Michael Thomas’ Contract Negotiations: How the Franchise Tag and Rookie Wage Scale are Garbage

Michael Thomas and the New Orleans Saints are about four million apart on average per year according to Jeff Duncan from NOLA.com. Thomas and his representation team led by Andrew Kessler of Athletes First are asking for $22 million per year, while the Saints are offering $18 million for the wide receiver going into his fourth season of a second round rookie contract that sees him set to earn just $1.15 million in salary this upcoming season.

Continue reading Michael Thomas’ Contract Negotiations: How the Franchise Tag and Rookie Wage Scale are Garbage »

Saints Restructure Drew Brees Contract

In the latest episode of the continuing comedy that is known as the Saints salary cap, the Saints have reworked the contract of quarterback Drew Brees according to ESPN’s Field Yates. The move defers $2.6 million in salary cap charges to 2016. The reason for the move is because New Orleans was near the salary cap limit this season and had more or less run out of space to make any moves to cover replacements for injured players.  The move leaves Brees with a $30 million cap hit in 2016 and a charge of $10 million if released or traded. Continue reading Saints Restructure Drew Brees Contract »

Saints Nightmare Continues

Following a brutal loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, the Saints season looks to have gotten even bleaker with an injury to starting QB Drew Brees.

I’ve written extensively on the Saints poor handling of their salary cap and how they are a team that has desperately tried to hang on to the past, but if Brees is to miss extensive time it should push the Saints towards the rebuilding effort they have avoided the last few years.  If Brees’ injury were to cause him to miss several weeks I think it would even be fair to ask if this is the last we have seen in aof Brees in a Saints uniform.

Continue reading Saints Nightmare Continues »

If the 2015 Saints falter, Drew Brees will be playing elsewhere in 2016

In August of 2007, you’d have had a hard time finding someone who thought Brett Favre would be starting for the Jets in 2008. In August of 2011, finding a predictor of the Peyton Manning-Broncos 2012 marriage would have been just as difficult a task. Today, you don’t hear many people placing Drew Brees in a non-Saints uniform in 2016. Yet take a closer look and you’ll find this scenario isn’t so far-fetched.

New Orleans’ cap problems have been an OverTheCap hot topic for a few years running. Jason even explained these issues to Peter King’s MMQB back in March: “they made a number of short-sighted contract decisions with veteran players to allow them to keep adding players to the team while just pushing cap charges into the future.” The Saints’ $155.7m cap dollars on the 2016 books is the second most of any team. Their $13.7m in 2016 dead money is more than twice as much as any other team. When it comes to poor cap situations, they’re in a league of their own Continue reading If the 2015 Saints falter, Drew Brees will be playing elsewhere in 2016 »

The Role of Age in the Success of the NFL QB


In keeping up with our theme of extending Quarterbacks I decided to look at the age of QB’s advancing deep into the playoffs, meaning at least an appearance in a conference championship game.  Why team success instead of stats?  Primarily because QB’s are paid at an extremely high rate since teams are equating playoff success with QB play.

We’ll begin by breaking the numbers down by decade.


The 70’s were certainly a different brand of football. The average age of a Super Bowl participant was 31.4. The next closest decade was just 30.3. All 10 seasons in the 70’s had at least 2 QB’s over 30 and 6 years saw at least one over the age of 35. In the 33 years that have followed, only 15 seasons had at least 2 QBs over 30 leading their team to a conference championship game and only 11 seasons with a QB over the age of 35.

Focusing on 1980 thru 2012, we can begin to see some trends that develop. The following graph represents the percentage of players appearing in the championship game sorted by age, with a best fit line trend line added to smooth the data. We can call this a Quarterbacks lifecycle.


This chart really should be a guideline for teams when identifying talent and extension possibilities for the QB position.  47% of participants in the Championship game were ages 26 thru 29. It’s 54.5% if we extend it to 30. Beyond 30 the numbers begin to crumble. 18.2% were between the ages of 31 and 34 and the 35 and over category is just 10.6%.  The numbers just affirm the saying that “it’s a young mans game”.

The consistent plus 31 group is from an older generation. Joe Montana and Steve Young led the way with 4 appearances while John Elway and Jim Kelly both had 3. The only players whose careers did not begin before 1990 that made the list multiple times were Tom Brady and Brett Favre, both of whom made it two times past the age of 30. The other post 90 QB’s to do it were Brad Johnson,  Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning, Jake Plummer, and Donovan McNabb.  Of the 7 Super Bowl winners (in which I included Phil Simms due to so many starts even though he was injured for the playoffs) only Johnson would be considered a modern era QB. Of the 14 who played in the Super Bowl a total of 4 are from the modern era (Manning, Brady, and Warner along with Johnson).  That doesn’t mean nobody is going to do it again but it’s a hard task, especially if high cap charges for the aging QB, not an issue in the 80’s and even partially in the 90’s, compromise your ability to field the best roster.

As we look around the NFL there are a number of contracts that defy logic just based on the age criteria. Perhaps there is no worse contract in the NFL than the contract given to Peyton Manning. Manning fell into an age group that had a 7.6% chance of making it to at least the title game and in each season the odds get progressively worse. On average he gives the Broncos a 1.5% chance of making it and for that makes $19.2 million a season. The Broncos are paying $12.672 million per percent, by far the highest in the NFL. The Patriots, who were praised to no end (myself included) for the contract extension given to Tom Brady, have the second highest effective spend in the NFL on the position. Brady’s contract may be more difficult to escape than Manning’s, though Brady has been far more successful in the postseason and is one of the most likely candidates to make it back again to the title games as this generations Montana or Elway. Tony Romo is the 3rd worst bargain in the NFL and with no track record at all he is a prayer player for the deep playoff run.

When you look at the rookie contracts it just reinforces why teams should be considering the draft rather than overextending aging talent. Cam Newton, coming in at 22, would have about a 4.8% chance per year at making it over the terms of his rookie deal. Luck, a year older, would be at 7.7%. They both cost around $5.5 million a year, about 3.5 times less than Manning, and with a significantly higher chance at making it deep into the playoffs.

By extending a player earlier in their lifecycle a team can gain tremendous upside and flexibility.  Consider the option of extending Newton when he turns 25. A 5 year extension makes Newton property of the Panthers until the age of 30.  That 6 year period is the peak of the lifecycle with a 10% chance per year of making it deep into the playoffs.  By extending early and rolling the 4th rookie year into the contract the effective cap values of the contract can be smoothed out and rather than just having one low cost year and a few high seasons the Panthers have the ability to have a cap affordable contract over the entire 6 year period using the extra funds to improve the quality of the team for the long term.  In the event a player does not work out or you end up in cap trouble you can escape the contract with minimal cap penalties or potentially extend briefly into the low 30’s.

A perfect illustration of this is the cap killing contract of Joe Flacco versus that of Aaron Rodgers. While the two are at different stages of their careers Rodgers effective cap value is only $18.68 million a year compared to Flacco’s $20.1 million. The Ravens will be forced to extend Flacco at huge money figures when he turns 31. The effective age at which the Ravens will be able to escape Flacco is likely going to be 36 unless he fails so badly that they absorb major cap penalties when he is 32 or 33. Rodgers can be let go after the season in which he will be 34. It’s the benefit of extending early.

The worst thing a team could do is franchise their young QB. All a tag does is delay the inevitable of a long term deal. In Newton’s case you would pay a huge sum of money to invoke their 5th year option when he will be 26. Most likely you will extend the next year keeping him until he is 31 and on a contract with far less flexibility than one in which he was extended at the age of 25.

As difficult as it is for a team to let go it almost seems foolish to chase the dream with the overpriced aging QB, no matter what the track record of the player may be. Brady has probably exceeded all expectations but he is under a contract until he is 40 and in essence the deal is fully guaranteed if he remains on the team through the 2014 season. Structuring deals like the Brees contract that nearly ensures 5 years under contract is insanity. Now 34, Brees is in the age group that shows little upside, let alone at $20 million a season.

In a perfect world teams should be extending their QB’s at the ages of 25 or 26 and setting up contracts with exit strategies in the early 30s. If you must extend in the 30s the contracts need to be of the Alex Smith variety- 3 years with a rapid escape plan after 1 year. Everyone considers it a foregone conclusion that Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger will be extended in the next year or two. They probably will be and at least they have the pedigree to be the next group of post 30 stars, but the teams would likely be better off, if the draft quality is good, to trade such a player for multiple first round picks that can be turned into 22 or 23 year old QB’s. If a team does not have the guts to do that kind of move then the next best option is to draft QB’s in the later rounds until you find the successor.  If those teams do plan on extending the earlier they do it the better off they will be when it comes to long term health. It’s far better to extend Eli at 32 than at 34 or 35 years old.

This now leads into a discussion of players currently under contract with potential  extensions on the horizon, the most interesting of which looks to be Matt Ryan. I’ve said multiple times that Ryan is the best young player in the NFL, but Ryan will actually be 28 this season. This is the peak of his career and the Falcons may let him play things out. Signing him at 29 to a 5 or 6 year deal makes much less sense than locking him up at 28, though that is a better option than tagging him and then signing him at 30. Ryan probably should have been extended last season with the Falcons having plenty of options later in his career to use him to rebuild or to hope he is one of the late career success guys.

Jay Cutler will turn 30 this year, his final with the Bears. The Bears best option with him is to let him play the year out, tag him, and try to trade him to a team like the Browns or Buccaneers who will likely bid high in desperation for a QB. Phillip Rivers still has a few years remaining on his contract but with almost  no dead money the next two years this is essentially a free agent year for him. He will be 32 in 2013 and the Chargers should be doing everything in their power to trade him and get younger and cheaper at the position.

The young guys are all strong candidates if the play warrants it. Matt Stafford and Josh Freeman are only 25. I don’t think either has shown enough to be extended now though Stafford’s cap numbers may force the issue. Newton, Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick will all be eligible after this season for extensions. Their ages will be 25, 27, and 27 respectively, making Dalton and Kaepernick both very interesting decisions if they have decent seasons. They will be at that age where waiting is counterproductive once you have made the decision that the player will be your starter for the next few years. Better to make mistakes early in the lifecycle than later in it, which should push teams to extend players like this even if some questions persist.

The following table lists the veterans in the NFL and what their effective cap charges are over the entire terms of their contracts. $/percent represents the dollar figure paid for the chance to get to the Championship round. The more expensive the worse the deal is in terms of cap management.



A Fair Value for QB Aaron Rodgers


With Aaron Rodgers supposedly deep in contract negotiations I thought it might be worth looking at what he should expect to make. I don’t want to bother going into statistics or anything like that. (If you want to read my piece on statistical measures to assign contract values you can click to it here). I just want to look at the marketplace and some trends and see where we go from here.

I think most people will agree that Rodgers is the best player in the game right now. He has the one Super Bowl win. He has the prolific passing numbers. The Packers are a great regular season team. When it comes to comparables for a contract the two players I want to look at are Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Rodgers does not have the pedigree Manning had, with Manning being considered one of the all time great draft prospects and pretty much coming out of the gate firing. Rodgers sat for a few years behind Brett Favre before getting his opportunity and making the people of Green Bay forget about Favre. It took Brees some time as well to get going, though he had chances he just was not an exceptional player until late in his Charger run and then took it to another level when he hooked up with Sean Payton in New Orleans.

I want to try to find some trends with contracts when coming up with a fair market price for Rodgers. In my mind Joe Flacco should be looked at similarly to Ben Roethlisberger.  Roethlisberger signed an extension back in 2008 that was worth around $14.6 million a year in new money. It represented around a 5% increase in what Manning had earned per year in his $98 million dollar contract signed in 2004. Roethlisberger didn’t have the cache of Eli Manning, selected number 1 overall and with a famous last name, who would eventually go on to be the market setter at the position. Roethlisberger did have enough success, even when labeled as a perfect situation QB due to his franchise, to push the market at a young age. Though the market this year has been stagnant overall Flacco was able to push slightly past Brees and about 4.6% past Manning’s deal with the Denver Broncos.

With Flacco playing the Roethisberger role I want Rodgers to now take the position of either Manning or Brees. Manning’s  2011 contract represented an 18.3% raise over Roethlisbergers’ new money from 2008. Brees 2012 new deal was a 36% raise. That puts the APY for Rodgers between 23.7 and 27.3 million a season. Now I know that $27.3 million is unrealistic and looking at Flacco’s contract I tend to think that the Brees number is looked at as somewhat of an outlier. If we push Manning into the top slot at $19.2 million we come up with a high value of $25.1 million a season.

From the Packers point of view I think they will want to look at Flacco as Eli Manning in terms of a data point. Using Manning’s $16.25 million as the market setting base the Rodgers deal would then be $21.6 million at the low end and $23.7 million at the high end. Looking at those two sets of numbers I would say the logical “fair market value” is $23.7 million, representing the high end for the Packers and lowest acceptable level for Rodgers.

In some ways Rodgers bargaining would probably be helped if Matt Stafford or Matt Ryan had been able to accomplish what Flacco did. Since those players have a much higher pedigree I tend to think they would have made more than Flacco in a comparable situation. They would clearly be the Eli Manning. Flacco might be, but its definitely not clear that he is.

In fairness Rodgers is at a big disadvantage because he has two years remaining on his contract that the Packers can force him to honor, but he isn’t talking about holding out and I think Green Bay wants to get a fair deal done. I would think Rodgers rebuttal is that he is far younger than Manning was in 2011 and Brees in 2012 and you are paying for a player in his prime not coming out of it. It is also in the Packers best interest to make the move now to lessen the cap blows and possibility that the market does increase with Stafford and Ryan up for new deals soon, not to mention Eli and Ben in line for new contracts within the next 2 years.  It makes for a very tidy 4 year deal that gets Rodgers two important things- top of the market money now and a chance to be a free agent again at the age of 35, an age where top QBs are clearly going to still make massive amounts of money barring a market correction.

Remember that if the Packers agree to a $23.7 million dollar deal they will also roll into it the 2 remaining years at $20.75 million. From the Packers point of view a 4 year extension is going to technically be a 6 year contract for about $19.26 million, which for salary cap purposes helps them greatly. Given the Packers current cap situation they can pack away over $20 million in cap dollars on Rodgers without issue. He already counts for just under $10 million and using another $10 million is not an issue. For the Saints, who paid Brees $40 million in year 1 the cash to cap ratio was 3.85:1. For Flacco it will be 4.4:1. These are cap killers for a team in the future. The Packers can probably be close a 2:1 ratio which is extremely beneficial for long term planning.

So it just seems like a deal that should make sense to happen for both sides right around that $24 million a year mark. Both sides I think gain from making the move now rather than letting it hang out there and hang over the head of the team and the player. Rodgers gets his injury protection and a chance at one more payday down the line while the Packers get their guy on a relatively cap friendly contract.