When the Indianapolis Colts signed former Cleveland Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson to a four-year deal worth $22 million, the initial reaction was that Indianapolis may have overpaid for a washed-up linebacker. After all, the Browns had released Jackson to save just over $5 million, and now the Colts were handing him $22 million. It just didn't seem to add up.
It's been well documented that Jackson's play has declined in recent years. He turns 31 years old in September and is clearly on the downswing of his career.
According to a recent article by Jeff Ratcliffe of Pro Football Focus, Jackson may actually be a liability to the Colts in certain areas:
While Jackson is still decent in coverage, his play against the run has declined significantly. In fact, he’s graded out among PFF’s 10 worst linebackers against the run in each of the last two seasons.
But while all these facts seem to stack against the Colts, what really matters here is the structure of Jackson's contract. Not all $22 million contracts are created the same, and that's certainly the case with Jackson's deal.
On the surface, the Colts are paying Jackson $22 million to play though the age of 34. In reality, they're paying around $11 million for just two years of service from the veteran linebacker.
Take a look at the contract breakdown, per Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post:
|Year||Base||Signing Bonus||Other||Total Guaranteed|
National Football Post
Based on this structure, the Colts are only locking themselves into a two-year deal with Jackson, which is certainly reasonable for a 30-year-old linebacker.
While it could be argued that Jackson no longer deserves an average of $5.5 million per year, even on a two-year deal, the Colts have plenty of money to burn. According to Spotrac, they have an estimated $38 million in cap space for the 2014 offseason, even after the Jackson signing—the fifth-most cap space in the league.
And based on the current cap number, the Colts should have around $60-$70 million in cap space for the 2015 offseason.
So while there's certainly no guarantee that Jackson will be an immediate upgrade for the Colts defense, there's very little risk involved in this signing. The money Jackson will see over the next two years will barely make a dent in the Colts' pocketbook, and if he doesn't live up to the deal, they can cut him after year two with just one million remaining on the books.
But if he lives up to the deal, or exceeds it, they essentially have two years of "team options" that they can pick up at the same rate they'll pay him for the first two seasons.
Jackson's deal may not be the most exciting of the offseason, but considering the structure of it, it's hard to argue that this isn't a victory for the Colts.