One of the news items we missed posting separately about because of the transition to the new site was that 10 days ago the Titans re-signed free agent-to-be C/G Eugene Amano to a new 5 year, $25.7 million contract. Now, most NFL contracts give the player a signing bonus with a relatively small base salary up front and increasing base salaries over time.
The logic for this is pretty straightforward-the player wants a lot of money up front, and giving it to them in the form of a signing bonus allows it to be spread over the life of the contract, rather than hamstringing the team the year the contract was signed*. The player then gets increasingly large base salaries to ensure they remain motivated and don’t look for another signing bonus windfall. Keith Bulluck’s contract runs out in a few days is a good example of this-he received a base salary of $3.5 million in 2006, $4 million in 2007, $4.25 million in 2008, and $5.5 million in 2009.
*-One semi-exception to this was Aaron Rodgers’ mid-season extension in 2008-he received a smaller signing bonus and a bump in his base salary to something like $23.7 million for the last 8 or 9 weeks of 2008 because the Packers had room on their cap and it was late enough in the year they knew exactly how much money they needed. So, he has the honor of having the highest base salary of any player in NFL history. Not the name you would’ve guessed, I bet. He didn’t make nearly as much money in 2009, and his contract still followed the same general pattern.
Eugene Amano’s contract, though, doesn’t quite follow this pattern-he gets the signing bonus, but his highest base salary comes this year, in 2010. His base salary does go up from 2011 to 2014, so he still has the increase to motivate him, but he gets about half of his full contract in the first season. The reason for this goes to the current labor difficulties-with 2010 being an uncapped year, but 2011 and future years uncertain but quite possibly a lower cap, Amano’s contract represents a good compromise between a player’s interest in getting as much money as he can and the Titans’ goal of maintaining a reasonable cost for a player going forward. Compare him, for instance, to Jake Scott-while Amano’s contract is longer and higher per year, Amano’s base salary in 2011 is about $2 million less and his overall cap cost that year is over $1.5 million less.
So, what does this mean for VY? The general expectation was that the Titans would look to negotiate an extension to avoid having to pay him the substantial roster bonus he’s due soon after the start of the league year. But, bargaining in the face of uncertainty about the future, the Titans face two problems. First, determining what sort of contract VY should get-he probably top QB-type money like Eli Manning and Philip Rivers have received, but does he deserve Garrard-type money of the sort that made up the second tier or does he deserve the sort of third level contract Collins received? Second, even if you can decide which of the two lower tiers he belongs in, how do you figure out where that level is if you don’t know where the salary cap will be in one year’s time?
Taking this into account, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise the Titans are willing to pay the roster bonus and put off the decision for another year. As the #3 overall pick, he signed a 6 year contract, so he’ll be around for 2011 even without a new extension and with free agency after 4 seasons. The risk the Titans are taking, though, is that any contract signed in 2011 will be more than they could have locked up VY for this year. Since that, though, would mean either an increase in the cap or VY playing at a particularly elite level, that seems like a risk the Titans should be willing to run.