Marcell Dareus, Outlier Contracts, and Team Precedents

Late last night following the Bills preseason game against the Browns, star defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, in the final year of his rookie contract, expressed disgust over the lack of movement on a contract extension. Dareus has stated that the offers indicate that Buffalo isn’t serious about keeping him and don’t reflect his value as a dominant talent. According to Tyler Dunne of the Buffalo News, the Bills have offered a contract worth $90 million over six years, which would make Dareus the second highest paid defensive tackle in the NFL if those are the full extension numbers. Dareus is aiming for more as he looks at the outlier contracts in the NFL and sees bigger dollars for a player like himself, especially because of the Bills past history with contract negotiations for highly desired players.

The outlier contract is always a difficult stumbling block in negotiations. Players and agents will always look at the biggest contracts and argue that their players are worth that much or more. We saw that recently with Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas attempting to argue that they were worth the $16 million that Calvin Johnson received from the Lions. Sometimes the players are successful (the Bryant and Thomas contracts are close to the initial years on Johnson’s contract) but most often the outier stands the test of time.

There is no bigger outlier in the NFL than the contract of Ndamukong Suh. Suh earns nearly $6 million more a season than Gerald McCoy and his $59.955 million fully guaranteed salary is the largest in the NFL. Suh is an excellent NFL player and certainly the most well known at the position but its arguable that he’s the best defensive tackle in the NFL let alone worth $6 million more than the next highest paid player. That makes it easy to compare numbers to Suh and expect to be paid similarly.  Here is a quick overview of the top market players based on performance in the three years before the extension (in the case of McCoy we are considering full 2014 stats):

PlayerAge (1st Ext. Year)Draft SlotGamesSacksPressuresTacklesPFF Run

You can certainly make an argument that Dareus is the best run defender and has the same ability to sack the quarterback. His pressure numbers are very low, though he will argue his defense doesn’t focus on the rush from his position the way it did for the others. So when Dareus mentions Suh this is clearly why, though as you look at the numbers you see exactly why Suh is considered an outlier in terms of contract.

The Bills situation is also more complicated than the Buccaneers and Bengals were when they signed McCoy and Atkins to their extensions. Neither of those teams had previously signed any type of massive contract with a player. The Buccaneers were one year removed from their Darrelle Revis adventure, but Revis received no guarantees and was cut well before McCoy signed. The Bengals didn’t have a grade A player under contract at all. The Bills have the problem of already having what was an outlier at the time of signing on the roster.

In 2012 the Bills made a massive push to sign Mario Williams from the Houston Texans. Much like the Dolphins pursuit of Suh, the contract had more to do with seeming relevant around the NFL than paying for production. The Bills would sign Williams to a $16 million per year deal that would pay him $53 million in the first three years of the contract. Based on contract structure, this really stood as the least team friendly contract for a pass rusher in the NFL until this summer when the Chiefs extended the contract of linebacker Justin Houston.

Williams 2012 deal was worth about $3.5 million more per year than the next highest paid player at the position and he would earn around $11 million more over that three year period than the next closest player. If you simply adjust for cap inflation, Williams deal was worth about $18.6 million per year and $61.6 million over three years in 2015 cap dollars. While these are not really the most valid way to look at a contract, it gives an idea where Suh came up with his $19 million/$60 million over three asking price.

The Bills simply don’t have a leg to stand on when they offer Dareus anything below the contract price, structure, and everything else when Williams is still active on the roster. The Bills already set the precedent that they will make a defensive player the highest paid on the team. They have already set the precedent that “wanting a player” means excessively overpaying.  Even this past offseason they made bold moves and signed player friendly deals with LeSean McCoy and Charles Clay. The Bills own structure is simply screaming to a player like Dareus to hold out for the most possible because they have done it before.

The rumored $15 million per year is very fair for Dareus and it is doubtful he would even hit free agency since the Bills control his rights through the franchise tag, so in that respect his situation is different than Williams’ and Suh’s, but you can understand why he believes he is being insulted by the Bills.  He may also not view the tag as a complete detriment.  Houston’s recent contract was a top market deal despite the control of the franchise tag and the Bills could be similarly compromised in 2016, where they project to rank in the bottom 10 in cap space. The Dez and Thomas deals tracked close in initial cash to the Johnson one and at worst represent around a $2 million discount, which would place Dareus in the $17 million range.

It’s a tough spot for the Bills, who are already very invested in their defense.  They can try to find ways to maneuver the back end cash flows to inflate the annual value the way recent extensions for players such as Ty Hilton structured their contracts, but Dareus is more proven than such players. More likely they will eventually give in, especially if head coach Rex Ryan falls in love with Dareus over the course of the season. Ryan will go to bat for his players, often to the dismay of a general manager. The Bills have already shown they will give in to the players they really want so most likely Dareus will get close to what he wants as long as he is patient and holds firm on his demands.