NFL contracts can be a tricky and complicated matter.
When taken at their maximum values, contracts can sometimes cause fans to ponder what the heck some of these clubs are up to. But lest we forget, salaries are by and large not guaranteed. Once you parse through the language regarding bonuses and guaranteed payments and up-front money, you can peel back the onion some.
Some of these deals, when reduced to the minimum -- the least spending that a team would be committed to make -- are entirely different in scope. Not to say that's a bad thing, because some of these players reached monster paydays. But as we get deeper into the free-agency period, the actual money that will definitely go to these players by and large dries up even more, and many of these contracts aren't truly what they seem.
The Patriots were getting savaged by some for "only" offering Wes Welker a two-year, $10 million deal, but the reality is Welker's $12 million contract in Denver could be as little as a one-year, $6 million deal the way the contract is constructed. Welker's 2014 compensation is not fully guaranteed unless he is on the roster next March (and while we all assume he will be, crazy things can happen in a year).
So, with that in mind, perhaps some will see why the Ravens didn't value an also-aging Anquan Boldin at $6 million per year. And, in general, outside of Mike Wallace (whose deal at a minimum is a whopping $30 million for two years), receivers aren't commanding near what many expected.
Ditto with the guys who cover them. The corner market is flooded, options abound, and many of these deals aren't as bountiful as it might seem.
Sure, Cary Williams could earn a maximum of $17 million over three years, but that's including $11.25 million in base salary from 2014-15 that he might never get to. Given the language of the guarantees, it's in reality one-year, $5.75 million ($5 million signing bonus and $750,000 base salary in 2013). Sean Smith must be on the Chiefs' roster on Feb 7, 2014 for his guarantees for next year to be fully covered for injury, skill and cap. Thus, a three-year, $16.5 million deal could actually be one-year, $7.5 million if he doesn't perform to expectations (which is well below the franchise number for corners).
Dashon Goldson hit a home run, averaging more than $8 million a year as a safety in Tampa, a huge deal. But the Bucs are protected as well with guaranteed language, and it could in fact be a two-year, $18 million deal (still a haul for that position).
Jermon Bushrod was coveted by the tackle-hungry Bears, and he'll pocket a hefty $11.815 million in total compensation in 2013. But he must be on the roster on the third day of the 2014 league year for other guarantees to kick in for what on paper is a five-year, $36 million deal.
Dannell Ellerbe will make $14 million over two years but then could be gone (still, a huge sum for the former undrafted, situational player turned 2012 hero). Similarly, another Ravens playoff star, Paul Kruger, might end up playing out his five-year deal for $41 million in Cleveland, but what is known is that he will definitely make $20 million over the first two years of the deal before things are no longer guaranteed.
Martellus Bennett, should he not perform, could be out of Chicago after one year and $5.3 million in compensation. Safety LaRon Landry hit a home run with the Colts, getting a max of $24 million over four years. But at its base, it's $11 million for one year (a staggering figure) with his 2014 base salary not fully guaranteed and fairly big roster bonuses looming in 2015 and 2016.
Those are the economics of the NFL, when teams wield the hammer in what has been a prohibitive CBA with the cap still stagnant. The money has not exactly been free-flowing, and all that a player is set to earn in the first few years of the deal will be, in many cases, all that he actually pockets from his new employer.