Since we now have the basic details of the Cowboys extension with left tackle Tyron Smith, I thought it would be worth looking at why calling him the highest paid player at the position is not exactly accurate.
Though Smith carries the highest annual value of any tackle, $12.2 million versus $11.5 million for Joe Thomas, the cash flows will tell a slightly different story. Here are the running cash flows of the two contracts:
For the first five years of the contract Smith will trail Thomas before pulling even in year 6 and then ahead in the seventh and final year of the contract. These numbers do not take into account the fact that Thomas has roster bonus escalators in his contract in year 6 and 7. If Thomas reaches both escalators, which are based on Pro Bowls, His six year payout will rise to $72 million and his 7th year payout to $84 million.
Those escalators are more or less built in to the Smith contract, which is likely how the Cowboys arrived at the $84 million total. If both players continue to play at a high level this deep into their contracts the contracts are at best equivalent and realistically will always favor Thomas. The final year payout for Smith will ensure that he will always be the highest paid player among the current crop of players, pushing his annual value to $12.2 million, a number Thomas can not reach with this contract.
I read some complaints on Pro Football Talk about how the contract is crazy for Smith to sign due to the length of the contract. This now ties him to the Cowboys until he is 33 years old. But that opinion fails to realize that in order to achieve this type of contract it is a concession that you must make. Thomas did the same year ago when he signed his record setting deal and he will be 35 years old when he can next hit free agency, two years older than Smith. While it is true that Smith likely had more earning potential than Thomas, who was 23 when he entered the NFL and signed until he was 27, this is the path to the big contract.
Thomas is not the only individual who sacrificed years to gain big money. D’Brickashaw Fergsuon of the Jets signed a six year $10 million contract extension in 2010 that would tie him to the Jets until he was 34. Like Smith, Ferguson was under contract for two more years when he signed the deal. Ferguson was generally considered overpaid (though his annual value is inflated by around $750,000), but he clearly sacrificed to get that $10 million number. These are concessions that must be made especially since the limited injury risk is now being taken off the player and absorbed onto the team.
One player who took a different route was Ryan Clady of the Denver Broncos. Clady was a franchise player and considered the best tackle in the game outside of Joe Thomas. Clady opted for the traditional five year deal (though it’s doubtful the Broncos offered other options) which gets him to free agency at 32, a bit younger than the others on this list. When we look at the percentage of payout over the five year value we see the big difference. Smith will consistently get a larger percentage of his contract over the first few years of the deal, with it not really smoothing out until the fourth season of the contract.
The other thing that we should do when looking at Smith’s extension is an alternative cash flow analysis. In this case we hold off on the extension because we are unhappy with the length of the contract being offered by the Cowboys. Here we play out the contract and will be subject to the franchise tag in 2016 and potentially 2017. For all the issues that may exist with the Dallas Cowboys salary cap they have already shown a willingness to use the tag multiple times on one player (Anthony Spencer) in years where the cap was difficult to navigate. If anything their cap will be better in the future.
Assuming the tag jumps by around $2.5 million in 2016 here will be the new money cash flows over the next four years:
If we discount these at a 7% rate the earnings in the current contract are actually higher than in the second scenario by about $700,000. We have also eliminated our risks of injury or skill decline during that period. In the above analysis Smith would likely sign a contract in either 2017 or 2018. The terms would be 5 years at that point, which would bring him to either 2021 or 2022. Is that really a material difference than being under contract in 2023? Probably not.
Might he be trading off some money in this situation? Its possible. The 2018 through 2022 seasons would see him earn $54 million. Would the market jump higher than that in that time? Im not sure. Clady’s deal was worth $52.5 million over five years and would be used as the barometer, which would indicate $54 million is a fair number. The salary cap will be rising (by how much nobody knows), but we cant be sure if money will funnel to this position or simply go to higher quarterback wages.
All things considered this is a good contract for both sides. Dallas has a bit more control over his salary cap charges and will pay a bit more now to potentially lock up a player at what might be reasonable terms in the future. Smith has more or less reduced risk in the short term and not really sacrificed much in his overall earning potential to do it. While he may not really be the highest paid player, he can now claim he is based on that additional contract year. He’s not the first nor will he be the last player to do that.
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.