none of which will likely have any actual outcome of the deal, but does give them more time to see what happens with his back.
According to Yates and Laine the team has added $1.25 million to his 2017 base pay, increasing it to $3.75 million, and can earn an extra $1.25 million provided he does not land on injured reserve because of his current back injury. It will be earned if he lands on IR for any other reason. The salary will maintain a skill and injury guarantee unless he is waived because of his current back injury. In return Sweezy did reduce his base salary from 2018 through 2020 by $1.25 million, but he can earn that by playing in 70% of the snaps the prior year.
I’m not exactly sure what the new contract really accomplished here other than perhaps making the front office feel better about signing a bad contract in the first place. I guess the two sides split the injury risk on the back by tying $1.25M to having a healthy back rather than cutting him or allowing the contract to vest as is, but realistically it is hard to see him not earning the money. The way the report is written I guess it is possible that his original $2.5M guarantee was also now tied to his back injury which would be a small risk for him, but that’s just pure guessing on my part.
I guess its possible, given the nature of the injury, the possibility that the Buccaneers felt that releasing Sweezy outright could open them up to a grievance if his back wasn’t completely healed. I’m not sure how that would work since he never played a down for the team and Im sure they could argue that this was a pre-existing issue that slipped their medical staff. The Bucs did make a note that he is healthy now which probably meant they assumed they could cut him but there is no need to deal with a grievance if it can be avoided.
However this contract should open them up, regardless of the nature of the injury, to the injury protection provisions of the CBA if he is cut in the future and his back is still an issue. The injury protection element was one of the bigger, but less reported, “wins” by the NFLPA in the last CBA negotiation and I don’t believe that a team can use language to avoid that, but I guess it is possible.
As for the $1.25M giveback in the final three years that pretty much is nothing but a paper number. Sweezy had no future guarantees in his contract and I can’t picture any circumstance in which he would have made the Buccaneers roster if he doesn’t play in at least 70% of the snaps in the prior year. Basically a lineman who can’t play that much and is earning over $2 million a year would never be kept around in a reserve role. If he plays in the 70% his salary will revert back to the regular number, so he will either earn what he was supposed to earn or be cut.
There are split salaries according to the ESPN report but given they everything in the contract seems to be tied to this one particular injury I would imagine that split is only going to kick in if he lands on IR or PUP again because of the same back injury.
So in the end I look at this as his contract playing out identical to how it would have played out they just get a few more months to see if his back flares up or not.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.