Initial Reaction to Larry Fitzgerald’s Restructured Contract


Yesterday I had discussed salary cap space in 2014 and how yesterday marked the start of restructuring and termination season. Today we get our first big move with Larry Fitzgerald announcing that he restructured his contract to provide the Arizona Cardinals with salary cap relief.

My projections for the Cardinals were to have about $1 million in cap room following the earning of escalators and incentives by QB Carson Palmer. Cleary that was not going to be enough for the Cardinals to try to improve further and close the gap between themselves and the Seahawks and 49ers. Restructuring the contract of Fitzgerald, who had an $18 million cap charge and $13 million in cash coming his way, is the easy solution for a quick fix to the teams salary cap situation.

But whenever you hear the word restructure it often means deferring trouble to later in the contract. Renegotiating a contract means a paycut to help the team. Restructuring usually just means conversion of salary into bonus money. While there is no guarantee that is what the Cardinals did, there is a strong possibility that they will just recycle the money into future years, where Fitzgerald already has a $21.25 million cap figure in 2015.

The Cardinals, in a full restructure, can lower his salary in 2014 to just $955,000 and convert the remainder to a signing bonus. If so Fitzgerald’s new contract would look as follows:


Base Salary

Prorated Bonus

Roster Bonus

Workout Bonus

Salary Cap

Dead Money

Savings if Cut









































This would create nearly $10 million in additional cap room but at a major cost moving forward, with incredibly high dead money charges and salary cap charges. This is for a player who has accounted for just 1,752 yards in the last two seasons combined and will be 31 in August.  Fitzgerald’s agent has always negotiated an incredible set of contracts, second in the league only to those of Ndamukong Suh in my opinion, and if this is the restructured deal then agent Eugene Parker did it again as a way of nearly ensuring that Fitzgerald earns his 2015 salary.

Hopefully we’ll get the full breakdown tomorrow and see just exactly what the two sides decided to work out.



Per LaCanfora: Jaguars and Cardinals Prepaid Money Before Trades

According to Jason LaCanfora the Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals both pre-paid significant portions of Eugene Monroe’s and Levi Brown’s salaries to facilitate a trade to the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers respectively.

This makes the trades much more reasonable for the capped out Steelers and Ravens, whose trades at full prices for these players made little sense. Based on LaCanfora’s tweets my assumption is that the teams have reduced the base salaries to the mandated CBA minimums which should actually result in larger bonuses being paid by the original teams.

In the case of Brown he will have earned 4 weeks of salary at a rate of $4.75 million and the remaining weeks at a base of $715,000. His effective salary will be $1.76 million, meaning the Cardinals should have paid a bonus of $3.086 million to make the contract whole. Teams can not use any bonus mechanisms during the season to avoid proration treatment of these prepayments, unless they were to void the remaining years of the contract. What that means is that the Cardinals should now carry a dead money charge in 2014 of $6,514,191 for Brown. His final cap charge in 2013 for the Cardinals should be $3,539,044. The Steelers should only be responsible for $546,765 in salary cap charges for 2013, making the cap effect of trading for him almost negligible. The signing of Brown looks to have been a disaster for the Cardinals based on the financials now.

In Monroe’s case he will earn $715,000 for the remaining 13 weeks of the season and will have earned $894,118 prior to the trade. It is likely that the Jaguars paid him $2,359,117 in a bonus, half of which should count in 2013 and half in 2014, unless the 2014 season was void allowing it to all accelerate into 2013. Considering Monroe’s contract was set to void it is possible that the Jaguars could have done this rather than carrying dead money in 2014. At worst they will now carry $2.577 million in dead charges for Monroe in 2014. The Ravens should only be responsible for $546,765 in cap charges.

When the trades are made official and the true cap numbers come in we’ll get the correct figures in for both players rather than the guesswork contained in the post.

Follow @Jason_OTC


Steelers Trade for T Levi Brown


One day after the Baltimore Ravens made a trade to attempt to fix their offensive line, the 0-4 Steelers got into the mix trading for Arizona Cardinals starting LT Levi Brown.

This is a trade that is hard to make sense of from either side. Arizona, who is 2-2 and could easily be 3-1, will be moving their starter in what is essentially a salary dump and I have to imagine an admission that the offense is not getting any worse without him there. The Cardinals must have planned on releasing him next season and this at least saves them the balance of his salary for the year. Arizona will save $3,623,353 in cap and cash space by trading Brown, who they has signed just last year to a contract that contained a $7 million dollar signing bonus. He will count for $4.2 million in dead money against the Cardinals 2014 salary cap.

Pittsburgh will now further compromise their salary cap with the addition of Brown. Brown’s cap number will add $3.6 million to Pittsburgh’s current payroll. As of Tuesday they only had $1.86 million in cap space meaning they will need to create nearly significant cap space to execute the trade. The Steelers have already gone to the restructure route multiple times in the last two years which has left them with a difficult cap situation again in 2014, where they are estimated to already be a few million over the cap with just 40 players under contract. The addition of Brown will add another $6.25 million to the teams payroll in 2014 plus whatever money is pushed from 2013 to 2014 via a restructure.Possible restructure candidates could be Ike Taylor or Troy Polamalu while they could also consider extending Ryan Clark for some cap relief.

If Brown fails the Steelers can cut him next year with no penalties, but at 0-4 its hard to see why the team would choose to waste $3.6 million in cap room on a player that has played poorly in Arizona. Brown had to be aware of the fact that the Cardinals could have cut him next season and made him a free agent so he was not a player who felt added protection based on his contract and wasn’t giving 100% as is sometimes the case. Maybe this proves to be a better system for Brown or acts as a wakeup call but it just seems like too much to invest considering the issues with the teams’ salary cap moving forward and their status in 2013.

View Levi Brown’s Contract and Salary Cap Page

Follow @Jason_OTC


Recapping The First Day of Cuts


There are still about 500 moves that teams will make over the next few hours to bring their rosters down from 75 to 53, but many teams got to work yesterday, so lets review some of the action.

The Bills biggest moves on Friday came when they announced that they were placing WR Brad Smith and QB Kevin Kolb on season ending IR. I have seen many people mention that Kolb could retire or potentially take an injury settlement. Neither should occur. Kolb’s concussion was considered career threatening. By maintaining a spot on IR when the season completes Kolb is eligible for injury protection under the CBA because he is also under contract to Buffalo for the 2014 season. If Kolb’s injury from 2013 renders him unable to compete in 2014, 50% of his $2 million base salary is protected. He can earn another $1 million by simply being on the roster in week 17. If he accepts a settlement the Bills will be freed from this liability. If he voluntarily retires he will give up this payment and perhaps be asked to repay the Bills a $1 million dollar signing bonus. So it is in his best interests to maintain a presence even if all sides know he will never play again. Kolb lost a $250,000 roster bonus this year because he was placed on IR.

Smith had renegotiated his contract this season to improve his chances to make the team and I wonder if this will mark the end of his career. Smith was drafted in 2006 and was a good kick returner for the Jets while also filling in occasionally as “wildcat” QB. The Bills took a chance signing Smith feeling that he could do more and paid him accordingly, but, as is often the case, paying a specialist to become a complete player did not work. By no means was he guaranteed to make the team this season and it would be surprising if he was brought back next year. Smith has a $1.4 million base salary in 2014.

T Max Starks might have been the biggest name to be released yesterday when the Chargers gave him his walking papers. I had discussed Starks as a logical cut for San Diego because of the teams tight cap situation. Starks’ contract was only worth $1 million but it contained a large incentive that did count on the salary cap and pushed his charge over $2 million which made his cap number too high for the team. The sides could have removed the incentive, but the Chargers probably don’t see much benefit in paying him to be a backup.

The Seahawks released FB Michael Robinson because of salary cap concerns. He was another name I discussed and his $2.5 million dollar salary made him an easy target for release. I had speculated Heath Farwell could also be released due to cap concerns and he would be a name to potentially watch today when they make their final cuts. He is set to earn $1.5 million.

Arizona released a number of veteran players including special teamer Reggie Walker. Walker was set to earn $950,000 which may have been too much for a special teams ace. Arizona had around $6.5 million in cap room and while not a concerning amount it is likely under the mark the team would like to have. The release of a number of veterans saved the squad nearly $1 million in cap yesterday. The bigger concern for Arizona though was placement of their first round selection, Johnathan Cooper, on IR.

While these were the bigger name moves on the day there were many disappointed people yesterday who received their walking papers. Some were given hope of the Practice Squad while others were just clean cuts. Some teams will use practice to continue to evaluate and make decisions before the 4PM deadline today. For those who make it there will be a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately the NFL is always moving and many of the players excited tonight will find out on Monday that the stay on the roster is short as another name hits the waiver wire and they are replaced before the season begins.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to keep up with the cuts on the website today, but by tomorrow we should get the rosters broken down into their final forms. The team web pages will look a lot different as will the real practice facilities which will look barren from all the summer names that were part of the NFL for a few months.


Using Free Agency To Build a Team: The NFC Edition


As requested we will take our look at the NFC’s approach to using free agency to find starters in 2013. Just as a reminder we consider trades if the players traded signed new contracts with the acquiring team, which makes players such as Carson Palmer count as a free agent acquisition. The rosters are determined based on Ourlads current depth charts with the exception of the Seahawks where I did include Percy Harvin simply because he was expected to start.

The first thing that jumps out when looking at the data is the difference between the AFC and NFC in approaching free agency, which I think plays to the fact that the NFC is the more dominant conference with teams having less need to change their rosters. On average the AFC has 3.75 new starters per team while the NFC has just 2.44.  The NFC quality of free agent was considerably higher as teams were looking for at the approach of bringing in talent to complete the puzzle and help push the team over the top.

All told three NFC teams brought in no free agents to start for their club. Those teams were the Packers, Redskins, and 49’ers. The Vikings and Saints both brought in just one each. The Steelers and Bengals were the only AFC teams to have that low of a level of activity.

The team to do the largest overhaul of their roster was the Cardinals, who tied for most in the NFL with 8 free agents.  However their spending was moderate at just $20 million per year in new salaries and with no players signing for more than 3 years this was not the win now with big money spending approach of the Dolphins nor long term vision of the Colts. I tend to think this was a team desperately clinging to the amount of money invested in Larry Fitzgerald, Darnell Dockett, Darryl Washington, and Calais Campbell and trying to piece together a team around them that makes that spending result in wins. Their big pick up was Carson Palmer.

The Eagles spent more money than anyone else in the NFC and 3rd most in the NFL. Like the Cardinals most of the contracts were shorter term (five were 2 or 3 years) but on higher priced players. That plays to the fact that the Eagles did not have a great deal of talent to begin with as well as an approach to likely work in two and three year windows. This will be Phase I of Chip Kelley’s program and would represent places where perhaps the team would prefer to not invest in the draft.

The Bears were the only other team to add more than five new starters, but they were almost all short term moves to just get by on the 2013 season. Of their six FA starters only two are signed for more than just one season, one of whom is TE Martellus Bennett whose contract is structured in a way where there is a good chance he would be cut after the 2013 season.

The Buccaneers, Vikings, and Rams only added five free agent starters combined, but allocated major dollars on those players. Tampa committed over $24 million a year to Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson, far and away the most expensive per player spending in the NFL. Clearly they are expecting these players to be the missing pieces that push them from 7 wins to 9 wins.  Minnesota signed Greg Jennings at $9 million a year to improve their passing game while the Rams spent over $15 million on Jake Long and Jared Cook.

I don’t see people looking at any of the NFC teams the way that they will be watching the results for the Dolphins and Colts this year. The real stories in the NFC would seem to involve “impact” acquisitions, specifically of the three teams listed above. The Seahawks would also be in that mix, but with Harvin sidelined it is not fair to consider them.  I would think most neutral observers would say Revis, Goldson, and Cook were all overpriced with Jennings slightly overpriced. If the teams all improve it could potentially help some of the top of the market players to continue to find teams willing to go above and beyond for their services.

The following chart illustrates the cost, number and years given to Free Agent starters in the NFC.



Jonathan Cooper Signs Contract With Cardinals


According to Ian Rapoport of Jonathan Cooper and the Arizona Cardinals have agreed to terms on a contract. The holdup in getting a deal completed seems to have been related to (what else) offset language. According to Mike Florio the contract will contain offsets and a compromise was reached by fast payout of his signing bonus money over the next few months.

As we had discussed yesterday, the likely structure of the contract would resemble that of most top draft picks. In this structure a player is given bonuses for reported to training camp and not holding out their services once camp begins.  With that in mind it is probably safe to assume that Cooper’s contract will consist of the following:

Signing Bonus $8,961,092 (prorated at $2, 240,273 per year)

2013 Base Salary: $405,000

2014 Roster Bonus: $573,318 (payable 5th day of camp)

2014 Base Salary: $495,000

2015 Roster Bonus: $1,142,636 (payable 5th day of camp)

2015 Base Salary: $585,000

2016 Roster Bonus: $1,713,954 (payable 5th day of camp)

2016 Base Salary: $675,000

The contract will be fully guaranteed and he should carry cap charges of $2,645,273 (2013), $3,306,591 (2014), $3,967,909 (2015), and $4,629,227 (2016).  With Cooper signed that leaves only Dee Milliner and Chance Warmack as the only unsigned drafted rookies.


The Cardinals with a Major Win with Tyrann Mathieu


We had Tyrann Mathieu’s contract estimates up on Friday but because we were uncertain how accurate they were I decided not to write a post on the subject. With Mike Florio confirming our estimates I wanted to look a bit deeper into the deal and explain how this was a major win for the Arizona Cardinals.

Mathieu’s slot in the draft called for a contract with $662,500 paid in the form of a signing bonus, fully guaranteed. The Cardinals upped the potential guarantee of the contract but made the guarantees conditional, primarily on Mathieu’s ability to avoid suspension for drugs or any other NFL related incident. The guarantees come in the form of a $265,000 signing bonus, a series of roster bonuses, and some protected base salary.

In the NFL there are provisions for forfeitable salary that are essentially mandatory provided a player is suspended due to drug policy violations. When the player is suspended they will lose a prorated portion of their signing bonus allocated to that particular season as well as prorated portions of their offseason bonuses. For purposes of forfeitable salary the offseason bonuses are treated as signing bonuses despite their treatment on the salary cap.

This is where the big win comes in for Arizona. Not only did the Cardinals get Mathieu to not take the full signing bonus but they got him to agree to a roster bonus payment schedule where his bonuses are not paid until the following calendar year and are contingent upon being on the roster for 16 games. Even if he was to have an illegal hit that resulted in suspension that would seem to void his roster bonus for that season.

Two other troubled players in the recent past- Justin Blackmon of the Jaguars and Janoris Jenkins of the Rams- took on somewhat similar structured deals, however those players receive their roster bonuses before the start of the season. For forfeiture purposes those players will only lose (and in Blackmon’s case is going to lose) 4/17th of their roster bonus,  as if the bonus was prorated over the life of the deal. So if the player has a $1.7 million dollar roster bonus due in the 2nd year of a 3 year deal and its already earned for forfeiture purposes only $566,666 counts for the year in question with the player only giving up $133,333 of the bonus. The following chart illustrates the amount of money that Mathieu will give up if he is suspended for a 4 game drug violation under the three scenarios. Please note that these are my interpretations of the CBA and if there are any corrections please let me know.

Normal Slot

Normal Roster

Mathieu’s Roster

Year 1




Year 2




Year 3




Year 4




The normal slot has a higher forfeiture provision because all money is paid in year 1 and the player is also protected in the future. Once suspended the guarantees on future bonuses vanish making the player cuttable under both roster bonus options. Regardless this contract structure puts Mathieu at the potential to risk far more salary than he would have if he could have gotten better terms on the conditions of his roster bonus.

There are going to be some who argue that Mathieu got above slot on the contract as a reward if he stays clean. Last year Bryan Anger, selected in the same slot, received a contract worth $2.877 million. That would have worked out to be about $2.967 million in 2013 dollars. Mathieu has the potential to earn $3.052 million.

The problem with that belief is that all positional players (which ironically Anger is not) are eligible for the Proven Performance Escalator in year 4 which will bump the salary of the player in the final year of his contract to that of a RFA tendered player. The bump in salary is conditional upon playing either 35% of the snaps in 2 of 3 seasons or 35% of the cumulative total of snaps over 3 years. That salary increase takes into account not only your P5, but any roster, workout, or other bonuses or incentives, essentially rendering the 4th year bonus as worthless other than as a mechanism to be paid earlier or to get your release earlier in free agency. For the most part if a player cant earn the PPE, unless he is just a special teams phenom he will be released.

Over the first three years of his contract Mathieu will earn about $2.2 million while Anger would have earned just under $2.17 million. When you consider minimum salaries have increased by $15,000 over the Anger contract, Mathieu really is not being paid over slot. The only way that this is an over=slotted contract is if he has injury problems that prevent him from achieving that PPE.

So the reality is this is a major negotiating win for the Cardinals. They have the chance to avoid multiple payments if Mathieu is suspended rather than the standard proportionate recovery. Simply put if he does not stay clean he does not get paid. He gives up excessive amounts of salary and will void his future guarantees. There is limited upside in the deal and it gives him every financial incentive to not have any issues that result in a suspension for any period of time from the league.