Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The 53 - Five Worst Contracts for 2014 GBP

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson finalized the first incarnation of The 53 on Saturday.  I say first incarnation because much like last year, just a few days after finalizing The 53, Thompson shook up The 53.  Last year Thompson made a change at backup quarterback, this year injuries forced Thompson to make changes at center
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
Thompson normally is very deliberate in how he Builds The 53 but injuries have forced Thompson to change his approach over the last few years. In what feels like a flurry of off-season signings, Thompson signed not one but two free agents that played for other NFC North teams last season.  Thompson favors the draft and develop method over splashing cash in free agency but with such meager returns from the draft the last few years (2011, 2012, and 2013), Thompson was basically forced to upgrade The 53 via free agency so let's not give him too much credit.

Thompson rolled over roughly $10 million in cap space from last season, which is very important given that he has just under $9 million in cap space right now.  Although it looks like the Packers have a fair amount of salary cap room, they will need to use it wisely because they have a number of quality starters* and backups** that are set to become free agents this off-season.

Two years ago I dealt with the five worst and five best contract together.  Since these posts get long, I decided to split them up last year into the five worst and the five best contracts on The 53.  I am going to follow that same approach again this year.  Today let's look at the five worst contracts on The 53:

5. Jordy Nelson (WR, $5.9 million, 5th highest cap charge on The 53): Going into this season the top three wide receivers on The 53: Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Jarrett Boykin were set to become free agents.  There is no question that Nelson is the most accomplished of the three but he is also the oldest.  Thompson signed Nelson to a four-year, $39 million extension with $11.5 million guarnateed on the eve of training camp, which is much richer than the four-year, $14 million contract with $5 million guaranteed that was set to expire at the end of the 2014 season. Nelson's cap number actually goes down next season to $4.6 but then jumps up for the following three years: $8.8 million in 2016, $11.5 million in 2017, and $12.5 million in 2018.  Sure the cap is set to go up in 2015 or 2016 but that does not justify back-loading this deal as much as Thompson did.  Given Cobb's injury issues, if he signs an extension with the Packers I would expect that it will be slightly less expensive than Nelson's recent extension but probably only a few million less.  Boykin is the tougher call given that Thompson drafted three wide receivers in the 2014 NFL Draft that are borderline locks for The 53 in 2015.  Unless Boykin takes a below market deal for a player of his caliber (e.g. only averages $2 million a year with very little guaranteed), I see him play playing elsewhere in 2015.  Nelson has just the 16th highest wide receiver salary in the NFL this season, which makes his contract look reasonable this season so I hope you realize that this is more of a commentary on the structure of the deal as well as the depth that the Packers have at wide receiver as opposed to a shot at Nelson.

4. Derek Sherrod (OT, $2.1 million salary, 16th highest cap charge on The 53): When the Packers lost backup offensive lineman Don Barclay for the season it meant that Sherrod became the backup at left and right tackle.  When right tackle Bryan Bulaga went down with a knee injury in the regular season opener on the road against the Seattle Seahawks, the Packers were forced to play Sherrod and he struggled mightily.  I know that Seattle is arguably the toughest stadium to play in and the Seahawks are the defending Super Bowl champs but Thompson certainly expected more out of Sherrod when he drafted him with the 32nd pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.  Unfortunately it looks like Sherrod is the second coming of Marshall Newhouse instead of Chad Clifton, which makes the long-term diagnosis on Bulaga's knee injury very important.  Thankfully Thompson can let Sherrod leave via free agency after this season while the rest of the guys on this list are signed past this season.

3. Morgan Burnett (S, $4.8 million salary, 9th highest cap charge on The 53):  Oh how the mighty have fallen.  I was a total Burnett supporter going into 2013.  In fact I liked Burnett so much that I actually had his four-year, $24.75 million contract extension with $8.25 million guaranteed that he signed before the 2014 season ranked as the 4th best contract on The 53 last season.  This might be a bit of an over reaction to one bad season since Burnett and the rest of the safeties on The 53 last year struggled but now the Packers have two much more cost-effective options at safety in Micah Hyde (moved from cornerback to safety this off-season) and rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (my reasonable draft crush from the 2014 NFL Draft).  Given that Burnett is just 25 years old, I don't see Thompson cutting Burnett after this season unless Ha Ha and Hyde are absolute studs while Burnett completely struggles again this year but I wonder whether it will trigger a A.J. Hawk-esque pay cut down the road for Burnett if he wants to stay in Green Bay through the end of his contract that currently expires after the 2017 season.

2. Mason Crosby (K, $3.4 million salary, 15th highest cap charge on The 53)Before the 2011 season Thompson signed Crosby to a five-years, $14.75 million contract with $3 million guaranteed.  Last season Crosby agreed to forgo guaranteed money with the option to earn the money back via performance bonuses because of how close he was to getting cut.  Crosby put together arguably his best season in Green Bay but let's not forget that there have been a number of studies that show there is no year-over-year correlation between kicker performance.  Thus a Top 5 kicker aka 2013 Crosby is just as likely to be a bottom five kicker aka 2012 Crosby.  Right now Crosby is the 4th highest paid kicker in the NFL and sadly has regression written all over him for this season.  If I were Thompson, next off-season I would draft a kicker late or sign an undrafted rookie free agent to create a kicking competition in training camp.  If Crosby is out-kicked by the other kicker, the Packers would only have $600,000 in dead money if they cut him but would be able to save over $2 million in salary at the kicker position given that Crosby is owed $3.5 million in 2015 because a rookie kicker would make around $500,000.  As you can tell, I hope 2014 is Crosby's last season kicking for the Packers.

1. Brad Jones (MLB, $3.9 million salary, 10th highest cap charge on The 53): I had Jones pegged for the worst contract on The 53 even before he was the single worst defender on the field against the Seattle Seahawks in the regular season opener.  Last year I thought Jones only had the 4th worst contract on The 53 but Jones is now clearly in a race to the bottom with each passing day the three-year, $11.75 million contract that Thompson gave Jones continues to look worse and worse.  Just to add insult to the salary cap, the Packers are paying middle linebacker Jamari Lattimore $1.4 million in 2014 to backup Jones.  This off-season Lattimore is an unrestricted free agent.  I don't see Lattimore breaking the bank this off-season but will mostly likely command enough that Thompson will have to choose whether Jones deserves a spot on The 53 or should make way for a Lattimore extension.  I clearly favor Lattimore or even rookie Carl Bradford in 2015 over Jones. If Thompson doubles down on stupid by keeping Jones around for 2015, it will most likely be at the expense of Lattimore.

A special thanks to Sportrac for their detailed NFL salary numbers, which made this post possible.  With the bad contracts out of the way, make sure to check tomorrow for my look at the five best contracts on The 53.

* = Bryan Bulaga (OT), Randall Cobb (WR), John Kuhn (FB), B.J. Raji (DT), and Tramon Williams (CB).

** = Don Barclay (OT), Jarrett Boykin (WR), Jarett Bush (CB), Matt Flynn (QB), Letroy Guion (DT), DuJuan Harris (RB), Davon House (CB), Jamari Lattimore (MLB), Sean Richardson (S), Derek Sherrod (OT), Ryan Taylor (TE), and Scott Tolzien (QB).

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