Posts by Joel Corry

Participation Is Voluntary

Voluntary offseason workout programs for teams that did not hire a new head coach can begin on the third Monday in April, which is April 20 this year. Teams with a new head coach were allowed to start two weeks earlier on April 6. Players who are franchised, such as Dez Bryant, Justin Houston and

Voluntary offseason workout programs for teams that did not hire a new head coach can begin on the third Monday in April, which is April 20 this year. Teams with a new head coach were allowed to start two weeks earlier on April 6. Players who are franchised, such as Dez Bryant, Justin Houston and Demaryius Thomas, and restricted free agents, like Tashaun Gipson, are prohibited from participating in off-season team activities without signing an NFL player contract.

There is another way for these types of players to participate through an obscure provision (Article 21, Section 9) of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Players who received a tender but haven’t signed an NFL contract and unrestricted free agents whose contracts expired can engage in offseason workouts and minicamps with their previous team while retaining the free agency rights they already have. In order to participate, these players must sign an agreement that contains the standard language the NFL and NFLPA came up with in 2012, which has been incorporated into Article 21, Section 9 of the 2011 CBA as Appendix Q.

Appendix Q protects players in case they are injured while participating in team activities during the off-season. In the case of an injury, a player will receive as a one year salary the greater of his required tender, his applicable minimum salary or the amount negotiated by the player and the team. Participation by a player is voluntarily under this provision so he can withdraw at any time with impunity. In Gipson’s case, his 2015 salary would be $2.356 million with an injury, his restricted free agent tender, since it’s unlikely that the Cleveland Browns would agree to a greater amount in order to get him to participate.

A main benefit to signing a participation agreement instead of an NFL contract is that a player will preserve his option of holding out without subjecting himself to penalties. For example, if Gipson boycotted a mandatory three day minicamp because of a lack of progress on a long term deal after signing his restricted free agent tender, the Browns would have the right to fine him $12,155 for the first day he missed minicamp, $24,300 for a second missed day and $36,465 if he missed a third day ($72,920 total for missing minicamp). If Gipson continued his boycott into training camp, the Browns could fine him $30,000 for each day he missed. These fines can’t occur when players are operating under participation agreements and they can only partake in training camp if they have signed an NFL contract.

Participation agreements have been rarely utilized by players receiving a franchise tender. Tennessee Titans safety Michael Griffin signed one in 2012 so he could be a part of the off-season program. The Titans rewarded his approach by signing him a five-year, $35 million contract (with $15 million in guarantees) about a month before training camp started.

The player least likely to use this option as a gesture of good faith is Houston. The Chiefs shouldn’t expect to see Houston during the off-season unless he has signed a long term deal. The 2011 third round pick skipped off-season activities in 2014 and forfeited a $25,000 workout bonus in a contract dispute with the Chiefs. Houston reported to training camp despite his unhappiness with his salary because he lacked leverage to continue his holdout. He wouldn’t have gotten a year of service towards free agency without reporting to the Chiefs at least 30 days prior to their first regular season game. Missing the August 5 deadline in 2014 and playing out his rookie deal would have made Houston a restricted free agent this year.

Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel

Email me: jccorry@gmail.com

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

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Free Agency’s Losers

Players are usually eager to enter free agency because of the expectation of a big payday. It doesn’t always work out that way. A market may never develop for a variety of reasons (age, unrealistic contract demands, supply at playing position, etc.). Here’s a look at a few players that haven’t or didn’t fare so

Players are usually eager to enter free agency because of the expectation of a big payday. It doesn’t always work out that way. A market may never develop for a variety of reasons (age, unrealistic contract demands, supply at playing position, etc.). Here’s a look at a few players that haven’t or didn’t fare so well on the open market.

Michael Crabtree (WR): Crabtree took a backseat to 34 year old Anquan Boldin in the San Francisco 49ers’ passing game last season. The 2009 tenth overall pick finished 2014 with 68 receptions, 698 receiving yards and four touchdown catches. The 49ers went in a different direction at wide receiver by signing speedster Torrey Smith to a five-year, $40 million contract (with $22 million in guarantees). It only took Dwayne Bowe a week to find a new home with the Cleveland Browns once the Kansas City Chiefs released him. Bowe got a two-year, $12.5 million containing $9 million fully guaranteed despite three straight disappointing seasons in Kansas City. Crabtree is willing to be patient to find the right situation. He made $4 million in 2014 during the final year of his six year rookie contract. The odds are against him finding a one year deal for more than his 2014 salary.

Terrance Knighton (DT)-Washington Redskins: It was widely assumed Knighton’s affinity for head coach Jack Del Rio would lead him to the Oakland Raiders. Del Rio had Knighton for three years when he was coaching the Jacksonville Jaguars and spent the last two seasons as his defensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos. Continuing to play for Del Rio went out the window after Knighton eliminated the Raiders from consideration because of a “low ball” offer. Knighton was reportedly seeking a multi-year contract averaging $8 million per year. The Raiders signed defensive tackle Dan Williams to a four-year, $25 million deal with $15.2 million fully guaranteed instead. Knighton took a one year deal worth $4 million from the Redskins, which includes $450,000 in weight clauses.

Rolando McClain (ILB): McClain was one of the NFL’s best bargains in 2014 while making $700,000. He was retired and hadn’t played in the NFL since the Oakland Raiders released him in the middle of the 2012 season when the Dallas Cowboys acquired him in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens last off-season. McClain was the Cowboys’ best linebacker in 2014 and finished tied for second in the voting for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Other 2014 Cowboys linebackers quickly found deals on the open market. Bruce Carter signed a four-year, $17 million contract (worth up to $20.5 million with salary escalators and incentives) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Justin Durant received a three-year, $10 million deal (worth a maximum of $13.8 million through incentives) from the Atlanta Falcons. McClain didn’t do himself any favors by running afoul of the league’s substance abuse policy. He is subject to a fine of four week’s salary for failing three drug tests. His next violation will result in a four game suspension.

The Cowboys are interested in bringing him back but have already signed Jasper Brinkley and Andrew Gachkar for middle linebacker depth. Brinkely received a one year deal worth $2.25 million with the Cowboys having an option for a second year at the same amount. Gachkar signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract (worth up to $5.5 million through incentives.).

Ahtyba Rubin-(DT)-Seattle Seahawks: Rubin’s one-year, $2.6 million deal (worth up to $3.1 million with incentives) is a big departure from his last contract. He entered free agency after completing a three-year, $26.5 million contract extension (with $18 million in guarantees) he signed with the Cleveland Browns in 2011. Rubin, who was slowed by a nagging ankle injury in 2014, will provide depth as a part of Seattle’s interior defensive line rotation.

Rahim Moore (S)-Houston Texans: Moore signed a three-year, $12 million deal ($4.5 million fully guaranteed) to fill a void at free safety that’s existed ever since Glover Quin left via free agency two years ago. It’s interesting that the Texans made a bigger commitment to an aging Ed Reed in 2013 than to the 25 year old Moore. Reed received a three-year, $15 million contract containing $5 million fully guaranteed when he was approaching 35 years of age. The future Hall of Famer made $5,050,966 from the Texans for appearing in seven games before being released nine games into the 2013 season. Moore is making $5 million in 2015.

Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel

Email me: jccorry@gmail.com

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

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Free Agency’s Big Winners

With the NFL turning its attention to the annual owners meetings, here’s a look at some of the big winners in free agency.

Ndamukong Suh (DT)-Miami Dolphins: Suh re-set the non-quarterback market with a six-year, $114.375 million contract containing $59.955 million fully guaranteed. The previous non-quarterback benchmark was the six-year, $100 million contract extension (averages

With the NFL turning its attention to the annual owners meetings, here’s a look at some of the big winners in free agency.

Ndamukong Suh (DT)-Miami Dolphins: Suh re-set the non-quarterback market with a six-year, $114.375 million contract containing $59.955 million fully guaranteed. The previous non-quarterback benchmark was the six-year, $100 million contract extension (averages $16,666,667 per year) J.J. Watt received from the Houston Texans last September. Suh’s $59.955 million also sets a new standard for guaranteed money with non-quarterbacks. It eclipses the $53.25 million of guaranteed money in the seven-year, $113.45 million contract extension Calvin Johnson received from the Detroit Lions in 2012.

Darrelle Revis (CB)-New York Jets: Revis getting a deal to place him at the top of the cornerback salary hierarchy was expected. His five-year contract worth $70,121,060 is clearly superior to other top cornerback deals in key contract metrics. $39 million is fully guaranteed at signing. That’s a little over $8.5 million more than the $30.481 million Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman, the NFL’s second and third highest paid cornerbacks (by average yearly salary) have fully guaranteed at signing collectively.

Julius Thomas (TE)-Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars didn’t make Thomas the NFL’s second highest paid tight end because of his blocking prowess. He is expected to remain arguably the NFL’s best red zone threat at the position after receiving a five-year, $46 million deal containing $24 million in guarantees. Thomas sets a new standard for guarantees in tight end deals with the $24 million. $21 million of the $24 million was fully guaranteed at signing.

Byron Maxwell-(CB)-Philadelphia Eagles: Maxwell hit the open market at the right time. This year’s group of free agent cornerbacks wasn’t nearly as impressive as last year’s group, which included Vontae Davis, Brent Grimes, Sam Shields, Aqib Talib and Alterraun Verner. He received a six-year, $63 million contract with $25 million fully guaranteed. $32 million is in the first three years.

Devin McCourty (S)-New England Patriots: McCourty became the NFL’s second highest paid safety despite rejecting bigger offers from other teams. His five-year, $47.5 million contract contains $28.5 million in guarantees, which is the most ever in guarantees for a veteran safety deal. McCourty also has the best three-year cash flow for safeties with $30 million in the first three years.

Rodney Hudson (C)-Oakland Raiders: Hudson reached his goal of becoming the NFL’s highest paid center with a five-year, $44.5 million contract. The Raiders were smart in using a pay as you go structure with Hudson’s deal. His cash and salary cap numbers are the same in each contract year because he is receiving salary guarantees instead of a signing bonus. Since Hudson’s $7.35 million 2016 base salary doesn’t become fully guaranteed until the third day of the 2016 league year (mid-March), the Raiders have a window to get out of the deal after the 2015 season without any cap consequences if he doesn’t pan out.

DeMarco Murray (RB)-Philadelphia Eagles: Murray didn’t capitalize on a dominant season in a contract year as much as he would have at other positions because of the devaluing of running backs. Nonetheless, his five-year, $40 million contract (with $21 million in guarantees and worth a maximum of $42 million through salary escalators) makes him the first running back to switch teams in free agency with a deal over $5 million per year since Michael Turner left the San Diego Chargers for the Atlanta Falcons in 2008.

Dwayne Harris (WR)-New York Giants: The Giants made Harris the NFL’s highest paid player whose primary role is returning kicks by giving him a five-year, $17.5 million contract (with $7.1 million fully guaranteed). Harris was second in the NFL in kickoff return average with 30.6 yards per return and third in punt return average (12.8 yards) during the 2013 season. It’s conceivable that Harris will be New York’s fifth wide receiver behind Preston Parker, who caught 36 passes in an expanded role because of Victor Cruz’s torn patellar tendon in his right knee. To put Harris’ deal in better perspective, Cole Beasley, who was ahead of Harris on the depth chart with the Dallas Cowboys last season as the team’s third wide receiver, recently re-upped on a four-year, $13.606 million contract with $5 million fully guaranteed.

Aaron Rodgers (QB)-Green Bay Packers: The Packers maintain offensive continuity with offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga and wide receiver Randall Cobb taking hometown discounts to remain in Green Bay. Bulaga signed a five-year, $33.75 million deal. Cobb’s four-year, $40 million contract containing a $13 million signing bonus, which is the deal’s only guaranteed money, is in line with the four-year, $39.05 million contract extension Jordy Nelson signed during the initial days of training camp last season.

Jeremy Parnell (OT)-Jacksonville Jaguars: Parnell signed a five-year, $32 million deal with $14.5 million fully guaranteed after serving as a backup during his five years with the Dallas Cowboys. He got his most extensive playtime in 2014 by starting five regular season games and both of the team’s playoff games because of ankle and foot injuries to starting right tackle Doug Free. Parnell received a much more lucrative contract than Free, who is two and half years older. Free re-signed with the Cowboys for $15 million over three years. The guaranteed money in Parnell’s deal is almost as much as Free’s entire contract.

Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel

Email me: jccorry@gmail.com

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

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2015 Contract Restructure Possibilities

Contract restructurings are standard operating procedure in the NFL. Teams with tight salary cap situations use restructures to create cap room to get under the cap, which all teams must be for the beginning of the 2015 league year on March 10. Restructures are important for some other teams because cap space can be freed

Contract restructurings are standard operating procedure in the NFL. Teams with tight salary cap situations use restructures to create cap room to get under the cap, which all teams must be for the beginning of the 2015 league year on March 10. Restructures are important for some other teams because cap space can be freed up to target players in free agency.

A contract restructuring is different from a pay cut. In a typical restructuring, a player will convert some portion of his base salary or roster bonus (without reducing salary) into signing bonus because it can be prorated or spread out evenly over the life of a contract (most other salary components usually can’t be prorated) for a maximum of five years.

The team gets a lower cap number in the current season while the player gains more short-term security and potentially a better payment schedule for the current year of his contract. The player’s cap numbers in the remaining contract years also increase, which can make him more susceptible to becoming a cap casualty in the future.

A relatively new phenomenon is for teams to take away the player’s option to refuse restructuring his contract. Cap flexibility has started being built into contracts, especially the most lucrative ones, with teams having the ability to automatically create cap room at any time during a deal with a discretionary right to convert a portion of a player’s base salary or roster bonus into signing bonus. The Chicago Bears exercised this right with Jay Cutler in 2014, which was necessary to sign Jared Allen. Cutler had the NFL’s highest 2014 salary cap number at $22.5 million before $5 million of his base salary was converted into signing bonus to lower his cap number to $18.5 million.

Players can restructure their contracts at any time, including multiple times in the same season. Chris Snee restructured his contract with the New York Giants twice in 2013. There isn’t a limitation on how many consecutive years a player can restructure his contract. Ben Roethlisberger’s 2015 cap number has increased from $12.1 million to $18.395 million because he restructured his deal for three straight years (2011-2013) to help the Pittsburgh Steelers with cap problems.

Here’s a look at several players, with their 2015 cap numbers, that could be candidates to restructure their contracts. New Orleans Saints players were treated collectively because of the team’s salary cap situation. References to the 2015 salary cap room a team has assume the 2015 salary cap will be set at $142 million.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints are approximately $23.3 million over the 2015 salary cap. Restructuring the contracts of safety Jairus Byrd ($10.3 million 2015 cap number), outside linebacker Junior Galette ($15.45 million cap number), tight end Jimmy Graham ($11 million cap number) and inside linebacker Curtis Lofton ($9.25 million cap number) could wipe out the overage. $23,426,666 of cap room can be gained by converting a significant portion of their salaries into signing bonus.

Byrd has the NFL’s highest 2015 cap number for a safety. The Saints can free up $5.6 million of cap room by turning $1 million of Byrd’s $2 million 2015 base salary and his entire fully guaranteed $6 million third day of the 2015 league year roster bonus (March 12) into signing bonus. $10 million of cap room will be created by converting Galette’s fully guaranteed $12.5 million third day of the 2015 league year roster bonus (March 12) into signing bonus.

Graham has the NFL’s only 2015 cap number for a tight end over $10 million. A maximum of $4,826,666 of cap room can be gained through a salary conversion with Graham’s four-year, $40 million contract, which makes him the NFL’s highest paid tight end, if his $100,000 workout bonus is left intact. Lofton’s cap number would drop to $6.25 million by turning his $4.5 million first day of the league year roster bonus (March 10) into signing bonus.

Tony Romo (QB)-Dallas Cowboys: $27.773 Million

It’s hard to believe Jerry Jones will practice the fiscal restraint he’s preaching now that he has a legitimate chance to finally win a Super Bowl without Jimmy Johnson’s fingerprints on it. History suggests that Jones will create $12.8 million of cap room can by converting $16 million of Romo’s $17 million base salary into signing bonus in order to keep the team largely intact since there may not be an extended championship window with him as quarterback. Although Romo, whose contract runs through the 2019 season, arguably had the best season of his career in 2014, he will be 35 years old in April and has had back surgery in each of the last two seasons. Romo’s league high cap number would drop to $14.973 million through such a salary conversion.

J.J. Watt (WR)-Houston Texans: $21.969 Million

The Texans would have plenty of salary cap flexibility by turning $9.2 million of Watt’s $9.969 million 2015 base salary and his entire fully guaranteed $10 million 15th day of the 2015 league year roster bonus (March 24) into signing bonus. $15.36 million of cap space would be freed up, which would put the Texans almost $26 million under the cap. Watt’s would still have manageable 2016 and 2017 cap numbers of $16.34 million for those years considering he signed a six-year, $100 million contract extension last September.

Peyton Manning (QB)-Denver Broncos: $21.5 Million

Although the Broncos have $26 million in cap space, it will be difficult for the Broncos to keep most of their five offensive and three defensive starters set to become unrestricted free agents on March 10 while upgrading the offensive line, especially if nearly half of this room is allocated to a franchise tag on All-Pro wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.

General manager and executive vice-president of football operations John Elway would probably prefer for Manning to cut his scheduled $19 million salary now that he has informed the team he is physically and mentally prepared to play the 2015 season. The Broncos don’t have the leverage for a salary reduction. Manning should be amendable to restructuring his contract considering he did it twice while with the Colts. This would be a departure from Denver’s recent practices. The Broncos haven’t done any simple contract restructures for cap purposes during Manning’s three years with the team.

Denver can create $9.015 million in 2015 cap space if Manning’s entire 2015 salary except for his $970,000 league minimum is converted into signing bonus. Manning’s 2015 cap number would drop to $12.485 million but his 2016 cap number would balloon to $30.515 million.

The Broncos might prefer a less extreme restructure. $5 million of cap room could be created by converting $10 million of Manning’s $19 million base salary to signing bonus. His 2015 cap number would drop to $16.5 million and his 2016 cap number would become $26.5 million. The Broncos would have $10 million of dead money, which is a cap charge for a player no longer on the roster, in 2016 under this scenario if Manning called it quits after the 2015 season.

Calvin Johnson (WR)-Detroit Lions: $20.558 Million

Restructuring Johnson’s contract could be likely if the Lions franchise defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. His franchise tag number is $26.87 million, which is based off of 120 percent of his $22,412,500 2014 cap number. The Lions can’t currently accommodate such a large cap figure with slightly under $17 million of cap space. Most of the deficit can be wiped out by turning all of Johnson’s $12.5 million 2015 salary except for his $870,000 league minimum into signing bonus. $9.304 million of cap room would be created. Another season with nagging injuries in 2015 could lead to Johnson’s departure next year because his 2016 cap number would go from $24.008 million to $26.334 million with this maneuver.

Charles Johnson (DE)-Carolina Panthers: $20.02 Million

Being almost $13 million under the cap puts the Panthers in their best position financially since Dave Gettleman became general manager in January 2013. The Panthers won’t be “shopping at the dollar store” in free agency but restructuring the six-year, $76 million contract Johnson signed in 2011 for a third straight year may be necessary to buy at Nordstrom. Because more than half of Johnson’s cap number is bonus proration, a maximum of $4.44 million in cap space can be gained unless Gettleman is willing to add up to three voidable years to help with the bonus proration and create additional cap room. He has put voidable years in contracts before when doing restructures.

Alex Smith (QB)-Kansas City Chiefs: $15.6 Million

There’s a faction of Chiefs fans that would love to see the team part ways with Alex Smith. He isn’t going anywhere for awhile. $11 million of his $11.9 million 2015 base salary was fully guaranteed when he signed his four-year, $68 million contract extension last August. The remaining $900,000 of his 2015 base salary and his entire $14.1 million 2016 base salary are fully guaranteed on the third day of the upcoming league year (March 12).

The Chiefs have right around $4.1 million of cap space after releasing wide receivers Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins. More work needs to be done to accommodate restricted free agent tenders and Justin Houston’s expected franchise tag (approximately $13 million). $8.175 million of cap room can be created by converting $10.9 million of Smith’s $11.9 million 2015 base salary into signing bonus.

Colin Kaepernick (QB)-San Francisco 49ers: $15,265,753

The 49ers have slightly over $3.3 million of cap space. The 49ers will need more cap room if keeping a majority of the team’s 15 impending unrestricted free agent is a part of the plan. Kaepernick has the highest 2015 cap number on the team. The 49ers can create $7.724 million in 2015 cap space if Kaepernick’s entire 2015 salary except for his $745,000 league minimum is converted into signing bonus. Kaepernick’s 2015 cap number would drop to $7,541,753. His 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 cap numbers would each increase by $1.931 million under this scenario.

Richard Sherman (CB)-Seattle Seahawks: $12.2 Million

Extensions for quarterback Russell Wilson and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner shouldn’t take up a majority of Seattle’s almost $19 million of cap space, which factors in restricted free agent tenders. A cushion can be created by lowering Sherman’s $10 million 2015 base salary to $750,000 through a salary conversion. $6,937,500 of cap room can be generated by this move.

LeSean McCoy (RB)-Philadelphia Eagles: $11.95 Million

McCoy is willing to restructure his contract if approached by the Eagles but isn’t interested in cutting his $10.25 million 2015 salary. His numbers are large for a running back. Adrian Peterson is the only other ball carrier with a double digit salary or cap number in 2015. The Minnesota Vikings running back has a $15.4 million cap number and is scheduled to make $13 million. Since the Eagles have almost $19 million in cap space and have other options for additional cap room, like Trent Cole, it may not be necessary to adjust McCoy’s contract. $6 million of cap room can be created by converting $9 million of McCoy’s $9.75 million base salary into signing bonus. His 2016 cap number would go from $8.85 million to $11.85 million.

Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel

Email me: jccorry@gmail.com

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

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Are players better off under the new franchise tag methodology?

NFL teams can retain the rights to one of its impending free agents with the use of a non-exclusive or an exclusive franchise tag during a two week window beginning on February 16. The designation period ends on March 2.

The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) changed how non-exclusive franchise tags are determined. Since its

NFL teams can retain the rights to one of its impending free agents with the use of a non-exclusive or an exclusive franchise tag during a two week window beginning on February 16. The designation period ends on March 2.

The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) changed how non-exclusive franchise tags are determined. Since its inception in 1993, a franchise tag number had been an average of the five largest salaries in the prior year at a player’s position or 120% of the prior year’s salary of the player, whichever was greater. For franchise tag purposes, salary means a player’s salary cap number, excluding workout bonuses.

The 120 percent and five largest salaries provisions remain intact but the formula component is now calculated over a five year period that’s tied to a percentage of the overall salary cap. More specifically, the number for each position is determined by taking the sum of the non-exclusive franchise tags for the previous five seasons and dividing by the sum of the salary caps for the previous five seasons (an average of the 2009 and 2011 salary caps are used for the uncapped 2010 season in the calculations). The resulting percentage is then multiplied by the actual salary cap for the upcoming league year.

This non-exclusive tag allows the player to negotiate with other NFL teams but if he signs an offer sheet with another club, his team has five days to match the offer. If the offer is not matched, his team will receive two first round picks as compensation from the signing team.

Under the exclusive franchise tag, a player will receive a one year offer from his team that is the greater of the average of the top five salaries at his position once the restricted free agent signing period of the current year has ended (April 24 for 2015) or 120 percent of his prior year’s salary. A player cannot negotiate with other teams with the exclusive franchise tag.

Teams also have the option to use a transition tag instead of a franchise tag. The transition tag operates similarly to the non-exclusive franchise tag, except it is based on the average of the top ten salaries at a player’s position. Teams have the same matching rights as with franchise tags but do not receive any draft choice compensation. The transition tag had essentially become obsolete. It made a comeback last year with the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers becoming the first teams to use it since 2008.

It’s almost a certainty that Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston and Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas will be franchised if they don’t sign new deals with their respective clubs before the end of the designation period. The Detroit Lions haven’t ruled out franchising defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. His franchise tag number is $26.87 million, which is based off of 120 percent of his 2014 cap number. Since Suh’s number is same whether it’s the exclusive or non-exclusive version, the Lions would probably opt for the exclusive version to prevent him from negotiating with other teams. Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty and New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul are other non-exclusive franchise tag possibilities.

The franchise tenders can’t be finalized until the 2015 salary cap is set in late February or early March. NFL teams were informed at a league meeting on December 9 that the 2015 salary cap is preliminarily projected to be between $138.6 million and $141.8 million. The actual salary cap in 2014 was 5.3 percent higher than the preliminary projections this time last year. The expectation is for the salary cap to once again exceed initial projections.

CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason LaCanfora was the first to report the expected salary cap percentages each franchise tag last October. I have independently verified that his figures are correct. The chart below contains the non-exclusive franchise numbers if the 2015 salary cap is $142 million and their percentage of cap. For comparison purposes, I have also included what the franchise tenders would have been for 2015 under the old method of calculation.

2015 2015 2015 Projected vs. Old
Position Salary Cap % Projected Old Method % Difference
Cornerback 9.125% $12,958,000 $10,620,000 22%
Defensive End 10.339% $14,681,000 $13,177,000 11.4%
Defensive Tackle 7.812% $11,093,000 $14,943,000 -25.8%
Linebacker 9.209% $13,077,000 $10,967,000 19.2%
Offensive Line 9.034% $12,828,000 $11,174,000 14.8%
Punter/Kicker 2.88% $4,089,000 $3,850,000 6.2%
Quarterback 12.942% $18,378,000 $18,611,000 -1.3%
Running Back 7.643% $10,853,000 $9,483,000 14.4%
Safety 6.713% $9,532,000 $9,484,000 0.5%
Tight End 5.825% $8,272,000 $7,468,000 10.8%
Wide Receiver 8.949% $12,708,000 $14,147,000 -10.2%
Note: Projections assume 2015 salary cap is $142 million.

 

The NFLPA is gaining a small measure of vindication in 2015 for the criticism received for agreeing to change the calculation of the non-exclusive franchise designations. Franchise players are going to be better off with the new methodology than under old methodology for the first time since the change was implemented. The franchise tag numbers will be 3.67 percent higher collectively under the new formula with a $142 million 2015 salary cap.

A record twenty-one players were franchised in 2012, including six kickers and punters, in the first year of with the new method of calculation when there was almost a 20 percent drop in the franchise tags from 2011. The franchise numbers were approximately 18 percent higher collectively under the old formula in both 2012 and 2013. The difference dropped to 2.18 percent in 2014 because of the significant increase in the salary cap.

Defensive tackle, quarterback and wide receiver are the only positions that would be better off with the old method of calculation. The discrepancy in the defensive tackle number under the two methodologies is due to Suh and Gerald McCoy having the NFL’s largest cap numbers in 2014. McCoy’s cap number increased to over $21 million when he signed a six-year, $95.2 million contract extension (worth up to $98 million through incentives) last October to become the NFL’s highest paid interior defensive lineman.

There was greater year-to-year variance with franchise tag numbers with the system under the previous CBAs. For example, the wide receiver number would have gone from $11.826 million in 2013 to $9.731 million in 2014 to $14.147 million for 2015 with the old methodology. None of the franchise tags numbers at the eleven different positions have decreased in a year under the new method of calculation after the initial rollback in 2012.

The good thing for players is franchise tag numbers being higher under the new methodology than with the old methodology should continue as long as there is at least modest salary cap growth annually. Most players aren’t happy when given a franchise player designation because it hinders their ability to gain long term security. The tag is essentially a high salaried one-year “prove it” deal where players incur the risk of serious injury and poor performance again after already playing out their contracts. There may be fewer players dealing with franchise tags in the future because teams should become more judicious in using the designation as it gets more cost prohibitive.

Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

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Top 2015 pay cut candidates

Players taking pay cuts during the off-season is a regular occurrence in the NFL’s salary cap environment. Sometimes, it is in a player’s best interest to accept a lower salary instead of getting released. Here are five of the off-season’s top pay cut candidates.

Sam Bradford (QB)-St. Louis Rams

Bradford is one of the last

Players taking pay cuts during the off-season is a regular occurrence in the NFL’s salary cap environment. Sometimes, it is in a player’s best interest to accept a lower salary instead of getting released. Here are five of the off-season’s top pay cut candidates.

Sam Bradford (QB)-St. Louis Rams

Bradford is one of the last beneficiaries of high draft picks receiving mega-deals prior to the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement creating a rookie wage scale. As the first pick overall in the 2010 NFL draft, Bradford signed a six-year, $78 million deal (worth a maximum of $86 million) containing $50 million in guarantees.

Bradford’s future with Rams seemed in doubt because he missed the 2014 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee for the second year in row until head coach he was consulted on Frank Gignetti’s promotion from quarterback coach to offensive coordinator. This suggests that Bradford will open the 2015 regular season as the Rams’ starting quarterback barring injury or a terrible pre-season. It also gives Bradford some leverage in discussions about reducing his $12.985 million ($16.58 million cap number).

Larry Fitzgerald (WR)-Arizona Cardinals

The signs have been pointing to off-season pay cut discussions with Fitzgerald for quite awhile. Fitzgerald making $16.25 million on a $23.6 million cap number in 2015 isn’t feasible with the Cardinals having over slightly $151 million of 2015 cap obligations. The eight-time Pro Bowler, who signed a seven-year, $113 million contract extension in 2011, has the NFL’s fourth highest 2015 salary cap number.

The situation needs to be before resolved Fitzgerald’s $8 million 2015 roster bonus is payable on the fifth day of the league year (March 14). Although it is ownership’s preference for Fitzgerald to play his entire career with the Cardinals, his performance no longer warrants him being paid like an elite wide receiver. Fitzgerald hasn’t had a 1,000 receiving yards season since 2011. He seemed to be a lock for hitting the mark before he was hindered by a knee sprain and injuries at quarterback.

A trade market for Fitzgerald will be somewhat limited because a team must have enough cap room to absorb his $16.25 million salary in order to acquire him. Only after a trade is completed would the acquiring team be able to restructure Fitzgerald’s contract to decrease his cap number. The Cardinals will pick up $9.2 million of cap room with a trade, which is the same amount of cap space that would be created if the team released him.

Tamba Hali (OLB)-Kansas City Chiefs

Hali has expressed a willingness to take a pay cut if it would help re-sign 2014 NFL sack leader Justin Houston to a long term deal. The Chiefs will use their franchise tag on Houston if a new deal isn’t in place before the March 2 designation deadline. The linebacker franchise tag number will be $13.077 million with a $142 million 2015 salary cap. Some contract maneuvering will be required to fit Houston’s franchise tag under the cap. The Chiefs have less than $1 million of cap room assuming the cap is set at $142 million.

Hali, who is entering the final year of a five-year, $57.5 million contract (worth a maximum of $60 million through salary escalators), has a $9 million salary in 2015, with an $11,964,705 cap number. $2 million of Hali’s salary is a roster bonus payable on the 10th day of the 2015 league year (March 19). Any reduction to his salary would need to take place before he receives the roster bonus.

The 31 year old might balk at too steep of a pay cut. It’s conceivable that Hali could make more than his scheduled $9 million in 2015 as a free agent given the market for older pass rushers picked up last year. DeMarcus Ware made $13 million last season in the first year of a three-year, $30 million deal he received from the Denver Broncos after refusing the Dallas Cowboys’ attempts to cut his $12.975 million 2014 salary. He got a $250,000 raise for 2014 in his new deal despite coming off a 2013 season where he had career low six sacks while dealing with elbow, quadriceps and back injuries.

Julius Peppers quickly landed a three-year, $26 million deal (with $7.5 million guaranteed and worth a maximum of $30 million through salary escalators) from the Green Bay Packers once the Chicago Bears released him. He was 34 years old when he signed with Green Bay and made $8.5 million in 2014.

$9 million of cap room will be freed up by releasing Hali. 2014 first round pick Dee Ford would need to step up after playing sparingly as a rookie. Hali had 91.8 percent defensive playtime (975 of 1,062 snaps) in 2014 while Ford only received 11.5 percent playtime (122 of 1,062 snaps).

Percy Harvin (WR)-New York Jets

Harvin was acquired in trade with the Seattle Seahawks last October. The Jets owe the Seahawks their 2015 fourth round pick if Harvin on the roster on the 10th day of the 2015 league year (March 19). Seattle gets the team’s sixth round pick if he is released prior to this date.

This doesn’t leave the new regime of general manager Mike Maccagnan, who came to the Jets from the Houston Texans, and head coach Todd Bowles, Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014, a lot of time to figure out whether Harvin fits into their plans. Harvin, who is scheduled to make $10.5 million in 2015, said during the 2014 season that he would like to remain with the Jets but isn’t interested in taking a pay cut.

The Jets have the leverage to ask Harvin to reduce his salary. He’s unlikely to find another team willing to pay him anything close to $41.5 million in the remaining four years of his contract as a free agent after wearing out his welcome with the Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings. There could be a glut of wide receivers on the open market because several pass catchers currently under contract could hit the streets (Brandon Marshall, Mike Wallace, etc.). There also aren’t any negative cap consequences for the Jets with releasing Harvin. His entire $10.5 million cap number comes off the book if he is let go.

Adrian Peterson (RB)-Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings are presenting a united front about welcoming back Peterson once he’s eligible for reinstatement from his suspension on April 15. Peterson is seeking immediate reinstatement through an NFLPA lawsuit against the NFL. Arguments were heard by U.S. District Court Judge David S. Doty on February 6. There isn’t a set timetable for Doty to make a ruling.

Peterson, who turns 30 next month, said he didn’t think a pay cut was warranted in an interview with ESPN towards the end of the 2014 regular season. The six-year, $85.28 million contract extension (with a 2017 base salary escalator worth up to $4 million) Peterson signed in 2011 is an outlier in running back marketplace. He is the NFL’s only $10 million per year running back.

The 2012 NFL MVP’s $13 million salary and $15.4 million cap number for the 2015 season are the highest among running backs. LeSean McCoy is the only other running back with a double digit salary or cap number in 2015. The Philadelphia Eagles running back has an $11.95 million cap number and is scheduled to make $10.25 million.

Peterson has also wondered whether a clean slate with a new team might be best. His salary makes a trade unlikely, which suggests that he may be more receptive to playing for less with another team after his reinstatement. The Vikings would pick up of $13 million of cap room by releasing or trading Peterson. There’s already a lot of speculation that he’ll replace impending free agent DeMarco Murray in the Dallas Cowboys’ backfield since he has expressed an interest in playing for the team before he retires.

Others: Dwayne Bowe (WR)-Kansas City Chiefs: $14 million cap number/$11 million salary; Brandon Carr (CB)-Dallas Cowboys: $12.717 million cap number/$8 million salary; Trent Cole (OLB)-Philadelphia Eagles: $11.625 million cap number/$10.025 million salary; Marques Colston (WR)-New Orleans Saints: $9.7 million cap number/$7 million salary; Andre Johnson (WR)-Houston Texans: $16,144,585 cap number/$11.5 million salary; Jerod Mayo (ILB)-New England Patriots: $10,287,500 cap number/$7 million salary; Lardarius Webb (CB)-Baltimore Ravens: $12 million cap number/$8 million salary

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Predicting the 2015 Hall of Fame class

The 46-member Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee will decide the fate of the 15 modern era finalists, two Contributor candidates and one Seniors' Committee nominee in Phoenix, Arizona on January 31. The election process begins with a discussion on each of the 18 candidates before a vote is taken on the Seniors

The 46-member Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee will decide the fate of the 15 modern era finalists, two Contributor candidates and one Seniors’ Committee nominee in Phoenix, Arizona on January 31. The election process begins with a discussion on each of the 18 candidates before a vote is taken on the Seniors nominee and the Contributor candidates. Next, the 15 modern era finalist are reduced to 10. Another cut is made to the final five candidates. Each of the final five are voted on individually.

A minimum of 80% of the vote is required in order to be enshrined. A Hall of Fame class must consist of at least four members with a maximum of eight inductees. The 2015 class will be announced later that evening during the NFL Honors show.

Five modern era candidates will likely be a part of this year’s class. 2007 was the last time one of the final five (Paul Tagliabue) was not elected. Here’s my prediction of the 2015 Hall of Fame class.

First Year Eligible Candidates

Orlando Pace (OT)-Chicago Bears/St. Louis Rams
Pace was named first team All-NFL five times and a seven-time Pro Bowler in 13 NFL seasons. Pace compares favorably to Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones, who were selected to the Hall of Fame in 2013 and 2014 respectively during their first year of eligibility. He is a second team tackle behind them on the All-Decade team for the 2000s. Recent selection trends favor offensive lineman. An offensive lineman has been elected to the Hall of Fame in eight of the last nine years. Pace’s stiffest offensive line competition comes from three-time finalist Will Shields.

SeauiconSeau was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection

Junior Seau (LB)-Miami Dolphins/New England Patriots/San Diego Chargers
Seau received All-NFL honors ten times and was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection (all consecutively) in 20 NFL seasons. His 268 games played are second in NFL history among linebackers. Seau doesn’t have eye-popping raw numbers with 56.5 sacks and 18 interceptions but was the pre-eminent sideline-to-sideline linebacker of his generation. The 1990s All-Decade selection was the driving force behind the San Diego Chargers’ Super Bowl XXIX appearance, the only one in franchise history.

Kurt Warner (QB)-Arizona Cardinals/New York Giants/St. Louis Rams
Warner wouldn’t get my vote this year if I were on the selection committee. It would probably go twelve-time Pro Bowl offensive guard Will Shields instead. There hasn’t been a quarterback enshrined since 2006 when Troy Aikman and Warren Moon were inducted. Warner was a two-time first team All-Pro and a four-time Pro Bowler in 12 NFL seasons. He came out obscurity in 1999 after Trent Green tore his ACL in the pre-season to guide the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl XXXIV victory and earn Super Bowl MVP honors with a record 414 passing yards to cap off his MVP season. Warner was also regular season MVP in 2001. As the leader of the Greatest Show on Turf, the Rams topped the 500 point mark in three straight seasons (1999 through 2001), which is the only time the feat has been accomplished by a franchise in the NFL, and set a record for total offense with 7,075 yards in 2000. Warner doesn’t have the sustained excellence of other Hall of Fame quarterbacks because of a mid-career slump from 2002 to 2006 where he threw more interceptions (30) than touchdowns passes (27) and had an 8-22 record as a starter. He rebounded by leading the Arizona Cardinals to the franchise’s only Super Bowl appearance in Super Bowl XLIII during the latter stages of his career. History is on Warner’s side because every multiple MVP winner has been a first ballot Hall of Famer. If Warner doesn’t make it on the first try, he may have to wait until 2017 at the earliest because Brett Favre is eligible for induction in 2016.

Returning Finalists

Marvin Harrison (WR)-Indianapolis Colts
It was surprising Harrison wasn’t the sixth wide receiver to become a first ballot Hall of Famer. The selection committee isn’t supposed to consider off the field issues, which may have been a factor in Harrison’s candidacy stalling after the reduction to 10. He was a person of interest in a 2008 Philadelphia shooting involving a gun owned by him. Harrison was named first team All-NFL six times and elected to eight Pro Bowls during his 13 year NFL career. He was a first team wide receiver with Randy Moss on the 2000s All-Decade team. Harrison ranks third in NFL history with 1,102 receptions, seventh with 14,580 receiving yards and fifth with 128 receiving touchdowns. He set the NFL single season record for receptions in 2002 with 143. The next closest single season total is Antonio Brown’s 129 receptions in 2014. Harrison was the first NFL player to have three consecutive 1,500 receiving yard seasons. Although there isn’t a limit each year on the number of inductees at a position, Harrison faces competition from Tim Brown, a five-time finalist. Unlike Harrison, Brown wasn’t named first team All-Decade. If Brown gets the nod instead of him, it could be a case of the committee deciding it is Brown’s time considering he wasn’t among the final 10 last year like Harrison was.

Charles Haley (DE/LB)-Dallas Cowboys/San Francisco 49ers
Haley is a finalist for the sixth straight year. He made the first cut of finalists in each of the last three years (2012-2014) without advancing to the final five. Haley was named All-Pro twice and to five Pro Bowls in his 13 year NFL career. He was the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1994. Haley has 100.5 total sacks, with a season best 16 in 1990. His trade to the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 swung the balance of power in the NFL. He added three Super Bowl rings after the trade to go along with the two rings he had already earned with the San Francisco 49ers. Haley is the only player in NFL history to win five Super Bowls. His 4.5 sacks in Super Bowls are the most of any player. Haley was a difficult teammate and antagonized the media, which could be factors with the selection committee.

Seniors Committee Nominee/Contributor Candidates

Bill Polian (GM)-Buffalo Bills/Carolina Panthers/Indianapolis Colts
Polian was the architect of three successful franchises during his 32 year NFL career. He was named NFL Executive of the Year five times by the Pro Football Writers of America. Polian built the Buffalo Bills into a four-time Super Bowl participant (XXV-XXVIII). The expansion Carolina Panthers quickly found success by going to the NFC Championship in the 1996 season during the franchise’s second year of existence with him at the helm. He turned the Indianapolis Colts into the winningest team of the 2000s decade with a 115-45 regular season record. The Colts appeared in two Super Bowls under his direction. The Super Bowl XLI victory is the franchise’s only NFL championship since the 1970 season. Polian’s best personnel decision was taking Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf with the first overall pick of the 1998 NFL Draft. It’s hard to be now but there was a debate at the time over which player was the better NFL prospect. Polian’s recent flirtation with a return to the Bills as team president may jeopardize his Hall of Fame bid because of the perception that he may not be permanently retired.

Ron Wolf (Executive)-Green Bay Packers/Los Angeles & Oakland Raiders/Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Wolf spent 41 years in the NFL. Most notably, Wolf revived the Green Bay Packers. The franchise went to two Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl XXXI, during his tenure as general manager. He found his franchise quarterback by giving the Atlanta Falcons a 1992 first round pick for Brett Favre after his less than impressive rookie campaign as a seldom used backup. He proved the skeptics wrong by demonstrating that the small market Packers could be a viable destination for free agents when he landed Reggie White in 1993. Under Wolf’s guidance, the Packers had a 92-52 record in his nine seasons (1992-2000) with the club. Prior to his success in Green Bay, Wolf was a personnel executive with the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders for 25 seasons in three separate tenures. While Wolf was owner Al Davis’ right hand man, the Raiders won two Super Bowls (XV and XVIII). The only blip on Wolf’s radar screen was his three-year stint as general manager of the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The franchise had an inauspicious start with 26 straight losses. However, 16 starters on Tampa Bay’s 1979 team that advanced to NFC Championship game after Wolf left were drafted by him. Wolf still has influence on the fates of NFL franchises. Five current general managers (John Dorsey-Kansas City Chiefs, Scot McCloughan-Washington Redskins, Reggie McKenzie-Raiders, John Schneider-Seattle Seahawks and Ted Thompson-Packers) are former Wolf employees.

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What are players paid during the playoffs?

Players are paid much differently in the playoffs than during the regular season. Most players take a significant pay cut in the playoffs because their salaries have no bearing on what they make in the postseason. Playoff money comes from a league pool instead of from NFL teams. There is a specific amount for

Players are paid much differently in the playoffs than during the regular season. Most players take a significant pay cut in the playoffs because their salaries have no bearing on what they make in the postseason. Playoff money comes from a league pool instead of from NFL teams. There is a specific amount for each playoff round where each eligible player gets paid the same. Here’s a look at how playoff compensation works for the 2014 league year.

Wild Card Round

Division Winners: $24,000
Wild Cards: $22,000

Divisional Playoff Game: $24,000

Conference Championship Game: $44,000

Super Bowl

Winning Team: $97,000
Losing Team: $49,000

Players typically receive their entire salary over the course of the 17-week regular season. For example, Ndamukong Suh made $738,235 per week during the regular season from his $12.55 million base salary. He will receive $22,000 for the Detroit Lions’ Wild Card playoff game, just like third string quarterback Kellen Moore and the rest of his teammates. Wild Card playoff money is less than the weekly pay of a player making the $420,000 first-year player minimum salary ($24,706 per week).

Players on teams with Wild Card round byes (Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks) are essentially working for free for the week since they will not receive payment. The additional rest and home field advantage in the Divisional playoff round are supposed to make up for the lack of money.

$189,000 is the maximum a player can earn in the 2014 season’s playoffs, but the Super Bowl winner would have to be a division winner that participated in the Wild Card round (Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts, or Pittsburgh Steelers). The most a player can earn if he is from a team with a first round bye is $165,000. Payments during the playoffs must be made within 15 days after a game has been played.

For a player like Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, winning the Super Bowl would be more meaningful financially than to most of his teammates since he is only making his $495,000 league minimum salary this season. The additional $165,000 would be one-third of his 2014 salary.

Players on the 53-man roster and injured reserve at game time receive payment for Wild Card and Divisional playoff games. Practice squad players don’t receive playoff money, but continue to get paid (minimum of $6,300 per week) during the weeks their respective teams are in the playoffs.

Payment eligibility is more complicated for the conference championships and Super Bowl. The payment requirements for these two playoff rounds are outlined below.

Full Amount

1. Players on the 53-man roster when the game is played that have been on the roster for at least three previous games (regular season or playoffs).

2. Veterans (at least one year of service) put on injured reserve during the regular season that are still under contract when the game is played.

3. Vested veterans (four or more years of service) put on injured reserve during the preseason that are still under contract when the game is played.

4. Players who aren’t on the 53-man roster at game time that spent at least eight games on the roster (regular season or playoffs) provided they’re not under contract to another team in the same conference.

The final category gives Antoine Cason a chance of getting paid for being on two different teams during the season that made the playoffs. Cason played 12 games for the Carolina Panthers before he was released. Cason has been with the Baltimore Ravens since Week 15.

Half Amount

1. Players on the 53-man roster when the game is played that have been on the roster for less than three previous games (regular season or playoffs).

2. First-year players put on injured reserve during the regular season that are still under contract when the game is played and signed a player contract or practice squad contract in a prior season.

3. Non-vested veterans (one to three years of service) put on injured reserve during the preseason that are still under contract when the game is played.

4. Players who aren’t on the 53-man roster at game time that spent between three and seven games on the roster (regular season or playoffs) provided they’re not under contract to another team in the same conference.

Percy Harvin could be rooting for the Seahawks despite getting traded to the New York Jets in the middle of the season because of the last category. He will make $70,500 if the Seahawks repeat as Super Bowl champions since he was on their roster for five games.

There is one more category that receives a one-quarter share for Conference championships and the Super Bowl. First-year players put on injured reserve during the preseason that are still under contract when the game is played. They also must have been on a team’s practice squad for at least eight games in a prior season or received one or two game checks while on a team’s 53-man roster or injured reserve in a prior year in order to qualify for payment.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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Who deserves the NFL MVP award?

50 members of the media will vote on the 2014 Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP) award before the playoffs start on January 3. The NFL’s MVP voting procedure differs from the other major professional team sports in this country because a points system isn’t used. For example, the NBA MVP is determined

50 members of the media will vote on the 2014 Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP) award before the playoffs start on January 3. The NFL’s MVP voting procedure differs from the other major professional team sports in this country because a points system isn’t used. For example, the NBA MVP is determined by voters ranking their top-five candidates on a 10-7-5-3-1 points system. Instead, each NFL voter selects a single player as MVP, with selectors sometimes splitting a vote between two players. The results will be announced on January 31, the day before Super Bowl XLIX, during the NBC televised NFL Honors Awards Show in Phoenix, Arizona.

Here are the top-five MVP candidates in the order in which they should finish, but won’t:

1. J.J. Watt-Houston Texans

Watt should be the 2014 NFL MVP despite history working against him. The only two defensive players to win the MVP are Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page in 1971 and New York Giants outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986. The last MVP from a team that didn’t make the playoffs was Buffalo Bills running back O.J. Simpson in 1973.

J.J. WattWatt just became the only player in NFL history to record 20 sacks in a season twice.

Watt had one of the most dominant seasons ever for a defensive player. His historic performance was better than his 2012 season when he was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. Watt became the first player in NFL history to have multiple 20 sack seasons by tying his career high with 20.5 sacks. He had a league leading five fumble recoveries, tied for second with four forced fumbles and was second in sacks. Advanced metrics better capture Watt’s dominance. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Watt had a career-best 119 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, hurries and hits) to top has previous high of 85 in 2013. NFL sacks leader Justin Houston was second this year to Watt with 85 pressures.

Watt was an occasional two-way player as a red-zone threat on offense. He also became the first player in NFL history with an interception return for a touchdown, a fumble recovery touchdown and three touchdown receptions during a season. Although the Texans narrowly missed the playoffs with nine victories, Watt led the team to the NFL’s biggest win improvement in 2014. The seven-game turnaround from a league-worst two wins in 2013 occurred without a legitimate starting quarterback or another elite defensive player to turn the opposition’s attention away from Watt. It will be a surprise if Watt wins the MVP because of the advantage quarterbacks have by impacting the game on practically every offensive play. A quarterback has been named MVP in 37 of the 57 years of the award. Watt should get more than four votes, which would be the most for a defensive player during the 21st century.

2. Aaron Rodgers-Green Bay Packers

Rodgers probably clinched his second MVP award with a gritty performance against the Lions in the season finale. After an aggravation of a left calf injury that forced him out of the game in the first half, Rodgers returned in the second half to break a 14-14 tie and lead the Packers to their fourth straight NFC North title. Rodgers completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 4,381 yards to post a 112.2 passer rating (second-best in the NFL). He threw 38 touchdown passes (third in NFL) and only five interceptions, which are the fewest of his career since becoming a starter in 2008. The 2011 NFL MVP was extremely consistent throughout the season with his only major hiccup coming in a Week 15 loss to the Buffalo Bills when Rodgers completed only 40.5 percent of his passes (17 of 42 attempts) for a career-worst 34.3 passing rating.

3. Tom Brady-New England Patriots

Tom BradyRumors of Brady’s demise were a bit premature.

It’s hard to believe that there was a rush to judgment about Brady being washed up when New England had a 2-2 record given the way the season unfolded. In the first four games, Brady only threw for 197.8 yards per game, completed just 59.2 percent of his passes, had four touchdown passes and two interceptions with a 79.1 passing rating. The two-time MVP rebounded from the slow start to give the Patriots home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. New England’s 12 wins put them in a tie with four other teams for the NFL’s best record. It’s hard to ignore that Brady’s resurgence coincided with All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski shaking off the rust after receiving limited action initially during his return from a 2013 ACL tear. In the eleven games with a healthy Gronkowski (he sat out the season finale for precautionary measures), Brady had a 66.2 completion percentage and 104.4 passing rating while throwing for 294.4 yards per game with 29 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

4. DeMarco Murray-Dallas Cowboys

Murray started the 2014 season like gangbusters as the Cowboys transformed into a rushing team after running the ball 36.4 percent of the time in his first three NFL seasons. He broke Jim Brown’s 56-year-old NFL record of six consecutive games with 100 rushing yards or more to begin a season with an eight-game streak. At the midway point of the season, Murray had 1,054 rushing yards and 1,293 yards from scrimmage, which put him on pace to break Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record of 2,105 yards by three yards and Chris Johnson’s single season yards from scrimmage record (2,509 yards). Murray couldn’t sustain his pace of production, but the Cowboys rode him to a 12-4 record to win the NFC East crown. Murray broke Emmitt Smith’s single season franchise rushing record of 1,773 yards by gaining 1,845 yards on the ground while playing through a late season broken left hand. The NFL’s rushing leader had almost 500 more yards than runner up Le’Veon Bell. Murray also tied for the NFL lead with 13 rushing touchdowns and was tops in the NFL with 2,261 yards from scrimmage.

5. Tony Romo-Dallas Cowboys

Romo made a late season MVP push with his stellar play in December, which should earn him the final NFC Player of the Month award of the season. During December, he led the Cowboys to a 4-0 record by completing 74.8 percent of his passes (83 of 111) for 987 yards with 12 touchdowns and one interception to post a 133.7 passer rating. Less has been more with Tony Romo, as the quarterback attempted only 29 passes per game after throwing 35.7 and 40.5 per game in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Romo’s efficiency has never been greater with the Cowboys becoming more reliant on the running game. He led the NFL in completion percentage (69.9 percent), passer rating (113.2) and yards per pass attempt (8.52 yards).

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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The Pro Bowl snub team

Despite what some may say, the new unconferenced teams format for the Pro Bowl does not decrease snubs. Nonetheless, there are plenty of deserving players who didn’t make it this season because popularity and reputation play a role in the selections. Here’s my team of players snubbed for the Pro Bowl, which will be

Despite what some may say, the new unconferenced teams format for the Pro Bowl does not decrease snubs. Nonetheless, there are plenty of deserving players who didn’t make it this season because popularity and reputation play a role in the selections. Here’s my team of players snubbed for the Pro Bowl, which will be played on January 25 in Glendale, Arizona.

Offense

QB-Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
RB-Justin Forsett, Baltimore Ravens
FB-Anthony Sherman, Kansas City Chiefs
WR-Odell Beckham, New York Giants
WR-Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
TE-Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
T-Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals
T-Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots
G-Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns
G-Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles
C-Rodney Hudson, Kansas City Chiefs

Odell BeckhamBeckham should go down as the biggest snub of the 2014 season.

The unconferenced format really hurt Wilson, as only two NFC quarterbacks were selected. The league’s top dual-threat quarterback is 15th in the NFL in rushing with 842 yards and has a 95.7 passer rating (ninth in the NFL). Forsett leads NFL running backs with 5.3 yards per carry and his 14 runs of over 20 yards tie him with DeMarco Murray for the most in the NFL. The NFL’s sixth-leading rusher (1,147 yards) has also been named AFC Offensive Player of the Week twice this season.

Beckham is among the NFL’s most productive wide receivers since recovering from a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Giants’ first four games. During the second half of the season, Beckham leads the NFL with 858 receiving yards and is second in receptions (61) and receiving touchdowns (8). Tate has set career highs with 96 catches and 1,286 receiving yards. The Lions aren’t in the playoffs because they don’t go 3-0 without Calvin Johnson if Tate doesn’t catch 24 passes for 349 yards with two touchdowns in those games Megatron missed. Whitworth anchors the offensive line and hasn’t given up a sack this season.

Defense

DE-Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks
DE-Everson Griffen, Minnesota Vikings
DT-Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets
DT-Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets
OLB-Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders
OLB-DeAndre Levy, Detroit Lions
ILB-Dont’a Hightower, New England Patriots
CB-Sean Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
CB-Corey Graham, Buffalo Bills
FS-Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
SS-Antoine Bethea, San Francisco 49ers

Michael BennettQuietly, Michael Bennett has had a terrific season for the Seahawks.

Stuffing the run was undervalued in this year’s selections. Bennett is Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) top rated 4-3 defensive end against the run and is also second among all defensive ends with 68 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, hurries and hits). 3-4 defensive ends Richardson and Wilkerson were listed on the Pro Bowl ballot at defensive tackle. Wilkerson was PFF’s No. 2 rated 3-4 defensive end this season before being sidelined for three games (Weeks 13-15) with a toe injury, which opened the door for Richardson to move into the slot. Mack quickly established himself as a dominant force against the run. The lack of sacks (only four) contributed to him being overlooked, but the rookie matches Connor Barwin with 54 quarterback pressures and has more than Clay Matthews (48) and Tamba Hali (42).

Levy has been a tackling machine (third in NFL with 140 tackles) for the NFL’s second-ranked defense in total yards and points allowed. Patrick Peterson was a reputation pick, as he’s given up eight touchdowns this season. As the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback, Peterson should be limiting quarterbacks to a 48.4 completion percentage for a 56.5 passing rating when targeted like Graham.

Specialists

K-Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons
P-Johnny Hekker, St. Louis Rams
PR-Adam Jones, Cincinnati Bengals
ST-Kelcie McCray, Kansas City Chiefs

Bryant has the most field goals from 50 yards and beyond in the NFL this season, with seven. Overall, he has converted 90.3 percent of his field goal attempts (28 of 31), which is fourth in the league. Jones may have gotten a berth if kickoffs were still a part of the Pro Bowl. He’s leading the NFL with a 33.2-yard kickoff return average and is third in punt returns (11.9 yard average).

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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The difficulty in trading Jay Cutler

Jay Cutler’s benching for Jimmy Clausen could mean the end of the veteran quarterback’s tenure with the Chicago Bears. Despite the demotion, Cutler’s stated preference is to remain a part of the Bears.

It was presumed that Cutler would be the Bears’ quarterback for the foreseeable future when he

Jay Cutler’s benching for Jimmy Clausen could mean the end of the veteran quarterback’s tenure with the Chicago Bears. Despite the demotion, Cutler’s stated preference is to remain a part of the Bears.

It was presumed that Cutler would be the Bears’ quarterback for the foreseeable future when he signed a seven-year, $126.7 million deal within days of the 2013 regular season ending. Cutler had the NFL’s highest 2014 salary cap number at $22.5 million before the Bears lowered it to $18.5 million by exercising their discretionary right to convert a portion of his base salary ($5 million) into a signing bonus, which was necessary to sign defensive end Jared Allen. Cutler’s $15.5 million 2015 base salary is fully guaranteed. $10 million of his $16 million 2016 base salary becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2015 league year (March 12).

Cutler’s 2015 cap number is $16.5 million. Releasing Cutler before the 2016 guarantee kicks in on March 12 will result in $19.5 million of dead money, a cap charge for a player no longer on a team’s roster. Since Cutler’s guarantees have offset provisions, the Bears would be able to reduce the guaranteed money owed to him by the amount of his new deal with another team. However, the cap relief wouldn’t occur until 2016.

Before releasing Cutler, the Bears would attempt to trade him. From a cap standpoint, trading Cutler is preferable because the Bears would pick up $12.5 million of 2015 cap room. There would be a $4 million cap charge for the Bears from the signing bonus proration in Cutler’s 2016 through 2018 contract years accelerating onto the 2015 cap.

The trading period for 2015 begins when free agency starts on March 10. This doesn’t leave much time for a trade because it would have to occur before the March 12 salary guarantee date if having Cutler return to the team isn’t the organization’s backup plan to a trade.

The Bears won’t be able to get anything comparable to the two second-round picks the San Francisco 49ers received from the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013 for Alex Smith in a Cutler trade, but he should be worth more than the sixth-round pick the Oakland Raiders sent the Houston Texans to acquire Matt Schaub in the offseason. In addition, a team must have enough cap room to absorb a player’s cap number in order to make a trade. Once the player is acquired, the team can then restructure his contract to decrease his cap number.

Jay CutlerWould it make sense to send Cutler to St. Louis in exchange for Sam Bradford?

Teams aren’t allowed to include cash or cap room in trades under NFL rules. The way around it, which was done when the Jacksonville Jaguars traded Eugene Monroe to the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, is for the team to restructure the contract before the trade by converting salary into a signing bonus. It operates essentially the same way as including cash or cap room because the acquiring team’s cap hit for the player in the current league year is reduced.

This would entail the Bears using the same discretionary conversion rights with Cutler they did prior to signing Allen. If $5.5 million is converted to a signing bonus, Cutler’s 2015 base salary will drop to $10 million. When the trade is made, signing bonus proration from Cutler’s future contract years (2016 through 2019) will accelerate onto Chicago’s 2015 cap. The Bears’ total 2015 cap charge for Cutler will be $9.5 million ($4 million of signing bonus proration from the 2014 restructure and $5.5 million relating to this new restructure), which is still $7 million in cap savings. The acquiring team’s cap charge for Cutler will be $10 million. Eating salary in this manner could be a way for the Bears to increase the compensation received for Cutler.

Although Cutler’s salary guarantees make it harder to trade him, there is a scarcity of quality quarterbacks in the NFL. The team that acquired Cutler would be making at least a two-year commitment to him because of the 2016 salary guarantee. It would be easy for the team to walk away from Cutler after that because the remaining four years for $72.7 million don’t contain any guarantees.

The team that seems to make the most sense to acquire Cutler is the Tennessee Titans. CEO Tommy Smith has vowed to remake the Titans’ roster in the offseason. Rookie Zach Mettenberger, a sixth-round pick this year, hasn’t shown enough for the Titans to know whether he is a potential franchise quarterback.

The Titans are in line for the second-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, which would put them in a position to select 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, but the franchise may be gun shy about using another high pick on a quarterback with Jake Locker, the eight overall pick in 2011, failing to live up to his potential. Cutler would also have some marketing appeal since he went to Vanderbilt.

The New York Jets are in need of a quarterback because Geno Smith hasn’t proven he’s the long-term solution at quarterback. It’s been a disappointing season for the Jets, but they probably won’t be drafting high enough to have a shot at 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota or Winston.

Cutler’s contract would help the Jets solve their spending predicament. The Collective Bargaining Agreement requires teams to spend 89 percent of the salary cap in cash over four-year periods of 2013 through 2016 and 2017 through 2020. Jets are 30th in spending this year ($106.295 million) and below the 89 percent threshold since 2013 at 84.56 percent.

Another intriguing possibility could be the St. Louis Rams. Jeff Fisher recently said he would like Sam Bradford, who is missing the entire 2014 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee for the second year in a row, back in 2015. Bradford, who is making $12.985 million on a $16.58 million cap number in 2015, would likely need to take a significant pay cut to return.

The opportunity for a rare quarterback swap exists with Cutler and Bradford. Their salaries and dead money are close enough to each other’s that a trade involving the two of them wouldn’t have much of an effect on either team’s salary cap.

Josh McCown hasn’t performed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like he did last year in Chicago while Cutler was injured. Head coach Lovie Smith has called Mike Glennon the team’s quarterback of the future, but doesn’t seem to have much confidence in him. Smith was Cutler’s head coach in Chicago for four years, which could work against him.

The Houston Texans may be a quarterback away from challenging the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC South crown. Cutler would be an upgrade over Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is scheduled to make $3.25 million in 2015. Fitzpatrick could remain with the team as Cutler’s backup with that salary. The Texans won’t have enough cap room to take on Cutler’s contract without restructuring deals or the Bears eating some of his salary unless the 2015 salary cap is above $145 million.

Another alternative could be for the Bears to concentrate on salvaging the situation with Cutler by hiring an offensive-minded head coach that believes he can get the most out of him. Mike Shanahan would best fit that description. Cutler’s only Pro Bowl season was in 2008 under Shanahan.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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How the 49ers can bail from Kaepernick’s contract

Colin Kaepernick’s surprising regression this season and the anticipated departure of San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh could result in Kaepernick’s tenure with the team being shorter than anticipated.

On the surface, it appeared as if the 49ers made a huge financial commitment to Kaepernick when he signed a six-year,

Colin Kaepernick’s surprising regression this season and the anticipated departure of San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh could result in Kaepernick’s tenure with the team being shorter than anticipated.

On the surface, it appeared as if the 49ers made a huge financial commitment to Kaepernick when he signed a six-year, $126 million contract extension during the offseason because of the overall value of the deal and the $61 million in guarantees. Kaepernick’s extension has a team-friendly structure, as do all of the lucrative contracts negotiated by the 49ers in recent years.

Only $12,973,766 of the $61 million in guarantees is fully guaranteed at signing. $48,026,234 of Kaepernick’s base salaries are guaranteed for injury only initially. His 2015 through 2017 base salaries and a portion of his 2018 base salary are fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster on April 1 in each specific contract year (i.e. 2015 base salary becomes guaranteed on April 1, 2015).

Kaepernick doesn’t have the same level of security as other quarterbacks with comparable deals. Jay Cutler, Tony Romo and Matt Ryan have $38 million, $40 million and $42 million, respectively, practically fully guaranteed at signing in their contracts, which is essentially triple Kaepernick’s amount.

Kaepernick’s contract also contains a convoluted $2 million per year salary de-escalator. Kaepernick’s base salary for the following season doesn’t decrease by the $2 million if he is named first or second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, or the 49ers reach the Super Bowl while he has 80 percent playtime in the regular season and playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl (Wild Card, Division and Conference Championship games). Once Kaepernick reaches this threshold in a season, the de-escalator becomes void for the remainder of the deal.

The team’s loss to the Oakland Raiders in Week 14 dropped San Francisco’s record to 7-6, which virtually ensures the triggering of the salary de-escalator, so Kaepernick’s 2015 base salary will go from $12.4 million to $10.4 million. However, the de-escalator being activated won’t change Kaepernick’s $15,265,753 2015 salary cap number. The lower salary, $10.4 million, is already a part of his cap number because de-escalation is being considered likely for cap purposes.

Colin KaepernickWill Kap be in a 49ers jersey past 2015?

Kaepernick’s $12,328,766 signing bonus and the conditional guarantees make his deal a year-to-year proposition from the outset because the 49ers can part ways with him at anytime without adverse cap consequences. For example, $5,402,740 of cap room would be gained in 2015 by releasing Kaepernick before his $10.4 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed on April 1. The 49ers would have a $9,863,013 cap charge or dead money from the signing bonus proration in Kaepernick’s 2016 through 2018 contract years accelerating onto the 2015 cap.

The 49ers releasing Kaepernick in 2015 is unrealistic because teams are usually reluctant to admit they made a mistake so quickly after giving a player a new deal. It would essentially amount to giving Kaepernick a $12 million windfall by releasing him so soon because his salary is $13,073,766 this year instead of the $1,073,766 he was scheduled to make by playing out his rookie contract.

The 49ers would attempt to trade Kaepernick before releasing him anyway. Kaepernick having his worst NFL season since becoming a starter and his failure to make significant strides as a pocket passer would impact the type of compensation the 49ers could get for him in a trade. It’s hard to imagine the 49ers receiving a draft choice comparable to the second-round pick (36th overall) used to select him even though he still has upside as a quarterback.

The most likely scenario is the 49ers restructuring Kaepernick’s contract in the offseason because he has the highest 2015 cap number on the team ($15,265,753) and the 49ers have the third-most 2015 cap commitments in the NFL at $148.9 million (51 players under contract) while having slightly over $4.5 million of unused cap room to carry over from this year. According to multiple reports, the NFL Management Council informed teams at an NFL meeting on December 9 that the 2015 salary cap is preliminarily projected to be between $138.6 million and $141.8 million. The actual salary cap this year is 5.3 percent higher than the preliminary projections this time last year. Regardless of where it is ultimately set, the 49ers have cap issues for 2015.

The 49ers have built cap flexibility into Kaepernick’s contract because they can create cap room at any time during the deal with their discretionary right to convert a portion of his base salary into a signing bonus. Most lucrative contracts around the league contain a clause similar to this one. The 49ers could create a maximum of $7.724 million in 2015 cap space through a restructure by converting $9.655 million of Kaepernick’s $10.4 million 2015 base salary into a signing bonus. Kaepernick’s 2015 cap number would drop to $7,541,753. His 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 cap numbers would each increase by $1.931 million under this scenario.

Whether Kaepernick has a bounce back year in 2015 will largely determine his fate with the 49ers. If the San Francisco is able to solve their cap woes in the offseason without changing Kaepernick’s contract, then $9,368,493 of cap room would be picked up in 2016 by releasing Kaepernick before his $11.9 million base salary (assumes he didn’t extinguish the de-escalator mechanism with his 2015 performance) became fully guaranteed.

There’s a significant difference in the cap savings by releasing Kaepernick after a 2015 restructure for maximum cap space, which is more likely than the 49ers leaving his 2015 cap alone. In this instance, $3,575,493 of cap room would be gained in 2016. The 49ers would have a $15,121,260 cap charge from the signing bonus proration in Kaepernick’s 2017 through 2019 contract years accelerating onto the 2016 cap.

$14.3 million of 2016 cap room could be created by giving Kaepernick a post-June 1 designation or releasing him after June 1. The only 2016 cap charge for the 49ers would be Kaepernick’s $4,396,753 of 2016 signing bonus proration. The 49ers would also have a $10,724,507 cap charge in 2017 relating to Kaepernick with post-June 1 treatment. Carrying Kaepernick’s entire $18,696,753 2016 cap number until June 2 is required with this route. Either way, releasing Kaepernick in 2016 would be the equivalent of giving him a one-year extension for $24.8 million because his rookie contract ran through the 2014 season.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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2014 salary cap kings

Defensive tackles have the NFL’s top-two 2014 salary cap numbers, which is a rarity. As usual, quarterbacks dominate the list of the largest cap numbers. Here’s a look at the players with 2014’s highest cap numbers. The Collective Bargaining Agreement’s (CBA) $175 daily amount for participating in a team’s voluntary offseason workout

Defensive tackles have the NFL’s top-two 2014 salary cap numbers, which is a rarity. As usual, quarterbacks dominate the list of the largest cap numbers. Here’s a look at the players with 2014’s highest cap numbers. The Collective Bargaining Agreement’s (CBA) $175 daily amount for participating in a team’s voluntary offseason workout program is included in the cap numbers.

1. Ndamukong Suh (DT)-Detroit Lions: $22,414,600 million

Suh’s cap number is a product of restructuring his five-year rookie deal (worth up to $68 million with $40 million fully guaranteed) in 2012 and 2013. The Lions and Suh engaged in negotiations for a new deal during the offseason, but the team broke off talks at the beginning of training camp. It will be virtually impossible for the Lions to use a franchise tag on Suh in 2015. His franchise tag number will be $26.87 million, which is based off of 120 percent of his 2014 cap number. Suh’s next contract will likely be the richest deal in NFL history for a defensive tackle because he isn’t going to think a decrease from his rookie contract is warranted after being named All-NFL four times in his four NFL seasons and Gerald McCoy’s recent contract extension averaging $13.6 million per year.

2. Gerald McCoy (DT)-Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $21.295 million

Gerald McCoyMcCoy is currently the NFL’s highest-paid interior defensive lineman.

McCoy had the NFL’s second-highest 2014 salary cap number among defensive tackles at $15,627,253 before signing a six-year, $95.2 million contract extension (worth up to $98 million through incentives). The deal, which contains $51.5 million in guarantees, made McCoy the NFL’s highest-paid interior defensive lineman. McCoy has the second-largest amount of guarantees ever in an NFL contract for a defensive player behind J.J. Watt’s $51,876,385.

3. Eli Manning (QB)-New York Giants: $20.4 million

In 2015, Manning will be entering the final year of his 2009 six-year, $97.5 million contract extension (with $35 million guaranteed). It may be in the Giants’ best interest to take a wait-and-see approach on a new deal with Manning because he’s been inconsistent in new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s west coast offense. The Super Bowl XLVI MVP has a $19.75 million salary cap number in 2015.

4. Ben Roethlisberger (QB)-Pittsburgh Steelers: $18,896,750 million

The Steelers decided against renegotiating Roethlisberger’s contract with two years remaining as they did with his rookie deal. Team president Art Rooney II indicated during the early part of training camp that Roethlisberger’s contract situation would be addressed after the season. In order for Roethlisberger to maintain the same place in the quarterback salary hierarchy as the six-year contract extension averaging $14,664,417 per year with $33.2 million in guarantees he signed in 2008 (NFL’s second-highest paid player and third-most contract guarantees), his new extension would need to top $20.75 million per year and $59 million in guarantees.

5. Mario Williams (DE)-Buffalo Bills: $18.8 million

Williams lost his place as the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player ($96 million/six years, $50 million in guarantees, $4 million in incentives) when J.J. Watt signed a six-year, $100 million contract extension at the start of the regular season. The 2006 first overall pick’s $53 million in the first three years of his deal is the best three-year cash flow in the NFL for a non-quarterback. Living up to the deal has been hard for Williams, but he’s fourth in the NFL with 12 sacks and is also Pro Football Focus’ second-ranked 4-3 defensive end this season.

6. Jay Cutler (QB)-Chicago Bears: $18,504,900 million

Cutler signed a seven-year, $126.7 million deal (includes $54 million guaranteed) within days of the 2013 regular season ending. He had the NFL’s highest 2014 cap number at $22.5 million before the Bears lowered his cap number by exercising their discretionary right to convert a portion of his base salary into a signing bonus, which was necessary to sign defensive end Jared Allen.

7. Drew Brees (QB)-New Orleans Saints: $18.4 million

Brees became the NFL’s first $20 million per year player with the five-year, $100 million contract (included a record $60.5 million in guarantees) he signed with the Saints in 2012. It will be difficult for the Saints to carry Brees’ $26.4 million 2015 cap number with a league high almost $161 million in 2015 cap commitments when the 2015 cap isn’t expected to exceed $145 million.

8. Sam Bradford (QB)-St. Louis Rams: $17.61 million

Sam BradfordThe Rams would gain $12.985 million of cap room by cutting Bradford in 2015.

Bradford is missing the 2014 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee for the second year in a row. He is one of the last beneficiaries of high draft picks receiving rookie contracts where easily achievable escalators created large base salaries in their deals. As the first pick overall in the 2010 NFL draft, Bradford signed a six-year, $78 million deal (worth a maximum of $86 million) containing $50 million in guarantees. By contrast, Cam Newton signed a fully guaranteed four-year, $22,025,498 contract (with a CBA mandated fifth year option worth $14.666 million) as the first pick in 2011 after the creation of a rookie wage scale. Bradford’s future with the Rams is in doubt because of durability concerns and his $16.58 million 2015 cap number. The Rams would gain $12.985 million of cap room by cutting Bradford in 2015.

9. Aaron Rodgers (QB)-Green Bay Packers: $17.55 million

Rodgers is the highest-paid player in NFL history (by average yearly salary). He signed a five-year, $110 million contract extension in 2013 containing $54 million in guarantees, which included a $35 million signing bonus. The 2011 NFL MVP’s 2014 cap number was originally $17.9 million. The signing bonus proration dropped from $7 million annually in Rodgers’ 2014-2017 contract years to $6.65 million because of insurance policy payments to the Packers relating to the quarterback missing seven games last season with a broken collarbone.

10. Matt Ryan (QB)-Atlanta Falcons: $17,505,425 million

Ryan edged Peyton Manning for the tenth spot because he received $350 more in offseason workout per diem. The 2008 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year became the NFL’s second-highest paid player when he signed a five-year, $103.75 million contract extension (including $59 million in guarantees) in 2013. $42 million was essentially fully guaranteed at signing. Ryan is getting $63 million in the first three years of his contract, which is the best three-year cash flow in the NFL and narrowly eclipses Rodgers’ $62.5 million.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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Inside a performance-based contract

Incentives and salary escalators can be used to bridge the financial gap when there is a disagreement in a negotiation between a player’s agent and the team on the player’s value. These contract mechanisms are usually designed to be classified as Not Likely To Be Earned (NLTBE) so that they will not count against the

Incentives and salary escalators can be used to bridge the financial gap when there is a disagreement in a negotiation between a player’s agent and the team on the player’s value. These contract mechanisms are usually designed to be classified as Not Likely To Be Earned (NLTBE) so that they will not count against the salary cap when a deal is signed. Generally, any incentives or escalators with higher thresholds than the player or team’s statistical performance in the prior season qualify as NLTBE. The most frequent categories for individual achievement are playtime or based on the player’s primary function (i.e. rushing yards for a running back).

Elvis Dumervil signed this type of contract with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013 after he was released by the Denver Broncos because of a paperwork snafu on his renegotiated contract reducing his 2013 salary from $12 million to $8 million. He received a five-year deal from the Ravens with a base value of $26 million containing $11 million in guarantees. Dumervil’s contract is worth up to $35 million because it has $9 million of base salary escalators and incentives. Since Dumervil had 11 sacks with the Broncos in 2012, his escalators or incentives required him to exceed this sack total in order to be considered NLTBE.

Dumervil has notched 22.0 sacks in 26 career games with the Ravens.

Dumervil triggered $3 million in base salary escalators and earned $1 million in incentives during Week 12’s contest against the New Orleans Saints by getting two sacks to reach the 12-sack mark. He is now second in the NFL with 12.5 sacks and on pace to break Peter Boulware’s franchise record of 15 sacks with a career best 19 sacks.

Dumervil has four different clauses in his contract as follows relating to base salary escalators and incentives.

1. With 12 or more sacks in any regular season, the remaining base salaries in the contract each increase by $1 million. A maximum of $4 million can be earned under this clause.

2. Provided that Dumervil earns the initial escalator (number one), the remaining base salaries in the contract each increase by $1 million with 12 or more sacks in the 2014, 2015 or 2016 regular seasons. The maximum that can be earned under this clause is $3 million.

3. A one-time $1 million bonus is earned with 12 or more sacks in any regular season. It is available every year until earned.

4. Provided that Dumervil earns the initial sack incentive (number three), there is another one-time $1 million bonus for 12 or more sacks in 2014, 2015 or 2016 and (a) team improvement from the previous season in one of eight categories (points allowed by the defense, touchdowns allowed by the defense, total defense, average net yards given up per rushing play, average net yards given up per passing play, sacks, interceptions or team wins) or (b) Dumervil improves from the previous season in one of six categories (interceptions, interception return yards, touchdowns on interception returns, opponent fumble recoveries, opponent fumble return yards or touchdowns on opponent fumble returns). It can also be earned with 13 or more sacks as long as it’s an improvement from the previous season’s sack total. This incentive is also available every year until earned.

The value of Dumervil’s contract has increased to $30 million over five years. He can’t earn the maximum of $35 million because he didn’t have 12 sacks in 2013. The most Dumervil can earn is $33 million if he hits his thresholds again in 2015.

Dumervil’s 2015 and 2016 base salaries, which were originally $4 million, are now $5 million. His $5 million 2017 base salary jumps to $6 million. Dumervil had a $6.375 million cap number in 2015 and 2016 which has now increased to $7.375 million during these years. His 2017 cap number goes from $7.375 million to $8.375 million.

Triggering an escalator doesn’t necessarily mean that the player will make the increased salary. The escalated amount is rarely guaranteed so teams can still ask the player to take a pay cut or release him without any financial obligation. For example, the Atlanta Falcons cut John Abraham in 2013 instead of paying him $6.5 million for the season after he triggered a $1 million base salary increase with 71.62 percent defensive playtime and 10 sacks. Dumervil is assured of making at least $2 million of his performance bonuses ($1 million of the salary escalator and $1 million in incentives) because he isn’t in danger of being released in 2015.

 

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

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Will there be first ballot Hall of Famers in 2015?

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee, which is comprised of 46 media members that cover the NFL, cut the list of 113 modern era nominees to 26 semi-finalists on Tuesday. The modern era list will be reduced to 15 nominees on January 8. The final nominees will consist of the 15 modern

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee, which is comprised of 46 media members that cover the NFL, cut the list of 113 modern era nominees to 26 semi-finalists on Tuesday. The modern era list will be reduced to 15 nominees on January 8. The final nominees will consist of the 15 modern era finalists, the two Contributor candidates Bill Polian (Buffalo Bills/Carolina Panthers/Indianapolis Colts general manager) and Ron Wolf (Green Bay Packers/Los Angeles & Oakland Raiders/Tampa Bay Buccaneers), and the Seniors Committee nominee center Mick Tingelhoff (Minnesota Vikings). The 2015 Hall of Fame class will be announced in Phoenix, Arizona on January 31, the day before Super Bowl XLIX. Four to eight inductees, with a maximum of five modern candidates, will make up the 2015 class.

15 first-year eligible candidates were among the initial 113 modern era nominees. Eight of the 15 nominees are semi-finalists, which reflects the strength of the group. Nine first time candidates combined were semi-finalists over the last two years. Here’s a look at the eight first-year eligible semi-finalists.

Isaac Bruce (WR)-Los Angeles & St. Louis Rams/San Francisco 49ers

Isaac BruceBruce hauled in 1,024 receptions during his 16-year career.

Bruce was a four-time Pro Bowler and named All-Pro once in 16 NFL seasons. He ranks eighth in NFL history with 1,024 receptions, fourth with 15,208 receiving yards and eleventh with 91 receiving touchdowns. Bruce’s 1,781 receiving yards in 1995 are the third-best single season total ever in the NFL. He also led the NFL in receiving yards (1,338) in 1996. Five wide receivers have been first ballot Hall of Famers, with Jerry Rice as the most recent one in 2010. Surprisingly, Marvin Harrison didn’t become the sixth last year.

Torry Holt (WR)-Jacksonville Jaguars/St. Louis Rams

Holt was named to seven Pro Bowls and All-Pro twice in 11 NFL seasons. He is a second-team wide receiver on the 2000s All-Decade team. Holt ranks 13th all-time with 920 receptions and 12th with 13,382 receiving yards. He holds the NFL record for most receiving yards in a decade with 12,589 yards during the 2000s. Holt, Marvin Harrison and Calvin Johnson are the only players in NFL history with two seasons of at least 1,600 receiving yards. He led the NFL in receiving yards during his two 1,600 yard seasons.

Holt had 1,635 yards and 1,696 yards, the sixth-best single season mark, in 2000 and 2003, respectively. Although there isn’t a limit each year on the number of inductees at a position, Holt faces competition from Tim Brown, a five-time finalist, teammate Isaac Bruce and Harrison, a 2014 finalist. He and Bruce could cancel each other out as the Selection Committee may have a hard time distinguishing between the two during the voting process.

Edgerrin James (RB)-Arizona Cardinals/Indianapolis Colts/Seattle Seahawks

Edgerrin JamesJames rushed for 12,246 yards in 11 seasons.

James was elected to four Pro Bowls and named All-Pro three times during his 11-year NFL career. He was named Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1999 after winning the first of his two rushing titles with 1,553 rushing yards. The 2000s All-Decade team member was one of the top dual-threat running backs in the late 1990s/early 2000s. James led the NFL with 2,303 yards from scrimmage in 2000, which is the tenth-best single season total in league history. He is 11th on the all-time rushing list with 12,246 yards. Jerome Bettis surviving the cut from 15 nominees to 10 nominees in each of the last two years will likely factor into James’ Hall of Fame bid coming up short in 2015.

Ty Law (CB)-Denver Broncos/Kansas City Chiefs/New England Patriots/New York Jets

Law was a five-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro in 15 NFL seasons. He was named second-team All-Decade for the 2000s. Law led the NFL in interceptions twice by picking off nine passes in 1998 and 10 passes in 2005. He intercepted 53 passes (24th all time) for 828 return yards (21st all time) and seven touchdowns (10th all time) in his career. The three-time Super Bowl champion is primarily responsible for the NFL placing a greater emphasis on the five-yard illegal contact rule because of his physical play against the Indianapolis Colts’ wide receivers during the 2003 season’s AFC Championship game. Law has a similar resume to 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Aeneas Williams, who failed to gain entry in his first four years of eligibility.

Kevin Mawae (C)-New York Jets/Seattle Seahawks/Tennessee Titans

Mawae was selected All-NFL eight times and elected to eight Pro Bowls in his 16-year NFL career. He is the first-team center on the 2000s All-Decade team. Mawae’s 238 games started are second-most for centers behind only Seniors Committee nominee Mick Tingelhoff. It’s hard envisioning Mawae making the cut to 15 candidates with nine of last year’s finalists among the 26 semi-finalists.

Orlando Pace (OT)-Chicago Bears/St. Louis Rams

Pace was named first-team All-NFL five times and a seven-time Pro Bowler in 13 NFL seasons. Pace compares favorably to Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones, who were selected to the Hall of Fame in 2013 and 2014, respectively, during their first year of eligibility. He is a second-team tackle behind them on the All-Decade team for the 2000s. Recent selection trends favor offensive linemen. An offensive lineman has been elected to the Hall of Fame in eight of the last nine years. Pace’s stiffest offensive line competition comes from 3-time finalist Will Shields.

Junior Seau (LB)-Miami Dolphins/New England Patriots/San Diego Chargers

Seau received All-NFL honors ten times and was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection (all consecutively) in 20 NFL seasons. His 268 games played are second in NFL history among linebackers. Seau doesn’t have eye-popping raw numbers with 56.5 sacks and 18 interceptions, but was the pre-eminent sideline-to-sideline linebacker of his generation. The 1990s All-Decade selection was the driving force behind the San Diego Chargers’ Super Bowl XXIX appearance, the only one in franchise history. Seau is the best bet among the semi-finalists to become a first ballot Hall of Famer.

Kurt Warner (QB)-Arizona Cardinals/New York Giants/St. Louis Rams

Kurt WarnerWarner looks to become the first quarterback to enter the Hall of Fame since Troy Aikman and Warren Moon.

Warner was a two-time first-team All-Pro and a four-time Pro Bowler in 12 NFL seasons. He came out obscurity in 1999 after Trent Green tore his ACL in the preseason to guide the Rams to a Super Bowl XXXIV victory and earn Super Bowl MVP honors with a record 414 passing yards to cap off his MVP season. Warner was also regular season MVP in 2001. As the leader of the Greatest Show on Turf, the Rams topped the 500-point mark in three straight seasons (1999-2001), which is the only time the feat has been accomplished by a franchise in the NFL, and set a record for total offense with 7,075 yards in 2000. Warner doesn’t have the sustained excellence of other Hall of Fame quarterbacks because of a mid-career slump from 2002 to 2006 where he threw more interceptions (30) than touchdowns passes (27) and had an 8-22 record as a starter. He rebounded by leading the Arizona Cardinals to the franchise’s only Super Bowl appearance in Super Bowl XLIII during the latter stages of his career. There hasn’t been a quarterback enshrined since 2006 when Troy Aikman and Warren Moon were inducted. History is on Warner’s side because every multiple MVP winner has been a first ballot Hall of Famer. If Warner doesn’t make it on the first try, he may have to wait until 2017 at the earliest because Brett Favre is eligible for induction in 2016.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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The NFL’s most underpaid players

Salary doesn’t always match production in the NFL’s system of compensating players. This is especially true with draft choices because their pay is dictated by draft position. Here’s a look at some of the NFL’s most underpaid players.

A player had to be eligible to renegotiate his contract under the NFL’s collective bargaining

Salary doesn’t always match production in the NFL’s system of compensating players. This is especially true with draft choices because their pay is dictated by draft position. Here’s a look at some of the NFL’s most underpaid players.

A player had to be eligible to renegotiate his contract under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement in order to be considered. Players drafted during the last three seasons, like Andrew Luck, Luke Kuechly and Russell Wilson, have been excluded because they won’t be able to sign new deals until the end of the third year of their rookie contracts. Overall contract packages of players were evaluated in addition to 2014 compensation.

Justin Houston (OLB)-Kansas City Chiefs

Justin HoustonHouston is headed for the franchise tag if he can’t come to terms with the Chiefs.

Houston is in hot pursuit of Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22.5 sacks with an NFL leading 12 sacks through nine games. The 2011 third-round pick is in the final year of a four-year rookie contract paying him $1.406 million this season. Signing Houston to a long-term deal is a priority for the Chiefs, but the two sides have been far apart when engaging in contract discussions, according to multiple reports. Houston won’t hit the open market because the Chiefs will put a franchise tag on him if a new deal isn’t in place before the designation deadline in early March. The linebacker number will be approximately $13.25 million in 2015 if there is a salary cap increase similar to this year’s 8.13 percent ($144 million salary cap).

Replacing Clay Matthews, whose five-year contract extension with the Green Bay Packers averages $13.2 million per year, as the NFL’s highest-paid linebacker is almost a given. Supplanting J.J. Watt, who signed a six-year, $100 million contract extension (includes $51,876,385 in guarantees) with the Houston Texans during the preseason, is an entirely different matter. The last time the highest-paid linebacker made more than the highest-paid defensive end was in 2009 when the Dallas Cowboys signed DeMarcus Ware to a six-year, $78 million extension during the middle of the season.

Tom Brady (QB)-New England Patriots

The big hometown discount Brady took in a 2013 contract renegotiation that freed up $8 million in 2013 salary cap room for the Patriots hasn’t become a trend among superstar players. Depending upon how it’s characterized, Brady signed a five-year, $57 million deal or a three-year, $27 million contract extension. Brady received $33 million, which was fully guaranteed, in the first two years of the new deal ($30 million of the guarantee was in the form of a signing bonus) instead of the $30 million he was scheduled to make in the remaining two years of his contract. Since Brady wasn’t in danger of being released before the expiration of his contract, he didn’t receive much in return for the three new contract years. The final three years of Brady’s pact (2015 through 2017) for $24 million becomes fully guaranteed if he is on New England’s roster for the final game of this regular season. If Brady had opted for a deal at his market value, the average of the new contract years would have placed him among the NFL’s highest-paid players by topping the $20 million per year mark.

Demaryius Thomas (WR)-Denver Broncos

Thomas has rebounded from an extremely slow start in Denver’s first three games. He’s on pace for 1,781 receiving yards, which would tie Marvin Harrison for the third-best single-season total in NFL history. The 22nd overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft should also join Marvin Harrison and Jerry Rice as the only wide receivers to ever have three consecutive seasons with at least 90 catches, 1,400 receiving yards and 10 touchdown receptions. Thomas is in the final year of a five-year, $12,155,500 rookie contract (with $9,351,750 guaranteed and worth a maximum of $15,505,500). According to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, there is an offer on the table that would make Thomas the NFL’s third-highest-paid wide receiver. The offer is above Percy Harvin’s $12,843,500 new money average per year and below the Calvin Johnson/Larry Fitzgerald deals averaging slightly more than $16 million per year that contain more than $45 million in guarantees.

Dez Bryant (WR)-Dallas Cowboys

Dez BryantBryant is looking to become one of the highest-paid receivers in NFL history.

Bryant is on track for his third straight season with at least 90 receptions, 1,200 receiving yards and 12 touchdown receptions. As the 24th overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, he signed a five-year, $11,810,500 deal (with $8.625 million guaranteed). His salary is $2.03 million this year, the final year of his rookie contract. Bryant ended contract negotiations at the start of the regular season when the Cowboys weren’t willing to make him one of the NFL’s top paid wide receivers because of off-the-field concerns. According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, Dallas’ best offer was $114 million for 10 years with $20 million in guarantees, of which $5 million was a signing bonus. The offer averaged $10 million per year over the first six years.

Muhammad Wilkerson (DE)-New York Jets

Wilkerson was snubbed for the Pro Bowl in 2013 despite having 10.5 sacks while anchoring the NFL’s top defense, according to Football Outsiders’ defensive efficiency ratings. He is Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) number two rated 3-4 defensive end this season behind 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.

The 30th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft is in the fourth year of a five-year, $13.844 million rookie contract (includes $6.969 million 2015 option year). The Jets wasted an opportunity to lock up Wilkerson long term at a more affordable rate with some of the $19.89 million in salary cap room they had prior to the Percy Harvin trade. The days of signing Wilkerson in the Calais Campbell neighborhood ($11 million per year/$31 million in guarantees) are over thanks to the changing market conditions for elite defensive linemen with Watt, Robert Quinn and Gerald McCoy’s recent deals averaging $16,666,667 per year, $14,253,724 per year and $13.6 million per year, respectively.

Brian Hoyer (QB)-Cleveland Browns

Hoyer beating out Johnny Manziel, the 22nd overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, in a preseason battle for the quarterback job was somewhat surprising. The journeyman is more entrenched as Cleveland’s signal-caller after guiding the team to first place in the AFC North with a 6-3 record. The Browns seem content to let Hoyer, who is in the final year of a two-year deal with a base value of $1.965 million, play out his contract. There haven’t been any contract discussions with Hoyer since the spring when he was offered a backup money contract extension. Hoyer will likely be the cream of a weak free agent quarterback crop if the Browns let him test the open market. A quarterback-needy team could be willing to offer him a long-term deal in excess of $10,038,883, the average salary for a starting quarterback this year.

Julius Thomas (TE)-Denver Broncos

The 2011 fourth-round pick is duplicating the success he had in his 2013 breakout campaign of 65 catches for 788 yards with 13 touchdowns. Thomas has blossomed into arguably the NFL’s most dangerous red zone threat, as his 12 touchdown catches lead the NFL. The former Portland State power forward rejected an offer averaging between $7.5 million and $8.5 million per year that would have made him the NFL’s third-highest-paid tight end according to Mike Klis of the Denver Post. Instead, Thomas is making $645,000 in the final year of his four-year, $2.424 million rookie contact.

DeMarco Murray (RB)-Dallas Cowboys

DeMarco MurrayMurray is making a serious push at 2,000 rushing yards.

Murray is in the final year of his four-year rookie contract averaging $743,360 per year. The 2011 third-round pick started the season with eight straight games of 100 or more rushing yards to break Jim Brown’s 56-year-old NFL record of six consecutive games to start a season. Murray is just off the pace to become the eighth running back in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. At his current rate, he will gain 1,973 yards on 390 carries.

Murray’s terrific start to the season prompted the Cowboys to reportedly offer him a four-year extension worth more than the top running back deals signed during free agency ($4 million per year). It is unlikely Murray will capitalize on his success as much as he could at other positions because of the recent devaluing of running backs. Under a more favorable running back economic climate, Murray would be justified in seeking a four or five-year extension, averaging in excess of $10 million per year and containing $20 million in guarantees, which is line with the average of the top five veteran running back deals, with the type of season he is having.

Chris Harris (CB)-Denver Broncos

Harris has had a remarkable recovery from the torn ACL he suffered against the San Diego Chargers in last season’s AFC divisional playoff round. He is PFF’s top ranked cornerback in 2014. According to PFF, quarterbacks are completing 51.1 percent of passes (26 completions in 51 attempts) for a 44.0 passing rating when targeting him.

The Denver Post’s Mike Klis reported before Week 10’s contest against the Oakland Raiders that the Broncos have initiated discussions with Harris, who is playing under a $2.187 million restricted free agent tender, for a new deal. It might require a contract consistent with the top of this year’s free agent cornerback market, which ranged from Brent Grimes’ four-year deal with the Miami Dolphins averaging $8 million per year to the $9.75 million per year Sam Shields received from the Green Bay Packers, in order for Harris to remain in Denver.

DeAndre Levy (OLB)-Detroit Lions

Levy led all NFL linebackers with six interceptions in 2013. He has arguably been the best player on the NFL’s top defensive unit in points allowed (15.8 points per game) and total defense (283.4 yards per game). Levy is in the second year of a three-year, $9.75 million deal. Every-down linebackers who don’t consistently pressure the quarterback aren’t compensated at the same level as those who do. Jerod Mayo is the NFL’s highest-paid outside linebacker that isn’t a pass rusher with the five-year, $48.5 million contract extension (includes $27 million in guarantees) he received from the New England Patriots towards the end of the 2011 season.

Others: Randall Cobb (WR)-Green Bay Packers, Tashaun Gipson (S)-Cleveland Browns, Rolando McClain (MLB)-Dallas Cowboys, Pernell McPhee (OLB)-Baltimore Ravens, Justin Forsett (RB)-Baltimore Ravens

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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Houston’s big payday is coming

Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston’s career year is happening at the right time, as he is in the final year of a four-year rookie contract that pays $1.406 million this season.

Houston has an NFL-leading 12 sacks through eight games, which puts him on pace to break Michael Strahan’s single season

Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston’s career year is happening at the right time, as he is in the final year of a four-year rookie contract that pays $1.406 million this season.

Houston has an NFL-leading 12 sacks through eight games, which puts him on pace to break Michael Strahan’s single season record of 22.5 sacks by 1.5 sacks. Besides having outstanding raw numbers, Houston fares well in Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) metrics. He is PFF’s top rated 3-4 outside linebacker this year, which he was in 2013 despite missing five games with an elbow injury. PFF also tracks total quarterback pressures (combined sacks, quarterback hurries and quarterback hits). Houston is tied for second in the NFL with 44 pressures.

The 2011 third-round pick skipped offseason activities and forfeited a $25,000 workout bonus in a contract dispute with the Chiefs. Houston reported to training camp despite his unhappiness with his salary because he lacked leverage to continue his holdout. He wouldn’t have gotten a year of service towards free agency without reporting to the Chiefs at least 30 days prior to their first regular season game. Missing the August 5 deadline and playing out his rookie deal would have made Houston a restricted free agent in 2015.

Signing Houston to a long-term deal is a priority for the Chiefs, but the two sides have been far apart when engaging in contract discussions, according to multiple reports. Houston’s productivity and recent developments with top tier defensive player salaries will make it more difficult for the Chiefs to reach an agreement with Houston, particularly before the end of this season.

J.J. Watt became the NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback (using average yearly salary) by signing a six-year, $100 million contract extension with the Houston Texans during the preseason. His deal contains $51,876,385 in guarantees, which is a record for defensive players. The St. Louis Rams signed Robert Quinn to a four-year extension averaging $14,253,724 per year early in the regular season. Quinn’s $57,014,895 extension contains $41,171,774 in guarantees. Most recently, Gerald McCoy received a six-year, $95.2 million contract extension (with $51.5 million in guarantees and worth up to $98 million through incentives) from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to become the NFL’s highest-paid defensive tackle.

Justin HoustonHouston is currently on pace to break the NFL’s single-season sack record.

Houston’s agent, Joel Segal, will likely raise his demands because of Houston’s outstanding performance where he attempts to supplant Watt at the top of the non-quarterback market. Segal isn’t opposed to playing hardball with teams in contract talks. He substantially raised the bar for running back salaries by negotiating a four-year, $53.975 million extension on Chris Johnson’s behalf with the Tennessee Titans in 2011 to end his client’s 35-day holdout. Johnson’s deal at $13,493,750 per year averaged 56.5 percent more than the previous running back salary benchmark (Steven Jackson-$8,619,500 per year).

There are two major obstacles standing in the way of Houston reaching Watt’s salary level. The Chiefs will be adamant about quarterback Alex Smith remaining the team’s highest-paid player. Smith signed a four-year, $68 million extension (with $45 million in guarantees) in late August. Typically, the starting quarterback is at the top of a team’s salary hierarchy when he gets a lucrative contract. For example, Matthew Stafford is the highest-paid player on the Detroit Lions (by average yearly salary) despite Calvin Johnson arguably being one of the five best players in the NFL.

The highest-paid defensive end has consistently made more than the highest-paid linebacker. The last time the reverse occurred was in 2009 when the Dallas Cowboys signed DeMarcus Ware to a six-year, $78 million extension during the middle of the season. The situation quickly changed in 2010. Julius Peppers replaced Jared Allen ($12,210,012 per year) as the highest-paid defensive end with the six-year, $84 million contract (worth a maximum of $91.5 million through incentives) he received from the Chicago Bears as an unrestricted free agent. The average salary of the highest-paid defensive end has increased by 36.5 percent since 2009 while it has remained stagnant for linebackers. Clay Matthews is currently the NFL’s highest-paid linebacker at $13.2 million per year.

Houston won’t be able to capitalize on his success in free agency because the Chiefs will use their franchise tag on him if a new deal isn’t in place before the designation deadline in early March. The linebacker franchise tag number will be approximately $13.25 million in 2015 if there is a salary cap increase similar to this year’s 8.13 percent ($144 million salary cap). A second franchise tag in 2016 should be $15.9 million, a 20 percent increase over Houston’s 2015 number under these cap projections. The average of franchising Houston twice (slightly over $14.5 million per year) should give Segal more justification for a long-term deal above Quinn’s.

Based on the changing market conditions for elite defensive players and the relationship between salaries of top pass rushing defensive ends and linebackers that consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks, expect Houston to sign a long-term deal somewhere between $14.5 million per year and $15.5 million per year as long as he doesn’t sustain a serious injury before the end of the season. It’s also conceivable that Houston could top the $45 million of overall guarantees in Smith’s extension with a similar type of structure. Smith’s deal contains $30 million fully guaranteed at signing.

Houston’s three-year cash flow should be better than the $41,376,385 Watt is getting in the first three years of his deal. This would be understandable because Watt had two years remaining on his contract while Houston most likely would be signing a new deal after his contract expired.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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Five key second half storylines

With the 2014 NFL season at the midway point, here are five situations to watch for the rest of the year.

The Seattle Seahawks’ playoff hopes

The Seattle Seahawks are finding out how hard it is to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Their 4-3 record wouldn’t be good enough for the playoffs

With the 2014 NFL season at the midway point, here are five situations to watch for the rest of the year.

The Seattle Seahawks’ playoff hopes

The Seattle Seahawks are finding out how hard it is to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Their 4-3 record wouldn’t be good enough for the playoffs if the season ended today.

Seattle lost its offensive identity trying to expand the passing game with more reliance on wide receiver Percy Harvin. The ball is being run 46.8 percent of the time after a 52.3 percent clip last season. Harvin was traded to the New York Jets in Week 7 for a conditional 2015 sixth-round selection (could be as high as a fourth-round pick depending upon Harvin’s performance) because of locker room issues and the difficulty of integrating him into the offense. His departure hasn’t solved Seattle’s offensive problems or the locker room issues. Four-time Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch, who missed eight days of training camp in a contract dispute, reportedly has a fractured relationship with the organization and isn’t expected back next year. The offensive line, which was a question mark last year, has regressed. The defense has also lost some of its intimidation factor with strong safety Kam Chancellor slowed by bone spurs in his ankles.

Seattle’s playoff hopes will likely hinge on how they fare in NFC West contests during the homestretch of the season. There are two games against rival San Francisco and the division-leading Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers are in the same boat as the Seahawks playoff-wise, but their defense should improve with All-Pros NaVorro Bowman (torn ACL) and Aldon Smith (personal conduct and substance abuse policy suspension) returning to the lineup in the second half of the season.

DeMarco Murray’s chase of the record book

DeMarco MurrayMurray has been on cruise control in 2014.

DeMarco Murray is having a historic season in the Dallas Cowboys’ unexpected 6-2 start. He has already broken Jim Brown’s 56-year-old NFL record of six consecutive games with 100 rushing yards or more to begin a season. Murray’s streak is at eight games. He has 1,054 rushing yards and 1,293 yards from scrimmage. Murray is on pace to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards by three yards and Chris Johnson’s single season yards from scrimmage record (2,509 yards). Murray is also on track for 412 carries, which would be the second-highest single season total in NFL history. Durability concerns may be the biggest threat to Murray chasing the records. He’s missed eleven games in his three previous NFL seasons because of ankle, foot, and knee injuries without playing a full slate in any of them.

NFC South mediocrity

None of the teams in the NFC South have a winning record. The New Orleans improved their record to 4-4 and assumed first place in the division with Thursday’s night victory over the Carolina Panthers. The Saints are a Jekyll and Hyde team which plays much better at home than on the road. The Carolina win snapped New Orleans’ regular season road losing streak at seven games. However, their home winning streak (11 games) will be put to test with an upcoming three-game home stand against the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens.

The Panthers rode a strong defense that led the NFL with 60 sacks and was second in scoring (15.1 points per game) and run defense (86.9 yards per game) to the NFC South crown in 2013. Sacks are way down with 20 in nine games and the team is giving up 26.2 points per game (26th in the NFL). Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy, who had a team-high 15 sacks in 2013, isn’t coming to the rescue. He will remain on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List for the rest of the season since his domestic violence jury trial has been postponed until after the season. The run defense has been atrocious. The Panthers are giving up 131.9 yards per game to rank 27th in the league.

The Atlanta Falcons are in the midst of a five-game losing streak. The offensive line has been decimated by injuries, with five linemen on injured reserve. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offseason roster overhaul isn’t paying dividends. It’s resulted in a 1-6 record.

It’s taken at least 12 victories to win the NFC South in the previous six seasons. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the division winner makes the playoffs with an 8-8 record.

AFC North dogfight

The AFC North is the NFL’s toughest division, with every team in the division owning a winning record at the moment. The Cincinnati Bengals are in first place at 4-2-1. All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green’s toe injury derailed Cincinnati’s 3-0 start. He is expected back in the lineup after missing the last four games.

Andy DaltonICONWill Dalton and the Bengals withstand the onslaught from their divisional foes?

The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are nipping at Cincinnati’s heels with matching 5-3 records. The Ravens have the NFL’s best point differential, outscoring opponents by 86 points on the season. They have been able to put aside the distraction of running back Ray Rice’s early-season release because of his domestic violence incident. The running game has been effective without him. Journeyman Justin Forsett is leading NFL running backs with 5.5 yards per carry and is fourth in the league with 571 rushing yards.

The Steelers have lacked consistency. They are responsible for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ only win of the season, but also easily handled the AFC South leading Indianapolis Colts with their best offensive output (51 points) in Mike Tomlin’s eight years as the team’s head coach. The Cleveland Browns have a surprising 4-3 record under first-year head coach Mike Pettine. The team hasn’t won more than five games in a season since 2007. Brian Hoyer has solidified his grip on the quarterback job after beating out 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel during the preseason. The passing attack should get a lift from Josh Gordon’s return for the final six games when his drug suspension is over.

Cincinnati’s season sweep of Baltimore could loom large in determining the division champion. The drawback to the competitiveness within the division is the number of teams that make the playoffs may be limited. A combined 12-5-1 record outside of the division suggests there should be at least one AFC North wild card team.

Oakland Raiders’ futility

The Oakland Raiders are the NFL’s only winless team at 0-7 and currently own a 13-game losing streak. Head coach Dennis Allen was fired at the bye week after an 0-4 start. The team is more competitive under interim coach Tony Sparano, but it isn’t being reflected in the bottom line. It’s conceivable that the Raiders could join the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only 0-16 teams in NFL history. The Raiders have the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL. These opponents have a combined 40-25 record (.615 winning percentage). There’s one game left against a team with a losing record. The Raiders face the 2-5 St. Louis Rams at home in Week 13.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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Inside Gerald McCoy’s monster deal

Gerald McCoy became the NFL’s highest-paid defensive tackle (using average yearly salary) by signing a six-year, $95.2 million contract extension (worth up to $98 million through salary escalators) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the team’s Week 8 contest against the Minnesota Vikings. The previous benchmark was Ndamukong Suh’s five-year rookie contract with the

Gerald McCoy became the NFL’s highest-paid defensive tackle (using average yearly salary) by signing a six-year, $95.2 million contract extension (worth up to $98 million through salary escalators) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the team’s Week 8 contest against the Minnesota Vikings. The previous benchmark was Ndamukong Suh’s five-year rookie contract with the Detroit Lions worth a maximum of $68 million (includes $40 million guaranteed). The five-year, $61 million contract (with $35 million guaranteed) Haloti Ngata received from the Baltimore Ravens in 2011 was the top veteran deal for an interior defensive lineman.

McCoy’s deal contains $51.5 million in guarantees. It is the second-largest amount of guarantees ever in an NFL contract for a defensive player behind J.J. Watt’s $51,876,385.

$14,757,308 is fully guaranteed at signing, which consists of a $2.5 million October 26 roster bonus and McCoy’s $12,257,308 base salary for the remainder of this season.The roster bonus is treated like signing bonus and prorated over five years because it’s in the season of signing with a contract executed after the final pre-season game. An additional $36,742,692 is guaranteed for injury at signing. McCoy’s $5 million 2015 base salary, $6 million 2016 base salary and $6.5 million third day of the 2015 league year roster bonus become fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2015 waiver period (February 4). Thus, $32,257,308 is fully guaranteed shortly after this season’s Super Bowl. McCoy’s $6.5 million fourth day of the 2016 league year roster bonus and $12,742,692 of his $13.25 million 2017 base salary are fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2016 league year.

The two-time Pro Bowler has unguaranteed $12.25 million, $13 million, $10 million and $10,432,253 base salaries in his 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 contract years, respectively. There are also unguaranteed $2.5 million third day of the league year roster bonuses in 2020 and 2021.

Gerald McCoyMcCoy has notched 20.5 sacks through 56 career starts.

McCoy’s 2014 compensation under the new deal increases by $7,267,747 to $20 million. $17.5 million of this compensation is base salary. McCoy is getting paid seven weeks at his original $12,732,253 2014 base salary for a total $5,242,692 and 10 weeks with a $20,837,424 base salary for an additional $12,257,308.

Interestingly, the Buccaneers are paying McCoy in the first two years of the deal like he played out his contract and was franchised in 2015 for $18,392,704. He is making $31.5 million as opposed to $31,124,957 through 2015 with a franchise tag. McCoy’s $44 million in the first three years (through 2016) ties Ngata for the best three-year cash flow among interior defensive linemen.

The Buccaneers are using $5,267,747 of their current $6,078,498 in cap space on McCoy under the new contract. McCoy has the NFL’s second highest 2014 salary cap number at $20.895 million (includes $300,000 workout bonus previously earned and $2.595 million of bonus proration), which is behind Suh’s $22,412,500 figure.

McCoy’s 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 cap numbers are $14.595 million, $13 million, $13.75 million, $12.75 million $13 million, $12.5 million and $12,932,253. Tampa Bay’s 2015 cap commitments increase by $ $8,581,250 to put them at slightly over $111.3 million (40 players under contract) since McCoy’s voidable year was already on the books for a $5,763,750 2015 cap number.

McCoy’s deal should set the floor for Suh, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. It is nearly impossible for the Lions to franchise Suh in 2015 because his franchise tag number will be $26.87 million, which is based on 120% of his 2014 cap number. McCoy, who was taken immediately after Suh as the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, getting an 18.4% increase over the average salary of his rookie contract will likely confirm to Suh that a decrease from the $64.625 million he’s earning in the five years of his rookie contract isn’t warranted. With a similar percentage increase as McCoy, Suh’s next deal will average approximately $15.3 million per year and could set a new standard for guarantees in defensive player contracts.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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The salary cap implications of the Percy Harvin trade

The Seattle Seahawks traded wide receiver Percy Harvin to the New York Jets for a 2015 conditional draft pick on Friday in a surprising move. The draft pick is reportedly a sixth-round selection that could be as high as a fourth-round pick depending upon Harvin’s performance.

Harvin fills a void at

The Seattle Seahawks traded wide receiver Percy Harvin to the New York Jets for a 2015 conditional draft pick on Friday in a surprising move. The draft pick is reportedly a sixth-round selection that could be as high as a fourth-round pick depending upon Harvin’s performance.

Harvin fills a void at wide receiver by giving the Jets another much-needed playmaker on offense. According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, wide receiver David Nelson is being released by the Jets to make room for Harvin on the 53-man roster. The Seahawks quickly cut ties with Harvin after acquiring him in a 2013 trade from the Minnesota Vikings for a 2013 first-round pick (25th overall), 2013 seventh-round pick and a 2014 third-round pick because of difficulty integrating him into their offense and off-the field/locker room concerns.

Harvin received a six-year, $67 million contract with $25.5 million in guarantees from the Seahawks as a part of the trade. The guarantees consisted of a $12 million signing bonus, a fully guaranteed $2.5 million base salary in 2013 and an injury guaranteed $11 million base salary in 2014 that became fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2014 waiver period (February 7).

Seattle’s salary cap charge for Harvin this year drops from $13.4 million to $6,929,412 ($4,529,412 in base salary and $2.4 million in signing bonus proration) since they are no longer responsible for Harvin’s fully guaranteed $11 million salary for the remaining 10 weeks of the regular season. Seattle’s current cap room rises from $2.06 million to approximately $8 million (assumes a player making close to his minimum salary replaces Harvin on the roster). The Seahawks will have a $7.2 million cap charge (or dead money) next year for Harvin from the 2015, 2016 and 2017 proration of his signing bonus. The net effect is an increase of $5.7 million in 2015 cap room, as Harvin’s 2015 cap number was $12.9 million.

Percy HarvinHarvin appeared in a grand total of eight games for the Seahawks after being acquired via trade in 2013.

Seattle’s experiment with Harvin was a costly endeavor. Harvin, who missed most of the 2013 season with a hip injury, made $19,029,412 for playing six regular season and two playoff games during his tenure with the Seahawks. The decision to trade for and pay Harvin likely hindered Seattle’s ability to re-sign Golden Tate, the team’s leading receiver in 2013. Tate signed a five-year, $31 million contract (includes $13.25 million in guarantees) with the Detroit Lions in free agency. The $18 million in the first three years of Tate’s deal is approximately $1 million less than the Seahawks paid Harvin.

Harvin’s $6,470,588 salary (10/17th of $11 million) for the rest of the season was easily absorbed because the Jets had the NFL’s second-most cap room at $19.89 million prior to the transaction. The Jets have $13.8 million of cap room this year after the trade. 11 other teams had enough cap room this year to trade for Harvin. Among those teams, only the Cleveland Browns ($19.183 million), Jacksonville Jaguars ($23.202 million), New England Patriots ($9.838 million) and Oakland Raiders ($9.146 million) have enough of a need at wide receiver to have considered him. The Jets still have the NFL’s second-lowest payroll for 2014, but go over the $100 million mark with the deal.

Harvin is a low risk acquisition cap wise because the $41.5 million in the remaining four years of his contract doesn’t contain any guarantees. This gives the Jets the ability to cut Harvin after the season without any adverse cap consequences or the leverage to ask him to take a pay cut if he isn’t performing like a $10 million per year wide receiver.

Both teams should be in great shape cap wise in 2015. The cap will be $144 million in 2015 if it has a similar percentage increase as this year (8.13 percent). The Jets have $97.072 million in 2015 cap obligations after the trade with 40 players under contract while the top 51 cap numbers count towards the cap during the offseason. Considering teams can carry over their unused cap room from one year to the next, the Jets should have over $50 million in cap room heading into 2015 free agency.

The Seahawks have $105.2 million in 2015 cap commitments with 40 players under contract after factoring in Harvin’s dead money. The team could have in excess of $40 million in cap space when the 2015 league year starts next March. Expect some portion of Seattle’s cap room to be used on a blockbuster contract extension for Russell Wilson, which could make him the NFL’s highest paid player. The extra cap room from the Harvin trade might also make it easier for the Seahawks to keep Marshawn Lynch in the final year of his contract at his $8.5 million cap number.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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The DeMarco Murray dilemma

The Dallas Cowboys have had preliminary discussions with running back DeMarco Murray on a contract extension because of his terrific start to the 2014 season. According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, the Cowboys offered Murray, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, a four-year deal worth more than the

The Dallas Cowboys have had preliminary discussions with running back DeMarco Murray on a contract extension because of his terrific start to the 2014 season. According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, the Cowboys offered Murray, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, a four-year deal worth more than the top running back contracts signed during free agency. Chris Johnson set the running back market with the two-year deal averaging $4 million per year (includes an additional $1 million in salary escalators) he received from the New York Jets. The characterization of the offer suggests that it wasn’t substantially better than this figure.

Murray has gotten the Cowboys off to an unexpected 4-1 start and become a serious MVP candidate while leading the NFL in rushing with 670 yards on 130 carries and five touchdowns. 24 teams are averaging less than the 134 rushing yards per game Murray is producing. He has also joined Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson as the only players in NFL history to begin a season with five straight games of 100 rushing yards or more.

Murray is on pace for 2,144 rushing yards on 416 carries and 2,541 yards from scrimmage. If Murray sustains his pace of production, he will set single season records for rushing yards and yards from scrimmage, and tie Larry Johnson’s single season record for rushing attempts. It is unlikely with head coach Jason Garrett reiterating owner Jerry Jones’ desire to reduce Murray’s workload. There are also durability concerns with Murray, who has missed eleven games in his three previous NFL seasons because of ankle, foot and knee injuries. Since the Cowboys intend to continue using Murray as a workhorse running back, don’t expect his carries to drop for the rest of the season to the 15.5 per game he received in 2013 when he rushed for a career-high 1,121 yards, his first 1,000-yard season, and was named to his first Pro Bowl. Decreasing Murray’s carries to the average of last year’s usage rate and his current 26 carries per game for the remaining 11 games (20.75 per game) would give him 358 carries for the season.

History doesn’t favor Murray’s quest for a record-setting season. Five other running backs (Stephen Davis-2003, Terrell Davis-1998, Jamal Lewis-2003, Barry Sanders-1994, Emmitt Smith-1995) in the last 25 years have been on pace for 2,000 rushing yards after their team’s first five games. These players finished the season with an average of 361 carries for 1,835 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns, which should be encouraging for Murray, provided he can stay healthy. Davis and Lewis topped the 2,000-yard mark with 2,008 and 2,066 yards, respectively, in 1998 and 2003.

Typically, when a player has a dominant season in a contract year, he becomes one the highest paid players at his position. Murray probably won’t be able to capitalize on his success as much as he could at other positions because of the recent devaluing of running backs. Compensation at the position peaked in 2012 when the number of running backs with veteran contracts averaging at least $7 million per year jumped from five in 2011 to 11 in 2012 thanks to new deals by Matt Forte ($30.4 million/four years), Arian Foster ($43 million/five years), Marshawn Lynch ($30 million/four years), LeSean McCoy ($45 million/five year extension), Ray Rice ($35 million/five years) and Jonathan Stewart ($36.5 million/five-year extension). Currently, there are seven running backs at or above the $7 million threshold.

The top-10 veteran running back contracts averaged slightly under $9.475 million per year, contained almost an average of $22.5 million in guaranteed money with 4.7 years as the average contract length in 2012. The numbers have dropped to an average of a little less than $8.2 million per year and averaging approximately $16 million in guaranteed money with 4.1 years as the average contract length for 2014. Under a more favorable running back economic climate, Murray would be justified in seeking a four or five-year extension, averaging in excess of $10 million per year and containing $25 million in guarantees, which is in line with the average of the top five veteran running back deals in 2012 and 2013, with the type of season he is having.

DeMarco MurrayMurray is currently on pace for a record-tying 416 rushing attempts this season.

Besides the depressed market conditions for running backs, the Cowboys may be reluctant to invest heavily in another running back after giving Marion Barber a seven-year, $45 million contract (with $16 million guaranteed) in 2008 as a restricted free agent without having a 1,000-yard rushing season or being an every down running back. The six unrestricted free agent years Barber gave up averaged $7.073 million per year. That’s the value after subtracting the $2.562 million restricted free agent tender he received. Barber made $21 million over three years on the deal before the Cowboys released him in 2011. During these years, he averaged 14.3 games, 188.3 carries, 730.3 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns per year.

Another reason capable of making the Cowboys think twice about giving Murray a lucrative contract is the production after a season with at least 350 carries. Running backs in their fourth NFL season or at 26-years-old, just like Murray, have hit the 350-carry mark in a season 20 different times. These running backs averaged approximately 12 games, 242 carries, 959 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns in the following season. Their averages were approximately 14 games, 252 carries, 1,011 yards and seven touchdowns two seasons removed from the heavy workload. Slightly under 13 games, 212 carries and 870 yards with a little more than five touchdowns were averaged in the third year. The running backs had more mileage on them prior to the 350-carry season than Murray did heading into this season. They averaged almost 861 career carries while Murray had 542 in his three NFL seasons.

Cutting in Murray’s favor for defying the odds after a season of extreme usage is that the Cowboys’ offensive linemen should remain largely intact for the foreseeable future. Right tackle Doug Free will be an unrestricted free agent when his contract voids after the season. Left tackle Tyron Smith is under contract through the 2023 season. 2013 and 2014 first-round picks center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin won’t be able to hit the open market until 2018 and 2019, respectively, if the Cowboys exercise their fifth-year options on them. Left guard Ronald Leary won’t be eligible for unrestricted free agency until after the 2016 season.

Production following a 350-carry season suggests that the Cowboys should seriously consider using their transition or franchise tag on Murray and evaluating their options with him after the season, provided a long-term deal can be worked out with wide receiver Dez Bryant, who is also in a contract year, before the end of the franchise tag designation period in early March. The running back franchise tag number will be a little over $11 million in 2015 with a salary cap increase next year similar to this year’s 8.13 percent ($144 million salary cap).

It’s much more likely for Bryant to land a contract at the top of his position market in free agency than Murray. Bryant would become the NFL’s third-highest wide receiver at worst (minimum of $13 million per year and $30 million in guarantees) if the Cowboys let him hit the open market. It’s been a buyer’s market in free agency with running backs in recent years. There also hasn’t been a running back of Murray’s caliber available in free agency in quite some time. Conceivably, some team with an abundance of cap room and a glaring need at running back, like the Oakland Raiders, could make Murray an offer he couldn’t refuse.

The Cowboys can take some comfort with Michael Turner being the last running back to switch teams in free agency, with a deal over $5 million per year when he received a six-year, $34.5 million contract (with $15 million guaranteed and an additional $1.5 million in salary escalators) from the Atlanta Falcons in 2008. Murray should be mindful that all of the running backs who have reached the $7 million per year mark on contracts under the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement have re-signed with their own clubs before hitting the free agent market. Forte and Lynch were effectively taken out of the market in 2012 with franchise tags.

Compensating Murray in the neighborhood of the low end of the 2012 running back market explosion in the $7 million per year range on a four-year extension with $12 million to $15 million in guarantees seems reasonable if Murray remains relatively healthy and continues to perform at a high level this season. Unlike Ray Rice, who made $25 million during the first two years of his five-year deal before he was released because it was extremely front-loaded, Murray’s cash flow should stay relatively constant.

The deal could contain not likely to be earned incentives (NLTBEs) and/or base salary escalators that would increase Murray’s compensation if he continued to perform like an upper echelon running back. For example, Stewart has $6 million in base salary escalators based on 1,200 rushing yards or 1,600 yards from scrimmage in a season. Rice had $5 million in base salary escalators and NLTBEs tied to 1,200 rushing yards and 550 receiving yards in a season when the Ravens ranked in the top-10 in total offense during the same season. Murray’s deal could also have significant salary de-escalators to protect the Cowboys against declining performance.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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Contract year disappointments & surprises

While there is still plenty of time for fortunes to change, here are the players in contract years that have been disappointments and surprises at the NFL season’s quarter mark.

Disappointments

Demaryius Thomas (WR)-Denver Broncos

Demaryius ThomasThomas has taken a back seat to free

While there is still plenty of time for fortunes to change, here are the players in contract years that have been disappointments and surprises at the NFL season’s quarter mark.

Disappointments

Demaryius Thomas (WR)-Denver Broncos

Demaryius ThomasThomas has taken a back seat to free agent acquisition Emmanuel Sanders.

Thomas has started the season with his worst three-game stretch since Peyton Manning became Denver’s quarterback in 2012. He has 13 receptions for 141 yards and only one touchdown. Thomas, who has averaged 93 receptions, 1,432 receiving yards and 12 touchdown catches over the past two seasons, is also tied for second in the NFL with four dropped passes.

Darrelle Revis (CB)-New England Patriots

Revis has a two-year, $32 million deal on paper. In reality, it’s a one-year contract for $12 million. 2015 is an option year that the Patriots must exercise before the end of the 2014 league year (around March 10). If the option isn’t exercised, the Patriots are prohibited from designating Revis as their franchise or transition player in 2015. Revis’ $20 million 2015 salary on a $25 million cap number practically ensures that the option year won’t be picked up.

Wide receivers are no longer getting stranded on Revis Island. Mike Wallace got the best of Revis in the season opener. Surprisingly, rookie quarterback Derek Carr targeted Revis six times for five completions when the Oakland Raiders played the Patriots. Alex Smith didn’t shy away from Revis either in the Kansas City Chiefs’ blowout victory over the Patriots on Monday night.

Torrey Smith (WR)-Baltimore Ravens

Smith led the Ravens with 65 receptions and 1,128 receiving yards in 2013. Joe Flacco quickly developing chemistry with free agent pickup Steve Smith has relegated the 2011 second-round pick to a secondary receiving option. He’s been targeted just 22 times this season while the former Carolina Panther has 25 receptions (on 41 targets). With only eight catches for 138 yards and one touchdown, Smith is on pace for just under half the receptions and yardage he produced last season.

Surprises

DeMarco Murray (RB)-Dallas Cowboys

Murray is the sixth running back since 2000 on pace for 2,000 rushing yards after his team’s first four games. His 534 rushing yards and five touchdowns have gotten the Cowboys off to an unexpected 3-1 start and made him a leading candidate for MVP. It would be a surprise if Murray made a run at Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record of 2,105 yards given his injury history. Murray has missed eleven games in his three previous NFL seasons because of ankle, foot and knee injuries. Running backs with such a hot start since the turn of the century also haven’t been able to sustain their pace of production. The good news for Murray is that these five other running backs finished the season with an average of 355 carries for 1,701 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. Jamal Lewis was the only back to top the 2,000-yard mark. He rushed for 2,066 yards in 2003.

Nick Fairley (DT)-Detroit Lions

Nick FairleyFairley has come on strong since being demoted during the preseason.

Fairley has raised his level of play to form arguably the NFL’s best defensive tackle duo with perennial All-Pro Ndamukong Suh after a brief demotion during the preseason. The Lions are first in total defense and fourth in points allowed. Fairley may make the Lions regret their decision to pass on a fifth-year option with him for next year at $5.477 million, especially if the reports of Suh looking to sign elsewhere in 2015 free agency are true.

Brandon Flowers (CB)-San Diego Chargers

Flowers was released by the Kansas City Chiefs in June because he didn’t fit the team’s preference for tall, press coverage cornerbacks at 5’9”. He quickly signed a one-year, $3 million deal (worth a maximum of $5 million through incentives) with the Chargers. Flowers has brought stability to a secondary that was regularly victimized through the air in 2013. The Chargers have jumped from 29th in pass defense last season to 11th this season. Flowers is the NFL’s top ranked cornerback in 2014 according to Pro Football Focus’ ratings.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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Quantifying Robert Quinn’s new deal

The St. Louis Rams signed pass rusher Robert Quinn, who was under contract through the 2015 season, to a four-year contract extension averaging $14,253,724 per year before Week 2’s contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 2011 14th overall pick was scheduled to make $1,661,734 and $6.969 million this year and next

The St. Louis Rams signed pass rusher Robert Quinn, who was under contract through the 2015 season, to a four-year contract extension averaging $14,253,724 per year before Week 2’s contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 2011 14th overall pick was scheduled to make $1,661,734 and $6.969 million this year and next year, respectively, prior to signing his palindrome-filled deal.

The $57,014,895 extension contains $41,171,774 in guarantees. $15,618,583 is practically fully guaranteed at signing, which consists of a $4,776,774 signing bonus, $608,608 2014 base salary and $10,233,201 third day of the 2015 league year roster bonus. The roster bonus is guaranteed for skill and injury initially and becomes fully guaranteed on September 24. There’s an eleven-day lag time with the roster bonus guarantee because it would have been treated as a signing bonus under the salary cap and prorated over five years if fully guaranteed at signing.

Quinn’s $5,555,555, $7,777,777 and $6,161,616 base salaries in 2015, 2016 and 2017 are guaranteed for injury at signing. Each base salary is fully guaranteed if the All-Pro defensive end is on the roster on the fifth day of the league year (mid-March) in each specific contract years (i.e.; 2015 base salary becomes guaranteed on fifth day of the 2015 league year.). Quinn’s $2,424,242 and $3,633,363 third day of the 2016 and 2017 roster bonuses are also initially guaranteed for injury, but fully vest a year before they are payable. The 2016 roster bonus is fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2015 league year. The 2017 roster bonus becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2016 league year. The 2014 and 2015 guarantees don’t contain offsets.

Robert QuinnQuinn ranked second in the NFL in sacks last season with 19.0.

Technically, Quinn’s 2014 base salary in the new contract is $646,646. Since Quinn played one week of the regular season under his original $1,661,734 base salary, he is getting 16/17th of base salary at the new $646,646 rate ($608,608). He is receiving $706,357 of total base salary in 2014 ($97,749 for one week and $608,608 for 16 weeks). The $97,749 isn’t included as a part of Quinn’s guarantees because it was previously earned before the new deal took effect.

Quinn has unguaranteed $10,333,301 and $11,811,121 base salaries in his 2018 and 2019 contract years. There are also unguaranteed $1,111,111 and $1,121,211 third day of the league year roster bonuses in 2018 and 2019.

The deal makes Quinn the NFL’s third-highest paid defensive player (using average yearly salary) behind only J.J. Watt ($16,666,667 per year) and Mario Williams ($16 million per year). Quinn’s three-year cash flow of $31,473,906 is less than Patrick Peterson ($14.05 million per year) and Richard Sherman’s ($14 million per year), the NFL’s fourth and fifth-highest paid defensive players. Peterson, who also had two years remaining on his rookie contract, and Sherman are at $37,969,111 and $35 million over three years, respectively. The discrepancy with Peterson, the fifth overall pick in 2011, is partially because of his option salary being this year’s cornerback transition tag ($10.081 million), while Quinn’s was the average of the third through twenty-fifth highest salaries at defensive end ($6.969 million) since he was selected outside of the top ten.

Quinn’s 2014 cap number practically remains the same under the new deal. It’s $3,007,958 instead of $3,007,981 (both figures include $5,600 off-season workout per diem earned). Quinn’s 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 cap numbers are $16,744,111, $11,157,374, $10,750,334, $12,399,767 and $12,932,332. $9,775,111 is added to the Rams’ 2015 cap commitments to put them at slightly under $131.5 million (44 players under contract). Whether the Rams will be able to carry Quinn’s team-high 2015 cap number without restructuring his contract could hinge on oft-injured quarterback Sam Bradford ($16.58 million 2015 cap number) getting released or taking a pay cut.

It’s conceivable that Quinn could be in line for another big payday as a 29-year-old when his new contract expires after the 2019 season. Eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers was 30-years-old when he became the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player with the six-year, $84 million contract (worth a maximum of $91.5 million through incentives) he signed in 2010 to join the Chicago Bears.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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Five burning questions

With the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks getting NFL Kickoff Weekend underway on Thursday, here are five of the NFL’s biggest questions heading into the season.

Will the Seattle Seahawks repeat?

It’s been a decade since a Super Bowl champion, the 2003 New England Patriots, defended their title. Defensive ends Chris

With the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks getting NFL Kickoff Weekend underway on Thursday, here are five of the NFL’s biggest questions heading into the season.

Will the Seattle Seahawks repeat?

It’s been a decade since a Super Bowl champion, the 2003 New England Patriots, defended their title. Defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant were salary cap casualties while cornerback Brandon Browner and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald left via free agency, but the core of the NFL’s top ranked defense in 2013 returns. Legion of Boom members Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas signed lucrative long-term contract extensions. Five-time Pro Bowler Kevin Williams, who was brought in after spending 12 years with the Minnesota Vikings, and 2014 fourth-round pick Cassius Marsh are expected to replenish the defensive line.

Russell WilsonCan Russell Wilson and the Seahawks get back to the Super Bowl?

Russell Wilson seems poised to take a big step towards becoming an elite quarterback after a phenomenal preseason, with Seattle scoring on 11 of his 13 offensive possessions. Wilson posted a 133.8 passer rating by completing 33 of 42 passes (78.6 percent) for 437 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also gained 61 yards on nine carries and scored three touchdowns.

A healthy Percy Harvin could take the NFL’s 18th ranked offense (by total offense) to another level despite Golden Tate’s departure to the Detroit Lions in free agency. Harvin has missed 22 regular season games over the last two seasons and hasn’t played a full campaign since 2011. The offensive identity won’t change with an improved passing attack, as Seattle will still be a run-oriented club, but the offensive line remains a question mark. Second-round pick Justin Britt takes over at right tackle for Breno Giacomini, who signed with the New York Jets.

As the NFL’s measuring stick, the Seahawks are a big game for every opponent on their schedule. Seattle must keep complacency from setting in and avoid the letdowns, which can afflict championship teams.

Can the San Francisco 49ers overcome defensive absences?

It will be a challenge for the 49ers to remain one of the NFL’s best defenses (third in scoring defense and fifth in total defense last season) without arguably their top two defenders for a significant period of time. Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman is expected to miss half of the season because of the torn ACL and MCL he suffered in his left knee during last season’s NFC Championship game. Whether the three-time first-team All-Pro can immediately play at his previous level remains to be seen.

Linebacker Aldon Smith, one of the NFL’s premier pass rushers, is serving a nine-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct and substance abuse policies. He has 42 sacks in the 43 games played during his three NFL seasons. Smith was a 2012 first-team All-Pro after leading the NFC with 19.5 sacks. His 33.5 sacks are the most through two seasons for any player in NFL history. He is eligible to return in Week 11 against the New York Giants (November 16).

Defensive end Ray McDonald could be the test case for the NFL’s new domestic violence guidelines after his arrest for a domestic incident on August 31. First time offenders are subject to a six-game suspension under the revised guidelines. 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke have a zero tolerance policy with domestic violence. Commissioner Roger Goodell and the 49ers are content in letting the legal process play out before determining whether or not discipline is warranted.

In addition to having a revamped secondary due to the free agency departures of Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner, defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey was placed on injured reserve with a designation for return due to a torn left biceps. The earliest Dorsey can return to action is Week 9 against the St. Louis Rams (November 2).

Increased production from an offense that struggled during the preseason may be necessary for the 49ers to survive their early season schedule, which doesn’t include any teams that were under .500 in 2013.

Can the Denver Broncos avoid the Super Bowl hangover?

History doesn’t favor the Broncos in their Super Bowl quest. A team hasn’t won the Super Bowl after losing it the year before since the 1972 Miami Dolphins. The 1993 Buffalo Bills are the last losing team to return to the Super Bowl after being in the game during the previous season. However, the last five Super Bowl losers have made the playoffs the next season. The 2012 New England Patriots and 2013 San Francisco 49ers are the only teams to go to back to the conference championship game following a Super Bowl defeat since the 1993 Bills.

Peyton ManningThe clock is ticking for Manning and the Broncos.

The Broncos responded to their lopsided 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII by being aggressive in free agency. Cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward and defensive end DeMarcus Ware were signed during the first 24 hours of free agency to shore up the defense. The signings are designed to create a more balanced team as arguably the most prolific offensive attack in NFL history carried a defense that ranked 19th in total defense and 22nd in scoring defense during the 2013 season.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was brought in to combat the loss of Eric Decker to the New York Jets in free agency. The offensive line gets a lift with All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady’s return, who was lost for the 2013 season after two games with a Lisfranc foot injury. Wide receiver Wes Welker is serving a four-game suspension of the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy because of amphetamines. He also suffered his third concussion since the middle of the 2013 season during the preseason.

The Broncos could have a hard time matching 2013’s 13-3 record because the teams in the NFL’s toughest division, the NFC West (includes the Seahawks and the 49ers), along with the Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts are on the schedule.

When will the first round rookie quarterbacks crack the starting lineup?

For the first time since 2007, a first-round rookie quarterback isn’t starting on opening day. Oakland Raiders second-round pick Derek Carr is the NFL’s only rookie starting quarterback. This is the fourth straight year that a quarterback taken outside of the first round won a starting job during the preseason. Carr somewhat surprisingly beat out Matt Schaub, who the Raiders acquired from the Houston Texans for a 2014 sixth-round pick. The 36th overall pick completed 30 of 45 passes (66.7 percent) for 326 yards with four touchdowns and one interception during the preseason.

22nd overall pick Johnny Manziel was widely considered as the rookie quarterback with the best chance to start immediately, but the Texas A&M product couldn’t unseat Brian Hoyer. The Cleveland Browns could use Manziel as a change-of-pace quarterback with a package of plays specifically designed for him. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the team turns to Manziel in Week 5 after their bye if Hoyer struggles.

Third overall pick Blake Bortles may have been the most impressive rookie quarterback of the preseason. He completed 62.7 percent of his passes (32 of 51) for 521 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions to post a 110.0 passer rating. The Jacksonville Jaguars intend to redshirt him for the 2014 season.

Matt Cassel is getting the nod with the Minnesota Vikings despite strong performances by Teddy Bridgewater. The 32nd overall pick was 30 for 49 (61.2 percent completion percentage) with 283 passing yards five touchdown passes and zero interceptions. Head coach Mike Zimmer indicated that he won’t have a short leash with Cassel.

Which 2013 playoff teams could be headed for a fall?

History suggests that several teams won’t sustain their success from the 2013 season. There have been at least four new playoff teams each year (with an average of 5.7 teams) since the NFL expanded the postseason field to 12 teams in 1990.

The Kansas City Chiefs exceeded expectations by going from 2-14 in 2012 to 11-5 in 2013, but their 9-0 start may have been a mirage. The Chiefs were aided by a weak early season schedule and faced four backup quarterbacks during those nine games. Five of the last seven regular season games were losses as a defense which was leading the NFL in points allowed, sacks and scoring defense began to struggle. During the final eight games of the season, including the playoffs, the Chiefs allowed 29.9 points per game.

The offense will likely remain too dependent on running back Jamaal Charles since other reliable playmakers weren’t added. Charles accounted for 36.7 percent of Kansas City’s offensive yards in 2013 and was the only NFL running back to lead his team in receptions (70), receiving yards (693) and receiving touchdowns (seven). Tight end Travis Kelce, who missed almost all of the 2013 season because of microfracture surgery on his left knee, could emerge as an offensive weapon.

Top wide receiver Dwayne Bowe had a disappointing 2013 campaign with 57 receptions, 673 receiving yards and five touchdowns. He is missing the season opener because of a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

The offensive line lost its three best players (Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz) to free agency. 2013 first overall pick Eric Fisher moves to left tackle, his natural position, to replace Albert. Right tackle Donald Stephenson is suspended for the season’s first four games for violating the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy.

Jamaal CharlesCan Jamaal Charles carry the Chiefs back to the postseason?

The Chiefs added to a strength in the first round with the selection of pass rushing outside linebacker Dee Ford (30th overall). The secondary is more of a concern after Brandon Flowers was released. At 5’9”, Flowers didn’t fit the team’s preference for tall, press coverage cornerbacks.

The Carolina Panthers were the surprise winner of the NFC South in 2013. After a 1-3 start, the Panthers won 11 of their last 12 regular season games.

Salary cap problems forced the Panthers to become bargain shoppers in free agency. Wholesale changes were made to the receiving corps without getting significantly better at the position. Last season’s top four wideouts are no longer with the team. Most notably, Steve Smith was released after 13 years with the Panthers. Jason Avant, 2014 first round pick Kelvin Benjamin (28th overall) and Jerricho Cotchery were added. Benjamin could develop into Cam Newton’s top receiving threat.

The offensive line must overcome the retirement of three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross. The left side of the line is new because left guard Travelle Wharton also hung up his cleats. Since the Panthers didn’t address the offensive tackle position via the draft or free agency, Byron Bell moves from right tackle into the spot vacated by Gross.

Offensively, the Panthers, who ranked 26th in total offense last season, will only go as far as Newton takes them. He’s beginning the season with a hairline fracture to a rib and still may not be completely recovered from off-season ankle surgery.

The defensive front seven, one of the NFL’s best, must carry a secondary that’s in transition. 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly anchors a defense that led the NFL with 60 sacks and was second in scoring defense (15.1 points per game) in 2013. Despite the sacks, opponents completed 66.6 percent of their passes against the Panthers last year. The only returning starter in the secondary is cornerback Melvin White. Two castoffs from division rivals, Thomas DeCoud (Atlanta Falcons) and Roman Harper (New Orleans Saints), replace Mike Mitchell and Quintin Mikell at safety.

A brutal mid-season stretch of games against five 2013 playoff teams could make or break Carolina’s season. From Week 6 to Week 10, the Panthers face the Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Saints and Philadelphia Eagles.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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Inside J.J. Watt’s big payday

J.J. Watt became the NFL’s highest paid non-quarterback (using average yearly salary) by signing a six-year, $100 million contract extension with the Houston Texans Monday evening. The previous benchmark was the seven-year extension averaging $16,207,143 per year Calvin Johnson received from the Detroit Lions in 2012. Watt had two years remaining on

J.J. Watt became the NFL’s highest paid non-quarterback (using average yearly salary) by signing a six-year, $100 million contract extension with the Houston Texans Monday evening. The previous benchmark was the seven-year extension averaging $16,207,143 per year Calvin Johnson received from the Detroit Lions in 2012. Watt had two years remaining on his contract with $1,907,385 and $6.969 million salaries this year and next year.

The 2011 first round pick’s contract contains $51,876,385 million in guarantees, which is a record for defensive players. It eclipses the $50 million of guarantees in the six-year, $96 million contract (includes an additional $4 million in Not Likely To Be Earned Incentives) Mario Williams signed with the Buffalo Bills in 2012 that made him the NFL’s highest paid defensive player. Calvin Johnson’s $53.25 million guaranteed (includes his $4.5 million second day of the 2012 league year roster bonus) is the most ever for a non-quarterback.

$30,876,385 of Watt’s extension is practically fully guaranteed at signing, which consists of a $10 million signing bonus, $907,385 2014 base salary, $10 million 15th day of the 2015 league year roster bonus and $9.969 million 2015 base salary. The roster bonus is fully guaranteed on September 9. There’s a seven-day lag time with the roster bonus becoming fully guaranteed. It would have been treated as a signing bonus under the salary cap and prorated over five years ($2 million yearly proration) if fully guaranteed at signing.

J.J. WattNo player has recorded more sacks (31) over the last two years than Watt.

The 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year’s $10.5 million 2016 and 2017 base salaries are guaranteed for injury at signing. This $21 million of injury guarantees become fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2016 league year (early to mid March). Watt has unguaranteed $11 million, $13 million, $15.5 million and $17.5 million base salaries in his 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 contract years.

Watt’s three-year cash flow of $41,376,385 is less than the other top non-quarterback deals. Williams, Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald are at $53 million, $51.75 million and $45.5 million, respectively. This is understandable because Watt had two years remaining on his contract, unlike the others. Williams was an unrestricted free agent while Johnson and Fitzgerald were entering contract years.

Interestingly, Watt’s cash flow is substantially better than if he had played out his contract and received franchise tags in 2016 and 2017, which Texans owner Bob McNair mentioned as an option during negotiations, despite the team having leverage. Assuming the cap has a similar percentage increase to this year (8.13 percent) in each of the next two years, it will be approximately $156 million in 2016. Watt’s franchise tag in 2016 would have been right around $16.085 million with these cap projections. A second franchise tag in 2017 would have been $19.302 million, a 20 percent increase over Watt’s 2016 franchise number. Watt is making $51,876,385 through 2017 instead of $44,263,385, a $7.613 million difference, with the franchise tag scenario. More specifically, Watt gets a $9 million raise this year and $22 million more through 2015 than under his rookie contract.

The Texans are using an additional $994,575 of current cap room on Watt under the new contract. His 2014 cap number goes from $3,580,992 to $4,575,567. Watt’s 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 cap numbers are $21.969 million, $12.5 million, $12.5 million, $13 million, $13 million, $15.5 million and $17.5 million. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Texans restructure Watt’s contract for cap relief next year because he has the second-highest 2015 cap number for a defensive player behind cornerback Darelle Revis’ $25 million.

The biggest beneficiary of Watt’s new deal could be fellow 2011 first round pick and St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn (14th overall). It’s conceivable that Watt’s reign as the NFL’s highest paid non-quarterback could be short lived if Quinn has a comparable or better season than in 2013 when he registered 19 sacks.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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The financial shakedown

With the NFL regular season approaching, here’s a look at the financial implications of five significant developments from the pre-season.

Sam Bradford’s torn ACL

St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is out for the 2014 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee for the second year in a

With the NFL regular season approaching, here’s a look at the financial implications of five significant developments from the pre-season.

Sam Bradford’s torn ACL

St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is out for the 2014 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee for the second year in a row. The former Oklahoma standout has two years remaining on the six-year, $78 million deal (worth a maximum of $86 million) he signed in 2010 as the first overall pick in the NFL draft. Bradford is making $14.015 million this year on a $17.61 million salary cap number.

Sam BradfordICONBradford’s days in St. Louis are likely over.

Bradford’s injury prompted speculation that the Rams would aggressively pursue another quarterback through a trade and second guessing for passing on Johnny Manziel with their second first round pick (13th overall) in this year’s draft. The Rams’ ability to trade for a quarterback is limited because of their lack of cap room unless contracts are restructured. St. Louis is last in the NFL with $1.676 million of cap space. Defensive end Chris Long and linebacker James Laurinaitis, who have $14.9 million and $10.4 million cap numbers, respectively, are restructure candidates. The Rams are turning to backup quarterback Shaun Hill, who is signed to a one-year, $1.75 million deal (with additional $500,000 in incentives), as Bradford’s replacement.

Bradford’s future with the Rams is in doubt because of durability concerns and his $16.58 million 2015 cap number. The Rams would gain $12.985 million of cap room by cutting Bradford in 2015.

Logan Mankins trade

The New England Patriots trading guard Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for tight end Tim Wright and a 2015 fourth round pick is the latest example of head coach Bill Belichick’s philosophy that it’s better to get rid of a player a year too early than a year too late. The Patriots pick up $5.755 million of 2014 cap room because of the transaction, which puts them $12.7 million under the cap. There’s also $7 million of cap relief in 2015 and 2016. The Patriots have a little more than $140 million in 2015 cap commitments (top 51 players), which includes cornerback Darrelle Revis’ $25 million option year cap number, after Mankins’ departure.

The Buccaneers fill the void at left guard created by Carl Nicks retiring because of his inability to recover from a toe injury with the addition of Mankins. The five-time All-Pro is under contract through 2016 with a $6.25 million base salary in 2014 and $7 million salaries in 2015 and 2016. The Buccaneers 2014 cap room goes from $13.22 million to slightly under $7.5 million after the trade.

The Blake Bortles timetable

Blake BortlesBortles’ impressive pre-season could cost Chad Henne quite a bit of money.

Strong pre-season performances by Blake Bortles may be forcing the Jacksonville Jaguars to reconsider redshirting him for the 2014 season. Bortles has completed 62.2 percent of his passes (28 of 45) for 435 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions to post a 101.6 passer rating in three games.

The Jaguars changing the plan could be costly for starting quarterback Chad Henne because of incentives in the two-year, $8 million contract he signed in March. Henne’s incentives for 2014 are worth up to $2.5 million. There’s $1.25 million strictly for playtime. These incentives begin at 25 percent offensive playtime with Henne receiving $250,000. He gets another $250,000 for 45 percent. The next threshold is 65 percent, which is for an additional $500,000. The remaining playtime level is at 75 percent for $250,000. Henne also has $1.25 million in incentives for 75 percent playtime and team success. The first threshold is $250,000 for eight wins. Ten wins and the playoffs are each worth $500,000.

Sam Baker’s ruptured patellar tendon

The Atlanta Falcons offensive line was dealt a blow when left tackle Sam Baker ruptured the patellar tendon in his right knee. Baker, who signed a six-year, $41.1 million contract in 2013 (worth a maximum of $45 million through salary escalators) is out for the season after missing 12 games in 2013 with a ruptured patellar tendon in his left knee.

The Falcons replaced Baker by moving 2014 sixth overall pick Jake Matthews over from right tackle. Baker, who makes $18.25 million in the first two years of his deal, will likely be asked to take a pay cut to remain with the Falcons in 2015. Releasing him without post-June 1 treatment will add $1.9 million to Atlanta’s 2015 salary cap. Baker has unguaranteed $4.5 million, $5.25 million, $6.5 million and $6.6 million base salaries in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, the last four years of his deal. A significant portion of Baker’s 2015 salary could be converted into a per game 46-man active roster bonus or not likely be to earned (NLTBE) playtime incentives.

B.J. Raji’s torn biceps

A torn right biceps suffered against the Oakland Raiders has ended Green Bay Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji’s season. Raji took a one-year deal worth $4 million to remain with the Packers when he didn’t generate much interest in the free agent market after a lackluster 2013 campaign. He reportedly turned down a long-term contract extension in 2013 averaging $8 million per year. Since Raji’s one-year deal contains $18,750 for each game on the 46-man active roster, he is losing $300,000 due to the injury. Whether it’s with Green Bay or another team, Raji is likely looking at signing another one-year prove-it deal in 2015.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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How much is Dez Bryant worth?

Wide receiver Dez Bryant is optimistic that the Dallas Cowboys and his agent, Eugene Parker, will reach an agreement on a contract extension before the start of the 2014 regular season. He will end negotiations until the off-season when his five-year rookie contract is set to expire if a new deal isn’t

Wide receiver Dez Bryant is optimistic that the Dallas Cowboys and his agent, Eugene Parker, will reach an agreement on a contract extension before the start of the 2014 regular season. He will end negotiations until the off-season when his five-year rookie contract is set to expire if a new deal isn’t in place by the regular season opener on September 7. The wide receiver wants to concentrate on football during the season and doesn’t want his contract to become a distraction.

Bryant, who is making $2.03 million in 2014, has been one of the NFL’s most productive wide receivers over the last two seasons with 185 receptions (seventh in the NFL), 2,615 receiving yards (sixth in the NFL) and 25 touchdown catches (tied for first in NFL). In 2013, he became the only wide receiver in Cowboys history with consecutive seasons of at least 90 catches and 1,200 receiving yards. Bryant and Calvin Johnson are the only two wide receivers with over 200 receptions, 3,500 receiving yards and 30 touchdown catches over the last three seasons.

The 2013 Pro Bowler could be poised to have a career year with passing game coordinator Scott Linehan, who is in his first year the Cowbys, assuming play-calling duties. Randy Moss set career highs of 111 receptions and 1,632 receiving yards in 2003 with Linehan as the Minnesota Vikings’ offense coordinator. Johnson thrived with Linehan, who was the Lions’ offensive coordinator from 2009 to 2013. He set the NFL single-season receiving yards record with 1,964 yards in 2012 and had 122 receptions, the only 100-catch season of his career.

Bryant reportedly wants to be paid among the top-five wide receivers. Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald set the wide receiver market with deals averaging slightly over $16 million per year. Johnson received a seven-year extension from the Detroit Lions at the start of the 2012 league year worth $113.45 million with $53.25 million fully guaranteed at signing (guarantees include Johnson’s $4.5 million second day of the 2012 league year roster bonus). Fitzgerald signed a seven-year, $113 million extension (includes $45 million in guarantees) with the Arizona Cardinals in 2011.

Calvin JohnsonNo doubt Dez and his agent will be looking to get as close to Calvin Johnson’s contract as possible.

Rounding out the top five are Mike Wallace ($60 million, five years, $30 million in guarantees), Dwayne Bowe ($56 million, five years, $26 million in guarantees) and Percy Harvin ($67 million, six years, $25.5 million in guarantees). Harvin isn’t valued at his $12,843,500 five-year extension average because a majority of teams treat new deals that are a part of a trade differently. The acquiring team is most concerned with the total compensation they will be paying their new player over the length of the contract instead of focusing on the new money as in other negotiations. These five deals average $13,648,333 per year, contain an average of $35.95 million in guarantees with six years as the average contract length.

The Cowboys will have a difficult time convincing Parker that Bryant should make less than Bowe. Bryant has 69 catches and 1,142 receiving yards more than Bowe over the last two years, with slightly over three times as many touchdown receptions.

Parker can also point to the Cowboys’ history of paying wide receivers near the top of the market over the last decade. Terrell Owens made more money than any other NFL wide receiver during his three years in Dallas (2006-2008) at $31.73 million with his 2006 three-year contract and subsequent three-year extension in 2008 (Owens was released in March 2009) when he was 33 to 35 years old. Roy Williams received a five-year, $45 million extension in 2008, which made him the NFL’s fifth-highest paid wide receiver (by average yearly salary), after being acquired from the Detroit Lions for 2009 first, third and sixth round picks in a mid-season trade. He never came close to duplicating his 2006 Pro Bowl season of 82 catches and 1,310 receiving yards during his almost three seasons with the Cowboys.

The structure of Bryant’s contract may be just as big of an issue as the compensation. Although Bryant has showed signs of maturing and his off-the-field transgressions appear to be behind him, the Cowboys may want him to take less fully guaranteed money at signing with more conditional guarantees that vest by a certain date in a specific contract year (i.e.; 2016 base salary becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2016 league year) than in their other lucrative deals and a team friendly cash flow. $25.5 million of Brandon Carr’s $26.5 million in guarantees was fully guaranteed at signing. Tyson Smith’s recent eight-year, $97.6 million extension, which made him the NFL’s highest-paid offensive lineman, has $22,118,013 fully guaranteed at signing (out of $40 million in overall guarantees). $16.13 million of Sean Lee’s $20 million in guarantees is fully guaranteed at signing. The extra conditional guarantees would be designed to encourage good continued behavior by Bryant and give the Cowboys salary cap flexibility if he doesn’t after signing the deal.

The Cowboys can comfortably fit a new Bryant deal under the cap this year. The team has $9.557 million of cap space. For a change, the Cowboys aren’t at the top of the NFL in cap obligations for the next league year. Five teams have more than the Cowboys’ $142.3 million in 2015 cap commitments, which decreases by $7.04 million once Doug Free’s contract voids after the season.

A new contract on Bryant’s timetable might be more wishful thinking than anything else. The Cowboys may regret exercising a newfound fiscal restraint with Bryant, particularly if he performs as expected in Linehan’s offense. The wide receiver franchise tag number will be close to $13 million in 2015 with a cap increase next year similar to this year’s 8.13 percent, which could be even higher if the new Direct TV deal is in place. A second franchise tag in 2016 should be around $15.5 million, a 20 percent increase over Bryant’s 2015 franchise number under these cap projections. The average of franchising Bryant twice (over $14 million per year) could give Parker ammunition to push Bryant’s compensation closer to Johnson and Fitzgerald’s if he plays out his rookie deal.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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Inside Vontaze Burfict’s new deal

The Cincinnati Bengals continued their trend of being proactive with core players entering the final year of rookie contracts by signing All-Pro linebacker Vontaze Burfict to a three-year, $18.43 million contract extension (total of $19 million for four years) this past week. Burfict was scheduled to make $570,000, his league minimum salary,

The Cincinnati Bengals continued their trend of being proactive with core players entering the final year of rookie contracts by signing All-Pro linebacker Vontaze Burfict to a three-year, $18.43 million contract extension (total of $19 million for four years) this past week. Burfict was scheduled to make $570,000, his league minimum salary, in 2014 prior to signing the new deal.

Consistent with other Bengals deals, the only guaranteed money in Burfict’s contract is a $3.1 million signing bonus and a $3.8 million roster bonus payable within a few days of signing. In addition to the $6.9 million, Burfict’s 2014 base salary is $700,000. He is making $7.6 million in 2014, which is $7.03 million more than he would have gotten by playing out his three-year rookie deal. Burfict also has a $2.15 million roster bonus payable on the fifth day of the 2015 league year, which is intended to serve as a substitute for additional contact guarantees.

Burfict’s base salaries in 2015, 2016 and 2017 are $1.05 million, $3.35 million and $4.25 million. There are $200,000 workout bonuses in each of the extension years (2015-2017). The deal has a salary escalator where Burfict’s base salary in each remaining contract year increases by $135,000 with a Pro Bowl selection. For example, if Burfict is selected to the Pro Bowl in 2014, his 2015, 2016 and 2017 base salaries become $1.185 million, $3.485 million and $4.385 million, respectively.

Vontaze BurfictBurfict led the NFL with 171 total tackles last season.

The Bengals now have $11.17 million of salary cap room after completing Burfict’s new deal. His 2014 salary cap number goes from his $570,334 to $5,275,334, a $4.705 million increase, under the new contract. Burfict’s cap numbers are $4.175 million, $4.325 million and $5.225 million in 2015, 2016 and 2017, respectively.

The Bengals had leverage in these negotiations. Besides being under contract for 2014, Cincinnati would have controlled Burfict’s rights once his contract expired. He would have been a restricted free agent in 2015. The Bengals probably would have given Burfict a restricted free agent tender where they would have received a first round pick from a team that signed him to an offer sheet that wasn’t matched. Assuming a similar percentage increase to this year (8.13 percent) for the salary cap in 2015, Burfict’s tender would have been right around $3.365 million.

Knowing that the Bengals had Burfict for two seasons well below his market value (approximately $3.935 million between his original 2014 base salary and expected 2015 restricted free agent tender), Burfict’s agent probably looked at the deal in a piecemeal manner instead of in its entirety. His primary concern was likely on valuing Burfict’s unrestricted free agent years.

Burfict got the best of both worlds with a value of slightly over $7.5 million per year for his two unrestricted years, which is below what he likely could have commanded on the open market. However, it would have been unrealistic for Burfict to expect treatment like a free agent given his contract status. As a reference point, linebacker Paul Posluszny received a six-year deal from the Jacksonville Jaguars averaging $7.5 million per year in 2011 as an unrestricted free agent.

Smartly, Burfict didn’t give up multiple unrestricted free agent years at a discounted rate. Burfict got a level of security which he didn’t have with $871,000 in career contract earnings during his first two NFL seasons, but also has the opportunity to test the free agent market while he’s still young enough to take advantage of it. He will be 27-years-old when his contract expires after the 2017 season.

If the lofty comparison Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis made between Burfict and future first ballot Hall of Famer Ray Lewis in the early stages of his career prove to be true, Burfict will reap the benefit of Carolina’s Luke Kuechly and Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David raising the salary bar in the coming years for every-down linebackers that aren’t pass rushers when he signs his next deal.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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Andre Johnson’s trade leverage

Andre Johnson has asked the Houston Texans to trade him according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. Although four teams have expressed interest in acquiring Johnson, the Texans have no interest in dealing him.

Johnson has already subjected himself to a $69,455 fine for skipping the Texans’ mandatory minicamp and forfeited

Andre Johnson has asked the Houston Texans to trade him according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. Although four teams have expressed interest in acquiring Johnson, the Texans have no interest in dealing him.

Johnson has already subjected himself to a $69,455 fine for skipping the Texans’ mandatory minicamp and forfeited a $1 million first game of the regular season roster bonus by missing other team offseason activities. In order to earn the $1 million roster bonus, Johnson was required to complete 90 percent of the workouts in the Texans’ offseason conditioning program, timely report to and fully participate in their entire organized team activities, mandatory minicamp and training camp. Johnson’s contract expressly states that he can’t earn the bonus if he fails to satisfy any one of the conditions.

It will be an extremely costly endeavor for Johnson if he tries to force a trade through a training camp holdout. The Texans can fine Johnson a maximum of $30,000 for each day of training camp he misses. They can also recoup a portion of his signing bonus, which is the bigger issue. Under the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), teams can recoup 15 percent of the prorated amount of a signing bonus on the sixth day of a training camp holdout. It’s one percent for each additional missed day with a maximum of 25 percent of the prorated amount during training camp. An additional 25 percent can be recovered with the first missed regular season game. After four missed weeks, a team can recover one-seventeenth of the prorated amount for each additional week of the player’s absence. The maximum a team can recover in a season is the entire prorated amount of the player’s signing bonus in that contract year.

Andre JohnsonICONJohnson’s 11 years in Houston have resulted in 927 receptions for 12,661 yards and 61 touchdowns.

Johnson restructured his contract in 2011, 2012 and 2013 where he converted $18.5 million of base salary into a signing bonus to create salary cap room for the Texans. When a player does a simple contract restructure, like Johnson did, it is imperative that the signing bonus provision doesn’t contain language allowing the team to recover the signing bonus or limit recovery to the particular year in which the restructure takes place so he doesn’t give the team rights to money they wouldn’t have otherwise. The CBA prevents teams from recovering base salary after it has been paid. Additionally, signing bonus language from a player’s previous contract(s) with a team is typically incorporated into the contract covering the restructure.

Johnson didn’t get either of these two things in any of his contract restructures. By contrast, when Matthew Stafford restructured his contract with the Detroit Lions in 2011 and 2012, the language allowing recovery of the $19.36 million of salary converted into a signing bonus was removed.

Johnson undercut any leverage he may have had to force a trade because the broad signing bonus recovery language is in his contract restructures. If Johnson hadn’t restructured the contract he signed in 2010 or gotten the more favorable signing bonus language, the maximum amount of signing bonus the Texans would have been able to recoup from him with a holdout this year would have only been $469,583 (the prorated amount of signing bonus in 2014 from his 2010 deal). The broad language allows the Texans to recover a maximum of $4,444,583 from Johnson in 2014. Johnson should have been risking $70,437 of signing bonus with a six-day training camp holdout, but it’s $666,687 instead. If Johnson misses the entire Texans’ training camp and no more than four weeks of the regular season, they can recoup $2,222,291 from him when it would have been $234,791 with the better language. Johnson would also be giving up $588,235 of his $10 million base salary for each week of the regular season he missed.

The broad language also effectively removes retirement as an option for Johnson as Carson Palmer did in 2011 with the Cincinnati Bengals. Players aren’t subject to the daily fines for missed training with retirement, but signing bonus recovery is more onerous on the player. A team can demand repayment of the signing bonus proration from the current contract year and the remaining years of the deal upon the retirement. If the player doesn’t repay this money, the team can seek an award through arbitration. Johnson’s contract runs through 2016. The Texans could demand $11,364,168 from Johnson if he retired when it should have only been $939,168. Palmer didn’t have to worry about signing bonus recovery because the proration with his 2005 contract extension ended in 2010.

The Texans essentially hold all of the cards in the dispute with Johnson. It would be a surprise if Johnson’s trade request was granted or he had a lengthy preseason holdout largely because of the financial ramifications with the broad signing bonus language from his three contract restructures.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com. 

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What’s next for Jimmy Graham?

Jimmy Graham lost his grievance to be classified as a wide receiver with the franchise tag designation he received from New Orleans Saints. Arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled that Graham was a tight end when lined up in the slot within four yards of an offensive lineman, which he did on more than

Jimmy Graham lost his grievance to be classified as a wide receiver with the franchise tag designation he received from New Orleans Saints. Arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled that Graham was a tight end when lined up in the slot within four yards of an offensive lineman, which he did on more than 50 percent of his plays in 2013. Graham will remain on the Saints’ salary cap at the $7.053 million tight end franchise tag number.

The National Football League Players Association, who has been representing Graham in the grievance, said in a statement, “We will advise Graham of his options and carefully determine next steps in this matter.” Graham can appeal Burbank’s decision within ten days to a three-person appeals panel. Unless granted an expedited appeal, there wouldn’t be a resolution with the appeals process before the July 15 deadline for franchise players to sign multi-year deals with their teams.

The Saints gain leverage in negotiations because of the decision. Graham will need to abandon his quest to be paid like a top wide receiver (presumably $11-$13 million per year with $25-$30 million in guarantees) in order for an agreement to be reached. The Saints shouldn’t have a problem making Graham the NFL’s highest paid tight end considering he leads tight ends in receptions (270), receiving yards (3,507) and touchdowns (36) over the last three years. The New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski is currently the highest paid tight end with the six-year, $54 million contract extension (includes $18.17 million in guarantees) he signed in 2012 that has a team friendly structure. Vernon Davis sets the standard for tight ends in guarantees with $23 million.

The July 15 deadline doesn’t appear to apply to offer sheets. The NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) has a July 22 deadline for transition players signing a contract with another club but is silent on the issue with franchise players. Seemingly, Graham would have until the Tuesday after the 10th week of the regular season (November 11) to sign an offer sheet, which the Saints would have five days to match. If the offer wasn’t matched, the Saints would receive two first round picks (2015 and 2016) as compensation from the signing team.

Jimmy GrahamThe most likely outcome is that Graham and the Saints reach an agreement on a long-term deal sometime in the near future.

Although unlikely because teams are reluctant to give up two first round picks to sign a franchise player, the Saints’ salary cap situation makes them vulnerable to an offer sheet. They currently have only $1.7 million of cap space.

An offer sheet would probably need to be extremely front loaded with at the least the first two years fully guaranteed using a “pay as you go” structure while paying Graham more like a top wide receiver than top tight end in order to discourage the Saints from matching. A player’s cash and salary cap numbers are the same in each contract year where he is receiving salary guarantees instead of a signing bonus under the “pay as you go” model. For example, an offer sheet containing a fully guaranteed $15 million salary in 2014 would require the Saints to create almost $6.25 million of cap room by releasing players or restructuring contracts to retain Graham. The Saints also wouldn’t be able to restructure Graham’s deal to lower his 2014 cap number with a matched offer sheet.

The necessity of a high 2014 cap number drastically limits the number of teams that could realistically pose a threat to the Saints. The Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets each have over $20 million of cap room, but may not be appealing to Graham because they aren’t playoff-caliber teams and don’t have Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks.

A relatively new trend with franchise players who don’t sign long term deals is missing a portion of training camp to minimize the risk of injury during the pre-season. Since franchise players aren’t under contract, they can’t be fined up to $30,000 for each day of camp missed. Cliff Avril, Dwayne Bowe and Jairus Byrd have done this during the past two years before reporting to their respective teams in August.

Franchise players are still allowed to negotiate their salary and other conditions relating to their franchise player status with their own teams after the July 15 deadline. Curiously, none of the three players seriously pursued a clause that would have prohibited their respective teams from using a franchise or transition designation on them for a second time in the following year (i.e.; a prohibition clause) or a larger one-year salary than their franchise tender. In Graham’s case, a second franchise tag in 2015 would most likely be $8,463,600, a 120 percent increase of his 2014 franchise tag.

Obtaining a prohibition clause would be difficult for Graham. A franchise player hasn’t gotten this type of provision since 2008 when the Tennessee Titans gave Albert Haynesworth a conditional prohibition clause. It was triggered by Haynesworth making the Pro Bowl, having at least 60 percent defensive playtime or 53 percent defensive playtime and the Titans winning at least 10 games or ranking in the top-five in total defense. Jeff Backus and Nate Clements received the last unconditional prohibition clauses in 2006 with the Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills, respectively.

Graham missing any part of the regular season because of a contract dispute would seem remote. It hasn’t happened with a franchise player since the 2006 CBA implemented the July multi-year deal deadline. Dunta Robinson came closest when he signed his franchise tender four days before the Houston Texans’ 2009 regular season opener.

A long term deal as the July 15 deadline approaches, just like with Drew Brees in 2012 when he was franchised, is the expected outcome provided the Saints don’t play hardball in negotiations. Graham could still become the NFL’s first $10 million-per-year tight end and set a new benchmark in guarantees for the position despite the arbitrator’s ruling. A long term deal would give the Saints some much needed breathing room with the cap by containing a lower 2014 cap number than Graham’s current $7.053 million tight end franchise tag.

Follow Joel on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com. 

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How much is Demaryius Thomas worth?

According to multiple media reports, the Denver Broncos have offered wide receiver Demaryius Thomas a five-year contract extension. Pro Football Talk subsequently contradicted those reports. Regardless of whether a concrete offer has been made or talks are in the preliminary stages, retaining both Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas

According to multiple media reports, the Denver Broncos have offered wide receiver Demaryius Thomas a five-year contract extension. Pro Football Talk subsequently contradicted those reports. Regardless of whether a concrete offer has been made or talks are in the preliminary stages, retaining both Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas are top priorities. Broncos general manager and executive vice-president of football operations John Elway recently said, “We’d like to get something done before the beginning of camp. We don’t want to do anything once training camp starts. They’re both in their last years, and we’d like for them to stay and be Broncos for a long time.”

This timetable is consistent with Ryan Clady’s negotiations when he was entering his contract year in 2012. Contract discussions were put on hold until after the season when Clady rejected a five-year, $50 million extension (with $28 million in guarantees) at the start of training camp because he wanted Joe Thomas money ($11.5 million per year/$37 million in guarantees). Clady signed a five-year, $52.5 million deal (with $33 million in guarantees and an additional $5 million in salary escalators based on first team All-NFL/All-Pro honors) last July as Denver’s franchise player.

Elway may need to be more flexible with his timetable because the Broncos do not want to be in a position with both players unsigned long term heading into 2015 where they must use their franchise tag on one while the other becomes an unrestricted free agent. The wide receiver franchise tag number will be close to $13 million in 2015 with a salary cap increase next year similar to this year’s 8.13 percent.

Demaryius ThomasICONThomas has hauled in 186 receptions over his last 32 regular season starts.

Thomas has been one of the NFL’s most productive wide receivers over the last two seasons with 186 receptions (sixth in the NFL), 2,864 receiving yards (third in the NFL) and 24 touchdowns (tied for third in the NFL). In 2013, he joined Larry Fitzgerald, Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice as the only wide receivers in NFL history with consecutive seasons of at least 90 catches, 1,400 receiving yards and 10 touchdown receptions. Thomas also led the NFL with 704 yards after the catch in 2013 and was second in receptions of more than 25 yards with 17.

The 2010 first round pick is in a select group of wide receivers (Dez Bryant, A.J. Green and Julio Jones) whose rookie contracts expire at the end of the 2014 or 2015 season that will likely look to top the five-year, $60 million contract (includes $30 million in guarantees) Mike Wallace received from the Miami Dolphins last year as a free agent. Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald set the wide receiver market on long term deals averaging slightly more than $16 million per year containing in excess of $45 million in guarantees.

Reaching Johnson/Fitzgerald’s salary levels probably isn’t realistic for these players, but Percy Harvin’s five-year extension averaging $12,843,500 per year (with $25.5 million in guarantees) that was signed after the Seattle Seahawks acquired him from the Minnesota Vikings in a 2013 trade could be another important salary benchmark. Besides the two outliers, Johnson and Fitzgerald, Dwayne Bowe’s five-year, $56 million deal (including $26 million in guarantees) with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013 is the richest contract (by average yearly salary) for a wide receiver that re-signed with his own team.

Todd France represents both Thomas and Bowe. It will be a challenge for the Broncos to convince France that their deals should be comparable. The two-time Pro Bowler has 70 catches and 1,390 receiving yards more than Bowe over the last two years with three times as many touchdown receptions. Thomas catching passes from Peyton Manning, who is arguably coming off the best two-year stretch of his illustrious career, instead of Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn and Alex Smith can’t be ignored, but isn’t responsible for the large discrepancy in their production.

Denver is $4.3 million under the cap. It shouldn’t be necessary to use much, if any, of their existing cap room with Thomas, whose $4.7 million 2014 cap number contains $1,756,250 of bonus proration, if the contract is structured like the team’s recent free agent deals. The guarantees in these signings are a combination of signing bonus and mostly conditional base salary guarantees in the early years of the deal. For example, Thomas could get an $11 million signing bonus in a multi-year extension by lowering his base salary to near his $730,000 league minimum and converting the difference into a signing bonus while keeping his 2014 cap number the same.

It seems inevitable that Thomas will become one of the NFL’s highest paid wide receivers with his next contract. Whether it will be on Elway’s timetable or require him to play out his rookie deal like Clady remains to be seen.

Follow Joel on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com. 

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Inside Colin Kaepernick’s new contract

The San Francisco 49ers signed quarterbacke Colin Kaepernick, who was under contract through the 2014 season, to a contract extension on Wednesday making him the NFL’s second highest paid player (by average salary). When news of the deal broke, it was announced as a six-year, $126 million extension with an NFL record

The San Francisco 49ers signed quarterbacke Colin Kaepernick, who was under contract through the 2014 season, to a contract extension on Wednesday making him the NFL’s second highest paid player (by average salary). When news of the deal broke, it was announced as a six-year, $126 million extension with an NFL record $61 million in guarantees. Technically, these descriptions of the deal are accurate but also misleading.

Instead of making $1,073,766 in the final year of a rookie deal signed in 2011, Kaepernick gets $13,073,766, a $12 million raise, this year. The $13,073,766 is a $12,328,766 signing bonus, a fully guaranteed $645,000 2014 base salary ($428,766 less than his rookie deal base salary) and a $100,000 workout bonus. This workout bonus was incorporated into the new deal from Kaepernick’s rookie contract.

Only $12,973,766 of the $61 million in guarantees is fully guaranteed at signing. The remaining $48,026,234 consists of Kaepernick’s $12.4 million 2015 base salary, $13.9 million 2016 base salary, $16.5 million 2017 base salary and $5,226,234 of his $17 million 2018 base salary. The injury guarantees become fully guaranteed if Kaepernick is on the roster on April 1 in each specific contract year (i.e.; 2015 base salary becomes guaranteed on April 1, 2015).

The 2011 second round pick has unguaranteed $18.8 million and $21 million base salaries in 2019 and 2020. Annual $400,000 workout bonuses begin in 2015. There are per game active roster bonuses totaling $2 million ($125,000 per game) in each of the extension years (2015-2020). The per game amount is only payable if Kaepernick is on the 46-man active roster for that particular game. For example, if Kaepernick suffers a season-ending injury in San Francisco’s eighth game during the 2015 season, he would only earn $1 million of his $2 million 2015 roster bonus.

Colin KaepernickWill Kaepernick’s team-friendly structure start a new trend around the National Football League?

Kaepernick also has a $2 million per year base salary de-escalator. His 2015 base salary won’t decrease by the $2 million if he is named first or second team All-Pro by the Associated Press or the 49ers reach the Super Bowl while he has 80 percent playtime during the regular season and playoffs (Wild Card, Division and Conference Championship games) in 2014. Once Kaepernick reaches this threshold in a season, the de-escalator voids for the remainder of the deal. Kaepernick’s 2018 injury guarantee will increase by the amount of de-escalation in 2015 through 2017. For example, if Kaepernick’s base salary decreases by $2 million in each of these three years, his 2018 injury guarantee is $11,226,234.

The 49ers are using an additional $2,136,987 of salary cap room on Kaepernick under the new contract. His 2014 cap number goes from $1,630,457 to $3,767,444. Kaepernick’s 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 cap numbers are $17,265,753, $18,765,253, $21,365,753, $21,865,753, $21.2 million and $23.4 million. The 49ers have built additional cap flexibility into Kaepernick’s contract because they can create cap room at any time during the deal with their discretionary right to convert a portion of his base salary into a signing bonus.

Kaepernick’s deal has a team-friendly structure, as do all of the lucrative deals negotiated by San Francisco in recent years. The 49ers weren’t going to abandon established contractual precedents for Kaepernick. The April 1 contract guarantee date is the norm with the team’s deals. The other lucrative deals just aren’t quite as team-friendly as Kaepernick’s. His per game roster bonuses are tied with Frank Gore for the highest on the team. Most of the top quarterback contracts don’t contain per game roster bonuses. Only Aaron Rodgers and Jay Culter have them. Salary de-escalators in NFL contracts are unusual unless they are for off-season workout program participation. The concept used with Kaepernick seems to be taken from teammate Ahmad Brooks’ contract. Brooks’ base salary can de-escalate by a maximum of $2.5 million in each year depending upon his sack total in the prior year.

Kaepernick’s lack of contract security is glaring, particularly for a lucrative quarterback deal. Jay Cutler, Tony Romo and Matt Ryan have $38 million, $40 million and $42 million fully guaranteed at signing, respectively, in their contracts, which is essentially triple Kaepernick’s amount. His modest signing bonus ($12,328,766) and the conditional guarantees make the deal a year-to-year proposition from the outset because the 49ers can part ways with Kaepernick at any time without adverse cap consequences. For example, $9,368,493 of cap room would be gained in 2016 by releasing Kaepernick before his $11.4 million base salary (assumes he didn’t extinguish the de-escalator mechanism with his 2014 or 2015 performance) becomes fully guaranteed on April 1. The 49ers would have a $7,397,260 cap charge or dead money from signing bonus proration in Kaepernick’s 2017 through 2019 contract years accelerating onto the 2016 cap. Kaepernick probably would have been better protected with the signing and option bonus structure of NaVorro Bowman’s contract.

Kaepernick’s extremely team-friendly structure (modest signing bonus, conditional guarantees, big per game roster bonuses, salary de-escalators) is something other clubs will try to employ in future negotiations. It would be a big surprise if the agents for Can Newton, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson agree to Kaepernick’s structure when their clients get new deals.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com. 

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The Aldon Smith contract dilemma

There are conflicting reports regarding whether or not the San Francisco 49ers will pick up an option on a fifth year for Aldon Smith after his latest brush with the law. Smith was arrested on April 13 at Los Angeles International Airport for making a false bomb threat.

The 49ers’ deadline

There are conflicting reports regarding whether or not the San Francisco 49ers will pick up an option on a fifth year for Aldon Smith after his latest brush with the law. Smith was arrested on April 13 at Los Angeles International Airport for making a false bomb threat.

The 49ers’ deadline to exercise their option for a 2015 contract year with Smith is May 3. Smith’s salary in 2015 will be $9.754 million, the same as this year’s transition tag for linebackers. The $9.754 million will be guaranteed for injury only if the option is exercised. It becomes fully guaranteed on the first day of the 2015 league year.

From a pure football standpoint, the 49ers should pick up Smith’s option year. Smith is a premier pass rusher in the NFL, with 42 sacks in 43 games during his three NFL seasons. Smith was a 2012 first team All-Pro after leading the NFC with 19.5 sacks. His 33.5 sacks are the most through two seasons for any player in NFL history.

Exercising the option would give the 49ers more flexibility with Smith. San Francisco will be in a better position to trade Smith if he has a 2015 contract year, although moving him is unlikely. Smith could also be released before his salary becomes fully guaranteed on approximately March 10 next year. The risk of being on the hook for Smith’s 2015 salary due to injury is minimal. It would most likely require some sort of serious injury late in the season for the injury guarantee to become part of the equation.

Releasing Smith isn’t a consideration after his latest transgression, his fourth in a little over two years. His $2,336,454 2014 base salary is fully guaranteed. Smith has an April 29 court hearing in Santa Clara, CA Superior Court relating to his September 2013 suspicion of DUI arrest and three felony counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon stemming from a 2012 incident during a party at his house where he was stabbed. The results of the court hearing could influence San Francisco’s decision on Smith’s option year.

Declining the option would send a message to both the locker room and public that players must be held accountable for their actions. Smith isn’t helped by the fact that his latest incident came shortly after Chris Culliver’s arrest for a hit and run and the Miami police opening an investigation of Colin Kaepernick in connection with a suspicious incident at a hotel.

Typically, teams continually make allowances for players with Smith’s talent. The 49ers are already guilty of this with him. The team received criticism for playing Smith every defensive snap in a game two days after his 2013 DUI arrest and a day before he voluntarily entered a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility. Passing on a fifth year would also be a signal that Smith no longer fits in the 49ers’ long term plans. If Smith cleaned up his act during the 2014 season, the 49ers could still retain his rights in 2015 by using their franchise tag on him. The 2015 linebacker franchise tag should be slightly over $13.35 million with similar growth in salary cap as this year’s 8.13 percent increase.

Aldon SmithSmith has notched a staggering 42.0 sacks in just 43 career regular season games.

Regardless of the 49ers’ decision on Smith’s option, his latest off-the-field problems will likely alter the team’s draft plans. Under normal circumstances, Smith would be considered a core player who is the top priority for a contract extension after Kaepernick. Since Smith has demonstrated that he can’t be counted on, finding a pass rusher early in the draft could be a priority. The 49ers have six selections among the first 100 picks of the 2014 NFL draft. Michael Crabtree or Mike Iupati could also be the beneficiaries of Smith’s troubles by becoming higher priorities for a new deal, as both players are entering contract years.

Typically, the results of the draft would factor into the 49ers’ decision on Smith because the draft is usually held in late April. The 49ers don’t have this luxury this year with the draft beginning on May 8, five days after the deadline for the option.

In addition to Smith’s long term future with the 49ers being in doubt, the team’s pass rushing needs have been increased by the prospect of Smith missing a significant portion of the 2014 season. There’s a possibility that Smith may not play at all in 2014. He could be facing jail time for the weapons charges or the DUI. Commissioner Roger Goodell may also give Smith a lengthy suspension under the NFL’s personal conduct policy that takes effect this season.

As a multiple offender of the policy, Goodell has latitude to depart from the usual protocol of waiting for the resolution of court proceedings or investigations with non-criminal conduct in disciplining Smith. It would be ideal for the 49ers if Goodell made a quick decision on Smith right after his Santa Clara court hearing so they could have clarity heading into the draft.

Goodell was expected to show Smith some leniency under the policy for voluntarily missing five games in 2013 to enter rehab. He may not be so forgiving after Smith’s latest transgression. The suspensions Goodell handed out to repeat personal conduct policy offenders Adam “Pacman” Jones and Tank Johnson could be a guide for the type of discipline Smith will receive. Johnson received an eight game suspension in 2007 for violating his probation of an earlier gun charge after six unregistered firearms were found in a police raid of his home. Jones was given a one year suspension in 2007 because of five arrests and his role in a Las Vegas strip club melee that led to a security guard being paralyzed in a shooting.

Smith will not be paid while suspended. The suspension will also void Smith’s salary guarantees, which will make it easier to release him. A year long suspension will toll Smith’s contract. Assuming reinstatement, Smith would play the 2015 season under the terms of his 2014 contract.

The length of a suspension that gives Smith the opportunity to play during the 2014 season could be key depending upon the 49ers’ decision with the option. Six games (usually games on injured reserve or the 53-man roster) are needed for an accrued season, a year of service towards free agency. Any suspension longer than ten games where the option isn’t exercised will make Smith a restricted free agent in 2015. The 49ers would be entitled to a first round pick as compensation on an unmatched offer if he is given a $2,570,099 tender (110 percent of his scheduled 2014 salary). There’s a possibility that Smith could also be a restricted free agent with a shorter suspension if he is placed on the non-football injury/illness list (NFI) after his reinstatement. He wouldn’t receive credit towards a year of service while on NFI. NFI could be a possibility because the 49ers might decide Smith isn’t ready to play football after his suspension.

A suspension that gets Smith back on the field in 2014 is insignificant to his contract status with exercise of the option. He will be playing 2015 at his $9.754 million option year salary under nearly every circumstance.

The decision on the option year won’t be the end of Smith’s saga. There’s more left to be determined with him.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com. 

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What could the Jags have done differently?

Transition player Alex Mack signed a five-year, $42 million offer sheet with the Jacksonville Jaguars, which the Cleveland Browns quickly matched even though Mack reportedly wanted out of town. A provision allowing Mack to void his contract after the 2015 season and a no trade clause were included in the

Transition player Alex Mack signed a five-year, $42 million offer sheet with the Jacksonville Jaguars, which the Cleveland Browns quickly matched even though Mack reportedly wanted out of town. A provision allowing Mack to void his contract after the 2015 season and a no trade clause were included in the offer sheet. Mack’s new deal is at the top of the center market, which was necessary to make it worth his while to potentially make a commitment for an extended period of time.

The six-year, $49.116 million contract Ryan Kalil signed with the Carolina Panthers in 2011 as their franchise player has been the standard for center compensation. Kalil’s deal contains $28 million in guarantees and has $30.75 million in the first three years. Mack has fully guaranteed $10 million and $8 million salaries in 2014 and 2015 for a total of $18 million in the first two years. His $18 million only trails Kalil’s $20.75 million over two years and the $19.512 million Nick Mangold received during the first two years of the seven-year, $54.075 million contract extension he signed in 2010. Mack’s $8 million 2016 salary is guaranteed only for injury at signing. It becomes fully guaranteed if he is still under contract on April 5, 2016, which will be moot if he exercises his right to void his deal after the 2015 season.

The 2011 collective bargaining agreement prohibiting poison pills with offer sheets limited Jacksonville’s creativity in structuring a deal that would have made it virtually impossible for Cleveland to match. Poison pills were outlawed because of the Steve Hutchinson-Nate Burleson ordeal in 2006. The Minnesota Vikings signed Hutchison, who was the Seattle Seahawks’ transition player, to a seven-year, $49 million offer sheet with a provision that guaranteed his entire contract if he wasn’t the highest paid offensive lineman on the team at any point during his contract. Seattle didn’t match the offer because left tackle Walter Jones had a higher salary. The Seahawks retaliated by signing Minnesota restricted free agent wide receiver Nate Burleson to a backloaded seven-year, $49 million offer sheet that became fully guaranteed if he played at least five games in the state of Minnesota in any season of the contract or his average salary was greater than that of the highest paid running back on the team.

Alex MackMack has started 80 of a possible 80 regular season games since entering the NFL in 2009.

The Browns have $29.6 million of salary cap room while the Jaguars are $25.1 million under the cap. Since Mack’s transition tag is already counting on Cleveland’s cap, Jacksonville wasn’t able to put together an offer sheet utilizing an abundance of 2014 cap room that couldn’t be matched. In order to discourage the Browns from matching the offer sheet, Jacksonville should have considered guaranteeing all five years or portions of the last two years, 2017 and 2018, without offsets.

An offensive lineman deal with over $40 million in guarantees would have been unprecedented. Currently, Trent Williams’ $36.75 million guaranteed in his six-year, $60 million rookie contract is the most guaranteed money ever for an offensive lineman. This would have required the Jaguars to trust Mack because offer sheets that aren’t matched can be renegotiated before the end of the season in the first contract year as long as there isn’t a salary reduction. Mack and the Jaguars could have re-worked the deal to eliminate his ability to void and any guarantees in later years so that it would have been more consistent with the marketplace.

If Mack was really looking to get out of Cleveland as soon as possible, the offer sheet should have contained a fully guaranteed 2014 salary equal to his $10.039 million transition tag that he could void at his discretion before the start of the 2015 league year. This would have ensured that Mack would have become an unrestricted free agent when free agency began next year. His actual voidable provision after the 2015 season operates in this manner. Another alternative for Mack would have been to get a clause that prohibited the Browns from using a franchise or transition designation on him in 2015 for signing his transition tag tender.

Outside of these concepts, there wasn’t much Jacksonville could have done to make it difficult for Cleveland to keep Mack for the short term. Even though Jacksonville wasn’t successful with Mack, the fan base will likely be pleased at the team’s aggressive efforts to upgrade the roster.

Mack will have an interesting choice after the 2015 season because he would be forgoing $24 million over the remaining three years of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent. Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey will attempt to leverage Mack’s pact into a better contract when negotiating his next deal. Outside of Pouncey, it’s hard to envision any other player potentially advancing salaries for centers before Mack has to make his decision on voiding.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com. 

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How to modify the franchise tag system

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton was on the right track in calling the NFL’s franchise tag system “antiquated” at the NFL owners meetings. Payton is hopeful that the system will be revisited and adjusted over time. Absent a compelling reason, the owners will not have any incentive to seek changes to the

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton was on the right track in calling the NFL’s franchise tag system “antiquated” at the NFL owners meetings. Payton is hopeful that the system will be revisited and adjusted over time. Absent a compelling reason, the owners will not have any incentive to seek changes to the system until the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expires after the 2020 league year.

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is expected to file a grievance to be classified as wide receiver before the CBA’s April 22 deadline if he doesn’t sign a long-term contract in the meantime. The wide receiver franchise tag is $5.079 million more than the tight end franchise tag in 2014. Losing a grievance to Graham could be the catalyst to quicker change with franchise tags.

Here are some changes that should be made to the franchise tag system.

Redefine positions

Currently, there are 11 different positions receiving franchise tags. These do not adequately reflect how football has evolved since the franchise tag system’s inception in 1993. The evolution of tight ends is central to Jimmy Graham’s potential grievance with the Saints. For purposes of franchise tags, a player’s position is determined by where he participated in the most plays during the prior season. According to ESPN, 45 percent of Graham’s snaps were in the slot, 33 percent were as an in-line tight end and 22 percent were out wide. A new classification differentiating between tight ends who take a majority of their snaps in-line and those who don’t could be created. One possibility could be for tight ends that function similarly to wide receivers to receive a franchise tag with the average of the tight end and wide receiver franchise tags. This hybrid tag would be $9.593 million this year.

Jimmy GrahamA hybrid tag could help to settle the dispute between Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints.

A hybrid tag wouldn’t be a foreign concept. In 2008, the Baltimore Ravens’ Terrell Suggs challenged his franchise player designation as a linebacker by contending he had more playing time as a defensive end. The Ravens and Suggs settled the dispute without establishing a precedent by agreeing to use the average of the defensive end and linebacker franchise tags. The NFL and NFLPA should also extend the Suggs settlement to all linebackers, primarily 3-4 outside linebackers, with the requisite playing time at defensive end.

Offensive line should be split to reflect the three main positions (center, guard and tackle). Typically, the franchise tag is composed of tackles, so guards and centers get a financial windfall when franchised. For example, New York Jets center Nick Mangold had the only center salary cap number over $7 million while the 2013 franchise tag for offensive linemen was $9.828 million.

Two franchise tag limitation

The 2006 CBA ensured that players at all positions, with the possible exception of quarterback, wouldn’t be franchised more than twice because a third franchise tag on a player is the greater of the highest franchise number at any position (usually quarterback) or 144 percent of the player’s prior season’s salary. Linebacker Karlos Dansby and kicker Adam Vinatieri weren’t franchise tag possibilities for the Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts, respectively, because it would have been $16.912 million, the quarterback number, to franchise them for a third time in their careers. The 144 percent and highest franchise number provision should be removed with a strict limit of two franchise tags per player put in its place.

Eliminate July 15 deadline for multi-year contracts

Prior to the 2006 CBA, there was a 30-day period immediately following the franchise tag designation deadline to agree to a long-term deal with a franchise player before what essentially amounted to a four-month signing moratorium began. During this four-month period, if a franchise player signed a long-term deal, his designation lasted for the duration of the contract, which prevented teams from franchising another player until then. The restriction didn’t apply for long-term deals signed after July 14.

The 2006 CBA eliminated the rules—which led to the signing moratorium—but created a July 15 deadline for long-term deals. In 2013, Broncos offensive tackle Ryan Clady was the only one of the eight players given a franchise tag that got a multi-year contract. The deadline has led to Cliff Avril, Dwayne Bowe and Jairus Byrd missing parts of training camp and the preseason over the last two years to either protest their franchise tags or as an attempt to minimize the risk of injury before regular season play began. The best of the past and current CBA rules on franchise tag signings can be achieved by abolishing the July 15 negotiating deadline.

Decrease franchise tag compensation

Franchise players rarely switch teams because the compensation on an unmatched offer sheet is two first round picks. Joey Galloway in 2000 was the last franchise player to move to another team for full compensation when the Seattle Seahawks received two first round picks from the Dallas Cowboys.

Matt CasselFormer New England Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel was the last franchise player to be traded.

Typically, when players with franchise tags switch teams, it’s through a trade with less than two first round picks received in return. The last trade of a franchise player occurred in 2009. The Kansas City Chiefs acquired quarterback Matt Cassel (and linebacker Mike Vrabel) from the New England Patriots in exchange for a 2009 second round pick (34th overall). A year earlier, Kansas City traded defensive end Jared Allen to the Minnesota Vikings for a first round pick (15th overall) and two third round picks in the 2008 NFL draft. The teams also swapped 2008 sixth round picks.

The current CBA eliminated the highest restricted free agent tender, which required first and third round picks as compensation for unmatched offer sheets. This level of compensation may be more appropriate for franchise players than two first round picks.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com. 

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The big five from free agency

With the NFL turning its attention to the annual owners meetings, here are some observations regarding this season’s free agency period:

Adoption of “Pay as you go” contract structure

The Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars, who began free agency as the two teams with the most salary cap space in the league,

With the NFL turning its attention to the annual owners meetings, here are some observations regarding this season’s free agency period:

Adoption of “Pay as you go” contract structure

The Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars, who began free agency as the two teams with the most salary cap space in the league, are utilizing a “pay as you go” structure when signing players. A player’s cash and salary cap numbers are the same in each contract year because he is receiving salary guarantees instead of a signing bonus under the “pay as you go” model. Since there isn’t any signing bonus proration, the team won’t have any dead money (a cap charge for a player no longer on the roster) if a player is released during the latter years of the deal provided that his contract hasn’t been restructured. For example, Zane Beadles’ 2014 salary and cap number are both $7.5 million in the five-year, $30 million contract he signed with the Jaguars. When the guarantees in his deal are over in 2016, Jacksonville can release him without cap impunity.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers adopted the “pay as you go” structure during Mark Dominik’s tenure as general manager. This approach has allowed new head coach Lovie Smith and new general manager Jason Licht to remake Tampa Bay’s roster this offseason because parting ways with Darrelle Revis, Davin Joseph and Donald Penn has created $29,416,667 of cap room with only $666,666 in dead money.

Soft running back market

Ben TateTate’s $6.2 million deal served as yet another reminder that the running back market isn’t what it used to be.

The running back market hasn’t rebounded from last year’s downturn when Reggie Bush and Steven Jackson got the top deals at $4 million per year. Toby Gerhart and Donald Brown are setting the market with three-year, $10.5 million deals from the Jacksonville Jaguars and San Diego Chargers, respectively. Ben Tate, who was widely considered as the best running back available in free agency, signed a two-year, $6.2 million deal (worth up to $7.2 million with incentives based on rushing yards). Darren McFadden took a one-year, $1.75 million deal (with an additional $2.25 million in incentives) to return to the Oakland Raiders. Only $100,000 of McFadden’s contract is guaranteed.

Tate will make $350,000 less than Michael Bush did in the first two years of the four-year, $14 million contract ($7 million guaranteed) he signed with the Chicago Bears in 2012 as Matt Forte’s backup if he earns all of his incentives. Tate’s situation entering free agency was somewhat analogous to Michael Turner’s in 2008 when he became a free agent. Tate spent four productive years with the Houston Texans as Arian Foster’s primary backup while Turner served as a complementary running back with the San Diego Chargers for four years. Tate’s inability to land a deal comparable to the six-year, $34.5 million contract (with $15 million guaranteed and an additional $1.5 million in salary escalators) Turner received from the Atlanta Falcons six years ago is a good indication of how much the running back market has changed.

More lucrative older pass rusher deals

DeMarcus Ware receiving a three-year, $30 million contract (with $20 million in guarantees) from the Denver Broncos is one of the most puzzling free agent signings because pass rushers haven’t fared well in free agency recently after turning 30-years-old. Dwight Freeney’s two-year, $8.75 million contract (worth a maximum of $13.35 million through escalators and incentives) from the San Diego Chargers and the two-year, $8.5 million contract (with an additional $3.75 million in escalators) Osi Umenyiora received from the Atlanta Falcons paced the older pass rusher market in 2013.

DeMarcus WareNot long after getting dumped by the Cowboys, Ware found a fat new payday waiting in Denver.

Ware, who turns 32 before the start of the 2014 season, is the NFL’s only pass rusher making at least $10 million per year on a contract signed once hitting 30 years of age. $16.5 million is fully guaranteed at signing and Ware is making $13 million this year. 34-year-old Julius Peppers quickly landed a three-year, $26 million deal (with $7.5 million guaranteed and worth a maximum of $30 million through salary escalators) from the Green Bay Packers once the Chicago Bears released him.

Jared Allen has indicated that he would retire if can’t get a “fair contract.” Allen, who turns 32 in April, reportedly was seeking a deal averaging $12 million per year at the start of free agency. He is mulling over an offer from the Seattle Seahawks. It would be a surprise if Seattle’s offer to Allen exceeded the $7.125 million average yearly salary in Michael Bennett’s new four-year deal with the team. If Allen signs with the Seahawks, his contract could be comparable to the two-year, $13 million deal (with an additional $2.1 million in sack escalators and incentives) Cliff Avril got from the team in free agency last year.

Return of the middle class

The 2011 collective bargaining agreement drastically reducing salaries at the top of the NFL Draft by implementing a rookie wage scale was supposed to help increase salaries of rank and file NFL players. Instead, the NFL started becoming a league of haves and have nots with a shrinking middle class because of a relatively flat salary cap.

The unexpected growth in the salary cap from $123 million to $133 million, an 8.13 percent increase, is helping create a rebirth of the middle class. For example, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell signed a four-year, $16 million contract ($8 million in guarantees) with the Miami Dolphins and offensive tackle Breno Giacomini received a four-year, $18 million deal (with $7 million guaranteed and worth a maximum of $19.25 million with playtime and Pro Bowl salary escalators) from the New York Jets. These deals average slightly more than the 2013 average salary for starting defensive tackles ($3,747,118) and offensive tackles ($4,185,948). With the cap expected to have similar growth over the next couple of years and the league requirement for each team to spend a minimum of 89 percent of the cap in cash from over a four-year period from 2013 to 2016, expect the middle class rebirth to continue.

Familiarity brings comfort

Players and teams are becoming smarter in free agency where scheme fit, role and previous history are having an increased importance. This doesn’t mean the elimination of more risky signings. It remains to be seen whether Eric Decker will thrive with the increased attention from opposing defenses as the New York Jets’ primary receiving threat after signing a five-year, $36.25 million (with $15 million guaranteed) contract.

Michael VickICONVick landed with the Jets and former offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

Michael Vick’s knowledge of Marty Mornhinweg’s offensive system made him an attractive option to provide Geno Smith competition at quarterback. Mornhinweg was Vick’s offensive coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles for four years before taking the same position with the Jets.

The Jacksonville Jaguars became the landing spot for defensive linemen Red Bryant and Chris Clemons after the Seattle Seahawks released both players. Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley was Seattle’s defensive coordinator from 2009 to 2012.

Scott Pioli’s influence as Atlanta Falcons’ assistant general manager was quickly felt. Two of Atlanta’s free agent priorities were defensive end Tyson Jackson and offensive guard Jon Asamoah. Pioli selected Jackson with the third overall pick in the 2009 draft and Asamoah in the third round in 2010 as the Kansas City Chiefs’ general manager.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith turned to Josh McCown to be his starting quarterback after he served as a backup to Jay Cutler with the Chicago Bears for the better part of two years of Smith’s coaching tenure in Chicago. It also isn’t a coincidence that defensive tackle Henry Melton joined the Dallas Cowboys, who run the same Tampa-2 defense under defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli that made him a Pro Bowler with the Bears. Marinelli was Melton’s defensive line coach in Chicago from 2009 to 2012.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com. 

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Raising the bar

Jairus Byrd’s six-year, $54 million contract with the New Orleans Saints raises the salary bar for safeties. It’s the richest deal in NFL history at the position. The previous benchmark was the six-year rookie contract Eric Berry signed in 2010 (base value of $50 million) with the Kansas City Chiefs as the

Jairus Byrd’s six-year, $54 million contract with the New Orleans Saints raises the salary bar for safeties. It’s the richest deal in NFL history at the position. The previous benchmark was the six-year rookie contract Eric Berry signed in 2010 (base value of $50 million) with the Kansas City Chiefs as the fifth overall pick in the NFL draft. Berry’s deal has an additional $10 million in nearly impossible to earn salary escalators.

The Saints were an unexpected bidder for Byrd’s services. When the free agent signing period opened on Tuesday afternoon, New Orleans had slightly less than $2.5 million of salary cap space.

Byrd’s contract contains $26.3 million in guarantees, which is a record for a veteran safety deal. It eclipses the $22 million guaranteed in the five-year, $41.25 million contract Dashon Goldson signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year. Berry’s $34 million guaranteed is the most ever in a safety deal.

Jairus ByrdByrd notched 22 interceptions in 73 career games with the Buffalo Bills.

$12.3 million of Byrd’s deal is fully guaranteed at signing, which consists of an $11 million signing bonus and $1.3 million 2014 base salary. Byrd’s $6 million third day of the 2015 league year roster bonus is guaranteed for skill and injury. His $2 million 2015 base salary is guaranteed for injury and $6 million of his $7.4 million 2016 base salary is also guaranteed for injury. The roster bonus becomes fully guaranteed on the tenth day of the 2014 league year (March 20). Byrd’s 2015 base salary becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2015 league year. The $6 million in 2016 becomes fully guaranteed if Byrd is on New Orleans’ roster come the third day of the 2016 league year.

Byrd has unguaranteed $7.9 million, $8.4 million and $8.6 million base salaries in 2017, 2018 and 2019. These base salaries can each de-escalate by a maximum of $500,000 depending on Byrd’s Pro Bowl and All-NFL nominations from 2014 to 2016. $100,000 offseason workout bonuses are in Byrd’s 2015 through 2019 contract years. There are also per game active roster bonuses totaling $300,000 ($18,750 per game) in the last three years of the deal (2017-2019).

The per game roster bonuses aren’t the norm with Saints contracts. Nobody else on the team besides cornerback Keenan Lewis has them. Lewis’ per game roster bonuses also occur during the last three years of his deal, but at $250,000 ($15,625 per game).

Byrd has a $3.5 million 2014 salary cap number. His cap number increases to $10.3 million in 2015. It is the NFL’s highest 2015 safety cap number. Byrd’s cap number drops to $9.7 million in 2016. He has $10.5 million, $11 million and $9 million cap numbers in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Byrd gets $27.9 million in the first three years of his deal. Goldson, who has the second richest veteran safety deal, is at $26 million after three years.

Earl Thomas, who is entering the final year of his five year rookie contract, should be the primary beneficiary of Byrd’s new deal. Extending his contract is reportedly an offseason priority for the Seattle Seahawks. Thomas could become the NFL’s first $10 million per year safety. Byrd’s average per year and guarantees are 9.1 percent and 18.18 percent more than Goldson’s. With a similar percentage increase over Byrd’s deal, Thomas will fall just short of the $10 million per year mark on a deal averaging a little more than $9.8 million per year with slightly over $30.725 million in guarantees.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com. 

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Ready to spend

The unanticipated increase in the salary cap from $123 million in 2013 to $133 million this year should produce a more active free agent market. With the cap expected to continue having growth similar to this year’s 8.13 percent increase over the next couple of years, along with the league requirement for each team

The unanticipated increase in the salary cap from $123 million in 2013 to $133 million this year should produce a more active free agent market. With the cap expected to continue having growth similar to this year’s 8.13 percent increase over the next couple of years, along with the league requirement for each team to spend a minimum of 89 percent of the cap in cash over a four-year period from 2013 to 2016, the NFL salary landscape could start undergoing dramatic changes.

Below is a look at the teams with the most cap room as the 2014 league year gets underway. This article has been limited to teams with at least $30 million in cap space.

Salary cap accounting is different now than it is during the regular season. Only the top 51 cap numbers count on the cap. The top 51 includes any franchise/transition, restricted free agent and exclusive rights tenders for unsigned players.

Oakland Raiders ($59.3 Million-Estimated Salary Cap Room)

The Oakland Raiders have the most cap room in the NFL because general manager Reggie McKenzie, who was formerly director of football operations for the Green Bay Packers, has completed his two-year process of cleaning up the cap. McKenzie’s Green Bay background suggests that he would like to be judicious in free agency. This may not be possible because he and head coach Dennis Allen could be on the hot seat after consecutive 4-12 seasons, along with the fact that owner Mark Davis believes there aren’t anymore built-in excuses for losing.

Reggie McKenzieMcKenzie and the Raiders appear prepared to let both Valdheer and Houston walk.

McKenzie made a curious move by letting defensive end Lamarr Houston and offensive tackle Jared Veldheer become free agents instead of using a franchise or transition tag on one or both of them. According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, the Chicago Bears have made signing Houston a priority, while Veldheer is reportedly drawing serious interest from the Arizona Cardinals. Rodger Saffold is rumored to be an option at left tackle for Oakland if Veldheer doesn’t return.

The defense should have a different look next year because seven starters are unrestricted free agents. Finding a player that can consistently generate a pass rush should be at the top of McKenzie’s list.

Oakland’s quarterback situation is unsettled with Terrelle Pryor and 2013 undrafted free agent Matt McGloin. Signing a veteran like Michael Vick could make sense. Vick made $7.5 million (worth a maximum of $10 million through playtime incentives) in 2013 with the Philadelphia Eagles after taking a pay cut and deleting the final two years of his contract to avoid being released last offseason. His 2013 salary should be reasonable to the Raiders considering Matt Flynn had $11.5 million in the remaining two years of his deal (with an additional $3.75 million in escalators and incentives) when he was acquired in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks.

The Raiders could also use an upgrade at wide receiver with Rod Streater and Denarius Moore as starters. Running back Darren McFadden’s six-year tenure with the Raiders is expected to end after a disappointing and injury-plagued contract year.

Jacksonville Jaguars ($52.9 Million-Estimated Salary Cap Room)

The Jaguars weren’t active in free agency last year despite having over $33 million in cap room when the 2013 league year began last March, as new general manager David Caldwell embarked on a rebuilding project. His preference is building the team through the draft.

Jacksonville re-signed starting quarterback Chad Henne to a two-year, $8 million deal (worth a maximum of $15 million through salary escalators and incentives). But retaining Henne doesn’t preclude the Jaguars from selecting a quarterback early in the 2014 NFL draft. Jacksonville has the third overall pick.

Improving the pass rush should be a priority for the Jaguars. Jacksonville’s 31 sacks were tied for last in the NFL during the 2013 season. Wide receiver could be addressed during the offseason because of 2012 first round pick Justin Blackmon’s substance abuse problems. The Jaguars are open to keeping running back Maurice Jones-Drew at the right price. He averaged a career low 3.4 yards per carry in 2013. Reggie Bush and Steven Jackson set the free agent running back market last year with deals averaging $4 million per year.

The Jaguars quickly landed defensive end Red Bryant after the Seahawks released him. It wouldn’t be a surprise if cornerbacks Walter Thurmond or Brandon Browner also reunite with head coach Gus Bradley, their former defensive coordinator in Seattle.

Cleveland Browns ($49.1 Million-Estimated Salary Cap Room)

Organizational stability is the first order of business in Cleveland. Ray Farmer was promoted to general manager after CEO Joe Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi were fired one year into their tenure. Mike Pettine is Cleveland’s third head coach in three years.

T.J. WardWill the Browns be able to re-sign safety T.J. Ward?

The Browns placed a transition tag on center Alex Mack for $10.039 million. Mack is looking to join Ryan Kalil and Nick Mangold at the top of the center market. They are the only centers with contracts averaging over $7.5 million per year. Marvin Demoff, Mack’s agent, believes he can construct an offer sheet that the Browns would not want to match. He could have a tall order given Cleveland’s cap space and the 2011 collective bargaining agreement’s prohibition on poison pills in offer sheets.

The Browns would also like to retain safety T.J. Ward. He is reportedly drawing interest from multiple teams. The four-year contract extension Kam Chancellor signed with the Seahawks last April averaging $7 million per year (with $17 million in guarantees) is the most recent strong safety benchmark. The Browns have expressed interest in Jairus Byrd, who earned All-NFL honors in 2013 with Pettine as his defensive coordinator as a member of the Buffalo Bills, and Donte Whitner. Byrd wants to be paid in line with the top of the safety market. Dashon Goldson signed a five-year, $41.25 million contract (includes $22 million guarantees) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency last year.

The quarterback position will have a different look in 2014. According to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, Matt Schaub will be on Cleveland’s radar screen if he is released by the Texans. He would be competition for Brian Hoyer, who was a 2013 surprise before tearing an ACL in Week 5. Jason Campbell is expected to be released before his $250,000 roster bonus becomes payable on the fifth day of the 2014 league year (March 15). Expect the Browns to try to trade quarterback Brandon Weeden, who wants a fresh start elsewhere. He has fully guaranteed base salaries of almost $1.125 million and $1.5 million in 2014 and 2015, the last two years of his four-year rookie contract. The Browns could cut their losses with the 22nd overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft if there aren’t any takers. Cleveland’s 2014 cap charge for Weeden would increase from approximately $2.2 million to slightly more than $4.775 million primarily because a guaranteed base salary accelerates into the current year’s salary cap when a player gets released. A quarterback could also be taken early in the draft. The Browns have the fourth and 26th overall picks.

Karlos Dansby could be an option to help fill the void at inside linebacker created by the release of D’Qwell Jackson. The 32-year-old had a career year in 2013. Dansby finished tied for third in the NFL in solo tackles with 114 and tied for sixth with 19 passes defensed. He led NFL inside linebackers with 6.5 sacks and tied for first at the position with four interceptions, with two returned for touchdowns. Running back is also an area of need after the early 2013 season trade of Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2014 first round pick.

New York Jets ($40.2 Million-Estimated Salary Cap Room)

New York’s 8-8 record in 2013 was surprising considering the lack of playmakers in the passing game. Wide receiver Golden Tate may be high on general manager John Idzik’s list. Idzik should have a comfort level with Tate since he was a front office executive with Seattle before joining the Jets. It might require paying Tate in the Robert Meachem neighborhood ($6.375 million average per year/$14 million guaranteed), since Jeremy Maclin got $5.5 million on a one-year deal (with another $500,000 incentives) from the Eagles. James Jones and Emmanuel Sanders could be cheaper alternatives. A wide receiver could also be taken by the Jets with the 18th overall pick in the 2014 draft since multiple playmakers are needed.

Michael VickICONVick could be a potential target for the Jets.

The jury is still out on whether Geno Smith is the answer at quarterback. A veteran quarterback will likely be brought in to push Smith for the starting job in training camp. Vick is a logical candidate because Marty Mornhinweg was Vick’s offensive coordinator in Philadelphia for four years. Josh McCown could also be an option. He was outstanding with the Chicago Bears while filling in for an injured Jay Cutler last season. McCown completed 66.5 percent of his passes, had a 109 passer rating and a 13 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio. The Jets will gain an additional $8.3 million of cap room by releasing quarterback Mark Sanchez before his $2 million 15th day of the league year (March 25) roster bonus is payable.

Cornerback became more of a weakness by parting ways with Antonio Cromartie. The Jets are reportedly interested in free agents Vontae Davis and Alterraun Verner. Signing either one could cost the Jets upwards to $10 million per year with over $20 million in guarantees. LaMarr Woodley could be an intriguing possibility at outside linebacker to improve the pass rush once he’s released by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Re-signing 33-year-old outside linebacker Calvin Pace to a modest short-term deal is likely after he posted a career high 10 sacks in 2013.

The Jets have been trying to re-sign Austin Howard but aren’t comfortable with his contract demands of upper echelon right tackle money. As a reference point, Phil Loadholt signed a four-year, $25 million deal to remain with the Minnesota Vikings last year. Jon Asamoah is a rumored target to replace Willie Colon at right guard. Re-signing Jeff Cumberland to a three-year, $3.7 million deal won’t take the Jets out of the tight end market. Brandon Pettigrew is probably the best player available at the position.

Miami Dolphins ($36.1 Million-Estimated Salary Cap Room)

Miami is poised to be aggressive in free agency for a second year in a row. Upgrading the offensive line is the top priority. The Dolphins are reportedly going to land left tackle Branden Albert, who was the subject of trade discussions with the Kansas City Chiefs prior to the 2013 draft. It is expected that Albert’s deal will average close to $10 million per year. Zane Beadles is one of the top free agent offensive guards available. Zach Strief or Austin Howard could be possibilities at right tackle.

Cornerback Brent Grimes has returned to the fold with a four-year, $32 million (with $16 million guaranteed) contract. Signing safety Louis Delmas to a one-year “prove it” deal reportedly worth a maximum of $3.5 million signals the end of Chris Clemons’ days in Miami.

The Dolphins could try to get younger at defensive tackle instead of re-signing Randy Starks and Paul Soliai, who are both 30-years-old. Linval Joseph, Earl Mitchell and Henry Melton, who is recovering from a torn ACL, are younger alternatives.

Running back should be an area of concern. Miami ranked 26th in rushing last season with 90 yards per game. Ben Tate should sign the biggest free agent running back deal. Darren McFadden might be receptive to a one-year “prove it” deal since he has made slightly over $42 million on his rookie contract as the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft. Rashard Mendenhall got a fully guaranteed one year deal worth $2.5 million (with an additional $1 million in incentives) from the Arizona Cardinals last year.

Indianapolis Colts ($34.7 Million-Estimated Salary Cap Room)

Free agency takes on added significance with the lack of a 2014 first round pick due to the Trent Richardson trade. The Colts have already taken care of inside linebacker issues by signing Browns castoff D’Qwell Jackson to a four-year, $22 million deal.

Eric DeckerAre the Broncos ready to open up the checkbook for Eric Decker?

The Colts reportedly have some interest in Eric Decker. After being one of the NFL’s most productive wide receivers over the last two seasons with 172 receptions (11th in the NFL), 2,352 receiving yards (ninth in the NFL) and 24 touchdowns (tied for third in the NFL), Decker is seeking number one wide receiver money (minimum of $8.5 million per year with $20 million guaranteed). 35-year-old Reggie Wayne, who tore an ACL in Week 7’s win over the Denver Broncos, is entering the final year of his contract in 2014.

The offensive line is still a weakness despite making free agent Gosder Cherilus the NFL’s highest paid right tackle with a five-year, $35 million contract (includes $16.5 million guaranteed) last offseason. There will be a new starting center in 2014 with the release of Samson Satele. Defensive end Arthur Jones, who had head coach Chuck Pagano as defensive coordinator in 2011 with the Baltimore Ravens, is also on the radar screen.

Several key contributors could be lost to free agency. Efforts to re-sign cornerback Vontae Davis are being made, but he has plenty of suitors. According to Tim McManus of 97.5 The Fanatic and Birds 24/7, safety Antoine Bethea is drawing interest from the Eagles. It may require paying Bethea more than the four-year, $24 million deal (with $14 million guaranteed) the team gave LaRon Landry in free agency last year. Returning to the Colts may not be running back Donald Brown’s first option because Vick Ballard is expected back from an early 2013 season ACL tear and Richardson will have a full offseason to become better acclimated to the offense.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com. 

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The three-day window opens Saturday

NFL teams are allowed to negotiate with the agents of prospective unrestricted free agents during a three-day period which runs from March 8 at 12:00pm eastern time until 3:59:59pm eastern time on March 11. During this three-day window, prospective unrestricted free agents can’t visit teams or have direct contact with team employees,

NFL teams are allowed to negotiate with the agents of prospective unrestricted free agents during a three-day period which runs from March 8 at 12:00pm eastern time until 3:59:59pm eastern time on March 11. During this three-day window, prospective unrestricted free agents can’t visit teams or have direct contact with team employees, except those from their current clubs. A player’s ability to re-sign with his current club isn’t affected by the rule. Teams also can’t set up visits with prospective unrestricted free agents until the start of the 2014 league year at 4:00pm eastern time on March 11.

The rule does not apply to unsigned players receiving restricted free agent, franchise (Nick Folk, Jimmy Graham, Brian Orakpo) or transition tenders (Alex Mack). Players who don’t have an agent, like Jon Beason, are also prohibited from having discussions with teams during this legalized tampering period. Players can’t sign contracts with new teams until the new league begins.

Jairus ByrdFormer Bills safety Jairus Byrd is sure to draw plenty of interest this weekend.

The three-day negotiating period was initially approved in October 2012 at the Fall Owners Meetings after being recommended by the NFL’s Competition Committee. The rule is designed to curb the customary tampering that commences when NFL teams meet with agents about their impending free agent clients at the NFL’s annual Combine held in Indianapolis during late February. The rule has had a chilling effect, with fewer meetings taking place at the Combine since its implementation. Part of the decrease may also be attributed to there being more lag time between the Combine and the start of free agency under the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement. There are now more than two weeks between the events instead of just a couple of days.

The NFL’s legalized tampering window operates differently than the NBA’s ten-day signing moratorium period at the start of their free agency. In the NBA, there is a flurry of activity where agreements in principle between players and teams are usually publicly announced during their moratorium. To clear up confusion about the process, the NFL warned teams last year that agreeing in principle to a deal before the beginning of the new league year could produce a tampering investigation.

Maybe it was just a coincidence due to the slow growth of the salary cap, but the free agent market was softer last year that it was in 2012 before there was an approved negotiating window. Some agents alleged collusion among teams last year, which is extremely difficult to prove, because of the downturn in free agency.

Teams benefitted from the negotiating period because they weren’t operating in a vacuum as much when trying to gauge a player’s market value. They had time to adjust if initially miscalculating the market. With the salary cap unexpectedly increasing by 8.13 percent from $123 million to $133 million and each team being required to spend a minimum of 89 percent of the cap in cash during a four-year period of 2013 to 2016, there should be a more robust free agency market this winter.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com. 

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Set to strike it rich

Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew indicated at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis that he would like to extend defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh’s contract by the time the 2014 league year begins on March 11. The biggest obstacle to a new deal right now is that Suh doesn’t have an agent. He recently fired

Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew indicated at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis that he would like to extend defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh’s contract by the time the 2014 league year begins on March 11. The biggest obstacle to a new deal right now is that Suh doesn’t have an agent. He recently fired Roosevelt Barnes, who made Suh the highest paid defensive tackle in NFL history with a five-year rookie contract worth a maximum of $68 million with $40 million guaranteed. Technically, Suh has a 2015 contract year that will void five days after Super Bowl XLIX (February 6, 2015) so he is entering the final year of his rookie deal.

Suh has been linked to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports but hasn’t made a final decision about new representation. If Suh chooses Roc Nation, his best bet would be to have the same arrangement as New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz. Roc Nation handles Cruz’s marketing while Creative Artists Agency’s Tom Condon negotiated his football contact. Hakeem Nicks switched to Roc Nation with their in house contract negotiator, Kimberly Miale, and Condon representing him for football matters.

Suh has the NFL’s second highest 2014 salary cap number at $22,412,500 because he has restructured his deal twice in the last two years. The Lions can’t afford for Suh to play out his contract if they carry his cap number because it will be virtually impossible to use a franchise tag on him in 2015. His franchise tag number would be $26.87 million, which is based on 120% of his 2014 cap number.

Ndamukong SuhICONSuh has started 62 of a possible 64 regular season games since entering the league in 2010.

The Lions have slightly over $10 million of cap room before factoring in tenders for restricted free agents and exclusive rights players with expiring contracts that haven’t re-signed. Most notably, running back Joique Bell should receive a second round restricted free agent tender of $2.187 million.

Detroit’s predicament with Suh is similar to the one the organization had with wide receiver Calvin Johnson two years ago when his 2012 cap number of over $21 million in his contract year gave him tremendous leverage. Johnson signed a seven-year, $113.45 million contract extension (with $53.25 million guaranteed) that made him the NFL’s highest paid non-quarterback. The Lions picked up $9.55 million in 2012 cap room with his extension.

Suh has enough leverage that he should be able to set a new standard for interior defensive linemen compensation with his new deal unless he’s willing to give the Lions a hometown discount. The five-year, $61 million contract (with $35 million guaranteed) Haloti Ngata received from the Baltimore Ravens in 2011 is the top veteran deal for an interior defensive lineman. Suh has earned $51.95 million in the four years ($12,987,500 average per year) he’s played under his rookie contract. He probably isn’t going to think a decrease from his rookie contract is warranted after becoming a four-time All-Pro in his four NFL seasons. Don’t be surprised if Suh’s extension averages more than $14 million per year with over $45 million in guarantees. The Lions should be able to pick up at least $6.5 million of 2014 cap room with Suh’s new deal. The $9,737,500 of bonus proration that’s a part of Suh 2014 cap number limits the amount of cap room the Lions can gain. By contrast, Johnson only had $2,581,946 of bonus proration as part of his 2012 cap number prior to his extension.

Only if the Lions aren’t comfortable with Suh’s contract demands should they explore trading him. There would be a glaring need at defensive tackle without Suh on the roster, but the Lions would likely get much better draft compensation via trade that could be used in 2014 instead of waiting on a compensatory pick for Suh in 2016 after departing via free agency. The best compensatory pick the Lions could get would be at the bottom of the third round. The Lions would have $19.475 million in dead money (a cap charge for a player no longer on the roster) by trading Suh, which is $2,937,500 less than his current cap charge.

Suh is fortunate that the 2011 collective bargaining agreement’s rookie wage scale wasn’t implemented a year earlier. Instead of setting the defensive tackle market with his rookie contract, he would have signed a fully guaranteed four-year, $21,000,380 deal. Detroit would have picked up their option for a fifth contract year where Suh’s 2014 salary would have been $7.039 million, the 2013 transition tag number for defensive tackles. Without an astronomical 2015 franchise tag in the equation, there wouldn’t be the same sense of urgency for a new deal and the Lions probably would have tried to keep a new contract in line with the five-year, $53.327 million extension Geno Atkins received from the Cincinnati Bengals right before the start of the 2013 regular season.

Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is the player most interested in Suh’s situation. He was taken immediately after Suh as the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. The two-time Pro Bowler is also entering a contract year and has a $15,267,253 2014 cap number. If Suh signs a new contract, McCoy, who has made $44.405 million in four NFL seasons, will likely try to get a new deal for slightly less than Suh’s.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com. 

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10 players who could be headed for a contract restructuring

Contract restructurings have become a way of life in the NFL, particularly for teams with tight salary cap situations, because of slow growth in regards to the salary cap. The salary cap increased only 1.99 percent in 2013 to reach $123 million. The 2014 salary cap could be set at $130 million when it

Contract restructurings have become a way of life in the NFL, particularly for teams with tight salary cap situations, because of slow growth in regards to the salary cap. The salary cap increased only 1.99 percent in 2013 to reach $123 million. The 2014 salary cap could be set at $130 million when it is finalized later this month or in early March, since CBS bought the rights to Thursday night games. All teams must be under the cap for the beginning of the 2014 league year on March 11.

A contract restructuring is different from a pay cut. In a typical restructuring, a player will convert some portion of his base salary or roster bonus (without reducing salary) into a signing bonus because it can be prorated or spread out evenly over the life of a contract (most other salary components usually can’t be prorated) for a maximum of five years.

A restructuring results in a team receiving a lower cap number in the current season while the player gains more short-term security and potentially a better payment schedule for the current year of his contract. The player’s cap numbers in the remaining contract years also increase, which can make him more susceptible to becoming a cap casualty in the future.

Larry Fitzgerald2014 may be Fitzgerald’s final year in Arizona due to a recent contract restructuring.

Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was the first player this off-season to reduce a high cap number through a contract restructure. He created $9.4 million of cap room for the Arizona Cardinals when he lowered his 2014 cap number from $18 million, which was the ninth-highest in the NFL, to $8.6 million by converting $11.75 million of his $12.75 million 2014 base salary into a fully guaranteed second day of the 2014 league year roster bonus (March 12). The Cardinals are able to prorate or spread out evenly this $11.75 million over the five years left on his contract. Fitzgerald’s 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 cap numbers each increased by $2.35 million with the restructuring. As a result, Fitzgerald could be playing his last season with the Cardinals in 2014 because his 2015 cap number is now $23.6 million.

Players can restructure their contracts at any time, including multiple times in the same season. Chris Snee restructured his contract with the New York Giants twice in 2013. There isn’t a limitation on how many consecutive years a player can restructure his contract. DeMarcus Ware has restructured his deal for three straight years to help the Dallas Cowboys with their never ending cap problems. However, once a player receives a salary increase when reworking his contract. He can’t receive another salary increase for one year.

Here’s a look at ten players—with their 2014 cap numbers—who could be candidates to restructure their contracts.

Tony Romo (QB)-Dallas Cowboys: $21.773 Million

Dallas must rid themselves of almost $21 million in cap obligations by March 11 (assuming a $130 million 2014 salary cap). Some cap flexibility was built into the six-year, $108 million contract extension (with $55 million in guarantees) Romo signed in 2013 because the deal gives Dallas the discretionary right to convert a portion of his base salary into a signing bonus. Most of the lucrative deals the Cowboys have signed in recent years also contain this clause which allows them to automatically create cap room. $10.036 million of cap room can be created by converting $12.545 million of Romo’s fully guaranteed $13.5 million 2014 base salary into a signing bonus. Romo’s 2014 cap number would drop to $11.737 million, but his 2015 cap number would rise to $27.782 million.

Charles Johnson (DE)-Carolina Panthers: $16.42 Million

Carolina barely has enough cap room to franchise All-Pro defensive end Greg Hardy for approximately $12.8 million. The team could turn to Johnson, whose six-year, $76 million contract runs through the 2016 season, for help because he can create up to $5,263,333 of cap room in a basic restructure. More cap room could be gained if the Panthers added one or two voidable years to Johnson’s deal with a restructuring. It was done last year when the Panthers restructured DeAngelo Williams and Ryan Kalil’s contracts.

Drew Brees (QB)-New Orleans Saints: $18.4 Million

Drew BreesIf the Saints want to get Jimmy Graham under contract for the next few years, Brees may need to make some changes to his recent deal.

Although the Saints picked up $16.905 million of cap room by releasing Jabari Greer, Roman Harper and Will Smith, more work needs to be done to accommodate restricted free agent tenders and Jimmy Graham’s expected franchise tag. Brees has the highest cap number on the team and the NFL’s seventh-highest 2014 cap number. He is willing to restructure his contract to help the Saints with their cap problems. Brees can generate $6.53 million of cap room by turning $9.795 million of his $10.75 million 2014 base salary into a signing bonus. His 2014 cap number would be $11.87 million in his reworked deal. The 35-year-old’s league high $26.4 million 2015 cap number would become $29.665 million.

Andre Johnson (WR)-Houston Texans: $15,644,583

Johnson has the second-largest 2014 wide receiver cap number because he earned $3.5 million in 2014 base salary escalators primarily for ranking among the NFL’s leaders in receptions and receiving yards during the 2013 season. The Texans gained $4.125 million in cap room when Johnson restructured his contract last September. If last year’s contract restructure is an indication of how Houston will approach reworking Johnson’s deal, $5 million of his $10 million 2014 base salary and his $1 million first regular season game roster bonus will be converted into a signing bonus. Such a move will create $4 million in 2014 cap room for the Texans. The cap numbers in the remaining two years of his contract (2015 and 2016) will each increase by $2 million. Johnson’s 2014 cap number will become $11,644,583.

James Laurinaitis (MLB)-St. Louis Rams: $10.4 Million

The Rams have slightly more than $4.25 million of cap room. The three best options to free up cap space are Sam Bradford ($17.61 million), Chris Long ($14.9 million) and Laurinaitis. He could be the most appealing option because the five-year, $41.5 million contract extension he signed one day before the 2012 regular season opener only contains $400,000 of annual bonus proration and $4.025 million, $6.175 million and $8.1 million cap numbers in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Converting $9.72 million of Laurinaitis’ $10 million base salary will create $6,952,500 of cap room. His 2014 cap number would become $3,447,500.

Darrelle Revis (CB)-Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $16 Million

The lack of security in the six-year, $96 million contract Revis signed as a part of a 2013 pre-draft trade with the New York Jets could become an off-season problem for Tampa Bay. The deal doesn’t contain any guaranteed money. The team didn’t get holdout protection in Revis’ contract, like the Jets had, but have the right to convert a portion of his base salaries into a roster bonus and also guarantee a portion of his base salaries and roster bonuses. If the Buccaneers don’t fully or conditionally guarantee Revis’ 2014 or 2015 base salaries (both $13 million) the contract drama that plagued the Jets with Revis’ tenure in New York could continue in Tampa. Any of Revis’ money that becomes fully guaranteed roster bonuses through a salary conversion will be treated as a signing bonus on the cap. For example, if $12 million of Revis’ 2014 base salary is added to his $1.5 million third day of the 2014 league year roster bonus (March 13) where the entire $13.5 million becomes guaranteed for skill, the cap and injury, the roster bonus will be prorated over the five years left on his contract ($2.7 million yearly proration). Under this scenario, $10.8 million of cap room would be created.

Antonio Brown (WR)-Pittsburgh Steelers: $8.47 Million

The Steelers have $140.1 million in 2014 cap obligations with only $1.35 million of unused 2013 cap room that can be carried over to the 2014 league year. $3,937,500 of cap space will be freed up if Brown drops his $6 million base salary to $750,000 where the rest is converted into a signing bonus. Brown restructured his contract last year by turning $3.85 million of his $4.5 million base salary into a signing bonus.

Jay Cutler (QB)-Chicago Bears: $22.5 Million

The seven-year, $126.7 million deal (includes $54 million in guarantees) Cutler signed within days of the 2013 regular season ending has the NFL’s highest 2014 cap number. The deal’s structure raised eyebrows because his 2014 cap number is approximately $6 million more than the projected non-exclusive quarterback franchise tag number. The Bears can lower Cutler’s cap number since they can create cap room at any time during the deal with their discretionary right to convert a portion of his base salary into a signing bonus. Exercising the right may be necessary because the Bears have $122.96 million in 2014 cap commitments with 49 players under contract while the top 51 cap numbers count during the off-season.

Patrick Willis (ILB)-San Francisco 49ers: $6.863 Million

Patrick WillisWillis is a prime candidate in San Francisco to help the Niners become a more cap-friendly team.

Willis has a reasonable 2014 cap number despite signing a five-year, $50 million contract extension (with $29 million in guarantees) in 2010. A clause that allowed Willis to void his 2013-2016 contract years at his discretion was added in 2011 where the 49ers could have bought them back for $1,000. Since the contract’s voiding was within Willis’ sole control, the proration from those years accelerated into the 2012 cap. His 2014 cap number dropped by $3,538,080 because of the clause. The 49ers will gain $2,953,333 of cap room if Willis lowers his $5.285 million base salary to $855,000, his minimum base salary, with $4.43 million becoming a signing bonus.

Dwayne Bowe (WR)-Kansas City Chiefs: $12 Million

Kansas City’s $6.62 million of cap room won’t go far if the plan is to re-sign some of their 11 unrestricted free agents or be active in free agency. Bowe has the team’s highest cap number. $4.25 million of Bowe’s $8.75 million 2014 base salary was fully guaranteed when he signed a five-year, $56 million deal last year. The remaining $4.5 million becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2014 league year (March 13). The Chiefs can pick up $5,921,250 of cap room by turning $7.895 million of Bowe’s base salary into a signing bonus. By restructuring, Bowe would become a potential 2015 cap casualty with post-June 1 treatment, so his cap hit could be taken in 2015 and 2016 if he has another season like 2013 (57 catches for 673 receiving yards).

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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Top five pay cut candidates

A player must not react emotionally if his team asks him to take a pay cut. Before deciding whether to entertain a pay cut, a player must evaluate whether he believes he can sign a new deal that is comparable to his current contract on the open market. If this type of analysis isn’t

A player must not react emotionally if his team asks him to take a pay cut. Before deciding whether to entertain a pay cut, a player must evaluate whether he believes he can sign a new deal that is comparable to his current contract on the open market. If this type of analysis isn’t done, a poor decision can be made. There are also instances where a player is willing to accept a pay cut because he knows that both his salary and salary cap number are too much, but the team releases him instead of providing that option. Five players who could be asked to take a pay cut this off-season in order to remain with their current clubs are highlighted below.

Champ Bailey (CB)-Denver Broncos

Bailey isn’t ready to call it quits. He wants to play a 16th NFL season. The 35-year-old is entering the last year of a four-year, $43 million contract (worth a maximum of $46.75 million through base salary escalators) after a season in which he was limited to five regular season games because of a left foot sprain that occurred in a pre-season game against the Seattle Seahawks. In addition, 2013 marked the first time in Bailey’s storied career that the cornerback failed to record an interception. Bailey is slated to make $10 million next season and have a $10 million salary cap number. $1 million of Bailey’s salary is a roster bonus payable on the fifth day of the 2014 league year (March 15). His cap number (and total salary) will increase to $10.5 million with satisfactory participation in Denver’s off-season workout program.

Champ Bailey2013 marked the first season in Bailey’s career in which he failed to notch an interception.

Bailey’s 2014 salary doesn’t reflect the market for older defensive backs. Ronde Barber’s last two contracts with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both one-year deals in 2011 and 2012 when he was 36 and 37-years-old, were worth $3 million (with an additional $1 million for making the Pro Bowl). Charles Woodson signed a one-year, $1.8 million deal (plus an additional $2.5 million in incentives) with the Oakland Raiders in 2013 as a 36-year-old. Woodson earned $1.5 million of his incentive package to bring his total compensation to $3.3 million. The Broncos will gain $10 million of cap space if they part ways with Bailey.

DeMarcus Ware (DE)-Dallas Cowboys

Ware’s $16,003,750 cap number is a result of restructuring his six-year, $78 million deal in three consecutive off-seasons. His figure needs to be addressed because Dallas currently has an NFL-high $152.2 million in 2014 cap obligations. Ware has indicated that he’s willing to restructure his contract once again, but a pay cut is a different story. The seven-time Pro Bowler was limited to a career-low six sacks in 2013 while dealing with quadriceps, elbow and back injuries. Reducing the 31-year-old’s $12.75 million salary by $4 million seems reasonable considering 32-year-old Robert Mathis, who led the NFL with 19.5 sacks in 2013, is playing under a $9 million per year contract. Ware could be given the opportunity to earn the money back with not likely to be earned (NLTBE) sack incentives beginning with seven sacks. $7,432,250 of cap room would be gained by parting ways with Ware if the pass rusher is unwilling to accept a pay cut.

Frank Gore (RB)-San Francisco 49ers

Gore turns 31-years-old in May and is scheduled to make $6.45 million next season, which is the final year of his current contract. Running backs in their thirties usually don’t command such a high salary, especially on teams with good depth at the position. Darren Sproles and Steven Jackson, both of whom are 30-years-old, are the next highest paid older running backs behind Gore with $3.5 million and $3 million 2014 salaries, respectively. Marcus Lattimore, who “redshirted “ during his 2013 rookie campaign because of a serious knee injury suffered in college, could be the future of San Francisco’s rushing attack.

Frank GoreWhat will matter more: Gore’s age or his recent production?

Gore finished ninth in the NFL in rushing with 1,128 yards in 2013, but only averaged 3.4 yards per carry in San Francisco’s three playoff games. It is unusual for running backs to sustain or improve their production in their thirties especially if they have had a heavy workload previously. Gore is second among active players with 2,187 career rushing attempts and tied for 29th all-time. Although Gore is still performing at a high level, just eleven running backs have ever hit the 1,000-yard rushing mark at 31-years-old. Only five running backs, including potential cap casualty Chris Johnson, are scheduled to make more than Gore next season.

Troy Polamalu (S)-Pittsburgh Steelers

Polamalu is no longer in the discussion regarding the NFL’s best safety. The 2010 Defensive Player of the Year was named to his eighth Pro Bowl in 2013, but the honor may have been based more on his reputation than his play. Polamalu, who turns 33 in April, has the NFL’s highest 2014 cap number for safeties at $10,887,500 in the final year of a three-year, $29.6 million contract extension. The Steelers would pick up $8.25 million of cap room by releasing their popular safety. Pittsburgh team president Art Rooney II would like for Polamalu to retire with the club. A pay cut could be folded into an extension that lowers Polamalu’s cap number and ensures that he never plays with another NFL team. The three-year deal Ed Reed signed with the Houston Texans averaging $5 million per year could be an important data point for the extension years.

Vince Wilfork (DT)-New England Patriots

The 32-year-old is in a precarious position because he is entering the final year of his five-year, $40 million contract that features an $8 million 2014 salary and $11.6 million cap number. The five-time All-Pro has the fourth-highest cap number among NFL defensive tackles and the second-highest cap number on the New England roster behind quarterback Tom Brady ($14.8 million). The Patriots have slightly under $3.9 million of cap room based on a projected $126.3 million 2014 salary cap.

Others: James Casey (TE)-Philadelphia Eagles: $3.985 million cap number/$3.985 million salary; Antonio Cromartie (CB)-New York Jets: $14.98 million cap number/$9.5 million salary; D’Qwell Jackson (ILB)-Cleveland Browns: $9,483,333 cap number/$8,083,333 salary, Davin Joseph (OG)-Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $6 million cap number/$6 million salary; Zach Miller (TE)-Seattle Seahawks: $7 million cap number/$6 million salary

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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What’s next for the Denver Broncos?

While the Seattle Seahawks bask in the glow of their decisive Super Bowl XLVIII victory, here’s a preview of things to come for the other team that took the field last Sunday, the Denver Broncos.

Salary Cap

Denver has a little more than $10.25 million of salary cap room once tenders for

While the Seattle Seahawks bask in the glow of their decisive Super Bowl XLVIII victory, here’s a preview of things to come for the other team that took the field last Sunday, the Denver Broncos.

Salary Cap

Denver has a little more than $10.25 million of salary cap room once tenders for restricted free agents (which includes cornerback Chris Harris) and exclusive rights players with expiring contracts are factored in, in addition to the cap space gained from the voiding of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and running back Knowshon Moreno’s 2014 contract years.

A decision must be made regarding cornerback Champ Bailey, since he wants to play a 16th NFL season. The 35-year-old will be entering the last year of a four-year, $43 million contract (worth a maximum of $46.75 million through base salary escalators) after a season in which he was limited to five regular season games because of a left foot sprain that occurred in a pre-season matchup against the Seattle Seahawks and didn’t have an interception, a career first. Bailey is slated to make $10 million next season and will carry a $10 million salary cap number. $1 million of Bailey’s salary is a roster bonus payable on the fifth day of the 2014 league year (March 15). His cap number (and total salary) will increase to $10.5 million with satisfactory participation in Denver’s off-season workout program. The Broncos will gain $10 million of cap space if they part ways with Bailey.

Champ BaileyChamp Bailey’s cap number may be too much for the Broncos to carry in 2014.

Assuming the Broncos want Bailey to return next season, a significant pay cut could be in order because his 2014 salary doesn’t reflect the market for older defensive backs. Ronde Barber’s last two contracts with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both one-year deals in 2011 and 2012 when he was 36 and 37-years-old, were worth $3 million (with an additional $1 million for making the Pro Bowl) and $4 million apiece. Charles Woodson signed a one-year, $1.8 million deal (plus an additional $2.5 million in incentives) with the Oakland Raiders for this season as a 36-year-old. Woodson earned $1.5 million of his incentive package to bring his total compensation to $3.3 million.

The Broncos have also established a salary range for one-year deals with cornerbacks that are expected to make significant contributions. Tracy Porter signed a fully guaranteed one-year, $4 million deal in 2012 to start opposite Bailey. Rodgers-Cromartie has replaced Porter this season with his fully guaranteed one-year, $5 million contract.

Tight end Joel Dreessen could be a cap casualty, as he was inactive for Denver’s playoff games. Dreessen has a $3,166,668 2014 cap number and releasing him will create $2.5 million of cap room. Guard Chris Kuper ($5,195,166 2014 cap number) took a massive pay cut in 2013 as he attempted to battle back from injury. If he isn’t given that option again, $4,084,830 of cap room can be created by letting him go.

Free Agency

The Broncos have 17 unrestricted free agents, including Rodgers-Cromartie, Moreno, wide receiver Eric Decker, guard Zane Beadles, defensive end/linebacker Shaun Phillips and linebacker Wesley Woodyard.

According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, Denver is comfortable letting Decker test the open market because he is viewed as a number two wide receiver by the team. Although Decker has been one of the NFL’s most productive wide receivers over the last two seasons with 172 receptions (11th in the NFL), 2,352 receiving yards (ninth in the NFL) and 24 touchdowns (tied for third in the NFL), there’s a sentiment that he is the beneficiary of playing with Peyton Manning and a talented receiving corps. He should be the top wide receiver in free agency despite the perception.

Eric DeckerDecker could find out the grass is greener on the other side during free agency.

The top deals for wide receivers that have switched teams in free agency over the last two years range from $8.5 million per year with $20.5 million in guarantees (Pierre Garcon-Washington Redskins) to $12 million per year and $30 million in guarantees (Mike Wallace-Miami Dolphins). If a team is willing to pay Decker in this range, his days in Denver are probably over.

Rodgers-Cromartie has put himself in position to reap the benefits of his one-year deal. Surprisingly, he hinted at retirement early during Super Bowl week, but wisely did some damage control at Media Day. The free agent cornerback market was soft last year. Things could be different this time around because better cornerbacks will be available (Brent Grimes, Aqib Talib, Alterraun Verner, etc.). It wouldn’t be a surprise if a majority of the best free agent cornerbacks topped the five-year deal averaging $7.5 million per year (with $15 million in guarantees) Eric Wright received from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012 as a free agent.

Moreno had a career year as he went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time, was fifth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,586 yards) and had 13 touchdowns. Since 2013 second round pick Montee Ball appears ready to become Denver’s featured running back, Moreno isn’t expected back. Moreno is younger and more productive than Reggie Bush and Steven Jackson, who got the best deals at $4 million per year in last year’s free agent running back market.

Phillips helped the Broncos overcome the loss of defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who was released because of a paperwork snafu on his renegotiated contract that reduced his 2013 salary from $12 million to $8 million. Phillips posted 10 sacks in the regular season after signing a one-year, $1 million contract with an additional $2 million in incentives based on sacks. A deal similar to Dwight Freeney’s two-year, $8.75 million contract (worth a maximum of $13.35 million through escalators and incentives) from the San Diego Chargers or the two-year, $8.5 million contract (with an additional $3.75 million in escalators) Osi Umenyiora received from the Atlanta Falcons shouldn’t be out of the question for the 32-year-old to return to the fold.

All-Pro linebacker Von Miller’s four-year rookie contract expires after the 2014 season. The Broncos have an option for a fifth contract year with him, which must be exercised by May 3, because he was a first round pick (second overall in 2011). The fifth year is guaranteed for injury upon exercise. It becomes fully guaranteed if Miller is on the team’s roster at the start of the 2015 league year. Miller’s option year salary will be the transition tag number (average of the ten highest salaries) at linebacker this year, which is expected to be around $9.3 million. The Broncos may take a wait and see approach before making a long term commitment to Miller because of the six game suspension he served to start the season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and the ACL tear he suffered late in the season.

2010 first round pick Demaryius Thomas is entering his contract year. He has been more productive than Decker over the last two seasons with 186 receptions (sixth in the NFL), 2,864 receiving yards (third in the NFL) and 24 touchdowns (tied for third in the NFL). As one of the NFL’s top young wide receivers, Thomas’ next contract should exceed Mike Wallace’s deal. His contract leverage will increase significantly if Decker leaves.

Team Needs

The secondary could use an upgrade regardless of what happens with Rodgers-Cromartie. Bailey is in the twilight of his career if he returns and Chris Harris may not be ready for the season opener after tearing an ACL against the San Diego Chargers in the AFC divisional playoff round.

The Broncos had a hard time generating a consistent pass rush despite Phillips’ efforts. Having Miller for more than nine games will be beneficial, but another player (linebacker or defensive end) that can pressure the quarterback is necessary.

The receiving corps will also need to be retooled without Decker. Fourth wide receiver Andre Caldwell is also a free agent. The offensive line will get a big boost from All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady’s return. Clady was lost for the season after two games with a Lisfranc foot injury.

Outlook

As long as Manning continues to play at a high level, the Broncos should be Super Bowl contenders. Manning’s contract expires after the 2016 season. However, history doesn’t favor the Broncos in their Super Bowl quest during the 2014 season. A team hasn’t won the Super Bowl after losing it the year before since the 1972 Miami Dolphins. The 1993 Buffalo Bills are the last losing team to return to the Super Bowl after being in the game during the previous season. The last five Super Bowl losers have made the playoffs the following season, but the 2012 New England Patriots and 2013 San Francisco 49ers are the only teams to go back to the conference championship game following a Super Bowl loss since the 1993 Bills. The Broncos will have a hard time matching 2013’s 13-3 record because the teams in the NFL’s toughest division, the NFC West, along with the Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts are on the schedule.

Follow Joel on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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Hall of Fame predictions

The 46 member Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee will decide the fate of the 15 modern era finalists and two Seniors Committee nominees in New York City on February 1. The election process begins with a discussion on each of the 17 candidates before a vote is taken on the senior nominees.

The 46 member Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee will decide the fate of the 15 modern era finalists and two Seniors Committee nominees in New York City on February 1. The election process begins with a discussion on each of the 17 candidates before a vote is taken on the senior nominees. Following that discussion, the 15 modern era finalists are reduced to 10. Another cut is then made to the final five candidates. Each of the final five are voted on individually. A minimum of 80 percent of the vote is required in order to be enshrined. A Hall of Fame class must consist of at least four members with a maximum of seven inductees. The 2014 class will be announced later that evening during the NFL Honors show.

Expect at least one of the senior nominees to be elected. Their enshrinement rate has been 80 percent (16 of 20) since the selection process added a second senior candidate in 2004. Additionally, five modern era candidates will likely be a part of this year’s class. 2007 was the last time one of the final five (Paul Tagliabue) was not elected. Here’s my prediction for the 2014 Hall of Fame class.

First Year Eligible Candidates

Derrick Brooks (LB)-Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Warren Sapp and Derrick BrooksBrooks and Sapp anchored one of the nastiest defenses in NFL history.

Brooks was a five-time first-team All-Pro and 11-time Pro Bowl selection in 14 NFL seasons. The 2000s All-Decade team member was the co-leader with Warren Sapp, who was a first ballot Hall of Famer last year, of one of the best defenses in the last twenty years. The Buccaneers were ranked in the top 10 in both scoring defense and total defense for nine straight seasons (1997-2005). In the Tampa 2 defense, Brooks was the ideal weakside linebacker. He excelled in coverage and space. Brooks was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2002 when he led all linebackers with five interceptions for 218 return yards (third in the NFL) and three touchdowns (first in the NFL) while playing on a defense that was ranked first in both scoring defense and total defense. The Buccaneers also had the only Super Bowl victory in franchise history that season. It will be hard for the selection committee to justify putting Sapp in on the first ballot while denying Brooks in his first try given the two players were equally important to Tampa Bay’s defensive success.

Marvin Harrison (WR)-Indianapolis Colts

Harrison was named first-team All-NFL six times and elected to eight Pro Bowls during his 13-year NFL career. He was a first-team wide receiver with Randy Moss on the 2000s All-Decade team. Harrison ranks third in NFL history with 1,102 receptions, seventh with 14,580 receiving yards and fifth with 128 receiving touchdowns. He set the NFL single season record for receptions in 2002 with 143. The next closest single season total is 123 receptions. Harrison was the first NFL player to have three consecutive 1,500 receiving yard seasons. Although there isn’t a limit each year on the number of inductees at a position, Harrison faces competition from Tim Brown, a four-time finalist, and Andre Reed, a seven-time finalist. Unlike Harrison, Brown and Reed weren’t named first team All-Decade. The selection committee isn’t supposed to consider off the field issues, but Harrison was a person of interest in a 2008 Philadelphia shooting involving a gun owned by him. Five wide receivers have been first ballot Hall of Famers, with Jerry Rice as the most recent in 2010. Harrison should be the sixth.

Walter Jones (OT)-Seattle Seahawks

Jones was a six-time All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowler in 12 NFL seasons. A good case can be made that Jones was the best offensive lineman of the 2000s. If the distinction doesn’t belong to Jones, then it goes to Jonathan Ogden, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2013 during his first year of eligibility. Jones and Ogden have similar resumes. The two players are the first-team tackles on the All-Decade team for the 2000s. A difference is Jones doesn’t have a Super Bowl ring like Ogden. Jones’ only Super Bowl appearance was in the 2005 season when the Seattle Seahawks lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL. Recent selection trends favor offensive lineman. An offensive lineman has been elected to the Hall of Fame in seven of the last eight years. If the Selection Committee applies the same standard to Jones as they did with Ogden, then Jones should be inducted, unless winning the Super Bowl carries significant weight.

Returning Finalists

Charles Haley (DE/LB)-Dallas Cowboys/San Francisco 49ers

Haley is a finalist for the fifth straight year. He made the first cut of finalists in 2012 and 2013 without advancing to the final five either year. Haley was named All-Pro twice and to five Pro Bowls during his 13-year NFL career. He was the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1994. Haley has 100.5 total sacks, with a season best 16 in 1990. His trade to the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 swung the balance of power in the NFL. He added three Super Bowl rings after the trade to go along with the two rings he had already earned with the San Francisco 49ers. Haley is the only player in NFL history to win five Super Bowls. His 4.5 sacks in Super Bowls are the most of any player. Haley was a difficult teammate and antagonized the media, which could be factors with the selection committee.

Michael Strahan (DE)-New York Giants

Michael StrahanStrahan notched an NFL record 22.5 sacks in 2001.

Strahan survived the reduction to 10 candidates last year as a first-year eligible finalist, but was eliminated from consideration during the second reduction. He was a five-time first team All-Pro and received seven Pro Bowl berths during his 15 NFL seasons. The 2000s All-Decade team member is fifth on the all-time sack list with 141.5 sacks. Strahan set the NFL single season sack record in 2001 when he registered 22.5 sacks en route to becoming the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. He won his second sack title in 2003 by notching 18.5 sacks. Strahan was more than just a pass rusher, as he was also stout against the run. Strahan ended his career in grand fashion after the 2007 season with a victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, his second Super Bowl appearance. It is a rarity for there to be two defensive ends in the same Hall of Fame class, but the selection committee strays from convention this time.

Seniors Committee Nominees

Ray Guy (P)-Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders

Guy is the only true punter to be named as a modern era finalist. He reached the finalist stage of the selection process seven times over a 17-year period beginning in 1992. Guy was an eight-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler in 14 NFL seasons. He is a member of the 1970s All-Decade team and the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time team. Guy’s booming punts are credited with coining the term, “hang time.” He led the NFL in punting three times (1974, 1975 and 1977). Guy finished second in punting three times and third once. He is also a three-time Super Bowl champion. 23 years have passed since the selection committee recognized the importance of special teams by electing Jan Stenerud, the only kicking specialist in the Hall of Fame.

Claude Humphrey (DE)-Atlanta Falcons/Philadelphia Eagles

Humphrey made it past the first reduction twice during his three times as a modern era finalist. He was also a Seniors Committee nominee in 2009. Humphrey earned first team All-Pro honors five times and was selected to six Pro Bowls during his 14-year NFL career. Sacks didn’t become an official statistic until 1982 after Humphrey retired, but he is credited with 122 career sacks. Humphrey was named 1968 Defensive Rookie of Year after recording 11.5 sacks in his debut NFL season. He was a cornerstone of the Atlanta Falcons’ top-ranked “Gritz Blitz” defense in 1977, which set the NFL record for fewest points allowed per game (9.2). Humphrey’s lone Super Bowl appearance came in Super Bowl XV with the Philadelphia Eagles. Bob Hayes is the only other senior candidate to be named a finalist twice under the expanded senior process. If history repeats itself, Humphrey is elected in his second attempt as a senior nominee, just like Hayes.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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What if Peyton Manning had signed with the Titans?

Peyton Manning signing a five year, $96 million contract with the Denver Broncos in 2012 changed the balance of power in the NFL. Besides putting the Broncos on the cusp of the third Super Bowl victory in franchise history, Denver has secured home field advantage in the AFC playoffs each year and has a

Peyton Manning signing a five year, $96 million contract with the Denver Broncos in 2012 changed the balance of power in the NFL. Besides putting the Broncos on the cusp of the third Super Bowl victory in franchise history, Denver has secured home field advantage in the AFC playoffs each year and has a league-leading 26 wins over the last two seasons.

Manning reportedly spurned a $25 million per year offer from the Tennessee Titans to join the Broncos. Key details about the offer were never revealed. The presumption is that Peyton would have given the Titans similar protections relating to his pre-existing neck condition that the Broncos received. Manning’s 2012 salary was fully guaranteed in his Broncos contract. His 2013 and 2014 salaries became fully guaranteed by being on Denver’s roster on the last day of the 2012 League Year (last March 11). Manning’s 2014 injury guarantee voids only with a neck injury during the 2013 season.

Peyton ManningSince Manning landed in Denver, no team in the league has won more football games than the Broncos.

Tennessee’s offer may have been somewhat backloaded, but Manning probably would have eclipsed the $70.2 million that was in the first three years of the contract he signed with the Indianapolis Colts in 2011. The first three years of compensation could have been the amount of guaranteed money in the deal, just like with Manning’s Broncos contract. The standards for first three years of compensation and guaranteed money are currently $60.5 million by Drew Brees and $63 million by Matt Ryan.

I had conversations with a couple of NFL team executives who negotiate player contracts and manage the salary cap to get their assessment of how different the quarterback salary landscape would be if Manning had accepted $25 million per year from the Titans.

Drew Brees: Brees would have been the first player affected by Manning’s blockbuster deal. The New Orleans Saints signing Brees to a long-term contract would have become more difficult. His actual negotiations with the Saints were protracted. Brees needed to win a grievance, which ruled that the Saints’ first franchise tag use on him was actually his second franchise tag under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, because Brees was previously franchised when he played for the San Diego Chargers in order to force their hand.

Creative Artist Agency’s Tom Condon, who represents both Brees and Manning, insists that a younger and healthier Brees should make more than Manning. Brees doesn’t become the NFL’s highest paid player, but Condon uses Manning’s deal to get him a better contract than the five year, $100 million deal ($60.5 million in guarantees and $61 million in the first three years) he actually signed. The executives were comfortable with the idea of Brees signing a deal averaging in the $22 million-$23 million per year range with guaranteed money and compensation in the first three years in excess of $65 million.

Joe Flacco: Flacco isn’t able to leverage his outstanding playoff run into becoming the NFL’s highest paid player. He does slightly better than the six-year, $120.6 million deal he signed with the Baltimore Ravens in March, but doesn’t top Brees’ contract. Flacco gets better structure in his deal with more than the $51 million in guarantees and $62 million in the first three years of his actual contract.

"AaronAaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler would have experienced the ripple effects of Manning signing with the Titans.

Aaron Rodgers: Rodgers is the NFL’s highest paid player with a five-year contract extension averaging $22 million per year. There wasn’t strong support for my contention that he would still be the NFL’s highest paid player with over $75 million in guaranteed money. One NFC team executive said, “It’s plausible, but Rodgers would probably come in a little under Manning’s deal. The Packers may have given him the best three-year payout or the most guaranteed money as a trade-off for not being the highest paid player.”

“The deal [Manning’s] might be viewed as an outlier, kind of like Calvin Johnson’s deal with wide receivers,” said another NFC executive. “It’s easier to fit into the existing salary structure than set the market.”

Matt Ryan: Condon leverages the deal he negotiated for Brees almost a year earlier into a slightly better contract for Ryan with the Atlanta Falcons so he is third in the quarterback salary hierarchy. Instead of the five-year, $103.75 million contract Ryan actually signed, he gets a five-year deal in the $115 million neighborhood. CAA did the same thing in 2007 with Condon client Marc Bulger’s six-year, $65.5 million (with $23.55 million guaranteed) contract extension that was signed a couple months before Tony Romo, also a CAA client, received his six-year, $67.5 million (with $28.5 million guaranteed) contract extension.

Other Quarterbacks: There is a ripple effect for some of the other lucrative quarterback deals signed over the last two years with Romo’s contract being the key deal. His six-year, $108 million contract extension (includes $55 million in guarantees) with the Dallas Cowboys appears to have been an important data point for the Detroit Lions’ Matthew Stafford ($17,666,667 average/three year extension) and the seven-year, $126 million deal Jay Cutler recently signed with the Chicago Bears.

“The other quarterbacks would do better,” an AFC executive said. “I’m not sure if Romo would get to $20 million per year.”

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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Salary cap mailbag

I get a lot of questions on Twitter relating to NFL contracts and the salary cap. However, Twitter isn’t designed for thorough answers with its 140 character limit. Below are more in-depth answers to five interesting or important questions I received from followers on Twitter this past week.

How much are you expecting

I get a lot of questions on Twitter relating to NFL contracts and the salary cap. However, Twitter isn’t designed for thorough answers with its 140 character limit. Below are more in-depth answers to five interesting or important questions I received from followers on Twitter this past week.

How much are you expecting the cap to increase? $3 million?-@jcomp11

NFL teams were informed at an NFL meeting in December that the 2014 salary cap is preliminarily projected to be $126.3 million. This is a 2.68 percent increase over the current $123 million salary cap. Based on my conversations with a few NFL front office executives, the cap could be as high as $128 million when it is finalized in late February or early March.

What are the benefits for a client to accept a restructured deal?-@Jacobs71

Contract restructures have become standard operating procedure in the NFL, particularly for teams with tight salary cap situations. In a typical restructuring (without taking a paycut), a player will convert some portion of his base salary and/or roster bonus into a signing bonus, which is prorated or spread out evenly over the life of a contract (most other salary components usually can’t be prorated) for a maximum of five years. The team gets a lower cap number in the current season while the player gains more short-term security and potentially a better payment schedule in the current year of his contract. The player’s cap numbers in the remaining contract years also increase. If the player is considered as one of the team’s integral components, the higher cap numbers in those remaining contract years could make him a candidate for a new contract sooner rather later with increased leverage.

Ndamukong SuhICONSuh has a 2014 salary cap number in excess of $22 million.

For example, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has the NFL’s second-highest 2014 cap number at $22,412,500 because he has restructured his five-year rookie contract (worth up to $68 million with $40 million fully guaranteed) twice in the last two years. Detroit’s cap situation makes it difficult for them to handle his cap number. When tenders for restricted free agents and exclusive rights players with expiring contracts are included, the Lions are approximately $7.3 million over the projected 2014 salary cap of $126.3 million. Additionally, Detroit can’t afford for Suh to play out his contract if it carries his cap number because it will be virtually impossible to use a franchise tag on him in 2015. His franchise tag number will be $26.87 million, which is based off of 120 percent of his 2014 cap number. A contract extension for Suh should be the richest veteran deal in NFL history for a defensive tackle because he probably isn’t going to think a decrease from his rookie contract is warranted after becoming a perennial All-Pro during his four-year NFL career.

For a team that doesn’t overpay, will Colin Kaepernick’s next deal forever compromise the integrity of San Francisco’s salary cap?-@DeSimone80

The 49ers won’t fundamentally alter their approach to contracts and the salary cap because of Colin Kaepernick. They will still sign core players to lon- term deals mostly at a discounted rate and with favorable contract structure well in advance of the expiration of rookie contracts. Having a quarterback with a deal approaching the $20 million per year neighborhood and upwards to $55 million in guarantees could change how cap dollars are allocated and may cause the 49ers to lose some key players to free agency that otherwise could have been retained. That’s a consequence of having a deep and talented roster. It may become more challenging for the 49ers to sign free agents to moderate one and two-year deals with escalators and incentives. More veteran players could be signed to one-year minimum salary benefit contracts. A player receives his league minimum base salary and a maximum of $65,000 as a signing bonus with these deals. The player’s base salary counts on the cap at the minimum salary for players with two years of service ($570,000 for the 2014 season) instead of at his actual base salary. The 49ers have one player with a minimum salary benefit contract this season. There were four in 2012 and none in 2011.

It will be a surprise if Kaepernick’s contract is structured like Joe Flacco’s deal where his peak cap number is over $30 million. It’s more likely the 49ers will use something similar to the Green Bay Packers’ approach with Aaron Rodgers, where the cap numbers are more manageable and without big fluctuations. Kaepernick’s contract will include large per game active roster bonuses, just like San Francisco’s other lucrative deals, even though they aren’t in most of the top quarterback contracts. Only Rodgers and Jay Culter have them. The primary benefit of the roster bonuses is that they provide some financial and cap relief with injuries. The per game amount is only payable if the player is on the 46-man active roster for that particular game. For example, All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman has $750,000 roster bonuses ($46,875 per game) in most years of his deal. If he suffers a season-ending injury after playing eight games in 2015, he won’t earn the remaining $375,000 of his 2015 roster bonus.

When do the Panthers restructure or part ways with Jonathan Stewart?-@StevenFeezor

It didn’t make sense for the Carolina Panthers to sign Jonathan Stewart to a five-year, $36.5 million contract extension (including $23 million guaranteed and worth a maximum of $41.5 million through salary escalators) in 2012 after paying DeAngelo Williams like a workhorse running back a year earlier. The structure of Stewart’s contract will prevent the Panthers from releasing him in 2014.

Jonathan StewartStewart’s contract appears to have been a big mistake.

Stewart has a $6.785 million option bonus due on the 10th day of the 2014 league year (March 20) to extend his contract an additional year so it runs through the 2017 season. There is an equivalent non-exercise fee due the following day if the Panthers don’t exercise their option for the extra year. Paying the option bonus or non-exercise fee will reduce Stewart’s fully guaranteed $8.285 million 2014 base salary (without an offset) to a fully guaranteed $1.5 million (without an offset). His 2014 cap number is $5,496,250 with exercise of the option. If Stewart is released before the option bonus is payable, the Panthers will have a 2014 cap charge (or dead money) of $18.185 million for him. The $18.185 million includes Stewart’s $8.285 million 2014 guaranteed base salary and $2.5 million 2015 base salary guarantee, which would accelerate onto Carolina’s 2014 cap upon release. Giving Stewart a post-June 1 designation would keep the $5.1 million of signing bonus proration associated with the remaining years of his deal from accelerating into 2014. The Panthers would have $13.085 million of dead money because of Stewart’s departure.

There would be a $7,996,250 2014 cap charge for Stewart if he is released after June 1 with exercise of the option primarily because of his base salary reduction. The Panthers would also have $10,188,750 of dead money for him in 2015. The dead money is usually the same if a player receives a post-June 1 designation or is released after June 1. The different amounts with Stewart are due to the option bonus and non-exercise fee.

Stewart has an $8,496,250 2015 cap number if the option is exercised. The Panthers will gain $2 million of cap room by releasing Stewart in 2015 with post-June 1 treatment (assumes the option was exercised). There would be $6,496,250 of 2015 dead money and $6,192,500 of dead money in 2016.

Who do you think will be the biggest cap casualty surprise?-@chancey_

Keep an eye on Frank Gore’s situation even though he finished ninth in the NFL in rushing with 1,128 yards. Gore is scheduled to make $6.45 million next season, which is the last year of his contract, and turns 31-years-old in May. Running backs in their thirties usually don’t command such a high salary, especially on teams with good depth at the position. Marcus Lattimore, who is essentially “redshirting” this season as a rookie because of a serious knee injury suffered in college, could be the future of San Francisco’s rushing attack.

It is unusual for running backs to sustain or improve their production in their thirties especially if they have had a heavy workload earlier in their careers. Gore is second among active players with 2,187 career rushing attempts and tied for 29th all-time. Although Gore is still performing at a high level, just eleven running backs have ever hit the 1,000-yard rushing mark at 31-years-old.

The situation could take a turn for the worse if the 49ers ask Gore to take a paycut where he isn’t sensitive to the older running back marketplace. Only five running backs, including potential cap casualty Chris Johnson, are scheduled to make more than Gore next season. Darren Sproles and Steven Jackson, who are both 30-years-old, will be the highest paid older running backs with $3.5 million and $3 million salaries.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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What’s next for Terrell Suggs?

Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome sent a message to Terrell Suggs during Wednesday’s annual after-the-season “State of the Ravens” address. He was noncommittal on Suggs remaining in Baltimore because the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year’s $12.4 million 2014 salary cap number needs to be addressed. Suggs’ future will be a

Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome sent a message to Terrell Suggs during Wednesday’s annual after-the-season “State of the Ravens” address. He was noncommittal on Suggs remaining in Baltimore because the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year’s $12.4 million 2014 salary cap number needs to be addressed. Suggs’ future will be a topic of discussion when the Ravens’ brain trust meets next week at owner Steve Biscotti’s Florida home.

In all likelihood, the Ravens will attempt to work out a contract extension with Suggs which gives them some 2014 cap relief. Suggs is entering the final year of a six-year, $62.5 million contract (with $37.1 million guaranteed) after posting 10 sacks and 80 tackles in a Pro Bowl season. The 31-year-old was an early Defensive Player of the Year candidate because of a strong start, but disappeared during the second half of the season. Suggs only had one sack and 20 tackles in the last eight games.

Newsome demonstrated last year that he is willing to part ways with key older players if it doesn’t make sense financially to keep them. 33-year-old Anquan Boldin was traded to the San Francisco 49ers for a 2013 sixth-round pick after he refused to take a $2 million paycut off of his $6 million salary. The Ravens also didn’t make much of an effort to re-sign 35-year-old Ed Reed, a nine-time Pro Bowler, during free agency.

Suggs must recognize that a new extension will average less that his current deal ($10,416,667 per year) because he is on the wrong side of 30. Julius Peppers is the only pass rusher making over $10 million per year on a contract signed after reaching the age of 30. Robert Mathis (Indianapolis Colts) and Chris Clemons (Seattle Seahawks) are next with deals averaging $9 million per year.

Terrell SuggsSuggs has notched 37 sacks over his last 56 games.

It was a soft market for older pass rushers in free agency last winter. Dwight Freeney’s two-year, $8.75 million contract (worth a maximum of $13.35 million through escalators and incentives) from the San Diego Chargers and the two-year, $8.5 million contract (with an additional $3.75 million in escalators) Osi Umenyiora received from the Atlanta Falcons paced this market. John Abraham’s $5 million per year price tag and demand of extensive playtime turned off several teams. The 35-year-old signed a two-year, $4.6 million deal (plus a $750,000 base salary escalator) with the Arizona Cardinals when training camp started.

The best situation for both sides may be an extension for Suggs averaging slightly more than the deal Elvis Dumervil signed with the Ravens after the paperwork snafu on his renegotiated Denver Broncos contract led to his release. Dumervil signed a five-year, $26 million deal (includes $11 million in guarantees) with an $8.5 million 2013 salary. The contract is worth up to $35 million because it contains $7 million in base salary escalators and $2 million in incentives primarily based on consistently reaching 12 sacks in a season.

The Ravens shouldn’t have a problem with Suggs’ $7.8 million 2014 salary remaining the same or increasing slightly given Dumervil’s first year salary. For example, the Ravens could create $5.05 million of much needed 2014 cap room on a three-year, $18 million extension where Suggs receives a $7 million signing bonus with a $1 million 2014 base salary. The Ravens are approximately $7 million under the projected $126.3 million 2014 salary cap once tenders for exclusive rights players and restricted free agents are factored into the equation. Suggs would get $200,000 more than he is scheduled to make in 2014 with a $7.35 million cap number. $6 million in base salary escalators and incentives with the same 12 sacks threshold as Dumervil could be included so that Suggs could earn a maximum of $24 million in new money during the deal.

Suggs needs to be comfortable with the dynamics of the older pass rusher market if he rejects a reasonable offer from the Ravens. If not, he could initially price himself out of the market when he finds out that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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Is it time to give Vontaze Burfict a new deal?

The Cincinnati Bengals surprised many in NFL circles by being proactive with core players entering the final year of rookie contracts. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap and All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins signed lucrative contract extensions before the 2013 regular season started.

It is widely assumed that signing wide receiver

The Cincinnati Bengals surprised many in NFL circles by being proactive with core players entering the final year of rookie contracts. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap and All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins signed lucrative contract extensions before the 2013 regular season started.

It is widely assumed that signing wide receiver A.J. Green to an extension will be on Cincinnati’s 2014 agenda even though the team will have the three-time Pro Bowler under contract through the 2015 season by exercising its option for a fifth contract year. Quarterback Andy Dalton, who will be entering his contract year in 2014, is another candidate for a new deal.

The Bengals should also seriously consider reworking linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s contract. As an undrafted free agent in 2012, Burfict became eligible for a new deal on December 30. 2012 draft picks are prohibited from signing new deals until the end of the third year of their rookie contracts (after the conclusion of the 2014 regular season).

Burfict is woefully underpaid. He will be entering the final year of his three-year, $1.441 million rookie deal. In his two NFL seasons, Burfict has only made $871,000 while becoming one of the best young linebackers in the game. He led the NFL with 171 tackles this season en route to his first Pro Bowl berth and second team All-Pro honors. Burfict is the first Cincinnati linebacker selected to the Pro Bowl since Jim LeClair in 1976.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis recently compared Burfict favorably to future first ballot Hall of Famer Ray Lewis in the early stages of his career. The Cincinnati coach was the two-time Defensive Player of the Year’s defensive coordinator for the first six years of his NFL career.

Vontaze BurfictBurfict’s 171 tackles led all NFL defenders during the 2013 regular season.

The Bengals have all of the leverage with Burfict. In addition to being under contract for another season, the Bengals will control Burfict’s rights when his contract expires. He will be a restricted free agent in 2015. The Bengals will likely give him a restricted free agent tender where they will get a first round pick from a team that signs him to an offer sheet that they don’t match. The first round tender should be $3.174 million when Burfict is restricted unless there is a significant increase in the salary cap in 2015. Knowing that they can have Burfict for the next two seasons well below his market value (approximately $3.75 million between his 2014 base salary and expected 2015 restricted free agent tender), the only type of deal the Bengals are probably willing to do is one where Burfict gives up multiple unrestricted free agent years at a discounted rate.

One possible solution could be for both sides to look at a deal in a piecemeal manner instead of in its totality. Burfict’s restricted free agency at the expected 2015 first round tender should be acknowledged where the focus would be on valuing his unrestricted free agent years. With the type of season Burfict had, he could probably command over $8.25 million per year in the open market on a deal similar to the ones signed by inside linebackers James Laurinaitis ($41.5 million, 5-year extension, $23.62 million guaranteed, $2.5 million in base salary escalators) and Brian Cushing ($52.5 million, 6-year extension, $21 million guaranteed). Since it would be unrealistic for Burfict to expect treatment like a free agent with his contract status, the $7 million per year (with $17 million guaranteed) Dannell Ellerbe received from the Miami Dolphins in free agency could be an appropriate benchmark for his unrestricted years. If Burfict signed a five-year extension (restricted free agent year and four unrestricted years), his deal would average almost $6.25 million per year for the new years.

Burfict would need to be comfortable with the prospect of the NFL’s other top young linebackers (Luke Kuechly, Lavonte David, etc.) signing contracts for significantly more money than he received. That would be a trade off of him getting a new deal so early in his career. Base salary escalators for outstanding performance (Pro Bowl, All-Pro, Defensive Player of the Year) could be included to help bridge the gap between the difference in his contract and the expected changes in the linebacker market during the coming years.

Burfict will be better off in the long run by remaining patient about a new contract barring injury. However, it may be difficult for him to turn down any reasonable offer he gets from the Bengals considering how little money he has made (by NFL standards) during his career.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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The Pro Bowl snub team

Changes in the Pro Bowl format to unconferenced teams should have made all-star snubs less likely. However, despite the changes, there are plenty of deserving players who weren’t invited to Hawaii for this year’s end-of-season extravaganza. Here’s my team of players snubbed for the Pro Bowl.

Offense

QB-Nick Foles, Philadelphia

Changes in the Pro Bowl format to unconferenced teams should have made all-star snubs less likely. However, despite the changes, there are plenty of deserving players who weren’t invited to Hawaii for this year’s end-of-season extravaganza. Here’s my team of players snubbed for the Pro Bowl.

Offense

QB-Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
RB-Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos
FB-Anthony Sherman, Kansas City Chiefs
WR-Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
WR-Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
TE-Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons
T-Jordan Gross, Carolina Panthers
T-Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals
G-Josh Sitton, Green Bay Packers
G-Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles
C-Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles

Nick FolesUS PRESSWIREFoles has a chance to lead the Eagles into the postseason Sunday night at Dallas.

Foles, who began the season as Michael Vick’s backup, leads the NFL with a 118.8 passer rating and is second in percentage of passes intercepted. He’s thrown 25 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. The Eagles have a 7-2 record with Foles as the starter. Moreno topped the 1,000 rushing yard mark for the first time in career and picked up another 507 yards in receiving while scoring 12 touchdowns. Jeffery was passed over in favor of teammate Brandon Marshall even though he leads the Bears with 1,341 receiving yards (sixth in the NFL) on 86 receptions (tied for eighth in the NFL). Nelson has 1,153 receiving yards despite Aaron Rodgers missing seven games. He was on pace for over 1,400 yards and 14 touchdown catches before Rodgers was injured. Mathis, who is Pro Football Focus’ top ranked guard, headlines the offensive line.

Defense

DE-Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets
DE-Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals
DT-Jurell Casey, Tennessee Titans
DT-Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills
OLB-Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
OLB-Thomas Davis, Carolina Panthers
ILB-Karlos Dansby, Arizona Cardinals
ILB-Kiko Alonso, Buffalo Bills
CB-Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Denver Broncos
CB-Keenan Lewis, New Orleans Saints
FS-Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
SS-T.J. Ward, Cleveland Browns

Kiko AlonsoAlonso is headed for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Wilkerson has 10.5 sacks while anchoring the NFL’s top defense according to Football Outsiders’ defensive efficiency ratings. Casey leads NFL interior defensive linemen with 10.5 sacks and has 54 quarterbacks pressures (combined sacks, hurries and hits). 4-3 outside linebackers, David and Davis, were overlooked for 3-4 outside linebackers that generate sacks. Dansby is having a career year. He is third in the NFL in solo tackles with 109 and tied for seventh with 18 passes defensed. He leads NFL inside linebackers with 6.5 sacks and is tied for first at the position with four interceptions. Two of his interceptions have been returned for touchdowns. Alonso, a leading candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year, can take solace in 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year Luke Kuechly not being selected to the Pro Bowl at inside linebacker either in his debut season. Lewis has helped transform the Saints into the NFL’s number two pass defense after ranking 31st in 2012.

Specialists

K-Nick Folk, New York Jets
P-Thomas Morstead, New Orleans Saints
PR-Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings
ST-Jeremy Lane, Seattle Seahawks

Folk has converted 93.9 percent of his field goal attempts (31 of 33), which is tied for second in the NFL, with three game-winning kicks. Patterson’s Pro Bowl chances were hurt by the NFL eliminating kickoffs from the game. The NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for September doesn’t return punts, but his 33.6 yard kickoff return average leads the NFL by a wide margin.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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The race for second

It’s a foregone conclusion that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player for 2013. The future Hall of Famer is set to put the finishing touches on one of the best quarterback seasons in NFL history while positioning the Denver Broncos for home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

It’s a foregone conclusion that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player for 2013. The future Hall of Famer is set to put the finishing touches on one of the best quarterback seasons in NFL history while positioning the Denver Broncos for home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Manning is on pace to break the single season yardage record Saints signal-caller Drew Brees set in 2011 (5,476 passing yards) as well as Tom Brady’s mark of 50 touchdown passes.

With Manning as a virtual lock to win the award, here are five players who also deserve consideration.

Jamaal Charles-Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs’ offense revolves around Charles. He accounts for 38.4 percent of the offense’s yards and is the only NFL running back currently leading his team in receptions (65), receiving yards (665) and receiving touchdowns (seven). Charles has a league-leading 18 touchdowns. With three more receiving touchdowns, he will become the first player in NFL history to hit double figures in rushing touchdowns and receiving touchdowns in the same season. Charles is also second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,836) and fourth in rushing (1,181 yards).

Russell Wilson-Seattle Seahawks

Russell WilsonWilson has guided the Seahawks to the NFL’s best record through 15 weeks.

The NFC’s road to the Super Bowl will go through Seattle thanks, in large part, to Wilson guiding the Seahawks to an NFL-best 12-2 record. Wilson has more wins (23) than any quarterback in NFL history through his first two seasons. His raw numbers may not wow anybody because the Seahawks have the second-fewest passing attempts in the NFL. Nonetheless, Wilson makes the most of his opportunities. He is sixth in the NFL with a 105 passing rating, eighth in completion percentage (64.7%) and tied for second with four game-winning drives. Wilson’s running ability adds another dimension to Seattle’s offense. He ranks second among quarterbacks with 508 rushing yards.

Tom Brady-New England Patriots

Brady has kept the Patriots afloat despite wholesale changes to the receiving corps, Rob Gronkowski’s limited availability and injuries to key defensive players. The Patriots are on track for the second seed in the AFC playoffs. Although Brady has engineered five fourth quarter quarterbacks and five game-winning drives, which both top the NFL, his mediocre first half of the season can’t be ignored. He completed 55.7 percent of his passes, tossed nine touchdowns and six interceptions with a 74.9 passing rating over the first eight games of the season. Brady has rebounded during the season’s second half with a 66.8 completion percentage, 103 passing rating and 14 touchdown passes.

Philip Rivers-San Diego Chargers

Rivers is arguably having the best season of any quarterback besides Peyton Manning. He is leading the NFL with a career best 69.9 percent completion percentage after flirting with Drew Brees’ single-season record of 71.2 percent for a majority of the season. Rivers is also posting a career best 106.9 passing rating, which is fifth in the NFL. He is in the top-five in passing yards (4,048) and touchdown passes (28) as well. San Diego’s 7-7 record while taking a backseat to the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West will likely keep Rivers’ season from being fully appreciated.

LeSean McCoy-Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles have the NFL’s top-ranked rushing attack because of McCoy. He leads the NFL in both total yards from scrimmage (1,850) and in rushing (1,343). McCoy’s five yards per carry average is also fifth in the NFL and third among running backs. Although Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense didn’t hit its stride until Nick Foles took over at quarterback, McCoy has been the constant throughout the season. He opens up the passing game for Foles.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

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