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16 Oct 2009
by J.I. Halsell
Over the first three weeks of our analysis of the top starter contracts in the league, we covered the "skill positions"; this week we start making our way closer to the line scrimmage, as we analyze the top ten starting tight end contracts.
As one looks at the top ten tight end contracts below, immediately some may notice that Chargers tight end Antonio Gates is not one of the highest paid tight ends in the game. Gates just falls out of the top ten with an average per year of $4.42 million, or 11th overall. Gates signed this contract in August of 2005, at the time it made him one of the highest paid tight ends in the game, but it is illustrative of how the tight end market has increased in value over just four years, to the point that Gates has been squeezed out of the top ten. Gates has two years -- 2009 and 2010 -- remaining on his current contract before reaching unrestricted free agency prior to the 2011 season. Going into 2011, Gates will be 31 years old. If he's still playing at a high level (Gates has never had a DYAR ranking lower than ninth in his six-year career and has ranked first in DYAR in three of those six years), then Gates should expect to return to the top ten of highest-paid tight ends, particularly in light of the lucrative contract signed by a 30-year-old Tony Gonzalez in 2007.
In 2007, when Gonzalez signed his contract with the Chiefs, it made him the highest paid tight end in football. As the table illustrates, Gonzalez has since been surpassed by pass-catching tight ends Dallas Clark of the Colts and Kellen Winslow of the Bucs, as well as the Steelers' Heath Miller.
Two months after Gonzalez signed this lucrative deal, the Broncos signed Daniel Graham to a contract that averaged $6 million per year. The Graham contract took the tight end market to another level, as unlike Gonzalez, Graham was not a dynamic playmaker in the passing game. Therefore, Graham's contract raised the bar for solid yet unspectacular tight ends. Interestingly, after the Graham deal, the next big name tight end to sign a new contract was the Redskins' Chris Cooley. In full disclosure, I worked for the Redskins at the time of the Cooley negotiations and there was definitely a concern regarding the impact of the Graham contract on the price point for Cooley. In the end, Cooley accepted a contract that paid him $14 million guaranteed, which was a significant haul for a tight end not named Gonzalez; in exchange for this lucrative guarantee, however, Cooley accepted a lesser average per year.
The most lucrative starting contract for a tight end from a total guarantee perspective is Winslow's $20.2 million guarantee. Moreover, Winslow's guarantee per year of $5 million far exceeds that of any tight end on a multi-year contract and his contract guarantees an impressive 76 percent of the contract's total new money value. We're all familiar with "diva" wide receivers; Winslow is a "diva" tight end, but there's no doubting that when focused and healthy -- like he was in 2006 and 2007, with a little under 2,000 receiving yards in those two years combined -- he is one of the most physically gifted and skilled tight ends in the game from a pass-catching perspective. For Winslow, 2009 is only his fourth full season of NFL football; clearly the Bucs, via this lucrative contract, are gambling that Winslow can return to his prolific form while managing his sometimes difficult personality.
The next tight end to keep an eye to sign a potentially lucrative contract is the Texans' Owen Daniels. A 2008 Pro Bowler, Daniels has ranked in the top eight of DYAR in each of his first three seasons. In 2009, Daniels is playing under the one-year restricted free agent tender of $2.8 million, ranking him 17th amongst starting tight ends. Daniels' contractual future is very much up in the air. If the CBA is extended and Daniels becomes eligible for unrestricted free agency, he faces the prospect of being precluded from free agency via the relatively inexpensive tight end franchise tender, which could be in the neighborhood of $5 plus million in 2010. If the CBA is not extended prior to 2010, then Daniels faces two more years of restricted free agency, unless the Texans feel compelled to give up their leverage and extend his contract.
Here are the top ten starting tight end contracts in the league:
|Top Ten Starting Tight End Contracts (in millions of dollars)|
Next week, we'll analyze the top ten starter contracts at offensive tackle.
Follow J.I. Halsell on Twitter: @SalaryCap101
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