Contract Situations That Must Be Addressed Prior to NFL Training Camp
NFL training camps are approaching quickly, but there is still enough time to take care of contract situations with star players. Teams and players each have incentive to lock-in franchise players before training camp begins, as teams want to install their systems and players want to avoid $30,000-a-day fines.
Let’s take a look at the five contract situations that need to be reconciled before players report to training camp next month. To qualify, players must be considered one of the best at their respective position in the league and be rumored to be a potential camp holdout.
All stats used are from Pro Football Focus' Premium Stats (subscription required) or sports-reference.com. All combine and pro day info is courtesy of ESPN.com. All contract information is courtesy of Spotrac.com.
Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals' fourth-year cornerback has become one of the biggest stars in the NFL. Known for his elite athleticism and playmaking ability, Peterson is ready to get paid. According to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, Peterson wasn’t ruling out a holdout in February.
I can’t speak on that right now,” Peterson said when asked whether a holdout is out of the question. “Me and my agent, we haven’t talked about some of those possibilities. But hopefully we can get something done. If something were to happen, we restructure my deal or anything like that, we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
More recently, Peterson told Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com he wouldn’t hold out, according to Kevin Patra of NFL.com, saying, “Like I told you guys, I won't hold out so we got that done. I will be there...be there full tilt ready to roll, taking that final step into camp."
The change in plans for Peterson is likely because the groundwork of a new deal is set between he and the Cardinals, per Ian Rapoport (h/t to Gregg Rosenthal) of NFL Network. As long as the deal isn’t finalized, it will serve as a major situation to be addressed by the team.
The Cardinals are trying to improve upon their surprise 10-6 season in 2013, and Peterson is crucial to achieve that success. As PFF’s 15th-ranked cornerback last year, Peterson showed improvement in his overall technique. At just 23 years old, he should continue to get better in his discipline covering precision routes and anticipating comebacks.
Arizona has incentive to lock Peterson up with a long-term deal right now. By extending his 2015 option, Peterson is guaranteed to make over $10 million in salary, which represents a 350 percent increase from 2014 to 2015. With such a drastic raise, the team only has $2.275 million in free space in 2015. By giving Peterson a long-term deal, the Cardinals can stretch his signing bonus to alleviate their cap situation after 2014.
Being a top-five selection in 2011, Peterson was signed to a fully guaranteed deal worth $18 million as a rookie. His high base salary and age likely means the value of his new contract will be higher than rival cornerback Richard Sherman’s deal, which included $40 million guaranteed and $57.4 million total over five years, according to Rapoport.
It seems the Cardinals have targeted Peterson as their franchise building block on defense, so expect movement on a new contract before training camp.
Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers
Vernon Davis enters his ninth season with the San Francisco 49ers as the fourth-most productive tight end in the NFL since 2006. The former No. 6 overall pick in the 2006 draft has been able to produce despite having five offensive coordinators thus far in his career.
As the 2014 season nears, Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com reported Davis did not participate in the teams’ first eight weeks of voluntary workouts. In writing for theMMQB.com, Davis explained his holdout.
In 2010 I signed a five-year, $37 million contract extension with $23 million guaranteed. It was the biggest contract for a tight end in league history. Four years later, and I'm playing at a higher level than I was then, which brings me to why I'm holding out. It's all about getting paid what you deserve. It's not that complicated. I want the 49ers to win the Super Bowl, and I want to be on the field this summer working towards that goal, but I have to worry about my future first. Most of my teammates and many players in the NFL understand that. A few don't. Behind closed doors, they'll say they're all about the team and would run through a brick wall for the organization. But when you look closer, they're doing things to contradict themselves. I can't listen to anyone but my family and my advisors, because those are the people who are going to be there when football inevitably dumps me.
Davis’ ability to be a reliable, yet dynamic, receiver for budding quarterback Colin Kaepernick should allow him to cash in as a 2016 unrestricted free agent. His performance in 2013 helped quell worries that he was declining, after a subpar 2012 season. Beyond the stat-line in 2012, where Davis finished with just 41 catches for 548 yards, he endured a change in quarterbacks, when the 49ers benched Alex Smith for Kaepernick. The subsequent change in targets for Davis was dramatic, going from 4.5 per game to 3.
Davis’ argument for a new contract now instead of later should start with his 2013 renaissance season. His traditional statistics were amongst the strongest in his career, totaling 52 receptions, 850 yards and a staggering 13 touchdowns throughout 15 games. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded Davis as the fourth-best tight end last season, finishing with a positive grade of 8.6. That mark is tied for second-best in his career, trailing only 2012.
Davis could also point out that his salary is not on par with his production, as his base salary is only the seventh highest at tight end.
For the 49ers, re-signing Davis long-term might not be an easy decision. Davis will be 32 years old at the end of his current deal. Investing in a player past the age of 30 is a risk because of the history of gradual decline, and the 49ers are a stacked team with a great front office.
The 49ers need Davis to win a Super Bowl in 2014, though, and Davis is clearly valuable to the offense. Maybe a short-term deal gets done to satisfy both parties. This is a must-watch situation before training camp.
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints' star tight end is in the midst of a battle over what franchise tag he’ll be designated with in 2014, but once the decision is made, both sides can work toward a long-term deal. As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported, the decision should come next week via an arbitrator. The difference in pay between a wide receiver distinction and tight end is severe, totaling $5.3 million in 2014.
Graham said back at the Senior Bowl that he thought the franchise tag would be “unfortunate”, per Kevin Patra of NFL.com. Since he’s been tagged, and now with the dispute he’s filed against the team, it’s possible Graham has little interest in playing with the Saints past 2014.
"Look at our numbers over the last eight years," he said. "We've had a lot of different guys in there. Jimmy's only been here four years. He's only been here half the time. We were putting up some pretty big numbers before he got here, and we've been putting up some big numbers since he's been here.
That’s much easier said than done, considering Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Matt Miller ranked Graham as the top tight end in 2013. In Matt Miller’s top 50 tight ends list, he had this to say about Graham: “He was among the NFL’s most dominant players during the regular season and continues to be a nightmare for most defenses.” That’s the type of impact Brees should be begging to keep.
The former basketball player has improved tremendously throughout his short career, and he is coming off an incredible 86-reception, 1,215-yard and 16-touchdown season. His 2013 campaign allowed him to be ranked as PFF’s top tight end. As a pass-catcher, he’s nearly unstoppable because of his athleticism, precise routes and tremendous hands.
If he is open to a deal, the Saints would be wise to sign one of the elite pass-catchers in the league to a long-term pact.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks hit the proverbial jackpot when they acquired Marshawn Lynch from the Buffalo Bills in 2010 for a fourth-round pick. Since joining the Seahawks, Lynch has accumulated 4,624 yards rushing and 41 touchdowns. Oh, and a nice, shiny, championship ring.
The 28-year old running back likely knows that running backs almost always decline at age 28, so he’s trying to capitalize on his role with the Seahawks. His current deal runs through 2015, and his $5 million salary is good for the fifth highest base in the NFL. The Seahawks, possessing the deepest roster in the NFL, and potentially the best front office, have little reason to extend Lynch. With physical freak Christine Michael as a backup, the team already planned on being a “running back by committee” this season, via Jayson Jenks of The Seattle Times.
That sounds like bad news for PFF’s 3rd-ranked running back in 2013, but Michael wasn’t ultra-productive in college, so it’s possible the hype on him is the product of a good day at OTAs. One thing is for sure about Lynch; he’s proven the ability to go “beast mode”. For a team looking to repeat a championship, don’t expect them to stray from the proven back.
A few weeks ago, Lynch threatened to retire if he didn’t get a new contract.
Since then, Marshawn Lynch showed up to minicamp, with hopes the Seahawks will re-negotiate his deal in good faith, according to Terry Blount of ESPN.com. The NFL doesn’t normally give out deals out of good faith, but the Seahawks can ill-afford a poor season from Lynch. They should reward the man nicknamed “Skittles.”
Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs
At 25 years old, Justin Houston is one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL. The 2014 season will be just his fourth, all with the Kansas City Chiefs. At the 2011 NFL combine, Houston reportedly failed a drug test, causing him to slide to the third round. Since then, the Chiefs have paid him only $2,786,248, which includes his 2014 salary.
It’s clear Houston has outperformed his contract, totaling 125 tackles and 20 sacks since being drafted.
To show how serious he is about getting a new contract, Houston skipped the mandatory minicamp in Kansas City, according to Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star. His absence from the team activity will cost him nearly $70,000, which is dictated by the NFL collective bargaining agreement. He is hoping his on-field play will translate to a new contract that will make it much easier to pay the fine for missing OTAs.
I’ve gushed about how good Houston is before, as the allure of a young pass-rusher with ridiculous athleticism will cause a team to give him the contract he desires. Houston translates speed to power as well as any edge pass-rusher in the league right now, and he figures to only improve with experience.
Despite the Chiefs selected outside linebacker Dee Ford in the 2014 NFL draft, they’ll need Houston to improve on their surprising 2013 season. As Houston missed time to injuries late last year, the effectiveness of the Chiefs’ base defense decreased. Replacing Houston might not be possible, if he can produce 10 sacks in just seven games, like he did to start 2013.
Considering Kansas City is looking to contend for a playoff spot and advance further in year two of Andy Reid’s tenure, re-signing PFF’s top 3-4 outside linebacker is a simple decision. The Chiefs should reward their prized linebacker with a new contract before training camp.
Ian Wharton is a NFL featured columnist for Bleacher Report, contributor for Optimum Scouting, and analyst for FinDepth. You can follow and interact with Ian Wharton on Twitter @NFLFilmStudy.