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Season opens; Deals close

AP, Polamalu, Witten; plus number$ of note Andrew Brandt

Print This September 15, 2011, 05:30 AM EST

There was a flurry of contract extension activity last weekend on the eve of the opening of the 2011 NFL season. Lockout or not, this is a common practice for NFL teams, using the last gasp of the long offseason to lock up key players for the future.

In my time in the front office, there were flashpoint times of the year ripe for contract extensions: the beginning of the League Year in March, the beginning of training camp, and the beginning and end of the season.

Once the ball is kicked off to open the season, NFL front offices can exhale. The “hay is in the barn” as they say, and the work is turned over to the coaches and the players. Sure, there are roster moves to be made due to injuries, but mostly churn with little to no negotiation. Scouts move to 2012 Draft prospects, and contract negotiations take a rest for a few weeks. For both team negotiators and agents, September and October are the slowest times of the year.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the major deals done last weekend:

AP

Adrian Peterson’s deal was the other shoe to drop following Chris Johnson’s contract last week. They needed one or the other to set a new standard. Johnson did and Peterson followed.

Here are the key numbers (pay no attention to seven years, $100 million; this is a running back): $32 million in full guarantee, another $4 million in injury-only guarantee, and $40 million over the first three years, the key marker for a deal.  Using the “new money” calculation to determine the accurate value of the deal, Peterson netted out about $1 million better than Johnson.

Johnson had $2.65 million left on his prior deal and now receives $31 million. Peterson had $10.7 million remaining and now receives $40 million. Thus, their “new money” for 2011-2013 is $28.35 million (Johnson) and $29.3 million (Peterson).

Like Johnson, Peterson has now set a new standard for running backs. It may be another seven years before a new ceiling is reached.

Troy Polamalu

ICONPolamalu set a new standard for safety pay.

Polamalu was scheduled to make $6.4 million in 2011 and will still do so, along with a $10.55 million signing bonus, earning almost $17 million this year. The four-year deal’s value is $36.5 million, an average per year (APY) exceeding $9 million.

The key comparable was the Chargers’ July 29th deal with Eric Weddle, who received a five-year $40 million deal for an $8 million APY with $19 million guaranteed and $14 million this year.

Polamalu now ranks as the second-highest paid safety behind Eric Berry of the Chiefs (now out for the season with an injury). Berry, the fifth pick of last year’s Draft, received a five-year $60 million contract with $34 million guaranteed as one of the last bonus babies in the history of the NFL.  Never again will there be a rookie vaulting to the top of the market for his position before he plays a down in the NFL.

Polamalu represents the latest in a major spending spree by the Steelers since their Super Bowl loss. Although they have not been players in free agency, their expenditures on their own – Lamar Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Ike Taylor, and now Polamalu – have made them one of the highest spending teams in the NFL in 2011. Hopefully they receive more bang for the their buck than they did in their first game against the Ravens…

Jason Witten

Now we know why the Cowboys were clearing Cap room last week in restructuring contracts of Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin. Fresh off extending the contract of defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, the team extended Witten who, like Ratliff, had two contract years remaining.

Witten keeps his same salary levels for 2011 ($3.4 million) and 2012 ($3.64 million) with additions of a $500,000 and $1 million roster bonus, respectively. Witten then receives $37 million over the five extension years – a $7.4 million APY – with $19 million guaranteed. The guarantee  falls in line behind 2010 deals for Vernon Davis ($23 million guaranteed) and Antonio Gates ($20 million guaranteed).

The Cowboys, never a stranger to worrying about today and figuring out tomorrow later on, have pushed out Cap room again, "dead money" now piled on top of that of recently-released players Roy Williams, Marion Barber, Marc Colombo, and Leonard Davis.

Here are some other numbers for this week:

$32,000: the amount earned per yard for Chris Johnson this past weekend. Johnson makes $13 million in 2011 – $765,000 per week – and gained 24 yards Sunday.

$1.8 million: the amount of prize money for the men’s and women’s singles winners at the U.S. Open, Novak Djokovic and Samantha Stosur, about the same as the average NFL salary.

$80 million: the combined contract value for Jon Beason of the Panthers ($51 million) and Willie Colon of the Steelers ($29 million), both signed on July 29th and both suffering season-ending injuries in Week One.

25%: the current percentage of guaranteed salary for NFL vested veterans. This contrasts to the 100% guarantee – through termination pay – that vested players on the roster Week One will receive. A couple veterans signed yesterday – Donald Lee, a player I signed a couple of times with the Packers, signed with the Bengals and Brandon Stokley with the Giants – and look for others to start signing soon.

6: the number of 2011 first round picks that were inactive in Week One, unable to crack the 46-man active roster. Although the size of first-round contracts was slashed by the new CBA, all first round picks have at least three years of guaranteed contracts. Inactive for their first game were Robert Quinn of the Rams, Jonathan Baldwin of the Chiefs, Danny Watkins of the Eagles, Nick Fairley of the Lions, Prince Amukamara of the Giants and Derrick Sherrod of the Packers. While Fairley and Amukamara were inactive with injuries -- both to their foot -- the others were healthy scratches.

So many numbers, so little time....

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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