Mathias Kiwanuka was a member of two Super Bowl championships with the New York Giants, since being drafted by Big Blue with the 32nd pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. Heading into his ninth season with the team, the man affectionately known as “Kiwi” has been anything but a bust for the G-men.
On the other hand, few around the NFL would also say that he has become the high impact player that was envisioned when the team selected him in the 1st round out of Boston College. In fairness to Kiwanuka, he has bounced from outside linebacker to defensive end more than once in his career, and he has also gone through issues with a balky back. Throughout the years, Kiwanuka has been a serviceable, if not good player, for the Giants.
This week, Kiwanuka unloaded on Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger about his contractual situation with the Giants, as well as what he perceives to be the fundamental unfairness of the current NFL salary system.
According to Orr, “The nine-year veteran, who agreed to a four-year, $21.75 million contract in 2012, was asked this offseason to take a pay cut and his base salary was sliced from $4.375 million to $1.5 million.”
The fact that he was asked to take a pay cut should not be surprising to anyone who follows the team. In fact, many called for Kiwanuka to be released in light of his subpar season in 2013. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Kiwanuka ranked 50 out of 52 defensive ends who were ranked with an unsightly overall grade of (-28.1).
Orr tries to put a positive spin on veteran defensive end’s season by writing, “Kiwanuka finished in the top 10 in quarterback hits (14) for his position last season, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). He was also a top-20 coverage defensive end.”
On the other hand, Kiwanuka ranked 52nd (dead last) in his rush ranking (-19.3) by PFF. And while coverage skills are helpful in the “new” NFL; the bread and butter of the defensive end position clearly remains the ability to rush the passer.
Even though Kiwanuka claims he’s gotten beyond his pay cut, his comments to Orr indicate that he has not.
“If we are going to be playing on these contracts, make them contracts,” Kiwanuka told The Star-Ledger Tuesday at the Giants’ minicamp in East Rutherford. “Either that or everyone sign a one-year deal every year and we’ll do it that way. It’s not fair to be locked in somewhere and have that place say that we’ve decided not to honor the rest of the deal. I don’t think it is a contract by definition if one side can opt out of it at any point and the other has no recourse.”
What Kiwanuka fails to tell everyone is that the restructure provided some give-and-take on both sides. According to Spotrac, Kiwanuka received an $8.5 million signing bonus in 2013, and his 2014 salary ($1.5 million) is now guaranteed, meaning that he will make the team. Even if the team cuts ties with him after this season, he will have been paid an average of $5 million per season for two-years, an amount that probably will exceed his production.
When players receive a significant signing bonus, they seem to never consider that money as part of the package received from the team. Famously, Terrell Owens pulled the same stunt with the Philadelphia Eagles a few years back.
While Kiwanuka indicated that he remained with the Giants because his wife was due to have a child in April, but that dynamic is a family concern and decision. In addition, Kiwanuka indicates that everyone should be on a one-year contract in the NFL, in order to avoid situations like his.
If given the option of long term contracts or one-year deals, NFL general managers would sign up for one-year contracts in a New York minute.
It becomes hard to be swayed by Kiwanuka’s logic in discussing his contract. Perhaps, given the fact that his 2014 salary is now guaranteed, he felt bullet proof to air his concerns. But as training camp rolls around, management should be concerned that a veteran player has the potential to become a locker room cancer, something the team does not need heading into 2014; having come off of Hakeem Nick’s questionable effort last season.
All in all, Kiwanuka’s attitude now becomes a situation that bears watching throughout the preseason.