COVID-19 Is Having an Impact on the Market for Veteran Contract Extensions

While players like Jamal Adams and Dak Prescott are in the news, it's worth noting that uncertainty over the future salary cap number is clogging up the market. Plus, notes on Day 1 of the NFL's Quarterback Coaching Summit.
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It’s Monday afternoon, let’s go …

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• With Jamal Adams’s contract situation in the news, it’s certainly worth looking into how slow the pace of veteran extensions has been in general this offseason. Digging through it, I could find just three examples of guys getting big-time extensions with years left on their deals since America went into lockdown, without a trade being part of it (DeForest Buckner and Darius Slay got paid as part of trades). One was Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey, another was Texans OT Laremy Tunsil and a third was Bills S Jordan Poyer (whose deal was done before things went really crazy). Meanwhile, contract-year stars like Joey Bosa, Jalen Ramsey, Ronnie Stanley, Ryan Kelly, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Chris Godwin, George Kittle, Keenan Allen, Patrick Peterson, Von Miller, and, yes, Adams are waiting for theirs. So the natural question: Is this COVID-related? And the answer is yes. The looming revenue shortfall doesn’t just make cash an issue for some teams, it also makes projecting the cap a problem. If there are big losses in 2020, that means the league and union will have to borrow from future years to keep the 2021 cap level to this year, which could mean ramifications reaching into 2022 and ’23. You may remember back in 2010 and early ’11, teams were hesitant do long-term deals for guys because of salary cap uncertainty. Same thing, to a degree, this year. Which might mean a lot of guys waiting a while for deals. And that could add an interesting twist to the seasons of some teams.

• And that brings us to Dak Prescott, and how the uncertainty over the cap might make it tough to project how a deal at $40 million per season will be accounted for in the coming years. Let’s say he does a deal with flat cap numbers. And let’s say, absent the pandemic, the cap was going to be around $270 million in 2023, which may be conservative based on the expected influx of TV and broadcast money. Under those conditions, Prescott’s deal, then in its fourth year, would account for 14.8% of Dallas’s cap. Now, let’s say, the coronavirus impact knocks the cap number in 2023 down to $220 million. In that case, Prescott’s deal is accounting for 18.2% of the team’s cap. That’s a pretty massive difference, when you consider this is one of 53 contracts. And it doesn’t mean the Joneses won’t get Prescott done. But it does explain why it could complicate things for him, and the other 13 guys who are currently franchised.

• Speaking of that, Prescott became the ninth franchised player (and 10th tagged player, if you count Cardinals transitioned RB Kenyan Drake) to sign his tender. That leaves five guys unsigned in the group: Bucs OLB Shaq Barrett, Bengals WR A.J. Green, Chiefs DT Chris Jones, Jaguars DE Yannick Ngaukoe and Broncos S Justin Simmons. All the tagged guys have until July 15 to do deals. So what’s the difference for these five? They can wait until Week 1 to sign, if they’d like, without losing a dime, because they’re not under contract.

• I really enjoyed Day 1 of the NFL Quarterback Coaching Summit (a joint venture by the Black College Football Hall of the Fame and the NFL), which I wrote about in last week’s GamePlan, so here are some good tidbits. Titans coach Mike Vrabel was the first speaker, and he dove into his philosophy on leadership (“We will treat you the same as you treat the team”), and how to interview (he passed out iPads on his interviews, rather the traditional “book” that coaches keep) before explaining keys in assembling a staff. I thought maybe the most interesting part was how he said having diversity of race and background on hand was important, to give a staff the best chance of reaching every individual player on the roster. Also, he mentioned how it was important to support the ambitions of assistants, and that losing them to promotion “means you’re hiring the right people,” and he listed the trainer with the GM and owner among the most important relationships a head coach has. There was also this, on the idea of culture: “When you’re winning, culture is easy. … Culture is what you look like at the worst moment. I hope everyone has a good culture at 7-1, but what does it look like at 2-5?”

• Also great was a panel hosted by my buddy Steve Wyche of NFL Network, one that included Steelers owner Art Rooney II, Giants owner John Mara, former Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, Bucs coach Bruce Arians and Texans limited partner Javier Loya. Both owners acknowledged the trend toward offensive coaches, and it was interesting to hear Mara admit that he’d fallen victim to those sorts of things in the past. “A lot of us have fallen into that trap, looking at the Sean McVay, the Kyle Shanahan, and you think you’re just going to get the next one,” Mara said. “I look at the head coach now as more of a CEO. I don’t care if he’s an offensive play-caller or a defensive play-caller.” Rooney echoed the point, saying that looking at the Steelers’ stability, from Chuck Noll to Bill Cowher and now to Mike Tomlin, there has been a common thread. “The most important thing all three of them had in common, they’re all great communicators,” Rooney said. “If there was one thing we were always looking for in a head coach, it would be that.” Rooney also advocated for finding a way to slow down the process of coach hiring (it’s how he found Tomlin, even with legit candidates in house), though he added that he understood how competition for guys makes that idea difficult to implement.

• Arians, for his part, was passionate on the call. He said doing your job well, whatever that job might be at the moment, should come first, because that’s how you build respect among your peers. “Respect among your peers is the most important thing,” he continued. “I had respect among my peers, I didn’t give a damn if I got a job.” So what difference can that respect make? Arians recalled telling anyone who’d listen, on Vic Fangio, “If he’s not at the top of your list, you’re missing the boat.” Arians also pointed out how his very diverse staff is made up of a lot of guys he identified as potential coaches when he had them as players, which is something he hopes coaches get more aggressive doing. “These guys all played for me, so I had a long pool of guys I worked with,” Arians said. “You don’t hire strangers in my office, you hire guys I trust.”

• Another point of discussion was how narratives (i.e. hot candidates) can drive coaching searches. That’s where Newsome jumped in, explaining that the Ravens always keep lists of coaches of interest. “We create our own lists,” Newsome said. “We come to a collective agreement on the people we want to interview, and that’s based on the information we get when we talk to our area scouts, and our coaches and people around the league.” That, he mentioned, is how they found an Eagles special teams coach to be particularly intriguing. John Harbaugh’s been a pretty good hire.

• Sorry to sink the whole column into this—but it really was a pretty awesome deal, and there’s more coming Tuesday. Among the other parts of Monday’s festivities: Ex-Browns coach Hue Jackson with a detailed breakdown on the first 30 days on the job for a head coach; Saints assistant D.J. Williams on being a quality control coach; Stanford OC Tavita Pritchard on QB drill work; and Maryland OC Scottie Montgormery and Bucs OC Byron Leftwich on staff/coordinator dynamics. (I’ll try and get you some more info Tuesday on Twitter.)

• One thing from Falcons coach Dan Quinn, left over from this morning’s column, that I found particularly fascinating: He’s going to build all the possibilities he can think of for the fall of 2020 into his training camp schedule, and that means all of them. “What I do know is the teams that adjust the best are gonna be the ones that preform the best. Because what we’ve all seen is there’s been a lot of moving parts and things have changed, so there’s gonna be change during the season—players out due to COVID and all that,” Quinn said. “So during camp, when we do get together, we’ll have time where, and I’ll do it for myself first, OK, I’m out, or the playcaller’s out, where we keep showing them, here’s where adjustments have to take place, and we’re able to hit them, so we have contingency plans.” Pretty smart thinking there, and it’s not exactly hard to conjure a scenario where such a contingency plan might have to be enacted.

• The NFL re-opened its New York office on Monday. So if you want some good news on where all this is headed, there’s some for you. And, by the way, the Raiders opened their facility in Nevada, too, which means they’ve officially left California after spending their first 60 seasons in the nation’s most populous state.

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