Details on Slauson and Jennings Contracts with Bears


Both contracts are a bit unique in that they contain roster bonuses rather than signing bonuses, however in both cases a portion of the roster bonus if fully guaranteed, which allows it to be prorated over the life of the contract just like a signing bonus. What this does, however, is limit the teams’ ability to ever recover money through a forfeiture. In both cases the players entire roster bonus is guaranteed for injury, but with no games to be played between the signing of the contract and the due date I would say its unlikely that such a clause matters.

Jennings contract is worth $22.8 million of which $11.8 million will be fully guaranteed by the 3rd day of the 2014 League year. That is a great deal for Jennings who will be 31 years old in 2014. His annual value of $5.6 million and 52.7% fully guaranteed essentially upon signing blows away the second tier deals signed last season by Sean Smith ($5.5M per year, 45.2% guaranteed) and Kyle Arrington ($4M per year, 46.9% guaranteed). Perhaps this might indicate an expected upswing in salaries for cornerbacks in 2014.

Jennings will carry cap charges of $5.25 million per year for the next two seasons and then $5.75 and $6.1 million in the final two seasons. With minimal dead money in the contract this will work out to be a two year, $12 million deal.

Slauson will earn $3.2 million a year with $3.9 million essentially guaranteed upon signing. The additional $1 million guaranteed being reported is simply an injury guarantee and is does not vest on a given date. Slauson’s deal could wind up being a one year contract worth $4 million as the team would save $2.015 million in cap room in 2015 if they decided to release him.

Slauson’s cap chargers will be $2.75M, $3.27M, $3.37M, and $3.42M over the life of the contract. $3.2 million is a pretty big raise for Slauson who will now be paid as a lower level starter, a pretty fair price for what he brings to the table. There are also small escalators at the backend of his contract.

The Bears have significantly cut down on their cap space through the five extensions they have doled out in the last week. Between Jay Cutler, Slauson, Jennings, Robbie Gould, and Tony Fiammetta they have used up $33,827,500 in cap room for 2014. Cutler’s deal is certainly open to immediate restructure, but as things now stand the Bears salary for 2014 should be around $114 million giving them around $13 million in expected cap space to use on 20 players to bring the roster from 33 to 53 players.

If the intention is to leave Cutler’s deal alone that it should be a given that Julius Peppers will be released as soon as the NFL allows it, which would free up an additional $9.817 million in cap space. It may also indicate that Chicago is open to extending WR Brandon Marshall who has a cap charge of $9.3 million and is in the final year of his contract. Bringing his cap number down along with the release of Peppers would give the Bears some additional space to use this offseason.

View Matt Slauson’s Contract and Salary Cap Page

View Tim Jennings Contract and Salary Cap Page




Jay Cutler Gets Paid: Thoughts on the Bears Big Moves


The Chicago Bears were a busy team today re-signing starting QB Jay Cutler, G Matt Slauson, and CB Tim Jennings. With the exception of the Oakland Raiders the Bears had the smallest committed roster in the NFL in 2014 with 28 unrestricted free agents as of two weeks ago. The Bears have now reduced that number to 23 following the singings of these three players to follow up the extensions of K Robbie Gould and FB Tony Fiammetta towards the end of the season.

The reason I would assume that these three signings took place this week instead of last week was the lack of 2013 salary cap space that the Bears had. Prior to the Gould and Fiammetta signings, Chicago only had $1.7 million in cap room. Any contracts signed prior to the end of the regular season that contained signing bonuses would see the bonuses prorate in 2013, which the Bears would not have had room to use. While option bonuses could have been used for 2014 those do not give the team the same protection when it comes to forfeiture clauses.

The rapid extension of Cutler was a bit surprising. Most, myself included, assumed they would have franchised Cutler and potentially shopped him to the highest bidder. To me Cutler is a tough player to judge. He has a tremendous arm but that arm has not translated into wins or statistics, but he has been compromised by a poor performing offensive line and terrible receiving corps. until this season.

Terms of the deal are unknown but his teammate Brandon Marshall seemed to indicate it was 7 years for $18 million a season and it was also reported that he would earn $54 million in the first three years of the contract. Those numbers are essentially identical to the numbers of Tony Romo’s contract with Dallas which was a 6 year, $18 million a year extension with $54 million in the first three years.

That seems like an incredibly steep price for Cutler who has not played 16 games since 2009. He has failed to throw for more than 3300 yards since the 2009 season, though his 238 yards per game in 2013 was his highest total since 2008. By contrast Romo’s lowest total was 255 yards a game, which happened this season. There are better statistical measures to compare the two which can at least paint Cutler in a better light if he threw the ball more often, which I would guess is something that the Bears believe he can do with Marc Trestman as head coach. If you want a comparison of Cutler with Romo prior to this year you can do so by checking out this link to an earlier article I wrote.

I have to assume because of the injury history that a significant amount of money in this contract is tied to being active on gameday. Aaron Rodgers, the highest paid QB in the NFL, has such bonuses in his deal. The length of the deal is likely an indication of two things. One is that significant money is tied in the final two years of the contract and the second is that there will be possible bonuses paid out in year 2 and 3 of the contract that can be prorated for cap relief.

Like the Romo contract its probably best for the Bears, who were going to enter the year with about $36 million in cap space, to simply have base salary in those years and consider prorating it later on once they determine how much cap room is truly needed in 2015 and 2016. Provided that the salary is not fully guaranteed upon signing that can also provide some relief if Cutler does not develop  as expected or is injured and you want to negotiate the price tag down.  That also helps in trade talks in the event another QB emerges from nowhere to take a job when someone is injured.

Romo’s contract contains $54 million over the first three years but then just $14 million in year 4 to bring his 4 year total to $17 million season before the salaries rise again in the 5th and 6th seasons of the contract, two years that he will likely never see. I have to think the cash flows for Cutler would be very similar with a year 4 number that is very affordable and drags the 4 year annual value down to Romo’s level or below. Considering his is 7 years I would also think that the 5 year annual value could be $17 million or less as he should be earning less than Romo and perhaps that was the compromise the two sides reached.

Cutler’s contract also illustrates the lack of NFL talent at the QB position in the NFL and how the CBA has re-shuffled money so poorly to the QB that even questionable QB’s that have talent and a pedigree will be rewarded. This contract has to make Alex Smith, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Phillip Rivers very happy as they prepare for potential extensions in the next two years. Teams realize if they don’t have a high draft pick the odds of finding a championship caliber QB are almost nil so its best to stick with what you have if your QB has a pulse.

Free agency for the QB position is non-existent. With Cutler gone from the market the next best available player will likely be Matt Schaub who should be released by the Texans. Given the lack of options even coming off a terrible season it may help him get a modest salary. Beyond Schaub is Matt Cassel, who can void the remaining year of his contract in February, and the pure free agents of the always injured Mike Vick and Jaguars starter Chad Henne. Its an awful marketplace.

The re-signing of Slauson and Jennings is a solid move for the team. Slauson was an underrated guard of the Jets who fell out of favor with Rex Ryan and the front office for reasons unbeknownst to me. He is a tough player who helped solidify what had been a terrible line for Chicago. He played for about $820,000 in 2013 and had another $585,000 in available incentives but his goal was to play for a home and he has now found one. Slauson will just be 28 years old next season so Chicago should have him for the prime of his career.

Jennings is a quality veteran cornerback that has been productive in the Bears defense. He made the Pro Bowl in 2012 and is a player capable of creating interceptions which is always a trait teams pay for. There is always the possibility of a cornerback playing Safety on the backend of the contract making a four year contract a solid investment.

The next question for Chicago may be what to do with QB Josh McCown who excelled against an easy schedule in the offense this season. Given Cutler’s injury history it would seem smart to keep McCown who should be one of the more sought after backup QB’s on the market despite being 35 next season. The Bears can’t sign to a new contract worth more than the minimum until March due to his playing on a minimum salary benefit qualifying contract but they could agree in principle on a new contract and then wait until the start of the new League Year to execute the deal. He’ll likely be able to push for a Kyle Orton style contract worth in the $3 million a year range.

Chicago still has a number of free agents to decide on as well as a possible extension  for WR Brandon Marshall, who is entering the final year of his contract. The Bears should also negotiate with DE Julius Peppers to see how open he is to a pay reduction. Peppers is slated to earn $14 million in 2014 with a cap figure of $18.183 million. Releasing Peppers frees up $9.8 million in cap room. If he were to agree to a salary of about $6 million the cap hit for Peppers should be about equal to what it would cost to release him and sign a replacement player worth $2 million to take his spot. Considering he could have upside that is a price that may be worth considering.




Pay Cut or Be Cut: The Reality of August Football


August can be a very trying month for many mid-tier veteran football players. While many people assume that making it past March is a sign that a player is likely to make a team all it means is that the player makes it through round 1 of the process. If you are lucky enough to have offseason bonus money in your contract at least you earned something for the year. If you don’t have bonus money in your contract you may be worse off than you would be by being released in March.

The middle rung of the NFL roster is unfortunately the group that constantly gets the short end of the stick when it comes to financials. Teams scramble for any opportunity to create salary cap space and save a few dollars here and there. Rarely is the high priced player approached to sacrifice some money for the team. In most cases they are far too protected with base salary guarantees and dead money to even approach. So the attention turns to those mid tier players who will never be stars but are capable football players.

In the summertime teams get incredible leverage over the veteran players. It is one thing for a team to discuss the potential of their rookies or young signings and another to actually see them begin to practice. The NFL is a young man’s game and if the option is a low cost player with upside versus a moderate cost veteran with none, in many cases the low cost player is going to win out. Teams use that to their advantage.

Because the calendar has moved beyond June 1st the rules of contract acceleration change. A player who is released during training camp will only have their signing bonus proration for the current league year count towards the salary cap. The remainder of the bonus accelerates into the following season. This is different than a cut prior to June 1 in which all the money accelerates into the current league year.

This is an important valuation difference even though the total acceleration charge is the same. You have to realize that at this point in time cutting a player in August operates the same from a cap perspective as keeping a player all season and then cutting him in 2014. By cutting him today you save yourself the non-guaranteed portion of his base salary, thus increasing your current year’s salary cap space. Sure you have the dead money in 2014, but you were going to have that anyway. You may as well save some extra money now that you have some replacement parts in place.

Back in March maybe the cost under normal valuations is too high to cut a player who may contribute to the team.  You don’t know who you will draft nor do you know how the draft pick will work out. Now you see how a 3rd or 4th rounder has progressed and the mid tier player begins to become more vulnerable than ever. Teams still don’t really know in August but with more information they can be more confident in their approach.

What happens next is that players are asked to take paycuts. We saw that in Buffalo with Brad Smith who likely had no chance to make the team(had the Bills switched GM’s earlier he probably would have been cut in March) without taking a paycut. Smith could say no but consider his options at this point.

Smith now makes his in-season residence in Buffalo and you are asking him to pick up and go. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, training camp has begun. Teams are pretty focused on their rosters and while they will always look for upgrades you have to be realistic. Smith is two years removed from being a relevant player to a team. He is being cut by one of the worst teams in the NFL. Are teams going to be knocking at his door with a great paying gig?  No chance. At best he’ll get a minimum salary deal with some team and that is if he is lucky.

His best chance is to take whatever paycut the Bills offer and hope he can stand out in camp. After all, the Bills did think enough of him to at least give him the camp opportunity. They didn’t grab anyone in a major position to uproot his spot on the team. Someone may take it but if not Buffalo has shown an inclination to keep him.

This extends all the way down to players at the tail end of their rookie contracts. Most first contract players earn escalators in the 4th season that is the equivalent of the lowest cost RFA tender, which for this season is $1.323 million. Unfortunately the salary isn’t guaranteed so teams make the decision that the player either needs to give up his escalated salary and return it to the minimum or be cut. In some cases a player is lucky and if he has any leverage can grab some guarantees and maybe meet halfway in between.

Last season Jets starting LG Matt Slauson fell into this category. This was really the dark side of the NFL and the salary cap. Slauson’s salary jumped to just over $1.3 million due to playing time and workout participation. Rather than paying him this amount the Jets created a fictional competition in training camp between he and G Vlad Ducasse, with Rex Ryan praising the younger Ducasse and talking about how the job was wide open. The Jets knew Ducasse was not good so Slauson had some leverage, but still he had to take a $258,000 paycut to ensure he stayed a Jet. The day he signed his new contract Slauson was named starter.

While the numbers don’t seem like much this pay cut represented close to a 20% decrease in salary for Slauson. O’Brien Schofield, claimed this week by the Seahawks, took a 47% pay cut to get a chance to make Seattle’s roster. These are significant numbers. This would be the equivalent of Sidney Rice taking a $3.995 million dollar pay cut. Asking Rice to take the same number pay cut is only 8% of his salary for the year, but the name player is rarely asked and this low tier guys get the short end of the stick. It makes you wonder what point there even is to earning the escalator.

Unfortunately for the players they have almost no options. September is just around the corner. There is no time to sell your services to multiple teams and pick and choose what looks like a good spot. Those jobs are already filled.  There is only one answer most players can give to the question “Either you will take this pay cut or you will be cut”. It’s not fair, but expect to see more of this in the coming weeks.