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: Joe Staley
There are so many places you can go with this team. I think you can make a great argument that the 49’ers are the best run organization in the NFL. They do a terrific job of identifying talent, extending that talent early, and pushing contracts with incredibly team friendly terms regardless of the star power of the player. There are many valid arguments here, but I really like the contracts for Joe Staley and Anthony Davis, the bookend tackles on the offensive line.
Davis has the great contract filled with incentives that are there to motivate performance. There is plenty of space at the end of the contract to where they can restructure for cap relief without damaging their future options with him too badly. Staley was the great vision contract in that they extended him so early in his career that it helped drive the price way down at a time when Tackles were being paid huge sums of money. What pushed it over the top for me was the use of the uncapped season when it came to Staley’s extension.
The owners had opted out of the CBA in 2008 triggering a series of events that would lead to the 2010 season being an uncapped year. The importance of that event was not lost on the 49’ers who realized the uncapped year did not just effect 2010 but 2009 as well. Normally teams would use a small rule in the CBA regarding the treatment of incentives on a contract signed during the course of the year as a method to manipulate the salary cap and carry over unused cap space from one year to the next. Most teams did it (which is why the new rules concerning carryover was never a big deal despite the perception that it was a major change), but with 2010 set to be uncapped, unused 2009 cap space had nowhere to go.
Rather than letting it go to waste the 49’ers signed Staley (among many other cap manipulative moves from 2009 through 2011) to a reasonable extension with a catch- there would be no signing bonus attached to the contract. Instead the 49’ers front loaded the contract with two large roster bonuses, $11 million in 2009 and $5.6 million in 2010, allowing them to dump around 40% of the base contract value into the uncapped year timeframe.
Though Staley would face injuries in both 2009 and 2010 he was establishing himself as an upper echelon player and when the cap was to return the 49’ers would find themselves with one of the best bargains in the entire NFL. Staley’s contract contained provisions to jump up or down based on playing time plus had the requisite per game roster bonuses. With no prorated money none of that really matters since he can be cut at any time with no salary cap charge.
From 2012 to 2014 the highest cap charge the 49’ers will face, barring any incentives, is $3.4 million. As a point of reference that is less of a cap charge than 4th overall pick in the draft in his rookie season. From 2012 to 2015 he will only cost San Francisco $13.9 million in cap dollars. That is less than the 7th pick in the draft except with no future guarantees or dead money hanging over your head if the player fails. As far as non-rookie QB contracts go you will be hard pressed to find a more cap friendly contract than this one.
Worst Contract: Carlos Rogers
I had thought for a minute about Mario Manningham, but that was really more of a bad personnel decision plus they reworked his deal this year to bring the cap numbers down. Rogers, on the other hand, is like an outlier in a field of team friendly incentivized contracts. He sticks out like a sore thumb and is one of the rare misfires made by the current front office.
While San Francisco has often been creative with some contracts, such as by using unused cap room to lower future cap implications or placing heavy performance incentives into a contract’s base value, Rogers seemed to escape most of that creativity. Sure he has his share of incentive roster bonuses that total $250,000 per year, but he also has incentives designed to boost the maximum value of his contract. Normally one would expect the 49’ers to have milestones in place that devalue the contract rather than up it’s value.
Rogers received a $5 million dollar signing bonus plus a portion of guaranteed salary in 2013 provided he remained on the roster beyond a certain date. The contract was made slightly worse by the need to restructure mid season in order to create enough cap room to extend Navarro Bowman, leading to an additional $900,000 in prorated money plus the remaining portion of his incentivized roster bonuses. That pushed his dead money from $2.5 million to $2.989 million in 2014.
In some ways the 49ers were a victim of circumstance. Teams were overpaying for various corners in 2012 and that pushed Rogers to a salary level that wasn’t really applicable to him. That said, Rogers was 31 in the season of signing and not a in his mid 20s like many of the others who were overpaid. Perhaps the 49’ers read too much into all the interceptions in 2011, but some of the moves they made this offseason made people consider that they were ready to give up on Rogers. If that is the case, then the decision to extend and then restructure were both poor decisions by the team. Still, if this is as bad as it gets the team is in pretty good shape.
Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.