In today’s NFL it is rare to see a player play out the length of a big-money contract. Since NFL teams have the right to cut players at any time with relatively little repercussions because NFL player contracts are not fully guaranteed, what initially may seem like a large financial sum often does not dictate what a player will actually be receiving; instead, a look at the guaranteed money is where the truth of the contract is. This is why NFL teams will often offer players “backloaded” contracts in which the non-guaranteed base salaries of the final few years of the contract are large; while this gives the illusion of a rich contract, the NFL team can cut the player before the years these base salaries are due. The player won’t see a dime of this money while the non-guaranteed nature of the final years means that it won’t cost the NFL team anything either. This is in the NFL team’s best interest since the bloated final years of “backloaded” contracts count fully against and are potentially handicapping of the salary cap.
It is common that the players receiving these hefty contracts are in their mid-to-late twenties, since 1) if they are a player warranting of a large free agent contract, they most likely played out the duration of their four or five year rookie deal that was initially signed when they were in their early-to-mid twenties, and 2) most players hit the primes of their careers and are therefore most deserving of large contracts in their mid-to-late twenties after they have had the benefit of NFL experience but before their bodies have started to wear down with age.
Here’s a scenario: Let’s say a 27 year old player signs a six year contract. By the time this player is 32 and heading into the last two years of this deal, it is highly unlikely that they’ll be playing at the same level they were at 27. Their employer is then more likely to not deem the player worthy of the money due to them in the last two years of the contract and cut or restructure them right then and there. Thus, players like John Abraham, Terrence Newman, Marcus Trufant, Justin Smith, Karlos Dansby, Elvis Dumervil, DeMeco Ryans, Nnamdi Asomugha, Richard Seymour, Desmond Bishop, and many others have had their contracts been terminated, restructured, or traded before the full length of it was played out.
Another cause of a team prematurely getting rid of a player’s large contract might be turnover; since NFL regimes are often changing as coaches and general managers are fired and hired, a new regime may not view a certain player in the same way the former regime did (regime changes often bode poorly for the player’s future with that team). This happens all the time, like what took place with TJ Houshmanzadeh, Michael Vick, and Jeff Saturday (they were all cut after their respective teams went through changes in the coaching staff and front office), to name a few.
It is therefore an oddity and an extraordinary accomplishment for Jared Allen to complete the final year of his six year, roughly $73 million contract he signed before the 2008 season. This shows how consistently dominant Allen’s play has been over that time span and how valuable he is to the Vikings franchise that they are willing to take a cap hit of over $17 million for Allen this year as well as the $14+ million hit last year. The effects of age have apparently been minimal on Allen’s production.
Allen’s stellar play over the past few seasons has given him all the leverage in negotiating a new contract; the Vikings are likely betting on a drop-off in Allen’s play this upcoming year so they can sign him to a cheaper contract to finish his career in Minnesota.
So good job, Jared Allen. You’ve done what other NFL players rarely do, and you seem poised to take home the remainder of that $73 million contract you initially signed almost six years ago.
Now if only he’d get a little more excited about training camp.
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