Originally written on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 11/20/14
The world of NFL contracts is pretty tough to comprehend at times due to the fact that there are various bonuses and cap implications. Baseball, conversely, is pretty easy. There are contracts with dollar amounts and options, and other than options, pretty much everything else is guaranteed. The structures (and re-structures) of NFL contracts will sometimes make your head spin. Agents tout deals worth eleventeen years and twelveteen million dollars in order to make themselves look good. Then when the details come out, the guaranteed money is significantly more reasonable and team-friendly. As the Browns are mentioned as having cap space to steal someone like Joe Flacco out of Baltimore, I thought it might be instructive to at least see what the numbers could look like. Make no mistake. This isn’t a post saying the Browns should make a play for Joe Flacco. It’s just hopefully pointing out how they could, if they had the opportunity and desire to do so. First, let’s set the table with Mike Vick’s contract restructuring that was reported today. That deal was once touted as a “$100 million deal!!!” Remember when many on Twitter claimed that the Eagles were really really stupid? It was actually $32.5 million guaranteed. The back end of that deal was so horrendous from a cap perspective that Vick was forced to restructure (give up all that $100 million in contract language) or face being cut outright. And don’t forget that there was a 2016 $20 million year that was never going to happen ever. Never ever. So Michael Vick “gave up” $15.5 million for 2013 in order to sign a deal that could be worth “up to” a reported $10 million. To me, that means it is likely decidedly less than $10 million. In 2002 Joe Banner’s Eagles signed a 26-year-old Donovan McNabb to a 12 year deal worth up to $112,920,000. The deal included $13.5 million prorated over the first seven years of the deal. The first seven years of the deal carried salaries of nearly $31 million or an average of $4.4 million per year. That was in 2002 so the numbers would need to be updated. The cap was about $71 million in 2002 and should be about $122 million in 2013. So that gives you a bit of history about how Joe Banner has compensated a quarterback he wanted. This is obviously a different scenario assuming Banner wants Flacco at all. Flacco must be wowed away from the only team he has played for his entire career. Banner would have to differentiate his offer from the Ravens who are reportedly $5 million over the cap as we sit today. The Browns are a reported $48 million under the cap. So the Ravens would want to pay Flacco big money, but with cap friendly numbers early on. He’s going to get a big signing bonus regardless of where he signs. Let’s use Tom Brady’s contract as a baseline because Flacco will look to be north of Brady’s numbers considering his age and his timing with winning the Super Bowl. Whether it makes sense or not is another discussion, but for conversation’s sake, let’s just assume he’ll get a bigger deal than Brady. Brady’s extension in 201o was five years, $78.5 million with $48.5 million guaranteed. Let’s just say for argument’s sake that Joe Flacco’s deal will be for five years and $85 million with $55 million guaranteed just to push it north of Brady’s deal. Tom Brady got a $16 million signing bonus. Let’s say Flacco gets $20 million and the salary structures look something like this from Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens.   Signing Bonus Salary Other Bonus Cap Number 2013          4,000,000          1,000,000              5,000,000 2014          4,000,000          6,000,000            10,000,000 2015          4,000,000          8,000,000          5,000,000          17,000,000 2016          4,000,000        10,000,000        10,000,000          24,000,000 2017          4,000,000        10,000,000        15,000,000          29,000,000 Total        20,000,000        35,000,000            85,000,000   As you can see, the Ravens would want to minimize the cap hit by back-loading contract dollars. They’re up against it in terms of cap scenario right now and they need to keep Flacco, but keep their financial flexibility higher right now to buy them time to clean up the cap. The Browns could potentially do some damage to that proposal by front-end loading their offer with the estimated $48 million in cap space they have available today. It wouldn’t hurt the Browns to give Flacco a huge cap number in the first year of the deal. I’m totally making these numbers up, but what would keep the Browns from putting this offer together?   Signing Bonus Salary Other Bonus Cap Number 2013          4,000,000        10,000,000            14,000,000 2014          4,000,000        10,000,000            14,000,000 2015          4,000,000          5,000,000          5,000,000          14,000,000 2016          4,000,000          5,000,000        10,000,000          19,000,000 2017          4,000,000          5,000,000        15,000,000          24,000,000 Total 20,000,000        35,000,000            85,000,000 The contracts are “identical” in value, except that in 2013 Joe Flacco would take home $21 million with the Ravens’ offer. In 2013 with the Browns’ offer he’d get $9 million more with the Browns paying him his first year salary and the $20 million signing bonus for a total of $30 million. All things being equal, I know which one is more attractive. It gets even better if you look at the first three years. The Ravens’ offer is $35 million in the first three years, while the Browns’ offer pays $45 million in the first three years. If the Browns flop the roster bonuses around a bit that number could be $50 million vs. $35 million. The Browns would win the battle for the player and also have more cap flexibility with him than anyone else could have by front-loading his deal. Now, whether or not it is worthwhile to go out and sign Joe Flacco is anyone’s guess. If he’s franchised and it costs the Browns some picks it’s an even bigger value question. Still, it’s important to at least understand what advantages the Browns might have at a negotiating table with Joe Flacco’s people should they have an opportunity and the desire to do it somewhere this off-season. (Image Tracy Boulian / The Plain Dealer)  
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