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31 Oct 2010

UTC Tale of the Tape: PIT-NO

by J.I. Halsell

The Tale of the Tape series will analyze a key game in a given week based on each team's starters' guaranteed salaries.

Given the non-guaranteed nature of NFL contracts, the guaranteed money metric has been used as the quantitative measure in this analysis because it shows the club's commitment to the player from a compensation standpoint.

The intent of this analysis is to provide a look at the financial commitment to a team's starters and to shed some light into how the teams were constructed (for example, draft-oriented approach versus a veteran free agent approach).

The Saints and Steelers, the past to Super Bowl Champions will meet on Sunday evening. The first installment of this analysis will show how each of these teams have been constructed.

The table below will show both how their starters were acquired and how they're currently being compensated.

Saints-Steelers Salary Analysis

Depth Chart Source: Ourlads Scouting Service, www.Ourlads.com; Contract Guarantee Analysis: J.I. Halsell

Definitions: U/NYJ = unrestricted free agent who last played for Jets; 03/1 = first-round draft pick in 2003; T/Dal = Acquired via trade from Cowboys; SF09 = 2009 street free agent, a free agent who became so via early termination of their previous contract; CF08 = 2008 college free agent

Notable observations:

  • The Steelers are a home-grown team. Nineteen of the 22 offensive and defensive starters were acquired via the draft or college free agency. In comparison, the Saints have relied more on externally acquired players. Just 12 of their offensive and defensive starters are "home grown."
  • When Reggie Bush is healthy, you can argue that he's a co-starter with Pierre Thomas. By adding Bush's $26.3 million guarantee to the above analysis and subtracting fullback Heath Evans' $900,000 guarantee, the Saints' total starter guarantee increases to $180.5 million and the Saints' offensive unit guarantee becomes $97.4 million.
  • Short of the fact that Sam Bradford has more guaranteed money than Peyton Manning on their current contracts, the best argument for Top 10 rookie compensation reform is that the Steelers' defensive unit totals $66.2 million in guarantees. The Lions' Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson have guarantees that total $70 million.
  • Left tackle can be a very costly position from a guarantee perspective, with elite blind-side protectors commanding guarantees in the neighborhood of $30 million. While neither of these teams have elite left tackles, Jermon Bushrod and Max Starks, both clubs are getting great value at this critical position.
  • For the Steelers, left tackle isn't the only position in which they've received tremendous value. Elite defenders LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison, and Troy Polamalu total for $25.5 million in guarantees -- it's clear that the Steelers have done a great job in negotiating player contracts. It will be interesting to see how the Steelers resolve the Woodley contract situation. He's on the final year of his rookie contract, and the elite pass-rusher market puts his value in the neighborhood of $40 million guaranteed.
  • While the Steelers defense's player guarantees are fairly consistent, the Saints' defensive guarantees have a wider disparity. Top 10-pick Sedrick Ellis' $19.5 million guarantee is offset by fellow defensive tackle Remi Ayodele's $0 guaranteed. The same can be said for middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma's $17 million guaranteed versus Jo-Lonn Dunbar's $0 guaranteed.

The NFL is truly a quarterback-driven league. Accordingly, legitimate franchise quarterbacks deservingly command top dollar. However, the Steelers and Saints prove that elite teams can be built with a prudent, yet relatively conservative fiscal philosophy. Outstanding scouting and coaching in conjunction with this philosophy and a franchise quarterback go a long way toward building a winner in today's NFL.

Follow J.I. Halsell on Twitter: @SalaryCap101

Posted by: J.I. Halsell on 31 Oct 2010

16 comments, Last at 01 Nov 2010, 4:11pm by Bradentonian


by blue magic (not verified) :: Sun, 10/31/2010 - 7:50pm

$30 in guarantees for a left tackle? I wont pay it

by cisforcookie (not verified) :: Sun, 10/31/2010 - 9:37pm

It really is remarkable looking at a team like the steelers and thinking about how productive they are for the money. It's one thing to talk about acquiring players through the draft to save money. But the shocking thing is that 8 of the 11 steeler starting defenders are playing under an extension or a free agent contract. Are the steelers that good at identifying players that other teams don't value, or are they that good at developing players, or does their system make guys look a lot better than they are?

by joepinion (not verified) :: Mon, 11/01/2010 - 8:45am

One part of it is that the players love playing in Pittsburgh. Guys like James Harrison, Casey Hampton, Ike Taylor, etc., extend their contracts for less than they would get in free agency because they want to be in Pittsburgh. And now that you have Bryant McFadden, who left, looked bad in Arizona, and is now looking great again in black and gold, I'm sure he's continuing to spread the "stay in Pittsburgh" gospel.

I also think scheme has a lot to do with it. The Steelers understand the strengths and weaknesses of their players and they put them in a position to make plays while protecting them from their weaknesses. McFadden is a great example. He was a dependable starting CB, then went to Arizona, where he stunk up the joint all year. He comes back to Pittsburgh and look good again. Well, his weakness is straight up athleticism and coverage skills. The Steelers put him in position to not have to go one-on-one for more than a couple seconds, and they give him lots of opportunities to make tackles, either by keeping him near the line of scrimmage or directing his coverage to let the receiver catch the ball underneath... He's a great tackler.

by Anonymous Coward (not verified) :: Mon, 11/01/2010 - 10:26am

Pittsburgh has a lot of players on 3rd and 4th contracts... A lot of their older players like Farrior, Aaron Smith and Ward. Those tend not to pay out as much due to the risk of injury or the risk of performance falling off a cliff. If you look at the breakdown other than QBs it's the guys who are good players on their second contracts (Miller, Polamalu, Evans, Vilma) and highly drafted rookies (Ellis, Timmons) who have the big guarantees. The Steelers don't have a lot of 2nd contract guys but will need to reupp Woodley and Timmons soon which will lead to a big increase in the total guarantees for the D side.

by justanothersteve :: Mon, 11/01/2010 - 8:51am

This may be a dumb question, but how can a position have no dollars guaranteed? Regardless of the player listed, a minimum amount still needs to be paid for the position. I know that really doesn't need to be guaranteed to a particular player, but that no dollars are guaranteed for a position seems like a weakness of this particular analysis. Especially when three players on defense for the Saints are listed this way vs no players for the Steelers.

by J.I. Halsell :: Mon, 11/01/2010 - 9:09am

As I mention in the intro, this analysis takes into consideration guaranteed money as opposed to total contract value (guaranteed + non-guaranteed $). As mentioned, given that NFL contracts are naturally not guaranteed, for a club to guarantee money is a distinctive characteristic of a club's commitment or expectation of that player.

For example, Saints OLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar received no guaranteed money as a college free agent signing. This can be translated into the club didn't have high expectations for him, and yet in his 3rd season in the league, he finds himself starting for the Saints. Therefore, those players with $0 guaranteed and who are starters, represent a certain value for clubs.

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

by Dean :: Mon, 11/01/2010 - 9:15am

But wouldn't those contracts be guaranteed for this year at this point, as the players were presumably all on their respective rosters after week 1?

by J.I. Halsell :: Mon, 11/01/2010 - 9:28am

The "termination pay" rule is only applicable to vested veterans (meaning it would not be applicable to a player like Dunbar & this benefit is only available once in a player's career).

Further, the guarantee amounts listed are the negotiated guaranteed amounts at the time signing. Meaning, over the course of the negotiation, this is the amount that both the club & agent agreed to as the guaranteed value of the player. Therefore, any 2010 salary that was not guaranteed at signing but could be recoup due to a 1-time termination pay claim is not counted in this analysis.

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

by Dean :: Mon, 11/01/2010 - 9:30am

And that is why FO hired you. Good stuff.


by J.I. Halsell :: Mon, 11/01/2010 - 9:39am


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

by RichC (not verified) :: Mon, 11/01/2010 - 9:40am

"The Steelers are a home-grown team. Nineteen of the 22 offensive and defensive starters were acquired via the draft or college free agency. In comparison, the Saints have relied more on externally acquired players. Just 12 of their offensive and defensive starters are "home grown."

Isn't this just a side effect of the fact that the saints were terrible a couple years ago, and that Payton had to dump almost the entire roster?

I'm sure you'd see the same thing in most of these rags-to-riches team rejuvinations; the new coach comes in and brings lots of vet FAs to get the team back to ok (and make up for bad prior drafting) and then slowly replaces those vets with guys he has drafted.

by joepinion (not verified) :: Mon, 11/01/2010 - 9:43am

Would it make more sense to list the guaranteed money divided by the length of contract? For example, Maurkice Pouncey Got $10M guaranteed for 5 years, so he earns $2M guaranteed each year. James Harrison got $12 for 6 years, so he also earns about $2M/year in guaranteed money. So their contracts are about equal, right??

It's just complicated, because I'll be stunned if Harrison is here for all six years, whereas Pouncey certainly will be. But in that sense, the Harrison contract is "bigger" because in reality it's probably only for 5 years of service, not 6.

Not sure whether or not I just answered my own question...

by tgt2 (not verified) :: Mon, 11/01/2010 - 10:15am

I'm not sure guaranteed money is the way to compare the teams expenditures.

For bad players, showing the guarantee (wasted money) makes sense, but does anyone think drew brees or Jerome Harrison are going to be cut? A table with this years compensation and a table with next years compensation for players under contract would be useful to give more perspective on the tradeoffs the teams may have made to keep guaranteed monies low.

by J.I. Halsell :: Mon, 11/01/2010 - 10:54am

I agree for older players, there is a trade off of guaranteed money for higher non-guaranteed money, but in most instances this is not the dynamic. One shouldn't think that Brees is going to take little to no guaranteed money in exchange for high non-guaranteed salaries on his next contract.

When you consider that elite QBs are garnering in excess of $40M guaranteed and the same for elite defenders; for Brees & Harrison to combine for $32M guaranteed shows that both clubs have a value there in terms of the money that has been committed to them.

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

by tally :: Mon, 11/01/2010 - 11:58am

Speaking of Harrison, how does voluntary (or involuntary) player retirement affect guaranteed money? I assume clubs can recoup some of the guarantee on a pro-rated basis?

by Bradentonian (not verified) :: Mon, 11/01/2010 - 4:11pm

Agree that there should be some sort of allocation for large bonuses paid out in a prior year. If a player signs a deal with a large up-front bonus and smaller annual salaries their value will be underrepresented based on the current methodology.