Note: Part 2 of the CBA series is coming soon; I wanted to comment on a contract extension from yesterday for a player I knew and admired at the Packers.
It certainly came as no surprise that the Green Bay Packers came to terms on a four-year extension with cornerback Tramon Williams this week. Williams was five games away from being an unrestricted free agent at a high impact position in a year where -- if there is a new Collective Bargaining Agreement -- many teams may be coming out of their spending hibernation.
This guy can play!
Williams arrived in Green Bay to sign with our practice squad after being released by the Texans almost exactly four years ago today, on November 29, 2006. I remember hearing about him from our scouts soon after his arrival: he was smooth, had good ball skills, great rotation in his hips, and simply “This guy can play!”
When players came in to sign their contracts, even those on the practice squad, I would always notice demeanor. Many players come in with some anger or entitlement, especially after being released by another team. Tramon was grateful to the Texans for the opportunity and humbled to be a part of the Packers, even as a practice squad player.
And Williams developed as a player as well. The more the players and coaches were around him the more they liked him as a player and person. And when preparation met opportunity with the injury to starter Al Harris last year, Williams had a chance to be a full time starter. He has taken full advantage of the opportunity and excelled in that role to the point of being mentioned as a Pro Bowler this year and allowing the Packers to release longtime fixture Harris.
The Packers had to act with Williams before he hit an open market in March -- assuming there is a market in March -- that would have paid Williams far more money than the Packers would pay, and more than he is getting now. Williams' leverage point was about to skyrocket, but he chose the security and comfort of the team that gave him a chance as opposed to seeing what would be behind Door #2 in March.
Despite all the talk about deals not getting done due to the impending labor uncertainty, this was a deal that was going to get done and was in the works for a while.
And it comes from the only NFL team required to "show its books", as the Packers are public, during a time when the NFLPA has been unsuccessfully requesting/demanding/crying that all NFL teams open their financial statements to them. Also, the message from the Packers financial report, echoed by NFL officials, is that player costs are outpacing team revenues in a way that is not sustainable.
Despite those comments, the Packers have extended Charles Woodson's contract, with $33 million through 2012, and now that of Tramon's. It is interesting to note that despite most teams' talk of labor uncertainty preventing action on the player contract front, Packers CEO Mark Murphy has been sitting in on many negotiation sessions with the union and (presumably) authorized the Packers to spend these tens of millions of dollars despite the labor uncertainty. A sign of progress on the CBA? Perhaps.
Number high, but could have been much higher
His deal is strong but, as noted above, not as strong as it could have been as a free agent. Williams will make an additional $11.1 million this year: $6 million in bonus and $5.1 million in additional salary. He'll make $3.5 in bonuses and salary in 2011 and $5.1 million in bonuses and salary in 2012, giving him approximately $20 million in new money over the next two-plus years. The deal also provides approximately $18 million in 2013 and 2014, although I give little credence to non-guaranteed numbers beyond 2012 at this point.
And as all Packer veteran contracts have been structured for many years, the deal contains (1) very little Cap acceleration should the Packers terminate Williams -- his contract, not him -- after 2011; (2) large per-game roster bonuses each year (up to $300,000) for staying injury-free; and (3) large workout bonuses (averaging $250,000 per year) each year, starting in 2011, for participating in 85% of the team's offseason workout program.
The question for Williams and his agent -- also named Williams (Rodney) -- was whether to turn down over $20 million between now and the end of 2012 for a bigger deal – and it would have been a bigger deal -- in what they hope to be an active market in 2011. Their answer was to take what was in front of them rather than wait for what might have been.
Tramon Williams is a shining example of what can happen in the NFL to a player that no one wanted. Signed as an undrafted free agent by Houston and cut at the end of training camp, the Packers gave him a chance three months after that release to show what he could do on the practice squad. While most practice squad players wash out at the bottom of rosters after a year or two, Williams flourished. And he has made the Packers proud.
Congratulations to a true feel-good story named Tramon Williams. We need more like him.
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