Titans Used 'Desperate' Tactic to Re-Sign Brown

The free-agent linebacker's deal includes voidable years, which provide salary cap relief.
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The Tennessee Titans had to get creative to re-sign free-agent linebacker Jayon Brown. So, they made up years on his contract.

Officially, Brown agreed to a three-year, $5.3 million pact, which would be a bargain for a guy who has been a full-time starter for more than two years, twice has topped 100 tackles in a season, has intercepted at least one pass each of the last three years and has forced four fumbles and recovered three in his career.

The reality, though, is that the Titans and their fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft agreed to a one-year contract. The final two years are voidable, which means they effectively do not exist.

“I do know my value,” Brown said. “And with the salary cap being down, I see a lot of guys took one-year deals knowing the TV money about to get renewed, and there’s going to be better opportunities for free agency for the upcoming year.

“Right now, I’m happy with what I got with Tennessee. When the opportunity comes for the big bucks, I will definitely be there.”

SI.com columnist Andrew Brandt, a former NFL front-office executive, wrote recently that voidable years were a tool available to “desperate” franchises. The benefit of such deals is that they allow franchises to spread out the salary cap hit.

They have been popular this offseason, in part, because of a sizable drop in the salary cap that resulted from the financial issues of the 2020 season being played amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Others who agreed to contracts this offseason that included voidable years were Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Arizona wide receiver A.J. Green and Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady.

"That's been something that's been done for a long time with different teams, and you see it too this year," Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht said this week, via NFL.com. "A lot of teams are using it this year.”

Tennessee entered the offseason with salary cap issues that ultimately required difficult decisions. Safety Kenny Vaccaro, cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Adoreé Jackson, wide receiver Adam Humphries and tackle Dennis Kelly were released. Tight end Jonnu Smith and wide receiver Corey Davis, players whose contracts – like Brown’s – had expired, were allowed to sign with other teams without a legitimate, if any attempt to re-sign them.

The primary reason Brown is back is because he was willing to agree to the deal that helped the team. In his case, the Titans have spread out his $2 million bonus equally over three years (source: OverTheCap.com), and the salary cap hit will be $3,497,916 this season – nearly $2 million less than it would have been on a one-year contract.

The final two years automatically will void at the end of next season. Brown will become a free agent again, and the Titans will carry some dead money from the deal in 2022 and 2023. The idea is that they will be able to absorb those hits because of the recently negotiated television package, which will pay the league $10 billion annually from 2023 through 2033.

“It was a good process,” Brown said. “I had multiple offers, and decided to come back, to come back home to Tennessee and try to come back here for a Super Bowl for another year. I’m excited to come back with this coaching staff, and with the guys. And we added some new pieces, and I’m excited to get back on the field and just play.”

For one year.