Thursday, September 30, 2010

McNabb vs. Vick: Not Just a Return to Philly, but a Battle of Contract Year Quarterbacks

While the Ravens-Steelers rivalry matchup this weekend is a headlining game; on the opposite end of Pennsylvania, the weekend’s marquee matchup between the Redskins and Eagles features the return of Donovan McNabb to Philly. McNabb’s return, the surprising resurgence of Michael Vick, the battle between mentor and mentee provide this game with compelling storylines, but an interesting compensation storyline in this matchup is that both quarterbacks are currently seeking their next contracts as both are in the final year of their respective deals and therefore both have a lot to gain financially in 2010.

Upon his arrival in Washington, it was commonly assumed that McNabb, whose final contract year pays him $5.5 million ($3.5 million of which is guaranteed), would immediately receive a contract extension. Four weeks into the regular season, McNabb and the Redskins have yet to execute a new deal, which has led some to question whether McNabb could be one-and-done in Washington.

It appears that McNabb has taken a wait and see approach to his contract situation. Not extending McNabb as soon as he arrived was probably a prudent decision for both McNabb and the Redskins. For the Redskins, it would appear that the ghost of the trade-and-sign deal for Brandon Lloyd remained at bay while the club waited to see exactly what they had in their newly acquired signal caller. For McNabb, he similarly would appear to have taken the approach of patiently evaluating the environment in Washington before committing to a new deal.

While only three games into the season, from the club perspective, McNabb has provided the leadership presence the club needed and on the field has proven he still has a lot in his tank. So why not do a deal now with the Redskins? With contending clubs such as the Vikings and Cardinals potentially looking for new quarterbacks in 2011 and with those clubs being further along than the Redskins, why would the soon-to-be 34 year old McNabb pass on the possibility of going to one of those clubs via free agency after 2010 and instead commit himself to a multi-year deal with an uncertain Redskins club.

Clearly, the Redskins could preclude McNabb from leaving via free agency through the use of the Franchise tag (assuming there is a Franchise tag as part of a new CBA that would provide football in 2011), but with Peyton Manning yet to sign his inevitable record-breaking contract, the fully guaranteed franchise tag for a quarterback will easily exceed $17 million guaranteed for just one more year of commitment to the Redskins.

McNabb would seem to be in no rush to make a multi-year commitment to the Redskins. There is always the risk of injury, but McNabb has made a lot of money in this league so he’s in no hurry for his next payday. In exchange for taking on the risk of catastrophic injury, McNabb is seeking an ability to control his future as much as possible. In short, McNabb becomes a free agent for the first time in his career this coming offseason and truly controls his destiny and destination as he enters the final phase of his career, or he gets franchised and makes a ton of money for a one year commitment to the Redskins. Sure, McNabb has spoken of finishing his career in Washington and said other things that a “good soldier” should say, but this isn’t McNabb’s first rodeo and in light of the options discussed, it would be surprising if the Redskins signed a multi-year McNabb extension during the 2010 season.

Meanwhile, on the opposite sideline this Sunday, Michael Vick is also positioned to potentially sign a multi-year extension or possibly hit the free agency market. However, Vick’s circumstances differ significantly from McNabb’s. Between McNabb and Vick, it would appear Vick is the more likely of the two to sign a multi-year extension during the 2010 season or shortly thereafter.

Keeping in mind that the Eagles gave Vick a shot at redemption by controversially signing him prior to the 2009 season, there’s a certain amount of extenuating circumstances that lend itself to Vick staying in Philly. Moreover, just as McNabb looks to finish his career on a Super Bowl contending team, Vick finds himself on a club that perennially ranks as one of the top teams in the league.

Currently, Vick is slated to make $3.5 million in his final contract year of 2010, of this amount $1 million is guaranteed and up to $2.75 million of additional compensation is available via incentives. By comparison, after the trade of McNabb, when it appeared Kevin Kolb would be the Eagles’ 2010 starter, the Eagles re-did Kolb’s contract by extending him by one season (2011) and in exchange for this additional year gave Kolb $12.2 million in new money, all of which is guaranteed.

While Vick still has some road to travel before the club makes the decision to make a hefty financial investment in him (after all he’s only been the starter in Philly for two games), it wouldn’t be surprising if the Eagles leveraged the uncapped year and placed a significant amount of Vick’s new money in 2010. By placing a significant amount in 2010, if Vick proves to flame out after the 2010 season and the salary cap returns as part of a new CBA, then it makes terminating Vick’s contract significantly easier from a future cap management perspective.

Prior to the 2009 season, the Chiefs traded for and extended the contract of Matt Cassel. While Vick is absolutely a more accomplished quarterback than Cassel, just like Cassel, there is a certain level of uncertainty regarding the long-term viability of Vick as the Eagles’ starter. In the case of Cassel, the Chiefs chose to commit to him for two seasons, 2009 and 2010; during that time, Cassel would earn $27.8 million ($13.9 million/year over two years), all of which was guaranteed. In the Cassel contract, the Chiefs have the ability in year three (2011) to pay him a $7.5 million option bonus, which would then add the 2014 season onto the contract. If the Chiefs choose to not exercise this option, then they have Cassel under contract for three more seasons at a total compensation of $18.3 million or $6.1 million/year over those three years, a value in today’s quarterback market. If the Chiefs choose to exercise the 2011 option on Cassel, then over 2011 – 2014, his total compensation will be $35 million or $8.75 million/year, which also represents a long-term value at the position.

Applying this structure to Vick, the Eagles could very well provide the resurgent signal caller with new money in 2010 and 2011 at possibly the tune of $14 million/year over 2010 and 2011 for a total compensation of $28 million over those years. As the Eagles and Vick finish the 2011 season, the club can position themselves to have to make a decision between Kolb, whose contract would be expiring, and Vick who would have a significant option bonus or roster bonus that would have to be decided upon as they enter the 2012 offseason and every offseason thereafter covered under the contract. The pay-as-you-go structure that could kick in during the contract years beyond 2012 of a Vick contract would be ideal for an older quarterback like Vick, whose prized athleticism may or may not have escaped him at that phase of his career.

Like McNabb, Vick could play out the remainder of his current contract in hopes of hitting free agency or getting franchised at an amount in excess of $17 million for one season. Either way, Sunday’s matchup pits two quarterbacks, who not only share a common bond due to their time last season as teammates and as friends, but also two quarterbacks whose contract situations should provide further marquee headlines over the next four months.

Follow J.I. Halsell on Twitter: @SalaryCap101

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