The difficulty in trading Jay Cutler

Jay Cutler’s benching for Jimmy Clausen could mean the end of the veteran quarterback’s tenure with the Chicago Bears. Despite the demotion, Cutler’s stated preference is to remain a part of the Bears.

It was presumed that Cutler would be the Bears’ quarterback for the foreseeable future when he signed a seven-year, $126.7 million deal within days of the 2013 regular season ending. Cutler had the NFL’s highest 2014 salary cap number at $22.5 million before the Bears lowered it to $18.5 million by exercising their discretionary right to convert a portion of his base salary ($5 million) into a signing bonus, which was necessary to sign defensive end Jared Allen. Cutler’s $15.5 million 2015 base salary is fully guaranteed. $10 million of his $16 million 2016 base salary becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2015 league year (March 12).

Cutler’s 2015 cap number is $16.5 million. Releasing Cutler before the 2016 guarantee kicks in on March 12 will result in $19.5 million of dead money, a cap charge for a player no longer on a team’s roster. Since Cutler’s guarantees have offset provisions, the Bears would be able to reduce the guaranteed money owed to him by the amount of his new deal with another team. However, the cap relief wouldn’t occur until 2016.

Before releasing Cutler, the Bears would attempt to trade him. From a cap standpoint, trading Cutler is preferable because the Bears would pick up $12.5 million of 2015 cap room. There would be a $4 million cap charge for the Bears from the signing bonus proration in Cutler’s 2016 through 2018 contract years accelerating onto the 2015 cap.

The trading period for 2015 begins when free agency starts on March 10. This doesn’t leave much time for a trade because it would have to occur before the March 12 salary guarantee date if having Cutler return to the team isn’t the organization’s backup plan to a trade.

The Bears won’t be able to get anything comparable to the two second-round picks the San Francisco 49ers received from the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013 for Alex Smith in a Cutler trade, but he should be worth more than the sixth-round pick the Oakland Raiders sent the Houston Texans to acquire Matt Schaub in the offseason. In addition, a team must have enough cap room to absorb a player’s cap number in order to make a trade. Once the player is acquired, the team can then restructure his contract to decrease his cap number.

Jay CutlerWould it make sense to send Cutler to St. Louis in exchange for Sam Bradford?

Teams aren’t allowed to include cash or cap room in trades under NFL rules. The way around it, which was done when the Jacksonville Jaguars traded Eugene Monroe to the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, is for the team to restructure the contract before the trade by converting salary into a signing bonus. It operates essentially the same way as including cash or cap room because the acquiring team’s cap hit for the player in the current league year is reduced.

This would entail the Bears using the same discretionary conversion rights with Cutler they did prior to signing Allen. If $5.5 million is converted to a signing bonus, Cutler’s 2015 base salary will drop to $10 million. When the trade is made, signing bonus proration from Cutler’s future contract years (2016 through 2019) will accelerate onto Chicago’s 2015 cap. The Bears’ total 2015 cap charge for Cutler will be $9.5 million ($4 million of signing bonus proration from the 2014 restructure and $5.5 million relating to this new restructure), which is still $7 million in cap savings. The acquiring team’s cap charge for Cutler will be $10 million. Eating salary in this manner could be a way for the Bears to increase the compensation received for Cutler.

Although Cutler’s salary guarantees make it harder to trade him, there is a scarcity of quality quarterbacks in the NFL. The team that acquired Cutler would be making at least a two-year commitment to him because of the 2016 salary guarantee. It would be easy for the team to walk away from Cutler after that because the remaining four years for $72.7 million don’t contain any guarantees.

The team that seems to make the most sense to acquire Cutler is the Tennessee Titans. CEO Tommy Smith has vowed to remake the Titans’ roster in the offseason. Rookie Zach Mettenberger, a sixth-round pick this year, hasn’t shown enough for the Titans to know whether he is a potential franchise quarterback.

The Titans are in line for the second-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, which would put them in a position to select 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, but the franchise may be gun shy about using another high pick on a quarterback with Jake Locker, the eight overall pick in 2011, failing to live up to his potential. Cutler would also have some marketing appeal since he went to Vanderbilt.

The New York Jets are in need of a quarterback because Geno Smith hasn’t proven he’s the long-term solution at quarterback. It’s been a disappointing season for the Jets, but they probably won’t be drafting high enough to have a shot at 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota or Winston.

Cutler’s contract would help the Jets solve their spending predicament. The Collective Bargaining Agreement requires teams to spend 89 percent of the salary cap in cash over four-year periods of 2013 through 2016 and 2017 through 2020. Jets are 30th in spending this year ($106.295 million) and below the 89 percent threshold since 2013 at 84.56 percent.

Another intriguing possibility could be the St. Louis Rams. Jeff Fisher recently said he would like Sam Bradford, who is missing the entire 2014 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee for the second year in a row, back in 2015. Bradford, who is making $12.985 million on a $16.58 million cap number in 2015, would likely need to take a significant pay cut to return.

The opportunity for a rare quarterback swap exists with Cutler and Bradford. Their salaries and dead money are close enough to each other’s that a trade involving the two of them wouldn’t have much of an effect on either team’s salary cap.

Josh McCown hasn’t performed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like he did last year in Chicago while Cutler was injured. Head coach Lovie Smith has called Mike Glennon the team’s quarterback of the future, but doesn’t seem to have much confidence in him. Smith was Cutler’s head coach in Chicago for four years, which could work against him.

The Houston Texans may be a quarterback away from challenging the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC South crown. Cutler would be an upgrade over Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is scheduled to make $3.25 million in 2015. Fitzpatrick could remain with the team as Cutler’s backup with that salary. The Texans won’t have enough cap room to take on Cutler’s contract without restructuring deals or the Bears eating some of his salary unless the 2015 salary cap is above $145 million.

Another alternative could be for the Bears to concentrate on salvaging the situation with Cutler by hiring an offensive-minded head coach that believes he can get the most out of him. Mike Shanahan would best fit that description. Cutler’s only Pro Bowl season was in 2008 under Shanahan.

Follow me on Twitter: @corryjoel

Joel Corry is a former sports ag
ent 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.

How the 49ers can bail from Kaepernick's contract

Colin Kaepernick’s surprising regression this season and the anticipated departure of San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh could result in Kaepernick’s tenure with the team being shorter than anticipated.

On the surface, it appeared as if the 49ers made a huge financial commitment to Kaepernick when he signed a six-year, $126 million contract extension during the offseason because of the overall value of the deal and the $61 million in guarantees. Kaepernick’s extension has a team-friendly structure, as do all of the lucrative contracts negotiated by the 49ers in recent years.

Only $12,973,766 of the $61 million in guarantees is fully guaranteed at signing. $48,026,234 of Kaepernick’s base salaries are guaranteed for injury only initially. His 2015 through 2017 base salaries and a portion of his 2018 base salary are fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster on April 1 in each specific contract year (i.e. 2015 base salary becomes guaranteed on April 1, 2015).

Kaepernick doesn’t have the same level of security as other quarterbacks with comparable deals. Jay Cutler, Tony Romo and Matt Ryan have $38 million, $40 million and $42 million, respectively, practically fully guaranteed at signing in their contracts, which is essentially triple Kaepernick’s amount.

Kaepernick’s contract also contains a convoluted $2 million per year salary de-escalator. Kaepernick’s base salary for the following season doesn’t decrease by the $2 million if he is named first or second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, or the 49ers reach the Super Bowl while he has 80 percent playtime in the regular season and playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl (Wild Card, Division and Conference Championship games). Once Kaepernick reaches this threshold in a season, the de-escalator becomes void for the remainder of the deal.

The team’s loss to the Oakland Raiders in Week 14 dropped San Francisco’s record to 7-6, which virtually ensures the triggering of the salary de-escalator, so Kaepernick’s 2015 base salary will go from $12.4 million to $10.4 million. However, the de-escalator being activated won’t change Kaepernick’s $15,265,753 2015 salary cap number. The lower salary, $10.4 million, is already a part of his cap number because de-escalation is being considered likely for cap purposes.

Colin KaepernickWill Kap be in a 49ers jersey past 2015?

Kaepernick’s $12,328,766 signing bonus and the conditional guarantees make his deal a year-to-year proposition from the outset because the 49ers can part ways with him at anytime without adverse cap consequences. For example, $5,402,740 of cap room would be gained in 2015 by releasing Kaepernick before his $10.4 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed on April 1. The 49ers would have a $9,863,013 cap charge or dead money from the signing bonus proration in Kaepernick’s 2016 through 2018 contract years accelerating onto the 2015 cap.

The 49ers releasing Kaepernick in 2015 is unrealistic because teams are usually reluctant to admit they made a mistake so quickly after giving a player a new deal. It would essentially amount to giving Kaepernick a $12 million windfall by releasing him so soon because his salary is $13,073,766 this year instead of the $1,073,766 he was scheduled to make by playing out his rookie contract.

The 49ers would attempt to trade Kaepernick before releasing him anyway. Kaepernick having his worst NFL season since becoming a starter and his failure to make significant strides as a pocket passer would impact the type of compensation the 49ers could get for him in a trade. It’s hard to imagine the 49ers receiving a draft choice comparable to the second-round pick (36th overall) used to select him even though he still has upside as a quarterback.

The most likely scenario is the 49ers restructuring Kaepernick’s contract in the offseason because he has the highest 2015 cap number on the team ($15,265,753) and the 49ers have the third-most 2015 cap commitments in the NFL at $148.9 million (51 players under contract) while having slightly over $4.5 million of unused cap room to carry over from this year. According to multiple reports, the NFL Management Council informed teams at an NFL 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 this year is 5.3 percent higher than the preliminary projections this time last year. Regardless of where it is ultimately set, the 49ers have cap issues for 2015.

The 49ers have built cap flexibility into Kaepernick’s contract because they can create cap room at any time during the deal with their discretionary right to convert a portion of his base salary into a signing bonus. Most lucrative contracts around the league contain a clause similar to this one. The 49ers could create a maximum of $7.724 million in 2015 cap space through a restructure by converting $9.655 million of Kaepernick’s $10.4 million 2015 base salary into a 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.

Whether Kaepernick has a bounce back year in 2015 will largely determine his fate with the 49ers. If the San Francisco is able to solve their cap woes in the offseason without changing Kaepernick’s contract, then $9,368,493 of cap room would be picked up in 2016 by releasing Kaepernick before his $11.9 million base salary (assumes he didn’t extinguish the de-escalator mechanism with his 2015 performance) became fully guaranteed.

There’s a significant difference in the cap savings by releasing Kaepernick after a 2015 restructure for maximum cap space, which is more likely than the 49ers leaving his 2015 cap alone. In this instance, $3,575,493 of cap room would be gained in 2016. The 49ers would have a $15,121,260 cap charge from the signing bonus proration in Kaepernick’s 2017 through 2019 contract years accelerating onto the 2016 cap.

$14.3 million of 2016 cap room could be created by giving Kaepernick a post-June 1 designation or releasing him after June 1. The only 2016 cap charge for the 49ers would be Kaepernick’s $4,396,753 of 2016 signing bonus proration. The 49ers would also have a $10,724,507 cap charge in 2017 relating to Kaepernick with post-June 1 treatment. Carrying Kaepernick’s entire $18,696,753 2016 cap number until June 2 is required with this route. Either way, releasing Kaepernick in 2016 would be the equivalent of giving him a one-year extension for $24.8 million because his rookie contract ran through the 2014 season.

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.

2014 salary cap kings

Defensive tackles have the NFL’s top-two 2014 salary cap numbers, which is a rarity. As usual, quarterbacks dominate the list of the largest cap numbers. Here’s a look at the players with 2014’s highest cap numbers. The Collective Bargaining Agreement’s (CBA) $175 daily amount for participating in a team’s voluntary offseason workout program is included in the cap numbers.

1. Ndamukong Suh (DT)-Detroit Lions: $22,414,600 million

Suh’s cap number is a product of restructuring his five-year rookie deal (worth up to $68 million with $40 million fully guaranteed) in 2012 and 2013. The Lions and Suh engaged in negotiations for a new deal during the offseason, but the team broke off talks at the beginning of training camp. It will be virtually impossible for the Lions to use a franchise tag on Suh in 2015. His franchise tag number will be $26.87 million, which is based off of 120 percent of his 2014 cap number. Suh’s next contract will likely be the richest deal in NFL history for a defensive tackle because he isn’t going to think a decrease from his rookie contract is warranted after being named All-NFL four times in his four NFL seasons and Gerald McCoy’s recent contract extension averaging $13.6 million per year.

2. Gerald McCoy (DT)-Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $21.295 million

Gerald McCoyMcCoy is currently the NFL's highest-paid interior defensive lineman.

McCoy had the NFL’s second-highest 2014 salary cap number among defensive tackles at $15,627,253 before signing a six-year, $95.2 million contract extension (worth up to $98 million through incentives). The deal, which contains $51.5 million in guarantees, made McCoy the NFL’s highest-paid interior defensive lineman. McCoy has the second-largest amount of guarantees ever in an NFL contract for a defensive player behind J.J. Watt’s $51,876,385.

3. Eli Manning (QB)-New York Giants: $20.4 million

In 2015, Manning will be entering the final year of his 2009 six-year, $97.5 million contract extension (with $35 million guaranteed). It may be in the Giants’ best interest to take a wait-and-see approach on a new deal with Manning because he’s been inconsistent in new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s west coast offense. The Super Bowl XLVI MVP has a $19.75 million salary cap number in 2015.

4. Ben Roethlisberger (QB)-Pittsburgh Steelers: $18,896,750 million

The Steelers decided against renegotiating Roethlisberger’s contract with two years remaining as they did with his rookie deal. Team president Art Rooney II indicated during the early part of training camp that Roethlisberger’s contract situation would be addressed after the season. In order for Roethlisberger to maintain the same place in the quarterback salary hierarchy as the six-year contract extension averaging $14,664,417 per year with $33.2 million in guarantees he signed in 2008 (NFL’s second-highest paid player and third-most contract guarantees), his new extension would need to top $20.75 million per year and $59 million in guarantees.

5. Mario Williams (DE)-Buffalo Bills: $18.8 million

Williams lost his place as the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player ($96 million/six years, $50 million in guarantees, $4 million in incentives) when J.J. Watt signed a six-year, $100 million contract extension at the start of the regular season. The 2006 first overall pick’s $53 million in the first three years of his deal is the best three-year cash flow in the NFL for a non-quarterback. Living up to the deal has been hard for Williams, but he’s fourth in the NFL with 12 sacks and is also Pro Football Focus’ second-ranked 4-3 defensive end this season.

6. Jay Cutler (QB)-Chicago Bears: $18,504,900 million

Cutler signed a seven-year, $126.7 million deal (includes $54 million guaranteed) within days of the 2013 regular season ending. He had the NFL’s highest 2014 cap number at $22.5 million before the Bears lowered his cap number by exercising their discretionary right to convert a portion of his base salary into a signing bonus, which was necessary to sign defensive end Jared Allen.

7. Drew Brees (QB)-New Orleans Saints: $18.4 million

Brees became the NFL’s first $20 million per year player with the five-year, $100 million contract (included a record $60.5 million in guarantees) he signed with the Saints in 2012. It will be difficult for the Saints to carry Brees’ $26.4 million 2015 cap number with a league high almost $161 million in 2015 cap commitments when the 2015 cap isn’t expected to exceed $145 million.

8. Sam Bradford (QB)-St. Louis Rams: $17.61 million

Sam BradfordThe Rams would gain $12.985 million of cap room by cutting Bradford in 2015.

Bradford is missing the 2014 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee for the second year in a row. He is one of the last beneficiaries of high draft picks receiving rookie contracts where easily achievable escalators created large base salaries in their deals. 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. By contrast, Cam Newton signed a fully guaranteed four-year, $22,025,498 contract (with a CBA mandated fifth year option worth $14.666 million) as the first pick in 2011 after the creation of a rookie wage scale. Bradford’s future with the Rams is in doubt because of durability concerns and his $16.58 million 2015 cap number. The Rams would gain $12.985 million of cap room by cutting Bradford in 2015.

9. Aaron Rodgers (QB)-Green Bay Packers: $17.55 million

Rodgers is the highest-paid player in NFL history (by average yearly salary). He signed a five-year, $110 million contract extension in 2013 containing $54 million in guarantees, which included a $35 million signing bonus. The 2011 NFL MVP’s 2014 cap number was originally $17.9 million. The signing bonus proration dropped from $7 million annually in Rodgers’ 2014-2017 contract years to $6.65 million because of insurance policy payments to the Packers relating to the quarterback missing seven games last season with a broken collarbone.

10. Matt Ryan (QB)-Atlanta Falcons: $17,505,425 million

Ryan edged Peyton Manning for the tenth spot because he received $350 more in offseason workout per diem. The 2008 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year became the NFL’s second-highest paid player when he signed a five-year, $103.75 million contract extension (including $59 million in guarantees) in 2013. $42 million was essentially fully guaranteed at signing. Ryan is getting $63 million in the first three years of his contract, which is the best three-year cash flow in the NFL and narrowly eclipses Rodgers’ $62.5 million.

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 c
an email Joel at jccorry@gmail.com.

Inside a performance-based contract

Incentives and salary escalators can be used to bridge the financial gap when there is a disagreement in a negotiation between a player’s agent and the team on the player’s value. These contract mechanisms are usually designed to be classified as Not Likely To Be Earned (NLTBE) so that they will not count against the salary cap when a deal is signed. Generally, any incentives or escalators with higher thresholds than the player or team’s statistical performance in the prior season qualify as NLTBE. The most frequent categories for individual achievement are playtime or based on the player’s primary function (i.e. rushing yards for a running back).

Elvis Dumervil signed this type of contract with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013 after he was released by the Denver Broncos because of a paperwork snafu on his renegotiated contract reducing his 2013 salary from $12 million to $8 million. He received a five-year deal from the Ravens with a base value of $26 million containing $11 million in guarantees. Dumervil’s contract is worth up to $35 million because it has $9 million of base salary escalators and incentives. Since Dumervil had 11 sacks with the Broncos in 2012, his escalators or incentives required him to exceed this sack total in order to be considered NLTBE.

Dumervil has notched 22.0 sacks in 26 career games with the Ravens.

Dumervil triggered $3 million in base salary escalators and earned $1 million in incentives during Week 12’s contest against the New Orleans Saints by getting two sacks to reach the 12-sack mark. He is now second in the NFL with 12.5 sacks and on pace to break Peter Boulware’s franchise record of 15 sacks with a career best 19 sacks.

Dumervil has four different clauses in his contract as follows relating to base salary escalators and incentives.

1. With 12 or more sacks in any regular season, the remaining base salaries in the contract each increase by $1 million. A maximum of $4 million can be earned under this clause.

2. Provided that Dumervil earns the initial escalator (number one), the remaining base salaries in the contract each increase by $1 million with 12 or more sacks in the 2014, 2015 or 2016 regular seasons. The maximum that can be earned under this clause is $3 million.

3. A one-time $1 million bonus is earned with 12 or more sacks in any regular season. It is available every year until earned.

4. Provided that Dumervil earns the initial sack incentive (number three), there is another one-time $1 million bonus for 12 or more sacks in 2014, 2015 or 2016 and (a) team improvement from the previous season in one of eight categories (points allowed by the defense, touchdowns allowed by the defense, total defense, average net yards given up per rushing play, average net yards given up per passing play, sacks, interceptions or team wins) or (b) Dumervil improves from the previous season in one of six categories (interceptions, interception return yards, touchdowns on interception returns, opponent fumble recoveries, opponent fumble return yards or touchdowns on opponent fumble returns). It can also be earned with 13 or more sacks as long as it’s an improvement from the previous season’s sack total. This incentive is also available every year until earned.

The value of Dumervil’s contract has increased to $30 million over five years. He can’t earn the maximum of $35 million because he didn’t have 12 sacks in 2013. The most Dumervil can earn is $33 million if he hits his thresholds again in 2015.

Dumervil’s 2015 and 2016 base salaries, which were originally $4 million, are now $5 million. His $5 million 2017 base salary jumps to $6 million. Dumervil had a $6.375 million cap number in 2015 and 2016 which has now increased to $7.375 million during these years. His 2017 cap number goes from $7.375 million to $8.375 million.

Triggering an escalator doesn’t necessarily mean that the player will make the increased salary. The escalated amount is rarely guaranteed so teams can still ask the player to take a pay cut or release him without any financial obligation. For example, the Atlanta Falcons cut John Abraham in 2013 instead of paying him $6.5 million for the season after he triggered a $1 million base salary increase with 71.62 percent defensive playtime and 10 sacks. Dumervil is assured of making at least $2 million of his performance bonuses ($1 million of the salary escalator and $1 million in incentives) because he isn’t in danger of being released in 2015.

 

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.

Will there be first ballot Hall of Famers in 2015?

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee, which is comprised of 46 media members that cover the NFL, cut the list of 113 modern era nominees to 26 semi-finalists on Tuesday. The modern era list will be reduced to 15 nominees on January 8. The final nominees will consist of the 15 modern era finalists, the two Contributor candidates Bill Polian (Buffalo Bills/Carolina Panthers/Indianapolis Colts general manager) and Ron Wolf (Green Bay Packers/Los Angeles & Oakland Raiders/Tampa Bay Buccaneers), and the Seniors Committee nominee center Mick Tingelhoff (Minnesota Vikings). The 2015 Hall of Fame class will be announced in Phoenix, Arizona on January 31, the day before Super Bowl XLIX. Four to eight inductees, with a maximum of five modern candidates, will make up the 2015 class.

15 first-year eligible candidates were among the initial 113 modern era nominees. Eight of the 15 nominees are semi-finalists, which reflects the strength of the group. Nine first time candidates combined were semi-finalists over the last two years. Here’s a look at the eight first-year eligible semi-finalists.

Isaac Bruce (WR)-Los Angeles & St. Louis Rams/San Francisco 49ers

Isaac BruceBruce hauled in 1,024 receptions during his 16-year career.

Bruce was a four-time Pro Bowler and named All-Pro once in 16 NFL seasons. He ranks eighth in NFL history with 1,024 receptions, fourth with 15,208 receiving yards and eleventh with 91 receiving touchdowns. Bruce’s 1,781 receiving yards in 1995 are the third-best single season total ever in the NFL. He also led the NFL in receiving yards (1,338) in 1996. Five wide receivers have been first ballot Hall of Famers, with Jerry Rice as the most recent one in 2010. Surprisingly, Marvin Harrison didn’t become the sixth last year.

Torry Holt (WR)-Jacksonville Jaguars/St. Louis Rams

Holt was named to seven Pro Bowls and All-Pro twice in 11 NFL seasons. He is a second-team wide receiver on the 2000s All-Decade team. Holt ranks 13th all-time with 920 receptions and 12th with 13,382 receiving yards. He holds the NFL record for most receiving yards in a decade with 12,589 yards during the 2000s. Holt, Marvin Harrison and Calvin Johnson are the only players in NFL history with two seasons of at least 1,600 receiving yards. He led the NFL in receiving yards during his two 1,600 yard seasons.

Holt had 1,635 yards and 1,696 yards, the sixth-best single season mark, in 2000 and 2003, respectively. Although there isn’t a limit each year on the number of inductees at a position, Holt faces competition from Tim Brown, a five-time finalist, teammate Isaac Bruce and Harrison, a 2014 finalist. He and Bruce could cancel each other out as the Selection Committee may have a hard time distinguishing between the two during the voting process.

Edgerrin James (RB)-Arizona Cardinals/Indianapolis Colts/Seattle Seahawks

Edgerrin JamesJames rushed for 12,246 yards in 11 seasons.

James was elected to four Pro Bowls and named All-Pro three times during his 11-year NFL career. He was named Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1999 after winning the first of his two rushing titles with 1,553 rushing yards. The 2000s All-Decade team member was one of the top dual-threat running backs in the late 1990s/early 2000s. James led the NFL with 2,303 yards from scrimmage in 2000, which is the tenth-best single season total in league history. He is 11th on the all-time rushing list with 12,246 yards. Jerome Bettis surviving the cut from 15 nominees to 10 nominees in each of the last two years will likely factor into James’ Hall of Fame bid coming up short in 2015.

Ty Law (CB)-Denver Broncos/Kansas City Chiefs/New England Patriots/New York Jets

Law was a five-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro in 15 NFL seasons. He was named second-team All-Decade for the 2000s. Law led the NFL in interceptions twice by picking off nine passes in 1998 and 10 passes in 2005. He intercepted 53 passes (24th all time) for 828 return yards (21st all time) and seven touchdowns (10th all time) in his career. The three-time Super Bowl champion is primarily responsible for the NFL placing a greater emphasis on the five-yard illegal contact rule because of his physical play against the Indianapolis Colts’ wide receivers during the 2003 season’s AFC Championship game. Law has a similar resume to 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Aeneas Williams, who failed to gain entry in his first four years of eligibility.

Kevin Mawae (C)-New York Jets/Seattle Seahawks/Tennessee Titans

Mawae was selected All-NFL eight times and elected to eight Pro Bowls in his 16-year NFL career. He is the first-team center on the 2000s All-Decade team. Mawae’s 238 games started are second-most for centers behind only Seniors Committee nominee Mick Tingelhoff. It’s hard envisioning Mawae making the cut to 15 candidates with nine of last year’s finalists among the 26 semi-finalists.

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 linemen. 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 3-time finalist Will Shields.

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. Seau is the best bet among the semi-finalists to become a first ballot Hall of Famer.

Kurt Warner (QB)-Arizona Cardinals/New York Giants/St. Louis Rams

Kurt WarnerWarner looks to become the first quarterback to enter the Hall of Fame since Troy Aikman and Warren Moon.

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 preseason to guide the 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 (1999-2001), 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. There hasn’t been a quarterback enshrined since 2006 when Troy Aikman and Warren Moon were inducted. 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.

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 NFL's most underpaid players

Salary doesn’t always match production in the NFL’s system of compensating players. This is especially true with draft choices because their pay is dictated by draft position. Here’s a look at some of the NFL’s most underpaid players.

A player had to be eligible to renegotiate his contract under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement in order to be considered. Players drafted during the last three seasons, like Andrew Luck, Luke Kuechly and Russell Wilson, have been excluded because they won’t be able to sign new deals until the end of the third year of their rookie contracts. Overall contract packages of players were evaluated in addition to 2014 compensation.

Justin Houston (OLB)-Kansas City Chiefs

Justin HoustonHouston is headed for the franchise tag if he can't come to terms with the Chiefs.

Houston is in hot pursuit of Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22.5 sacks with an NFL leading 12 sacks through nine games. The 2011 third-round pick is in the final year of a four-year rookie contract paying him $1.406 million this season. Signing Houston to a long-term deal is a priority for the Chiefs, but the two sides have been far apart when engaging in contract discussions, according to multiple reports. Houston won’t hit the open market because the Chiefs will put a franchise tag on him if a new deal isn’t in place before the designation deadline in early March. The linebacker number will be approximately $13.25 million in 2015 if there is a salary cap increase similar to this year’s 8.13 percent ($144 million salary cap).

Replacing Clay Matthews, whose five-year contract extension with the Green Bay Packers averages $13.2 million per year, as the NFL’s highest-paid linebacker is almost a given. Supplanting J.J. Watt, who signed a six-year, $100 million contract extension (includes $51,876,385 in guarantees) with the Houston Texans during the preseason, is an entirely different matter. The last time the highest-paid linebacker made more than the highest-paid defensive end was in 2009 when the Dallas Cowboys signed DeMarcus Ware to a six-year, $78 million extension during the middle of the season.

Tom Brady (QB)-New England Patriots

The big hometown discount Brady took in a 2013 contract renegotiation that freed up $8 million in 2013 salary cap room for the Patriots hasn’t become a trend among superstar players. Depending upon how it’s characterized, Brady signed a five-year, $57 million deal or a three-year, $27 million contract extension. Brady received $33 million, which was fully guaranteed, in the first two years of the new deal ($30 million of the guarantee was in the form of a signing bonus) instead of the $30 million he was scheduled to make in the remaining two years of his contract. Since Brady wasn’t in danger of being released before the expiration of his contract, he didn’t receive much in return for the three new contract years. The final three years of Brady’s pact (2015 through 2017) for $24 million becomes fully guaranteed if he is on New England’s roster for the final game of this regular season. If Brady had opted for a deal at his market value, the average of the new contract years would have placed him among the NFL’s highest-paid players by topping the $20 million per year mark.

Demaryius Thomas (WR)-Denver Broncos

Thomas has rebounded from an extremely slow start in Denver’s first three games. He’s on pace for 1,781 receiving yards, which would tie Marvin Harrison for the third-best single-season total in NFL history. The 22nd overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft should also join Marvin Harrison and Jerry Rice as the only wide receivers to ever have three consecutive seasons with at least 90 catches, 1,400 receiving yards and 10 touchdown receptions. Thomas is in the final year of a five-year, $12,155,500 rookie contract (with $9,351,750 guaranteed and worth a maximum of $15,505,500). According to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, there is an offer on the table that would make Thomas the NFL’s third-highest-paid wide receiver. The offer is above Percy Harvin’s $12,843,500 new money average per year and below the Calvin Johnson/Larry Fitzgerald deals averaging slightly more than $16 million per year that contain more than $45 million in guarantees.

Dez Bryant (WR)-Dallas Cowboys

Dez BryantBryant is looking to become one of the highest-paid receivers in NFL history.

Bryant is on track for his third straight season with at least 90 receptions, 1,200 receiving yards and 12 touchdown receptions. As the 24th overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, he signed a five-year, $11,810,500 deal (with $8.625 million guaranteed). His salary is $2.03 million this year, the final year of his rookie contract. Bryant ended contract negotiations at the start of the regular season when the Cowboys weren’t willing to make him one of the NFL’s top paid wide receivers because of off-the-field concerns. According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, Dallas’ best offer was $114 million for 10 years with $20 million in guarantees, of which $5 million was a signing bonus. The offer averaged $10 million per year over the first six years.

Muhammad Wilkerson (DE)-New York Jets

Wilkerson was snubbed for the Pro Bowl in 2013 despite having 10.5 sacks while anchoring the NFL’s top defense, according to Football Outsiders’ defensive efficiency ratings. He is Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) number two rated 3-4 defensive end this season behind 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.

The 30th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft is in the fourth year of a five-year, $13.844 million rookie contract (includes $6.969 million 2015 option year). The Jets wasted an opportunity to lock up Wilkerson long term at a more affordable rate with some of the $19.89 million in salary cap room they had prior to the Percy Harvin trade. The days of signing Wilkerson in the Calais Campbell neighborhood ($11 million per year/$31 million in guarantees) are over thanks to the changing market conditions for elite defensive linemen with Watt, Robert Quinn and Gerald McCoy’s recent deals averaging $16,666,667 per year, $14,253,724 per year and $13.6 million per year, respectively.

Brian Hoyer (QB)-Cleveland Browns

Hoyer beating out Johnny Manziel, the 22nd overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, in a preseason battle for the quarterback job was somewhat surprising. The journeyman is more entrenched as Cleveland’s signal-caller after guiding the team to first place in the AFC North with a 6-3 record. The Browns seem content to let Hoyer, who is in the final year of a two-year deal with a base value of $1.965 million, play out his contract. There haven’t been any contract discussions with Hoyer since the spring when he was offered a backup money contract extension. Hoyer will likely be the cream of a weak free agent quarterback crop if the Browns let him test the open market. A quarterback-needy team could be willing to offer him a long-term deal in excess of $10,038,883, the average salary for a starting quarterback this year.

Julius Thomas (TE)-Denver Broncos

The 2011 fourth-round pick is duplicating the success he had in his 2013 breakout campaign of 65 catches for 788 yards with 13 touchdowns. Thomas has blossomed into arguably the NFL’s most dangerou
s red zone threat, as his 12 touchdown catches lead the NFL. The former Portland State power forward rejected an offer averaging between $7.5 million and $8.5 million per year that would have made him the NFL’s third-highest-paid tight end according to Mike Klis of the Denver Post. Instead, Thomas is making $645,000 in the final year of his four-year, $2.424 million rookie contact.

DeMarco Murray (RB)-Dallas Cowboys

DeMarco MurrayMurray is making a serious push at 2,000 rushing yards.

Murray is in the final year of his four-year rookie contract averaging $743,360 per year. The 2011 third-round pick started the season with eight straight games of 100 or more rushing yards to break Jim Brown’s 56-year-old NFL record of six consecutive games to start a season. Murray is just off the pace to become the eighth running back in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. At his current rate, he will gain 1,973 yards on 390 carries.

Murray’s terrific start to the season prompted the Cowboys to reportedly offer him a four-year extension worth more than the top running back deals signed during free agency ($4 million per year). It is unlikely Murray will capitalize on his success as much as he could at other positions because of the recent devaluing of running backs. Under a more favorable running back economic climate, Murray would be justified in seeking a four or five-year extension, averaging in excess of $10 million per year and containing $20 million in guarantees, which is line with the average of the top five veteran running back deals, with the type of season he is having.

Chris Harris (CB)-Denver Broncos

Harris has had a remarkable recovery from the torn ACL he suffered against the San Diego Chargers in last season’s AFC divisional playoff round. He is PFF’s top ranked cornerback in 2014. According to PFF, quarterbacks are completing 51.1 percent of passes (26 completions in 51 attempts) for a 44.0 passing rating when targeting him.

The Denver Post’s Mike Klis reported before Week 10’s contest against the Oakland Raiders that the Broncos have initiated discussions with Harris, who is playing under a $2.187 million restricted free agent tender, for a new deal. It might require a contract consistent with the top of this year’s free agent cornerback market, which ranged from Brent Grimes’ four-year deal with the Miami Dolphins averaging $8 million per year to the $9.75 million per year Sam Shields received from the Green Bay Packers, in order for Harris to remain in Denver.

DeAndre Levy (OLB)-Detroit Lions

Levy led all NFL linebackers with six interceptions in 2013. He has arguably been the best player on the NFL’s top defensive unit in points allowed (15.8 points per game) and total defense (283.4 yards per game). Levy is in the second year of a three-year, $9.75 million deal. Every-down linebackers who don’t consistently pressure the quarterback aren’t compensated at the same level as those who do. Jerod Mayo is the NFL’s highest-paid outside linebacker that isn’t a pass rusher with the five-year, $48.5 million contract extension (includes $27 million in guarantees) he received from the New England Patriots towards the end of the 2011 season.

Others: Randall Cobb (WR)-Green Bay Packers, Tashaun Gipson (S)-Cleveland Browns, Rolando McClain (MLB)-Dallas Cowboys, Pernell McPhee (OLB)-Baltimore Ravens, Justin Forsett (RB)-Baltimore Ravens

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.

Houston's big payday is coming

Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston’s career year is happening at the right time, as he is in the final year of a four-year rookie contract that pays $1.406 million this season.

Houston has an NFL-leading 12 sacks through eight games, which puts him on pace to break Michael Strahan’s single season record of 22.5 sacks by 1.5 sacks. Besides having outstanding raw numbers, Houston fares well in Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) metrics. He is PFF’s top rated 3-4 outside linebacker this year, which he was in 2013 despite missing five games with an elbow injury. PFF also tracks total quarterback pressures (combined sacks, quarterback hurries and quarterback hits). Houston is tied for second in the NFL with 44 pressures.

The 2011 third-round pick skipped offseason activities 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 and playing out his rookie deal would have made Houston a restricted free agent in 2015.

Signing Houston to a long-term deal is a priority for the Chiefs, but the two sides have been far apart when engaging in contract discussions, according to multiple reports. Houston’s productivity and recent developments with top tier defensive player salaries will make it more difficult for the Chiefs to reach an agreement with Houston, particularly before the end of this season.

J.J. Watt became the NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback (using average yearly salary) by signing a six-year, $100 million contract extension with the Houston Texans during the preseason. His deal contains $51,876,385 in guarantees, which is a record for defensive players. The St. Louis Rams signed Robert Quinn to a four-year extension averaging $14,253,724 per year early in the regular season. Quinn’s $57,014,895 extension contains $41,171,774 in guarantees. Most recently, Gerald McCoy received a six-year, $95.2 million contract extension (with $51.5 million in guarantees and worth up to $98 million through incentives) from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to become the NFL’s highest-paid defensive tackle.

Justin HoustonHouston is currently on pace to break the NFL's single-season sack record.

Houston’s agent, Joel Segal, will likely raise his demands because of Houston’s outstanding performance where he attempts to supplant Watt at the top of the non-quarterback market. Segal isn’t opposed to playing hardball with teams in contract talks. He substantially raised the bar for running back salaries by negotiating a four-year, $53.975 million extension on Chris Johnson’s behalf with the Tennessee Titans in 2011 to end his client’s 35-day holdout. Johnson’s deal at $13,493,750 per year averaged 56.5 percent more than the previous running back salary benchmark (Steven Jackson-$8,619,500 per year).

There are two major obstacles standing in the way of Houston reaching Watt’s salary level. The Chiefs will be adamant about quarterback Alex Smith remaining the team’s highest-paid player. Smith signed a four-year, $68 million extension (with $45 million in guarantees) in late August. Typically, the starting quarterback is at the top of a team’s salary hierarchy when he gets a lucrative contract. For example, Matthew Stafford is the highest-paid player on the Detroit Lions (by average yearly salary) despite Calvin Johnson arguably being one of the five best players in the NFL.

The highest-paid defensive end has consistently made more than the highest-paid linebacker. The last time the reverse occurred was in 2009 when the Dallas Cowboys signed DeMarcus Ware to a six-year, $78 million extension during the middle of the season. The situation quickly changed in 2010. Julius Peppers replaced Jared Allen ($12,210,012 per year) as the highest-paid defensive end with the six-year, $84 million contract (worth a maximum of $91.5 million through incentives) he received from the Chicago Bears as an unrestricted free agent. The average salary of the highest-paid defensive end has increased by 36.5 percent since 2009 while it has remained stagnant for linebackers. Clay Matthews is currently the NFL’s highest-paid linebacker at $13.2 million per year.

Houston won’t be able to capitalize on his success in free agency because the Chiefs will use their franchise tag on him if a new deal isn’t in place before the designation deadline in early March. The linebacker franchise tag number will be approximately $13.25 million in 2015 if there is a salary cap increase similar to this year’s 8.13 percent ($144 million salary cap). A second franchise tag in 2016 should be $15.9 million, a 20 percent increase over Houston’s 2015 number under these cap projections. The average of franchising Houston twice (slightly over $14.5 million per year) should give Segal more justification for a long-term deal above Quinn’s.

Based on the changing market conditions for elite defensive players and the relationship between salaries of top pass rushing defensive ends and linebackers that consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks, expect Houston to sign a long-term deal somewhere between $14.5 million per year and $15.5 million per year as long as he doesn’t sustain a serious injury before the end of the season. It’s also conceivable that Houston could top the $45 million of overall guarantees in Smith’s extension with a similar type of structure. Smith’s deal contains $30 million fully guaranteed at signing.

Houston’s three-year cash flow should be better than the $41,376,385 Watt is getting in the first three years of his deal. This would be understandable because Watt had two years remaining on his contract while Houston most likely would be signing a new deal after his contract expired.

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.

Five key second half storylines

With the 2014 NFL season at the midway point, here are five situations to watch for the rest of the year.

The Seattle Seahawks’ playoff hopes

The Seattle Seahawks are finding out how hard it is to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Their 4-3 record wouldn’t be good enough for the playoffs if the season ended today.

Seattle lost its offensive identity trying to expand the passing game with more reliance on wide receiver Percy Harvin. The ball is being run 46.8 percent of the time after a 52.3 percent clip last season. Harvin was traded to the New York Jets in Week 7 for a conditional 2015 sixth-round selection (could be as high as a fourth-round pick depending upon Harvin’s performance) because of locker room issues and the difficulty of integrating him into the offense. His departure hasn’t solved Seattle’s offensive problems or the locker room issues. Four-time Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch, who missed eight days of training camp in a contract dispute, reportedly has a fractured relationship with the organization and isn’t expected back next year. The offensive line, which was a question mark last year, has regressed. The defense has also lost some of its intimidation factor with strong safety Kam Chancellor slowed by bone spurs in his ankles.

Seattle’s playoff hopes will likely hinge on how they fare in NFC West contests during the homestretch of the season. There are two games against rival San Francisco and the division-leading Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers are in the same boat as the Seahawks playoff-wise, but their defense should improve with All-Pros NaVorro Bowman (torn ACL) and Aldon Smith (personal conduct and substance abuse policy suspension) returning to the lineup in the second half of the season.

DeMarco Murray’s chase of the record book

DeMarco MurrayMurray has been on cruise control in 2014.

DeMarco Murray is having a historic season in the Dallas Cowboys’ unexpected 6-2 start. He has already broken Jim Brown’s 56-year-old NFL record of six consecutive games with 100 rushing yards or more to begin a season. Murray’s streak is at eight games. He has 1,054 rushing yards and 1,293 yards from scrimmage. Murray is 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 is also on track for 412 carries, which would be the second-highest single season total in NFL history. Durability concerns may be the biggest threat to Murray chasing the records. He’s missed eleven games in his three previous NFL seasons because of ankle, foot, and knee injuries without playing a full slate in any of them.

NFC South mediocrity

None of the teams in the NFC South have a winning record. The New Orleans improved their record to 4-4 and assumed first place in the division with Thursday’s night victory over the Carolina Panthers. The Saints are a Jekyll and Hyde team which plays much better at home than on the road. The Carolina win snapped New Orleans’ regular season road losing streak at seven games. However, their home winning streak (11 games) will be put to test with an upcoming three-game home stand against the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens.

The Panthers rode a strong defense that led the NFL with 60 sacks and was second in scoring (15.1 points per game) and run defense (86.9 yards per game) to the NFC South crown in 2013. Sacks are way down with 20 in nine games and the team is giving up 26.2 points per game (26th in the NFL). Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy, who had a team-high 15 sacks in 2013, isn’t coming to the rescue. He will remain on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List for the rest of the season since his domestic violence jury trial has been postponed until after the season. The run defense has been atrocious. The Panthers are giving up 131.9 yards per game to rank 27th in the league.

The Atlanta Falcons are in the midst of a five-game losing streak. The offensive line has been decimated by injuries, with five linemen on injured reserve. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offseason roster overhaul isn’t paying dividends. It’s resulted in a 1-6 record.

It’s taken at least 12 victories to win the NFC South in the previous six seasons. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the division winner makes the playoffs with an 8-8 record.

AFC North dogfight

The AFC North is the NFL’s toughest division, with every team in the division owning a winning record at the moment. The Cincinnati Bengals are in first place at 4-2-1. All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green’s toe injury derailed Cincinnati’s 3-0 start. He is expected back in the lineup after missing the last four games.

Andy DaltonICONWill Dalton and the Bengals withstand the onslaught from their divisional foes?

The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are nipping at Cincinnati’s heels with matching 5-3 records. The Ravens have the NFL’s best point differential, outscoring opponents by 86 points on the season. They have been able to put aside the distraction of running back Ray Rice’s early-season release because of his domestic violence incident. The running game has been effective without him. Journeyman Justin Forsett is leading NFL running backs with 5.5 yards per carry and is fourth in the league with 571 rushing yards.

The Steelers have lacked consistency. They are responsible for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ only win of the season, but also easily handled the AFC South leading Indianapolis Colts with their best offensive output (51 points) in Mike Tomlin’s eight years as the team’s head coach. The Cleveland Browns have a surprising 4-3 record under first-year head coach Mike Pettine. The team hasn’t won more than five games in a season since 2007. Brian Hoyer has solidified his grip on the quarterback job after beating out 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel during the preseason. The passing attack should get a lift from Josh Gordon’s return for the final six games when his drug suspension is over.

Cincinnati’s season sweep of Baltimore could loom large in determining the division champion. The drawback to the competitiveness within the division is the number of teams that make the playoffs may be limited. A combined 12-5-1 record outside of the division suggests there should be at least one AFC North wild card team.

Oakland Raiders’ futility

The Oakland Raiders are the NFL’s only winless team at 0-7 and currently own a 13-game losing streak. Head coach Dennis Allen was fired at the bye week after an 0-4 start. The team is more competitive under interim coach Tony Sparano, but it isn’t being reflected in the bottom line. It’s conceivable that the Raiders could join the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only 0-16 teams in NFL history. The Raiders have the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL. These opponents have a combined 40-25 record (.615 winning percentage). There’s one game left against a team with a losing record. The Raiders face the 2-5 St. Louis Rams at home in Week 13.

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.

Inside Gerald McCoy's monster deal

Gerald McCoy became the NFL’s highest-paid defensive tackle (using average yearly salary) by signing a six-year, $95.2 million contract extension (worth up to $98 million through salary escalators) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the team’s Week 8 contest against the Minnesota Vikings. The previous benchmark was Ndamukong Suh’s five-year rookie contract with the Detroit Lions worth a maximum of $68 million (includes $40 million guaranteed). The five-year, $61 million contract (with $35 million guaranteed) Haloti Ngata received from the Baltimore Ravens in 2011 was the top veteran deal for an interior defensive lineman.

McCoy’s deal contains $51.5 million in guarantees. It is the second-largest amount of guarantees ever in an NFL contract for a defensive player behind J.J. Watt’s $51,876,385.

$14,757,308 is fully guaranteed at signing, which consists of a $2.5 million October 26 roster bonus and McCoy’s $12,257,308 base salary for the remainder of this season.The roster bonus is treated like signing bonus and prorated over five years because it’s in the season of signing with a contract executed after the final pre-season game. An additional $36,742,692 is guaranteed for injury at signing. McCoy’s $5 million 2015 base salary, $6 million 2016 base salary and $6.5 million third day of the 2015 league year roster bonus become fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2015 waiver period (February 4). Thus, $32,257,308 is fully guaranteed shortly after this season’s Super Bowl. McCoy’s $6.5 million fourth day of the 2016 league year roster bonus and $12,742,692 of his $13.25 million 2017 base salary are fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2016 league year.

The two-time Pro Bowler has unguaranteed $12.25 million, $13 million, $10 million and $10,432,253 base salaries in his 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 contract years, respectively. There are also unguaranteed $2.5 million third day of the league year roster bonuses in 2020 and 2021.

Gerald McCoyMcCoy has notched 20.5 sacks through 56 career starts.

McCoy’s 2014 compensation under the new deal increases by $7,267,747 to $20 million. $17.5 million of this compensation is base salary. McCoy is getting paid seven weeks at his original $12,732,253 2014 base salary for a total $5,242,692 and 10 weeks with a $20,837,424 base salary for an additional $12,257,308.

Interestingly, the Buccaneers are paying McCoy in the first two years of the deal like he played out his contract and was franchised in 2015 for $18,392,704. He is making $31.5 million as opposed to $31,124,957 through 2015 with a franchise tag. McCoy’s $44 million in the first three years (through 2016) ties Ngata for the best three-year cash flow among interior defensive linemen.

The Buccaneers are using $5,267,747 of their current $6,078,498 in cap space on McCoy under the new contract. McCoy has the NFL’s second highest 2014 salary cap number at $20.895 million (includes $300,000 workout bonus previously earned and $2.595 million of bonus proration), which is behind Suh’s $22,412,500 figure.

McCoy’s 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 cap numbers are $14.595 million, $13 million, $13.75 million, $12.75 million $13 million, $12.5 million and $12,932,253. Tampa Bay’s 2015 cap commitments increase by $ $8,581,250 to put them at slightly over $111.3 million (40 players under contract) since McCoy’s voidable year was already on the books for a $5,763,750 2015 cap number.

McCoy’s deal should set the floor for Suh, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. It is nearly impossible for the Lions to franchise Suh in 2015 because his franchise tag number will be $26.87 million, which is based on 120% of his 2014 cap number. McCoy, who was taken immediately after Suh as the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, getting an 18.4% increase over the average salary of his rookie contract will likely confirm to Suh that a decrease from the $64.625 million he’s earning in the five years of his rookie contract isn’t warranted. With a similar percentage increase as McCoy, Suh’s next deal will average approximately $15.3 million per year and could set a new standard for guarantees in defensive player contracts.

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 salary cap implications of the Percy Harvin trade

The Seattle Seahawks traded wide receiver Percy Harvin to the New York Jets for a 2015 conditional draft pick on Friday in a surprising move. The draft pick is reportedly a sixth-round selection that could be as high as a fourth-round pick depending upon Harvin’s performance.

Harvin fills a void at wide receiver by giving the Jets another much-needed playmaker on offense. According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, wide receiver David Nelson is being released by the Jets to make room for Harvin on the 53-man roster. The Seahawks quickly cut ties with Harvin after acquiring him in a 2013 trade from the Minnesota Vikings for a 2013 first-round pick (25th overall), 2013 seventh-round pick and a 2014 third-round pick because of difficulty integrating him into their offense and off-the field/locker room concerns.

Harvin received a six-year, $67 million contract with $25.5 million in guarantees from the Seahawks as a part of the trade. The guarantees consisted of a $12 million signing bonus, a fully guaranteed $2.5 million base salary in 2013 and an injury guaranteed $11 million base salary in 2014 that became fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2014 waiver period (February 7).

Seattle’s salary cap charge for Harvin this year drops from $13.4 million to $6,929,412 ($4,529,412 in base salary and $2.4 million in signing bonus proration) since they are no longer responsible for Harvin’s fully guaranteed $11 million salary for the remaining 10 weeks of the regular season. Seattle’s current cap room rises from $2.06 million to approximately $8 million (assumes a player making close to his minimum salary replaces Harvin on the roster). The Seahawks will have a $7.2 million cap charge (or dead money) next year for Harvin from the 2015, 2016 and 2017 proration of his signing bonus. The net effect is an increase of $5.7 million in 2015 cap room, as Harvin’s 2015 cap number was $12.9 million.

Percy HarvinHarvin appeared in a grand total of eight games for the Seahawks after being acquired via trade in 2013.

Seattle’s experiment with Harvin was a costly endeavor. Harvin, who missed most of the 2013 season with a hip injury, made $19,029,412 for playing six regular season and two playoff games during his tenure with the Seahawks. The decision to trade for and pay Harvin likely hindered Seattle’s ability to re-sign Golden Tate, the team’s leading receiver in 2013. Tate signed a five-year, $31 million contract (includes $13.25 million in guarantees) with the Detroit Lions in free agency. The $18 million in the first three years of Tate’s deal is approximately $1 million less than the Seahawks paid Harvin.

Harvin’s $6,470,588 salary (10/17th of $11 million) for the rest of the season was easily absorbed because the Jets had the NFL’s second-most cap room at $19.89 million prior to the transaction. The Jets have $13.8 million of cap room this year after the trade. 11 other teams had enough cap room this year to trade for Harvin. Among those teams, only the Cleveland Browns ($19.183 million), Jacksonville Jaguars ($23.202 million), New England Patriots ($9.838 million) and Oakland Raiders ($9.146 million) have enough of a need at wide receiver to have considered him. The Jets still have the NFL’s second-lowest payroll for 2014, but go over the $100 million mark with the deal.

Harvin is a low risk acquisition cap wise because the $41.5 million in the remaining four years of his contract doesn’t contain any guarantees. This gives the Jets the ability to cut Harvin after the season without any adverse cap consequences or the leverage to ask him to take a pay cut if he isn’t performing like a $10 million per year wide receiver.

Both teams should be in great shape cap wise in 2015. The cap will be $144 million in 2015 if it has a similar percentage increase as this year (8.13 percent). The Jets have $97.072 million in 2015 cap obligations after the trade with 40 players under contract while the top 51 cap numbers count towards the cap during the offseason. Considering teams can carry over their unused cap room from one year to the next, the Jets should have over $50 million in cap room heading into 2015 free agency.

The Seahawks have $105.2 million in 2015 cap commitments with 40 players under contract after factoring in Harvin’s dead money. The team could have in excess of $40 million in cap space when the 2015 league year starts next March. Expect some portion of Seattle’s cap room to be used on a blockbuster contract extension for Russell Wilson, which could make him the NFL’s highest paid player. The extra cap room from the Harvin trade might also make it easier for the Seahawks to keep Marshawn Lynch in the final year of his contract at his $8.5 million cap number.

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.