Thursday, September 5, 2013

The 53 - Five Best Contracts for 2013 GBP

In case you missed it, yesterday I looked at the five worst contracts on The 53, which I had a hard time doing because Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson is very fiscally responsible.  For that same reason, I had a hard time winnowing down the list to just five for the best contracts.  This list doesn't even factor in rookie contracts since they are exempt given that they are so advantageous for NFL teams.  There are almost a dozen contracts that I could characterize as honorable mention so let's get to the five best contracts on The 53:

5. Expiring One Year Deals: As I discussed yesterday, the Packers have a number of quality starters set to become free agents this off-season.  Four players not on their original rookie contract that look like absolute steals in 2013 are: Evan Dietrich-Smith (C, $1.3 million), Robert Francois (MLB, $750,000), James Jones (WR, $3.75 million), and Sam Shields (CB, $2 million).  Technically some of the contracts are off-shots of rookie contracts but I included them to illustrate the point that the Packers have a number of players that are playing for the largest payday of their lifetime this off-season so as long as they stay healthy they will have every financial motivation to play their best this season.  If I had to make a predictions today, I think it is much more likely that Dietrich-Smith and Jones will resign with the Packers than Francois or Shields.

4. Morgan Burnett (S, $3.2 million, 11th highest cap charge on The 53): The Packers rewarded Burnett with a lucrative five-year, $26 million contract ($8.25 million guaranteed) after being one of only two players to play every defensive snap for their team in 2012.  People always talk about how if running backs have too many touches, they are more likely to get hurt the following year that running backs that had less touches.  As far as I know, there has never been a similar study on defensive players.  Given the fact that Burnett player every defensive snap in 2012, the odds of him playing anywhere close to as many defensive snaps in 2013 are low, let's just hope he doesn't suffer a serious injury as a result of playing all those snaps in 2012.  Although Burnett only carries the 23rd highest salary cap charge for safeties in the NFL, his cap charges increases next season ($4.9 million) but luckily Burnett's salary cap charge doesn't spike too much the following year ($5.2 million).  Burnett will not even be 30 before the end of his current contract, which is a good thing, because his 2016 ($6.1 million) and 2017 ($7 million) cap numbers are extremely high for a safety.

3. Jordy Nelson (WR, $4 million, 9th highest cap charge on The 53): The Packers and Nelson agreed to a four-year, $14 million extension ($5 million signing bonus) after the 2010 season.  I thought Nelson was a lock for a long-term extension going into last season but he starts 2013 a little banged up so I wonder if the Packers will delay getting Nelson signed to an extension.  Nelson only has the 32nd highest cap hold for wide receivers in the NFL this seasons, which is way too low for a wide receiver of Nelson's caliber even factoring in his current injury issues.  Add in that Nelson's salary cap number actually goes down roughly $100,000 next season to $3.9 million and the Packers can take a wait-and-see approach with Nelson for the first part of 2013, especially since two of their other receivers Jones and Randall Cobb are in line for lucrative extensions in the near future.

2. Clay Matthews (OLB, $6.7 million, 4th highest cap charge on The 53): The Packers and Matthews agreed to a five-year, $66 million contract extension ($20.5 million signing bonus) to make him the highest paid linebacker (by average annual salary) even though they tacked the new contract onto the end of his rookie contract that was set to expire at the end of 2013.  That means the Packers owe Matthews just under $70 million for the next six seasons.  Call this season the honeymoon season because Matthews carries a cap charge of at least $11 million through the life of the contract with the biggest year being $15.2 million in 2017.  In 2013 Matthews holds merely the 13th highest salary cap charge at outside linebacker.  Since the Packers drafted Matthews in 2009 he has consistently been one of the league leaders in sacks.  If Matthews keeps this up, I see the Packers adding guaranteed money and years onto the contract he signed in off-season sooner rather than later.

1. Aaron Rodgers (QB, $12 million, 1st highest cap charge on The 53): The Packers had Rodgers under contract through 2014 as part of the six-year, $65 million ($20 million guaranteed) deal they agreed to in 2008.  The Packers added five years and $110 million dollars ($40 million guaranteed) on the end of the 2008 deal so they owe Rodgers a little less than $131 million for the next seven years, which means the Packers have Rodgers under contract through 2019.  If the Packers had to cut Rodgers before 2016 they would have a ton of salary cap ramifications: $54 million in dead money if they cut him this season, $47 million in dead money if they cut him in 2014, $30 million in dead money if they cut him in 2015, $14 million in dead money if cut in 2016, and $7 million in dead money if they cut him in 2017.  The Packers do not have any guaranteed money left on the contract after 2017 because they extended Rodgers while he still had two years left on his current contract.  If healthy, there is no way in the world anyone besides Aaron Rodgers is starting at quarterback through at least 2016 so I am not worried about the Packers having to deal with any dead money on their salary cap because of the Rodgers contract. Despite being arguably the best quarterback in the NFL, Rodgers has only the 11th highest salary cap number for quarterbacks this season.  The Packers should enjoy having Rodgers on the cheap this year though because his salary cap number jumps to $17.9 million next seasons, which would be second highest salary cap number for quarterbacks this season behind only Eli Manning ($20.9 million).  Rodgers is going to carry a large annual salary cap charge from 2014 on, but the fact that the Packers were able to front load the guaranteed money allows them more flexibility than the "lifetime" 10-year, $101.5 million contract that Brett Favre signed with the Packers that was renegotiated almost every year to help create cap room.  If Rodgers plays out this contract that means the Packers will have only had Favre or Rodgers as their true starting quarterbacks for 27 years from 1992 through 2019.

A special thanks to sportrac for their detailed NFL salary numbers, which made this post possible.

As the contracts discussed above show, the Packers have been in good financial shape under Thompson save for a few slight overpays, which is why they won Super Bowl XLV and have been a perennial playoff team for the last half dozen years besides 2008.

Check back tomorrow when I give my initial rankings of The 53.

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