Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times spoke with Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett a few days ago about his contract with the Seahawks. Bennett was pretty open, admitted he was staying away from OTAs and wants a deal that is representative of a top 8 player, specifically referencing his ability to play inside and outside as being unique. This may be one of the fastest turnarounds for a possible holdout in recent memory as Bennett signing a $28.5 million contract just last season. But things change quickly in in the NFL, and perhaps Bennett feels the market passed him by. Let’s look at some of the factors involved.
- The 2014 Market
When free agency hits and you sign a contract there are a number of moving parts going on around you. While you can guess at that market often deals come down within hours of one another that signal very different things to people like myself who enjoy discussing and analyzing contracts.
At the same time Bennett signed his contract so did the Vikings Everson Griffen. Griffen was two years younger than Bennett, but from a productivity standpoint Bennett was the better player at the time. Griffen’s contract was worth about $1.4M more per year than Bennett’s. Neither could build off the other in a negotiation so they signaled somewhat different things unless you just take age as the main factor.
Also at the same time DeMarcus Ware negotiated a contract with the Broncos. Ware, who was a historically better player than Bennett, was 32. By that point in time the numbers were not that far off especially as Ware struggled through an injury plagued 2013 season. Ware earning more than Bennett should not have been a surprise, but nearly $3 million more per year and $6 million more in full guarantees was probably a tough one.
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Later on that year we saw Jared Allen sign for $8 million a year, with $15.5 million fully guaranteed, a run stuffer in Lamarr Houston get $7 million, and higher quality players like Robert Quinn and Junior Gallete sign lucrative extensions. JJ Watt and Gerald McCoy all pushed the market at their respective positions. It would not be surprising if Bennett regretted his contract a few weeks after signing it.
- The Seahawks Decision Making
Last year Seattle worked out extensions for Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman sometime in the late spring. Both were market setters at the time with Thomas earning $10 million a year and Sherman $14 million per season. That not to say that Bennett should have expected to be a market mover but it probably showed a willingness on the organizations part to exceed certain contractual levels which they did not do with Bennett.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the Seahawks had a bit of a contract dispute last summer with Marshawn Lynch, who had multiple years remaining on his contract. Lynch was prepared to hold out and eventually the team was willing to throw a few more dollars his way to get him into camp and on the field. Lynch was further rewarded this year after he hinted at retirement with a substantial $5 million raise and two additional contract years valued at a $19 million. In total that was $24 million in new money over just two years.
While every situation is different, every decision made can have consequences. If Seattle is willing to essentially rip up the contract for one player, it should be logical to assume they would do so for another player. At the very least it gives the player a reason to hold very firm on the threat. If Bennett sees himself as an important piece like the others mentioned above then he probably feels Seattle should be fair to him as well.
- Jared Odrick Signs with Jacksonville
I tend to believe that the contract Odrick received from the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason was the final straw for Bennett and it also matches up with some of his comments in the Times article. Bennett draws attention to the fact that he plays inside and outside which really is what Odrick does as well. Though the Jaguars said they will play him at defensive tackle, his contract was more in line with a defensive end.
If taken as a defensive end, Odrick’s contract ranks 8th at the position, if we don’t include the franchise contract on the books for Jason Pierre-Paul. Ranking “7th or 8th” is coincidentally Bennett’s self stated goal for his holdout.
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Odrick will earn $34 million over the four year period that Bennett will earn $28.5 million. Its a huge difference between the two players, one that begins the third year of the contract where Bennett gave up the upside to get favorable cash terms early in the deal.
Is there a solution?
In hindsight I think it is pretty clear to see why Bennett was upset by the way things worked out for him. His decision to sign an extension on the eve of free agency was surprising but somewhat understandable. He hit free agency in 2013 and was relatively unwanted, signing with the Seahawks for less than $5 million in base value. If teams had not changed their opinion of him in 2014, he may have lost the Seahawks offer as well.
As contracts were signed around him it probably became clear he left money on the table. Even this year, lesser players like Derrick Morgan and Brandon Graham were signing contracts close to his, while the Eagles were willing to give Connor Barwin a raise off a great year just a few seasons into his contract. So I think the frustration is there because of how fast things seemed to change.
But I don’t know if Seattle can do much here. Like I mentioned above with the Lynch deal- every move has consequences. If they rework this contract just one year after re-doing Lynch’s the team will begin to be approached by multiple players in a different way. When it’s one guy you can come up with some excuse, but it is hard to do the same with multiple players.
If they are willing to deal, it will likely depend on how dug in Bennett is on his stance as to whether they can come to an agreement. If he just wants two new years on the back end of the deal values at $17/18 million then it would be easy. But more likely he wants compensation over the next three years that will match Odricks deal. Then it depends on his willingness to add years to a contract for the purposes of making the APY reach the $8.5-9M per year number.
If he is willing to add two years onto the deal then they would increase his pay, mainly over the 2016 and 2017 years by $5.5 million with another $13 million coming in 2018 and 2019. That gives him the similar cash flow as Odrick over his original contract plus the new money APY of $18M plus over the two extension years. But then he is giving up free agency and taking a low salary when he is in his 30s.
He could be more difficult and refuse to add years to the contract. To bring him up to Odrick’s annual value at that point requires a raise of $7.3 million over the next three seasons. They would revalue his contract then as a three year contract worth $25.8 million or $8.6 million per year. His effective contract would then be worth close to $9 million. That would also add additional constraints on the team’s salary cap unless they used void clauses for proration purposes.
It is hard for me to believe a team would do that just one year after signing someone. There is nothing Bennett did last season that internally should make the Seahawks value him at nearly $2 million more per year than they did just one season ago, unless Seattle dramatically low balled last year’s offer and had a great poker face. They have other player’s on the team to be concerned about and they should not want to set the precedent here of tearing a deal up so quickly because a player is unhappy. I doubt this will be resolved until much later in the summer, but their decision could have some major impact on the rest of their roster’s future approaches to contract negotiations.
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.