Berrian Deal: Market Price or Overpaid?

Since the Vikings signed Bernard Berrian, some media reports have referred to the Vikings overpaying for him. As with all signings, it's relative to what the market will bear, so we compare Berrian's guaranteed money and recent production with three of the other top receivers who inked new deals in the last month.

In some media circles, the standard evaluation for teams in free agency is that they overpaid for players. It happens every year, and with the Vikings' more aggressive approach to free agency this year, they have been listed among those as overpaying on the open market.

To be sure, the Vikings found out last year that even the best offer sometimes goes rejected. Minnesota's offer to wide receiver Kevin Curtis was more lucrative than the one to which the Eagles eventually inked him. The thinking was that Curtis wanted a more proven quarterback in Donovan McNabb and a better chance of winning.

Both teams finished 8-8 and just outside of the playoff picture.

This year, the Vikings were not going to be outdone in their bidding for a wide receiver on the free market. They targeted former Bear Bernard Berrian and made sure Minnesota was his first visit. He didn't leave until he signed a six-year, $42 million contract that included $16 million in guarantees. The critics and analysts are quick to point out that Berrian has never had a 1,000-yard season.

So, did the Vikings overpay relative to the market? Here is a look at the top three receivers signed in free agency and another one that extended his deal on Tuesday:

  • The biggest per-year contract on the free-agent market for receivers went to former Viking Randy Moss. He signed a three-year, $27 million deal with $15 million in guarantees to stay with the New England Patriots. His last two seasons in the league have been decidedly different. Last year, his first with quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots, Moss set a league record with 23 touchdown receptions on 98 total catches for 1,493 yards. Prior to that, he had 42 receptions for 553 yards in 2006 with the quarterback-starved Oakland Raiders – one of only two seasons in which Moss didn't eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in his 10-year career.

    Moss' deal was predicated more on a signing bonus than roster bonuses that were the hallmarks of the Berrian and (to a lesser extent) Jerry Porter deals. With a $12 million signing bonus spread out evenly over the three-year contract, the cap hit for the Patriots is lightest in 2008, when Moss counts only $6 million against the league-imposed cap. The following two seasons, his salary counts $10.5 million each against the cap.

  • Over the last two seasons, Berrian has caught 122 passes for 1,726 yards. His contract with the Vikings calls for only a $5 million signing bonus that will be spread evenly throughout the six years, but the cap-rich Vikings placed an $8 million roster bonus for 2008 and $3 million roster bonus for 2009 on the contract, eating up more cap space in 2008 and giving them more flexibility in future years. His base salaries increase moderately from $605,000 in 2008 to $3.9 million in 2011 before jumping to $6.9 million in 2012 and $7.9 million in 2013.

    In essence, Berrian's contract calls for heavy cap numbers over the first two years ($9.5 million and $6.3 million) before the base salaries, which aren't guaranteed, make up for the bigger bulk of his cap number in the last four years.

  • While former Raider Porter received a six-year, $30 million contract with $10 million in guarantees, he missed most of the 2006 season. Over the last two seasons in which he has significant playing time with the Raiders (2007 and 2005), he has 120 catches for 1,647 yards. He has double the number of years (eight) in the league as Berrian, but he hasn't been a 1,000-yard receiver either.

    Porter's contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars called for only a $3 million signing bonus spread out evenly throughout the six-year deal with a roster bonus of $3.5 million in 2008 and $2 million in 2009. His salary-cap hits to the Jaguars are much more even than Berrian's, staying between $4 million and $6 million throughout the life of the contract.

  • On Tuesday, the biggest receiver contract of the year came through. With Moss-like talent and Berrian-like youth, former Twin Cities resident Larry Fitzgerald held all the card with the Cards. He reworked his current contract, which called for inexplicable salaries of $14.6 million and $17.3 million over the next two seasons, into a four-year, $40 million deal. It will save the Cardinals almost $9 million in cap space this year and keep Fitzgerald in Arizona's control for the next four years instead of two.

    He will receive a $15 million signing bonus and $30 million in guarantees. Of the four receivers referenced here, Fitzgerald has the most receptions (169) and yards (2,355) over the last two seasons and probably the highest potential during the remainder of their newfound contracts.

    So, with guaranteed money the important factor in today's NFL contracts, who made out the best relative to their production over the two years in which they played significant games?

    Moss averaged $5 million in guarantees over the life of his contract. Compared to the average of his last two years of production, Moss will make about $71,000 per catch or $4,900 per receiving yard.

    Berrian's guaranteed money averages out to $2.67 million per year over the six years of his contract. Compared to his average production the last two seasons, he will make about $38,000 per catch or $3,100 per receiving yard.

    Porter's guaranteed money averages to about $1.67 million per year. Compared to his average production in 2007 and 2005 (he missed most of 2006), he will make about $28,000 per catch or $2,000 per receiving yard.

    Fitzgerald will average about $7.5 million guaranteed over the four years of his extension. Compared to his average production the last two seasons, he will make about $88,000 per catch or $6,400 per receiving yard.

    Factors like age, durability, reliability, locker-room presence and quarterback talent and stability all play into a receiver's perceived success in his past and projected success in the future, but the numbers seem to lead to the conclusion that the Vikings probably made a relatively average deal compared the market price.

    Note: Former Broncos receiver Javon Walker, who was released before a $5.4 million roster bonus was due and subsequently signed a $55 million deal with $11 million in signing bonus with the Oakland Raiders, was left off of this comparison because the Raiders are considered to be spending wildly with a number of deals that have some around the league confounded.

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