You hear a lot of numbers thrown during the free NFL agency, but they don’t always reflect reality. That five-year, $ 70 million deal you’ve heard of may turn out to be really be a three-year affair that the team can escape after only two.
This doesn’t make it a bad deal, at all times. It only serves as a window into how the NFL’s economic system works. Very rarely does a free agent, particularly a non-quarterback, come to the end of a long-term deal. This is why players and agents push hard to get guarantees and big payouts in the first two or three years of a deal, because they know that’s usually all they can expect to collect.
With this in mind, every year during this period, we like to take a look at some details of the contract from the first part of the free-agent period and educate yourself a bit about interesting oddities and differences in them.
A disclaimer: The details contained in this story come from the summaries of the offers that the NFL Players Association sends to the agents, which we have obtained. Most often, there will be errors in these summaries (and an agent will call me to correct it). Many of these agreements have not yet been officially signed – a particularly important point to remember in this, the year of physical delay – and therefore some of their details may be subject to change. But for the most part, these are precise details and illustrate some interesting aspects of the league’s financial landscape.
Go to a section:
Which players have really gotten paid
How teams get creative with extra years
A trend to keep an eye on: shorter offers
The new CBA rule already in use
Who receives bonuses for off-season training?
The first thing I noticed is that not many of the new contracts contain training bonuses, which are typically payments that players receive for showing up for off-season training. Due to real-world events that have created huge global health concerns, the NFL has already indefinitely rejected the start of the teams’ offseason programs, and there is a strong feeling around the league that those programs will not happen at all. year.
In this case, it will be quite difficult to accumulate a training bonus for a workout that does not occur. So guys like Teddy Bridgewater (Panthers), Rick Wagner (Packers), Nick Kwiatkoski (Raiders), Mario Addison (Bills) and Cory Littleton (Raiders), who all have $ 250,000 of training bonuses in their offerings, probably won’t see those money this year.
Viking quarterback Kirk Cousins has a $ 500,000 training bonus, but his contract specifies that it is completely guaranteed. Javon Hargrave’s contract with the Eagles specifies that his training bonuses of $ 250,000 in 2020 and 2021 are also completely guaranteed, so good for him. And again, it is possible that some of those other guys’ training bonuses are completely guaranteed and the summary does not clarify it. But unless players get that guaranteed training bonus this year, it’s likely to vanish.
The NFLPA will certainly help all players who want to file a claim and pursue that money, but it’s unclear if they would have a lawsuit. And considering the potential state of the national economy in April and May, it may not be a good look for players fighting for $ 250,000 in bonuses while normal people are losing jobs.
What free agents they got best occasions?
The quarterbacks, above all, were a big surprise. Ryan Tannehill’s deal with the Titans is a huge success for Agent Brian Ayrault. He receives a signing bonus of $ 20 million and fully guaranteed salaries of $ 17.5 million in 2020 and $ 24.5 million in 2021. And his $ 29 million salary in 2022 is fully guaranteed if he is still on the list in the fifth day of the year of the 2021 championship. So the only way he doesn’t see that $ 29 million is if they cut him next March after having already paid him $ 37.5 million and would still have owed him $ 24.5 million guaranteed the next year. So he got $ 62 million fully guaranteed on signature and is almost certain to end up with $ 91 million in guarantees within the next year.
And let’s stop for a moment to appreciate how brilliantly Kirk Cousins and Agent Mike McCartney played this system. Cousins, you will remember, signed a $ 84 million three-year contract with the Vikings two years ago. This offseason, with only one year left in its deal and scheduled to cost the Vikings $ 31 million against their 2020 hat, Cousins had the team above a barrel. They had no choice but to extend his contract, which they did. They ripped off the last year of his previous deal, which would pay him $ 29.5 million in 2020, and replaced him with a new three-year $ 96 million deal with $ 61 million under full guarantee. In addition, Cousins’ $ 35 million salary in 2022 is converted into a full guarantee if he is still in the register on the third day of the 2021 championship year. As in the case of Tannehill, even 2022 money could be fully guaranteed . Minnesota has lowered its 2020 payroll tax to $ 21 million, but Cousins is likely to have the organization in the same position in two years.
As for non-quarterbacks, cornerbacks Byron Jones’ deal with Miami includes $ 46 million guaranteed on signing, but $ 6 million of these represent a portion of his salary of $ 14.375 million 2022. So if the Dolphins cut it after two years, they are out of $ 52. millions. Getting a part of the third year guaranteed is always a win, as it drastically increases the chances of the team keeping a player for at least three years. Great job there of agents Jared Fox and Alan Herman.
49ers really like Arik Armstead. San Francisco rarely guarantees second year salary in its affairs, but Agent Chafie Fields got one here. Defensive linesman gets a signing bonus of $ 17.5 million and fully guaranteed salaries of $ 2.5 million in 2020 and $ 6.65 million in 2021, plus a guaranteed option bonus of $ 7.5 million paid in 2021 So, $ 34.15 million fully guaranteed on signature and paid in the first two years.
Andrew Whitworth, 38, got a second year warranty from the Rams. Agent Pat Dye has secured a signing bonus of $ 5 million, a guaranteed salary of $ 5 million 2020 and a fully guaranteed $ 2.5 million roster bonus for 2022 for Whitworth. Then the Rams will pay for the equipment. left $ 12.5 million even if they cut it after a year. In fact, they will pay him $ 12,500,077, since his deal also includes a $ 77 bonus option due by 2022. The Rams are known to put small oddities in their contracts that reflect things of value to the player, and Whitworth’s uniform number is 77.
How teams add extra years to help with the limit
Teams sometimes have to be creative with structures to navigate the pay limit. One way to do this is to add “null years” to a contract that allows you to distribute the signing bonus up to five years for capitalization accounting purposes. This happened with some high profile offers this year.
For example, Jack Conklin’s offensive affair with the Browns is not really a five-year $ 70 million contract. It’s a $ 42 million three-year contract. The years 2023 and 2024 are automatically canceled if Conklin is in the register on the fifth day of the waiver period from 2023. So he will never see those $ 14 million wages in 2023 and 2024. He will get a signing bonus of $ 15 million and fully guaranteed salaries of $ 5 million in 2020 and $ 10 million in 2021, plus $ 12 million unsecured in 2022. But if Cleveland had signed a three-year deal with a signing bonus of $ 15 million, it should count $ 5 million ($ 15 million divided over three years) of that against the cap in each of the three years rather than just $ 3 million ($ 15 million divided over five years).
So the number of Conklin caps for 2020 will be $ 8 million, his cap number for 2021 will be $ 13 million, and his cap number for 2022 will be $ 15 million, and then $ 6 million for the restitution of the remaining signing bonus they will hit Browns’ salary cap in 2023 as a dead person – the charge of money after the operation was canceled. This actually gives Conklin, who will be 28 in the low season of 2023, a nice leverage if the Browns want to extend his contract. If they extend it before the contract is canceled, they can split that cap charge in half, counting $ 3 million against their 2023 limit and $ 3 million against their 2024 limit (plus whatever is in the new deal).
Other important deals with voids in them include:
Linebacker Danny Trevathan’s deal with the Bears, which is in the system as a six-year deal, $ 30.75 million, but is actually a three-year deal, $ 13.625 million. Trevathan’s contract is complex. Includes two option bonuses, each worth $ 3.625 million. The first, which would trigger the 2024 season, must be collected by the tenth day of the 2021 championship year, otherwise his 2021 salary becomes fully guaranteed at $ 6.625 million. The second, which would trigger the 2025 season, must be collected by the tenth day of the 2022 championship year, otherwise his 2022 salary becomes $ 6.125 million (unsecured). The reason for making option bonuses instead of signing bonuses is that teams don’t have to start accounting for their limit until they are exercised, so in this case the bonus doesn’t affect the 2020 limit. Also, the 2023-25 years Trevathan’s contract terms, regardless of whether the options engage or not, automatically cancel five days after the 2022 Super Bowl. So they are only there for the purpose of offloading taxes on the roof.
The defensive attack Javon Hargrave’s agreement with the Eagles looks like a $ 65 million five-year deal, but it’s only a $ 39 million three-year deal because the 2023 and 2024 seasons cancel automatically 23 days before the start of the year 2023 championship. Empty years allow Eagles to distribute Hargrave’s $ 11.75 million signing bonus for capitalization purposes.
The agreement of the linebacker De’Vondre Campbell with the cardinals has four empty years. It’s in the system like a $ 10 million five-year deal, but it’s actually only for a year, $ 6 million. He receives a signing bonus of $ 5 million, a salary of $ 1 million in 2020, and therefore 2021-24 years are automatically canceled on the fifth day following this season’s Super Bowl. Campbell’s success for this year is $ 2 million, and the Cardinals will bring a $ 4 million charge to him for their 2021 limit.
A trend to watch: short-term business
There was a feeling among players and agents that free agents would be open to short-term offers this low season as TV revenue is expected to skyrocket while new network offers will be signed in the next two years and the players will want to be free agents again once this happens and the salary limit skyrockets. Here are two examples:
Giants’ new cornerback, James Bradberry, will earn $ 29.8 million (all fully guaranteed on signing) over the next two years, then another $ 13.4 million if the team retains it for 2022, and then becomes an agent again. free at the age of 29.
Raiders’ new linebacker, Cory Littleton, gets $ 22 million guaranteed on signing, he will earn $ 33 million in salary (and possibly another $ 2.25 million bonus) if he plays his entire three-year deal with the Raiders, so he will return to being a free agent at 29 years old. Both, assuming they continue to play well, or will be in extensions negotiations in the spring of 2022 or free agents in 2023, with league earnings expected to be much higher than they are now.
A new CBA rule already in play
Sean Mannion (Vikings), Lerentee McCray (Jaguars), Kevin Minter (Bucs), Antonio Hamilton (Chiefs) and Jihad Ward (Ravens) were among the players whose one-year contracts qualified them for the new “veteran salary advantage” “in the recently signed collective bargaining agreement. This allows players who sign a one-year minimum wage contract to claim an advantage of $ 137,500 in addition to his salary, provided he has at least four seasons credited and fulfills other qualifications based on his previous contract. (The amount of the benefit increases every two years starting in 2022.)
The trick is that, for these contracts, the team’s wage commission equals only the minimum wage for a player with two years of service time, which is $ 750,000 in 2020. So, for example: Ward has four seasons credited, so his minimum salary for this year is $ 910,000. He qualifies for an additional $ 137,500, so his one-year deal will pay him $ 1,047 million. But it will only cost the Ravens $ 750,000 against the salary limit.
Adam Schefter has coronavirus provisions in contracts, but doubts that a team will cancel a contract because a player has COVID-19.
But the really interesting one is Joe Looney’s deal with the Cowboys, because it’s in a different category. Since Looney has played for at least four consecutive years with the Cowboys, he is considered a “qualified player for four years”. This means that he can sign an agreement with a minimum wage and the team can add an additional $ 1.25 million. So the 2020 minimum for a player with Looney’s service time is $ 1.05 million, but his deal with Dallas is one year and $ 2.3 million. The trick is that the team doesn’t have to count $ 1.25 million more than the limit, so the center receives $ 2.3 million but costs only $ 1.05 million at the limit. If another team wanted to sign Looney for $ 2.3 million, they would have had to count all the $ 2.3 million against the limit.
Again, the numbers on additional compensation increase every two years starting in 2022. And a team can use the four-year advantage over up to two players per year and the total amount between these two players cannot exceed $ 1.25 million (so Cowboys can’t use this trick to sign another player this year). But it’s a new rule that helps teams sign their players again and get around the limit.
Some other contracts and notes that I found interesting
The Teddy Bridgewater deal does not preclude the Panthers from drafting a quarterback in the NFL 2020 or 2021 projects. Bridgewater is getting $ 33 million fully guaranteed in the first two years of its deal, of which $ 23 million is paid in 2020. If the Panthers prepare a quarterback and they want to make it 2021 a beginner, they will have paid Bridgewater to a midrange starting the quarterback salary for a year and I only owe him $ 10 million in guaranteed money in 2021.
The Chris Harris Jr. deal on the corner with the chargers is a really nice move from the team. It’s a two-year deal and the only guarantee is the $ 7.5 million signing bonus. He receives a $ 2 million salary this year and, if he plays well, they will get it back for $ 7.5 million next year (unsecured, of course).
Robert Quinn’s deal with the Bears, which pays him $ 30 million in guaranteed money in the first two years, could be the basis for unsigned free agent Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney is looking for much more, but the market is the market. He probably should have been shooting for something Za’Darius Smith had received from the Packers last year.
Raiders somehow notoriously don’t use signing bonuses in their contracts. (They made an exception for Derek Carr.) Doing business in this way forces them to absorb higher first-year cap shots but avoid dead money problems along the way. The giants have done their business this way this year. Bradberry, Blake Martinez, Levine Toilolo, Kyler Fackrell – none of those guys received signing bonuses. The team could have reduced the success of the Bradberry 2020 cap from $ 15.9 million to $ 6.3 million if it had instead made its $ 12 million role bonus a signing bonus. But he opted for 2020 protection successes to preserve space in future years.
Speaking of the Raiders and quarterbacks, Marcus Mariota’s new contract guarantees him $ 7.5 million in 2020, which is $ 250,000 more in guaranteed money than the Saints who last year gave Drew’s backup to Bridgewater Brees. Mariota can earn around $ 5 million more if she plays, achieves certain statistical goals, and the Raiders win the Super Bowl.