DraftBrowns.com Staff Writer, Ryan Alton
UPDATE: According to Former NFL Agent and NFL contract/salary cap expert for the popular website NationalFootballPost.com, Joel Corry, Joe Banner is currently constructing the contracts of the new Browns Free Agents the same way he did while he was President of the Philadelphia Eagles. Corry posted the following tweet on Wednesday March 13 at 10:33 am…
Joe Banner used his Philly contract structure w/ Paul Kruger & Desmond Bryant’s deals. Kruger and Bryant have $6.285M & $5M ’13 roster bonuses.
By using a roster bonus instead of a signing bonus, the $5 million to each player is paid THIS YEAR and is not amortized over the life of the contract. So that part of the player’s salary won’t count against future years of the salary cap. If the player is cut then the player is owed nothing because he is no longer on the roster. If the money was a signing bonus, then the money owed to that player over the life of the contract would still count against the cap in future years, even if the player is no longer on the team. For more on how this works, continue reading the piece I wrote prior to Free Agency…
(In my last piece, the DraftBrowns Free Agency Wish List, I wrote about one of the more popular philosophies incorporated by teams during free agency that some have dubbed ‘The Ozzie Strategy”. The term was actually coined by former NFL General Manager, current author, columnist for CBSSports.com and Sirius/XM NFL Radio host, Pat Kirwan.
In his book, Take Your Eye off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, Kirwan discusses three prevailing philosophies, “the archetypes” as he calls them, when it comes to managing an NFL roster. One, ‘The Ozzie Strategy’ (aka the Baltimore Ravens model), is to allow certain players slated to become Unrestricted Free Agents the ability to test free agency to see what the market will offer them in the way of contract value.
Sometimes, according to Kirwan, the player will be allowed to leave if the money being offered by another team is too rich for the Ravens to match. Other times, the Ravens will decide to match the offer and hang on to a player if they deem him to be valuable enough to their organization. It’s basically a player-friendly approach that allows players to maximize their value regardless of if they re-sign with the Ravens or leave in free agency. It really puts the ball in the players’ courts and leaves the decision up to them.
In actuality, ‘The Ozzie Strategy’ is precisely what is happening right now during the league’s new three day ‘legal tampering’ period. Teams are negotiating with agents of players in order to set up the parameters of contract agreements that can be signed beginning Tuesday, the official start of the 2013 league year. In doing so, teams have a three day period before their own players hit the open market to see if any they may want to hold onto are worth doing so.
In other words, teams can see what kind of attention their own players are receiving around the league and then they can decide if they want to compete for their services or just let them walk. The new three day tampering period, it seems, was developed with ‘The Ozzie Strategy’ specifically in mind.
As we inch ever closer to the actual Free Agency whirlwind set to take place at 4pm EST on Tuesday, I believe it’s important to look at one of the other philosophies that is being employed in front offices around the league, according to Kirwan, especially as it pertains to the Cleveland Browns.
The following is an excerpt from Kirwan’s book that is an absolute MUST BUY for any serious football fan. According to Kirwan, and from what we’ve seen already, the Browns won’t be using ‘The Ozzie Strategy’… they already have their own.
The Eagles Model—Buy Early and Often
As soon as the Eagles identify that a player is going to be good, they lock him up to a big deal. They never let a player approaching his prime test the free-agent market. A guy in the second year of his four-year rookie contract hasn’t seen big money yet, so he’s more likely to sign a contract extension out of fear he’ll get hurt and will never cash in. It may seem like a big deal at the time, but two years down the road, the player’s still locked up and the deal is much more reasonable.
The Eagles have done a great job of projecting how much cap space they’ll have to work with in the future. I can ask Eagles president Joe Banner “How much cap room do you think you’re going to have in 2014?” and he’ll say, “Think? I know exactly what I’m going to have.”
Part of what makes this model so effective is that the Eagles tend to not offer signing bonuses. Instead, they give players higher salaries and roster bonuses. After all, why buy a car on credit and incur all those hidden costs when you can pay cash up front? In other words, they don’t get hit every year with signing bonuses that count against their cap; instead, they pay the roster bonus and clear their books every year. That’s why they never find themselves in cap jail down the road.
As you can see, this aligns more with the approach the Browns have taken since Banner, formerly of the Eagles, took over control of football operations. They’re not employing “The Ozzie Strategy” because it seems they’re fully prepared to let all of the players that are scheduled for free agency walk. What we can expect to see is for them to sign new players to fill the holes they have and, more importantly, use their remaining cap space to lock up younger players already on the roster to long term deals before they become too expensive.
Allowing players such as Joe Haden, TJ Ward and Alex Mack to get closer to unrestricted free agency, whether it be next year or the year after, gives them more leverage in contract negotiations. The sooner these players, assuming the Browns want to keep them, are re-signed to long term contracts, the better it is for the team because it doesn’t pit the Browns against the threat of losing them to free agency, where they could command over-bloated salaries. It’s basically a way of getting a player at below market value before the market has a chance to inflate what their value will be worth in the future. We saw the same approach under Tom Heckert when the Browns signed players like Chris Gocong, Joe Thomas and Ahtyba Rubin to long term deals.
In terms of signing new players to contracts over the course of free agency, it sounds like Banner will manage the cap by giving players inflated salaries and roster bonuses instead of signing bonuses that are paid up front. To the untrained eye, it’s going to look like the Browns overpaid for guys when the initial figures are released, but you have to look at the fact that there’s going to be little to no signing bonus being paid in the first year of the deal. This will allow the Browns to sign more players and spread the salaries out over time all while staying in excellent cap shape for future years to come. Maybe this Banner guy knows what he’s doing after all.
In conclusion, I felt it was necessary for Browns fans to understand the method to the madness when it comes to the NFL, free agency, and most importantly, Joe Banner’s approach. There may be times where the team deviates slightly from the model, but it’s one of the three cornerstone philosophies employed by teams around the league. For the third, “The Belichick Model”, I strongly suggest you buy Kirwan’s book.
Also, follow Pat Kirwan on Twitter at @PatKirwanCBS and tune in to Sirius/XM NFL Radio (Channel 88) weekdays from 3pm-7pm to hear “Moving the Chains” with Pat Kirwan and Tim Ryan.
Excerpt From: Kirwan, Pat. “Take Your Eye off the Ball.” Triumph Books. Inc.