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.
Best Contract: Sebastian Vollmer
I know exactly what you are thinking. How is Tom Brady not the best contract on the team? For the short term Brady clearly is the best deal, but I have some reservations about guaranteeing $24 million and 3 years to a 38 year old QB, which is what will happen when Brady completes the 2014 season on the Patriots roster. In order to escape that deal the team would need to release Brady during the 2014 season and take a cap charge of $18 million in 2015 to do so. Onto Vollmer…
At the end of the 2012 season there were a number of people that considered Vollmer a candidate for the franchise tag, as Vollmer had established himself as one of the five best Right Tackles in the NFL. The Patriots wisely avoided the large fees associated with the tag and negotiated a base contract that is 40% cheaper than Gosder Cherilus’ contract and 30% less than Andre Smith. Of the five big name RT’s to sign this year Vollmer had the cheapest deal of them all.
Vollmer, who has battled some injury issues in the past, has a contract loaded with incentives tied to playing time and performance. $2 million of his base value is tied to per game active roster bonuses and if he was to play 90% of the snaps his contract could reach $22 million and 90% will nearly max it out at $26 million. Even at $26 million his contract is still lower than Cherilus’ deal and these are not exactly fluff incentives to get there. In 4 seasons Vollmer has hit 90% one time, 80% two times, and less than 80% in his two other seasons. The expected value of the contract is probably no more than $5.5 million a year.
Vollmer is never a difficulty to cut. The only guarantees he received were from his $7 million dollar signing bonus. The deal contains no base salary guarantees. If he were to fail to maintain his form over the next two years he could be cut in 2015 with only $3.5 million in dead money and his dead money charge of $5.25 million in 2014 makes it feasible to release after just one season if necessary. Vollmer will earn $8.25 million in his first year, less than all but Smith making a one year stay a possibility if the injury bug strikes again and the team decides he can’t be counted on long term.
Worst Contract: Logan Mankins
This was a very difficult choice simply because the Patriots have more or less purged the books of bad deals. They didn’t go overboard on the veteran contracts doled out and employ a large amount of mid-tier and rookie contract players so there is really little to choose from. Danny Amendola is my other real option here. He has failed to ever produce 700 yards as a receiver, has missed 28% of his games due to injury, and was clearly signed with the thought that he can be “the next Wes Welker”, but I don’t think the price tag was high enough to warrant worst deal. At the worst he will probably be disappointing but he won’t hurt the cap or keep the team from moving on. Still on a different day I could be swayed to him.
Mankins was paid as the top interior lineman in the NFL in 2011 at a time when he was a good but not great player. He really has not returned to the great form and has basically been a decent starter on a team that could probably plug a low cost veteran in the position and not lose much effectiveness. At the same time his extension came at the tail end of the “every name free agent re-sets a market era”, so it’s not nearly as bad as other big deals we may discuss. The one factor in naming him worst over Amendola is that his 3 year payout and virtual guarantee was significantly higher than others at the time.
Mankins earned $30.5 million in the first three years of his contract, a total that was significantly over the market at the time. Other names that were signed or signed shortly thereafter contained three year totals of $25.6 million (Jahri Evans), $23 million (Eric Steinbach), and $21.5 million (Davin Joseph). By giving Mankins a $20 million dollar signing bonus the Patriots virtually guaranteed that he will see at least four years of his contract due to the high acceleration charges associated with cutting him.
It’s certainly not one of the worst in the NFL but for the Patriots this is about as bad as it gets for just one player. If he has a poor 2013 the contract will be looked at a bit more critically by others since he is all but assured of a roster spot in 2014.
Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles
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.