The Eagles were in the news again today, this time signing tight end Brent Celek to a two year contract extension worth $8 million, $6 million of which is guarateed. Opinions on the contract signing are varied. Some think its a good idea to keep Celek while other think the Eagles should have let him walk next year when his original contract expired. The latter opinion is often argued in part because of the $6 million guarantee number that on it’s face seems pretty high for a player signing a cotract worth $4 million a year. But the reality is if the Eagles were going to keep Celek this season not only is it a no brainer to do the contract, but they got a bargain by extending him. The big sounding guarantee is more or less a trick that smart teams are able to use to protect themselves in the future by taking on almost no risk while signing a player for additional years.
A few weeks ago Jason LaCanfora published a list of best and worst contracts in the NFL so I thought it might make a good idea for us to do the same here at OTC, with a team by team approach. I’ll try to be a bit more analytical in terms of why money was paid and how it fits in the market, but the general premise is the same. The one key difference is outside of restructured rookie contracts under the old CBA we will only use veteran contracts as there is a big difference between best draft picks and best contracts. Please note that there is a difference between a bad player and a bad contract when discussing some of the selections. Clicking on a players name will take you to his salary cap page.
Best Contract: Brent Celek
Celek has been one of the better Tight Ends in the NFL for the last four years, ranking in the top 10 in receiving yards in three of those seasons. Those are the type of statistics that should propel a player into the $6 to $7 million per year range at the position, but Philadelphia pounced on the opportunity to sign Celek early and get him under contract at under $5 million a season, significantly less than players such as Greg Olsen, Zach Miller, and Marcedes Lewis.
By signing Celek early the Eagles were able to use some extra cap space in 2009 that was just going to go to waste and place some money into the uncapped 2010 season. All told the Eagles were able to get away “cap free” with $5.1 million of new money in Celek’s contract. The extension years of Celeks contract max out at $5 million in cap charges, which is due in 2016. The prorated money and dead money in the contract end in 2013, just three years into the extension. That allows the Eagles to fetch a good price with no worries about cap concerns if they were to trade the talented player in 2014.
The contract was designed to protect Philadelphia in the event Celek did not develop into what they expected of him, something not present in most of the other contracts mentioned above. Had the Eagles released or traded him this year the total cost would have been $12 million for two seasons with only $1.2 million of it being considered “dead money”. Factor in the amount of money pushed into the uncapped season and the Eagles were only going to invest about $3.4 million per year in cap dollars before they pressed the escape button and moved on. It was tremendous planning that resulted in a bargain contract allowing the team to spend elsewhere to, in theory, improve the roster.
Worst Contract: LeSean McCoy
Just a few years ago this would have been a difficult team to find a true “worst” on but in the last few years things have changed in Philadelphia. While the Eagles are still somewhat cautious with certain extensions and signings, they have grown starry eyed in recent years with the headline grabbing signings. Michael Vick and Nnamdi Asomugha were two of the worst signings in the NFL, their contracts containing high guarantees for minimal performance. Those contracts are long gone now, but they never would have existed under the way the Eagles used to conduct business. There are other ones to consider as well such as the decision to extend a 30 year old Trent Cole when he had two years remaining on his contract, which now looks to have the potential to be a 1 year $13.5 million dollar extension based on Cole’s play last season.
All things considered, though, nothing surprised me more than the Eagles decision to pay RB LeSean McCoy $9 million dollars a year, with nearly $21 million firmly guaranteed, the highest firm guarantee among Running Backs in the NFL. I would have thought that after the Brian Westbrook mess on his 2008 extension that the Eagles would have avoided getting in deeply on the position again. In a league where teams do not rely on one back the Eagles took a gamble and it blew up on them last season. McCoy was wasted money in 2012 and will likely be wasted money over the next few seasons. McCoy may play well, but last year showed the Eagles what many teams already know— you can throw many talented players in a similar situation and get quality results which the Eagles received from Bryce Brown while McCoy struggled with injuries. While Brown may not be as good as McCoy the dollar discrepancy is gigantic.
Philadelphia left themselves no protection in this contract unless they were able to find a trade partner for him. The only injury protection is a series of small roster bonuses that are paid for games on the active 46 man roster. Those bonuses max out at just $250,000 so the protection is not significant by any means. In 2014 McCoy’s salary cap figure will rise to $9.7 million. His entire base salary that year, $7.65 million, is fully guaranteed, a figure too high for most teams to even consider picking up in a trade. In 2015 the Eagles would still owe him $1 million in cash if they cut him and the acceleration from his signing bonus would total $3.4 million, bringing the total dead money total to $4.4 million. The Eagles could also look to re-work his contract that year rather than paying a player to not be on the team, something they were stuck with on Asomugha this year.
Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles