Getting behind the Ware deal

One of the last shoes to drop on the mega-extensions expected in the NFL this year has fallen – and fallen in a big way. The Cowboys announced an extension for All-Pro linebacker DeMarcus Ware on Monday, and the numbers are predictably staggering, especially in light of the present situation regarding free agency in 2010.

I’ll have a detailed analysis of the deal when it’s reported by the Cowboys, as I’ve done with the Michael Crabtree and Jay Cutler contracts in recent weeks, but here are some comments based on the reported amounts.

Ware was in the final year of his rookie contract, as were the two quarterbacks who signed massive extensions at the start of the season, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers. Rather than "settle" for a top-of-the-market deal for outside linebackers and defensive ends, Ware and agent Pat Dye took a flier and asked the Cowboys for Manning/Rivers-type money (under the negotiating strategy of "it doesn't hurt to ask, and they might say yes!"), meaning six-year extensions closing in on $100 million, with an APY (average per year) exceeding $15 million per year. As for guaranteed money, Manning and Rivers were at $35M and $38M, respectively, trailing only Matthew Stafford (yes, Matthew Stafford) in guaranteed money for a quarterback.

Well, Dye and Ware were unable to match the quarterback market in APY, but they went past the quarterbacks in guaranteed money, reportedly receiving $78 million, or a $13M APY, with $40M guaranteed. The deal compares favorably with the other top-of-market contract done this year for a defensive end/outside linebacker, Terrell Suggs, with the following comparison in millions:

Total Guarantee First 3 Years
Suggs 62.5 38.1 40
Ware 78 40 45

As I wrote this summer after Suggs' negotiation from his Franchise Tag to a mega-contract, "somewhere, DeMarcus Ware is smiling." Suggs’ contract was the last data point in the chain to set a market for Ware. Even more impressive for Ware, Suggs was coming off a $10.2M franchise tag number. Ware was playing on a salary of $1M.

Dye appears to have done a good job setting up the negotiation in a framework of the Manning and Rivers deals, knowing that he was not going to get the APY of franchise quarterbacks in the prime of their careers. Dye probably also set up the negotiation for the guarantee in terms of the $41M received by Albert Haynesworth. Haynesworth, as Dye knew, was an unrestricted free agent; Ware was under contract. Backing off into a deal with a still-staggering $13M APY and $40M guaranteed, Dye was able to make the Cowboys appear to have won the battle of not matching the quarterback APYs and the Haynesworth guarantee. Dye and Ware let them win the battle while they won the war, walking away with a contract that is as player-friendly as could possibly be expected, especially in light of the following information:

As we sit here today, far from any semblance of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, DeMarcus Ware, had he not signed an extension, would have been a restricted, not unrestricted, free agent next year, subject to the rights of the Cowboys. With an uncapped year, six years will be required for free agency, not the five years Ware would have had in the league. So Ware could have been tendered a contract by the Cowboys. Even at the highest tender -- the "super tender" requiring first- and third-round picks as compensation -- Ware would have been the property of the Cowboys for less than $3M. The fact that Ware would not have been an unrestricted free agent makes this deal even more impressive. Unless, of course, Jerry Jones knows something about the collective bargaining process that no one else does.

A final note on the deal: There’s a report that the deal was closed with a $1 bill from Jones to Ware to solidify the deal. I know that a couple of teams have already inquired, not so facetiously, as to whether that $1 was (1) given to Ware prior to signing the contract and (2) was reported in the contract. If that $1 was given prior to signing and/or not reported in the contract, that could be cause for a salary cap violation. As the teams have said, it’s not the amount that counts, but rather the fact that compensation was paid to Ware outside of the contract. Inquiring minds of some NFL teams want to know.

Ware certainly landed quite a deal despite his uncertain free-agent status after this season.

There's still a big fish to land on the extension beach this year, one that should blow by all of these deals. The Colts are filling up the Brinks trucks now for Eli's brother...

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