Is Stallworth Deal the New Wave?

The contract signed by Donte Stallworth Sunday gives New England plenty of time to see if they made a good investment before the heavy lifting portion of the deal begins. Like Drew Brees last year (but to an even greater extreme) the Patriots would seem to be holding all the cards in this signing and begs the question why didn't the Vikings step up with a similar "cover our own butt" offer?

The numbers on a contract rarely fail to make the eyes bug out but, for all practical purposes, rarely match up with the reality of the actual contract. For example, when Brett Favre signed his current 10-year contract, few if any people believed he would actually see the end of it. The same was true when Peyton Manning signed his mega-deal. It was clear that something would have to be done – and early – to get the team out from under a huge base-salary number. The Colts did just that a couple of weeks ago and opened up $9 million in cap space as a result.

But the deal signed by Donte Stallworth is at the other end of the spectrum. At first blush, the numbers speak loudly – six years for $33 million. But the reality of the deal is much different and brings to mind the question of how the Patriots were able to get Stallworth and his agent to agree to such a deal.

In some respects, the contract Stallworth signed is similar to the deal Drew Brees signed with the Saints last year. Brees, who was coming off a serious shoulder injury, signed a long-term deal with the Saints, but there was an out clause that if he couldn't or didn't perform up to expectations the contract could be voided after one year. However, in Brees' case, he would have been paid $10 million and shown the door. In Stallworth's contract, the onus is on him to live up to being a go-to receiver or he walks away with almost nothing.

Under the terms of his deal, Stallworth effectively is being paid the veteran minimum for 2007 along with a $1 million signing bonus and a $300,000 workout bonus. While his guaranteed money is said to be in the range of $3.5 to $3.7 million, in cap language, the Patriots are only liable for about $1.3 million if he were to be a training camp bust and released. If he stays clean and out of the league's substance abuse program – the report of his inclusion in the program likely scared off at least a few teams, including the Vikings, who had their own run-in with that system last August with Koren Robinson – the payday is actually in 2008. His contract calls for a $8 million roster bonus to be paid in March of next year and, because of its timing, the Patriots can't use the franchise tag on him to save money. His total payments in 2008 are expected to be $11 million between bonus money and salary.

This "pay as you exit" strategy is new to contract bargaining. If Stallworth doesn't light it up with the Patriots, the team can simply let him go after the 2007 season and walk away with little to no salary cap hit as a result. With talk of several teams having been interested in signing Stallworth, it comes as something of a surprise that he would sign a "team-friendly" contract. But perhaps his agent saw the potential for his reported substance-abuse program entry to get in the way of a better long-term deal. However, leaving one's trust in an organization that has let beloved players go because of cap implications may not be the most sound judgment to employ, but, if it works for Stallworth, it might become the contract trend of the future.

MONDAY NOTES
* Bears free agent DT Ian Scott is visiting the Broncos today and tentatively has a meeting scheduled with the Vikings for later this week.
* New defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier might make a push to get a pair of high-profile Colts free agents – linebacker Cato June and cornerback Nick Harper – into Winter Park for visits as well later this week.
* Kevin Curtis is still mum on his decision for free agency. He has visited the Vikings, Lions, Eagles, Giants and Dolphins.

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