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Existing contracts create headaches for teams trying to get deals done

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Ray Rice might have to settle for two years of franchise tags from the Ravens. (Getty Images)  
Ray Rice might have to settle for two years of franchise tags from the Ravens. (Getty Images)  

May and June are protest months for veteran players with contract issues. The market changed and guys feel they are underpaid. Others were franchised and want long-term deals at franchise values or higher. It's time for certain players to voice their displeasure by staying home.

It is hard for the average fan to have empathy for millionaires looking for more millions. As Bill Cowher told me many times in the past three years, the one thing that rings true as he watches the NFL from the sideline is, "Don't overreact as a coach to protest season." That's good advice for any coach. With rare exceptions, sooner or later the players will show up because they simply can't leave money on the table. As I like to say, "Cash is undefeated."

But the front office executives responsible for getting deals done have to work around the contracts signed around the league that cause stumbling blocks when trying to secure their own players in the right deal. Compounding the problem is the fact that franchise tag values went down in the new CBA, because they are now determined by averaging the past five years instead of the top five salaries from last year.

Here's a look at some player contracts causing some of the biggest problems for teams.

Existing contract: Chargers S Eric Weddle, signed on July 29, 2011
Players affected: Dashon Goldson (49ers), Michael Griffin (Titans)
The issue: Weddle signed a five-year contract with a $13 million signing bonus and an average over the first three years of $8.33 million. The franchise tag value dropped from $8.8 million to $6.2 million under the new CBA, and clubs aren't heading toward the Weddle deal but rather the new franchise number.

There are only two safeties (Troy Polamalu, Eric Berry) with a higher three-year average than Weddle but players like Goldson and Griffin believe they are better than Weddle or at least deserve the same money.

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Weddle, Goldson and Griffin were all drafted in 2007. Griffin was chosen in the first round, Weddle the second and Goldson the fourth. Weddle has 13 interceptions, 39 passes defended and four sacks in 61 starts. Griffin has 17 interceptions, 44 passes defended and two sacks in 73 starts. Goldson has 11 interceptions, 24 passes defended and three sacks in 48 starts.

They are all in the same ballpark when it comes to production but probably not in contract terms simply because it's a year later.

Existing contract: Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams, signed on July 29, 2011; Texans RB Arian Foster, signed on March 5, 2012
Players affected: Matt Forte (Bears), Ray Rice (Ravens)
The issue: We keep hearing that Forte and Rice want something close to Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson money. I doubt any team in the next 10 years will give a running back a deal with a $13 million average over the first three years like Peterson ($13.76M) or Johnson ($14.99M).

The deals for Foster ($10 million average for the first three years) and Williams ($9 million) are probably too rich for the Bears and Ravens considering the franchise tag is now $7.7 million, down from $9.6 million.

Both teams are looking at the franchise tag for two years at a grand total of $16.94 million (two-year average, $8.47 million), which is a lot cheaper than the $25 million Carolina dished out in the first two years of the Williams deal, or the $24 million in the Texans' deal with Foster.

Existing contract: Panthers DE Charles Johnson, signed on July 29, 2011
Player affected: Cliff Avril (Lions)
The issue: Johnson got a $30 million signing bonus and his deal averages $15.33 million over the first three years, $2 million more than Julius Peppers in Chicago.

Avril is signed under a franchise tag that dropped from $13 million in 2011 to $10.6 million in 2012. Avril will point to his production compared to Johnson -- in six fewer games, he has the same number of sacks (30) and nine more forced fumbles -- and argue that he deserves the same deal.

Existing contract: Patriots QB Tom Brady, signed on Sept. 10, 2010
Player affected: Drew Brees (Saints)
The issue: Brady's contract averages $18 million for five years with $19 million per over the first three years. Brees is on a franchise tag at $16.37 million and is believed to be in search of a deal in range of $23 million.

Peyton Manning's last deal with the Colts had a $23.4 million average over the first three years but he was released and is now under a contract that averages $19 million (but could balloon if he stays healthy). Between Brady and even Eli Manning ($16 million average for five years), Brees could crack the $20 million mark but not much more than that. Otherwise the franchise tag is the answer. The critical date is July 16. If a long-term deal isn't done by then, there will not be a long-term deal.

Existing contract: Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, signed on Aug. 22, 2011
Players affected: Dwayne Bowe (Chiefs), Mike Wallace (Steelers)
The issue: Fitzgerald's deal averages $17.16 million over the first three years, which is nearly double what Bowe or Wallace might expect. The franchise tag that Bowe is under is $9.4 million and he would be lucky to get the deal DeSean Jackson signed in Philadelphia ($9.4 million average over five years, $10 million signing bonus, $15 million guaranteed). Wallace is only a restricted free agent and doesn't even have the leverage of the franchise tag, which probably means he waits another year.


Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
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