We've all heard that Von wants to be the highest paid defensive player in the NFL, but what does being the "highest paid" defensive player actually mean? Does it mean highest total contract value? Does it mean highest average pay per year? Does it mean highest total money guaranteed? Or does it mean highest fully guaranteed amount at initial signing? Some of you already know that total guaranteed money and initially fully guaranteed money usually aren't the same thing. For those of you who don't understand that point, I am providing a link to an article I wrote last summer that looks at types of "guaranteed" money in NFL contracts.
Anyway, I decided to work up a hypothetical contract for Von within the parameters of a 6 year $114.5M deal, since it has been reported that the Broncos and Von agreed to those numbers as a framework for a contract. And then I went over to spotrac.com to look at numbers: contract numbers, and salary rankings numbers and such to determine what numbers to use to make Von the indisputably "highest paid" defensive player in the NFL. The main contracts I looked at were those of Ndamukong Suh, J.J. Watt, Marcell Dareus, Justin Houston, Malik Jackson, and Olivier Vernon since those are the 6 biggest long term contracts signed by defensive players within the last couple of years. I also looked at a few QB contracts when it came to determining highest total contract value, highest total guaranteed money, and highest guaranteed money at initial signing. Here's what I learned at spotrac: (Note: I will be rounding numbers to the nearest one thousand dollars.)
While I don't think I put any any non-family friendly language or graphic sex or violence into this literary effort, if you have a serious aversion to relatively simple math, or the salary cap and details of salary structure bore the shiz out of you, I suggest you bail now, and thanks for clicking.
Highest current total contract value:
#1 belongs to Jay Cutler at $126.7M. But he's a QB, and that is the total for a 7 year contract, not a 6 year contract, so he's not relevant to the rest of this article. #2 is Ndamukong Suh's 6 year $114.375M, which comes to a yearly average of $19.063M. That yearly average also happens to be the current highest for a non-QB.
Highest total guaranteed money for a non-QB:
#1 belongs to Marcell Dareus at $60M. If I include QB's, he is tied with Cam Newton for #5 behind 4 other QBs. Eli Manning and Philip Rivers are tied for #1 among all players at $65M. #2 among defensive players, and #7 overall is Ndamukong Suh at $59.955M.
Highest total initially fully guaranteed money for a non QB:
#1 belongs to Ndamukong Suh at $59.955M, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is an outlier. I did not find any other ginormous long-term contract, even among the top paid QB's, in which the total guaranteed money was initially fully guaranteed. ($54M of Eli Manning's $65M in total guaranteed money was initially fully guaranteed at signing which is the higest I found other than our outlier, Suh. $37.5M of Philip Rivers' $65M in total guaranteed money was initially fully guaranteed at signing.) #2 in initially fully guaranteed money for a non-QB belongs to Marcell Dareus at $42.9M.
I now have more parameters set for my hypothetical Von contract. $114.5M for an average of $19.083 per year beats Suh's $114.375M for an average of $19.063M per year, so the framework of a contract making Von the "highest paid defensive player" is already there, and it's already been reported that the Broncos and Von were agreeable to that framework. Now I want to beat Marcell Dareus' $60M in total guaranteed money and his $42.9M in initially fully guaranteed money. (I've already explained that Suh's initially fully guaranteed $59.955M is an outlier. The Dolphins' FO made a stupid move, but Elway isn't stupid.)
Other parameters and considerations for my hypothetical Van contract.
Elway doesn't tend to use huge signing bonuses because of their potential for big dead money cap hits down the line after the guaranteed money has been paid. The $11M signing bonus DT got last year as part of his 5 year $70M deal is the highest signing bonus so far during Elway's tenure as GM, but Von's total of $114.5M blows DT's $70M out of the water, so the Broncos will have to go a bit higher than $11M. I think $15M that will prorate at $3M per year over the first 5 years of the contract sounds about right. Elway also likes to get the initially fully guaranteed money paid out in the first 2 years of the contract for the same reason. Usually with the big contracts, the rest of the guaranteed money hits in the form of base salary for year 3 guaranteeing on or about the 5th day of that League year. Also, Elway has become very slick about throwing in an option year in or about year 3 of the big long term contracts. That way, if the player's performance declines to the extent that Elway no longer believes he is worth the cost of his salary to the Broncos, he can decline to exercise the option, the player will become an UFA, and the Broncos can potentially still get a comp. pick for him. It also gives the player the potential for some up front cash money mid-late contract when all or most of the guaranteed money has already been paid to him. And a prorated option bonus also increases the dead money a bit, so if it's exercised by the team, it adds to their incentive to not release the player late in the course of the contract. Another parameter I must consider in my hypothetical is that the Broncos don't have a shiz ton of cap space at the moment. They can't afford for Von's 2016 cap hit to be much higher than the $14.129M already accounted for by the price of his franchise tag. I'll just shoot for a 2016 cap hit of $15M, a nice round number that simplifies my math, One last parameter I've decided to throw into my hypothetical is a workout bonus. Von has seemed to enjoy "dancing with the stars" and hanging out in Vegas while his teammates have been working their butts off in OTAs. A little extra incentive to not blow off voluntary OTAs in the future wouldn't hurt. And the contract will have a clause allowing the Broncos to restructure the contract at any time by converting some base salary money into restructure bonus that will prorate for cap purposes. Elway has included that type of clause in his previous big long term contracts (Talib's, CHJ's, and DT's), so he'll want it in this contract too.
Finally! I've set ALL the parameters for my hypothetical, put numbers on paper, changed them, changed them again, made math errors that I hope I caught and corrected, and finally arrived at what I hope will be my FINAL ANSWER. First, a summary, and then a year by year breakdown. This paragraph is the summary. My hypothetical for Von is a 6 year deal for $114.5M which comes to an average of $19.083M (slightly rounded) per year (beats Suh). It includes $43M in initially fully guaranteed money (beats every non-QB in the NFL except Suh, but he's an outlier, Miami's FO was stupid, and it even beats every QB contract I looked at other than Eli Manning's). It includes $60.1M in total guaranteed money which beats every non-QB in the NFL including Suh. It includes a $15M signing bonus that will prorate at $3M per year over the first 5 years of the contract. It includes a $4M option bonus in year 3 of the contract that will prorate for cap purposes, and it includes $500K in potential workout bonuses at $100K per year over the 2nd-6th years of the contract. On to the year by year breakdown.
$15M cap hit. $3M in prorated signing bonus of $15M total plus $12M in fully guaranteed base salary. The dead money would be $43M (ALL the initially fully guaranteed money).
$19.1M cap hit. $3M in prorated signing bonus + $16M in fully guaranteed base salary + $100K in workout bonus. The dead money would be $28M ($12M in prorated signing bonus + the guaranteed $16M base salary). All the initially fully guaranteed money of $43M will have been paid when the 2017 season ends ($15M in signing bonus + $12M in 2016 base salary + $16M in 2017 base salary).
2018: the biggest cap hit year, the option year, and the last of the guaranteed money year if the option isn't exercised:
$21.2M cap hit. My hypothetical has a $4M option bonus that will prorate at $1M per year from 2018-2021 (and the NFL will assume the option will be exercised when they calculate the cap hit for 2018). That option must be exercised (if it's gonna be) between the 5th day of the 2018 league season in March of 2018, and before the start of the 2019 league season in March of 2019. If it isn't, Von will become an UFA at the start of the 2019 league season, the Broncos will get the $1M of the option bonus that hit their 2018 cap added to their 2019 cap as an adjustment, and they will potentially get a 2019 comp. pick for losing Von in free agency. My hypothetical also includes a $17.1M base salary for Von that fully guarantees on the 5th day of the 2018 league year. Maybe it was guaranteed for injury only initially (better for Von). Maybe it wasn't guaranteed for any darned thing (better for the Broncos). I'll let Elway's lawyers and Von's agent work out that detail. After all, they get paid for what they do. Anyway, $21.2M cap hit ($3M in prorated signing bonus + $1M in prorated option bonus + $17.1M in now guaranteed base salary + $100K in workout bonus). The dead money would be $9M prior to the 5th day of the 2018 league year (the remainder of the prorated signing bonus), or $26.1M after the $17.1M in 2018 base salary has guaranteed. ALL of the total guaranteed $60.1M will have been paid at the end of the 2018 season (the $43M that had been initially fully guaranteed and would have already been paid out at the end of the 2017 season + the 2018 base salary of $17.1M that would have fully guaranteed on the 5th day of the 2018 league year).
2019 (heading into the home stretch of my hypothetical. Hallelujah!):
Cap hit $20.1M. If there is a 2019 season in this contract, it means the Broncos will/did (time traveling confusion with verb tenses) exercise their option during the 2018 league season. The $20.1M would consist of $3M in prorated signing bonus + $1M in prorated option bonus + $16M in 2019 base salary + $100K in workout bonus. The dead money would be $9M ($6M in remaining prorated signing bonus + $3M in remaining prorated option bonus).
2020 (Like hindsight, amirite?):
Cap hit $20.5M ($3M in prorated signing bonus which would be the last chunk of that to hit the cap + $1M in option bonus + $16.4M in base salary + $100K in workout bonus). The dead money would be $5M (the $3M in remaining prorated signing bonus + $2M in remaining prorated option bonus).
2021 (the end is near!)
Cap hit $18.6M ($1M in option bonus + 17.5M in base salary + $100K in workout bonus). The dead money would be $1M (the last chunk of the prorated option bonus).
Math check and final summary before the poll:
6 year deal for $114.5M which is an average of $19.083M per year. $43M in initially fully guaranteed money ($15M in signing bonus + $12M in 2016 base salary + $16M in 2017 base salary). $60.1M in total guaranteed money (the $43M initially guaranteed + $17.1M in 2018 base salary that guarantees on the 5th day of the 2018 league season.) To check the math, add up the 6 cap hits (15 + 19.1 + 21.2 + 20.1 + 20.5 + 18.6 = 114.5). To check it a different way, add up all the bonus money ($15M in signing bonus + $4M in option bonus + $.5M in workout bonuses = $19.5M). Then add up the 6 base salaries (12 + 16 + 17.1 + 16 + 16.4 + 17.5 = 95), and add the sum of the bonuses to the sum of the base salaries (19.5 + 95 = 114.5). Yay! The math checks out. Von gets big bucks and security, and the Broncos can theoretically bail out on the contract after the 2nd year, at any time after the 3rd year without getting a dead money cap hit that would be greater than the base salary that would be saved.