When it comes to free agency, the reporting of contract numbers often goes like this: (1) the agent leaks a number higher than the actual value of the contract; (2) the real numbers eventually get filed with the NFL and the NFLPA; and (3) by the time the real numbers are available, everyone has moved on.
Just like pre-free agency tampering, which everyone does because everyone else does it, agents justify puffing contract numbers by explaining everyone else does it. Contrary to popular belief, however, not everyone else does it. So we’re going to point it out when it happens, especially if the false numbers have been mentioned more than once or twice in this space.
For new Browns running back Ben Tate, regarded as the top running back in the 2014 class of veteran free agents, it has been reported that he signed a two-year deal worth “about” $7 million. That puts his annual rate at (about) $3.5 million, matching the money paid to Toby Gerhart by the Jaguars and Donald Brown by the Chargers.
Here’s the truth on Tate, based on numbers provided to the NFLPA.
He gets a signing bonus of $1.5 million and a fully-guaranteed 2014 base salary of $1 million. He also can earn $46,875 for each game on the active roster in 2014, which can result in another $750,000. For 2015, the base salary moves to $2.2 million, and another $750,000 can be made via the same per-game roster bonuses.
That’s a base value of $4.7 million over two years, with another $1.5 million available — but only if he suits up for 32 regular-season games. And while another $1 million in incentives are available, it’s not a two-year deal worth “about” $7 million. It’s a two-year, $6.2 million deal if he plays in 32 games. And with no guarantees beyond 2014, if could be a one-year, $2.5 million deal, if Tate suffers a serious injury before Week One.
We know what you’re thinking. If there’s that much fluff in Tate’s deal, what about Gerhart’s and Brown’s? For Gerhart, the base value is indeed $10.5 million over three years, with no per-game roster bonuses. For Brown, the base value also is $3.5 million per year over three, with a total base value of $10.5 million and no per-game roster bonuses.
So why would Tate’s deal be exaggerated? Since he was considered to be the top running back in free agency, failure to get as much as Gerhart or Brown reflects poorly on Tate’s agents — and it will be used against them in recruiting future clients.
If that happens, it’s not fair. The agents in most cases get the best deals that they can. Tate, while talented, is regarded as a guy who isn’t durable; he has missed 24 regular-season games in four NFL seasons. Also, there simply weren’t many teams interested in Tate. Beyond Cleveland, demand was low to nonexistent.
Of course, the agents fairly should be criticized for putting out phony numbers. For Gerhart and Brown, the numbers are initially reported were accurate. For Tate, they were exaggerated.
Since the truth always comes out, why not just tell the truth in the first place?