Do NFL Players Restructure Contracts to Help Out Their Team or Themselves?

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Do NFL Players Restructure Contracts to Help Out Their Team or Themselves?
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Just when it looked like the New England Patriots were going to be forced to let Wes Welker and Aqib Talib walk in free agency, a funny thing happened. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady agreed to restructure his contract, saving the Patriots a total of $15 million in cap room over the next two seasons (via USA Today). 

While it is unknown if the Patriots will use this money to retain Welker or Talib, it does give them a certain amount of flexibility under the cap. 

On the surface, it seems that Brady was putting the health of his team and organization ahead of his own finances. That may be just on the surface. 

Even if Brady doesn't play another down in the NFL, he will receive $30 million guaranteed from New England under this restructured deal (via USA Today). In essence, his new "contract" calls for that much guaranteed money. While we can fully expect Brady to play into his 40s, having that type of stability in a contract has to be difficult to turn down. 

In addition, Brady doesn't want the remaining years he has in the NFL to be with a team picked apart by free agency. The additional money that New England saves over the next couple years will allow it to retain some high-cost free agents and look to the open market for external upgrades. 

Was Brady acting selflessly when he came to an agreement on this restructured deal? That's a question better reserved for someone within the Patriots organization. I will say that this new deal works out great for both sides involved. 

The question I am going to attempt to answer here is whether players who restructure their contracts are looking to help out their team or themselves? In all honesty, Brady's situation is a little bit of both.

 

Mike Silver of Yahoo! raises a good point here. How does Brady's contract impact other free agents looking for long-term deals? 

By virtue of Joe Flacco signing a six year, $120 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens over the weekend, I would say that it really doesn't impact others looking to strike it rich at this position (via ESPN). After all, Brady's situation is a bit different than these other quarterbacks. He had already signed contracts of $60 and $78 million throughout his career in New England (via Spotrac). Flacco was looking for his first big payday and got it. 

While Flacco's contract calls for a small cap hit of $6.8 million in 2013, it goes up incrementally from there. The Super Bowl MVP will count $14.8 and $14.6 million against the cap in the next two seasons before counting $28.5 against the cap in what promises to be a much larger cap figure around the NFL in 2015 (via Spotrac). 

It goes without saying that the deal Flacco reached this past weekend will be nothing more than of the three-year variety. It will have to be restructured prior to 2015, unless Baltimore feels comfortable with him earning nearly $30 million. 

In addition, his deal calls for a league-record $52 million in guarantees. Therefore, he wouldn't have to fear about a possible release following 2014 if he doesn't restructure the contact. 

Some may take this recent deal to be more team-friendly than anything else because it gives Baltimore some flexibility to retain key free agents this season, but I don't see it that way. Flacco had one of the greatest four-game stretches in the history of the playoffs, but was nothing more than mediocre prior to that.

He parlayed that hot stretch into $52 million guaranteed and could be putting Baltimore into a tough salary-cap situation moving forward. That's not a team-friendly extension if you ask me. 

 

Courtesy of Spotrac

It's important to note that while Flacco signed a new contract and didn't agree to a restructured deal, his new deal will likely need to be redone sometime in the near future in order for it to remain friendly for the Ravens. 

This is a story that has been repeated over and over again over the last few years. Players sign new deals with the understanding that the most important aspect of the contract is guaranteed money. After that, teams are going to expect them to restructure. In Flacco's case, the ball is really in his court moving forward. 

This leads me to believe that the veteran quarterback was definitely looking at his own bottom line rather than attempting to help the Ravens out beyond 2013. We will have to see how it plays out in the coming years before drawing a conclusion. 

Back to Silver's original point: 

...All Brady cares about is winning — and with three rings to his credit (and two near-miss-championships since his last one eight years ago), he's got a chance to surpass four-time winners Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw in the all-time annals of Super QBs.

So he drank the cap-space Kool-Aid, and/or bought into the owner-driven sob story about not being able to surround him with enough talent under his current contract.

 

I wouldn't go as far to say that "all Brady cares about is winning," but the money he saves New England will help the team move forward and retain some key free agents. While the same can be said for Flacco's deal in 2013, moving forward I am not entirely too sure. 

Will veterans use Brady's model when discussing restructured deals? It's the idea that the player can help his team out while receiving a larger sum of money guaranteed. 

This hasn't really been the case in the past. 

It is important to realize that some players really don't have a choice when it comes to redoing their deals. Not everyone can be in the elite category of Brady, and to a lesser extent, Flacco. Organizations are usually playing from a position of strength as it relates to demanding or asking a player to restructure his deal. 

We have seen this a whole heck of a lot since the Super Bowl concluded early last month. 

Courtesy of ESPN

Miles Austin, who signed a seven-year, $54 million contract back in 2011, agreed to redo his deal following yet another pedestrian season in 2012. The veteran receiver did not take a pay cut, but did enable the Cowboys to "shift some of his $6.732 million base salary to a signing bonus in order to spread the cap hit out over the three years left on his deal" (via Pro Football Talk). 

Did Austin really have much of a choice here? Dallas could have easily made the decision to release the struggling receiver outright. In that case, Austin wouldn't have received anywhere near the type of deal he is playing under in the open market. 

Austin counted over $17 million against the cap in 2010 before seeing his salary drop to $2.2 million in 2011 and $2.7 million in 2012 (via Spotrac). This fit perfectly in with the lack of production we have seen from the two-time Pro Bowl performer over the last two seasons. 

Sometimes it doesn't matter if a specific player is willing to restructure his deal or take a pay cut. As evidenced with the Atlanta Falcons cutting ties with a trio of important veterans, front offices have to come to the conclusion at some point that certain aging veterans don't fit what they are trying to build. 

Atlanta saved $15.9 million by releasing Michael Turner, John Abraham and Dunta Robinson, all of whom are on the wrong side of 30 (via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). In doing so, Atlanta will be able to remain in the market to retain some core youngsters such as Sam Baker and Brent Grimes, who fit better into their long-term success. 

It's important to note that Abraham, Turner and Robinson have all restructured their deals in the past, the most recent being Robinson, who saved the Falcons about $1.8 million in cap room last March (via ESPN). The veteran defensive back was set to earn nearly $30 million over the next three seasons, so he had to see this coming. After all, he had already been paid all but $500 thousand of the $25.5 million he was guaranteed when he signed with Atlanta in 2010 (via Spotrac).  

Does it pay for veterans who are not among the best players in the league to redo their deals in order to help their team? This is an important question  that will be raised when free agency starts and June cuts come around.

Elsa/Getty Images
As the face of the Patriots franchise, it just made sense for Brady to restructure

Quarterbacks are the face of their franchises. They accumulate most of the praise for success and have a majority of the blame placed on their back when things are not going right. They're also the ones that are usually in it for the long haul. This means that they're going to be more than willing to help the team in order to maintain the level of excellence or get better on the field. 

We saw this firsthand with Brady earlier this month and will continue to see this happen as long as the NFL allows these types of deals to be restructured. 

While not being able to draw a concrete conclusion to the question posed in the title of this article, I can say that all circumstances are different. Some players are not really given much a choice when it comes to redoing their deals, while others do so in order to help their teams out. 

As is the case with nearly every single profession in the world, it is usually about the bottom line of the individual. If it just so happens that the health of the company that he works for is benefited by his actions, then so be it. 

However, there do come times when a quarterback or high-priced star makes the "altruistic" decision to look out of the betterment of the organization and takes a pay cut in the process. Those times are few and far between. 

I urge you to look further into the specifics of restructured deals moving forward, rather than just assuming that a player is acting selfless. In the case of Brady, he received $30 million guaranteed to help his organization out. 

Wouldn't you do the same? 

 

Follow me on Twitter @VincentFrankNFL

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