On Friday RB Vick Ballard was placed on the season ending Injured Reserve list by the Indianapolis Colts after suffering an ACL injury in practice. Normally that would not be something I would talk about here, but with all the discussions we had in the offseason about rookie contract negotiations I thought this might be a good topic of discussion.
Ballard was drafted with one of the compensatory picks of the 5th round of the 2012 NFL draft but earned the starting running back job for the Colts as a rookie, starting 11 games and rushing for 814 yards. That’s not too bad for a late draft pick and in our own evaluation matrix gave the Colts about $3.8 million in production.
For Ballard the injury came at the worst possible time. The Colts are a team that pushes for full season split salaries for both the first and second years of their late round draft picks. That is not exactly uncommon for the 5th round- I believe only six players selected in the round of his draft received better terms- but if he had just a preseason split Ballard would have earned his entire salary for the season. Now that he has moved to IR his weekly paycheck will fall from $28,235 to $17,824. With 16 weeks remaining in the year he will lose $166,588, nearly 35% of his anticipated takehome.
Things get worse from there for Ballard. The Colts policy for late round draft picks is tying a players’ first two seasons’ salary to the amount of Credited Seasons a player has earned. A Credited Season is earned by being on the teams’ Active roster for three games. Ballard landing on IR after just 1 week means he will not earn a Credited Season for the 2013 season. What that means is his salary in 2014 should also be reduced, in this case from $570,000 to $495,000 which is a loss of $75,000.
This feature of Ballard’s contract is not as common. Ballard was one of only five players drafted in that round that I know of from that draft to have both his 2013 and 2014 salary tied to Credited Seasons. Most only had their 2013 season tied to the amount of seasons earned. That is also true of 6th and 7th round picks. But this is an example of a team flexing their muscle as low draft picks have almost no choice but to take whatever is offered.
So the next time you wonder about what could be a holdup in signing a late round draft pick remember Ballard. A bargain for the team in 2012 will stand to lose almost $243,000 over the next two seasons because he was forced into a team friendly contract structure and was then injured early in the season.
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.