Bears sign rookie tackle Webb

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bears have signed seventh-round pick J’Marcus Webb to a four-year contract.

Financial terms weren’t disclosed.  Webb becomes the second rookie drafted in April to sign a contract.  Texans sixth-round pick Trindon Holliday put pen to paper on a four-year deal late last week.
Webb appeared in 12 games (0 starts) for the Texas Longhorns as a true freshman in 2006.  He’d transfer to community college, and ultimately landed in the Division-II ranks at West Texas A&M.
Webb took over as the Buffaloes’ starting left tackle as a junior, protecting Rams 2009 sixth-round pick Keith Null’s blind side.  Last season, Webb was honored as an Associated Press third-team Little All-American, which awards players from Division II, Division III, and NAIA.
West Texas A&M uses a shotgun-heavy spread offense.  Also factoring in the relatively weak competition Webb has faced and his draft status, the 22-year-old may be headed for Chicago’s practice squad this season.

Patrick Willis contract solid but not spectacular

After linebacker Patrick Willis signed a five-year, $50 million extension with the 49ers, coach Mike Singletary proclaimed that the three-year veteran “may go down as one of the best” to play the position.

So why isn’t Willis being paid better than any of the men who currently play the position?

After details as to the Willis deal were reported, several league insiders expressed surprise regarding the fact that the contract fails to set a new high-water mark for linebackers.  Some believed that Willis ultimately would be paid not as the best linebacker in the game, but as the best defensive player in the game, regardless of position.

It didn’t happen.  Our goal in this regard isn’t to trash the deal or praise the contract, but to set forth both sides of the story, because we think each side has some appeal.

The naysayers point out that, when it comes to cash paid out after the first three and four years, Willis lags behind three other linebackers:  Karlos Dansby, Bart Scott, and DeMeco Ryans.  Though the gap based on three and four years isn’t huge, the objectively undeniable fact that Willis is better than any of the others makes the objectively undeniable fact that he didn’t get more than each of them glaring.

“Willis is the next Ray Lewis,” one league source said.  “This is like the contract Ray Lewis signed in 2003.  It isn’t much better.”

But there’s an important difference to keep in mind.  Dansby got his deal as an unrestricted free agent, after six years in the league and two under the franchise tag.  Scott received his contract as a unrestricted free agent.  Ryans was a restricted free agent, but the fact that he had no contract allowed him to be paid without regard to the 30-percent rule.

Willis had two years left on his rookie deal.  Apart from the complications presented by the 30 percent rule, Willis was saddled with the risk — for 32 regular-season games, eight preseason games, many offseason, preseason, and in-season practices, and up to eight postseason games — of a serious injury that would have dramatically harmed his market value.  So he instead inked a deal after only three seasons and at age 25 that will pay him nearly $30 million over four years.

Could he have gotten more if he’d played for roughly $800,000 in 2010 and $2.5 million in 2011 and (most likely) the franchise tender in 2012 (and possibly 2013)?  Sure.  But at some point in the next two, three, or four years, he also could have gotten seriously hurt — and thus never received the kind of monster payday that sets him and at least a generation after him up for life, especially if he invests the money conservatively and doesn’t spend lavishly or recklessly.

So while other agents may regret that Willis didn’t blow out the market, since it would have helped other players get more money, the fact remains that Willis had to make the best decision for himself and his family.  Under the specific circumstances that he faced, we probably would have made the same choice.

Patrick Willis strikes gold with the Niners

NFL_willis1_250.jpgIn only three NFL seasons, Patrick Willis has established himself as one of the best linebackers in the NFL.  And now he’s going to be paid accordingly.

Jay Glazer of FOX reports that Willis has agreed to terms on a five-year, $50 million extension.  (It’s probably not a coincidence that Glazer and Randy Couture helped get Willis ready for the 2009 season with MMA training.)

His rookie deal runs through 2011.  The new deal puts him under contract through 2016.

It’s not yet clear how the 49ers navigated the 30-percent rule, which applies to all renegotiations signed in the uncapped year.  Per NFLPA records, Willis was due to earn a base salary of $760,000 in 2010, and $2.75 million next year.

We’ll break it all down once we get our hands on the contract.

Jason Taylor has $100,000 incentive to work out, can trigger $10 million roster bonus

As the debate continues regarding whether the Miami Dolphins made a legitimate effort to persuade linebacker Jason Taylor to return for another season (Taylor’s agent insists they didn’t), we’ve tracked down the full details on his contract.

In 2010, Taylor’s base salary of $1.75 million is fully guaranteed.  The amount drops by $100,000 if he doesn’t participate in the balance of the offseason workout program, which likely means that his base salary will reduce to $1.65 million.  Last year, Taylor walked away from millions in D.C. in order to avoid the offseason program.

In 2011, Taylor’s base salary moves to $2.275 million, with $750,000 guaranteed.  The guarantee voids if he has fewer than seven sacks in 2010.  It increases to $1.25 million if Taylor has 10 sacks.  The guarantee increases to $2 million if he has 12 sacks.

There’s also a whopping $10 million roster bonus in 2011 based on playing time and individual performance levels.  The payment, due on the fifth day of the 2011 league year, is aimed at giving Taylor a crack at the open market next year if he has a strong season in 2010 — or leverage to secure a raise in New York.
The fact that Taylor will receive $1.75 million from the Jets in 2010 means that kicker Jay Feely also received total compensation of $1.75 million (or more) from the Cardinals.  Under the “Final Eight Plan,” the Jets’ were prevented from exceeding the first-year compensation paid to Feely, the only unrestricted free agent who has left the team during the uncapped year.  The increase from $1.75 million to $2.275 million matches the maximum 30-percent raise that Taylor can be given under the “Final Eight Plan.”

Jason Taylor is joining the Jets

Jason Taylor hesitated as long as he could, and the Dolphins never showed much interest.  So he’s finally decided to join the Jets.

The long-time Dolphin is set to join the New York Jets, as first reported by Miami Herald beat writer columnist Armando Salguero.  ESPN’s Adam Schefter writes it’s a two-year deal worth $13.75 million, but the second year is irrelevant.  It’s really a one-year, $3.75 million contract.

Even that second number has to include a lot of phony money, game bonuses, and/or incentives.  We’ve written previously that the years governing the uncapped year limited the Jets to offering $1.5 million in base salary for Taylor.  We’ll be curious to see how the Jets got around that.

In Taylor, the Jets got a situational pass-rusher that can help keep Vernon Gholston planted to the bench.  Taylor won’t be asked to play every down.

This move will likely keep Adalius Thomas from joining the Jets; Thomas is expected to be released by New England.

Bengals re-sign Evan Mathis

And the parade of restricted free agents, who are now restricted to the team for which they played last year, signing their contracts continues.

The Bengals have announced that guard Evan Mathis has re-signed with the team.  He played in 14 games with seven starts in 2009.

He signed with the team as a free agent in 2008.  Originally a third-round pick of the Panthers in 2005, Mathis had 15 starts in five prior NFL seasons, all of which came in 2005.

T-Jack is back in Minnesota

T. Jackson.jpgIt wasn’t so long ago that a lot of people expected Tarvaris Jackson to be traded or even cut in the wake of Brett Favre’s signing in Minnesota.

But Jackson wound up outplaying Sage Rosenfels in practice last year and would be the heavy favorite to start in Week One should Favre shock everyone and not return to football in 2010. 

Jackson signed his one-year, $1.176 million contract tender Monday to return to the team.  The Vikings only placed a low tender on him — they would have received a third-rounder in return — because they knew no other team would sign him to an offer sheet.

Stephen Gostkowski signs his tender

Patriots fans, you can now sleep soundly.  You have a kicker again.

Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald reports that Stephen Gostkowski has signed his restricted free agency tender.

Offered a contract at the second-round level, Gostkowski will earn $1.759 milliion in 2010.

Two Patriots restricted free agents remain unsigned:  guard Logan Mankins and linebacker Pierre Woods.  Woods has signed an injury protection letter and he is working out with the team. 

Mankins is doing something with cows, that apparently doesn’t involve his friend stealing a cow and then trying to make it with the cow.

The truth on the Brandon Marshall deal

Now that NBC has produced and aired a commercial that makes us look a lot better at this than we really are, we need to periodically put something up here that justifies the characterization.

So here’s one to consider.

Many of you have wondered how and why the Miami Dolphins could have made Brandon Marshall the highest-paid receiver in NFL history.  The easy answer, as we pointed out the other day, is that they didn’t — his widely-reported four-year, $47.5 million extension fairly should be regarded at best as a five-year, $50 million contract, giving Marshall a $10 million annual average that matches the yearly total paid to Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Now for the truth.

For starters, the full contract is worth $47.3 million over five years.  It contains a phony $2.7 million roster bonus payable in 2014 — but only if Marshall participates in 95 percent or more of the Dolphins’ special teams plays in 2010.

Why would this be included?  To allow Marshall and his agent to characterize the contract as a package worth $10 million per year.  Truth be told, it’s worth $9.46 million annually.

(That may not seem like much of a difference, but the phantom roster bonus allows Marshall and his agent, Kennard McGuire, to claim with a straight face that Marshall is getting $10 million per year.)

Then there’s the notion that the Dolphins would pay $24 million in guaranteed money to a guy with a history of off-field incidents.  Surely, V.P. of football operations Bill Parcells hasn’t lost his mind, right?

He hasn’t.  (Or, more accurately, if he has, this isn’t proof of it.)

With the 2009 decision in the Plaxico Burress grievance that signing bonus money can be recovered only if the player holds out or retires, a $20 million signing bonus would have been untouchable, even if Marshall had been suspended for a year or longer.  So the Dolphins instead have paid out a signing bonus of $5.5 million.  Coupled with a guaranteed base salary (for skill and injury) of $4 million in 2010, Marshall’s contract has a minimum value of $9.5 million over one year.

Here’s the kicker.  If the Dolphins decide before April 2, 2011 that Marshall isn’t who they thought he was, they can walk away, possibly without paying Marshall another penny.  Prior to April 2, 2011, he has only $3 million in future guaranteed money that already has been unlocked.  But the contract contains offset language; if they cut him and someone else pays him $3 million in 2011, the Dolphins are off the hook for the balance of the contract.

And even if the Dolphins pay a $3 million option bonus due on April 2, 2011, guaranteed base salaries of $6.5 million in 2011 and $6 million in 2012 (he also has $3 million in non-guaranteed base pay in 2012) can be nullified if Marshall is suspended by the league.

So, for now, the only guaranteed money is $12.5 million, with an offset for up to $3 million.  If the Dolphins decided to keep him past April 2, 2011, another $9.5 million in guaranteed base salaries will be available — as long as Marshall stays out of trouble.

These facts are another reason why it’s always dangerous to accept at face value the numbers that the player’s camp begins to parrot as soon as the deal is signed. 

The problem is that the agent has an incentive to get a skewed version of the contract into the media, the team rarely is willing to say anything that would dampen the “highest paid player!” parade, and the reporter who gets the information often is so determined to be first that the question of whether or not the information is accurate often gets lost in the shuffle.  (And, yes, we’ve done that once or twice — and we hope that we have learned from it.)

Jeromey Clary signs his RFA tender

Continuing a recent trend, another restricted free agent has signed his tender offer.

The Chargers have announced that tackle Jeromey Clary has signed his one-year, $1.684 million contract.

The four-year veteran appeared in 10 games (with 10 starts) in 2009.  In 2008, he started every game.  Clarey was a sixth-round pick in the 2006 draft.

Though it’s good news for the Chargers, bigger-name players like linebacker Shawne Merriman, receiver Vincent Jackson, and left tackle Marcus McNeill remain unsigned.

Falcons finagle four RFAs

The Falcons announced the signings of four restricted free agents Thursday.

Tackle Tyson Clabo, guard Harvey Dahl, guard Quinn Ojinnaka, and running back Jason Snelling are all back aboard on one-year contracts.

Snelling proved last year he can be a quality backup running back.  Clabo and Dahl are both good run-blockers, but Dahl is coming off an injury-plagued year.

Brandon Johnson signs tender with Bengals

Add Bengals linebacker Brandon Johnson to the gang of restricted free agents that finally signed their tender on tax day.

Johnson will make $1.759 million contract as the team’s utility backup linebacker after signing Thursday.  He played very well last year when given the chance, and started in the postseason.

He will back up Keith Rivers on the weak side of the defense.

It looks like Kerry Collins will stick in Tennessee

Collins is due $5.5 million this year, which seems prohibitive for a backup.  Coach Jeff Fisher indicated that money is not a concern, and Collins remains his No. 2 quarterback.

“Vince [Young] is the 1, Kerry is the 2 and Chris [Simms] is the No. 3,” Fisher told the Tennessean recently.

Kerry Collins has been absent from Tennessee’s offseason conditioning
program, but Fisher says Collins is slated to be at the team’s OTAs later in the month.  It sounds like the team won’t ask him to take a pay cut. 

The Titans are scheduled to pay Collins and Young $17.25 million combined in 2010.

Max Jean-Gilles signs his RFA tender

The Eagles have announced that guard Max Jean-Gilles has inked his one-year restricted free agency tender, placing him under contract for the 2010 season.

Jean-Gilles, a fourth-round pick in 2006, has been a key reserve for the team, picking up 10 starts in 2008 and five in 2009 due to injury.

The former Georgia standout was tendered at the level of his original draft position.

The periods for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets with other teams ends today.  There’s no reason to believe that any offer sheets will be signed; only one has been executed to date.

Bengals have tough call to make on Cedric Benson

C. benson.jpgThe Bengals hit a homerun with their two-year, $7 million contract for Cedric Benson last March.  The question is whether they want to take a crack at another deal for him.

Benson’s contract runs out at the end of 2010, and Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports there is no update on talks of a possible extension.  Benson was philosophical on the issue.

“That would be a great thing. In this business everyone wants to get the
big one
, the big check, Benson said.  “We don’t work to not get paid so that would be a
blessing and that would be great. I would be grateful for something
like that to present itself I’d love for that happen but if it don’t it
will one day.”

The offense is built around Benson, but the Bengals shouldn’t be in a rush to pay him again. If Benson performs well again, they could place the franchise tag on him.

Benson is only 27 years old, but going year-to-year with any veteran back seems like the smart play.