The Falcons, Sam Baker, and Working With Bad Contracts…


I came across a topic on the Atlanta Falcons message board discussing options for Falc0ns injured tackle Sam Baker and thought  it would make for a decent topic about how to handle bad contracts.

The Baker contract was never a good one and also illustrates some of the shortcomings of the Falcons way of doing business in which they use multiple tiered prorated bonuses on big ticket players. When those players bust the fall is difficult. Though Baker does not have any guaranteed money left after this season, a standard release would cost the Falcons $1.9 million in cap room, with Baker’s cap number jumping from $7.3 to $9.2 million. That’s the danger of these deals as even though there is no guarantee there is limited benefit to release.  It is what we call a virtual or effective guarantee. When such players are encountered teams have limited options if their salary cap situation is tight enough that they can not absorb large amounts of dead money.

The option most would consider is the June 1 cut. The June 1 cut allows a team to release a player at the start of the League Year, but have the release treated as if he was cut after June for cap purposes. In this scenario Baker’s cap charge from March through June 1 would be $7.3 million, the same as if he is on the roster, and then on June 2 it drops to $2.8 million. Atlanta would then carry a $6.4 million cap charge in 2016.  They could also accomplish this by simply waiting until June to release him.

The problem with that scenario is that no salary cap benefit is realized until June. Though it may not be as popular an option, the better option is to approach Baker with a deep paycut that contains no guarantees.  Baker’s options at finding a job in the NFL again would be limited so he would have little choice but to accept unless he was convinced that he would not pass a physical and thus qualify for injury protection under the CBAif released (that amount is $1.1 million) .


What the team would do is reduce Baker’s salary to something like $1 million and give him a chance to earn another $1 million in roster bonuses for games active and perhaps another $500,000+ for playing time. Because Baker did not play in 2014 the only number that would count towards the cap is the $1 million base, a savings of $3.5 million in immediate cap room.

The other benefit to this contract is because you guaranteed nothing you can still release him and have the same cap charges that you would with the June 1 cut, except here you get the benefit of immediate cap space and seeing if he can still benefit your team in any manner on the field. Here is how the scenarios would play out:

DateJune 1 CutReworked ContractReworked/August Release
March Cap$7,300,000$3,800,000$3,800,000
June 2 Cap$2,800,000$3,800,000$3,800,000
August 1 Cap$2,800,000$3,800,000$2,800,000
2016 Cap$6,400,000$6,400,000$6,400,000

There is virtually no downside to the reworked contract. You may get something positive out of the player and if you don’t the most it will cost you is somewhere between $1 and $2 million in cap room (the figures depends on games he is active for).  The 2016 season remains the same in any scenario and you gain immediate cap flexibility in 2015.  So while it is early to be discussing next years roster moves, actual teams should already be looking ahead as many of their biggest moves for 2014 are already complete.




Looking at Possible Contracts For the Raiders Jared Veldheer


It was reported yesterday that the Raiders and LT Jared Veldheer are working on a contract extension, so I figured we could take a look at what contract possibilities there could be for him. Veldheer is a 26 year old former 3rd round draft choice playing the final year of his contract. He has been sidelined by injury for the first 11 games of the season but prior to that had started 44 games over his three year career and never been injured.

Pass Blocking

I like to break down pass blocking effectiveness using pressures and sacks allowed using a formula I developed where we consider a completed pass as a “success” and an incomplete as a “failure”.  Every time a QB drops back to pass he is expected to complete about 63.7% of his dropbacks when he faces no pressure.  If he Is pressured that number falls to 43.1%. So what I do with pass blockers is determine the percentage of plays where I can assign then to be the cause of “play failure”.

To illustrate this calculation I’ll use Joe Thomas of the Browns, who has been the best pass blocking tackle in the NFL for the last three years. Using statistics from Pro Football Focus we see that Thomas blocked on 574 plays. With no pressure 574 dropbacks should result in 208.3 failed pass attempts (574 * (1-63.7%)).  That is our baseline number for the perfect player.

Thomas has allowed the QB to be pressured 27 times bringing his unpressured dropbacks down to 547, which equals 198.5 failures. Of the 27 pressures one is a sack which equals one failure. Of the 26 other pressures (hits and hurries) we can calculate that the play failed 14.8 times (26 * (1-43.1%)). Add those three numbers together and we calculate that Thomas’ plays resulted in 214.3 failures, so, in essence, his blocking is responsible for 6 non-completions, an increase of 2.88%.

Over the last three years the average left tackle who appeared in at least 50% of his teams passing snaps,  allows an increase in failures of 5.01%. The best of the last three seasons was Thomas in 2012 with 2.05% and the worst was D’Anthony Batiste of the Cardinals in 2012 at 11.12%. For players who qualified for at least 2 of the last 3 seasons the average is 4.55%. Thomas again ranks highest at 2.43% for his three years of work while J’Marcus Webb is the worst at 6.66%. Obviously other factors play a role in the effectiveness of a players such as play calling, QB smarts (the Peyton Manning vs Tim Tebow disparity being the greatest), and play grading by PFF, but it’s at least a tool to put some perspective into the position.

Veldheer ranks in the top half of the position in both 2011 and 2012. In 2011 he scored a 4.36%, which ranked 11th for the position. In 2012 he was more effective with a grade of 3.71% which was good for 10th in the NFL. His two year average score of 4.04% ranks 9th among the 27 players who qualified for at least two seasons. That’s a better number than Ryan Clady (4.12%), Joe Staley (4.31%), Jordan Gross (4.84%), Jake Long (5.06%), D’Brickashaw Ferguson (5.1%), Jermon Bushrod (5.16%), and Will Beatty (5.99%).

Run Blocking

I don’t really think teams put significant weight into this aspect of the game when paying a Left Tackle. For one teams simply don’t run that often as the NFL has become a pure passing league. Secondly runs in the direction of the outside part of the line are only around 25% according to data maintained by Football Outsiders. So while the tackle plays a role in all running plays, overpaying for that aspect of the game is a bad business decision. You just want to make sure the player is not going to hurt you in that part of the game.

Veldheer would seem to be a capable player in the run game. in 2012 runs directed at the LT for the Raiders ranked 10th in the NFL. In 2011 they ranked 11th. This year they rank 10th as well without him. While the run personnel is better this season I don’t think anyone will be fooled into overpaying for “rub blocking” nor will they downgrade him for the same.


Contract Points

I think one of the things that works against Veldheer is the fact that he is a 3rd round draft pick. While late draft picks can make up for their draft positioning, general honors and recognition come far easier for the top picks in a draft, until a player is established, which Veldheer is not having just two full seasons in the NFL. Veldheer also plays in relative obscurity in Oakland because they have been so bad for so many years.

With no Pro Bowls, All Pro seasons, or draft stature pushing a contract I felt that this was probably the best list of comparables I could come up with:

NFL Left Tackle Salary

The gold standard here would be Brown, who was a much higher pick and an established four year starter but had yet to earn any Pro Bowl or All Pro nods when he signed his contract. Brown was also a superior player. His pass block numbers the past three years have averaged 3.02% and he was the 4th rated LT in 2011, the year before he signed his mega extension.

Beatty is the name that should interest Veldheer the most. Beatty only started 31 games prior to signing his extension with the Giants this past offseason. New York fell into the one season wonder trap with him. In 2010 he graded at a below average 5.89% but when playing for a new contract saw the number fall down to a terrific 3.38%. The Giants bought in, as teams often do when they believe in a player, and this year he is up to an 8.7% number, second to last in the NFL.

Despite the fact that Veldheer has not played this year he is the player he should be looking to exceed in contract value. Beatty’s two year average of 4.63% leading into his new contract is inferior to Veldheer’s 4.04%.  Neither is exactly established at the position. Neither was a high draft pick and neither really rewarded for his play leading into a deal.

Jermon Bushrod could be used to drop the price a bit. Bushrod had more experience and because he was a member of a high powered offense he also received recognition in the form of back to back Pro Bowls. His numbers were only impressive in 2011 (3.83%) and have fallen back to slightly below average after that. His guarantees and cash flows are nowhere near as impressive as Beattys.

The other interesting contract that I want to use to push the price is that of Sam Baker. Baker is another one of those players whose price was pushed by draft status. His 2012 contract year was nothing more than average (4.93% rating) and he was injured in 2011. While his $6.85 million average is not as impressive as the $7.2 million Bushrod received, the cash flows are tremendous. Provided the Falcons pick up a 2014 option his money is also well protected.

The following two tables present the cash flows and percent of five year payouts earned in each year

Left Tackle Cash Flows

Potential Salaries

Outside of overpaying for Sebastian Janikowski, which I have to think was a directive that came from ownership, the Raiders front office has not really shown how they will be handling contract negotiations for top tier players. They did make Marcel Reece the highest paid Fullback in the NFL, but that is not a premier position either so I would throw that out. Veldheer is going to be their first high quality signing and may be a precedent point for the organization.

I would think a fair compromise is to match the annual value of the Bushrod contract, but make the cash flows match closer to that of the Baker contract. That would still put Veldheer under Beatty, which may not be fair but I think will be important to Oakland. While I don’t know what they will be planning I don’t sense that they want to be a pricing point for any position.

Due to uncertainty since he was out this year I would also imagine that the Raiders will include playtime bonuses that, in unearned, would bring his contract down to the Baker 5 year number of $6.9 million. If they want to bring him above Beatty than the bonuses I would have would bring him down to Bushrod’s APY.  I would also like to get a deal done in the next few weeks if possible. Oakland currently has $2.75 million in cap space and can afford to use up $1.5 million of that on Bushrod this season to lower the dead money at the end of the contract.

The Raiders do have luxury of using more cap space next season than most other teams since they project to have around $70 million in cap space, but if using a somewhat traditional contract structure I’d consider something like this:

Possible contract for Jared Veldheer

In this proposed structure Veldheer receives the first year fully guaranteed and will earn a vesting guarantee in 2015. If he is injured again in 2014 the Raider can move on with just $4.5 million in dead money. They could probably add another vesting  guarantee in 2016 as well if they wanted. For cap purposes they could very easily swap the 2014 and 2015 salaries to frontload the contract a bit more. I  think as long as 2016 is a reasonable number, since the hope would be that the team actually has players to pay at that point, they won’t be compromised when dealing with other players.

I’ll be interested to see where they go with Veldheer since he is not a marquee name but has played pretty well in his two full seasons. If they use the injury this year to their advantage that’s a great job by the Raiders because there is really no reason for him to not be somewhere in that $7 million to $7.5 million a year range based on how he has played. I’d imagine this will be finalized in the next two weeks.



Best & Worst Contracts: The Atlanta Falcons


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.

Roddy WhiteBest Contract: Roddy White

Wide Receiver has become one of the premier pay spots in the NFL. The position has escaped the market correction that seems to have impacted Defensive Ends, Left Tackles, and Cornerbacks and the top of the market makes around $12 million a year in free agency often based just on hope for “what they can do” without those players actually doing it. There is no need to hope for White. White is simply the real deal.

You will not find many players in the NFL as consistent as White. You can pretty much pencil him in for 100 receptions and 1300 yards every season. You can probably make an argument that he is one of the five most consistent and productive players at the position in the NFL. He fits perfectly in the Falcons offense and was helpful in the early stages of development of QB Matt Ryan. There is little to not like about White outside of the fact that he will be 32 this season which could mean bouts of declining productivity.

At just over $8.5 million a season, White is a steal in this overinflated WR marketplace. One of the best in the NFL, his salary ranks middle of the pack among starters. Part of the reason is because his deal was signed in 2009 before salaries exploded, but he earns less than Miles Austin and far less than Brandon Marshall, two players signed just one year later. Marshall, at $11.2 million a season represents what White should be earning.

The Falcons also should be given credit for the structure of his deal. Players such as Steve  Smith and Andre Johnson had contracts that would see more balloon type payments as the players got older leaving a team with a very difficult decision. The Falcons wisely kept White’s cap hits steady and marked the 2013 season as a possible jettison point, a logical year based on age. White’s cap this year is over $9 million and with $3.85 million in dead money an easy negotiating point to force a player into a “paycut or be cut” scenario.  Of course with how White played that never became an issue but it was clearly planned for.

White will only count for $6.325 million against the 2014 salary cap assuming no incentives or escalators are reached. The dead money in 2014 is just $1.325 million giving the Falcons as many options as they want with him. They can offer a Reggie Wayne type “ride off into the sunset” contract where he finishes his career in Atlanta at continued reasonable cap charges or just let him play it out at just over a $6 million dollar cap charge. There is little more than you could ever expect out of a player than what White has given the Falcons over the course of his contract.

Sam BakerWorst Contract: Sam Baker

I went back and forth on a few names here. The Falcons don’t really have anything that screams at you as bad. They are more like a handful of some mid tier contracts that you say maybe could be better than they were. Part of me wanted to go with William Moore who I think is paid more because of fear of losing him and the unknown than what he actually brings to the field relative to the position, but its still a contract that they can escape from after two seasons if they wanted to. The same can not be said for Baker.

Baker isn’t  a bad player and played pretty well last season, but I don’t think many people equate Baker with being a core building block that can not be replaced. The Falcons more or less have given him a contract structure that won’t allow them to replace him. To get the deal done Atlanta had to use both the signing bonus and option bonus mechanism, prorating money over 6 years and making the backend dead money more difficult to deal with.

I think a fair comparison here is Will Beatty of the Giants who is actually going to be paid more on an annual but has a friendlier contract structure. Beatty will see 64% of his contract paid out in the first three seasons. Baker will earn 65.9% of his five year total in the first three seasons. Maybe that was a tradeoff for a 6th year, but that 6th year was mainly only added for cap purposes. So it’s the same or more than the higher priced player.

Despite the higher payout Beatty’s dead money consistently runs lower than Bakers. Beatty will carry a $5 million dead hit if cut in the 4th year of his contract. Baker will carry $6.4 million. The following season Beatty is at $2.5 while Baker is at $3.6. Those are the kind of numbers that gives teams some leverage to renegotiate contracts if the player doesn’t perform. Baker is pretty much safe for 4 seasons. So while I would not consider this a really bad contract by any stretch, if there is a spot to go where the Falcons may have overreached a little I’d give that nod to Baker’s contract.

Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles

AFC East: Buffalo BillsMiami DolphinsNew England PatriotsNew York Jets

AFC North: Baltimore RavensCincinnati BengalsCleveland BrownsPittsburgh Steelers

AFC South: Houston TexansIndianapolis ColtsJacksonville JaguarsTennessee Titans

AFC West: Denver BroncosKansas City ChiefsOakland RaidersSan Diego Chargers

NFC East: Dallas CowboysNew York GiantsPhiladelphia EaglesWashington Redskins

NFC North: Chicago BearsDetroit LionsGreen Bay PackersMinnesota Vikings

NFC South: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers (July 24)