Now that June 1st has arrived, the Cowboys have more cap space due to the delayed impact from the release of Tony Romo. Some of that space can be used to sign Zack Martin – their most capable player eligible for a new deal. Martin has characteristics that indicate that he is a low risk for under-performing a contract and is therefore a good candidate for an early extension. Martin has been consistently excellent in all three of his seasons in the NFL, has never missed a game due to injury, and plays a position for which player performance from season to season typically varies to a lesser degree than at other positions.
Martin is not scheduled to be a free agent until after the 2018 season, so the Cowboys have some leverage in contract negotiations – they don’t need to sign Martin anytime soon, while Martin would reap the benefit of a significant acceleration in earnings that would provide additional financial security and investment income.
Martin in scheduled to make $2.85 million this season and $9.34 million in 2018. Combining these figures with the contract figures for the highest paid guard in the NFL, Kevin Zeitler, will drive the parameters for the estimated contract for Martin. All amounts in this article are from www.OvertheCap.com, which is the place to go for information on NFL player salaries and the salary cap.
Zeitler’s contract was signed in March of this year, which gives us a very recent comparison. Zeitler was an unrestricted free agent and was in a stronger negotiating position. It’s also likely that he went to the highest bidder, maximizing his earnings. His deal was for five years and $60 million, with $23 million guaranteed at signing, of which $12 million was a signing bonus. An additional $8.5 million is scheduled to become guaranteed in 2018. The annual payouts for the contract (in millions) are shown below.
2017 – $18
2018 – $10
2019 – $10
2020 – $10
2021 – $12
The estimate for Martin begins with the $12.19 million he is already owed for 2017 and 2018 plus an additional five years after those years based on Zeitler’s contract. The amounts for the additional five years were then adjusted up by 15%. The 15% is comprised of 10% to account for estimated inflation of the salary cap over the next two years and 5% because Martin is a slightly better player than Zeitler and is a year younger. Using Pro Football Focus as an unbiased source, Martin’s PFF scores were 88.3, 90.4, and 85.7 for the 2016, 2015, and 2014. Zeitler’s PFF scores were 87.1, 86.0, and 86.4 over the same years. A 15% raise over $60 million is $69 million.
Because the contract will offer a large amount of guaranteed money and significant payouts in the first two years of the contract compared to what Martin is currently scheduled to earn, the total amount will then be reduced by $5 million. This is fair considering that he would be getting more guaranteed money than Zeitler ($35 million versus $31.5 million) and would benefit from the potential investment income and financial security provided by the significant payout in the first two years. Since the salary cap doesn’t account for the time value of money, the team can save total dollars in exchange for giving money to Martin earlier than he would otherwise receive it.
After all of those calculations, we are left with a total contract covering 7 years for $76 million ($10.9 million/year). Backing out the currently scheduled $2.85 million this season and $9.34 million in 2018, the total attributable to the “extension years” of 2019-2023 is $64 million. That works out to $12.8 million/year, which exceeds Zeitler’s APY by $0.8 million/year.
The money guaranteed at signing is $30 million, of which $15 million is a signing bonus. An additional $5 million becomes guaranteed prior to the 2019 season, bringing the total guarantees to $35 million.
The annual cash payouts (in millions) are:
2017 – $16 ($15 as a signing bonus allocated over 5 years, cap charge $4)
2018 – $14 ($13 expected to be converted to a signing bonus allocated over 5 years, cap charge $6.6)
2019 – $5 (cap charge $10.6)
2020 – $8 (cap charge $13.6)
2021 – $9 (cap charge $14.6)
2022 – $11 (cap charge $13.6)
2023 – $13 (cap charge $13)
This contract would be a win-win for both parties. Martin would get a huge increase in financial security with much more cash in the next two seasons. His two year payout would exceed Zeitler’s despite negotiating from a weaker position due to having 2 more years until being eligible for unrestricted free agency. Martin would also likely see a benefit in staying with the Cowboys as opposed to going to the highest bidder. He stays with a team that seems set for a bright future and continues to play on a stellar offensive line blocking for young studs at quarterback and running back. If staying with the team is especially important to him, he could sign for a bit less than the amount estimated above.
The Cowboys take the risk of Martin being injured or suffering a decline in play, but should be willing to take this risk due to their comfort with Martin. In exchange, they benefit from lowering his charge over the next two seasons and locking down the best guard in the NFL for an additional 5 years at a cost that will likely be less than what they would have to pay if they wait to negotiate with Martin as an unrestricted free agent in two years.
Cowboys Nation – Would you approve of this contract?