Year-to-year approach may become a trend for star players

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Before NFL players would ever  miss game checks during a work stoppage, they need to show a willingness to drive a hard bargain in other ways. Here’s one way they now can, thanks to the examples set by (of all people) Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins and Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson.

Star players who attract the franchise tag may now be inclined to refuse to sign long-term deals and to play on a year-to-year basis. One source with extensive experience negotiating player contracts firmly believes that this will become the trend.

If it happens, here are a few names to watch in the near term: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, Raiders pass rusher Khalil Mack, and Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Consider Stafford’s situation. With a cap number of $22 million in 2017, Stafford would be eligible for a franchise tag of $26.4 million in 2018. By rule, that would move to $31.68 million in 2019 and then to $45.6 million in 2020.

That’s a three-year haul of $103.68 million.

And what’s the risk for Stafford to go one year at a time? He’ll get $16.5 million this year in salary, pushing his eight-year haul to $125 million. Unlike Cousins and Johnson, Stafford has the money to let it ride; if he suffers a career-ending injury or suddenly loses his ability to play at a high level, he’s already set, multiple lifetimes over.

Though Mack and Donald have far less in the bank (and a far greater risk of injury), a year-to-year arrangement makes sense for them, too.

For Mack, who isn’t getting a new deal this year and thus will make less than $3 million, he can pocket $13.846 million under his fifth-year option and then do the year-to-year tag dance in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Ditto for Donald, who would make $1.8 million this year and $6.892 million next year before going year-to-year under the tag.

For all three guys, the question becomes whether they’d trade the year-to-year haul for a long-term deal that has two years of fully guaranteed money before becoming a one-way street that the team exclusively controls.

Consider the record-setting (not really) contract signed by Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. He traded roughly $1 million in salary this year and the franchise tag next year for $25 million in cash flow in 2017, another $22.25 million in 2018 and then, essentially, a year-to-year option held by the team.

Consider what Carr gave up. If he’d been willing to keep his salary at $1 million in 2017, he would have been eligible for $22 million (maybe more) in 2018 under the tag, a 20-percent bump (at least $26 million) in 2019, and a 44-percent increase over that ($38 million, minimum) in 2020.

That’s at least $86 million over three years, estimated conservatively. Under his current deal, Carr will make $86.5 million over the next four years, with no fully-guaranteed money at signing beyond the first $40 million.

It’s hard to call the richest contract ever (not really) a bad deal, but it’s actually kind of a bad deal in light of the alternative. If Carr had gone year to year, he’d have more money over the next four years than he’ll have — and he wouldn’t have been tied to the team for two more years at an average of $19.7 million, which will come at a time when the market for franchise quarterbacks could be well north of $30 million per year.

Maybe Carr crunched the numbers and consciously chose to take a long-term deal that is less advantageous than going year to year. Maybe the injury guarantee for 2019 influenced him, given the broken leg he suffered last last year. Regardless, it’s reasonable to say he would have been better off going year to year.

And it’s definitely reasonable to assume that more star players will seriously consider it — and that some of them will do it.

All of them, frankly, should.

44 responses to “Year-to-year approach may become a trend for star players

  1. So.
    Are today’s players in the game “that they love so much” to win for themselves, the team, the fans, or are they in the game to make a killing to the detriment of their team having a chance to win and make a run at a title?
    BTW, Florio’s a socialist primadonna. Media is ruining the game that we grew up playing and loving.

  2. This all sounds well and good until the first guy suffers a career-ending injury.

  3. It’s about time that players realized this. They take more risk, but it maximizes their year to year salary.

  4. Your math is wrong on Carr.

    Tossing in his $1M 2017 salary, his four year haul would be $87M, compared to $86.5M in his contract.

    But only the $8.7M 2017 salary is guaranteed in the first case, vs. $40M in his new contract.

    The real problem is in later years, assuming that he stays healthy enough to play.

  5. So Carr is going to make $86.5 million from 2017-2020 with the deal he signed, or he could have made $87 million from 2017-2020 if he didn’t and had 3 years of the franchise tag – with no guarantee that he would actually get 3 years of the franchise tag. Yeah, great argument Florio….

  6. Your assumptions, as noted, have to include that the player stay healthy and continue to achieve a high level of play. If either of those things don’t happen, the loss of pay could be considerable. And at the numbers being tossed around, there is certainly value is signing for a few million less over 4-5 years when it gives you certainty.
    The other problem with the year to year contract occurs when there aren’t any other teams willing to pay you a franchise tag salary. Certainly there is a risk in a team letting a quality player seek other contracts, but if the current team doesn’t value a player at a specific level, there’s no guarantee another team will. And after finding that out, there’s no guarantee the original team will be willing to pay what the player left on the table.
    So frankly, while money may get left on the table with longer term deals, it’s not really that important considering the player is already making more money in one year than 10 or 15 average families will make in a lifetime. And it’s guaranteed.

  7. It will really come down to coaching and GM’s to be a competitive team. Its not a lack of QB’s its coaches. Not a NE fan but it is what Belicheck does that makes them competitive or champions every year, Now if your going to pay 1 guy 30% of the money and a few studs another 40%, it will be that much harder to surround them with talent.

  8. And the fans will quickly turn on the star player for being so greedy. How much money do they really need to be happy?

    Pathetic point of view the players have these days…

  9. Ummm I don’t know about this. NFL players have a much larger risk of injury than NBA players do. While the year to year thing would be more money, it would be risky..

  10. This approach will grow in popularity until the first star player suffers a season ending injury using this approach. As long as guys remain healthy there is no downside to this approach but once they start getting dinged up the pendulum will swing rapidly back to the long term contract model.

  11. Interesting piece especially considering my Lions situation. One thought does come to mind though seeing we’re talking about star players, this avenue of thinking won’t be considered for Eli (ELie) Manning because he isn’t a start player.

  12. And if Carr were to get Theismann’d this year without his long term deal, he would have made his $5.3M from the rookie deal.

    Instead, he will have roughly $29M in career earnings if he goes down this year.

  13. I just have such a big issue with the comment that “all of them, frankly, should” do this. This is only coming from the perspective that money is the most important thing.

    What if the individual player deems guaranteed salary over a longer term is more important than a year-to-year proposition? Or (heaven forbid) that winning championships – while giving the team financial flexibility to bring in more talent – is most important?

  14. I’ve seen some bad articles before but this one might take the cake! No teams will pay the 3rd year franchise tag dollars for any of these guys. $45mil for Stafford… come on Florio, get serious.

  15. Each of the past two seasons, seven teams used the franchise tag. In 2016 four players didn’t sign (Berry, Jeffery, Cousins, Johnson) and in 2017 three players didn’t sign (Bell, Cousins, Johnson). Not exactly trending in either direction.

    Berry wound up signing a big deal this offseason. Jeffery was allowed to walk and signed a one year “prove-it” deal for much less money than the tag. Cousins and Johnson were each tagged in both years – which shows the Rams and Skins level of trust in each player.

    The tag is used when a team can’t put a value on a player and needs another year to decide (for health, productivity, off field concerns, etc.), or the team wants to sign the player long term but needs to buy more time to reach a deal.

    I don’t see the players forcing any change here. Teams will stop using the tag if they get the sense players aren’t going to stick around anyway. They might even trade the player to a lowly team to prove a point (like NE sending Collins to Cleveland).

  16. Seems like a Slippery slope for the NFL…

    Players already enter in through the draft and not chosing their team… I can see a time coming where their 1st 5 years is like a boot camp training… Train where you are drafted but then able to move to year-to-year contracts will open doors for talented players to abandon lesser teams like the Browns, Rams, Buccaneers, Bills and sign with teams like the Patriots, Packers, Falcons that give them better chances to win a ring or 2 while they are still young…

  17. Too big a risk especially for younger guys who don’t already have millions in the bank. They’re one injury or bad year from either being out of the game entirely or playing for a fraction of what guaranteed years in a contract would pay.

  18. “All of them, frankly, should.”

    Until they’re all out of jobs because no one will franchise them or sign them because the “invisible hand” of the free market dictates that there is a limit to what these guys are worth and you can bet your SJW toosh that owners will collude (unofficially, of course) to stonewall these players out of guaranteed money contracts and multi-year deals when they get released for playing this game. Is it retaliatory? Absolutely.

    If it was the better way to go – agents would be doing it already.

  19. Probably not a big surprise Carr took this deal 6 months after suffering a broken leg. I can’t see this being the norm if guys are still on their rookie contracts. They’ll take the guaranteed money more times than not and I can’t say I blame them.

  20. Any player can maximize their income by accepting a series of 1 year contracts. Just never get hurt. No one gets hurt in the NFL so that sounds like a smart idea, right?

  21. If a QB wants to maximize his income he can opt for 1 year contracts at the max amount. Then teams will have to discount that based on risk of loss of continuity. Unless you are a HOF QB I don’t want to pay you top $$$ only to have you leave the next year. If you are a decent team, but not a great team, is it worth signing a QB like Carr or Cousins to a 30MM contract for 1 year? Yes if that gets you to the super bowl or maybe even the championship.
    But the lack of certainty hurt long term, so I can’t see a team wanting to do that for more than a couple of years.

    Then the QB is onto the next team for 1-3 years, then the next. It’s hard to build rapport with the offense if you move teams yearly.

  22. And to tack onto my list above, Garapallo is also scheduled to hit FA next offseason.

    Its one thing when this offseason, Cousins was the clear cut #1 QB on the market, next season, he may not even fit into the top 5 QB’s on the market. He should have offered Washington a 2 year contract worth 75% of the tag game, and a 3rd year player option at the transition tag, just so he could bypass the competition next offseason, and have the ability to opt out after that.

  23. Stafford has the money to let it ride; if he suffers a career-ending injury or suddenly loses his ability to play at a high level, he’s already set, multiple lifetimes over.
    ~~~~~~~~~~
    You use contradictory arguments depending on what point you are trying to make. On this particular point, since you are wholeheartedly advocating for it, I must ask the question: Since, as you stated, he’s already set multiple lifetimes over, what is the justification under the salary cap restrictions for taking money out of the pockets of lesser paid players who are seeking better pay and keeping that money himself (Stafford) while hurting the overall quality of the team in the process?

    This is the problem with your logic. You think that player x (union member) is underpaid because of the teams and the league (management). The reality is that the union collectively earns close to 50% of revenue. Player x is not underpaid but if you believe he is then it is because of another player rather than management. The players keep getting more and more money. The problem is they are dispersing most of it to a select set of players.

    The cap is a set amount but varies year to year. Any money given to player x means player y goes without. Players do this on an individual basis and then somehow get mad about it collectively and then blame someone else. Sorry, but that is a pattern of behavior with many of the problem players who keep getting in trouble. That mindset is also why they will never collectively understand just how good they have it. (Attempt #4 at posting)

  24. The bigger question is what kind of team these players are on.
    In Carr’s case this is an upcoming team with great potential so why not sign long term and take the security.
    In Macks case, same thing.
    In Stafford’s case might be best to play out the “string” and move to a contender to get a ring. Lions are treading water.
    In Donald’s case his team is light years away from being competetive and the owner has shown he doesn’t care. He is best to play franchise tag and move on ASAP. Same as Trumaine Johnson. Though not franchised Janoris Jenkins left ASAP when given the chance

  25. Advantages are still with long term deals since players have more leverage if their performance declines, whether it’s due to age, injury, or whatever. At least with long term deals, teams are less likely to give up on a player with one “poor” season. It makes it tougher for teams to tag a player with a down season and any other teams looking to sign him in FA will probably offer something significantly less than the tag or long term deal from the original team. It’ll be more performance based with options year to year.

  26. FinFan68,

    The main point of your post is the silliest I’ve read today. Because management chose to cap their roster salary I should take less than my market value???? Is that what you do at your job? If a player wants to take less good for him. If a team determines a player is worth an obscene amount of money and the team and player agree to it good for him. No player is under any obligation to manage a team’s roster. If you are so concern about that player getting less maybe you should cheer on the players when they demand a higher percentage of the revenue next CBA…..

    For a bunch of people who claim to love capitalism and trust the free market to set prices you sure do sound like a bunch of socialists.

  27. I know of one QB who terminated his contract after having a 4:1 TD:INT ratio, 11.4 yards per catch, and passer rating of 90.7 — but going year-to-year hasn’t worked out that well for him….

  28. Intrafinesse…..
    Nobody is forcing teams to franchise tag these players. In fact almost every player franchise tagged would prefer to set their value on a long term contract in the free market where other teams can bid for their service. It’s not like the player can even demand to be franchise tagged….also the CBA sets the price for the franchise tag….it’s cute you think teams can demand less for reduced continuity.

  29. How many millions does it take to be set for life? If a player wants an extra million the taxes will take at least $400,000 of that million.

  30. 6thsense10 says:
    Jul 20, 2017 1:27 PM
    FinFan68,

    The main point of your post is the silliest I’ve read today. Because management chose to cap their roster salary I should take less than my market value???? …
    ~~~~~~~
    1) That isn’t the main point. Read again and try harder. The cap is a current reality so the question was aimed at the author’s assertions (in this article and many others) and his apparent belief that the maximum money has no impact on the team or any other players on it.

    2) Management did not choose the cap. The players and management collectively bargained for it. The players wanted the ability to have more opportunities with their newly found free agency. If there were say 3-5 big money teams then all the free agents would be competing to go there for huge salaries while those not picked would get much less money. The cap keeps the cost down, ensures fairly close parity and allows the total revenues to grow and then increase the cap via a set percentage of revenue.

  31. Stafford sucked with the previous OC. Stafford is a star with Cooter as his OC. I hope he is smart enough to consider this when deciding whom to play for.

    He could leave for a few million dollars more (which won’t affect his life at all) but find that his performance suffers which could have irreparable harm to his legacy.

    He has a good OC now – it would be stupid to walk away from something that is working so well for an unknown – just for a few more (million) bucks…

  32. As a Raiders fan, and a surprised Carr fan (never thought he would be this good this early), this is 100% true.

    Also, how many times do players decline but not have to restructure their deal? So you are on a one year deal and have a bad year, do you get a maxed out deal next year or are you playing for the vet minimum and having to prove yourself again? That would happen frequently enough that players would not risk it. If I was Carr, I would take his deal. If I was Cousins, I would be happy getting out of Wash next year, 20+ Million dollars richer and looking for that long term deal to finish my career.

  33. I want those who whine about the pay that athletes make to immediately ask their boss for a 50% pay cut so that they can practice what they preach.

    There is no way a human needs more than $30k to live in the real world outside of major cities. You can live by driving a 20 year old car (you don’t need a new SUV) and you can plan your dinners and shop on sale (you don’t need meat at over $5 per pound).

    Until you are willing to practice what you preach, whiners need to shove it and to mind their own business.

  34. Until the team, seeing the QB has no interest in the long term of the team, decides they need to move on from the player and have no long term interest in him either…..trades him to Cleveland for a conditional mid round pick.

    As soon as the QB stops whining, Cleveland says: play for us, or say where you want us to trade you so we can pick up a 1st and a 3rd…. or you’re retired.

    That’ll stop this theory real fast.

  35. Until the team, seeing the player is only selfish and not interested in the long term of the team, decides it therefore can’t care about long term with him either, and trades him to Cleveland.

    Cleveland, after the QB’s public whining stops, says, you can play for us and get in here, you can tell us where you want us to trade you but we’re asking two first round picks, or you can retire.

    That’ll stop this theory real fast.

  36. Not going to happen. Players don’t want to think about that every year. Plus it might be hard for some of them to make long term financial plans not know what next year will bring. And, some of them will just flat out get cut. That’s not ideal for an aging player, but not as risky for a younger player. If players start to do this, i think we’ll see a lot more trades. And the NFL will probably start to devalue the draft to pay these guys even less when they come into the NFL. As Roy Jones Jr. likes to say way too much, don’t get it twisted. The owners still have the power and will find ways to keep it that way.

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