The pros and cons of a new DeSean Jackson contract

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DeSean Jackson is the ideal athlete for the talk radio host. He’s talented but brash, successful yet inconsistent, and simultaneously fun and frustrating. Ultimately, his talent is all that should matter. No one in the locker room thinks he has an attitude problem, so whatever Joe in Doylestown thinks is irrelevant to the team’s success on the field. His rap career and his Instagram don’t mean anything.

Of course, that’s not how this works.

Jackson is again the target of talk radio this week. As players packed up their lockers on Monday morning following the Eagles’ close loss to New Orleans in the wild card round of the NFL playoffs, Jackson was asked about his contract situation and admitted that he thought he deserved a new deal.

Now, the common fans tends to not understand how NFL contracts work. Whether it’s because media members also don’t understand or because they intentionally obfuscate contracts to fit their narratives, most fans are not properly informed about how NFL contracts are structured.

Unlike the other three major sports, NFL contracts are not fully guaranteed. When Ryan Howard signed a five-year extension at $125 million, it meant exactly that: the Phillies owed him $125 million through 2016. But when Michael Vick signed a “six-year, $100 million contract” at the end of the 2010 season, it did not mean that at all. There’s a reason Vick agreed to restructure his contract before the 2013 season: the Eagles had paid nearly all of his guaranteed money in the first two seasons and had all of the leverage. If Vick did not agree to a restructuring of the deal, the Eagles could cut him.

Jackson’s situation is not nearly as straightforward as Vick’s was. He’s owed $10.25 million this season, but only $250,000 of that is guaranteed. Like Vick, Jackson’s guaranteed money was almost entirely paid out in the first two seasons. If the Eagles cut Jackson tomorrow, they’d only owe him $250,000.

But because of the way NFL contracts work, cap value isn’t just about what you make in one season. Essentially, Jackson’s cap hit is his base salary in a given season plus the average annual value of his bonuses. His signing bonus was $10 million when he signed the contract in 2012, meaning that he has a cap hit of $2 million in each year of the deal from that bonus. He also has workout bonuses each year of $250,000, which is also included. His cap hit this season will actually be $12.5 million, $2.25 million more than he’s due to make.

And because of what he is still owed, the Eagles aren’t free to just cut him like they were with Vick. They will still need to take a hit on the cap if they cut a player with such a contract. If they cut him tomorrow, they’d only owe him $250,000. But the cap value would still be $6 million even if he’s not on the team any longer.

To summarize: Jackson’s contract is at its most expensive this season as far as the cap is concerned. Cutting Jackson makes no sense because there’d be a significant amount of dead money counting against the cap. And both parties have an incentive to renegotiate his deal.

Why? Well, a renegotiated deal would likely include a significantly smaller cap hit for the Eagles in an offseason where they may be eager to make some moves. Many criticized Joe Flacco for signing a massive contract while the Ravens were forced to get rid of important players due to cap reasons, but the reality is that Flacco’s new contract actually had a smaller cap hit.

Jackson’s would likely be the same. The first season (2012) of this contract had just a $3 million hit for Jackson. With the guaranteed money tied to a signing bonus that can be spread throughout the deal’s cap hit, Jackson’s contract would become much cheaper in the short term, giving the Eagles increased flexibility in this offseason.

But do the Eagles need the increased flexibility? It depends. They have a significant amount of cap space, but they also have ten free agents, at least some of whom will be back. They also may be interested in other free agents to try to fill some holes on the defensive side of the ball. Still, assuming some of the contracts signed are, like Jackson’s deal was, light on cap hits in the first year, it may not be necessary to adjust Jackson’s contract to fully function this offseason.

This gives the Eagles some leverage here. They are in a position where it’s rational to say that they can withstand his large cap hit in 2014, with a significant decrease in dead money in 2015 for them to use as a negotiating tactic. Even if they do negotiate his contract, it will likely only be to guarantee money Jackson is already slated to make. It would be very surprising to see a contract for Jackson this season giving him any new money. And the incentive for the Eagles here is that the adjustment would allow for a lesser cap hit, giving them more room to maneuver in free agency.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see a new contract for Jackson. But the important thing to remember is that DeSean Jackson is not demanding a raise; he’s hoping that the Eagles will act in good faith by guaranteeing him a higher percentage of the money he’s already owed. It’s a very reasonable thing for him to ask, and there certainly are reasons that the Eagles may decide to oblige him.


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