Thoughts on Cowboys contract with Travis Frederick

The Cowboys signed Center Travis Frederick to a new contract on Sunday.  I’m sure by now we’ve heard all the superlatives thrown around regarding the size of the contract, the guarantees on the contract and so on, so I wanted to dive deeper into the contract and see exactly how this plays out and where the benefits lie for both sides.

The contract breakdown

At $56.4 million over 6 years Frederick will indeed be the highest valued player with a contract value of $9.4 million per season. This number should be no surprise given that Frederick was a former first round pick, is a multiple time Pro Bowler, and has been recognized by numerous organizations for All Pro type of honors. He is also just 25 years old.  So he was going to be the highest paid player.

The real contract comparison here is Maurkice Pouncey of the Steelers, IMO, rather than Alex Mack of the Falcons. Pouncey shared many of the same traits as Frederick with the exception of Pouncey being injured prior to signing his contract. When you look closer at the contracts it is also noticeable that Pouncey is the cash king for the most part rather than Mack. Mack is also 31 which is really a completely different bracket of players to consider.

The concession that Dallas makes in this contract will be the upfront cash that can possibly be earned by Frederick. Here is the running cash breakdown on the contract compared with some of the other centers in the NFL.

PlayerYear 0Year 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5Year 6

When you look at the cash here you can see where Pouncey was the true comparable as he makes over $30 million three years, which was the leader of the group. Dallas exceeded that total but only by $900,000. You will see a similar trend in year four before Frederick settles in with a nicer number over five years. Pouncey’s concession back when he signed his contract was that the fifth year would be used to drive the contract APY down. Dallas also received slightly better cash terms over the extension seasons of the deal with $8 million in new money versus just over $10 million for Pouncey. The real concession comes in the first two “new money” years. The $18 and $24 million numbers represent a larger bump for Frederick over the other deals.

In some respects I think the contract of Mack may have helped Dallas here. Though Mack is not a true comparable sometimes people can get blinded by the status as “highest paid” and not really look closer at the player’s situation. I’m not saying that is what happened here, just that it can happen and I am sure in most analysis of the deal you will read elsewhere it will be mainly about Mack.

Mack signing for $9 million as a true free agent in 2016 may have been interpreted as a stagnant market for the position. It was just a tiny bump over the two Pouncey extensions signed in 2014 and 2015 and Hudson free agent contract in 2015. This was despite $10 million per year increases in the salary cap in the time that those contracts were signed. This contract certainly doesn’t inflate by the level of the cap in those years.

The biggest advantage for Dallas should come in the term of the contract. When you look at the above table you will notice that every other player is a free agent following five years of the contract. The extra year makes the contract sound more impressive ($9.4M APY versus $9.25M APY) but in reality it isn’t. Dallas locked Frederick in at $10 million and change for the year. That should be reasonable cost savings by 2023.

If he maintains his level of play that should be a discount of a few million if the cap continues to rise. Recently Ryan Kalil signed an $8.5 million a year extension at 30 and Mack is 31. Centers generalaly have long careers (see Kalil, Nick Mangold, Mack, etc…) so this is a very strong cost certainty for the Cowboys.

Contract Structure

The guarantee structure is pretty much in line with the market. The Steeler’s only do limited guarantees so that Pouncey isn’t as much of a comp point. While Frederick may have been hurt somewhat by Mack hitting $9 million he was probably helped with the Mack guarantee package.

PlayerTotal Guarantee% GuaranteedFull Guarantee% Full GuaranteeNew Guarantee

When you factor out the old money in a deal that was already guaranteed the true meat of the contract is that Dallas added $18 million in new injury guarantees and $8 million in full guarantees to the contract. The latter number is in line with the Pouncey deal with the Steelers. Those are the big differences between extensions and free agent contracts and why teams, once the know they want to keep a player, should extend early. If Dallas waits on the contract they will pay Frederick his scheduled $10.2 million and then wind up signing a contract with an additional $28M in guarantees, bringing the cash you are stuck on way up.

Dallas was able to get away with a miniscule signing bonus on the contract. That may have also been the reason for higher salaries on the front end of the contract. Regardless I was surprised Dallas did not end up with a much higher bonus payment.

PlayerBonus% of contract

Cap Impacts and other thoughts

By signing the contract when Frederick had two years remaining on his deal, Dallas will end up with a contract that is worth, on the cap, about $8.7 million a year. If Dallas is able to get through 2017 without restructuring his contract this will be a great contract for the Cowboys as Dallas will have virtually no future risk.

The near $15M plus cap charge in 2017 is clearly designed to force a restructure and Dallas currently projects to be a few million over the cap in 2017 so this would be a prime candidate for restructure. The $10.7M cap charge in 2018 is also designed for a restructure as well. So the contract could become messier and more player friendly depending on Dallas’ future decisions.

That said because the contract runs through 2023 and the final three years of the contract contain no prorated money the pushing of money for cap purposes should not impact the Cowboys too much. They will have more time to evaluate before making the decisions in the 2017 and 2018 league years. After those seasons the cap charges are very low before making a turn up slightly at the end of the deal. With no cap charge above $8.5 million before 2023 this is a pretty affordable deal.

Id say the biggest thing for Dallas, if they do need to restructure, is to do it in moderation rather than going all in for a maximum conversion. If the average money to sign for a center is $11 million, don’t restructure any more than $8 million more over the next two years. I think as long as the team stays at or below the current high water marks this will always be looked at as a good contract for them.

This reminds me somewhat of the approach Dallas took with Tyron Smith by doing a long term If he underperforms there is no cap reason to prevent you from bringing his salary down. That is a vast departure from the UFA contracts they have signed in the past with the Brandon Carr’s of the world where the contract structure locked the team in. Structure wise it was also similar in that they used some various cash flow measures to inflate the numbers when the real numbers are much closer to the norm. Smith also plays a position, like Frederick, where the career expectancy for a star is better than other positions.

Seeing these two contracts makes me think that next years priority will be Zach Martin once they pick up his option. Dallas is setting a precedent for longer term contracts along the line which is probably a necessity to fit everyone in. Dallas’ strength is in that offensive line and I don’t think this is a position they can just allow to walk away the way a team like the Seahawks (though they were never in the same ballpark of talent as the Cowboys O-line) did.

Tony Romo is probably nearing the end of his career and the need for a younger passer will likely creep up sooner rather than later. Given Romo’s health and age it is quite possible that Dallas could one day be in for a trial by fire approach to a first round draft pick. They drafted a running back extremely high this year to keep the pressure off Romo and/or a younger player down the line and again this is all about keeping that unit going to prevent the offense from one day just falling apart.

The team should be able to stagger their contracts once they make it past next year where Smith and Frederick may both carry large numbers. Any extension for Martin likely would not lead to a big cap increase in 2017 along the line and they may be able to even keep it relatively status quo in 2018 even if they don’t touch the contract. The team still has a long time to worry about La’El Collins who they hold RFA rights all  the way until 2019. By that point in time the Smith and Frederick contracts will be pretty low cost on the cap.

Provided that Dallas resists the urge to convert millions upon millions to bonus money my guess is this will be looked at as a very good contract two years down the line, when Frederick normally would have been a free agent and now looks undervalued as inferior players cash in during free agency. All they really gave up were a few million in guarantees to get this deal done now and are validating more and more that Smith contract they signed. If they can get all  their linemen to sign early and essentially commit their entire career to Dallas, they should be in terrific shape to avoid a bad slippage post Romo and to have the cap in good enough shape to where they can go out and spend in free agency in the post Romo years to take the next step to improve what should be a much younger team.