The bar has been set for Darrelle Revis and Nate Solder. Now it’s up to them to go prove their worth.
Two of the league’s biggest news stories last week involved the Patriots indirectly when the Cardinals signed young star cornerback Patrick Peterson to a $70 million contract extension and the Cowboys signed young left tackle Tyron Smith to an eye-popping 10-year, $97 million extension.
For Revis, never shy about his desire to be the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL, the bar has now clearly been set by Peterson, Seattle’s Richard Sherman, and Cleveland’s Joe Haden, who each signed contract extensions this offseason. And for Solder, the bar has been set by Smith in two ways — they not only play the same position, but both were first-round picks in 2011 and the first to play under the new rookie contract structure as stated by the 2011 collective bargaining agreement.
Revis technically is signed with New England through next season under a two-year, $32 million deal he signed in March, but few if anyone around the league expect the Patriots to pick up Revis’s $12.5 million option bonus due next March (it would give him an outrageous cap number of $25 million next year), which effectively makes his contract a one-year deal worth $12 million.
The Patriots got Revis relatively cheaply this year — he only counts $7 million against the salary cap — but if his performance this training camp is any indication, they better be prepared to break out their checkbook next spring, or have a good Plan B.
The three young players set the cornerback market this offseason at $14 million per year. Peterson’s $70 million is spread over five years, Sherman got four years and $56 million, while Haden got five years and $67.5 million ($13.5 million average).
Revis already has topped that once — he made $16 million in salary from the Buccaneers last season — and he will look to best the three youngsters again next spring and re-take his perch at the top of the cornerback hierarchy.
Of course, while players and agents obsess over the average annual salary, what really matters is the total guarantee. And in that light, Haden and Peterson offer a higher bar for Revis than Sherman.
Haden, the Browns’ first-round pick in 2010, realistically signed a four-year deal through 2017 that guarantees him almost $45 million at the time of signing, plus an additional $7 million that will trigger in two years, before his contract will likely be reworked before the 2018 season. Peterson, also realistically signed through 2017, will see about $49 million in salary and bonuses before his contract is likely reworked before 2018. Sherman, meanwhile, has a big asterisk on his new contract. While $40 million is “guaranteed,” only $12.4 million was truly guaranteed at the time of signing. The rest of the contract is a classic pay-as-you-go deal, with the Seahawks having five days after the Super Bowl each year to decide whether to renew Sherman for another season. Realistically, Sherman is signed through 2016 and will realize $37 million before the Seahawks can reasonably rework his deal before 2017.
So assuming Revis has another Pro Bowl-caliber season, where will he land in the hierarchy? One AFC front office source said Revis could easily approach the $14 million-per-season threshold with another strong season, but has doubts about Revis getting as much guaranteed money or as many years on his contract as the other three. Revis will be 30 next July with a torn ACL on his resume, while Sherman is 26, Haden is 25, Peterson is 24, and all three have been durable.
Sherman’s pay-as-you-go contract, a structure also signed by Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib this offseason, is the most realistic guide for Revis, who may be more valuable for the Patriots than for most teams.
“Revis is still elite, no question,” the executive said. “If he takes the Patriots to the Super Bowl, it almost puts them in the position where they have to bring him back. But how many teams are willing to make a big long-term investment in a 30-year-old cornerback? Not unless you think you’re one player away.”
Smith, meanwhile, broke ground as one of the first players from the 2011 first round to receive a contract extension (Peterson was the other). Teams have little incentive to grant contract extensions now because of the below-market fifth-year option, which was exercised on 21 of 32 first-round picks from that year, including Solder, whose rights are controlled by the Patriots now at least through 2015 (with the option to use the franchise tag on him the next two years).
Smith was able to break free from the grasp of the fifth-year option, but only by signing a ridiculously long 10-year contract that has him under contract through 2023 and gives the Cowboys full leverage over his rights if he happens to outperform his contract in future years. As of now, Smith, 23, won’t hit free agency until he’s 33 years old.
If Solder ever wants to cash in like Smith did, he may have to sacrifice his leverage in future years, as well.
Smith’s contract isn’t bad, however. While the total value of 10 years and $97 million is eye-popping, realistically he will see $32 million over the next three seasons or $42 million over four seasons. If Smith is still elite, the Cowboys will let him play out his contract at $10 million per season starting in 2018, or they can easily restructure the deal then. That $10 million per season puts him in the neighborhood with Joe Thomas and Ryan Clady as the highest-paid tackles.
Solder is under contract for $7.438 million in 2015, and the Patriots don’t have to hurry to get a contract extension done for him. But at least the bar has now been set.
Unanswered questions with Rice’s suspension
Roger Goodell and the NFL take their image and “protecting the shield” very seriously. And Goodell has a proven track record of coming down hard on players who get in trouble with the law and make the NFL look bad.
Which is why the league’s two-game suspension of Ray Rice for domestic violence and subsequent justification of the suspension is so bizarre: It goes against the NFL’s M.O. on both fronts. It doesn’t send a strong message to players, and doesn’t make it seem like the NFL cares much about domestic violence. Ben Roethlisberger gets six games for a sexual assault accusation that didn’t result in charges being filed, and Albert Haynesworth got five games for stomping on a player’s face, but Rice slugging his girlfriend only nets two games?
NFL senior VP Adolfo Birch, Goodell’s right-hand man, explained on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” last week that “we believe that the discipline we issued is appropriate. It is multiple games and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I think that it’s fair to say that that doesn’t reflect that you condone the behavior.” And the Ravens have been steadfast in their support of Rice, with the team posting on its website a video of fans giving Rice a standing ovation last week, and the team’s PR chief writing a blog entitled, “I like Ray Rice.” All this for a guy shown on video dragging his unconscious girlfriend out of an elevator.
The response from the league and the Ravens has been so outrageously tone deaf that it makes you wonder if there’s a lot more behind the scenes that has been left out of the public discourse.
Only Goodell and a handful of people have seen the full video from inside the elevator at that Atlantic City hotel, and know the full facts. We know that Janay Palmer was unconscious when Rice dragged her out of the elevator, but do we know how that happened? Is it possible Palmer attacked Rice, and then was knocked unconscious not by a punch but by her slipping and ramming her head into a railing?
Deadspin first brought up this theory last week, and it’s not insane — perhaps Goodell and the NFL viewed Rice as someone who was defending himself in an attack and wasn’t totally culpable for Palmer’s condition. It’s the only rational way to justify the lenient punishment and bizarre response from the NFL and the Ravens, and why Palmer has fervently defended Rice and asked the NFL to go easy on her now-husband.
It’s also an argument that is completely indefensible in the court of public opinion — no matter the details, Rice is going to be the bad guy. Goodell or the Ravens would get destroyed if they ever said that Palmer was partly responsible for what happened.
If not, it’s hard to justify how Rice gets two games for slugging his girlfriend and, say, TerrellePryor gets five games for receiving free swag while at Ohio State.
Brady taking a page from Spurs’ playbook
Tom Brady doesn’t want to be like the Seahawks this year, with their dominant defense leading them to a championship, or like the Broncos and their record-setting offense. The team that Brady most wants to emulate, actually, doesn’t even play football. It’s the San Antonio Spurs, who didn’t have the best superstars in the NBA but had by far the best team.
Brady said his goal this year is to feed all of his weapons, like the Spurs do, and not just rely on Rob Gronkowski, whose availability will be limited early in the season as he returns from major knee surgery.
“You watch the Spurs this year in the championship, and whoever the ball got kicked out to was going to make the shot,” Brady said last week on SiriusXM radio. “And I think that’s what makes a great offense. It’s not, throw it to one guy and see if he can create something. It’s pass, pass, pass, pass, pass until you get your best look, and then, boom, that’s where the ball goes in.”
“That’s what we want to be on offense. You’ve just got to figure out your best place to throw it, and that guy’s got to make a play.”
Brady also had an interesting answer when asked about having a more veteran receiving corps this year — all his top targets returned, plus the team signed veteran Brandon LaFell. Last year Brady struggled with an entire new unit, including three rookies in Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Josh Boyce, and his answer revealed how frustrating it was for him at times. “It’s nice for a quarterback not to have to talk to a fourth- or a fifth-year player about every little detail, like sometimes you need to do for a younger player,” Brady said.
No wonder the Patriots didn’t draft a receiver with a high pick this year. Brady’s done developing youngsters. He wanted finished products.
Business is booming around the league
As if we needed any further proof that the owners kicked butt at the negotiating table to end the 2011 lockout, Packers president Mark Murphy confirmed the excellent financial health of the league last week at the team’s annual shareholders meeting.
“I don’t know if there’s been a time when we’ve been more sound financially,” Murphy told the crowd, via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “We’ve got seven more years of labor peace . . . the long-term agreements with broadcast networks and other corporate sponsors have really given the league overall and the Packers stability that we haven’t had.”
The Packers posted a record revenue of $324.1 million, and although their net income decreased by $17.8 million, that was mainly due to large contract extensions given to Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews. While the Packers offer only 1/32nd of a snapshot of the NFL’s health, it’s safe to assume that if the Packers are doing well, most teams are doing well.
“Our operating profit declined temporarily,” Packers treasurer Mark McMullen said. “The Packers are flourishing. Everything is converging on a positive basis.”
A new age in New England
The Patriots will be one of 17 teams this fall to install Zebra Technologies’ real-time location system in the stadium, giving fans at the game access to real-time tracking information, such as a player’s position, speed, acceleration, and distance traveled. Players will have tiny transmitters placed inside their shoulder pads and will communicate with Zebra receivers installed throughout the stadium.
“It’s exciting to partner with an innovator like the NFL, where we will provide real-time data and information to coaches, broadcasters, and fans to enrich the game experience,” said Anders Gustafsson, CEO of Zebra Technologies.
Running backs gain yardage
Surprising to see two veteran running backs, Jamaal Charles and Marshawn Lynch, actually earn small victories in their holdouts. The Chiefs and Seahawks were under no obligation to rework the contracts of running backs who are 27 and 28 years old, respectively, but Seattle was willing to move money around for Lynch to increase his salary from $5 million to $6.5 million this year, while Kansas City gave Charles $5 million in new money for the next two years. Running backs will never be the big money-makers in today’s NFL, but Charles and Lynch prove that productive backs on winning teams who don’t ask for the moon in contract negotiations still have leverage.
Speaking of Charles, he brought new meaning to the phrase “break a defender’s ankles” last week in practice. At Chiefs training camp, Charles unleashed such a nasty open-field cut that safety Sanders Commings literally buckled and crumpled to the ground with a broken ankle, which required surgery and will knock him out for the season . . . The NFL’s extra-point experiment begins Sunday night at the Hall of Fame game between the Giants and Bills. For this game and the next two weeks of preseason action, all extra points will be snapped from the 15-yard line instead of the 2 . . . Tough news for Giants running back David Wilson, who suffered a neck “burner” in practice last week seven months removed from spinal fusion surgery in his neck. The latest injury could keep Wilson out for an extended period of time, if not cost him his career . . . The NFL and Players Association should take note of what is being considered in the NBA, according to the Sporting News: Allowing teams to draft players out of high school, but forcing them to play in a developmental league for at least two years (while greatly increasing D-league pay). This would be a much better system for all involved than forcing players to subject themselves to injury for three years in college with little compensation.Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.