Friday, April 17, 2015

Why Andrew Luck Won't Be Quick to Sign an Extension

Many NFL quarterbacks are up for extensions and, thus far, just one recently agreed to an extension. That this is the case is not surprising.

The Pittsburgh Steelers recently agreed to a four-year contract extension with Ben Roethlisberger, whose previous contract was set to expire after this season. Two of his 2008 NFL draft classmates, Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers, both enter the final years of their current contracts.

Additionally, several young quarterbacks are up for extensions. The Panthers picked up the fifth-year option on Cam Newton's rookie deal, but as he enters that year, he will certainly want a new contract. Russell Wilson was a third-round pick of the Seahawks, and this will be the final year of his rookie deal. Meanwhile, the Colts recently picked up the fifth-year option on Andrew Luck's rookie deal, and he will be in line for a large extension. The Dolphins are said to be interested in extending Ryan Tannehill, but it shouldn't be long before the team picks up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal.

The quarterbacks and their agents are no doubt looking at Roethlisberger's extension, in which he received $65M in guaranteed money with a $31M signing bonus. From a practical standpoint, Roethlisberger is set to collect all that guaranteed money in the next three years, meaning he collects more than $22M per year.

Thus the bar has been set for the other quarterbacks. It's hard to see most of the QBs mentioned taking anything less than $20M per year in an extension. Their situations vary, but for some, the contracts they get will depend on what other QBs similar to them have received.

Meanwhile, there has been puzzlement over why the Colts haven't started talking to Luck about an extension. There's a reason why, and it has nothing to do with the Colts not wanting him to stick around.

To understand that reason, let's look at the most notable quarterbacks and their situations:

Phillip Rivers: We'll start with the quarterback who does not appear to be sticking with his current team after his deal expires. Rivers averaged $15.3M per year under his current deal. Unlike Roesthlisberger and fellow 2008 NFL draft classmate Eli Manning, Rivers has never played in a Super Bowl.

However, Rivers will no doubt have his eyes on the contract Jay Cutler received. Cutler averages $18.1M in his deal, and Rivers has far more playoff trips than Cutler. It's hard to see Rivers taking anything less than $19M per year in an extension, regardless of where he signs.

Setting aside the question of what the Chargers should do with Rivers now, there is the question of what he is worth for an extension. I would say an extension for him should run through 2019, as is the case with Roethlisberger. Assuming the Chargers trade him to another team this offseason, Rivers would likely get a deal averaging $20M per year, which would put him near the level of Matt Ryan. Such a deal would likely tie the team who gets him through 2017, but then be able to part ways with him if his play declines.

Eli Manning: Eli averaged $16.25M per year under his current deal, slightly more than Rivers. Once again, Eli is not likely to take less per year than Cutler received. More importantly, Eli could be in position to argue that he is worthy of a deal similar to Roethlisberger, given that he has won two Super Bowls, just as Roethlisberger has.

The flipside, of course, is that Eli has not shown the consistency that Roethlisberger has demonstrated. In 2013, Eli threw more interceptions than touchdowns, and last year, while his numbers improved, the Giants still missed the playoffs.

Whether or not one thinks the Giants need to move on from Eli after this season, the question remains as to what numbers he'll likely command in an extension. Eli is a year older than Rivers and Roethlisberger, so assuming he doesn't sign an extension until after the season, he's probably looking at four years, in which he averages $21M per year, but with only two seasons' worth of guaranteed money. That allows a team to get out of the deal after two years if he regresses.

Russell Wilson: For the young quarterbacks, we'll start with the one who is the most noteworthy candidate for an extension, given that he has appeared in back-to-back Super Bowls and won one of them. Wilson doesn't put up gaudy numbers, but is known for his work ethic and has steadily improved his play each season.

The Seahawks would certainly like to get Wilson extended, but the question is how much are they willing to spend to do it. Ideally, the Seahawks would like to keep his salary at a reasonable level to allow them to retain key defensive players. Given that Seattle is known more for how well it plays defense and how well it runs the ball, the front office probably isn't interested in putting up more than $20M per year for a quarterback.

But Seattle might not have a choice in the matter. Wilson certainly isn't taking an Andy Dalton type of deal -- Dalton averages $16M per year and could be gone after this season if he doesn't improve as a passer. Nor will Wilson take a Colin Kaepernick type of deal that hinges on incentives, given that he has been so successful in the playoffs.

Realistically, Wilson's contract could very well put him around $21M per year and his agent will likely insist on two years of full guarantees. That demand would only become stronger if Wilson isn't extended by the time the playoffs begin, and then the Seahawks win the Super Bowl again.

I suspect, when all is said and done, Wilson will get paid a healthy sum, regardless of the team. The question is whether the Seahawks ultimately concede the point and give Wilson such an extension, or if he takes his chances with another team.

Cam Newton: There will be plenty of debate about exactly how much Newton is worth in an extension. On one hand, Newton hasn't had a strong season, statistically speaking, since his rookie campaign. On the other hand, the Panthers are coming off back-to-back playoff trips, and Newton won his first playoff game last year.

Additionally, Newton was drafted at a time in which the Panthers were digging out of a bad salary cap situation, that required an overhauling of the roster that hasn't yet been finished. So one might argue that too much of a load has been put on Newton, and it's hard to assign him all the blame for not reaching the numbers he posted as a rookie.

At this point, Newton looks like a quarterback who may have to settle for a Kaepernick type of deal. With that said, that is no doubt a reason why you aren't hearing talk about an extension from the Panthers just yet. Newton and his agent are likely hoping that the young QB can increase his leverage if the Panthers make the playoffs again, and make a deep run. If the Panthers reach the Super Bowl, Newton's leverage definitely increases.

More than likely, Newton will get a deal that averages close to $20M per year, but is structured so that he gets two years, and then it remains to be seen what happens after that. The only question is whether it's with the Panthers or another team.

Ryan Tannehill: Let's get the Dolphins' QB out of the way first. Tannehill hasn't reached the playoffs yet, so he's not going to have the leverage of the other QBs mentioned so far. With that said, Tannehill has steadily improved each season. After throwing just 12 touchdowns with 13 interceptions as a rookie, he doubled his TD tally with 17 picks, then reduced his picks to 12 while throwing 27 TDs.

This will be the crucial season for Tannehill, as the next step for him to get a big payday in his next extension, is to get to the playoffs. And while there was talk that the Dolphins might already consider an extension, it would be a bit of surprise if they reached one this offseason. The Dolphins likely want to find out if Tannehill can keep improving, and I would imagine Tannehill's agent would hope for a playoff trip, so he can get more money for his client.

It does make sense for the Dolphins to pick up the fifth-year option on the rookie deal. Then, if the Dolphins reach the playoffs this season, it makes sense for them to give Tannehill a contract similar to Andy Dalton. Tannehill is a better QB than Dalton in terms of skill, but lacks the playoff trips Dalton has, so a deal that averages $16M per year, and effectively guarantees money for two years, would work out well for the Dolphins. Of course, if Tannehill shows a lot of improvement, along with a playoff trip, he might seek more money per year than Dalton got in his deal.

Andrew Luck: And thus we come to arguably the best young QB in the NFL. I think everyone is familiar with Luck's career so far, and the Colts certainly expect a Super Bowl trip this year. And that's exactly the reason why it may be in the Colts' best interest to get an extension done quickly, but it's not in Luck's interest.

Let's review: You have one QB in his mid 30s who has two Super Bowl trips and got an extension in which he should collect more than $22M per year for the next three years. You have another QB in his mid 30s with two Super Bowl trips, and who will be seeking similar money. You have a young QB with two Super Bowl trips, and who will likely want to be paid at least $20M per year. And you have two other young QBs, one with playoff trips and another without, who are likely to command contracts at least $16M per year, and could possibly approach $20M per year, depending on circumstances.

Knowing these things, if you were Andrew Luck, why would you accept a deal right away that would get you $20M per year, which is certainly a lot of money, but could pale in comparison to money other QBs receive, or is a salary that isn't that much more than QBs who may be franchise players, but aren't as talented as you are?

It's not difficult to figure out what Luck and his agent -- who happens to be his uncle -- will want: To make Luck the highest paid QB in the NFL. And they won't know what figures to ask for until the likes of Eli, Rivers, Wilson, and possibly Newton and Tannehill, will get.

There is zero reason for Luck to sign an extension right now. The Colts aren't planning to trade him, there is no evidence his play is about to rapidly regress, and given that his $16.1M fifth-year option (which the Colts have picked up) is guaranteed for injury, Luck doesn't have to worry about a season-ending injury costing him a lot of money. (His current year salary of $3.4M is fully guaranteed.)

So Luck and his agent will sit back and wait. And when they are ready to seriously start talking about an extension, don't be surprised if Luck and his agent seek a contract averaging as much as $24M per year with at least two years of full guarantees -- especially if Luck leads the Colts to a Super Bowl win this season.

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