Jermichael Finley gets his groove back

The Green Bay Packers had an eventful April.

Eventful enough that when Mike McCarthy talked about it in his post-draft press conference, he even forgot to mention the extension for Clay Matthews that started everything off.

I guess coach can get a pass for losing track of Matthews’ extension in the excitement of knowing his offense was going to maintain the services of the best quarterback in football for the foreseeable future.

The announcement prior to the draft was that Aaron Rodgers had signed a five-year, $110 million extension. The $22 million per year average seemingly set Rodgers’ rightful place above Joe Flacco, and all was right in the world. However, contract season averages are mostly about respect and have little to do with reality. Neither Flacco nor Rodgers are likely to see the final two years of their contracts as they currently are.

On Monday, the actual terms of the contract were released, and a comparison with Flacco’s contract shows a seeming contradiction — both Rodgers AND the Packers got the better deal.

It may be called a five-year extension, but the Packers altered both the final years of Rodgers’ prior contract. So, in reality, Rodgers has a new seven-year deal worth just over $130 million, or around $18.7 million per season. In fact, the cap hit doesn’t rise above $18.7 million until 2016, when the NFL salary cap is expected to be over $140 million. It also never rises above $21 million in any single year, which is a far cry from Flacco’s 2017 scheduled cap hit of $31 million — though that will never happen.

In fact, as proof of how friendly to the Packers this contract is, there has been rumbling within the NFLPA expressing disappointment over Rodgers’ refusal to move the ceiling higher after Drew Brees got $60 million guaranteed from the Saints and Flacco got $20.1 million per season from the Ravens.

On the other hand, the average payout per season is mostly a fictional number. What really matters, from the player’s perspective, is guaranteed money and the amount of money earned in the front end of the contract, or in other words, the first three years. Joe Flacco got $29 million the day he signed his new contract. He got $52 million guaranteed and is scheduled to make $62 million in the first three years of the contract. Rodgers got $35 million the day he signed his contract. He has $54 million guaranteed and is scheduled to make $62.5 million in the first three years of his new deal.

In addition to the slightly better numbers, $23 million of Flacco’s guarantee, as well as $20 million of Brees’, is only guaranteed for injury. That means the team can cut the player and not have to pay out the guarantee. All of Rodgers’ guarantee is promised against injury AND skill. This basically means the only way Rodgers isn’t getting paid that money is if he either ditches the team of his own free will or murders someone and has to be cut for conduct detrimental to the organization.

Also, Brees’ guarantee includes portions of his salary from 2015 and 2016, which means he has to wait until the end of 2016 to fully collect that money. Rodgers will have collected his full $54 million by the first league day of 2015. So, Rodgers is getting more guaranteed money than Flacco, getting his money sooner than Brees, and technically his money has a better guarantee than either.

Both Rodgers and Flacco are receiving guaranteed roster bonuses in 2014 and 2015. However, the Ravens are prorating those bonuses to reduce the cap hit, while the Packers are assessing both bonuses totally towards the cap year in which they are being paid out. Because of that, after the first three years, the Ravens will still have $28.5 million in dead money — guarantees to be paid on Flacco’s contract. At that same point in Rodgers’ deal, the Packers will only owe $14 million in guarantees, less than half of what the Ravens will still be in for Flacco. That’s a big advantage for the Packers.

So, the final damage to the cap from both Rodgers and Clay Matthews is a mere 15.2 percent of cap space dedicated to them in 2013. In 2014, their combined percentage rises to around 23 percent and then stays in that neighborhood through 2017. As they are currently contracted, the Packers will never pay even a fourth of their total cap to their two star players.

Finally, the Packers only raised Rodgers’ cap hit in 2013 by about $2 million. That leaves them with at least $8 million in cap space left likely left over after they sign all their draft picks. In other words, the final thing Rodgers’ contract does for the Packers is it leaves plenty of money to sign B.J. Raji and Sam Shields, or someone else, if they so choose.

All hail Russ Ball.

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