Take the Money and Run: Contracts
Not only is talent evaluation and scheme knowledge extremely important in building a successful dynasty team, but understanding contracts is an equally important cog in the successful Dynasty football team owner’s wheelhouse. Owners who stay ahead of the game and understand when a productive fantasy player can still be legitimately cut can benefit greatly in trading a player a year early — instead of a year late. The NFL is no different than any other job function in that the employees (the players) need to justify their salaries.
Since most positions in the NFL have such short career shelf-lives, players will typically take the money over anything else, including better situations for them to produce. This is especially true when players are going for that “life-changing” second- or third-contract that they generally get while in their physical primes. A player does not know how long they will play, so they want to cash in while they can – and who could blame them.
The Devil Lies in the Details: Dead Money
At DFF, we have you covered, as we break down the ins and outs of the contract world of the NFL and tell you where the “Devil” lies in the details.
Here are some quick-hitters to understand when it comes to trades:
- Trading a player does NOT escape a team from that player’s dead money hit. This makes perfect sense because it is the original club that made the deal for the guaranteed money, so they should be on the hook for it. Sometimes, what differs is just how the dead money is divided. It all depends on the contract.
- If a player is traded to a team, that team can cut the player with NO dead money result. The team that traded the player already assumed the responsibility of the guaranteed money. All the new club is obligated to pay is the annual salary. That’s it.
Let’s look at a player who could be on the chopping block at the end of the season: Allen Robinson.
“But he just signed a new 3-year deal for $42 million.” Yes, I know. However, as is the case with most NFL contracts, the devil lies in the details.
Even though the ink for Robinson’s signature is barely dry, the deal only keeps the Bears on the hook for one season. That means if Allen Robinson does not produce and it’s ugly, he could be back on the free agent market faster than one thinks.
The Contract and the Cap Hit
Let’s dive into the 3-year, $42m contract, with $25.2m total guaranteed.
During the first year of the deal, Robinson will be a modest $11m cap hit, but would be an $18m dead-money hit. He would have earned $15m in yearly cash for the season. That means Chicago needs $10.2m to meet the total guaranteed amount for this contract in Year 2.
Robinson will be a cap hit of $15m in 2019 and a dead money hit of a manageable $7m. That means the Bears would save $8m in releasing Allen Robinson in the second year of the deal. That is not small change in the NFL.
While these cap numbers do not necessarily mean he will be cut, it is something to monitor. If the rapport between Robinson and Trubisky does not seem to be working well, the club will most certainly elect to stick with its high drafted QB over a free agent WR, who can legitimately be cut after Year 1. The financials of the contract show it can be done.
In 2016, Robinson played a full 16-game season. He finished the season with 151 targets, 73 catches for 883 yards, 6 TDs, and an average of 12.1 yards per catch. Per Next Gen Stats, only seven WRs saw more targets in 2016 than Robinson. Of the other seven WRs above him, only one (DeAndre Hopkins) did not have at least 91 receptions.
Robinson was 20th in average targeted air yards, with a 14-yard average. He also accounted for almost 37% of those targeted air yards, which was good for sixth best in the NFL that year. Also, Robinson had a mere 48.3% catch percentage. That was near the bottom 10 of all WRs who qualified (minimum 43 targets).
The Breakout Season
Now, some may want to look at his 2015 season, which was his “break out season.” He finished with 151 targets, 80 catches for 1400 yards, 14 TDs, with a 17.5-yard average. That’s a pretty impressive year. But when you dig into the numbers, you see how much of an outlier that season was.
Robinson never came close to repeating a 17-yard-per-reception average. He hovers around 11-12 yards. He averaged 22 more receiving yards per game (87.5 ypg, eighth in the NFL) in 2015 than his career (66.2 ypg, currently 17th). Another item is that his catch percentage dropped every season. It was 59.3% his rookie season, 53% his sophomore season, and finally to 48.4% in 2016.
While one could argue that Allen Robinson never had optimal QB play, another could easily argue that Trubisky is an unproven talent. Robinson could be back in the same situation he was in Jacksonville. Possibly, some are not high on Robinson based on the uncertainty of the future of Trubisky. If you own Allen Robinson but are not that high on him (or the QB) and someone else may be, his value may never be as high as it is right now. This may be the time to move him.
Earning His Keep
As the 7th highest paid WR in the NFL, Robinson must be close to his 2015 season production to justify his paycheck as an employee of the Chicago Bears.