Thursday, September 11, 2014

The 53 - Five Best Contracts for 2014 GBP

In case you missed it, yesterday I looked at the five worst contracts on The 53
Review of The 53
Initial Review of the Roster
Initial Review of the Practice Squad
Five Most Overpaid
Five Most Underpaid
Initial Rankings of the Roster
In previous seasons I've had a hard time cobbling together five "bad" contracts, unfortunately there are a number of them on The 53 right now.  I hope that Thompson cleans up some of those this off-season by either cutting them or getting them to restructure their contracts to play for less money.

In this same post last year I highlighted four guys in their contract year that were finishing a non-rookie contract extension that I thought were absolute steals: Evan Dietrich-Smith (C, $1.3 million), Robert Francois (MLB, $750,000), James Jones (WR, $3.75 million), and Sam Shields (CB, $2 million).  At the end of discussing those four players, I said "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."  Well it turns out that Shields is the only guy left on The 53 and I am super salty that EDS is no longer with the team.  Sure the Packers got good value for having three of the four guys on The 53 last season but the underlying contracts were not that great since EDS is playing for the Tampa Bay Bucaneers and Jones is play for the Oakland Raiders.  Thus it looks like the expiring contracts on the cheap might not be as good as I thought so I did not include them this year.

Let's get to the five best contracts on The 53 for the Packers this season.  Keep in mind that this list doesn't even factor in rookie contracts since they are exempt given that they are so advantageous for all NFL teams.  Much like last year there are almost a dozen contracts that I could characterize as honorable mention but I am going to focus on the five best contracts on The 53:

5. Julius Peppers (DE/OLB, $3.5 million, 14th highest cap charge on The 53): I already gave the Peppers free agent deal two looks this off-season.  First, when I thought Thompson signed Peppers to a three-year, $30 million contract with $7.5 guaranteed.  I followed that up when it turns out that Thompson actually signed Peppers to a three-year, $26 million contract with $7.5 million guaranteed.  I don't want to get too excited about this contract given that Peppers is 34 years old and the contract is structured in such a way that he only has a cap charge of $3.5 million this season (tied for 23rd highest with San Diego Charger Jarret Johnson at outside linebacker in the NFL) that balloons to $12.5 million next season (would be highest at outside linebacker in the NFL if it was this season) and drops to $10.5 million in 2016.  Given how rarely Thompson breaks the bank in fre agency, I had to give Thompson positive encouragement.

4. Tim Masthay (P, $1.2 million, 24th highest cap charge on The 53): It may seem crazy to give a punter contract such praise, especially after all the bad things I said about paying place kickers yesterday but Thompson made up for losing punter Jon Ryan when he signed Masthay to a four-year, $5.5 million contract extension with $1.2 million guaranteed.  The business of professional sports continues to become more and more sophisticated so it makes it much harder for Thompson and other smart NFL general managers to sign these types of cost-effective contract extensions.  Masthay is currently in the second year of that extension and is just the 17th highest paid punter in the NFL with every punter in the Top 10 (in terms of cap hit for 2014) making more than $2 million so $1.2 million this season for Masthay almost seems cheap given the market for punters.

3. Clay Matthews (OLB, $10.9 million, 2nd highest cap charge on The 53): The upside is that it looks like Matthews finally has a legitimate pass rusher lining up opposite of him in Peppers.  The downside is that odds are low that Matthews will be healthy for the entire season given that Matthews missed just two games in his first three seasons in the NFL but missed nine games over the last two seasons.  Plus, the cap hit for Matthews jumped from $6.7 million in 2013 to $10.9 this season.  There are even bigger cap holds for Matthews over the next few seasons so the Packers need to do everything possible to keep Matthews healthy going forward.  Otherwise I could see Matthews dropping off the "best" contract list over the next few years.

2. Sam Shields (CB, $5.6 million, 6th highest cap charge on The 53): When Thompson signed cornerback Tramon Williams to a four-year, $33 million contract extension with $10.9 guaranteed, I thought it was a steal.  Sadly the last year of big extensions like that are expensive unless teams can renegotiate those deals.  Case and point, the Packers are paying Williams $9.5 million this season, which is the 3rd highest cap charge on The 53.  Going into last season I said that Williams had the worst contract on The 53.  Williams picked things up last year and is on an expiring contract, which is why he is not on either list this season.  You might be asking why I had such a lengthy discussion of Williams under what was supposed to be a discussion of Shields.  Well I hope the Williams contract is not a sign of things to come for Shields given that Thompson signed Shields to a four-year, $39 million contract extension with $12.5 guaranteed.  This is just the first year of the extension so the Packers and Shields are still in the honeymoon stage but that honeymoon will be over soon when Shields is owed $12.1 million in each of the last two years of his contract in 2016 and 2017.  One final point of comparison, Nelson and Shields are two of the five best players on The 53.  Nelson and Shields both signed very similar contract extension in the last year, which might make some ask how Nelson could have the 5th worst contract on The 53 while Shields has the second best contract on The 53.  Basically I just think wide receivers are more fungible than cornerbacks, which is even more evident when Aaron Rodgers is your quarterback.
1. Aaron Rodgers (QB, $17.5 million, highest cap charge on The 53): Last year when I discussed why Rodgers had the best contract on The 53 I gave a very detailed breakdown of the two contract extensions that Rodgers signed with the Packers.  The Packers saw how much they struggled without Rodgers under center given that they went 2-4-1 with Matt Flynn, Scott Tolzien, and Seneca Wallace at quarterback in 2013.  So yes, even though the cap hit for Rodgers went from $11.6 million in 2013 to $17.5 million this season, he is still the best contract on The 53 by a mile.  Oh and if you want to know how cost-effective Rodgers is for the Packers, keep in mind that he has only the 6th highest cap hit at quarterback in the NFL this season.  You might think guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have a higher cap hit that Rodgers but that is not the case.  Here are the quarterbacks that have a higher cap hit than Rodgers this year: Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler, Drew Brees, and Sam Bradford.  That's right, Mr. IR himself Sam Brandford has a higher cap hit then Rodgers this year.

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

Again a special thanks to Sportrac for their detailed NFL salary numbers, which made this post possible.  Check back tomorrow when I finally finish my five-part season preview for the 2014 Packers with my initial rankings of The 53.

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