A Closer Look at Marcus Gilbert’s Contract Extension

I usually try to take a little deeper look at the contracts on the site and wanted to do the same with the contract of Steelers tackle Marcus Gilbert since I had a few questions about him. I think the prevailing analysis is that he received $6 million a year in new money which places him in a logjam for fourth highest compensated right tackle in the NFL. But when you look closer at the numbers I think a strong case can be made that in a true contract valuation Gilbert is going to be the highest paid right tackle in the league.

There are two considerations that should come into valuing a contract. The first is the yearly cash flow component that shows the was that the salary is actually distributed. Is it a heavily front loaded contract?  Is it backloaded?  Is it a steady stream of salary?

The following table provides the cumulative money that each player will earn over the course of his contract. Each cell is color coded to indicate the likelihood of the money being earned. Green means its essentially guaranteed, yellow is a year where it is probably 50/50 that it is earned, and red means don’t start counting that money until you get that far into the contract.

Right Tackle Market

The first thing that jumps out to me is how strong the frontside of Gilbert’s contract is. Only Cherilus will earn more in year one, but over the first two and three years of the contract no player will earn more than Gilbert, despite the fact that Cherilus, Loadholt, and Davis all earn more on an annual basis.


Gilbert actually received a higher signing bonus than everyone on the list except Cherilus, though Loadholt’s signing bonus is effectively more since he signed for four years rather than five. Because of that his contract is as well protected as almost anyone else on the list.  The exceptions are Cherilus and Howard, and in both cases the protections they received may have been a team error. In the case of the Oakland Raiders it was clearly an error (they paid Howard a roster bonus too soon which turned it into a signing bonus). The Colts got hit with a little known rule called the 50% rule that turned Cherilus’ signing bonus from $10 million to $14.5 million for accounting purposes. I tend to think Indianapolis simply did not pay attention to the rule but that is just a baseless opinion.

All things considered I think you can make a strong case that Gilbert received either the best or second best contract at the position based on expected earnings. Does that make it a bad contract for the team?  I guess it depends on your perspective. Gilbert is the second youngest of the group to sign so there is a greater upside for him to perform well.  His deal also reflects the large cap increase that was not in play when Cherilus, Davis, and Loadholt signed.


Negatively the contract did not offer anywhere near the protections that the 49ers insisted on received from Davis.  It did not have the no bonus provision of the Collins contract, which was also supposed to be the structure of the Howard contract.  So I do think it’s fair to say the Steelers could have asked for more concessions considering he and Davis are the only players under a true extension where the teams held contractual leverage over the player at the time of signing.

I don’t think that the $6 million a year figure is necessarily too high, which is something I have read in a few spots. While he doesn’t have a huge track record and has never stood out in Pro Football Focus the way others have, he is a logical comparison to other limited sample players like Collins and Howard who both earned $6 million a year as free agents. As a 2nd rounder he also carries much more cache than the other two which will play a role.

The Steelers were not going to be able to lowball him into a $4 million  per year contract. For that to eventually happen they would have had to wait out the year, a portion of free agency, and kept crossing their fingers that nobody bites. Again seeing what Howard received on the market it’s unrealistic to think he could have gotten that much less.  So while they may have been able to work within the $6 million per year parameters more effectively coming in far under that dollar figure was never going to happen.




Best & Worst Contracts 2014: Pittsburgh Steelers


We continue our look at the best and worst veteran contracts on each team with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Best Contract: Heath Miller

Heath MillerIt was very tempting to select the contract of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as the best on the Steelers. A true franchise quarterback making the market rate of six years ago presents an easy target, with only $23.7 million in cash due over the next two years combined. But, a few restructures have bloated the cap hits somewhat in these last years, though they still fall below what has become the going rate for even lesser quarterbacks since that time. And he’s likely looking at a new contract in line with that going rate no later than next off-season.

Mostly, though, it’s just not a very interesting pick. Heath Miller entered this off-season as one of six Steelers sporting a cap charge greater than $9 million, all of whom had to be considered strong candidates for contract adjustment of one sort or another to help Pittsburgh’s tight situation. Entering the final year of the big-money extension he signed in 2009, Miller stood to earn $6.02 million under that existing deal. Not only did he accept a two-year extension at a reduced rate—$4 million per year in new money, compared to $6.75 million per year under the previous deal—he took the deal while receiving no new money in 2014, nor guarantees beyond this season.

Miller played one of his least impressive pro seasons in 2013 as he recovered from an ACL tear suffered in late December of 2012. But as the 2013 season progressed, he rediscovered his rapport with Roethlisberger and cemented his importance to offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s designs. Even so hampered, Miller produced the 14th-most receiving yards by a tight end on fewer targets than any of the 13 players above him. Unlike many, Miller plays a true two-way game, a strong blocker in the Jason Witten mold with soft hands and an ability to get open, and serves as a quiet low-maintenance leader that every team could use.

The Steelers turned his slated $6.02 million base salary into a $1.02 million base, paying the remaining $5 million as a signing bonus over the two new years of the extension. At $4 million in base salary in each new season, Miller’s cap number now hovers around $6 million in all three years. There’s ample reason to believe that 2013 represented a speed bump on his return to form from injury, and at age 31, he stands a strong chance to play out the extension in its entirety as a valued and productive member of the team.

Worst Contract: Jason Worilds

Jason WorildsRush linebacker Jason Worilds enjoyed a good bit of opportunity over his first three years as injuries repeatedly struck the Steelers’ starters, but in those opportunities he produced very little. His few sacks mostly came when the defensive scheme left him uncovered, and he showed woefully little impact versus the run, especially compared to the stout duo of Harrison and Woodley.

Fortune smiled upon him, though, and presented his most extensive opportunity in his contract year of 2013, and he turned in what has handily been the best season of his young career. Moreover, he looked notably more effective on Woodley’s left side than he ever did filling in for Harrison on the right. Still, his performance fell well below the healthy standards of either of those two.

Needing to fill the void left by both of those far more accomplished linebackers, the Steelers elected to place the transition tag on Worilds prior to free agency this year. If you need any evidence how much more the $9.754 million tender offered than Worilds is actually worth, look no further than how quickly he signed it rather than exercise his right to shop himself to 31 other teams. His agent had ample time to feel out the market prior to free agency, and I see no chance that he jumped on the tender with anything like Paul Kruger’s inflated $8.1 million a year available elsewhere.

In my estimation, with just half of a pretty good season under his belt in four years, Worilds was looking at no more than $6.5 million per year on a long-term deal. Now with the leverage of the tender, he has limited incentive to take a reasonable deal, so they’ll likely have to overpay significantly if they want to retain him long-term. And if they don’t retain him long-term, they’ll have overpaid significantly for a single season from a player who has been mediocre at best to this point.

I often hear a sentiment that a one-year deal can’t be all that bad, as it only runs for that short term and offers an opportunity for a clean break. But how much overpayment is that really worth? A long-term deal may have required somewhat more guaranteed dollars, in the range of 150% to double the transition tag amount, but at least such a deal offers long-term upside. A one-year tender only protects against the very worst of possible outcomes: that the player performs so badly that the team wants to cut ties after just a year. In just about any other case, it will prove to have been considerably inferior.

2013’s Best and Worst Steelers Contracts:

2013 Best Contract: Ryan Clark (contract expired; signed with Redskins)

2013 Worst Contract: LaMarr Woodley (contract terminated; signed with Raiders)




On Maurkice Pouncey, Center Salaries, and How the Annual Value Can Be Misleading


With Maurkice Pouncey locked up and surpassing Alex Mack as the highest paid center in the NFL I thought it would be a good time to dissect the contracts at the top of the position and see why looking at annual value can sometimes be very misleading.

For the prior three years the Panthers’ Ryan Kalil has been the top earner at the center position. Carolina signed him to a six year contract in 2011 that would pay Kalil $49.116 million which worked out to be $8.186 million per year. It seemed like a number that would never be touched until the Jacksonville Jaguars offered Alex Mack a five year deal worth $8.4 million per year. Mack was a transition player so the Cleveland Browns matched the offer and made Mack the top paid in the game. That distinction did not last long as the Pittsburgh Steelers quickly signed Pouncey to a five year deal worth $8.827 million a season.

But numbers can sometimes be misleading and in the NFL we have to look at all kinds of aspects of a contract. To best compare apples to apples when looking at Pouncey’s contract we need to take into account the new money in the contract. This simple adjustment is made by adding Pouncey’s cash salaries in 2014 (the final year of his old contract) and 2015 (technically the first year of his new contract) and subtracting the money he was already going to earn in 2014.  For Pouncey that works out to be $15,636,625. Lets look at the five year cash flows for each player.

Year 1$15,636,625$10,000,000$19,000,000
Year 2$22,636,625$18,000,000$20,750,000
Year 3$30,136,625$26,000,000$30,750,000
Year 4$37,136,625$34,000,000$35,750,000
Year 5$44,136,625$42,000,000$41,366,000

There are a few things we should find interesting with this chart. The first one actually concerns Mack. Despite having the highest annual valued contract for a few months, this was an inferior contract to Kalil’s through the first four years of the contract. Considering the life of an NFL player is not the longest it would be pretty easy to argue that Kalil never really lost his standing as highest paid player at the position.

Between Pouncey and Kalil the results are a bit muddles. Kalil earned more in his first year than Pouncey, but Pouncey will exceed his cash flows in year two, only to trail him again in year three. Provided Pouncey gets to year four this is where he lays claim to being the highest paid player. That’s certainly not guaranteed.

Looking further into the contracts we need to look at two other factors when determining the true value of a contract and those factors are the guaranteed dollars and the dead money protections that come in the contract structure.  Teams do not like to pay players to not play on the team nor do they want to carry excessive salary cap charges for a player no longer on the team.  This further muddies the waters as to highest and not highest paid players.

Pouncey received no contract guarantees beyond a $13 million signing bonus that will be prorated through the fourth year of his contract. Mack received no signing bonus but did receive a full guarantee on his year one and two salaries. Kalil hit the jackpot receiving an $18 million signing bonus, prorated through the fifth year of his deal, and another $5 million bonus in the third year of his contract that would be prorated over the remaining four years of his contract.

Remember that money not yet accounted for on the salary cap or money owed accelerates onto the salary cap when the player is released. Here are the dead money charges that would be associated with releasing the player.

Year 1$10,400,000$18,000,000$19,000,000
Year 2$7,800,000$8,000,000$14,400,000
Year 3$5,200,000$0$15,800,000
Year 4$2,600,000$0$10,950,000
Year 5$0$0$6,100,000

These numbers paint an entirely different picture for the players. Pouncey’s contract is a little different in year one since his deal is an extension where proration begins in 2014, but I think its safe to say he would not be cut that year even though his protection is much less than the other two.

In year two Pouncey has the least secure contract for a few reasons. For Pouncey the $7.8 million dead figure represents money already paid to the player. If his play declined greatly their option is to save $7 million in real cash plus another $1.8 million in cap room. To see the magnitude of this I try to compare the savings to the players cap charge (this is the CSC ratio you see on the cap pages) where I’ll add the players cash plus cap savings and divide it by his salary cap charge. For Pouncey it’s a 0.92, which is close to the range where releasing a player is somewhat feasible.

Mack’s year two salary is protected by a guarantee so the Browns will be ambivalent on releasing him. They gain no cap and save no cash giving a 0.00 ratio. Kalil, assuming he was released before his year three guarantee kicked in, would cost the team $14.4 million in dead money which amounts to a loss of $9.05 million in cap room with a savings of just $1.75 million in cash. We don’t need to look at any ratio to realize Kalil is protected as well from release.

Mack loses almost all protection from that point forward (he has a vesting guarantee in year three but that would not save him from release), giving Pouncey more security from the dead money in his deal, but Pouncey would never come close to the security that Kalil has. Here are the yearly cap plus cash savings if the team released the player:

Year 1$3,200,000($8,000,000)($14,400,000)
Year 2$8,800,000$0($7,300,000)
Year 3$12,400,000$8,000,000($950,000)
Year 4$14,000,000$8,000,000$3,900,000
Year 5$14,000,000$8,000,000$9,982,000

When looking at these numbers we would consider Kalil’s three year payout “virtually guaranteed”. Pouncey and Mack’s are anything but. The magnitude of Kalil’s savings were so small in year four that payout would also likely be considered “virtually guaranteed”.  If the contracts are never touched there is no arguing who has the more valuable contract regardless of what the cash flows might say. Pouncey needs four years to best Kalil and the current contract structure is nowhere near as solid to make that happen.  In fairness to Pouncey he will likely get that protection since the Steelers, like the Panthers, over-rely on using yearly prorated bonuses to deal with their salary cap problems. Once that happens the dead money will soar thus reducing the cap savings the Steelers would see.

All of this doesn’t mean we should not consider Pouncey the highest paid (we should as the four year is significantly better than the four year for Kalil unlike Mack’s contract), but it should give some pause when we value the contract or criticize the Steelers for the final five year number. The goal for the next center to sign (likely Pouncey’s brother) is to exceed the $30.75 million paid over three years to Kalil or get significantly more virtual protection in the contract that matches the Kalil protection  That really sets a complete new standard when that happens.




Free Agency Thoughts: Pittsburgh Steelers


Key Additions: Mike Mitchell ($5M per year), Cam Thomas ($2M), LaGarette Blount ($1.9M), Lance Moore ($1.5M)

Key Re-Signings: Cody Wallace ($1.2M per year), Will Allen ($1M)

Key Losses: Emmanuel Sanders (Broncos),Ziggy Hood (Jaguars), Jerricho Cotchery (Panthers), Al Woods (Titans), Ryan Clark (Redskins)

Major Cuts: LaMarr Woodley ($8M cap savings- June 1), Levi Brown ($6.3M), Larry Foote ($1.2M)

Free Agency Thoughts:

The Steelers were certainly active right before the start of free agency, extending Heath Miller and Troy Polamalu while getting Ike Taylor to agree to a paycut. The two extensions were more about cap relief than anything else and will likely lead to more negotiating next offseason. The Steelers also made the big decision to release LaMarr Woodley as a June 1 cut to give them the space required to function for the season.

I think by grabbing Mike Mitchell the Steelers probably exceeded most people’s expectations for free agency.  Mitchell is a bit of jack of all trades that can make some plays in coverage, be used to blitz the QB, and provide run support. $5 million a year is a little on the high side as last season was the first year he really had to justify the higher salary, but in terms of contract structure they could get out of the deal if they need to in 2015. They also kept the cap low enough in 2015 where no restructure should be needed to keep him.

The team also used the transition tag on LB Jason Worilds, which I think was the proper move. Pittsburgh needs to see if he is a one season wonder before committing long term to him. While those tags are often bad things to do with younger players, this is one of those cases where it is the correct move for the team, even if it costs them more money next year.

LaGarette Blount should fit in nicely with the offense. He’ll be paid $1.85 million this year with $2 million dangling in front of him for 2015, which should get the most out of him in 2014. Lance Moore should be a low cost replacement for the departing Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, neither of whome the Steelers should have retained. Cam Thomas should fit in as a low cost rotation player on the line.

Overall Grade: C

I think there are some opinions that the Steelers should have released at least one of those three players mentioned above to jumpstart the rebuilding process and because they did not then free agency was a failure. Woodley was the important one of the three to move, however, and I am not sure that the Steelers would have been able to replace any of the three at the cost they currently will get for them. In many ways they are simply deferring the cost on the cap for a year and that’s fine for a team that may think they can still compete.  Given the constraints on the teams salary cap there was not much that was going to happen but they definitely made some improvements and did not compromise their future in doing so. If they finish out of the playoffs again in 2014 then you might begin to see some big changes and they did not do anything to keep that from happening which is a big positive for the team.




The Steelers Salary Cap and Ben Roethlisberger


A story broke this morning that Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger had made it known to the organization that he would be open to a trade in 2014. Since that time he has denied he ever made such a request, but I do think it’s an option that should at least be discussed.

The Steelers are one of the older teams in the NFL. They had a tremendous run from the mid 2000’s through 2011 but the last two seasons have been disappointing and the writing is on the wall that the team, as currently constructed, is not going to go back to the playoffs. The Steelers currently have six starters over the age of 30 and of their top 10 2014 salary cap charges, six will be over 30 next year.

Pittsburgh has been both a victim of their own success and also of poor cap management. When you are as good as the Steelers were you will almost always encounter difficult salary cap situations since your best players will always need to get paid, but the Steelers have consistently refused to face reality when it came to some of their players in recent years. While they have been willing to let Wide Receivers leave the organization (Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, and Mike Wallace were all considered above average players) the remainder of the team was pretty much kept intact.

In order to be cap compliant the Steelers have been nothing but a restructuring factory simply deferring charges until later and later has pretty much arrived. It seems as if much of the planning has only been with the current year in mind, not that different than the Dallas Cowboys. Many of the recent signings have never gone back to back years without a restructured contract.  Now it will be time to release many of those players.

My estimates have Pittsburgh about $7.5 million over next years’ salary cap with 40 players under contract. The release of T Levi Brown (a no brainer) and S Troy Polamalu (a very difficult move since he’s a Steelers legend) will give the team about $7 million in cap room. From there they will need to make a decision on TE Heath Miller and CB Ike Taylor. Releasing both would open the team up to $20 million in cap space but this is an organization that has never been about free agent signings but instead building through the draft, so they wont have immediate need for the money. That said having cap room when you re-sign your quality draft picks down the line is important.

With the possibility of releasing Miller, Polamalu, and Taylor very real, plus the fact that starters Brett Keisel, Ryan Clark, Emmanuel Sanders, Jason Worilds, and Fernando Velasco are all free agents the Steelers could finally be at the point of a major shakeup. This should bring up the thought of whether or not Roethlisberger is the man to lead the team through this change period.

This should not be a financial decision. First of all Ben is a cheap QB. His salary the next two years is just $12.1 and $11.6 million. That would make him attractive to other teams but should also make him attractive to Pittsburgh. While he does have bloated cap charges of $18.95 and $18.35 million due to the constant restructuring of his contract, trading Roethlisberger would still cost the Steelers $13.59 million in dead money. If the Steelers were really considering the option then the restructuring of his contract was a terrible mistake. Prior to his latest restructure the dead money on his contract was just $7.59 million.


If the season ended now the Steelers would have a draft pick in the top 8, but that would be behind multiple QB needy teams such as Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Houston, and Minnesota. The Rams could possibly have two top 10 picks while the Browns will likely have two mid round picks. That gives both significant ammunition to trade up with the Falcons or Bills, the two bad teams with no need for a QB.

Realistically I am not sure that trading Roethlisberger would give the Steelers the ammunition they need to grab a QB. A team that would want him would be one like the Cardinals who will likely be picking near the playoff area of the draft. That would give them more firepower than Cleveland but not the Rams. Even if it did you are essentially trading your franchise QB to package with another draft choice to draft a QB. That is a pretty steep price.

If the Steelers were to use a top draft pick on a QB the compensation in cash would be around $14 million with a $4 million cap charge. Both of those numbers would be basically a push on the QB spending for the team in 2014 under the scenario where Ben remains. If they were to simply trade him for another draft choice then they have a limited set of options to play the position next year.

In my opinion they would probably be best off keeping Ben on the team under his current contract and considering drafting a prospect with one of their top draft selections in 2014. As we have seen this season having a quality backup is something most teams desire and with the new CBA in place there is no reason why you can not have a player like Roethlisberger and a 1st or 2nd round draft pick on the team. You can then revisit trading him in 2015 when you may have more faith in where the organization is headed.

Unless the season gets to the point where they sneak into the 3rd draft pick and are in line to get one of the top QBs in the draft naturally I just can’t see trading him for what could end up being the 18th pick in the draft.  Even then I am sure than Roethlisberger could at least mentor the player somewhat during his rookie season. Roethlisberger is not the problem with the Steelers salary cap and moving him is not going to change that situation one bit. A trade as things stand right now would be surprising to me.



Steelers Clear $1.5 Million in Cap with Heath Miller Restructure


Yesterday it was reported that TE Heath Miller restructured his contract to help the injury riddled Steelers find the cap space to sign replacements for the three injured players. For those curious Miller converted $3 million of his salary into a prorated bonus, thus freeing up $1.5 million in cap room.

The Steelers had almost no choice but to restructure another contract. Coming into Tuesday, Pittsburgh only had around $1.5 million in cap space available to use during the season. Season ending injuries to LB Larry Foote, RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, and C Maurkice Pouncey saw the Steelers’ Active roster drop from 53 to 50 players. None of these contracts contained split salaries to provide for salary cap relief in the event of injury. To make matters worse K Shaun Suisham injured his hamstring and is expected to miss time, forcing them to carry two kickers on the roster.

This “doomsday” scenario illustrates many of the items we have discussed in regard to the importance of salary cap space during the season and why teams often sit on unused cap room. The cost to replace those players is at least $1,143,529 and that figure would be if you replaced them with rookies. Considering the injured players are two starters and a split starter as well as the Steelers’ general construction it is unrealistic to consider them signing anyone except capable veteran players and that comes at a price- at least $555,000 per player on a minimum salary benefit style contract.

The Steelers signings of RB Johnathan Dwyer, C Fernando Velasco, and K Shayne Graham cost the team $1,637,647 in cap space, meaning they could not have executed the moves without restructuring Miller’s contract. The Steelers, even after the restructure, only have $1.38 million in cap space. If their run of bad luck continues expect the team to have to restructure more contracts just to function in 2013.

View Heath Millers Contract and Salary Cap Page


Best & Worst Contracts: The Pittsburgh Steelers


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.

ryan clarkBest Contract: Ryan Clark

For some reason Ryan Clark just gets forgotten whenever anyone discusses the Safety position. Whether it’s because he is older or doesn’t have that one standout season where the media goes crazy over him, somehow we don’t assume much from him. The reality is that Clark has been one of the most consistent and versatile players at his position for the last 4 or 5 seasons. Clark isn’t a specialist. He can cover, he can help, he can play the run. He is just a solid, all around player.

Clark only earns $3.5 million a season and never had a cap charge over $4.75 million over the life of his contract. The Steelers could have moved on as early as 2011 from his contract had age made him less effective so the contract structure was never the issue that has been the case for so many others on the team.

Clark’s annual value ranks somewhere around 22nd in the NFL at his position. That’s a bargain for someone as consistent as Clark. His guarantees on the deal were almost nothing giving the team the ultimate flexibility.  Now the question will likely be how much should the Steelers pay a 34 year old Safety whose contract is ready to expire. The Steelers probably would have been better off extending Clark this year on a short term contract for cap relief designed to allow him to finish his career in Pittsburgh than reworking some of the bigger name contracts.

woodleyWorst Contract: LaMarr Woodley

In the case of Woodley it is not so much the value that the Steelers paid for him, after all he looked like a premier pass rusher when the extension was signed, but the problems that have been created by the constant restructuring of his contract, leaving the Steelers with no outs in the near future.

Since signing his new contract in 2011 Woodley’s play has declined and in 2012 he was generally unproductive as a pass rusher. Whether the result of his injury in 2011 or something else, it was so bad that a player on his own team actually questioned Woodley’s dedication calling him “awful” and questioning his conditioning. Despite this, the Steelers restructured Woodley’s contract for the second time in two years giving Woodley job security and a roster spot regardless of how he plays.

In exchange for reducing his cap charge to $9.19 million in 2013, the Steelers increased his cap charge to $13.59 million in 2014 and $14.09 in 2015.  His $14 million+ dead money charge next year makes him uncuttable which likely means the Steelers will be forced to restructure again next season for cap relief. Any restructure just makes the long term situation that much worse for Pittsburgh. Woodley already has $8.58 million in dead money on the books in 2015 and each restructure will only increase it. The Steelers treatment of this contract has put them at great risk of having a potentially unproductive player eating up double digits of cap room for the foreseeable future

Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles

AFC East: Buffalo BillsMiami DolphinsNew England PatriotsNew York Jets

AFC North: Baltimore RavensCincinnati BengalsCleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South: Houston Texans (July 2)