Thursday, July 15, 2010

D'Brickashaw Ferguson: The Navigation of Yet Another Challenging Rule of the Uncapped Year

Last week the New York Jets signed left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson to a contract extension that has sparked some media debate as to the deal’s true value. The initial reports valued the deal as a six year extension with $60 million in new money of which nearly $30 million is guaranteed. Meanwhile, others have reported it as a one year deal worth $5.3 million of which $4.7 million is guaranteed. It’s rare that the valuing of a contract can have such disparate reported values, and like most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

To understand Ferguson’s extension, one must first understand his previous contract. On his previous contract, which was his rookie deal, Ferguson was slated to earn $3.1 million in 2010. His 2011 compensation was set to be equal to the 2011 Franchise Tag salary for offensive linemen; with that number not being set until the 2011 offseason, $10 million dollars was negotiated as a placeholder. Moreover, his 2011 compensation was set to be guaranteed on the last day of the 2010 league year, which would have roughly been around February 28, 2011. On the conservative side, one could then say that Ferguson had $13.1 million in what we call old money; keeping in mind that depending upon what the Franchise Tag ended up being his old money could be closer to $14 million or so, of which all would have been guaranteed except for the $3.1 million.

Ferguson’s new contract is actually an eight year contract worth $73.1 million, but when you subtract out his two old years and the conservative $13.1 million assumption of old money, you get a six year extension worth $60 million and an average per year of $10 million, even though, again, the more likely old money number was going to be closer to $14 million which would drop the new money total to roughly $59 million. Not calculated in the $60 million of new money are two phony incentives worth $1.3 million that, from a team salary accounting perspective, are deemed as likely to be earned. Without going into the details, these “phony in reality, yet likely in accounting” incentives are simply in the deal to make the contract compliant with the 30% rule.

Regarding the structure of the contract, this is where it gets really interesting. The Niners contract extension with linebacker Patrick Willis illustrated a structure that could be used to reward a young player while remaining 30% rule compliant. In short, as I wrote in May ( the Willis deal was largely achieved via a $15.5 million signing bonus and $4.8 million supercede signing bonus. The Ferguson deal is a far cry from the Willis deal, but at the same time, when you’re the Jets and have Ferguson, Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, and even David Harris to potentially pay significant money to in 2010 via contract extensions, one could assume that there is a cash budget that the Jets have to take into consideration when potentially having to pay all of these guys lucrative money in 2010. During my time with the Redskins, as surprising as this may be, not only did I have to assist in the management of our salary cap but we had to do so within a cash budget, so this is definitely a significant consideration in contract negotiations.

It is this cash budget consideration that would seem to explain Ferguson’s deal. Ferguson received a $1.6 million signing bonus and July 12th roster bonus of $3.1 million; his 2010 salary will be $630,000. These numbers add up to $5.3 million in 2010 compensation. On its face, meaning at the time the deal was signed, the only amount guaranteed was the signing bonus and year one roster bonus totaling $4.7 million.

So how do some say that this deal guarantees nearly $30 million? Ferguson’s deal has his 2011 $5.6 million salary and 2012 salary of nearly $10 million become guaranteed for just skill on February 15, 2011. His 2013 salary of $7.25 million becomes guaranteed for skill on February 15, 2012. When you add his 2010 guaranteed and non-guaranteed compensation of $5.3 million plus his future year skill-only guarantees, you come up with a little over $28 million in guaranteed money. Ferguson also has a 2011 $3.9 million option bonus, but this bonus is not considered guaranteed as it’s not backed up by future year salary guarantees to ensure that he gets the $3.9 million either way. Therefore, by mid-February 2012, Ferguson will have earned or been guaranteed $32 million.

The 2011, 2012, and 2013 salary guarantees for skill highlight the guarantee reallocation rule of the uncapped year. The reason why the Jets could not guarantee these salaries for skill and injury is because Ferguson’s 2009 salary of $2.9 million was not fully guaranteed; only $680,000 of this 2009 salary was guaranteed. The reallocation rule in essence says that unless the salary in the final capped year is fully guaranteed, then any future year salary guarantees for skill AND injury will be reallocated into the final cap year. Applying this rule to the Jets and this contract, had they guaranteed the $22.9 million of future year salaries for skill and injury, then that $22.9 million would have been retroactively reallocated to the Jets’ salary cap of 2009. The Jets finished the 2009 league year with $376,000 in cap space and therefore could not have afforded the $22.9 million reallocation and would have faced this deal being disapproved by the NFL Management Council. Therefore, the Jets were able to get around the reallocation rule by guaranteeing the amounts for either skill or injury but not both.

The vast majority of the time, a player’s contract is terminated for skill; the only instance in which an injury guarantee is applied is in the case of a catastrophic injury to the player, to which insurance policies are available outside of a player contract to protect the player’s interest. So while the Ferguson deal isn’t as straight forward as the Patrick Willis deal, the Niners also don’t face the contract obstacles that the Jets currently face with their talented young players. At the end of the day and practically speaking, the Jets aren’t going to terminate Ferguson prior to 2011, so he’ll get his money and that’s all any player and agent ever want.