With every team reporting to camp we still have two rookie who remain unsigned- Zach Wilson of the New York Jets and Trey Lance of the San Francisco 49ers. It is really inexcusable for teams at this stage to not have their rookies signed. Every year we project the contracts and are usually within $100 of the entire four year total so there is nothing that goes into that part of the process. So let’s look at what the issues could be.
- Guarantee Language- This was an issue before with the Jets when they drafted Sam Darnold in 2018. Basically team’s have various terms by which the guarantees in a contract can void. Recent issues have regarded things like suspensions for helmet to helmet type of stuff which is a vastly different scenario than being suspended for drugs. If I remember correctly the Jets issue with Darnold was that they wanted a fine by the league to also constitute a violation of the guarantee.
Overall, this is basically meaningless. If a player is good it doesn’t matter if he does or does not have a guaranteed salary and you should be going into this with all positive thoughts. How many players in the top 10 had their guarantees void, thus protecting the team? Since 2011 just three- Dion Jordan, Justin Gilbert, and Leonard Fournette. Of the three only Fournette’s was for something that might be an issue with a guarantee clause while the other two were hit for standard stuff.
- Bonus Payment Schedules- A big deal was made a few weeks ago when the Jaguars agreed to pay Trevor Lawrence his entire signing bonus with two weeks of signing. This was a concession by Jacksonville as it is a big amount to pay at once. I could see this being a legit hang up except, as noted by Joel Corry, both the Jets and 49ers have done this already.
Jets & 49ers have already established a precedent of lump sum signing bonus payment with Sam Darnold & Nick Bosa. It's harder for those teams to justify different treatment for Zach Wilson & Trey Lance after Trevor Lawrence.— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) July 5, 2021
So if this is the issue for either team they are either breaking with precedent or are simply waiting until the last second to avoid making a payment until it is absolutely necessary, which is not really in the best interest of the team.
- Offsets- Salary offsets allow a team to avoid paying out a guarantee if the player, after being released, earns a salary with another team. This has generally been the biggest hang up over rookie contracts even though it is just a fight for the sake of having a fight. In reality it does little for both sides. If the player is great, which everyone thinks the player is when they draft them, he won’t be released so offsets do not come into play. If the player is so bad that he is going to be cut, well the offset isn’t going to come into play then either because nobody will want the player. Essentially you have to have a player who is not good enough to play for you but is good enough to get a look elsewhere. More often than not the player only receives the minimum salary from another team in that scenario so at most you are looking at insuring $1.055 million of a contract worth $34 to $35 million dollars.
Here is the reality- it almost never comes into play. I looked at every top 10 selection since 2011 and determined their rookie contract outcome. Of the 71 draft picks who have already reached a rookie contract outcome guess how many an offset would have come into play? One. Ereck Flowers. That is it. Of the other players who were released outright they had already voided their guarantees or simply never were signed to play anywhere else. So really what are you fighting over? A 1 to 3% chance to recover about 3% of the entire contract value. I’m sure you can pat yourself on the back for that while sitting on the couch after you were fired for drafting a bust.
Teams should give their top picks the best chances to succeed and haggling over all these things isn’t it. Ultimately Im sure these teams will use some modified no offset roster bonuses which is a solution that could have been reached ages ago. They can also dangle no offsets and in return ask for no lump sum payments. Use it as a bargaining chip but if you lose out in this part of the draft are you really hurt because of it?
My guess is one is waiting on the other to sign. If Wilson gets the big bonus and no offsets it gives Lance a reason to dig in on that and vice versa. The Jets may also be hoping to get the 49ers in as a data point on a more team friendly structure.
Hopefully both teams get their deals done ASAP. At least in the 49ers case they have a veteran QB on the roster and he is the one who they claim they are going to start. The Jets do not have that luxury. They decided not to waste the resources on a backup with experience so they are all in on Wilson. Having him miss even one practice is just bad. You have a new coach and new culture. Don’t be the same old Jets at the negotiating table and get them off to a rocky start. That is far more important the $1M you might save four years from now if Wilson is a disaster.
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.