Monday, August 13, 2007

Quinn? He's in. Russell? Better hustle!

As everyone is surely aware, quarterback Brady Quinn finally signed a contract with the Cleveland Browns and is now in camp, studying the playbook, practicing his progressions, and learning to accept personal blame for an entire team's futility -- an essential skill for a Browns quarterback. Considering what was written in this space a couple weeks about Quinn's contract situation, it's only fair to go back and re-examine the standoff between Cleveland management and Quinn and his agent. Who won?

As you'll recall, the Browns wanted Quinn to sign a contract commensurate with his status as the No. 22 pick in the 2007 draft. Quinn and agent Tom Condon argued that because Quinn had been considered a top-10 talent before the draft and only fell to 22 because of bad luck and bad timing, he should get a contract in the top-10 range. (Who wants a QB with bad luck and bad timing, anyway?)

Well, by the time the ink was dry, both sides were able claim victory -- though Condon is probably doing so through gritted teeth. The following chart, based on information in USA Today, shows all the 2007 first-round draft picks along with details on the contracts they have signed (YRS=length of contract, in years. TOTAL=total dollar value of contract, in millions. GUAR=total amount of guaranteed money, in millions):

1JaMarcus Russell, qb OAK u n s i g n e d
2Calvin Johnson, wr DET 6 $64 $27.2
3Joe Thomas, ot CLE 5 $42.5$23
4Gaines Adams, de TB 6 $46 $18.6
5Levi Brown, ot ARZ 6 $62 $18.1
6LaRon Landry, s WSH 5 $41.5$17.5
7Adrian Peterson, rbMIN 5 $40.5$17
8Jamaal Anderson, deATL 5 $31 $15.4
9Ted Ginn Jr., wr/krMIA 5 $13 n/a
10Amobi Okoye, dt HOU 6 $17.6$12.8
11Patrick Willis, lb SF 5 $16.6$12
12Marshawn Lynch, rb BUF 5 $18.9$10.3
13Adam Carriker, dlSTL 5 $14.5$9.4
14Darrelle Revis, cb NYJ u n s i g n e d
15Lawrence Timmons, lb PIT 5 $15 $12
16Justin Harrell, dt GB 5 n/a n/a
17Jarvis Moss, de DEN 5 $18 n/a
18Leon Hall, cb CIN 5 $13.6$8.2
19Machael Griffin, db TEN 5 $13 $8
20Aaron Ross, cb NYG 5 $13.5$8
21Reggie Nelson, s JAX 5 $13.1$7.1
22Brady Quinn, qb CLE 5 $20.2$7.75
23Dwayne Bowe, wr KC 5 n/a n/a
24Brandon Merriweather, dbNE5$8.75n/a
25Jon Beason, lb CAR 5 n/a $6
26Anthony Spencer, lb/deDAL 5 $9 $6
27Robert Meachem, wr NO 5 $11 $5.7
28Joe Staley, ot SF 5 $8 $5.6
29Ben Grubbs, g BAL 5 $11 $5.2
30Craig Davis, wr SD 5 $11 $5.5
31Greg Olsen, te CHI 5 $10.9n/a
32Anthony Gonzalez, wrIND 5 $10.3$5.4

If you go by the total dollar value of the contract, it certainly does appear as if Quinn will be paid like a top-10 player: His $20.2 million deal is the ninth-largest among 2007 first-rounders. But as longtime Down and Distance readers know, the "total dollar" figures attached to NFL contracts are bogus. The contracts are almost never guaranteed for the full term, so teams can (and do) tear them up anytime. What really matters, then, is the amount of guaranteed cash in the contract -- usually in the form of a signing bonus and other monies paid out in the first two years of the deal. Looking only at the guaranteed money, we see Quinn is ... right about where he should be, in the $7 million-to-$8 million range.

As you look at the chart, you see that the contracts don't necessarily decline steadily in value from one pick to the next. The terms of each contract depend on a number of factors, including where the player is drafted, what position he plays, and the team's salary cap situation. Falcons defensive end Jamaal Anderson, for example, got a $31 million contract, but only about half of it is guaranteed. Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons, on the other hand, got a $15 million deal, of which about 80% is guaranteed. Anderson's contract is "twice as large," but he's guaranteed only about 25% more money. Sure, if both men played out their contracts, Anderson would get much more, but you can rest assured that Anderson won't play out his contract, because all that "extra" money is loaded onto the back end. He'll be asked to redo his contract to help the team fit under the salary cap. Timmons is more likely not to be so asked, because the team has already committed most of the money. The point is not that Anderson or Timmons got screwed. They didn't. They'll both be fine. The point is that the big numbers don't guarantee anything except an ego boost.

So what of Quinn? If he stinks up Cleveland, the team can cut him loose in a couple years and will only be out about $8 million. If he turns out to be an instant superstar, then the team will have him locked up for five years at an average cap vaue of about $4 million a year. (Last year, 22 quarterbacks had a higher cap value than that. Not bad, for the Browns.) Of course, if he does become a superstar, the team will probably end up wanting to extend him, which means a new contract, which means another big artificial figure, blah blah blah.

But enough about Quinn. He bores me. JaMarcus Russell, on the other hand, fascinates me.

Russell was well-regarded as a senior quarterback at Louisiana State, but he didn't jump to the top of the draft board until after his Tigers met Notre Dame (led by Quinn) in the Sugar Bowl. Having seen Russell star in the game (against Notre Dame's notoriously weak pass defense) while Quinn struggled (against LSU's famously dominant pass defense), the Raiders used the No. 1 pick on Russell.

Four months later, Russell is one of just two first-rounders still unsigned. The sticking point appears to be that Oakland wants him to sign a six-year deal, while Russell wants a five year deal. Russell's thinking: If I have one fewer year on the rookie contract, it means I'll start my career one year closer to my first free-agent contract, which is when players make the really big money. The Raiders' thinking: If we're going to commit $70 million to a kid, with $30 million guaranteed, we're going to have to insist on six years, if for no other reason than to significantly shrink the prorated signing bonus's impact on the salary cap.

So now Russell and the Raiders are in a standoff similar to that between Brady and the Browns. And I don't have any doubt whatsoever about whom the fans will side with in this dispute: the Raiders. When a team is offering an unproven kid $30 million over six years when so many people are making diddly over squat, that kid is not going to gain any friends by complaining about it. Even if he has a point -- and I'm not saying he does or doesn't -- it's just bad form.

Oakland has essentially called Russell's bluff by signing Daunte Culpepper to a one-year contract. That brings to three the number of QBs with starting experience that the Raiders have in camp: Culpepper, Andrew Walter and Josh McCown. (I didn't say they were great QBs with starting experience.) With Culpepper and others already ahead of him on the depth chart, Russell could end up playing the part of 2007's Philip Rivers. Remember? Rivers, the No. 4 pick, sat out most of camp in 2004 as contract negotiations dragged on, then spent two years riding the bench as Drew Brees suddenly exploded into a top-tier passer. In Rivers' case, the Chargers really were trying to screw him, as they wanted his total contract figure to include such "incentives" as winning the Super Bowl four times and being named MVP four times. Regardless, coming late to camp probably cost him two years of hs career. So JaMarcus might want to put is JaJohn Hancock on the line and get his ass to Napa for some 7-on-7s.

We'll talk about Daunte Culpepper and his never-ending audition roadshow some other time.

1 comment:

Rich Lanthier said...

What I find interesting in the data is the guaranteed part. That totally follows, I think a linear decline. Interesting... Time for bed here! Viva! Nah....