There was a report Thursday from Ian Rapoport of NFL.com that the Falcons are thinking about an extension for Wide Receiver Roddy White. White has been a tremendous bargain for the Falcons since signing a contract extension in 2009, averaging 98 receptions and 1,297 yards from 2009 through 2012 while earning $8.54 million per year. Because the Falcons extended him while he was in the final year of his rookie contract his salary cap charges have never exceeded $9.125 million and he has never really been a salary cap burden at a premier pay position.
However, White has struggled with injuries in 2013 and at 32 years of age there could be real worry about significant decline in performance. He will finish 2013 with his worst statistical production since his rookie season and possibly his career- White has just 20 receptions for 209 yards with 6 games to go. With the Falcons and White suffering through a poor season I had assumed that the Falcons would either let White play out his contract, which I had listed at a relatively low cap number of $6.325 million, or release White and move on.
I was reminded via Twitter by contract expert Joel Corry that White has escalators in the final year of his contract. I was able to confirm through a source with knowledge of the contract that the escalators do exist and are tied to Pro Bowl appearances and workout participation. The escalator can total $5 million and while the actual breakdown was not told to me I would think Pro Bowls from 2009-2011 would lead to him earning at least $3 million of the escalator. It probably means his real salary cap number will be anywhere from $9 million to $11.325 million in 2014.
Those numbers are probably unsustainable for the Falcons 2014 salary cap and would force them into releasing White. With QB Matt Ryan struggling and the possibility of TE Tony Gonzalez retiring Atlanta may not want to completely break up the White/Gonzalez/Julio Jones group that had been so successful before injuries to White and Jones in 2013. Atlanta has so much invested in Ryan that giving him familiar targets is almost a necessity moving forward.
What might an extension for White cost? In general the market has not been kind to older receivers and White will likely push at the high end to try to match the Panthers 4 year contract extension with Steve Smith signed in 2012 when Smith was 33 years old. Smith had struggled in 2009 and 2010 for a number of reasons but rebounded greatly in 2011 with the addition of QB Cam Newton, putting up his best statistical season since 2008. With a high salary cap charge in 2012 the Panthers awarded Smith with a $7.5 million a year extension that was designed to be as much about cap relief and a safety blanket for the QB than anything else.
Though White is coming from a negative statistical year his performances leading up to that poor year are superior to what Smith accomplished in 2009 and 2010 at 30 and 31 years of age. Likewise he will have a large cap number and a QB in need of a familiar face in the offense. The low end of the spectrum would be around the $5.8 million that Reggie Wayne signed last year with the Indianapolis Colts.
The important part for the Falcons is how to structure the contract so that they are not stuck with an older unproductive player. While it is important for the short term to keep White, long term White may not be a major part of the offense. There have been plenty of productive players in the past at the position through the years including Terrell Owens, Marvin Harrison, Jimmy Smith, Reggie Wayne, Keyshawn Johnson, Joey Galloway, and Donald Driver among others. Atlanta may be a bit more cautious in their approach as more recent cases have not been as productive. Wayne suffered a knee injury this season, Smith is not going to be as dominant this season, Santana Moss has not been productive in Washington. Anquan Boldin looks finished and Randy Moss was done the day he turned 33. Factor in injuries this season and the Falcons may want to take a very risk averse approach to a contract.
Considering the season he will be coming off of I would think a 3 year extension makes the most sense for both sides. If executed in week 17 the Falcons can prorate money for a full five years whereas waiting until next year would mean just 4 year of prorating money or signing a 4 year extension. A 4 year contract could potentially up the guaranteed money as the contract should see somewhere between 45 and 49% of the total new money come in the form of guarantees.
For the sake of argument let’s say White earns somewhere between Wayne and Smith and call it a contract worth $6.8 million a year with $10.2 million of it guaranteed, We’ll also assume that his salary next season is expected to be $8 million making this a 4 years of contract worth $28.4 million. What might be a possible structure?
Don’t pay attention to the 2013 numbers as this is just a bonus dump year with money already earned so I didnt bother putting in his current P5. What we did here is just add $1 million in cap charges to his non-escalated 2014 salary cap number. That should be a reasonable amount. The 2014 salary would be fully guaranteed and we would also guarantee $200,000 of the 2015 salary. Those numbers can be played with for cap purposes, but I like the idea of only having around $3 million in dead money in 2015 if 2014 ends up being similar to 2013 in terms of injuries and performance.
When the extension kicks in I want to begin including per game active roster bonuses to protect from injuries keeping White from playing in the event he is still productive. The low cap charge in 2015 should work to benefit both sides. At that point Julio Jones will either be playing on a franchise tag or in the first year of a very lucrative contract extension. With such a low cap figure the Falcons may consider keeping White even if he has a mediocre (by his standards) 2014 campaign. The odds of White seeing year 2016 and 2017 are pretty slim and dead money fits accordingly with that.
In the end this will cost the Falcons $14.5 million in 2014 and 2015 to keep White on the team. If our $3 million escalator guess is correct that boils down to a 1 year $6.5 million dollar deal. That’s perfectly acceptable to help the teams salary cap and hopefully keep a Falcon in one uniform for his entire career.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.