Starting in 2011, the NFL’s franchise tender became determined through a five-year average ultimately tied to the percentage of the salary cap consumed by the highest-paid players at a given position. Thus, as the salary cap spikes, the franchise tenders increase accordingly.
So why shouldn’t that also apply to players who sign long-term deals? Per an NFL Players Association source, there’s nothing in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that prohibits tying compensation to a percentage of the salary cap. While it can’t be used in rookie deals or offer sheets, it’s fair game for free-agent contracts and veteran renegotiations.
If, for example, a player signs a five-year deal worth $15 million per year with the cap at $155.27 million per year, that’s currently an investment of roughly 10 percent of the cap. But as the cap goes up (currently at $10 million per year), the relative percentage of the contract shrinks. At the current rate, that $15 million contract could soon look not as great as it does now — sort of like J.J. Watt’s contract in relation to Olivier Vernon’s.
But just because it’s permissible doesn’t mean an NFL team would go for it. Teams prefer certainty in player contract amounts, despite the year-to-year uncertainty of the cap. Besides, few players will have the leverage to demand that kind of a term.
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was the last of the pre-wage scale dominant players who was able to force his way to the open market and dictate terms. With rookie deal now slotted at a much lower level and the ensuing franchise tenders affordable, the league’s best players won’t be able to go to launch an auction in which the player’s agent tells teams that one of the terms will be protection against spikes in the cap in the form of a bonus or other adjustment ensuring that the player will continue to get a predetermined percentage of the cap as it passes, for example, $160 million, $180 million, and $200 million.
So it’s no different than fully-guaranteed contracts. They’re available, but teams rarely if ever will give them out.
Still, it’s a fair concern for players whose deals that look great when signed quickly turn less-than-great as the salary cap keeps turning like numbers in a pinball machine.