NFL Hot Topics & Thoughts
We have reached the quiet part of the NFL offseason. The occasional contract extension or specific player news is all the NFL has to offer us beyond pictures and videos of players in shorts and jerseys conducting walk through system installs.
NFL teams are heavy into stage 2 of their organized team activities (OTA’s) and mandatory mini camps this month leading up to the a long 5 week break before training camps heat up.
Gone are the days of involuntary voluntary practice knowns at OTA’s. There has been a shift over the past 5 years as we see more and more players opt to skip OTA’s and continue working on their own. This occurs more primarily with veterans, franchise tag players, or players attempting to make a statement to their team about a contract situation.
Last week there was much discussion locally, in Houston, about Laremy Tunsil skipping OTA’s. There was a split in the opinion among fans and radio on Tunsil electing to continue training elsewhere.
The two prevailing thoughts were: 1) Tunsil should be there to work with the new coaching staff and to help mentor the new players. 2) Tunsil is a veteran and doesn’t need OTA’s, this is no big deal.
Personally I was surprised at the amount of attention the situation was receiving on social media and radio. My opinion fell into the option 2 camp, that Tunsil skipping OTA’s was not a concern. That opinion was solidified when I received additional offline feedback over the weekend that Tunsil skipping OTA’s was not of major concern with the team, despite HC Lovie Smith’s comments about attendance.
Continued thoughts led me to take a look at Laremy Tunsil’s contracts with Houston. What I found gives me additional confidence in my opinion on Tunsil’s lack of attendance.
Houston has a history of adding a clause to their veteran player contracts that stipulate a salary de-escalator (decrease) if the player does not attend a percentage of offseason activities. The Texans generally require 80% of attendance to avoid the de-escalator kicking in.
Laremy Tunsil’s contracts (prior to the restructure in March 2022) including this de-escalator clause. The first contract signed in 2020 including the de-escalator language for 2020-2023, specifying Tunsil attend 84.375% (27 of 32 practice/workout activities). There were other conditions as well including attendance of mandatory camp and training camp. Not achieving the required number of practices could have led to a $350,000 decrease in Tunsil’s base salary for the regular season.
This same clause appeared again in Tunsil’s restructured contract in March 2021.
The clause disappeared in the March 2022 restructured contract. Allowing Tunsil to skip voluntary practice without any sort of monetary consequences.
Now there are reasons for the clause disappearing for 2022 but not for 2023. Tunsil’s base salary for 2022 was lowered to the minimum for Tunsil’s amount of credited seasons. The team can’t lower it beyond the minimum amount through the escalator.
The lack of the de-escalator for 2023 is prevalent for both now and next year. I expect Tunsil to skip OTA’s in 2023 as well given his lack of attendance in 2022. Assuming Tunsil is still on the roster for 2023. The amount of leverage he has created yet again makes for some interesting conversation come March 2023.
David Njoku Extension
Cleveland and franchise tag tight end David Njoku completed a new 4 year contract to replace the franchise tag tender placing the tight end under contract through the 2025 season. This was a surprise contract for 99% of the NFL world, for a player that has eclipsed 500 yard receiving once, and never having more than 4 touchdowns.
The contract places Njoku as the 5th highest paid tight end in terms of APY at $13,687,500. Other metrics & ranks:
Total Guarantee Percentage: 51.1% (7th)
Full Guarantee Percentage: 31.1% (7th)
Year 1 Cash Flow: $12.5 million (6th)
Year 3 Cash Flow: $39.5 million (5th)
This is a very strong projection by Cleveland on Njoku blossoming into a Top 5 tight end. The bet is also hedging on new franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson utilizing Njoku in Kevin Stefanski’s scheme.
Watson has never had a (potential) top end tight end talent. In Houston he worked with a lower level tight end committee type structure with former HC Bill O’Brien.
Cleveland continued their use of the year 2 option bonus structure in the contract. A carryover of GM Andrew Berry from his time with GM Howie Roseman in Philadelphia. The contract also includes two void years for salary cap purposes to spread out the pro-rated bonus money from the $11.465 million signing bonus and $8 million option bonus.
Aaron Donald Highest Paid Non-Quarterback
Los Angeles Rams and all pro DL Aaron Donald agreed to renegotiated 3 year contract worth $95 million. The new contract constitutes at $40 million raise over the 3 year period as Donald was scheduled to earn $55 million in 2022 through 2024.
Les Snead is a very savvy GM with contracts and roster building. There have been many detailed articles on the Rams current roster strategy in forgoing 1st round draft selections in lieu of trading for elite talent. The team is very good at player development, especially with players selected in the 3rd round or later.
The Rams have a very top heavy salary cap system back filled with mid round draft selections. At a 30,000 foot view this allows the team to adjust their top contracts to push cap dollars into the future. By having a large number of lower salary cap charge players on the roster, the team generally has cap room to make such moves. All while hedging on a rising salary cap.
To do this the team must heavily rely on their coach staff to develop those late round draft picks into strong contributors to build the roster depth at a lower cost. It is a high wire effort and would not work for every organization.
Thanks all for this week.
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