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20 Nov 2009

Under the Cap: Top Ten Defensive Tackles

by J.I. Halsell

Without a shadow of a doubt, the biggest (in a lot of different respects) signing of the 2009 offseason was the Redskins' signing of unrestricted free agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Haynesworth's final two seasons in Tennessee saw him become one of the most disruptive and impactful defensive players in the game. Accordingly, the Redskins made Haynesworth the highest paid defensive tackle in the game by a margin of nearly $6 million on average per year; at the time, the Chargers' Luis Castillo at $8.5 million per year was the closest to Haynesworth. Chiefs first round pick and number three overall pick in the draft, Tyson Jackson, is now second to Haynesworth at $9.8 million per year.

Prior to joining Football Outsiders, I wrote a column that broke down the Haynesworth deal in detail. In short, the column said that one should not get caught up in the enormity of the $100 million contract value. The $100 million figure is symptomatic of an agent who is looking to sell a contract to a potential new client, and that's not a knock against an agent (in this case, Haynesworth's agent Chad Speck) because the reality is that, like anything else in business, an agent's positive branding and P.R. are important to business development (ie, recruiting). The reality of the Haynesworth deal is that it's a two-in-one contract, meaning the "first contract" is four years for $48.2 million ($12.1 million per year) with $41 million of that guaranteed. The “second contract” is three years for $51.8 million with $20 million guaranteed, if the club chooses to pay a discretionary signing bonus in 2013. Therefore, the Redskins will have to determine if they want to pay a 32 year old Haynesworth $20 million guaranteed, at an average of $17.3 million per year for three years.

To be clear, if the Redskins choose to not pay the $20 million "second signing bonus," Haynesworth remains under contract to the club for the remaining three years (2013-2015) of the contract at $31.8 million for an average of $10.6 million per year; however, the club runs the risk of Haynesworth earning an incentive that would pay an additional $35 million. Under this scenario, Haynesworth could instead earn $66.8 million over the final three years instead of $51.8 million ($51.8 million is inclusive of "second signing bonus") if the Redskins pay the $20 million "second signing bonus." In all likelihood, the Redskins will choose to either pay the "second signing bonus" or terminate Haynesworth if a renegotiated agreement cannot be reached; it all depends on what level Haynesworth will be performing at age 32 and the for the foreseeable future thereafter.

All of the above said, instead of valuing this contract as $100 million for seven years, I place more weight in the $48.2 million over four years. Even with that perspective, the $48.2 million Haynesworth contract is still very impressive and stands out for a defensive tackle. However, this contract is a good example of why the 3-Year Total metric is a good barometer of contract value. When one compares Haynesworth's 3-Year Total of $41 million to the contracts of DeMarcus Ware ($45 million), Terrell Suggs ($43.4 million), Jason Peters ($41.7 million), Phillip Rivers ($50.3 million), and Eli Manning ($50.9 million), it is clear in comparison that Haynesworth's contract is the least of these lucrative 2009 contracts. For a defensive tackle to garner quarterback and pass rusher-type money, however, speaks volumes to the market that Haynesworth's play created for him. It should also be noted that in conversations with cap guys around the league, the Redskins weren't bidding against themselves for Haynesworth; there were definitely other teams willing to pay Haynesworth in the neighborhood of what he ended up getting, so kudos to Haynesworth.

As we look at the 2010 offseason, there are clearly no Albert Haynesworths on the market. New England's Vince Wilfork, who will be 28 years old in 2010, will probably be the most coveted defensive tackle in free agency if New England elects not to extend or franchise him. On the open market, Wilfork could easily command $8 million per year; it will be interesting to see if New England franchises him and then seeks a trade partner (a la Matt Cassel) or works out a long-term extension.

Here are the top ten starting defensive tackle contracts in the league:

Top Ten Starting Defensive Tackle Contracts (in millions of dollars)
Rank Player Club Age at
Guarantee Guar./
New Money
1 Haynesworth, Albert WAS 27 2/28/2009 7 $41.0m $5.9m 41.0% $100.0m $14.3m $41.0m
2 Jackson, Tyson KC 23 8/7/2009 5 $31.0m $6.2m 63.3% $49.0m $9.8m $35.5m
3 Castillo, Luis SD 24 7/22/2008 5 $17.5m $3.5m 41.0% $42.7m $8.5m $23.7m
4 Stroud, Marcus BUF 30 4/9/2009 2 $6.5m $3.3m 39.4% $16.5m $8.3m --
5 Harris, Tommie CHI 25 6/23/2008 4 $10.6m $2.7m 33.2% $32.0m $8.0m $22.6m
6 Smith, Justin SF 28 3/3/2008 6 $20.0m $3.3m 44.4% $45.0m $7.5m $25.1m
7 Kelly, Tommy OAK 27 2/28/2008 7 $18.1m $2.6m 36.2% $50.1m $7.2m $25.1m
8 Rogers, Shaun CLE 29 3/19/2008 6 $18.5m $3.1m 45.1% $41.0m $6.8m $22.3m
9 Dorsey, Glenn KC 22 7/26/2008 5 $22.5m $4.5m 68.2% $33.0m $6.6m $27.3m
10 Williams, Kevin MIN 26 12/26/2006 7 $16.0m $2.3m 36.3% $44.1m $6.3m $16.7m

Next week, we'll analyze the top ten starting outside linebacker contracts in the league.

Follow J.I. Halsell on Twitter: @SalaryCap101

Posted by: J.I. Halsell on 20 Nov 2009

23 comments, Last at 21 Nov 2009, 2:31pm by IanWhetstone


by Phil O'sopher (not verified) :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 11:49am

KC having two of the top ten DT's. Ouch.

Top 5 (1st round) draft errors can kill your team for years and years.

by Fan in Exile :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 11:53am

That's a lot of DT money in the AFC west. Makes you wonder if their are copycat trends among divisions.

by peterplaysbass (not verified) :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 12:15pm

I would think that division rivals would acquire talent at the opposite positions as the other teams. If your division rival has an awesome quarterback, go get a ridiculous pass rush. That sort of thing.

What would you do if your division rivals had excellent DTs? Get beefy/smart centers and guards? Or speedy skill position players that can go around the D-line?

by justanothersteve :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 12:10pm

According to the KC chiefs web site, Tyson Jackson is a DE. Ends almost always make more than tackles. http://www.kcchiefs.com/player/tyson_jackson/ Why are you are listing him as a DT instead?

by J.I. Halsell :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 12:36pm

He's playing DE in a 3-4 defense; meaning practically he's similar to a DT or at best LDE. Therefore, for market valuation purposes, he should be compared to players in a similar role. In KC players who considered similar to DEs are their 3-4 OLBs, Hali & Vrabel.

J.I. Halsell
Salary Cap Analyst | "Under the Cap"
Twitter | @SalaryCap101

by AFireSnake (not verified) :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 1:10pm

Sorry for the stupid question, but isn't it stupid by KC to draft a DE to play DE in a 3-4 (which more or less equals a DT in a 4-3), and then pay him DE money (which is more than a DT would make), even if in your defensive alignment you are not _playing_ him at the DE position he is being paid for?

Sorry, but that seems stupid to me. If KC would play Tyson Jackson in a 4-3 alignment at DE, would they pay him even more (or less at the DT position?).

According to the article and the top 10 at the bottom, it looks like KC is throwing too much money at these two guys. Would anyone pay this amount of money to two DTs in a (primarily) 4-3 defensive scheme?

So I am wondering whether it makes no sense to draft a 3-4 DE in the top 5 of the draft, when you end up paying a DT DE money.

by mrh :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 1:30pm

KC isn't paying Dorsey and Jackson so much because of the position they play but because of the draft slot where they were picked. It's fair IMO to ask if they were stupid to draft those players so high given the position they play, knowing the cap hit would be disproportionate.

Dorsey was drafted to play DT in a 4-3, part of the problem with switching to a 3-4 was KC was left with an enormous cap burden for a player who didn't fit their new scheme and who may not make a useful transition to it.

Didn't Seymour play DE in the Pats 3-4 before going to OAK?

by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 2:18pm


I do recall hearing earlier in the year that they were playing more 4-3 than in years past and that Seymour played inside in that alignment, but, not being a Pats fan, I can't really say for sure.

by Dan :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 12:40pm

3-4 DEs are being grouped with the DTs. Luis Castillo and Justin Smith are also 3-4 DEs.

by justanothersteve :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 12:15pm

Sorry for the consecutive posts. Just checked the Chiefs depth chart. Both Jackson and Dorsey are DEs in a 3-4 alignment. Their NT is Ron Edwards.

by Gubdude :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 12:18pm

I'm so grateful we have Ratliff.

by IanWhetstone :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 12:59pm

Yeah, that Ratliff deal is a real steal, now. Same with Dockett in Arizona. They locked those guys up just before they really blew up.

by FullMoonOverTulsa (not verified) :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 1:57pm

I am also grateful Jerry didn't buck up for Canty.

by IanWhetstone :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 1:50pm

I just read in the SF Chronicle that the Niners are considering franchising Aubrayo Franklin next year, if they have to. The paychecks for interior d-linemen are really exploding.

by Jimmy :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 4:02pm

I suspect that the Niners have made their intentions to retain Franklin any way they can to get his agent's attention away from the idea that they could hit free agency in an uncapped year. Possibly to get a contract worked out that would allow some of his bonus money applied to this year's cap (which I believe has to be done before week 12, or very soon).

The DT franchise tag would still be on the low end of tags (maybe $6.5m). It seems to me that the problem with the tag system is that players rarely get to the expensive years of their deals without either getting cut or their contracts renegotiated. For example if the franchise tag was generated by average three year compensation for the top five earning players at their position tags would be a lot higher. As the tag is supposed to compensate players for not being able to market their abilities on the open market it seems fair that they get a pro-rated amount of the cash being doled over not the average of how these players contracts were adusted to be cap friendly.

by IanWhetstone :: Sat, 11/21/2009 - 2:31pm

If I'm not mistaken, contract extensions can be done throughout the entire season; it's just that after a certain point (this past week, I think), any new salary will be treated as signing bonus and prorated. The week 10 deadline only has bearing when a team wants to apply whole bonus amounts against the current year's cap.

Yeah, the DT tag will still be among the lower tags, but I expect that it'll be up more around $7-8 million. There are some high cap figures out there this year for DTs like Tommie Harris, Shaun Rodgers, Albert Haynesworth, etc.

by IanWhetstone :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 1:50pm

I just read in the SF Chronicle that the Niners are considering franchising Aubrayo Franklin next year, if they have to. The paychecks for interior d-linemen are really exploding.

by IanWhetstone :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 1:50pm

I just read in the SF Chronicle that the Niners are considering franchising Aubrayo Franklin next year, if they have to. The paychecks for interior d-linemen are really exploding.

by IanWhetstone :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 1:50pm

I just read in the SF Chronicle that the Niners are considering franchising Aubrayo Franklin next year, if they have to. The paychecks for interior d-linemen are really exploding.

by IanWhetstone :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 1:52pm

Uh... sorry, I don't know why that just happened...

by Will :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 4:58pm

I just read in the SF Chronicle that the Niners are considering franchising Aubrayo Franklin next year, if they have to. The paychecks for interior d-linemen are really exploding.


by Tim (not verified) :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 3:20pm

Gotta like the Vikes cap management. Signed Kevin Williams' extension at the right time. He still got a good deal in total money but they were able to keep his guarantee % low and his 3 year total shows that the contract is back heavy, which favors the club (restructure or release if the player is no longer worth it.) I think he will get a restructure for sure, considering he'll be 32/33ish coming off this contract.

by Jimmy :: Fri, 11/20/2009 - 3:50pm

It is easier to be as proactive in cap management when a player steps into the league and plays like he was born to play in the NFL. Williams has been awesome since he was drafted. The only concern they could have had with him was that he was limited by an ankle injury for a couple of years which limited his effectiveness. All in all it was money very well spent.