Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Tipping Point

Listening to Czabe Monday after the draft, he had Don Banks on. They discussed the lunacy of the Stafford deal, and were calling it the tipping point. This being the one contract that will essentially force everyone's hand in getting these contracts in line.

It's not a bad point. Take a look at the contracts of the #1 overall pick for the last ten years.

Name# YrsGuar $ / YrTot $ / yr
Matt Stafford6$7.0$12.0
Jake Long5$6.0$11.4
JaMarcus Russell6$5.3$10.2
Mario Williams6$4.4$9.0
Alex Smith6$4.0$8.3
Eli Manning7$2.9$7.7
Carson Palmer7$1.4$7.0
David Carr7$1.6$6.6
Michael Vick6$0.5$10.3
Courtney Brown6$1.8$7.5

The numbers are frankly pretty sick, in particular the guaranteed money. In ten years, the guaranteed money has increased almost 4x, and the total money has increased 60%. The last four years (somewhat arbitrary, but skips the massive jump Smith saw over Eli), the guaranteed money has increased an average of 15% each year. That's market-busting. The same time frame has seen an average of 10% increase each year for total money.

In particular, the basic size of the compensation has gotten out of hand. Stafford has gotten nearly $42MM guaranteed, and $72MM total for six years. Compare this to a few other contracts for established QBs...
Tony Romo signed a 6 year, $67.4MM deal with $30MM guaranteed in 2007.
Peyton Manning signed a 7 year, $99.2MM deal with $34.5MM guaranteed in 2004.
Tom Brady signed a 6 year, $60MM deal with $26.5MM guaranteed in 2005.
Ben Roethlisberger signed an 8 year, $102MM deal with $33.2MM guaranteed in 2008.
Drew Brees signed a 6 year, $60MM deal with $20MM guaranteed in 2006.
Carson Palmer signed a 6 year, $94MM deal with $15MM guaranteed after the '05 season.
Donovan McNabb signed a 12 year, $115MM deal with $20.5MM guaranteed in 2003.

Manning and Palmer are the only ones on this list above that have more total money per year than Stafford. None of them have more guaranteed money or guaranteed money per year. The seven QBs I've listed above are pretty much unquestionably the best QBs currently playing in the NFL not still on their first contract.

Matthew Stafford, the guy who has a ton of questions surrounding him. The guy who may not have been the best QB prospect in this year's draft class. The guy who was picked number one overall in what was said to be the weakest draft class in years. A guy who has never played a down in the NFL.

Matthew Stafford is no lower than the third highest paid QB in the NFL.

There are two issues this creates. The first is a CBA / NFLPA issue, and will be addressed in CBA negotiations. These contracts are taking money away from the established veterans who have earned their paydays. It is virtually impossible to argue Alex Smith has earned the $35 - $40 million he's been paid so far. Russell, even if he turns into a solid QB in the next four years, has essentially wasted two years for the Raiders, which turns his deal from $5.3 guar/year and $10.2 tot/year into $8 guar/year and $15.25 tot/year, spreading his money out over four instead of six years. So far the NFLPA is playing this issue as a non-starter they don't care about, but as Patrick said to me, it'll simply be used as a nugget to concede to the owners in negotiations.

The second is that it turns the top picks into an incredible burden for teams, where it's typically supposed to be helpful for them. Take a look at Jimmy Johnson's well known draft value chart, put together well over a decade ago prior to these rookie deals going out of control. As an example, the Browns traded with the Jets, from #5 to #17. To do this, the Jets would have to give 750 points in value. Their 2nd round pick was worth only 410 according to this chart. Sure they gave up some players, but none are critical players. They would need to give another 340 points worth. Anyone here think the Jets could have gotten the #56 overall pick for those three players?

The Browns are the first team since 2004 to successfully trade a top five draft pick. The reason for that is fairly simple. It's not cause the talent isn't there (though that's true some years). It's that no one wants to take the chance that a guy they're gonna pay $8MM - $12MM per year busts, in addition to the multiple picks it would take to secure him.

And there-in lies the problem. Detroit was an historically bad team last year. If any team needs the ability to get the best prospect available, it's them. And yet the pick is a burden for them, because it takes so much money to sign the guy. If Stafford busts out, it has two terrible connotations for the team. First, they are cap strapped at least partially because of the deal, limiting their ability to sign additional help needed to get out of the gutter. Second, the money they've committed to him nearly forces him to start earlier than maybe he should, and makes it impossible to wash their hands of him early if all signs point to bust. This means he sucks longer for the team, hurting them further. Alex Smith is the perfect example of both of these issues.

I have to agree with Czaban/Banks. I think this deal will wind up being a tipping point in implementing a rookie salary cap or fixed scale of some sort. I think this will be a great thing both for the league, as well as for the teams picking at the top that need the help these picks are supposed to offer. With any luck, it happens next off-season.


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