No, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s contract isn’t worth $115 million over six years, as others have reported. The base value, per a source with knowledge of the details, is $96 million over six years.
That doesn’t mean it’s time to have a bake sale for Andy Dalton. Still, that’s a $19 million gap between initial reports and reality.
The most important numbers are the numbers fully guaranteed at signing. Dalton receives a signing bonus of $12 million and a roster bonus in three days of $5 million. That’s a total of $17 million out of the gates. Coupled with his $986,000 base salary (which isn’t guaranteed as a legal matter but it is as a practical matter), Dalton will make $18 million in the first year of the deal.
Then, on the third day of the 2015 league year in March, Dalton earns a $4 million roster bonus. He also has a $3 million non-guaranteed base salary in 2015. That’s $25 million over two years.
Dalton passed on the opportunity to load injury-only guarantees into the contract, since the Bengals would have wanted Dalton to buy a disability policy similar to the one that the 49ers had Colin Kaepernick buy as part of his six-year extension. The policy cost $2 million in pre-tax dollars, and (as we’ll explain in a separate post) creates a bizarre donut hole of protection for the player and the team.
The rest of the base deal is simple. In addition to annual workout bonuses of $200,000, Dalton has base salaries of $10.5 million in 2016, $13.1 million in 2017, $13.7 million in 2018, $16 million in 2019, and $17.5 million in 2020.
Unlike the Kaepernick deal, which loaded up the base value artificially and then used de-escalators based on playing time and team or personal achievements, Dalton’s deal potentially goes up, not down.
If in any year he participates in 80-percent of the regular-season snaps and the Bengals get to the divisional round of the playoffs (via wild-card win or bye), he gets another $1 million in each additional year of the deal. If he qualifies at any point for the conference title game (with 80-percent playing time in the regular season), another $500,000 flows into the base value of the deal, for each additional year. If he wins a Super Bowl he won’t be driving off in a Hyundai; Dalton will get another $1.5 million per year for each remaining year of the deal.
So if the Bengals win the next Super Bowl this year and if Dalton participates in 80 percent of the regular-season snaps in 2014, he’ll get another $18 million over the life of the deal, pushing the new-money average from $16 million per year to $19 million. Getting to the divisional round this year pushes the new-money average to $17 million.
The contract nevertheless remains, like Kaepernick’s, mostly a year-to-year proposition, with Dalton being guaranteed as a practical matter two years and $25 million. That’s a lot more than he would have made over the next two seasons if he’d played out his rookie deal and then been slapped with the franchise tag. Beyond 2015, however, it’s a one-year-at-a-time existence no different than Kaepernick’s.
For most NFL players, that’s how it now works. And if teams are going to insist on disability policies payable to the franchise in the event of a serious injury, the franchise quarterback is better off forgetting about injury-only guarantees, buying the policy, and making it payable to himself.
The contract shows that the Kaepernick structure is taking root. That won’t change until a franchise quarterback hits the market, a franchise quarterback signs a deal in lieu of going year-to-year under the franchise tag, or the Seahawks opt to give Russell Wilson a more favorable structure if only to highlight that Seattle treats its core players more fairly than the 49ers do.