The Carolina Panthers signed DT Star Lotulelei today to a 4 year contract. The contract should be worth a fully guaranteed $9.604 million with a $5.365 million signing bonus, but that is not the important thing to discuss. According to Joel Corry Lotulelei’s contract contains the standard offset provisions most contracts contain. For those unfamiliar with offsets it essentially is a provision to not allow a player to double dip in the event he is cut. Basically it says that a player is worth X amount of dollars to play in the NFL regardless of where he is. Having no offsets means that the player is worth X amount of dollars just to that one team meaning he is allowed to earn more if the original team cuts him.
So why is this a big deal and what in the world does it have to do with the Jets? Lotulelei’s draft slot (the 14th pick of the 1st round) and drafting team provided one of the more intriguing side stories in the NFL draft. In 2011 the Panthers were the lone NFL team to give a contract to a player in the top 10 with no offsets in the contract. This was given to Cam Newton, the number 1 pick in the draft. The only other team to give a deal with no offsets was the St. Louis Rams whose deal with Robert Quinn, selected with the 14th pick in the draft, also contained no offsets. Last season the Rams again had the 14th pick in the draft and again gave a deal with no offsets this time to Michael Brockers.
The Panthers were the first team to sign a player to a contract in the top 10 last year, signing LB Luke Kuechly to a fully guaranteed contract containing no offset language. The deal was a blow to the NFL as Kuechly was only the 9th pick in the draft setting the stage for agents to argue that all players selected in front of him should have no offsets in their contract. It was an argument that worked. While contract negotiations dragged on until at least July the top 7 picks in the draft all ended up receiving no offset provisions in their contracts including troubled Justin Blackmon. The Dolphins were able to draw the line and held firm on Ryan Tannehill where he took a deal at the 8th slot in the draft with offset provisions.
All eyes would be on Carolina this year because last year teams could at least argue that the Panthers just did not care about offsets, similar to the Rams and to a lesser extent the Detroit Lions. With the Rams twice giving no offsets to the 14th pick the precedent was set for the Panthers to do the same. Except they didn’t, giving far more credibility to 9th pick in the draft deserving to have a truly fully guaranteed deal. The Jets own the 9th pick in the draft this season, used on CB Dee Milliner.
Normally I would say that the team picking 8th has the most important deal because the Dolphins laid out a model framework containing offsets and roster bonuses that an agent would want to break, except the 8th pick belongs to the Rams who simply do not care. So the 8th pick is going to get a contract with no offsets leaving the Jets to battle things out with Milliner, the CB that is unfairly going to be compared to Darrelle Revis and any later season signing is only going to bring up bad memories of Revis and his holdouts. In many ways the 9th pick becomes the most important in the draft (unless the Dolphins can again hold firm on offsets for the 3rd pick in the draft, a much harder task than last years fight with Tannehill).
Joel Corry made an important point when I was discussing this on Twitter that Milliner’s new agents are the same agents, Pat Dye Jr and Bill Johnson, who represented Tannehill last year. That gives the Jets a specific point to exploit as the agents did agree to a structure with Tannehill that contained offset language. The Jets might be forced to pay money earlier than desired in executing that same contract, but it could get their player into camp right away. At the same time his agents may not want a stigma that they are the group that cant seal the deal on the no offset provisions. Its actually a small point that makes the hiring a little strange from Milliner’s perspective as there may have been other agents that did secure their clients no offsets last year that were also interested in Milliner.
All in all it makes for what could be a sticky situation for the Jets and by extension perhaps the Titans who picked 10th and could see G Chance Warmack look to wait to see what occurs with Milliner before signing. I would imagine that with Lotulelei now signed the door is opened for the 11th thru 13th picks to sign this week as there should be no hangups in those contracts now at all.