Big Financial Decisions That Must Be Made Before 2014 NFL Season
There are no guarantees in this NFL—especially when it relates to contracts.
Sure, there's guaranteed money doled out every offseason. There are also players like Darrelle Revis, DeMarcus Ware and Julius Peppers who go from being highly paid to highly available, like this past one.
We take a look at five of the biggest financial decisions that must be made by teams and their players before the 2014 season. Our group contains the top players who are still unsigned (Jimmy Graham), potentially holding out (Vernon Davis), rumored to be considering retirement (Marshawn Lynch), cap-strapping their team (Ndamukong Suh) and stuck in a roster numbers game (BenJarvus Green-Ellis).
We could go on and on about the big dollars awaiting the 2015 free-agent class, especially quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, who stand to earn $24-25 million annually, according to NFL insider Adam Schefter. That is a feature for another day. Those teams have another season to weigh the value of those players if they don't choose to sign them beforehand.
The five above have far more pressing contract issues weighing on their teams before this season begins. We break them down in depth here.
Jimmy Graham's Franchise Tender/Long-Term Deal at Tight End...or Wide Receiver
Regardless of whether the New Orleans Saints win the case in the grievance filed by Jimmy Graham and the players union, they are going to be forced to pay their leading pass-catcher a lot of money. The question is just how much for one year.
For five-plus years, it is going to be a number close to $60 million.
If the arbiter decides Graham is a wide receiver, the Saint stands to make $12.132 million on a one-year tender next season, according to Mike Triplett of ESPN.com. If he is a tight end, he will be stuck with $7.053 million, a great deal of money for most of us, but it's a paltry sum for someone of Graham's skills in the NFL.
Graham has 36 touchdown receptions over the past three seasons, tops in the NFL at any position, and he has averaged 90 receptions, 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns.
We should fully expect the Saints to mitigate the salary-cap hit by making a substantial offer on a long-term deal. The top average salary at tight end is Rob Gronkowski's $9 million, according to Spotrac. There are nine players who make at least that at wide receiver per year.
If the Saints are permitted to hold Graham to the tight-end tender, they risk alienating their star. They need to make him a five-year, $60 million offer before the July 15 deadline. Graham has every right to hold out for even more.
49ers Need to Keep Vernon Davis from Holding Out
Jimmy Graham's arbitration verdict will impact more than just Graham and the New Orleans Saints. Vernon Davis and the San Francisco 49ers are keenly aware of how that situation impacts their own.
Davis has held out of minicamp to restructure his deal that will pay him $7.35 million over the next two seasons, according to Spotrac. If Graham gets more, Davis will want more, too. Davis is clearly on the tight end's side of the debate, he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter.
I pray that Jimmy Graham passes as a wide receiver. Because at the end of the day, if he passes as a wide receiver, that's better for the rest of the tight ends. He will have opened up a door, a pathway for the rest of the group.
The 49ers won't have to pay Davis anything more than they already have him under contract for, but they will have an unhappy tight end if they don't offer something in the way of a larger extension. Davis won't approach Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham money annually, but he could get a few years added to his current deal in the $9-10 million range with a hefty signing bonus.
Marshawn Lynch Might Need to Be Paid More to Stop the Retirement Talk
Marshawn Lynch reported to minicamp, as NFL insider Ian Rapoport tweeted, amid rumors of mulling retirement, but the Seattle Seahawks' Super Bowl victory still might prove costly in terms of keeping their leading running back happy.
Michael Robinson, another former Seahawk, spoke for Lynch amid his own retirement talk, telling Todd Dybas of The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.):
The guy has been the face of this franchise since the day he stepped in that door, it's been Beast Mode. Just from my knowledge of it, he has been the face of the franchise. Pete (Carroll) (general manager) John (Schneider), they've made no qualms about saying that. And he's (Lynch) just like 'I just want to be paid like it.' I think the devaluation of the (running) back doesn't help his case, the fact that he has two years let on his deal doesn't help his case, which I've expressed to him.
Lynch is now 28 and has some wear on his body, with over 300 carries each of the past two seasons as the Seahawks bell cow. Robinson knows it is a precarious negotiating position for Lynch, especially in the current running back market, telling Dybas:
The fact that the biggest free-agent running back signing got $3.5 million a season (Chris Johnson) doesn't help him. But you take Marshawn Lynch off the team last year, do we win the Super Bowl? I think all of us know the answer to that. He just wants to be paid like it. He knows he has a short window left. Nobody says anything when teams cut a guy at this juncture, though. I'm all in for players getting their dollars, man, because you have a short life.
Again, the Seahawks don't have to pay anything more to a guy they already have under contract for two years at $7.5 million per year, according to Spotrac. Doing nothing can be damaging for Lynch and perhaps team morale, though.
Honestly, the Seahawks should not relent. Lynch is making as much money as he deserves in this market for backs. Lynch won't retire, so expect them to call his bluff.
Ndamukong Suh Due for Contract Extension That Would Keep Him Highest-Paid DT
Ndamukong Suh already has the highest cap figure in the entire NFL, according to Spotrac, and now he needs to get paid. Ouch.
Suh's current average salary is almost $6.5 million more than the next highest-paid defensive tackle, per Spotrac.
Michael Ginnitti of Spotrac broke down Suh's contract worthiness, predicting Suh will get five years, $52,440,000 with $28 million guaranteed. That is just $10,488,000 per year.
That is quite a pay cut for a productive defensive tackle in his prime at age 27. We are going to predict the Detroit Lions have to pony up even more before the season if they are going to keep their man happy this season.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis Faces Dicey Future with Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals didn't need to be the first team to draft a running back in 2012 and the second team to do so in 2013 for everyone to see the writing on the wall for BenJarvus Green-Ellis' future with the team. They were, though, selecting Giovani Bernard last April and LSU's Jeremy Hill this May.
The Bengals' big financial decision that they need to make before the season is whether a third-string running back is worth $3 million. They can cut the soon-to-be 29-year-old back and save $2.5 million against the salary cap, according to Spotrac's Michael Ginnitti.
The Bengals don't need cap space. They also might not need a back who averaged a paltry 3.4 yards per carry in 2013.
The Bengals will open training camp with The Law Firm on the roster, but Geoff Hobson of the Bengals' official website wrote the veteran will have to beat out the soon-to-be 24-year-old Rex Burkhead.
We will agree with Hobson here. If Bernard and Hill are healthy going into the season, BGE is going to be cut before the start of the season.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.