There may be other drafts this decade that produce more talent than the class of 2010.
Yet, while Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas made huge splashes last week, no draft class will have first-round standouts that are better compensated.
Although five years have passed, all 32 of those 2010 selections were given more guaranteed money in their first contracts than those selected in this year’s class. The rookie salary cap that was implemented in 2011 is the reason.
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The disparity is especially pronounced among the higher picks. For instance, Philadelphia quarterback Sam Bradford is still playing under the six-year, $78 million deal he signed with St. Louis that included $50 million guaranteed. The guaranteed money is roughly half that for the first pick in the 2015 draft — Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston — as part of his four-year deal.
Let’s also say that Winston becomes a franchise quarterback the Buccaneers want to re-sign. Under a worst-case scenario if contract negotiations became rocky, Tampa Bay could still retain Winston’s services for two extra seasons by exercising a fifth-year option on his rookie contract and then using an exclusive franchise tag to prevent him from signing elsewhere in 2020. While he would be paid handsomely, the overall money Winston earned in his first six NFL seasons still wouldn’t approach what Bradford got in his rookie deal.
Bradford also remains a prime example of why team owners insisted upon a rookie cap as part of labor negotiations with the players union in 2011. Bradford became one of the league’s highest-paid players without ever having even set foot on an NFL practice field. Injuries have then prevented him from proving worthy of such standing.
Bradford, though, was actually in the minority of 2010 first-round picks who haven’t fulfilled the lofty expectations that come with such standing. All but four of the 32 players chosen are currently on NFL rosters. The exceptions are Kansas City safety Eric Berry (No. 5 overall), San Francisco right tackle Anthony Davis (No. 11), Cincinnati tight end Jermaine Gresham (No. 21) and Detroit running back Jahvid Best (No. 30).
One of the NFL’s top safeties, Berry went on an indefinite medical leave last December after being diagnosed with cancer. Davis, who signed a $37.5 million contract extension in 2013, announced his retirement this offseason with the intent of returning next year, provided his health improves. ESPN reported that Gresham, who underwent offseason back surgery, is visiting Monday with Arizona as he shops his services as an unrestricted free agent. Best was forced to retire because of multiple concussions.
Two other 2010 first-rounders – Washington’s Trent Williams and Seattle’s Russell Okung — are in the final season of six-year rookie contracts that still make them among the league’s highest-paid players at left tackle. Both should cash in again during the 2016 offseason.
New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul remains unsigned as the team’s franchise player. Pierre-Paul’s status with the Giants is murky since a July 4th fireworks accident that resulted in serious hand injuries.
Twelve of the 32 first-rounders have re-signed with the clubs that drafted them. Bryant and Thomas were the latest to cash in last week with five-year, $70 million contracts that included $45 million and $43.5 million guaranteed, respectively.
Thirteen other picks are now elsewhere. That includes quarterback Tim Tebow, who is trying to stick in Philadelphia after spending the past two seasons out of football.
Here are some examples of 2010 first-round picks who have scored big with second contracts and how their rookie deals compare to those players selected in the same slot in this year’s draft. Even as the overall salary cap rises each season, this illustrates just how far behind the 2015 newcomers are when it comes to guaranteed money.
No. 2 pick in 2015: Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota. He is the only 2015 first-round pick currently unsigned. Once negotiations are completed, Mariota’s four-year deal is projected at between $24M and $25M guaranteed.
Suh’s current contract/date signed: Six years, $114.38M with $59.96M guaranteed/March 2015.
Analysis: The Lions hit home runs with the first-round selections of Suh, quarterback Matt Stafford (No. 1 overall in 2009) and wide receiver Calvin Johnson (No. 2 overall in 2008). Unfortunately for Detroit, all three picks came before the rookie cap was implemented. The Lions couldn’t juggle the numbers well enough to keep all three in the fold for the long haul after having previously re-signed Stafford and Johnson.
A contract restructure to create space in 2013 pushed Suh’s cap number to $22.4 million for the 2014 campaign. This is what helped pave the way for his departure.
The franchise tag is determined annually by the average of the top five cap numbers at the position for the previous five seasons. If the average is lower than a player’s cap number from the previous year, he becomes slated for a 20 percent increase in salary under a one-year franchise deal.
Thus, to use the tag on Suh in 2015 would have cost $26.9 million of Detroit’s $140 million salary cap. Even with Suh’s standing as arguably the NFL’s best defensive tackle, the Lions found the franchise number cost-prohibitive and didn’t exercise the option. That opened the door for Suh to leave and sign the richest contract for a defensive player in NFL history with Miami.
No. 3 overall pick: Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy
Rookie contract: Six years, $60.1M with $35M guaranteed (sixth year voided based upon 2010 performance).
No. 3 pick in 2015: Jacksonville defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (4 years, $23.49M all guaranteed)
McCoy’s current contract/date signed: Eight years, $108.23M extension with $51.5M guaranteed/October 2014.
Analysis: Like with Suh and Detroit, the Buccaneers knew that using a 2015 franchise tag on McCoy would be problematic because of his high cap number ($15.63 million) in 2014. Tampa Bay, though, had the cap room and shrewdness to get McCoy re-signed well before it came to that.
No. 7 overall pick: Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden
Rookie contract: Six years, $38.8M with $25.64M guaranteed (sixth year voided based upon 2010 performance).
No. 7 pick in 2015: Chicago wide receiver Kevin White (four years, $16.56M all guaranteed)
Haden’s current contract/date signed: Five years, $67.5M extension with $22.68M guaranteed/May 2014.
Analysis: Not every re-signing needs to go down to the wire. The Browns made sure Haden was staying put with a new deal well before the final year of his rookie contract was set to begin. Fourteen months later, Haden’s guaranteed money still ranks third among all cornerbacks behind the contracts signed by Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets ($39 million) and Dallas’ Brandon Carr ($25.5 million). Another $22.4 million of Haden’s deal was guaranteed for injury.
No. 14 overall pick: Seattle safety Earl Thomas
Rookie contract: Five years, $19.2M, $12.32M guaranteed
No. 14 pick in 2015: Miami wide receiver DeVante Parker (four years, $10.88M fully guaranteed)
Thomas’ current contract/date signed: Four years, $44.73M extension with $25.73M guaranteed/April 2014
Analysis: Of the four NFL safeties with the highest average salaries, three are from the 2010 draft class led by Thomas (Jairus Byrd of New Orleans is the exception). New England’s Devin McCourty, who was the No. 27 overall pick in 2010, signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal with $28.5 million guaranteed before the start of 2015 free agency. And even though his contract is ancient by NFL standards, Berry’s six-year, $50 million rookie deal with $34 million guaranteed remains a winner.
No. 17 overall pick: Arizona left guard Mike Iupati (drafted by San Francisco)
Rookie contract: Five years, $16.49M, $10.83M guaranteed
No. 17 pick in 2015: San Francisco defensive end Arik Armstead (Four years, $9.83M all guaranteed)
Iupati’s current contract/date signed: Five years, $40M, $22.5 guaranteed/March 2015
Analysis: These numbers provide a head-to-head look at the difference between players selected in the same mid-first round slot by the same team five years apart. Iupati received $1 million more in guaranteed money than Armstead and hit pay dirt again when leaving the 49ers for the Cardinals in free agency.
Contract numbers culled from NFL Players Association figures.