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Steelers continue to avoid “guaranteed” salaries in veteran deals

Pouncey Getty Images

The contract given last week to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has up to $61 million in “guaranteed” money.  The only problem is that the bulk of the truly guaranteed money came from his signing bonus of $12 million and change.

The contract given this week to Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey has a signing bonus of $13 million — more than Kaepernick.  It has no other “guaranteed” money.

The absence of other “guaranteed” money quietly has become the Steelers way.  From players like Troy Polamalu ($10.5 million to sign, no other guarantees) to linebacker LaMarr Woodley ($13 million to sign, no other guarantees) to receiver Antonio Brown ($8.5 million to sign, no other guarantees) to linebacker Lawrence Timmons ($7.125 million to sign, no other guarantees), that’s how the Steelers do it.

The biggest exception has been Ben Roethlisberger, whose 2008 extension had a signing bonus north of $25 million and another $8 million in guaranteed salary over the first two years of the contract.

In many respects, the lack of guaranteed money doesn’t matter because money guaranteed for injury only isn’t really guaranteed money.  Who if anyone has ever cashed in via the kind of career-ending injury that triggers payment of injury-only guaranteed money?

Despite Kaepernick’s total “guaranteed” money, Pouncey actually has a better structure, at least in the early years of the deal.  For Kaepernick, the 49ers have until April 1 each year to decide whether to dump Kaepernick before guaranteed money becomes fully guaranteed.  For Pouncey, the Steelers have to actually pay Pouncey $3.75 million on the third day of the 2015 league year and another $3.5 million on the third day of the 2016 league year.

While the money isn’t guaranteed, it guarantees that the Steelers will make a decision about whether they want to continue with Pouncey early enough in the offseason to give Pouncey more than enough time to land elsewhere, while the market is still flush with cash.  Kaepernick could, in theory, be cut loose on March 31, making it very hard to scare up a big payday elsewhere.

It all leads to a fair question:  Why do players even insist on injury-only guarantees?  It could make more sense to secure other terms and then buy disability insurance.  Especially if players like Kaepernick will be expected to pay for a disability policy that would give the team $20 million of its $49 million in guaranteed money back, if Kaepernick suffers a truly career-ending injury.

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13 Responses to “Steelers continue to avoid “guaranteed” salaries in veteran deals”
  1. bassplucker says: Jun 12, 2014 10:51 AM

    Smart business in the short-term, but not so much if you take a more strategic view. It’s going to be increasingly hard to draw top FAs–or keep their top players from defecting to other teams in FA themselves–if they don’t get with the times at some point pretty soon.

  2. jjb0811 says: Jun 12, 2014 11:05 AM

    Most sensible contract I have heard about in a while was Revis’ w/ the Bucs. 5 1-year deals. One coached liked him, the other didn’t. No cap space penalty for the team and Revis was able to land another contract based on a year to year performance.

    The reality is every player is paid year to year so why not structure contracts that way?

  3. clashpoint says: Jun 12, 2014 11:16 AM

    Regardless of what the fans of other teams think, NFL players know better. Every year the Steelers are among the top 2-3 teams given by NFL players as teams they’d like to play for. The same goes for Mike Tomlin as being one of the top coaches NFL players want to play for. The last poll taken this off-season has him second in the entire league. So go ahead and hate and snivel and thumbs me down all you want. Your players want to play for my team.

  4. ialwayswantedtobeabanker says: Jun 12, 2014 11:21 AM

    Thought-provoking article — raises true practical considerations for the vast majority of athletes who have a very short window to earn money to set themselves up and possibly their descendents up for life.

    Good stuff.

  5. pmars64 says: Jun 12, 2014 11:28 AM

    If I were a player, I’d be going for Kaepernick’s knees for agreeing to that contract. It sets a very bad precedent that other teams will want to follow. It gives all the leverage to the team and heaven help Kap if he gets seriously hurt. Kap’s agent must be a stooge for the owners. I know if that guy was my agent, he’d already have been fired.

  6. sdakota says: Jun 12, 2014 11:34 AM

    not too many teams give out guaranteed salaries. you act as if the steelers are the only team that doesn’t, they already throw away enough money by restructuring by turning salary into signing bonus, hence the big disaster with Woodley, what they seem to do with guys likePalomalu, who are well past their primeala, H. Miller.they already have 8.5 mill dead money for next. lets not act like the steelers are actually smart with contracts. they use to be, but their current gm is clueless, hence 8-8 records the last couple years

  7. dongo111 says: Jun 12, 2014 12:05 PM

    Yeah, everybody wants to play for the Steelers. That’s why they get so many free agents that just flock to their team. Will they signed for less money because they wanna play for the Steelers? Not. Give me a break. It was probably a question put to the players of what coach would you like to play for? But the Steelers never signed any top free agents and can’t keep their own players, so they must be doing something wrong.

  8. dongo111 says: Jun 12, 2014 12:16 PM

    Kaepernick’s deal is player friendly and team friendly. If Kaepernick performs, like he believes that he can, he’ll get paid. If he doesn’t, the team can cut him and move on. He also recognizes it takes more than 1 player to win in the NFL. Look at Atlanta and Baltimore, just to name a couple of teams, where they pay their quarterback so much money they can’t find any decent players to surround them. That’s why the Niners will be competitive for years to come.

  9. uwsptke says: Jun 12, 2014 1:09 PM

    dongo111 says:Jun 12, 2014 12:16 PM

    Kaepernick’s deal is player friendly and team friendly. If Kaepernick performs, like he believes that he can, he’ll get paid. If he doesn’t, the team can cut him and move on. He also recognizes it takes more than 1 player to win in the NFL. Look at Atlanta and Baltimore, just to name a couple of teams, where they pay their quarterback so much money they can’t find any decent players to surround them. That’s why the Niners will be competitive for years to come.

    No, that’s the very definition of “team-friendly”. Any contract that’s structured with multiple “outs” for the team while the player has to either perform at a superior level or suffer a career ending injury to collect full payment is team-friendly.

  10. rrhoe says: Jun 12, 2014 3:46 PM

    I like NFL contracts about as much as I like the NCAA. The recent trend of offering front loaded contracts where the player gets most of the guaranteed money within the first 2-3 years(mainly the first two yrs) and then the player wants to hold out/lobby for a new contract is booty. Marshawn Lynch ,Maurice Jones-Drew,Vernon Davis,Desean Jackson are all players that signed these type of contracts and after they get most of the money start complaining.

    As for the teams,once the guaranteed money is paid out the player hears the infamous “we need you to take a pay cut” or be “cut”. So a player signing a five year deal is actually a three year deal in reality,makes no sense.

  11. clashpoint says: Jun 12, 2014 4:22 PM

    Consider this from the point of view of NFL players, all you fans of cheap teams.

    The Steelers arguably spend a greater percentage of their salary cap than any other team in the NFL. They even occasionally spend money now that counts against the future – as so many of you constantly whine about. They EVEN sign their best and occasionally older players to longer term deals, ones that so many more people giggle like idiots about.

    Well, all that from the point of view of an NFL player? AWESOME. They get more money! Teams that spend the most money are trying the hardest to win! Plus, let’s also mention the entirely appropriate to mention 6 wins in 8 tries on Super Bowls. Fact: The Pittsburgh Steelers have the best overall win/loss record of all NFL teams since the AFL/NFL merger. Overall, they generally win a lot.

    This is why your players want to play for my team.

  12. jmblosser82 says: Jun 12, 2014 4:32 PM

    dongo111, those chose to let Wallace walk last year and Sanders this year. They tendered sanders last year only to keep them both from walking in the same year. They both over valued themselves and other teams over paid them. Sanders should have good numbers with Manninf but Wallace made a bad move.

  13. rfedorick says: Jun 12, 2014 7:07 PM

    The Steelers can give players money under the table with the Rooneys being so in with the league office. Amazing how the Cowboys are always at the cap despite their problems at .500. Brent Jones said to the league that the Niners gave him cash in the 90s but the league said nothing. Why? Because it was important that Dallas not get 4 straight rings nor three. They allowed SF to sign Primetime for 1 million for one year but they would not allow Dallas to sighn him to the biffest deal in the nfl making them add on $400,000 more? WWF integrity.

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