Larry Fitzgerald signed a contract extension for $50 million guaranteed over 8 years over the weekend, with a reported overall value of $120 million. Is it a large chunk of money, you bet. We also need to realize just how much money the star veteran players are going to be making under the new CBA deal that imposed a control on young player salaries. It’s hard to tell how these deals are structured until the specifics are filed with the league and the information leaks out. There is often some funny money in the non-guaranteed amount depending on how the base salaries are set late in the contract. I suspect that the guaranteed money is spread out over time, and he’s not cashing anything close to a $50 million check today.
The amount may seem high, and they’ll talk about average salary, but remember a couple of things: (1) the salary cap will continue to escalate during the life of this contract, while young player salaries are controlled; (2) as a result, veteran salaries will shoot up, and by the middle of this deal, he won’t be close to the highest paid player at his position. Football salaries for veterans are going to become closer to the baseball salaries we see top free agents sign, where numbers are in the $15-25 million range per year. 44% of the NFL’s value is tied up in player’s in the first four years in the league, but with the imposed caps and restrictions on renegotiation, maybe $30 million of the typical team’s cap will be. That number could represent less than 20% of the overall cap in a few years, leaving well over $100 million for the rest of the roster. You’re going to see the average veteran salary climb above $5 million, and it will be skewed toward stars.
Fitzgerald gave up a lot of years, when the cap will climb, to get $50 million guaranteed and what might be an average of $15 million a year. I’d also put him among the top 15 players in the league if I were re-drafting for the next five years, based on his age, his work ethic, his positional value, and how his past production projects going forward. Larry Fitzgerald has the second most receiving yards of any player through age 27. Sandwiched between Randy Moss, Torry Holt, and Jerry Rice. Sure, he entered the league at 21, but he’s been an elite player–an all-time great–and projects to be elite for at least the next 5 years based on his position and what other star players have done. I don’t think the Cardinals got a huge value by any means, but you have to pay stars what they are worth. He’s worth a contract that within a few years won’t be among the top 5 non-QB’s, spread out over 8 years.
Of course, soon after it was signed, people started talking about what it would do for Chris Johnson. I’ve already said that I support Chris Johnson’s position to hold out, but if he’s demanding anything close to this from Tennessee, I’d tell him to take a spin, offer him $20 million guaranteed to end his holdout, and put the risk on him to end his career or sit out a year rather than take that. Even setting aside their different leverage points (Fitzgerald had a clause prohibiting use of franchise tag and would be a free agent after this year, while Johnson is under contract and paying fines for holding out), they play different positions.
Johnson has been very good from ages 23-25, and is in good company among players with 4,800 or more yards from scrimmage during those ages. Unfortunately for him, he entered the league older than most elite backs at 23. The problem is that, while he may keep going strong like Emmitt, Walter or Eric Dickerson toward age 30, other cases like Jamal Lewis, Earl Campbell and Terrell Davis did not. The Titans can project on average 2 elite years as one of the 5-10 best at his position, and about 3.5 as a decent starter. Individual results varying quite a bit, of course.
And 2 elite years at running back and 3.5 as a starter aren’t worth $50 million spread out over 8 years, not even close. So while Johnson may want to get paid like Fitzgerald, he needs some people around him who aren’t just yes men to give him the hard truth about value.
[photo via Getty]