Yesterday was decision day in the NFL on the use of the “May 9 tender” for all remaining unrestricted free agents. For those unfamiliar with this tender, which was commonly known as the June 1 tender, basically it is an offer that can be extended to a veteran free agent who has yet to sign a contract with a new team. When the offer is made the team maintains some level of control of the free agent as well as rights to a compensatory draft or blocking someone from gaining a comp pick by waiting to sign a free agent. Continue reading Patriots Tender RB LeGarrette Blount »
Over the summer we’ll be putting up our selections for the best and worst contract on each team. Our journey through the AFC East continues with the New England Patriots
The Patriots have a few contenders for this one that I thought deserved serious consideration. Tom Brady historically has had some very team friendly contracts, but I passed on him at this point because of his age and huge signing bonus commitment. Sebastian Vollmer has a pretty unique contract that puts a good deal of risk on the player and allows the Patriots to kind of control the upside. But the Gronkowski deal at this point I think stands out above all the others. Continue reading Best and Worst NFL Contracts 2016: New England Patriots »
Expected Contract Outcomes – Expected Contract Value 2.0 utilizes an algorithm based on a player’s contract characteristics, age, position and 2015 performance to forecast probabilities as to the outcomes of contract termination decisions. The lower the Expected Outcome, the more likely the player’s contract will be terminated in 2016. A pay cut is treated as a termination. We have applied ECV 2.0 to all contracts scheduled to count $2 million or more against the 2016 salary cap with the exception of exercised 5th year rookie options. Expected Savings is the calculated by multiplying the probability a player will be released by the cap savings realized by the team upon such release.
The Patriots are no stranger to surprising late summer roster moves and this year’s edition sees them moving long time Guard Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Tim Wright and a draft pick.
Mankins, our pick for worst contract on the Patriots over the last two seasons, signed a monster contract in 2011 that he had little chance to live up to. His contract remains the top valued contract among Guards and he is still a top five earner in cash salary, four years into the deal. He carried a $10.25 million cap charge in 2014 for the Patriots which was the 2nd highest in the NFL at the position this year.
Mankins still had $8 million in dead money remaining in his contract, but because this move was made after June 1 the Patriots will split that cost across two seasons. Mankins also earned a $250,000 workout bonus so his cap charge for the Patriots this year will be $4.25 million, a savings of $6.25 million. In 2015 he will count for $4 million against the cap.
Tampa Bay will assume Mankins remaining salaries in his contract. Those figures are $6.25 million in 2014 and $7 million in both 2015 and 2016. I did read in a few places the suggestion that Mankins could retire rather than accept the trade, but if that were to occur the Buccaneers would have the rights to try to recover the $8 million in signing bonus money left in his contract. This situation occured years ago when the Denver Broncos traded Jake Plummer to the Buccaneers and Plummer did not want to play in Tampa Bay.
I’d consider this a pretty classic salary dump. Nobody knows how long this trade was being discussed but since the Buccaneers brought in Richie Incgnito for a visit yesterday I would tend to think that may have gotten the Patriots thinking they found a team desperate enough to take Mankins off their hands. The money saved this year will improve their future salary cap position to help extend good players who were drafted in 2010 and 2011 and are up for extensions.
We move to the Final Four with a familiar pair of selections for the New England Patriots
Best Contract: Sebastian Vollmer
The choice for this came down to the contracts of Tom Brady and Sebastian Vollmer and I can easily understand why Brady would be considered a no brainer choice. Brady is grossly underpaid and has salary cap numbers that will allow the team to add talent (even another QB if needed) until he calls it quits. I had two reservations on the contract. One is the large guarantee that kicks in at the end of the 2014 season that locks him in through the 2017 season. The second is that I’m not sure if the Patriots organization should get the credit for the contract since Brady is simply cut from a different cloth when it comes to contracts. I think if there was an award for most team friendly player it would go to Brady.
Vollmer’s contract I think is an exceptional example of how to handle a good, but injury prone, player. Vollmer is a terrific player who should have earned in the $5 to $6 million a year range, but instead settled for a contract that came in just over $4 million a season. The contract was not that unlike some of the recent QB deals we have seen with a large number of incentives that could increase or decrease the price of the contract. These incentives are all high level playtime and/or Pro Bowl incentives that are not often accepted by many others in the league.
The contract structure has already paid big dividends for the Patriots. Vollmer missed out on $1 million of his base contract value when he failed to reach 80% of the snaps in the 2013 season. In fact in each season of the contract he will lose $1 million if he fails to hit the 80% threshold. In the 2015 and 2016 season he has $1 million in per game active roster bonuses in addition to the other $1 million in bonuses mentioned above.
If Vollmer stays healthy he can earn an extra $5.5 million on the remainder of his contract. While that may sound like a lot all it does is bring his contract value on par with a player like Michael Oher, the level at which Vollmer should have, at the least, been at before. Vollmer only received a $7 million signing bonus, making him an easy release in 2015 if the injuries continue or compromise his ability to play. This is just a strong contract for the team.
Worst Contract: Logan Mankins
Like last season my options here really came down to Logan Mankins and Danny Amendola. Amendola was a bad decision from the minute they signed they contract, but the size of the mistake is so much smaller that I again went with Mankins, even though Mankins is the better player.
Perhaps Mankins contract was the fault of the uncapped season as a number of teams unwisely used the franchise tags which seemed to compromise their ability to negotiate better long term contracts in the season. Looking back at the 2011 franchise players it’s a who’s who of bad contracts- Mankins, David Harris, Marcedes Lewis, Kamerion Wimbley, Chad Greenway, Ryan Kalil, Haloti Ngata and Chad Greenway- but that doesn’t change the fact that these teams made bad decisions in the first place when they used the tags before the CBA expired.
Mankins ended up being paid as the top interior lineman in the league at a time when he was not the best at his position. Usually the Patriots don’t give in with such players, but they did here. Mankins would receive $30.5 million in the first three years of the contracts, a total that was in a different stratosphere than Jahri Evans ($25.6M), Eric Steinbach ($23M), and Davin Joseph ($21.5M), other top compensated players at the position. The Patriots included a huge $20 million signing bonus that virtually guaranteed four years of the contract.
Mankins carries a $10.5 million cap charge this year, second highest among Guards in the NFL. It’s the 2nd of three straight seasons with a $10 million plus cap charge. There was nothing they could do with that number last year or this one. Next season they have more leverage but will still carry $4 million in dead cap if they need to move on. Not a great contract for the team by any stretch of the imagination.
2013’s Best and Worst Patriots Contracts:
2013 Best Contract: Sebastian Vollmer (See above)
2013 Worst Contract: Logan Mankins (See above)
Key Additions: Darrelle Revis ($16M per year), Brandon Browner ($5.05M), Brandon LaFell ($3M)
Key Re-Signings: Julian Edelman ($4.25M per year)
Key Losses: Aqib Talib (Broncos), Brandon Spikes (Bills), LaGarrette Blount (Steelers)
Major Cuts: Steve Gregory($2.85M cap savings),Isaac Sopoaga ($2.5M), Adrian Wilson($1.17M)
Free Agency Thoughts:
I think one definitely has to wonder what the Patriots free agent plans were had Darrelle Revis not been available. The Patriots had never been a team to commit big money and years to cornerbacks and with Aqib Talib’s injury history I’m not sure they would have gone there even though it would have left a gaping hole in the defense. With Revis willing to sign what was essentially a one year Franchise tender it was almost a no-brainer to sign Revis as there is no long term commitment being made. You can’t even compare Revis and Talib there is such a disparity. Still the team is pushing future cap dollars with the Revis move and eventual release in 2015.
Signing Brandon Browner was another solid move for the secondary. Though he will miss four games due to a suspension, Browner will cost the team at most about $3.46 million with no cost to release in the future. The risk of the contract really just comes in the playoffs. If Browner has another slip up and is banned from the playoffs the Patriots will have wasted their cap space regardless of how he plays in the regular season.
The team waited on their own free agents and that helped them get Julian Edelman at the bottom of the second tier WR salary market while adding Brandon Lafell at a moderate cost. Edelman will essentially earn the same as the Eagles Riley Cooper, but without the guaranteed salary, which was a win for the Patriots. In addition the Patriots reworked the contracts of DT’s Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly to keep both on the team in hopes that they can stay healthy in 2014.
Two of the Patriots cuts (Sopoaga and Wilson) highlight some of the poor personnel decisions the team has paid for in the past. Wilson was injured before the season began and the team took on guaranteed salary from Sopoaga last year in a trade and then could find no use for him. That being said these were low cost failures and no brainers to release.
Overall Grade: B
When you evaluate the Patriots you are evaluating a win now team that is doing everything they can to beat one opponent in the playoffs. While things always change in the NFL, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are the two constants. The AFC is so down that it is hard to imagine those two teams not meeting in the playoffs. Last year Manning ripped the Patriots defense to shreds so the team went out and drastically upgraded their coverage talent. While it would have been nice to see them add a better receiver, the way the team plays I am not sure that there would be value in adding that type of player. For what they run, the combination of Edelman and LaFell is a better use of resources than a DeSean Jackson or Eric Decker. All told the Patriots went into free agency without a ton of cap space and came back with two upgrades at cornerback without having to part ways with Wilfork or get into future cap headaches by restructuring the contract of Logan Mankins or Jerod Mayo.
This week it was reported that the New England Patriots met with QB Johnny Manziel and had scheduled some visits with other draft hopefuls at the QB position. The immediate reaction seemed to be that Patriots coach Bill Belichick was either scouting future opposition or trying to gauge the interest in the players so that he can negotiate a trade on draft day because there would be no need to draft a QB with Tom Brady on board. I’d like to take the opposite approach and see why, if the right player fell down the draft, it would make sense for the Patriots to consider the QB option.
While everyone recognizes Brady as one of the top two QB’s of his generation, he will be 37 in 2014. He is certainly still very productive but I think most people are beginning to see the decline in his play over the last two years. In 2013 he seemed to struggle with nagging injuries and that helped to lead, along with a decimated receiver corps, to what was arguably his worst full season since 2006. While his worst is still pretty good, the expectation at this stage of his career is to probably maintain his current production or slightly fall. If the nagging injuries become something worse there is no real answer sitting on the Patriots bench.
For the last three seasons New England has been in a position to basically cruise into the playoffs due to a poor division that has not seen another team post a winning record in that timeframe. In general the competition in the AFC has eroded so badly that Brady, even on a bad day, should easily lead his team to the playoffs. But Brady does have a finite life and at some point New England has to prepare for life without Brady.
While I doubt anyone thinks too highly of the QB’s currently in the AFC East the three teams do now have in place two first round selections and a high second round selection to potentially hit their primes starting in 2014 and 2015 if they pan out. Andrew Luck should improve in Indianapolis while teams like the Browns and Texans are in position to draft highly rated prospects. What the Patriots do not want to be at any point over the last 4 years of Brady’s career the 2010 Minnesota Vikings where the 41 year old Brett Favre broke down and the team fell apart with him.
When the Patriots signed Tom Brady to his three year contract extension in February of 2013 they signed him to a contract that had an eye looking toward the future rather than the past. This was very different than the contract the Denver Broncos signed with Peyton Manning in 2012. The contract with Brady represented the possibility of a dropoff in play with low salaries and cap charges. The team put in a slight failsafe in the event of a catastrophic event in 2013 or 2014 in which they could release Brady before the end of the 2014 season and prevent $24 million of late career guarantees from kicking in.
Quite frankly the contract easily allows the possibility of bringing in a first round draft pick to sit and learn behind Brady and then hit the ground running whenever the time to pass the torch arises.
The low salaries taken by Brady have dropped the Patriots salary cap allocations to the position into average or below ranges. The Patriots salary cap spending on QB ranks as follows among teams with a QB under contract the next four seasons:
If the Patriots added a QB with the 29th pick in the draft it would add about $1.4 million to their cap this year, $1.7 in 2015, $2.1 in 2016, and $2.5 in 2017. They would also control the players’ rights at a modest salary in 2018 when Brady’s contract would be finished. Adding these salaries would bump the Patriots up in the rankings by about 1 team in each year, still allowing them to be middle of the pack while employing Tom Brady and a first round draft pick. They could move up in the draft and still be very cost competitive at the position.
I don’t think the Patriots have to make the move for a QB by any means right now, but the smart thing for them to do is to begin the process of identifying potential successors to Tom Brady so they don’t hit the struggle period many team do when they lose the once in a generation QB. It’s no different than when the Green Bay Packers wisely grabbed Aaron Rodgers in 2005 so that they had a successor to a then 36 year old Favre. That is a far better strategic move than picking the brains of a college QB to consider future matchups with the late 30s QB. The team has contractually set themselves up to make this move and it should surprise no one if they do actually make that move on draft day for a name QB that falls down the draft board.