NFL Stock Up: Week 4


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.

Stock Up

DeMarco Murray– Something tells me he is going to be here every week as every week Murray seems to raise the bar for himself. Murray is by far the best running back in the NFL and just shredding defenses along the way. With the RB market more or less in disarray Murray has a big chance to stabilize it and maintain it over the next 5 years by reaching  for a $7-$8M a year contract.

Eddie Royal– Eddie Royal is putting together quite the nice little season in San Diego. He added two touchdowns and another 100 yards to his resume. In the last two years Royal has put up, by far, the best numbers since his rookie season back in 2008. As always its buyer beware with Royal, but he is one of the important pieces of the Chargers offense.

Brandon Flowers– A late pickup after the Chiefs decided they did not want him, Flowers had to settle for a one year contract with the Chargers in hopes of proving that he is worth a long term contract somewhere in 2015. Flowers has had a great year and is currently graded highest among corners by Pro Football Focus. His interception in the third quarter pretty much ended any hopes of a Jaguars comeback. He only allowed one receiving yard on the day.


New Contract Player Of The Week

JJ Watt– What a dominating performance by Watt who is doing everything in his power to make everyone forget how much he recently got paid by the Houston Texans. At this rate nobody is going to ever bring up his salary he has been so good. Watt was credited with a ridiculous 14 pressures and made life miserable on Bills overwhelmed QB EJ Manual. Watt’s play where he plucked the pass out of the air and returned it for a touchdown is a play only one man in the NFL can make. You wont see that duplicated this year.


Thoughts on Robert Quinn’s Contract Extension with the Rams

The numbers are now in for the Rams star Defensive End Robert Quinn and it’s a very interesting contract that I think benefits both sides. First let us go over the particulars of the contract. Quinn receives a signing bonus worth $4,776,774 to go along with a guaranteed base salary of $608,608 (prorated from a base rate of $646,646) and a guaranteed roster bonus in 2015 of $10,233,201.  That brings Quinn’s full guarantee to $15,618,583.  The reason for the small bonus and salary in 2014 is likely to maintain a near identical salary cap charge as the Rams are right up against the salary cap this year, though in general the Rams are not a team big on the signing bonus.

In 2015 Quinn has a base salary that will become fully guaranteed that is worth $5,555,555 (yes in case you were wondering the Rams made sure to get every palindrome reference possible in this contract). For all realistic purposes this is guaranteed. In 2016 and 2017 his base salaries are $7,777,777 and $6,161,616 and can become guaranteed if on the roster at the start of that League Year. There are also roster bonuses of $2,424,242 and $3,633,363 that will also be guaranteed. His cash salary in 2018 and 2019 is $11,444,412 and $12,932,332.


The contract is closer to what I believed JJ Watt would have signed with the Texans in that the player is probably undervalued in terms of production but the window is open for another mega-contract in a few years which comes with the shorter term extension. The guarantee package for Quinn is decent with the early vesting roster bonuses helping protect his salary. I think these are all benefits for the player. The Rams get Quinn essentially on their terms (minimal signing bonus, vesting guarantees, contract flexibility) and I think at a bargain price, all things considered.

In the following chart I compare the new money in Quinn’s contract to that received by other players who signed extensions this year. Those players are JJ Watt, Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman, and Joe Haden. Since Quinn’s contract is 4 years I just want to look at the 4 year values to compare apples to apples.  For players with two years remaining under contract, such as Quinn, I consider the first two years as year -1 and year 0 of the contract. Year 1 is when the extension kicks in. The colors represent the likelihood of earning the salary with a green essentially meaning it’s a virtual certainty, yellow meaning the player has to maintain a solid level of play, and red meaning the player will need to be at a high level to continue the contract.

Robert Quinn Salary

You can see the favorable structure, from the Rams perspective, of the deal with Quinn compared to some of the other players. Despite the higher annual value on the contract Quinn will trail all but Sherman in terms of new money made during the original contract years and in the first year of the contract. By year 2 Quinn will trail all of the newly signed cornerbacks in earnings, a trend that continues through year 3. By year 4 he will pull ahead of Sherman and barely ahead of Haden.


Because of the low signing bonus in the contract Id would consider Quinn’s earning potential to be less than the corners just based on contract structure. That does not mean he will not get there, but he will basically have each year of his contract tied solely to his performance on the field. Though the early vesting roster bonus is a nice addition for Quinn the Rams have already set a precedent through the release of Cortland Finnegan that the bonus will not be a barrier to release.

For the other pass rushers looking for new contracts Quinn’s deal is probably a major disappointment Once teams get past the annual value of the contract, there is not much there besides potential guarantees on a relatively short term extension. The contract by no means built on the Watt contract that way the cornerback contracts, which all shattered the existing market, built upon each other. More importantly it also did not advance the market beyond what already existed.

Why do I say that?  Lets look at this contract compared to the extension signed by Clay Matthews in 2013 (he had one year remaining) and new contract signed by Charles Johnson in 2011. Both were signed at a time when the salary cap was significantly lower and neither as productive as Quinn.

Quinn Pass Rushers 2

Granted these players had varying degrees of leverage (Quinn by far had the least), but the effective impact is that his contract is not all that different than what already existed in the NFL. I do think that brings up the major question of if it is truly beneficial for the player to be looking for a contract extension so quickly when the team holds all the leverage. That was another point I discussed in the Watt contract that a player is going to give a discount in these spots, the question is just how much. Johnson gave up none because he was going to be a free agent. Matthews had one year left. Quinn had two.

Matthews does have $500,000 per year tied to games active which Quinn does not which does make Quinn’s contract structure more player friendly, but overall Matthews seemed to get the stronger and more secure contract. It just does not have the upside value, if all things are equal and the players continue to be strong. I have to think if Quinn gets through the 15 remaining games his contract would have shattered the Matthews one.


I’d say that this also sends the message to the other rushers (and rookie contract guys too) that the Watt contract may be looked at as an aberration. The Texans did not do much to utilize their leverage in that case and seemed to give in on a number of key parameters. Maybe that did not do as much to change the market as I had thought.

The Rams were likely not coming close to the Mario Williams/Watt numbers which is probably what helped lead to this contract.  It’s the same approach I thought would happen in Houston where the compromise would be a high valued contract but for a shorter term. In that respect this is a very good contract for the player. Johnson and Matthews do give up years of free agency for those big initial cash flows. Quinn does not and if he maintains exceptional levels of play he will cash in again and likely get close to Watts numbers over the same time period, especially if the salary cap keeps inflating. The other two are stuck at figures agreed upon years before.

For that reason I’d classify the contract as a good deal for both sides, but by no means is this a game changer. It’s really just opening a door for large cash flows on the front end of a short term contract rather than forcing a player into a longer term deal, which backend years are rarely seen from a practical perspective but could hinder a player if he maintains high levels of play for his career.


Initial Thoughts on JJ Watt’s $100 Million Contract

According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle JJ Watt has signed a six year contract extension worth $100 million that will make him the highest paid defensive player in the NFL. The contract would contain $51 million in guaranteed money.

The first thing that jumps out to me  are the numbers in the contract and the similarity to Mario Williams of the Buffalo Bills. Williams had signed a six year contract worth $96 million with the Bills a few years ago that had been considered an outlier for a number of reasons. The maximum value of that contract was $100 million and the total guarantee on that contract right around $50 milion (the real guarantee was $24.9 million).

So my assumption here is that they matched the contract of Williams except the incentives are a part of the base contract value. Williams’ cash flows over the first three contract years were $25 million, $15 million, and $13 million. I would imagine that those will be the baseline numbers used for Watt.

Because Watt has two remaining years under contract, techincially the new extension money does not start until 2016. When we calculate his year one cash total what we need to do is add up all his salary from 2014 through 2016 and subtract his original 2014 and 2015 salaries from the contract. Per McClain Watt will earn $20,876,385 in 2014 and 2015. That means his new money in that period is $12 million. Id anticipate his 2016 cash salary will be $13 million or slightly higher.


I’ll be very interested to see the cash flows and guarantee structure of the full contract. If the only bonus in his contract is the $10 million signing bonus that leaves very little salary cap protection for Watt. Williams received $25 million in prorated money. The fact that this is a 8 year contract for cap purposes it makes the last three years of the contract completely “pay as you go” and essentially worthless years unless there is some unique structure involved. Houston usually has per game active roster bonuses in their contracts so Id imagine this is a major part of the contract as well.

When I had looked at Watt a few weeks ago I thought he would have opted for a shorter term contract with less money, but strong cash flows up front to improve his odds of a second go around with free agency. This contract now ties him up until 2021 if he continues to perform well.


Regardless, this contract now sets the market for the young pass rusher in the NFL. There is no question that this is a valid contract, unlike the Williams one, and this represents about a 26% increase over the annual value of Clay Matthews’ contract. For Robert Quinn, Muhammad Wilkerson, Greg Hardy, etc…this contract is great news because their pay was going to hinge on what Watt could negotiate with the Texans.

From Houston’s end the timing was right if they were to sign a mega deal. At the moment they have no big name or money QB on the horizon. The team is clearly transitioning away from Andre Johnson as the face of the franchise and it was important to lock Watt up as the new face. From their perspective they could have had Watt for the next three years for around $23 million and dealt with three years of questions about commiting to him long term and potential holdouts. They will likely spend an extra $11-$13 million over the three year period for peace of mind and favorable salary cap terms.

When I get the full contract details I’ll update his page accordingly and try to do a side by side with Williams’ contract.


Projecting a Contract for JJ Watt


The other day there was some discussion on Twitter about Texans’ Defensive End JJ Watt receiving a contract extension worth in the ballpark of $23 million a season. That number seems crazy, so I figured I may as well jump in and take a look at Watt and where he might stand in the market and the type of contract I think he could receive.

The Player

Watt is a unique talent in part because of the position he plays on the field. In general most defenses that employ a 34 front do not have defensive ends that generate a great deal of pressure on passing downs. For the most part the 34 DE is responsible for occupying blockers, eating up space and allowing the linebackers make plays on the football. Much like defensive tackles, the 34 defensive end is not a position that gets noticed that often as their contributions go well beyond the stat sheets.

But Watt is different. He has the prototypical size of the defensive end in the 34 front, but he gets to the QB, and he gets there often. He is very disruptive and makes plays in the running game behind the line of scrimmage.  His ability to bat down passes is actually a topic of conversation among coaches and the media alike. He would seem to be a one of a kind defensive player.

The Stats

When we look at where Watt ranks I think there are a few categories we need to examine, because all are relevant to his eventual contract. The first thing I think that is worth looking at is his performance among 34 defensive ends.

Let use some of the numbers provided by Pro Football Focus for players with over 50% snaps.  Over the last three seasons the average 34 DE converts 1.2% of his rush attempts to a sack and 8.2% to a pressure. Here are the top 10 seasons over that time frame in terms of pressure conversion.

J.J. Watt20132.1%16.4%
Cameron Jordan20132.7%14.5%
J.J. Watt20123.7%13.2%
Kyle Williams20132.4%12.9%
Justin Smith20131.5%12.1%
Mike Daniels20132.1%11.7%
Justin Smith20111.2%11.7%
Antonio Smith20131.9%11.2%
Calais Campbell20131.8%11.1%
Antonio Smith20111.5%10.9%

There are a few interesting takeaways from this. One is that Watt has been the most consistent player and is about two times as productive as the average player at the position. But as we look more at this list two things jump out at me. One is that his teammate, Antonio Smith, has two of the top seasons as well on this list. Smith is a very good player, but it may indicate that Watt is being given opportunities in the Texans defense to attack the passer that is not common to other teams. The other thing I notice is that out of these top 10 seasons, 7 came in 2013.


In general we are now getting a greater number of players who are playing over 50% of the snaps and maybe more of these players are getting the green light to “go get the QB”.  Maybe we should call this the “Watt effect” as the Texans defense has shown an ability to be more aggressive up front from the end position. Looking further at the group of data for the last three years, the position has grown from just 13 qualifiers in 2011 to 21 in 2013. 62% of the 2013 players produced a better than average season compared to 47% and 38% the year before. The position is getting more productive and efficient at rushing the passer. That is something that may make Watt less unique than he was in 2012.

If we expand our list to include all pass rushers from the outside (34 outside linebackers and 43 defensive ends), the numbers change. The average pressure now jumps to 10.6%. The average sack rate is 1.8%. What is our top 10 when we expand the field?

Jerry Hughes20133.6%19.3%
Elvis Dumervil20133.1%19.1%
Robert Quinn20134.0%19.1%
Aldon Smith20114.5%19.0%
Trent Cole20113.1%18.9%
Cameron Wake20132.5%17.9%
Justin Houston20133.0%17.8%
Chris Long20112.7%17.2%
Michael Bennett20132.4%17.2%
James Harrison20113.4%17.0%

There is no JJ Watt in this group. His best season ranks 13th. His second best season ranks 44th. That does not mean we can not use this positional group as comparison points, especially when we start looking at consistency, but it makes it more difficult to value Watt as a once in a generation player, which is something most seem to be doing.

Of course there is another aspect to the NFL and that is run defense. PFF tracks a stat called stops, in which they determine a tackle that constitutes a loss for the offense. Here are the top 10 seasons in that category since 2011.

J.J. Watt201217.1%
J.J. Watt201313.7%
Cedric Thornton201312.4%
Justin Smith201211.8%
Akiem Hicks201311.4%
Muhammad Wilkerson201210.9%
Tyson Jackson201110.6%
Calais Campbell201210.4%
J.J. Watt201110.2%
Kenyon Coleman201110.1%

This is a dominant showing by Watt, holding not just the top two spots, but three of the top 10 seasons outright. The only other players to appear on both lists are Calais Campbell and Justin Smith, neither of whom did it when their pass rushing was also top 10 in the same year. The average 34DE generates a stop on 7.2% of his snaps, so again he is probably close to double the average. This is once in a generation type of performance.

If we expand this list to the overall rusher market, Watt is still going to rank on top. This is essentially a dominant category for 34DE’s. The only non 34 ends in that top 10 are Anthony Spencer in 2012 (11.7%), Frostee Rucker in 2011 (11.6%), and Terrell Suggs in 2013 (11.3%).

There are some other stats that people can point to, but in general I don’t believe they would drive the price that much. His batted passes was pretty crazy in 2012 (PFF credited him with 15), but he’s had 10 total in his other two seasons, so I wouldn’t put that much stock in it.

Setting the Market

The gold standard for defensive players is Mario Williams’ $16 million per year bloated contract with the Buffalo Bills. Williams is a player that most very good players can match up with statistically, but this is one of those contracts that most consider an outlier. The contract itself is a byproduct of the Bills lack of success, desperation to be relevant, and general unappealing location. Still that will be the high end mark of probably any contract.

Here are the list of the relevant multi year contracts to the discussion on Watts as well as the two year average performance leading up to the new contract.

PlayerYear SignedAPYFull GuaranteeSack %Pressure %Stop %
Mario Williams2012$16,000,000$24,900,0003.3%16.1%2.6%
Clay Matthews2013$13,200,000$13,200,0002.6%14.2%6.7%
Charles Johnson2011$12,666,667$32,000,0002.3%14.8%7.0%
Trent Cole2012$12,131,250$14,500,0002.6%14.5%8.8%
Chris Long2012$12,050,000$23,550,0002.1%15.6%3.5%
Tamba Hali2011$11,500,000$11,500,0002.7%12.9%3.9%
Calais Campbell2012$11,000,000$17,000,0001.6%8.4%8.7%
Michael Johnson2014$8,750,000$16,000,0001.8%11.0%7.0%
Everson Griffen2014$8,500,000$19,800,0001.7%11.6%6.8%
Cameron Wake2012$8,300,000$17,000,0002.7%15.6%6.7%
Paul Kruger2013$8,100,000$13,000,0002.7%13.1%5.7%
JJ Watt???2.9%14.8%15.4%

Setting the Price

There are a few reasonable comparisons here. In terms of pass rush productivity, Watt ranks similar to Charles Johnson and Trent Cole, while being slightly less productive than Cameron Wake and Chris Long. Those names should immediately give us our minimum values for Watt. Wake, who was a bit older than some of the others, signed a lower contract in Miami and is the only player with high level production who failed to break the $12 million mark, which is clearly our low end of the marketplace for Watt.

From there Watt is going to have to point to a few factors to try to drive the price up. One is that his sack conversion rate is very high. A sack is always going to be more valuable than a pressure and teams put a premium on that. That said his 2012 season is the major factor in his ranking and each year that he produces in the 10-12 sack category will makes teams less likely to put the premium on the sack. In that respect he needs a strong sack year in 2014 if he can not reach an extension now.

Secondly it is clear how important he is to the run game. The 15.4% really stands out among this group, but again 34DE’s are expected to do well in this regard (he’s still a phenom) and run defense is not really a big barometer of salary. You can find a number of very good run defenders who were basically brought in to play on the veteran’s minimum. Others known more for run than pass play are pretty much earning in the ballpark of $5 million a season.

Another factor is that Watt is a proven full game player. Some of these other players were not. Watt more or less plays every snap of the game such that no salary is needed for a backup. He’s like Jared Allen in that regard in that he never takes a play off. Players who, when healthy, were top snap guys that are on the above list were Williams, Hali, Campbell, and M.  Johnson. Most of the others played often but more along the lines of 80-85% rather than in the 90’s.

The most recent relevant example that Watt should point to is Matthews. Matthews’ contract is very recent to the market and represents the worth of a cornerstone defender to his franchise. Matthews was also under contract at the time of signing and the Packers had similar leverage with the franchise tag that the Texans will have with Watt. Watt compares favorably to Matthews as a pass rusher, and using these numbers, in the realm of 4-11% better. If we split the range it brings us to around $14.2 million a season.  That’s probably a fair number to work from.

Going from there it’s really justifying additional money for being a pure full time player and an exceptional run defender. It might be realistic to get a team to throw you an additional $1-2 million for that aspect of the game, though many teams may just consider it a waste of resources since the NFL is a passing league. My feeling is a team would max out around $15.5 million unless they threw some backend money on the contract to equal the Williams annual value.

Negotiating with the Texans

Watt will likely have to take a discount if he signs an extension this season. Right now the Texans essentially control Watt’s rights for the next three seasons at a price tag somewhere around $23 million, depending on the cost of the franchise tag in 2016. The 2016 figure is not protected for injury, so at this point the guarantee is just $8.87 million.

If we value Watt’s extension at $15 million a year and assume a virtually guaranteed total of $40 million, that means he is essentially absorbing a minimum of a $54 million injury risk(the cost of the 16 franchise tag plus $40 million protected in the extension) by playing the next two seasons. If he has to play year 3 on the tag then it’s a $40 million risk. For Houston to absorb the risk they need to receive something in return.

Besides the injury risk, Watt also takes on a skill risk. As we discussed earlier the team was proving to be a good pass rushing team from non-traditional spots under their old coaching staff. Does that continue with the new staff?  How well does Jadeveon Clowney play in the defense?  His emergence could make Watt expendable if the cost gets too high, the way others made Williams expendable in Houston.

Another important aspect to signing now is opening up the path to future earnings. If Watt were to sign an extension this year it would likely be a 4 year deal, running through 2019. That would leave him open to a new contract at 30/31, an age where he could still be very productive.  If he is forced to play out the next three seasons he would probably have to sign a pure five year deal, leaving him 33 years old when he hits free agency again. He won’t get much at that age.

What I would do to come up with a fair price for the Texans is to estimate the likelihood of serious injury or skill declines to discount the amount that the team is guaranteeing Watt by extending him now. A study last season by Jenny Vrentas of MMQB indicated that there is around a 3% ACL tear rate in the NFL, which is usually regarded as the worst possible injury. Beyond that we could probably assume a 1%-2% probability that he suffers a different type of serious injury or would see his skills materially decline at the age of 25/26 as he completes his contract.

If we discount that $40 million guarantee at a 4% rate back from the 2016 season into the 2014 season, we would reduce his salary by about $3 million.  This type of guarantee is usually equal to the new money in the first two years of the contract. The remaining seasons would not be changed due to signing early as there was never any protection in those years to begin with. That would bring the fair contract value, in 2014, down to about $14.4 million a season. Each year that Watt survives the season without injury and performs well will increase the cost of his contract since he has less to gain by signing early.  There are a few ways to play with the numbers based on franchise tags, cap inflation, positional value inflation, etc…, but $14.4 million seems like a pretty reasonable baseline number.

In terms of cash flows I would look at the structure of the Matthews and Williams contract as a guideline. Both are reasonable expectations unlike Johnsons which is very top heavy and Long’s which is an even spread. I’d try to push for the four year extension rather than a five year extension. If the Texans insisted on five years then I think the final season should be tied to the franchise tag that year. There is so much uncertainty in the NFL that you would not want to commit to 2020 without seeing what the 2015 salary cap is. It would give the team a benefit they should not receive. That being said, the four year contract is one most likely only available in the 2014 season and that in 2015 the length will be five years.

Here is what I would think is a reasonable set up for the contract:

BonusP5PG RosterCashCap Dead

This works out to a four year contract worth $57.6 million. The first year new money take is $24,150,000 and the full guarantee about $26.12 million with another $6.4 million protected for injury. He’ll receive a $15 million signing bonus, which is pretty much the maximum that the team can add to the salary cap without removing Andre Johnson from the roster. While his cap charge is high in 2015, the Texans salary cap is in much better health. If you went to a five year contract I’d expect the guarantee to be higher  (around the $40 million discussed above) and cash numbers slightly higher on the front end as well.

Of course it will be interesting to see what happens in reality with Watt, but this is the ballpark I would think we would be looking at right now. I think his value could both rise or fall depending on how the year plays out. The closer he gets to free agency the closer he can get to the $16 million Williams number, especially if the salary cap keeps increasing at a rapid pace.

I would think both sides should consider a deal this season. Houston is going through a remake of the roster and I think this move would ensure Watt is the face of the franchise and be good for PR in the event things with Johnson continue to get ugly. The cost itself is relatively reasonable and the team will have the ability to walk away via trade or release if they want to move on as early as 2017.

Watt will earn around $10 million more than if he was forced to play the franchise tag game and at least have some added security. Houston has been known to restructure contracts for cap relief and all he needs is a restructure in 2017, which we have kind of made a decision year based on his cap charge, to more or less lock in his cash for 2018.  Plus he gets free agency in 2020 with this deal rather than 2021. So I think its relatively fair for both sides and within the market as constructed and Watt’s contributions and performance thus far in his career.