One of the hardest things for the average fan to comprehend is how NFL contracts work and how they apply to a team’s salary cap. There are many complicated elements, rules, and exceptions that can be hard to sort out. In this series, my goal is to help you better understand how this whole system works, plus what it means to the Green Bay Packers’ current salary cap and contract concerns.
Before reading, make sure to check out the previous article(s) in the series:
Our third article focuses on Jermichael Finley’s current contract and what its purpose served last offseason when each party agreed to it. Namely, why was it only a two-year deal, and why were the monetary details set as they were? We’ll use this as an example of how teams and players approach contracts in general to give both sides what they want.
Last offseason, Jermichael Finley was set to become a free agent and could have commanded a lot of interest from outside teams. He was about a month away from turning 25 when the Packers struck a deal to keep him under contract for another two years. They weren’t ready to let their potential playmaker slip away, and they certainly didn’t want to enter into a bidding war with other teams.
The option of using the franchise tag on Finley was discussed among the media, but it would have left the Packers in the same situation after only a year. (There was also talk of using the tag on Matt Flynn or Scott Wells.) So after the season ended and before free agency began, a deal was struck between both parties. It was a contract that broke down like this:
When news broke of Finley’s new contract, it was originally announced as a two-year, $15 million deal. Though the numbers make it look like a $14 million package, there are $1 million in incentives that could push the total money up to $15 million. Either way, people were mostly concerned with the fact that it averaged out to about $7 million per year.
This is where the “average per year” amount falls a little flat on its face. If the player does indeed play out the entire contract, then it has some merit; however, since most players don’t see every penny in their deal, the average can misconstrue things.
Such is the case with Jermichael Finley, whose first year “take home” earnings were about $5.75 million (base salary plus bonuses). While it’s not far off from the average, there’s a significant jump from his first year to his second year total salary. And that really was the whole point of the deal.
Finley’s future value to the team was uncertain. As has been the broken record about him, the coaches and (some) fans saw a lot of potential in Finley, but his injury seemed to have affected his production. That’s why the deal was only two years. The Packers didn’t have to commit any long-term money with a big signing bonus (since players don’t like to take long-term contracts without that added insurance), but they avoided the pressure of free agency negotiations by making it longer than just a one-year deal.
It gave the Packers another year to evaluate Finley, pushing any serious commitment decisions into the future.
The signing bonus being only $1 million meant that the only financial burden of cutting Finley would be a mere $500,000 in dead money. However, Finley and his agent made sure that if the Packers did decide to hold onto him, then his payday would come.
Also tied into this is the fact that Jermichael Finley’s $3 million roster bonus is due on the fifteenth day of the league year. (The other $500,000 in roster bonus money is handed out on a per-game basis.) Since the 2013 league year started on March 12th, his bonus will be paid next week on March 26th. The date is significant, since it forces the Packers to make an early decision about Finley or suffer a $3 million cap hit that makes a weighty dent. It would also allow Finley to jump into free agency at the time of highest bidding when teams should theoretically have the most cap space to work with.
In hindsight, Finley seems to have gotten the best of the deal. Had he continued his performance level from the first half of the year, it’s likely the Packers would have looked to rid themselves of Finley, or at least renegotiate the deal. Yet his performance surge over the final half of the season put the Packers in a tough position. How do they gauge the tight end’s value in 2013 based on what he did in 2012?
From what we can surmise, the Packers feel he’s worth keeping, since they haven’t made a move despite his looming roster bonus. But his value probably isn’t quite worth the $8.75 million cap hit.
There’s a good chance the Packers extend Finley’s contract this year, especially if he starts the season hot. Unless he flops, they won’t want to take the negotiations to free agency again, and they’ll probably look to lock him into a three or four-year deal.
Only time will tell, though the Packers afforded themselves this extra time with some shrewd foresight.——————Follow @ChadToporski