by J.I. Halsell
This week we wrap up our look at the highest paid starting defenders in the league by analyzing the safety position. The two players who stand out to me as I look at the table below are Indianapolis' Bob Sanders and Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu.
When the average person thinks of the Indianapolis Colts, the first thing that comes to mind is quarterback Peyton Manning. When a cap guy thinks of the Indianapolis Colts, many of them associate the club with overpaying core players and filling the rest of the roster out with draft picks and undrafted rookie free agents. Consider that Peyton Manning's 2004 contract paid him $34.5 million guaranteed, and five years later, in a more lucrative salary cap environment, his brother Eli Manning got $35 million guaranteed. This shows how astronomical Peyton's contract was at the time. In 2004, wide receiver Marvin Harrison received a contract that guaranteed him $23 million, well above the guarantee market for wide receivers at that time.
When one looks at the contract signed by tight end Dallas Clark in 2008 for $20 million guaranteed and $27 million over the first three years, they'll see that no other tight end in the game approached these numbers. As a matter of fact, over the first three years of their deals, Clark was going to make as much as New England's Randy Moss. The collateral beneficiary of Clark's contract was Tampa's Kellen Winslow, who signed a contract in 2009 also worth $20 million guaranteed, but with a three-year total that is nowhere near Clark's.
At defensive end, Minnesota's Jared Allen can thank the Colts and Dwight Freeney for setting the market for elite pass rushers at $30 million guaranteed, when no other defensive ends were making this type of guaranteed money. Freeney signed his contract in the summer of 2007. The following offseason, Allen was traded to Minnesota and signed a contract for just shy of $32 million guaranteed.
This trend of overpaying core players also applies to safety Bob Sanders, whose inability to stay healthy really makes one question whether the Colts are getting their money's worth. That aside, the Sanders contract, signed in late 2007, took the elite safety market to another level from both a guaranteed and three-year total perspective. Sanders' contract guaranteed him $20 million and paid him $24 million over the first three years when, at the time, elite safeties were getting paid in the neighborhood of $10 to $15 million guaranteed, with roughly $15 million over three years. Three months after the Sanders contract was executed, we then saw the Jets' Kerry Rhodes get a $20 million guarantee at safety.
As much as Sanders set the guarantee market for elite safeties, one cannot overlook the impact of the $17.5 million guarantee paid to Washington's LaRon Landry as the sixth overall pick in 2007. Surely, the Landry guarantee influenced the increase in the safety market.
The Polamalu contract is interesting in that the three-year total was a market-setting $24 million, as this deal was completed five months before the Sanders deal and his $24 million three-year total. The Polamalu contract, however, only guarantees $11 million. A contract with $11 million over four new years means a guarantee per year of $2.7 million. This was in line, at the time, with the $2.5 million for Baltimore's Ed Reed and $3 million for Oakland's Michael Huff. With the guarantee market for safeties jumping to $20-plus million just a few months later, however, it appears that one of the premier safeties in the game was slighted in his guarantee. As is so much in life, it's all about timing.
Currently, from an average per year perspective, Arizona's Adrian Wilson leads safeties at $7.9 million per year. The Wilson contract is a good deal for the player as it's a good combination of the positives of both the Polamalu and Sanders contracts. Wilson's $4 million guarantee per year is on par with Rhodes and Sanders, and, while Sanders is earning $24 million over three years on a five-year deal, Wilson is earning $24 million over three years on a four-year contract, which is equal to Polamalu's three-year total on his four-year deal.
Here are the top ten starting safety contracts in the league:
|Top Ten Starting Safety Contracts (in millions of dollars)|
Next week, as we prepare to unwrap our presents, we'll wrap up our position-by-position analysis with the highest paid kickers and punters in the league.
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