Could the Patriots Draft a Quarterback?


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.

Rob Gronkowski’s Contract and How it Ties Into His Playing Decision


There is a great column up on ESPN by Ed Werder about a growing resentment towards TE Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots for not playing in games on Sundays due  to a fear of re-injuring his forearm. I wanted to look at the financials of his deal and explain why Gronkowski’s camp wants to make certain that the possibility of re-injury is next to nothing.

Gronkowski signed an incredible $54 million dollar contract extension in June of 2012, that was the largest contract ever given to a Tight End. However, Gronkowski still had two years remaining on his rookie contract, which means that the extension years technically do not even begin until 2014. Gronkowski was given an $8 million dollar signing bonus, but that was the only change to the existing contract years as his base salary and workout structure for 12 and 13 were left unchanged.

In both 2014 and 2015 Gronkowski’s contract contains relative low salaries. He will earn $4 million dollars in 2014 and $5 million in 2015, for a total of $17 million over the first two extension years.  That is actually light for a top tier TE contract, let alone one that was for the highest paid player in the NFL. In the same timeframe Antonio Gates earned about $20.8 million, Vernon Davis about $19.8 million, and Jason Witten $18 million. On a percentage basis Gronkowski actually earns less of his 5 year contract value than Jared Cook of the Rams. Cook’s $14 million two year payout represents 39.9% of the value, while Gronkowki’s totals 38.6%.

What further complicates the situation is the guarantees and bonus structure located in the contract. Gronkowski’s 2014 salary is fully guaranteed, which essentially makes his 2013 season irrelevant towards his contractual future. 2015 is guaranteed, at the moment, for injury only. It does not become fully guaranteed until the day of the 2015 League Year.  The real money in the contract is unlocked by New England picking up an option in 2015 that will keep the 2016 thru 2019 seasons intact. The option is worth $10 million and would pretty much ensure him of earning another $18 million thru 2017. That would bring the 4 year total on the contract to $35 million which is exceptional money at the position.

This option is very unique in that it will be charged against the salary cap in 2015, but the decision is not made until after the 2015 season on actually exercising it. Gronkowski’s salary cap figure in 2015 is $8.65 million because of the early accrual of the option bonus. Releasing Gronkowski before his full guarantee kicks in would save the team $5.35 million in cap space.

So when you look at the salary structure of the contract Gronkowski’s ability to earn money in 2014 is not tied whatsoever to the 2013 season. That money is locked in. But his future is tied to how he performs in 2014 and again in 2015. If Gronkowski rushes back from injury, re-injures his arm, and goes through another 10-12 game season in 2014 his ability to earn his 2015 salary could be compromised. New England could even approach him about restructuring his deal to remove or defer the option if the play and/or playing time significantly declines.  If this becomes a long term lingering issue his chance to earn the big contract money that happens after 2015 will essentially vanish.

There seems to be, based on published reports, distrust between Gronkowski’s side and the Patriots due to the handling of Gronkowski’s initial injury. The belief is that the organization more or less rushed a surgery for their short term gain when no surgery was really needed. The Patriots also declined the option this year on WR Brandon Lloyd which may have opened some eyes around Gronkowski’s people about how non-guaranteed those options truly are. For Gronkowski’s financial future he needs to perform in future seasons, not this one, and that could be an issue as they decide when the time is right to allow him to take on full contract in a real game.

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Breaking Down Rob Ninkovich’s Contract Extension


Late last week DE Rob Ninkovich of the New England Patriots signed a 3 year contract extension that would keep him a Patriot through 2016. Via a League source with knowledge of the contract we have the full breakdown of the deal.

Ninkovich had been scheduled to earn $1.4 million in Paragraph 5 salary and was eligible for $900,000 in playtime incentives. Under his new contract the playing time incentive has been removed and he will receive a $5 million dollar signing bonus. He can also earn a $200,000 bonus if selected to the Pro Bowl.

In 2014 Ninkovich will have a base salary of $1 million which is fully guaranteed. He can earn a total of $250,000 in roster bonuses for each game active as well as a $100,000 workout bonus. He can receive up to $450,000 in incentives tied to playing time and the Pro Bowl.

In 2015 his base salary rises to $2.1 million, of which $1 million will be fully guaranteed if he is on the roster on the 5th day of the League Year. The same bonus and incentive structure exists.

In 2016 the Patriots reduced his base salary to $1.5 million and made the contract more incentive laden. His roster bonus increases from $250,000 to $300,000 and he can earn a total of $1.85 million in incentive payments.

All told the contract represents a base value of $10.7 million of which $6 million is fully guaranteed and $7 million is guaranteed.  With $6.35 million of the total contract being paid out by the end of the first extension year the contract provides a strong cash flow for Ninkovich. The Patriots will lose $550,000 in 2013 cap room on the extension.

View Rob Ninkovich’s Contract and Salary Cap Page

View Rob Ninkovich’s Financial Graphs

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