Ketchman: Could Lions afford Culpepper?

George Ketchman breaks down the "one-time bonus" and how it affects negotiations, along with the rumored interest in Chris Simms, Takeo Spikes, Daunte Culpepper (and the cap ramifications of each) along with Detroit's delay in signing its top two rookies. Much more inside.

According to John Clayton of espn.com, the NFLPA won its special master grievance against the NFL management council. The grievance had to do with how "one-time bonuses" are counted against the salary cap. Why it's a problem is a little complicated, but I'll explain what I understand about the bonus.

How a "One-time bonus" works: A player's agent has negotiated into his contract a bonus that is payable if he plays in 35% of the plays that is also only payable if the team does something, i.e. wins 3 games, finishes with 3,500 yards of total offense, etc . . .basically something that is easily attainable. For salary cap purposes, since it's a bonus that is based on a team performance and requires at least 35% playing time, the bonus is considered, non-likely to be earned (NLTBE). This is beneficial for the team giving the bonus, because the bonus isn't counted in the rookie year and only counts against the cap when NLTBE bonuses are reconciled against likely to be earned bonuses at the end of the year.

Calvin Johnson had this type of bonus and I discussed it in a prior entry.

It's referred to as a "One-time" bonus because, if it's not earned in the initial year, it's available in the 2nd year, if it's not earned in either of the first two seasons, it's available to be earned in the 3rd season. In the final year of the contract, if it hasn't been previously earned, it's automatically payable no matter what. Because this "One-time" bonus is going to be earned at one point or another, it is considered a guaranteed bonus. Also, once it's earned, it voids in all subsequent seasons. If a player earns the bonus in the first season of his contract, the bonus is void in all subsequent years, hence the "One-time" bonus reference.

One aspect of this bonus is that it is guaranteed, even though when it's actually paid can vary. Typically, it's not a problem, it's just a guaranteed payment that is guaranteed to be paid by the final year of the contract. However, on May 20th, the owners elected to opt out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and by doing this, it created a problem with this type of bonus. After the owners made the election to opt out, the final year of the CBA accelerated to 2010. First round picks usually sign either a five or six year contract, which for this years rookie class will extend through the 2012 or 2013 season. The 2nd round draft picks usually sign four year contracts and those contracts will extend beyond the CBA into the 2011 season. So, by using this type of bonus, it guarantees a payment after the scope of the current CBA.

According to the CBA, guaranteed payments due and payable after the CBA expires, are for salary cap purposes, supposed to be reallocated to capped years within the CBA (much the same way that Deion charges are allocated). This would increase the salary cap charges in the current years and also increase the "rookie cap".

The NFL management council contended that these bonuses needed to be reallocated to capped years and the NFLPA said that nothing needed to be done with these bonuses. The ruling came in favor of the NFLPA. Now that the Teams and Agents know how these bonuses will be treated for salary cap purposes, you will see more rookies signed.

Player Rumors and Drafted Rookies Update

Early last week, the Tampa Bay Tribune reported that the Lions are interested in Chris Simms. The NFL Network has reported that the Lions may be interested in Takeo Spikes and various media outlets have reported that Daunte Culpepper (acting as his own agent) has contacted the Lions offering his services.

Chris Simms - I don't doubt that the Lions have inquired about Chris Simms. Any team that potentially could use a quarterback, should inquire. The Lions currently have an aging veteran in Jon Kitna, a four-year journeyman that has attempted 17 career passes in Dan Orlovsky and basically a rookie in Drew Stanton as last season he was placed on injured reserve at the start of training camp. There are several good reasons for the Lions to consider a veteran QB and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers having five on their current roster (four if you don't count Jake Plummer), they are looking to trade one before they have to cut someone before the start of the season and all the rumors have pointed to Chris Simms being the odd man out. Rod Marinelli was coaching the defensive line in Tampa for 3 seasons while Simms was there and we all know how Rod likes to sign players that he's familiar with. In many ways it does make sense for the Lions to pursue Simms, but my guess is that the Lions were just doing their "due diligence" in inquiring about Simms. Simms' $2M base salary is in line with what veteran backup QB's make, but if the Lions were to trade for Simms, they would have to free up $1.5M in cap space. I doubt that a trade is in the works, but I think the Lions would consider signing him if he were cut.

Takeo Spikes - The former pro bowl linebacker is an aging linebacker that could help the Lions as they try to get Jordon Dizon acclimated to the NFL. Spikes made $4.5M last year, but I don't think it'll cost that much to sign him as he was released by the Eagles at the start of free agency and hasn't landed a job yet. Considering his age, prior salary and the lack of a job, my guess is that it would cost somewhere between $1.5M and $2.5M to land Spikes. Once again, the Lions would have to free up some salary cap space if they were to sign him and if they are going to sign him, it'll likely be done before the end of the week.

Daunte Culpepper - Is his own agent and is looking for a job for the season. I think that his better days are well behind him and he won't be playing football this year. He negotiated a contract in which (I believe) he robbed the Raiders. Just by signing the contract, he was guaranteed $750K. Once he made the opening roster, he was guaranteed $2.6M and once he was on the team after the sixth game, he was guaranteed $3.2M for the season. I think he's looking for a similar contract this year and he's not going to get it. He's already turned down $1M contract from the Packers. I don't see any chance that the Lions sign Culpepper.

Our Rookie Draft Picks - Jordon Dizon's contract is likely very close to being finalized. Gosder Cherilus' contract will allow the most flexibility to manipulate the salary cap and if needed, could be manipulated to keep salary cap space free for a player like Takeo Spikes. If needed, Jason Hanson's contract could be extended to free up salary cap space or Cory Redding contract could be restructured to free up salary cap space.


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