Participation Is Voluntary

Voluntary offseason workout programs for teams that did not hire a new head coach can begin on the third Monday in April, which is April 20 this year. Teams with a new head coach were allowed to start two weeks earlier on April 6. Players who are franchised, such as Dez Bryant, Justin Houston and Demaryius Thomas, and restricted free agents, like Tashaun Gipson, are prohibited from participating in off-season team activities without signing an NFL player contract.
There is another way for these types of players to participate through an obscure provision (Article 21, Section 9) of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Players who received a tender but haven’t signed an NFL contract and unrestricted free agents whose contracts expired can engage in offseason workouts and minicamps with their previous team while retaining the free agency rights they already have. In order to participate, these players must sign an agreement that contains the standard language the NFL and NFLPA came up with in 2012, which has been incorporated into Article 21, Section 9 of the 2011 CBA as Appendix Q.
Appendix Q protects players in case they are injured while participating in team activities during the off-season. In the case of an injury, a player will receive as a one year salary the greater of his required tender, his applicable minimum salary or the amount negotiated by the player and the team. Participation by a player is voluntarily under this provision so he can withdraw at any time with impunity. In Gipson’s case, his 2015 salary would be $2.356 million with an injury, his restricted free agent tender, since it’s unlikely that the Cleveland Browns would agree to a greater amount in order to get him to participate.
A main benefit to signing a participation agreement instead of an NFL contract is that a player will preserve his option of holding out without subjecting himself to penalties. For example, if Gipson boycotted a mandatory three day minicamp because of a lack of progress on a long term deal after signing his restricted free agent tender, the Browns would have the right to fine him $12,155 for the first day he missed minicamp, $24,300 for a second missed day and $36,465 if he missed a third day ($72,920 total for missing minicamp). If Gipson continued his boycott into training camp, the Browns could fine him $30,000 for each day he missed. These fines can’t occur when players are operating under participation agreements and they can only partake in training camp if they have signed an NFL contract.
Participation agreements have been rarely utilized by players receiving a franchise tender. Tennessee Titans safety Michael Griffin signed one in 2012 so he could be a part of the off-season program. The Titans rewarded his approach by signing him a five-year, $35 million contract (with $15 million in guarantees) about a month before training camp started.
The player least likely to use this option as a gesture of good faith is Houston. The Chiefs shouldn’t expect to see Houston during the off-season unless he has signed a long term deal. The 2011 third round pick skipped off-season activities in 2014 and forfeited a $25,000 workout bonus in a contract dispute with the Chiefs. Houston reported to training camp despite his unhappiness with his salary because he lacked leverage to continue his holdout. He wouldn’t have gotten a year of service towards free agency without reporting to the Chiefs at least 30 days prior to their first regular season game. Missing the August 5 deadline in 2014 and playing out his rookie deal would have made Houston a restricted free agent this year.
Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel
Email me: jccorry@gmail.com
Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

Free Agency’s Losers

Players are usually eager to enter free agency because of the expectation of a big payday. It doesn’t always work out that way. A market may never develop for a variety of reasons (age, unrealistic contract demands, supply at playing position, etc.). Here’s a look at a few players that haven’t or didn’t fare so well on the open market.
Michael Crabtree (WR): Crabtree took a backseat to 34 year old Anquan Boldin in the San Francisco 49ers’ passing game last season. The 2009 tenth overall pick finished 2014 with 68 receptions, 698 receiving yards and four touchdown catches. The 49ers went in a different direction at wide receiver by signing speedster Torrey Smith to a five-year, $40 million contract (with $22 million in guarantees). It only took Dwayne Bowe a week to find a new home with the Cleveland Browns once the Kansas City Chiefs released him. Bowe got a two-year, $12.5 million containing $9 million fully guaranteed despite three straight disappointing seasons in Kansas City. Crabtree is willing to be patient to find the right situation. He made $4 million in 2014 during the final year of his six year rookie contract. The odds are against him finding a one year deal for more than his 2014 salary.
Terrance Knighton (DT)-Washington Redskins: It was widely assumed Knighton’s affinity for head coach Jack Del Rio would lead him to the Oakland Raiders. Del Rio had Knighton for three years when he was coaching the Jacksonville Jaguars and spent the last two seasons as his defensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos. Continuing to play for Del Rio went out the window after Knighton eliminated the Raiders from consideration because of a “low ball” offer. Knighton was reportedly seeking a multi-year contract averaging $8 million per year. The Raiders signed defensive tackle Dan Williams to a four-year, $25 million deal with $15.2 million fully guaranteed instead. Knighton took a one year deal worth $4 million from the Redskins, which includes $450,000 in weight clauses.
Rolando McClain (ILB): McClain was one of the NFL’s best bargains in 2014 while making $700,000. He was retired and hadn’t played in the NFL since the Oakland Raiders released him in the middle of the 2012 season when the Dallas Cowboys acquired him in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens last off-season. McClain was the Cowboys’ best linebacker in 2014 and finished tied for second in the voting for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Other 2014 Cowboys linebackers quickly found deals on the open market. Bruce Carter signed a four-year, $17 million contract (worth up to $20.5 million with salary escalators and incentives) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Justin Durant received a three-year, $10 million deal (worth a maximum of $13.8 million through incentives) from the Atlanta Falcons. McClain didn’t do himself any favors by running afoul of the league’s substance abuse policy. He is subject to a fine of four week’s salary for failing three drug tests. His next violation will result in a four game suspension.
The Cowboys are interested in bringing him back but have already signed Jasper Brinkley and Andrew Gachkar for middle linebacker depth. Brinkely received a one year deal worth $2.25 million with the Cowboys having an option for a second year at the same amount. Gachkar signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract (worth up to $5.5 million through incentives.).
Ahtyba Rubin-(DT)-Seattle Seahawks: Rubin’s one-year, $2.6 million deal (worth up to $3.1 million with incentives) is a big departure from his last contract. He entered free agency after completing a three-year, $26.5 million contract extension (with $18 million in guarantees) he signed with the Cleveland Browns in 2011. Rubin, who was slowed by a nagging ankle injury in 2014, will provide depth as a part of Seattle’s interior defensive line rotation.
Rahim Moore (S)-Houston Texans: Moore signed a three-year, $12 million deal ($4.5 million fully guaranteed) to fill a void at free safety that’s existed ever since Glover Quin left via free agency two years ago. It’s interesting that the Texans made a bigger commitment to an aging Ed Reed in 2013 than to the 25 year old Moore. Reed received a three-year, $15 million contract containing $5 million fully guaranteed when he was approaching 35 years of age. The future Hall of Famer made $5,050,966 from the Texans for appearing in seven games before being released nine games into the 2013 season. Moore is making $5 million in 2015.
Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel
Email me: jccorry@gmail.com
Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

Free Agency’s Big Winners

With the NFL turning its attention to the annual owners meetings, here’s a look at some of the big winners in free agency.
Ndamukong Suh (DT)-Miami Dolphins: Suh re-set the non-quarterback market with a six-year, $114.375 million contract containing $59.955 million fully guaranteed. The previous non-quarterback benchmark was the six-year, $100 million contract extension (averages $16,666,667 per year) J.J. Watt received from the Houston Texans last September. Suh’s $59.955 million also sets a new standard for guaranteed money with non-quarterbacks. It eclipses the $53.25 million of guaranteed money in the seven-year, $113.45 million contract extension Calvin Johnson received from the Detroit Lions in 2012.
Darrelle Revis (CB)-New York Jets: Revis getting a deal to place him at the top of the cornerback salary hierarchy was expected. His five-year contract worth $70,121,060 is clearly superior to other top cornerback deals in key contract metrics. $39 million is fully guaranteed at signing. That’s a little over $8.5 million more than the $30.481 million Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman, the NFL’s second and third highest paid cornerbacks (by average yearly salary) have fully guaranteed at signing collectively.
Julius Thomas (TE)-Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars didn’t make Thomas the NFL’s second highest paid tight end because of his blocking prowess. He is expected to remain arguably the NFL’s best red zone threat at the position after receiving a five-year, $46 million deal containing $24 million in guarantees. Thomas sets a new standard for guarantees in tight end deals with the $24 million. $21 million of the $24 million was fully guaranteed at signing.
Byron Maxwell-(CB)-Philadelphia Eagles: Maxwell hit the open market at the right time. This year’s group of free agent cornerbacks wasn’t nearly as impressive as last year’s group, which included Vontae Davis, Brent Grimes, Sam Shields, Aqib Talib and Alterraun Verner. He received a six-year, $63 million contract with $25 million fully guaranteed. $32 million is in the first three years.
Devin McCourty (S)-New England Patriots: McCourty became the NFL’s second highest paid safety despite rejecting bigger offers from other teams. His five-year, $47.5 million contract contains $28.5 million in guarantees, which is the most ever in guarantees for a veteran safety deal. McCourty also has the best three-year cash flow for safeties with $30 million in the first three years.
Rodney Hudson (C)-Oakland Raiders: Hudson reached his goal of becoming the NFL’s highest paid center with a five-year, $44.5 million contract. The Raiders were smart in using a pay as you go structure with Hudson’s deal. His cash and salary cap numbers are the same in each contract year because he is receiving salary guarantees instead of a signing bonus. Since Hudson’s $7.35 million 2016 base salary doesn’t become fully guaranteed until the third day of the 2016 league year (mid-March), the Raiders have a window to get out of the deal after the 2015 season without any cap consequences if he doesn’t pan out.
DeMarco Murray (RB)-Philadelphia Eagles: Murray didn’t capitalize on a dominant season in a contract year as much as he would have at other positions because of the devaluing of running backs. Nonetheless, his five-year, $40 million contract (with $21 million in guarantees and worth a maximum of $42 million through salary escalators) makes him the first running back to switch teams in free agency with a deal over $5 million per year since Michael Turner left the San Diego Chargers for the Atlanta Falcons in 2008.
Dwayne Harris (WR)-New York Giants: The Giants made Harris the NFL’s highest paid player whose primary role is returning kicks by giving him a five-year, $17.5 million contract (with $7.1 million fully guaranteed). Harris was second in the NFL in kickoff return average with 30.6 yards per return and third in punt return average (12.8 yards) during the 2013 season. It’s conceivable that Harris will be New York’s fifth wide receiver behind Preston Parker, who caught 36 passes in an expanded role because of Victor Cruz’s torn patellar tendon in his right knee. To put Harris’ deal in better perspective, Cole Beasley, who was ahead of Harris on the depth chart with the Dallas Cowboys last season as the team’s third wide receiver, recently re-upped on a four-year, $13.606 million contract with $5 million fully guaranteed.
Aaron Rodgers (QB)-Green Bay Packers: The Packers maintain offensive continuity with offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga and wide receiver Randall Cobb taking hometown discounts to remain in Green Bay. Bulaga signed a five-year, $33.75 million deal. Cobb’s four-year, $40 million contract containing a $13 million signing bonus, which is the deal’s only guaranteed money, is in line with the four-year, $39.05 million contract extension Jordy Nelson signed during the initial days of training camp last season.
Jeremy Parnell (OT)-Jacksonville Jaguars: Parnell signed a five-year, $32 million deal with $14.5 million fully guaranteed after serving as a backup during his five years with the Dallas Cowboys. He got his most extensive playtime in 2014 by starting five regular season games and both of the team’s playoff games because of ankle and foot injuries to starting right tackle Doug Free. Parnell received a much more lucrative contract than Free, who is two and half years older. Free re-signed with the Cowboys for $15 million over three years. The guaranteed money in Parnell’s deal is almost as much as Free’s entire contract.
Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel
Email me: jccorry@gmail.com
Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

2015 Contract Restructure Possibilities

Contract restructurings are standard operating procedure in the NFL. Teams with tight salary cap situations use restructures to create cap room to get under the cap, which all teams must be for the beginning of the 2015 league year on March 10. Restructures are important for some other teams because cap space can be freed up to target players in free agency.
A contract restructuring is different from a pay cut. In a typical restructuring, a player will convert some portion of his base salary or roster bonus (without reducing salary) into signing bonus because it can be prorated or spread out evenly over the life of a contract (most other salary components usually can’t be prorated) for a maximum of five years.
The team gets a lower cap number in the current season while the player gains more short-term security and potentially a better payment schedule for the current year of his contract. The player’s cap numbers in the remaining contract years also increase, which can make him more susceptible to becoming a cap casualty in the future.
A relatively new phenomenon is for teams to take away the player’s option to refuse restructuring his contract. Cap flexibility has started being built into contracts, especially the most lucrative ones, with teams having the ability to automatically create cap room at any time during a deal with a discretionary right to convert a portion of a player’s base salary or roster bonus into signing bonus. The Chicago Bears exercised this right with Jay Cutler in 2014, which was necessary to sign Jared Allen. Cutler had the NFL’s highest 2014 salary cap number at $22.5 million before $5 million of his base salary was converted into signing bonus to lower his cap number to $18.5 million.
Players can restructure their contracts at any time, including multiple times in the same season. Chris Snee restructured his contract with the New York Giants twice in 2013. There isn’t a limitation on how many consecutive years a player can restructure his contract. Ben Roethlisberger’s 2015 cap number has increased from $12.1 million to $18.395 million because he restructured his deal for three straight years (2011-2013) to help the Pittsburgh Steelers with cap problems.
Here’s a look at several players, with their 2015 cap numbers, that could be candidates to restructure their contracts. New Orleans Saints players were treated collectively because of the team’s salary cap situation. References to the 2015 salary cap room a team has assume the 2015 salary cap will be set at $142 million.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints are approximately $23.3 million over the 2015 salary cap. Restructuring the contracts of safety Jairus Byrd ($10.3 million 2015 cap number), outside linebacker Junior Galette ($15.45 million cap number), tight end Jimmy Graham ($11 million cap number) and inside linebacker Curtis Lofton ($9.25 million cap number) could wipe out the overage. $23,426,666 of cap room can be gained by converting a significant portion of their salaries into signing bonus.
Byrd has the NFL’s highest 2015 cap number for a safety. The Saints can free up $5.6 million of cap room by turning $1 million of Byrd’s $2 million 2015 base salary and his entire fully guaranteed $6 million third day of the 2015 league year roster bonus (March 12) into signing bonus. $10 million of cap room will be created by converting Galette’s fully guaranteed $12.5 million third day of the 2015 league year roster bonus (March 12) into signing bonus.
Graham has the NFL’s only 2015 cap number for a tight end over $10 million. A maximum of $4,826,666 of cap room can be gained through a salary conversion with Graham’s four-year, $40 million contract, which makes him the NFL’s highest paid tight end, if his $100,000 workout bonus is left intact. Lofton’s cap number would drop to $6.25 million by turning his $4.5 million first day of the league year roster bonus (March 10) into signing bonus.
Tony Romo (QB)-Dallas Cowboys: $27.773 Million
It’s hard to believe Jerry Jones will practice the fiscal restraint he’s preaching now that he has a legitimate chance to finally win a Super Bowl without Jimmy Johnson’s fingerprints on it. History suggests that Jones will create $12.8 million of cap room can by converting $16 million of Romo’s $17 million base salary into signing bonus in order to keep the team largely intact since there may not be an extended championship window with him as quarterback. Although Romo, whose contract runs through the 2019 season, arguably had the best season of his career in 2014, he will be 35 years old in April and has had back surgery in each of the last two seasons. Romo’s league high cap number would drop to $14.973 million through such a salary conversion.
J.J. Watt (WR)-Houston Texans: $21.969 Million
The Texans would have plenty of salary cap flexibility by turning $9.2 million of Watt’s $9.969 million 2015 base salary and his entire fully guaranteed $10 million 15th day of the 2015 league year roster bonus (March 24) into signing bonus. $15.36 million of cap space would be freed up, which would put the Texans almost $26 million under the cap. Watt’s would still have manageable 2016 and 2017 cap numbers of $16.34 million for those years considering he signed a six-year, $100 million contract extension last September.
Peyton Manning (QB)-Denver Broncos: $21.5 Million
Although the Broncos have $26 million in cap space, it will be difficult for the Broncos to keep most of their five offensive and three defensive starters set to become unrestricted free agents on March 10 while upgrading the offensive line, especially if nearly half of this room is allocated to a franchise tag on All-Pro wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
General manager and executive vice-president of football operations John Elway would probably prefer for Manning to cut his scheduled $19 million salary now that he has informed the team he is physically and mentally prepared to play the 2015 season. The Broncos don’t have the leverage for a salary reduction. Manning should be amendable to restructuring his contract considering he did it twice while with the Colts. This would be a departure from Denver’s recent practices. The Broncos haven’t done any simple contract restructures for cap purposes during Manning’s three years with the team.
Denver can create $9.015 million in 2015 cap space if Manning’s entire 2015 salary except for his $970,000 league minimum is converted into signing bonus. Manning’s 2015 cap number would drop to $12.485 million but his 2016 cap number would balloon to $30.515 million.
The Broncos might prefer a less extreme restructure. $5 million of cap room could be created by converting $10 million of Manning’s $19 million base salary to signing bonus. His 2015 cap number would drop to $16.5 million and his 2016 cap number would become $26.5 million. The Broncos would have $10 million of dead money, which is a cap charge for a player no longer on the roster, in 2016 under this scenario if Manning called it quits after the 2015 season.
Calvin Johnson (WR)-Detroit Lions: $20.558 Million
Restructuring Johnson’s contract could be likely if the Lions franchise defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. His franchise tag number is $26.87 million, which is based off of 120 percent of his $22,412,500 2014 cap number. The Lions can’t currently accommodate such a large cap figure with slightly under $17 million of cap space. Most of the deficit can be wiped out by turning all of Johnson’s $12.5 million 2015 salary except for his $870,000 league minimum into signing bonus. $9.304 million of cap room would be created. Another season with nagging injuries in 2015 could lead to Johnson’s departure next year because his 2016 cap number would go from $24.008 million to $26.334 million with this maneuver.
Charles Johnson (DE)-Carolina Panthers: $20.02 Million
Being almost $13 million under the cap puts the Panthers in their best position financially since Dave Gettleman became general manager in January 2013. The Panthers won’t be “shopping at the dollar store” in free agency but restructuring the six-year, $76 million contract Johnson signed in 2011 for a third straight year may be necessary to buy at Nordstrom. Because more than half of Johnson’s cap number is bonus proration, a maximum of $4.44 million in cap space can be gained unless Gettleman is willing to add up to three voidable years to help with the bonus proration and create additional cap room. He has put voidable years in contracts before when doing restructures.
Alex Smith (QB)-Kansas City Chiefs: $15.6 Million
There’s a faction of Chiefs fans that would love to see the team part ways with Alex Smith. He isn’t going anywhere for awhile. $11 million of his $11.9 million 2015 base salary was fully guaranteed when he signed his four-year, $68 million contract extension last August. The remaining $900,000 of his 2015 base salary and his entire $14.1 million 2016 base salary are fully guaranteed on the third day of the upcoming league year (March 12).
The Chiefs have right around $4.1 million of cap space after releasing wide receivers Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins. More work needs to be done to accommodate restricted free agent tenders and Justin Houston’s expected franchise tag (approximately $13 million). $8.175 million of cap room can be created by converting $10.9 million of Smith’s $11.9 million 2015 base salary into signing bonus.
Colin Kaepernick (QB)-San Francisco 49ers: $15,265,753
The 49ers have slightly over $3.3 million of cap space. The 49ers will need more cap room if keeping a majority of the team’s 15 impending unrestricted free agent is a part of the plan. Kaepernick has the highest 2015 cap number on the team. The 49ers can create $7.724 million in 2015 cap space if Kaepernick’s entire 2015 salary except for his $745,000 league minimum is converted into signing bonus. Kaepernick’s 2015 cap number would drop to $7,541,753. His 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 cap numbers would each increase by $1.931 million under this scenario.
Richard Sherman (CB)-Seattle Seahawks: $12.2 Million
Extensions for quarterback Russell Wilson and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner shouldn’t take up a majority of Seattle’s almost $19 million of cap space, which factors in restricted free agent tenders. A cushion can be created by lowering Sherman’s $10 million 2015 base salary to $750,000 through a salary conversion. $6,937,500 of cap room can be generated by this move.
LeSean McCoy (RB)-Philadelphia Eagles: $11.95 Million
McCoy is willing to restructure his contract if approached by the Eagles but isn’t interested in cutting his $10.25 million 2015 salary. His numbers are large for a running back. Adrian Peterson is the only other ball carrier with a double digit salary or cap number in 2015. The Minnesota Vikings running back has a $15.4 million cap number and is scheduled to make $13 million. Since the Eagles have almost $19 million in cap space and have other options for additional cap room, like Trent Cole, it may not be necessary to adjust McCoy’s contract. $6 million of cap room can be created by converting $9 million of McCoy’s $9.75 million base salary into signing bonus. His 2016 cap number would go from $8.85 million to $11.85 million.
Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel
Email me: jccorry@gmail.com
Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

Are players better off under the new franchise tag methodology?

NFL teams can retain the rights to one of its impending free agents with the use of a non-exclusive or an exclusive franchise tag during a two week window beginning on February 16. The designation period ends on March 2.
The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) changed how non-exclusive franchise tags are determined. Since its inception in 1993, a franchise tag number had been an average of the five largest salaries in the prior year at a player’s position or 120% of the prior year’s salary of the player, whichever was greater. For franchise tag purposes, salary means a player’s salary cap number, excluding workout bonuses.
The 120 percent and five largest salaries provisions remain intact but the formula component is now calculated over a five year period that’s tied to a percentage of the overall salary cap. More specifically, the number for each position is determined by taking the sum of the non-exclusive franchise tags for the previous five seasons and dividing by the sum of the salary caps for the previous five seasons (an average of the 2009 and 2011 salary caps are used for the uncapped 2010 season in the calculations). The resulting percentage is then multiplied by the actual salary cap for the upcoming league year.
This non-exclusive tag allows the player to negotiate with other NFL teams but if he signs an offer sheet with another club, his team has five days to match the offer. If the offer is not matched, his team will receive two first round picks as compensation from the signing team.
Under the exclusive franchise tag, a player will receive a one year offer from his team that is the greater of the average of the top five salaries at his position once the restricted free agent signing period of the current year has ended (April 24 for 2015) or 120 percent of his prior year’s salary. A player cannot negotiate with other teams with the exclusive franchise tag.
Teams also have the option to use a transition tag instead of a franchise tag. The transition tag operates similarly to the non-exclusive franchise tag, except it is based on the average of the top ten salaries at a player’s position. Teams have the same matching rights as with franchise tags but do not receive any draft choice compensation. The transition tag had essentially become obsolete. It made a comeback last year with the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers becoming the first teams to use it since 2008.
It’s almost a certainty that Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston and Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas will be franchised if they don’t sign new deals with their respective clubs before the end of the designation period. The Detroit Lions haven’t ruled out franchising defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. His franchise tag number is $26.87 million, which is based off of 120 percent of his 2014 cap number. Since Suh’s number is same whether it’s the exclusive or non-exclusive version, the Lions would probably opt for the exclusive version to prevent him from negotiating with other teams. Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty and New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul are other non-exclusive franchise tag possibilities.
The franchise tenders can’t be finalized until the 2015 salary cap is set in late February or early March. NFL teams were informed at a league meeting on December 9 that the 2015 salary cap is preliminarily projected to be between $138.6 million and $141.8 million. The actual salary cap in 2014 was 5.3 percent higher than the preliminary projections this time last year. The expectation is for the salary cap to once again exceed initial projections.
CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason LaCanfora was the first to report the expected salary cap percentages each franchise tag last October. I have independently verified that his figures are correct. The chart below contains the non-exclusive franchise numbers if the 2015 salary cap is $142 million and their percentage of cap. For comparison purposes, I have also included what the franchise tenders would have been for 2015 under the old method of calculation.

2015 2015 2015 Projected vs. Old
Position Salary Cap % Projected Old Method % Difference
Cornerback 9.125% $12,958,000 $10,620,000 22%
Defensive End 10.339% $14,681,000 $13,177,000 11.4%
Defensive Tackle 7.812% $11,093,000 $14,943,000 -25.8%
Linebacker 9.209% $13,077,000 $10,967,000 19.2%
Offensive Line 9.034% $12,828,000 $11,174,000 14.8%
Punter/Kicker 2.88% $4,089,000 $3,850,000 6.2%
Quarterback 12.942% $18,378,000 $18,611,000 -1.3%
Running Back 7.643% $10,853,000 $9,483,000 14.4%
Safety 6.713% $9,532,000 $9,484,000 0.5%
Tight End 5.825% $8,272,000 $7,468,000 10.8%
Wide Receiver 8.949% $12,708,000 $14,147,000 -10.2%
Note: Projections assume 2015 salary cap is $142 million.

 
The NFLPA is gaining a small measure of vindication in 2015 for the criticism received for agreeing to change the calculation of the non-exclusive franchise designations. Franchise players are going to be better off with the new methodology than under old methodology for the first time since the change was implemented. The franchise tag numbers will be 3.67 percent higher collectively under the new formula with a $142 million 2015 salary cap.
A record twenty-one players were franchised in 2012, including six kickers and punters, in the first year of with the new method of calculation when there was almost a 20 percent drop in the franchise tags from 2011. The franchise numbers were approximately 18 percent higher collectively under the old formula in both 2012 and 2013. The difference dropped to 2.18 percent in 2014 because of the significant increase in the salary cap.
Defensive tackle, quarterback and wide receiver are the only positions that would be better off with the old method of calculation. The discrepancy in the defensive tackle number under the two methodologies is due to Suh and Gerald McCoy having the NFL’s largest cap numbers in 2014. McCoy’s cap number increased to over $21 million when he signed a six-year, $95.2 million contract extension (worth up to $98 million through incentives) last October to become the NFL’s highest paid interior defensive lineman.
There was greater year-to-year variance with franchise tag numbers with the system under the previous CBAs. For example, the wide receiver number would have gone from $11.826 million in 2013 to $9.731 million in 2014 to $14.147 million for 2015 with the old methodology. None of the franchise tags numbers at the eleven different positions have decreased in a year under the new method of calculation after the initial rollback in 2012.
The good thing for players is franchise tag numbers being higher under the new methodology than with the old methodology should continue as long as there is at least modest salary cap growth annually. Most players aren’t happy when given a franchise player designation because it hinders their ability to gain long term security. The tag is essentially a high salaried one-year “prove it” deal where players incur the risk of serious injury and poor performance again after already playing out their contracts. There may be fewer players dealing with franchise tags in the future because teams should become more judicious in using the designation as it gets more cost prohibitive.
Follow me on twitter: @corryjoel
Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.

Top 2015 pay cut candidates

Players taking pay cuts during the off-season is a regular occurrence in the NFL’s salary cap environment. Sometimes, it is in a player’s best interest to accept a lower salary instead of getting released. Here are five of the off-season’s top pay cut candidates.
Sam Bradford (QB)-St. Louis Rams
Bradford is one of the last beneficiaries of high draft picks receiving mega-deals prior to the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement creating a rookie wage scale. As the first pick overall in the 2010 NFL draft, Bradford signed a six-year, $78 million deal (worth a maximum of $86 million) containing $50 million in guarantees.
Bradford’s future with Rams seemed in doubt because he missed the 2014 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee for the second year in row until head coach he was consulted on Frank Gignetti’s promotion from quarterback coach to offensive coordinator. This suggests that Bradford will open the 2015 regular season as the Rams’ starting quarterback barring injury or a terrible pre-season. It also gives Bradford some leverage in discussions about reducing his $12.985 million ($16.58 million cap number).
Larry Fitzgerald (WR)-Arizona Cardinals
The signs have been pointing to off-season pay cut discussions with Fitzgerald for quite awhile. Fitzgerald making $16.25 million on a $23.6 million cap number in 2015 isn’t feasible with the Cardinals having over slightly $151 million of 2015 cap obligations. The eight-time Pro Bowler, who signed a seven-year, $113 million contract extension in 2011, has the NFL’s fourth highest 2015 salary cap number.
The situation needs to be before resolved Fitzgerald’s $8 million 2015 roster bonus is payable on the fifth day of the league year (March 14). Although it is ownership’s preference for Fitzgerald to play his entire career with the Cardinals, his performance no longer warrants him being paid like an elite wide receiver. Fitzgerald hasn’t had a 1,000 receiving yards season since 2011. He seemed to be a lock for hitting the mark before he was hindered by a knee sprain and injuries at quarterback.
A trade market for Fitzgerald will be somewhat limited because a team must have enough cap room to absorb his $16.25 million salary in order to acquire him. Only after a trade is completed would the acquiring team be able to restructure Fitzgerald’s contract to decrease his cap number. The Cardinals will pick up $9.2 million of cap room with a trade, which is the same amount of cap space that would be created if the team released him.
Tamba Hali (OLB)-Kansas City Chiefs
Hali has expressed a willingness to take a pay cut if it would help re-sign 2014 NFL sack leader Justin Houston to a long term deal. The Chiefs will use their franchise tag on Houston if a new deal isn’t in place before the March 2 designation deadline. The linebacker franchise tag number will be $13.077 million with a $142 million 2015 salary cap. Some contract maneuvering will be required to fit Houston’s franchise tag under the cap. The Chiefs have less than $1 million of cap room assuming the cap is set at $142 million.
Hali, who is entering the final year of a five-year, $57.5 million contract (worth a maximum of $60 million through salary escalators), has a $9 million salary in 2015, with an $11,964,705 cap number. $2 million of Hali’s salary is a roster bonus payable on the 10th day of the 2015 league year (March 19). Any reduction to his salary would need to take place before he receives the roster bonus.
The 31 year old might balk at too steep of a pay cut. It’s conceivable that Hali could make more than his scheduled $9 million in 2015 as a free agent given the market for older pass rushers picked up last year. DeMarcus Ware made $13 million last season in the first year of a three-year, $30 million deal he received from the Denver Broncos after refusing the Dallas Cowboys’ attempts to cut his $12.975 million 2014 salary. He got a $250,000 raise for 2014 in his new deal despite coming off a 2013 season where he had career low six sacks while dealing with elbow, quadriceps and back injuries.
Julius Peppers quickly landed a three-year, $26 million deal (with $7.5 million guaranteed and worth a maximum of $30 million through salary escalators) from the Green Bay Packers once the Chicago Bears released him. He was 34 years old when he signed with Green Bay and made $8.5 million in 2014.
$9 million of cap room will be freed up by releasing Hali. 2014 first round pick Dee Ford would need to step up after playing sparingly as a rookie. Hali had 91.8 percent defensive playtime (975 of 1,062 snaps) in 2014 while Ford only received 11.5 percent playtime (122 of 1,062 snaps).
Percy Harvin (WR)-New York Jets
Harvin was acquired in trade with the Seattle Seahawks last October. The Jets owe the Seahawks their 2015 fourth round pick if Harvin on the roster on the 10th day of the 2015 league year (March 19). Seattle gets the team’s sixth round pick if he is released prior to this date.
This doesn’t leave the new regime of general manager Mike Maccagnan, who came to the Jets from the Houston Texans, and head coach Todd Bowles, Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014, a lot of time to figure out whether Harvin fits into their plans. Harvin, who is scheduled to make $10.5 million in 2015, said during the 2014 season that he would like to remain with the Jets but isn’t interested in taking a pay cut.
The Jets have the leverage to ask Harvin to reduce his salary. He’s unlikely to find another team willing to pay him anything close to $41.5 million in the remaining four years of his contract as a free agent after wearing out his welcome with the Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings. There could be a glut of wide receivers on the open market because several pass catchers currently under contract could hit the streets (Brandon Marshall, Mike Wallace, etc.). There also aren’t any negative cap consequences for the Jets with releasing Harvin. His entire $10.5 million cap number comes off the book if he is let go.
Adrian Peterson (RB)-Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are presenting a united front about welcoming back Peterson once he’s eligible for reinstatement from his suspension on April 15. Peterson is seeking immediate reinstatement through an NFLPA lawsuit against the NFL. Arguments were heard by U.S. District Court Judge David S. Doty on February 6. There isn’t a set timetable for Doty to make a ruling.
Peterson, who turns 30 next month, said he didn’t think a pay cut was warranted in an interview with ESPN towards the end of the 2014 regular season. The six-year, $85.28 million contract extension (with a 2017 base salary escalator worth up to $4 million) Peterson signed in 2011 is an outlier in running back marketplace. He is the NFL’s only $10 million per year running back.
The 2012 NFL MVP’s $13 million salary and $15.4 million cap number for the 2015 season are the highest among running backs. LeSean McCoy is the only other running back with a double digit salary or cap number in 2015. The Philadelphia Eagles running back has an $11.95 million cap number and is scheduled to make $10.25 million.
Peterson has also wondered whether a clean slate with a new team might be best. His salary makes a trade unlikely, which suggests that he may be more receptive to playing for less with another team after his reinstatement. The Vikings would pick up of $13 million of cap room by releasing or trading Peterson. There’s already a lot of speculation that he’ll replace impending free agent DeMarco Murray in the Dallas Cowboys’ backfield since he has expressed an interest in playing for the team before he retires.
Others: Dwayne Bowe (WR)-Kansas City Chiefs: $14 million cap number/$11 million salary; Brandon Carr (CB)-Dallas Cowboys: $12.717 million cap number/$8 million salary; Trent Cole (OLB)-Philadelphia Eagles: $11.625 million cap number/$10.025 million salary; Marques Colston (WR)-New Orleans Saints: $9.7 million cap number/$7 million salary; Andre Johnson (WR)-Houston Texans: $16,144,585 cap number/$11.5 million salary; Jerod Mayo (ILB)-New England Patriots: $10,287,500 cap number/$7 million salary; Lardarius Webb (CB)-Baltimore Ravens: $12 million cap number/$8 million salary
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Predicting the 2015 Hall of Fame class

The 46-member Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee will decide the fate of the 15 modern era finalists, two Contributor candidates and one Seniors' Committee nominee in Phoenix, Arizona on January 31. The election process begins with a discussion on each of the 18 candidates before a vote is taken on the Seniors nominee and the Contributor candidates. Next, the 15 modern era finalist are reduced to 10. Another cut is made to the final five candidates. Each of the final five are voted on individually.

A minimum of 80% of the vote is required in order to be enshrined. A Hall of Fame class must consist of at least four members with a maximum of eight inductees. The 2015 class will be announced later that evening during the NFL Honors show.

Five modern era candidates will likely be a part of this year’s class. 2007 was the last time one of the final five (Paul Tagliabue) was not elected. Here’s my prediction of the 2015 Hall of Fame class.

First Year Eligible Candidates

Orlando Pace (OT)-Chicago Bears/St. Louis Rams
Pace was named first team All-NFL five times and a seven-time Pro Bowler in 13 NFL seasons. Pace compares favorably to Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones, who were selected to the Hall of Fame in 2013 and 2014 respectively during their first year of eligibility. He is a second team tackle behind them on the All-Decade team for the 2000s. Recent selection trends favor offensive lineman. An offensive lineman has been elected to the Hall of Fame in eight of the last nine years. Pace’s stiffest offensive line competition comes from three-time finalist Will Shields.

SeauiconSeau was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection

Junior Seau (LB)-Miami Dolphins/New England Patriots/San Diego Chargers
Seau received All-NFL honors ten times and was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection (all consecutively) in 20 NFL seasons. His 268 games played are second in NFL history among linebackers. Seau doesn’t have eye-popping raw numbers with 56.5 sacks and 18 interceptions but was the pre-eminent sideline-to-sideline linebacker of his generation. The 1990s All-Decade selection was the driving force behind the San Diego Chargers’ Super Bowl XXIX appearance, the only one in franchise history.

Kurt Warner (QB)-Arizona Cardinals/New York Giants/St. Louis Rams
Warner wouldn’t get my vote this year if I were on the selection committee. It would probably go twelve-time Pro Bowl offensive guard Will Shields instead. There hasn’t been a quarterback enshrined since 2006 when Troy Aikman and Warren Moon were inducted. Warner was a two-time first team All-Pro and a four-time Pro Bowler in 12 NFL seasons. He came out obscurity in 1999 after Trent Green tore his ACL in the pre-season to guide the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl XXXIV victory and earn Super Bowl MVP honors with a record 414 passing yards to cap off his MVP season. Warner was also regular season MVP in 2001. As the leader of the Greatest Show on Turf, the Rams topped the 500 point mark in three straight seasons (1999 through 2001), which is the only time the feat has been accomplished by a franchise in the NFL, and set a record for total offense with 7,075 yards in 2000. Warner doesn’t have the sustained excellence of other Hall of Fame quarterbacks because of a mid-career slump from 2002 to 2006 where he threw more interceptions (30) than touchdowns passes (27) and had an 8-22 record as a starter. He rebounded by leading the Arizona Cardinals to the franchise’s only Super Bowl appearance in Super Bowl XLIII during the latter stages of his career. History is on Warner’s side because every multiple MVP winner has been a first ballot Hall of Famer. If Warner doesn’t make it on the first try, he may have to wait until 2017 at the earliest because Brett Favre is eligible for induction in 2016.

Returning Finalists

Marvin Harrison (WR)-Indianapolis Colts
It was surprising Harrison wasn’t the sixth wide receiver to become a first ballot Hall of Famer. The selection committee isn’t supposed to consider off the field issues, which may have been a factor in Harrison’s candidacy stalling after the reduction to 10. He was a person of interest in a 2008 Philadelphia shooting involving a gun owned by him. Harrison was named first team All-NFL six times and elected to eight Pro Bowls during his 13 year NFL career. He was a first team wide receiver with Randy Moss on the 2000s All-Decade team. Harrison ranks third in NFL history with 1,102 receptions, seventh with 14,580 receiving yards and fifth with 128 receiving touchdowns. He set the NFL single season record for receptions in 2002 with 143. The next closest single season total is Antonio Brown’s 129 receptions in 2014. Harrison was the first NFL player to have three consecutive 1,500 receiving yard seasons. Although there isn’t a limit each year on the number of inductees at a position, Harrison faces competition from Tim Brown, a five-time finalist. Unlike Harrison, Brown wasn’t named first team All-Decade. If Brown gets the nod instead of him, it could be a case of the committee deciding it is Brown’s time considering he wasn’t among the final 10 last year like Harrison was.

Charles Haley (DE/LB)-Dallas Cowboys/San Francisco 49ers
Haley is a finalist for the sixth straight year. He made the first cut of finalists in each of the last three years (2012-2014) without advancing to the final five. Haley was named All-Pro twice and to five Pro Bowls in his 13 year NFL career. He was the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1994. Haley has 100.5 total sacks, with a season best 16 in 1990. His trade to the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 swung the balance of power in the NFL. He added three Super Bowl rings after the trade to go along with the two rings he had already earned with the San Francisco 49ers. Haley is the only player in NFL history to win five Super Bowls. His 4.5 sacks in Super Bowls are the most of any player. Haley was a difficult teammate and antagonized the media, which could be factors with the selection committee.

Seniors Committee Nominee/Contributor Candidates

Bill Polian (GM)-Buffalo Bills/Carolina Panthers/Indianapolis Colts
Polian was the architect of three successful franchises during his 32 year NFL career. He was named NFL Executive of the Year five times by the Pro Football Writers of America. Polian built the Buffalo Bills into a four-time Super Bowl participant (XXV-XXVIII). The expansion Carolina Panthers quickly found success by going to the NFC Championship in the 1996 season during the franchise’s second year of existence with him at the helm. He turned the Indianapolis Colts into the winningest team of the 2000s decade with a 115-45 regular season record. The Colts appeared in two Super Bowls under his direction. The Super Bowl XLI victory is the franchise’s only NFL championship since the 1970 season. Polian’s best personnel decision was taking Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf with the first overall pick of the 1998 NFL Draft. It’s hard to be now but there was a debate at the time over which player was the better NFL prospect. Polian’s recent flirtation with a return to the Bills as team president may jeopardize his Hall of Fame bid because of the perception that he may not be permanently retired.

Ron Wolf (Executive)-Green Bay Packers/Los Angeles & Oakland Raiders/Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Wolf spent 41 years in the NFL. Most notably, Wolf revived the Green Bay Packers. The franchise went to two Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl XXXI, during his tenure as general ma
nager. He found his franchise quarterback by giving the Atlanta Falcons a 1992 first round pick for Brett Favre after his less than impressive rookie campaign as a seldom used backup. He proved the skeptics wrong by demonstrating that the small market Packers could be a viable destination for free agents when he landed Reggie White in 1993. Under Wolf’s guidance, the Packers had a 92-52 record in his nine seasons (1992-2000) with the club. Prior to his success in Green Bay, Wolf was a personnel executive with the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders for 25 seasons in three separate tenures. While Wolf was owner Al Davis’ right hand man, the Raiders won two Super Bowls (XV and XVIII). The only blip on Wolf’s radar screen was his three-year stint as general manager of the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The franchise had an inauspicious start with 26 straight losses. However, 16 starters on Tampa Bay’s 1979 team that advanced to NFC Championship game after Wolf left were drafted by him. Wolf still has influence on the fates of NFL franchises. Five current general managers (John Dorsey-Kansas City Chiefs, Scot McCloughan-Washington Redskins, Reggie McKenzie-Raiders, John Schneider-Seattle Seahawks and Ted Thompson-Packers) are former Wolf employees.

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What are players paid during the playoffs?

Players are paid much differently in the playoffs than during the regular season. Most players take a significant pay cut in the playoffs because their salaries have no bearing on what they make in the postseason. Playoff money comes from a league pool instead of from NFL teams. There is a specific amount for each playoff round where each eligible player gets paid the same. Here’s a look at how playoff compensation works for the 2014 league year.

Wild Card Round

Division Winners: $24,000
Wild Cards: $22,000

Divisional Playoff Game: $24,000

Conference Championship Game: $44,000

Super Bowl

Winning Team: $97,000
Losing Team: $49,000

Players typically receive their entire salary over the course of the 17-week regular season. For example, Ndamukong Suh made $738,235 per week during the regular season from his $12.55 million base salary. He will receive $22,000 for the Detroit Lions’ Wild Card playoff game, just like third string quarterback Kellen Moore and the rest of his teammates. Wild Card playoff money is less than the weekly pay of a player making the $420,000 first-year player minimum salary ($24,706 per week).

Players on teams with Wild Card round byes (Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks) are essentially working for free for the week since they will not receive payment. The additional rest and home field advantage in the Divisional playoff round are supposed to make up for the lack of money.

$189,000 is the maximum a player can earn in the 2014 season’s playoffs, but the Super Bowl winner would have to be a division winner that participated in the Wild Card round (Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts, or Pittsburgh Steelers). The most a player can earn if he is from a team with a first round bye is $165,000. Payments during the playoffs must be made within 15 days after a game has been played.

For a player like Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, winning the Super Bowl would be more meaningful financially than to most of his teammates since he is only making his $495,000 league minimum salary this season. The additional $165,000 would be one-third of his 2014 salary.

Players on the 53-man roster and injured reserve at game time receive payment for Wild Card and Divisional playoff games. Practice squad players don’t receive playoff money, but continue to get paid (minimum of $6,300 per week) during the weeks their respective teams are in the playoffs.

Payment eligibility is more complicated for the conference championships and Super Bowl. The payment requirements for these two playoff rounds are outlined below.

Full Amount

1. Players on the 53-man roster when the game is played that have been on the roster for at least three previous games (regular season or playoffs).

2. Veterans (at least one year of service) put on injured reserve during the regular season that are still under contract when the game is played.

3. Vested veterans (four or more years of service) put on injured reserve during the preseason that are still under contract when the game is played.

4. Players who aren’t on the 53-man roster at game time that spent at least eight games on the roster (regular season or playoffs) provided they’re not under contract to another team in the same conference.

The final category gives Antoine Cason a chance of getting paid for being on two different teams during the season that made the playoffs. Cason played 12 games for the Carolina Panthers before he was released. Cason has been with the Baltimore Ravens since Week 15.

Half Amount

1. Players on the 53-man roster when the game is played that have been on the roster for less than three previous games (regular season or playoffs).

2. First-year players put on injured reserve during the regular season that are still under contract when the game is played and signed a player contract or practice squad contract in a prior season.

3. Non-vested veterans (one to three years of service) put on injured reserve during the preseason that are still under contract when the game is played.

4. Players who aren’t on the 53-man roster at game time that spent between three and seven games on the roster (regular season or playoffs) provided they’re not under contract to another team in the same conference.

Percy Harvin could be rooting for the Seahawks despite getting traded to the New York Jets in the middle of the season because of the last category. He will make $70,500 if the Seahawks repeat as Super Bowl champions since he was on their roster for five games.

There is one more category that receives a one-quarter share for Conference championships and the Super Bowl. First-year players put on injured reserve during the preseason that are still under contract when the game is played. They also must have been on a team’s practice squad for at least eight games in a prior season or received one or two game checks while on a team’s 53-man roster or injured reserve in a prior year in order to qualify for payment.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

Who deserves the NFL MVP award?

50 members of the media will vote on the 2014 Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP) award before the playoffs start on January 3. The NFL’s MVP voting procedure differs from the other major professional team sports in this country because a points system isn’t used. For example, the NBA MVP is determined by voters ranking their top-five candidates on a 10-7-5-3-1 points system. Instead, each NFL voter selects a single player as MVP, with selectors sometimes splitting a vote between two players. The results will be announced on January 31, the day before Super Bowl XLIX, during the NBC televised NFL Honors Awards Show in Phoenix, Arizona.

Here are the top-five MVP candidates in the order in which they should finish, but won't:

1. J.J. Watt-Houston Texans

Watt should be the 2014 NFL MVP despite history working against him. The only two defensive players to win the MVP are Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page in 1971 and New York Giants outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986. The last MVP from a team that didn’t make the playoffs was Buffalo Bills running back O.J. Simpson in 1973.

J.J. WattWatt just became the only player in NFL history to record 20 sacks in a season twice.

Watt had one of the most dominant seasons ever for a defensive player. His historic performance was better than his 2012 season when he was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. Watt became the first player in NFL history to have multiple 20 sack seasons by tying his career high with 20.5 sacks. He had a league leading five fumble recoveries, tied for second with four forced fumbles and was second in sacks. Advanced metrics better capture Watt’s dominance. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Watt had a career-best 119 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, hurries and hits) to top has previous high of 85 in 2013. NFL sacks leader Justin Houston was second this year to Watt with 85 pressures.

Watt was an occasional two-way player as a red-zone threat on offense. He also became the first player in NFL history with an interception return for a touchdown, a fumble recovery touchdown and three touchdown receptions during a season. Although the Texans narrowly missed the playoffs with nine victories, Watt led the team to the NFL’s biggest win improvement in 2014. The seven-game turnaround from a league-worst two wins in 2013 occurred without a legitimate starting quarterback or another elite defensive player to turn the opposition's attention away from Watt. It will be a surprise if Watt wins the MVP because of the advantage quarterbacks have by impacting the game on practically every offensive play. A quarterback has been named MVP in 37 of the 57 years of the award. Watt should get more than four votes, which would be the most for a defensive player during the 21st century.

2. Aaron Rodgers-Green Bay Packers

Rodgers probably clinched his second MVP award with a gritty performance against the Lions in the season finale. After an aggravation of a left calf injury that forced him out of the game in the first half, Rodgers returned in the second half to break a 14-14 tie and lead the Packers to their fourth straight NFC North title. Rodgers completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 4,381 yards to post a 112.2 passer rating (second-best in the NFL). He threw 38 touchdown passes (third in NFL) and only five interceptions, which are the fewest of his career since becoming a starter in 2008. The 2011 NFL MVP was extremely consistent throughout the season with his only major hiccup coming in a Week 15 loss to the Buffalo Bills when Rodgers completed only 40.5 percent of his passes (17 of 42 attempts) for a career-worst 34.3 passing rating.

3. Tom Brady-New England Patriots

Tom BradyRumors of Brady's demise were a bit premature.

It’s hard to believe that there was a rush to judgment about Brady being washed up when New England had a 2-2 record given the way the season unfolded. In the first four games, Brady only threw for 197.8 yards per game, completed just 59.2 percent of his passes, had four touchdown passes and two interceptions with a 79.1 passing rating. The two-time MVP rebounded from the slow start to give the Patriots home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. New England’s 12 wins put them in a tie with four other teams for the NFL’s best record. It’s hard to ignore that Brady’s resurgence coincided with All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski shaking off the rust after receiving limited action initially during his return from a 2013 ACL tear. In the eleven games with a healthy Gronkowski (he sat out the season finale for precautionary measures), Brady had a 66.2 completion percentage and 104.4 passing rating while throwing for 294.4 yards per game with 29 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

4. DeMarco Murray-Dallas Cowboys

Murray started the 2014 season like gangbusters as the Cowboys transformed into a rushing team after running the ball 36.4 percent of the time in his first three NFL seasons. He broke Jim Brown’s 56-year-old NFL record of six consecutive games with 100 rushing yards or more to begin a season with an eight-game streak. At the midway point of the season, Murray had 1,054 rushing yards and 1,293 yards from scrimmage, which put him on pace to break Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record of 2,105 yards by three yards and Chris Johnson’s single season yards from scrimmage record (2,509 yards). Murray couldn’t sustain his pace of production, but the Cowboys rode him to a 12-4 record to win the NFC East crown. Murray broke Emmitt Smith’s single season franchise rushing record of 1,773 yards by gaining 1,845 yards on the ground while playing through a late season broken left hand. The NFL’s rushing leader had almost 500 more yards than runner up Le’Veon Bell. Murray also tied for the NFL lead with 13 rushing touchdowns and was tops in the NFL with 2,261 yards from scrimmage.

5. Tony Romo-Dallas Cowboys

Romo made a late season MVP push with his stellar play in December, which should earn him the final NFC Player of the Month award of the season. During December, he led the Cowboys to a 4-0 record by completing 74.8 percent of his passes (83 of 111) for 987 yards with 12 touchdowns and one interception to post a 133.7 passer rating. Less has been more with Tony Romo, as the quarterback attempted only 29 passes per game after throwing 35.7 and 40.5 per game in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Romo’s efficiency has never been greater with the Cowboys becoming more reliant on the running game. He led the NFL in completion percentage (69.9 percent), passer rating (113.2) and yards per pass attempt (8.52 yards).

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

The Pro Bowl snub team

Despite what some may say, the new unconferenced teams format for the Pro Bowl does not decrease snubs. Nonetheless, there are plenty of deserving players who didn’t make it this season because popularity and reputation play a role in the selections. Here’s my team of players snubbed for the Pro Bowl, which will be played on January 25 in Glendale, Arizona.

Offense

QB-Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
RB-Justin Forsett, Baltimore Ravens
FB-Anthony Sherman, Kansas City Chiefs
WR-Odell Beckham, New York Giants
WR-Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
TE-Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
T-Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals
T-Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots
G-Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns
G-Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles
C-Rodney Hudson, Kansas City Chiefs

Odell BeckhamBeckham should go down as the biggest snub of the 2014 season.

The unconferenced format really hurt Wilson, as only two NFC quarterbacks were selected. The league’s top dual-threat quarterback is 15th in the NFL in rushing with 842 yards and has a 95.7 passer rating (ninth in the NFL). Forsett leads NFL running backs with 5.3 yards per carry and his 14 runs of over 20 yards tie him with DeMarco Murray for the most in the NFL. The NFL’s sixth-leading rusher (1,147 yards) has also been named AFC Offensive Player of the Week twice this season.

Beckham is among the NFL’s most productive wide receivers since recovering from a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Giants’ first four games. During the second half of the season, Beckham leads the NFL with 858 receiving yards and is second in receptions (61) and receiving touchdowns (8). Tate has set career highs with 96 catches and 1,286 receiving yards. The Lions aren’t in the playoffs because they don’t go 3-0 without Calvin Johnson if Tate doesn’t catch 24 passes for 349 yards with two touchdowns in those games Megatron missed. Whitworth anchors the offensive line and hasn’t given up a sack this season.

Defense

DE-Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks
DE-Everson Griffen, Minnesota Vikings
DT-Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets
DT-Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets
OLB-Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders
OLB-DeAndre Levy, Detroit Lions
ILB-Dont’a Hightower, New England Patriots
CB-Sean Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
CB-Corey Graham, Buffalo Bills
FS-Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
SS-Antoine Bethea, San Francisco 49ers

Michael BennettQuietly, Michael Bennett has had a terrific season for the Seahawks.

Stuffing the run was undervalued in this year’s selections. Bennett is Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) top rated 4-3 defensive end against the run and is also second among all defensive ends with 68 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, hurries and hits). 3-4 defensive ends Richardson and Wilkerson were listed on the Pro Bowl ballot at defensive tackle. Wilkerson was PFF’s No. 2 rated 3-4 defensive end this season before being sidelined for three games (Weeks 13-15) with a toe injury, which opened the door for Richardson to move into the slot. Mack quickly established himself as a dominant force against the run. The lack of sacks (only four) contributed to him being overlooked, but the rookie matches Connor Barwin with 54 quarterback pressures and has more than Clay Matthews (48) and Tamba Hali (42).

Levy has been a tackling machine (third in NFL with 140 tackles) for the NFL’s second-ranked defense in total yards and points allowed. Patrick Peterson was a reputation pick, as he’s given up eight touchdowns this season. As the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback, Peterson should be limiting quarterbacks to a 48.4 completion percentage for a 56.5 passing rating when targeted like Graham.

Specialists

K-Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons
P-Johnny Hekker, St. Louis Rams
PR-Adam Jones, Cincinnati Bengals
ST-Kelcie McCray, Kansas City Chiefs

Bryant has the most field goals from 50 yards and beyond in the NFL this season, with seven. Overall, he has converted 90.3 percent of his field goal attempts (28 of 31), which is fourth in the league. Jones may have gotten a berth if kickoffs were still a part of the Pro Bowl. He’s leading the NFL with a 33.2-yard kickoff return average and is third in punt returns (11.9 yard average).

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott. You can email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.