Every Monday during the season we will take a look back at three players who are entering important stages of their contract that may have helped their stock in upcoming negotiations with their play on Sunday. In addition we will also look at one player signed in the offseason to a new contract that exceeded all expectations and provided exceptional value to his team.
Greg Hardy– With One year remaining on his rookie contract Hardy is ready to break the bank. I had rated Hardy as the 2nd best overall 43DE in the NFL in 2012, behind only Cameron Wake of the Miami Dolphins. Hardy absolutely overwhelmed the Giants on Sunday racking up 3 sacks and setting the tone for the defense all day. Provided the Panthers can afford him, and they had recently restructured a contract to perhaps get a deal done, Hardy has a great starting point for negotiations on his own team. The Panthers had given Charles Johnson a 6 year $76 million dollar contract with $32 million in full guarantees back in 2011. Distancing himself from Johnson gives him a tremendous base contract to work with. Games like his Sunday performance only stand to give him more leverage for getting a contract extension done sooner rather than later. With the future of Julius Pepper and, to a lesser extent, Mario Williams in doubt I think it’s important to get a deal done soon so the Panthers can sign Hardy and at least say to themselves he is not the highest paid in the NFL, even though he will be when those players are no longer active on their current contracts.
Santonio Holmes– Most people have written Holmes, a talented but often disgruntled receiver, off following a poor showing in 2011 followed by a foot injury in 2012 and questions about his determination to play in 2013. Due to his contract structure Holmes was forced to take a $3.5 million dollar paycut to remain on the Jets. Next year he is due to earn $9.5 million from the Jets and with just $2.5 million in dead money in his contract that makes this a contract year for Holmes. Holmes had a number of big catches, including the game winner, and averaged over 30 yards per reception. The Jets have a young QB finding his way in the NFL and if Holmes develops the chemistry with Geno Smith that he lacked with Mark Sanchez he becomes a hard player to just release. Even if he is released Holmes needed to use this season to prove that he can still be a high level player and command a $7+ million a year type contract, a number most would have said was crazy before the season. A few more games close to the one he had on Sunday and he’ll be able to stand on top of the WR2 market.
Doug Free– It is not often that we give credit to the guys on the line, especially ones like Free, who has had a rough time of it in Dallas, but Free yesterday really played a terrific game in Dallas. The Rams are a decent team with a number of pieces on defense that can pressure the QB and get into the backfield and stuff runs or knock down the QB. Watching the highlights from the game I was surprised at how good Free looked in sealing the right side for the run game and seemingly never letting anyone near his QB, including some big blocks on two TD passes. I waited until Pro Football Focus posted their evaluation since they watch every snap compared to my highlight reel watching and Free graded extremely high under their criteria. Free took a pay cut this year and has $3.5 million in salary coming his way in 2014 if he is on the roster in early March. Most never would have thought Free would see that money but games like this will see him keep that roster spot at that salary next season.
New Contract Player Of The Week
Ahmad Bradshaw– All offseason Bradshaw was like a forgotten player. He was cut by the Giants for salary cap purposes and then remained unemployed until June when the Colts took a flier on Bradshaw for just $2 million dollars. Bradshaw has always been productive when he is close to 100%, but health is always a concern and that may have scared some teams away. When injury to starting RB Vick Ballard opened up more touches the Colts instead turned to the trade table rather than trusting Bradshaw with more work. In return Bradshaw played like a man possessed running for 95 yards on just 19 carries against a defense that was considered elite while his new teammate could only muster 35 yards against the same defense. Bradshaw proved to be terrific value for the Colts on Sunday.
We’ve touched on the Dallas Cowboys and their cap woes many times and also on the reasons why RT Doug Free remains on the Cowboys, but since he is back in the news I just wanted to add some thoughts.
According to Mike Fisher the Cowboys are asking Free to take a salary reduction from $7 million to somewhere between $3.0 and $3.5 million. The number makes sense as it’s the same salary that is being received by fellow castoff Tyson Clabo, just recently signed by the Miami Dolphins. The question is would Free agree to take such a paycut?
Free’s contract is one of many that is a landmine for the Cowboys. If Free is cut his dead money charge is $10.02 million, exactly the same as if he was on the team. Considering the Cowboys need to replace him on the roster technically they will lose net cap space by a release. The team could defer $7 million in charges to 2014 by designating him a June 1 cut giving the Cowboys the room they need to function in 2013. While that sounds like a bad option for a team with a 2014 payroll that is going to be well over $145 million, the fact is that 2014 number already includes Free’s bloated salaries and was going to contain the $7 million of dead money barring a miracle anyway.
For all the grief I have given the Cowboys and their cap management I actually think their handling of the Free situation has been very well done. They allowed to let the market dictate a price for Free and by waiting have limited Free’s options if released. If Dallas would have approached Free earlier in the year the likely response would have been “why would I take a paycut”. Dallas was not in a great position to release him and Free could always have a chance of earning money elsewhere. For it to be worth Free’s time Dallas would have probably needed to meet in the middle, going for a $2 million dollar paycut. In essence Free is going to get paid extra money than he would earn on the market by agreeing to help the Cowboys salary cap.
Now Free’s options are less appealing. Teams have drafted tackles. Clabo just signed with Miami. Eric Winston is still floating around in free agency. This isn’t a scenario where Free can say “Ill just sign elsewhere rather than cutting you a break” anymore. $3 million is probably the most money Free can now get from anyone in the NFL. You may even be able to say that it’s a generous offer for Free to get this much money. So he is almost in a position where he is stuck to take the paycut because he has almost no leverage anymore.
From a cap perspective Dallas’ best option might be to hope he can turn things around and actually fully restructure both 2013 and 2014. If Dallas is willing to pay Free $3.5 million this year then they are willing to commit $13.54 million in cap dollars over the next two years to Free, made up of a $3.5 million salary and $3.020 million proration in 2013 and $7 million in dead money in 2014. If Free would be willing to take a $3.5 million salary in 2014 Dallas could save a few dollars in overall cap and maintain Frees spot on the roster. I have no idea if Free would agree to that but its worth considering. Dallas’ cap problems are always going to lead to deferrals of cap charges but Dallas may be able to do themselves some good to get their 2014 more manageable now.
What would I do? Free is so bad I would probably use the June 1 designation on him and sign Eric Winston who would probably play for the same amount of money. I see that as a 1 year upgrade and will result in the same cap charges as Free taking a paycut now and then being cut next season, which is the most likely scenario. The one thing that I would never do is add more prorated money to the contract under any circumstances. I don’t think the Cowboys will do that but with them you never know.
According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk the Dallas Cowboys are prepared to sign RT Eric Winston, arguably one of the top right tackles left on the market. Of course then that leaves the question as to what the cap strapped Cowboys do with current RT Doug Free. Free is set to count for $10.02 million against the 2013 salary cap but due to a prior restructure in 2012 will also count for $10.02 million in dead money if released. That leaves Dallas with a situation where they either need Free to accept a paycut to remain in Dallas or to designate him a June 1 cut.
Dallas currently has about $4.5 million in cap room which is enough to fit both Free and Winston on the team for the time being. The problem comes once July rolls around and the Cowboys need to sign their rookies and earmark funds for the season when the cap calculations expand to 53 active plus all other paid players. Marcus Spears will come off the books on June 2nd, freeing up an additional $1.7 million in cap space, but that will not be enough to cover the cap space needed for the season.
Designating Free a June 1 cut or simply waiting until June to release him would save the Cowboys $7 million in cap space in 2013. That $7 million would need to be accounted for in 2014. While on the surface that sounds like a bad thing for the Cowboys, considering Free does not factor into the teams long term plans anyway his 2014 $7 million dollar hit was going to hit the books in 2014 whether or not he remains in Dallas in 2013. Considering the Cowboys cap starved position over the next two years cutting Free now if probably the more prudent option rather than paying him a salary in 2013 that eats into the teams carryover, however limited it may be, making the navigation of 2014 that much more difficult. The one option Dallas can not consider is restructuring his contract to prorate more money and damage the future salary cap that much more.