Disputes and Decisions: Contractual Issues
There’s that saying, “Hindsight is 20/20”. It suggests that there are certain things that influence an outcome that are unknown to a decision-maker when he/she is making the original decision. And while this is certainly true, hindsight being 20/20 says nothing about foresight. Although certain factors can’t be known, certain ones can be known – and certain ones can be predicted to some degree of certainty. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the Jaguars’ history in renewing contracts with Jaguars players.
Let’s look at the case of David Garrard – really our only complete case in recent Jaguar extensions (non-rookie, non-free agent contractual agreements). Coming off a career best 2,509 yards with 18 tds and just 3 ints in just his second full season as the Jaguars starting quarterback, Garrard led the 2007 Jaguars to an 11-5 record and the AFC Championship game, where the Jaguars lost to a seemingly destined 16-0 Patriots team. In the process, he had solidified a Jaguars’ quarterback position that had been nothing short of tumultuous since the days of Mark Brunell. Although lacking the pedigree (3rd rounder), experience (2 years), or production, Garrard flashed the arm strength, keen decision-making, and playmaking ability to be a starter (or even star) in the NFL for years to come.
If you’re David Garrard in this situation, this is the time when you and your agent approach your general manager and upgrade the third-rounder salary you’re playing on to one befitting of a starting NFL quarterback. The general manager, though, has a couple options. The first option, and seemingly the most likely one, is to table the aforementioned contract discussion until the following offseason. After all, any player can have one good year, and even though the player might be young and on the rise, a general manager might require a second good year before initiation contract discussions. After all, the general manager might require proof that the one season wasn’t a fluke, as well as growth in the player’s production, consistency, and leadership abilities before throwing millions more at said player. All in all, a general manager might try to minimize his risk by tabling these contract discussions until after the next season.
However, there’s still risk for the general manager (and the team) by going this route. You risk this player having a huge jump in production, which is what you want for this player all along, but that will cost you millions more the next season. You might even price him out of your budget. Furthermore, if you have more salary cap space in this offseason versus the next one, it’s even more advantageous to pay players now, rather than later. For this reasons (or simply because Shack Harris is a pro at making questionable decisions), I think Shack Harris jumped to give David Garrard a contract worth 7 years and $60 million after his best season when he still had one year left on his previous deal.
The practice makes sense, but it exposes the team to a lot of risk on the other end – namely that you’re paying for potential, not production. Now, teams pay for potential all the time – think of the money they dole over to rookies, young players, and backup quarterbacks like Matt Flynn. But paying big money to a guy who has one good statistical year and was never asked to carry the offensive load (that was Fred Taylor and MJD) – that opens you up to paying big money for mediocrity or worse. Even though I have a lot of respect for David Garrard and was a big fan of his, mediocrity is what we got over the next three years (average QB rating of 84).
But this practice has continued even after Gene Smith took over for Shack Harris. After the 2008 season, Maurice Jones-Drew got a 5 year, $31 million deal having not started a single game (although he did amass 1300 total yards as a backup!). Before the 2011 season, Marcedes Lewis got a new 5 year deal worth $35 million, less than $2 million shy of all-world tight end Antonio Gates and freak-of-nature-at-tight-end Vernon Davis. Lewis had signed the franchise tag, but was holding out. Early during the 2011 season, Mike Thomas got a new 3 year contract worth $18 million with one year left on his original rookie deal. It’s too early to judge the Lewis and Thomas deals, but needless to say, they weren’t worth close to the money they were paid in 2011. The Jones-Drew deal, on the other hand, worked out well. We got incredible production, leadership, and a face for our franchise out of that $6 million or so per year. But two years in, Jones-Drew is holding out. We saved a few million dollars by giving him a deal before the last year of his rookie contract, but we’re probably losing that much in bad publicity as he and Gene play hardball.
But let’s not talk about Jones-Drew right now. Let’s talk about another Jaguar that’s seeking a new contract… a player whose not under contract currently – Josh Scobee.
Scobee, along with a few other high-profile kickers, were looking for new contracts during the offseason. As minicamp starts, most are still looking, Scobee included. Given the Jaguars’ history with contract negotiation, this doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Why is a player coming off arguably the most impressive kicking season in Jaguars history still looking for a contract (the only other contender can be found here)? Why should comparatively puny-legged Connor Barth already have a contract done? Why is the equally clutch Matt Prater almost on his way to practice, while Scobee’s contract talks have stalled out?
Barth has signed a four year deal worth $3.3 million a year, and Prater should sign a five year deal worth about the same yearly. The zenith for kicker contracts is the one signed by Sebastian Janikowski two years ago – a four year deal worth $4 million per year but with $9 million guaranteed. Barth, on the other hand, got $4 million guaranteed. On a per yearly basis though, Barth’s deal (and Prater’s soon-to-be deal) will be in line with the 5 year, $15.6 million ($4 million guaranteed) deal signed by Stephen Gostkowski in 2010 and Robbie Gould (5 year, $15.5 million w/ $4 million guaranteed) in 2008. Slightly more accurate, slightly less powerful, and relatively less important than Scobee (in terms of % of his team’s points), the Gostkowski deal should be the basis for the new Scobee deal. Has Scobee been a consistently elite kicker in his last six years? No. But has he shown the ability to provide elite production? Definitely.
Scobee has one of the strongest legs in the league and he has shown the ability, although not the year-to-year consistency, to be a very accurate kicker. Once the Prater deal gets done, the onus is 100% on Gene to get Scobee’s deal as quickly as possible. In his four NFL seasons as a starter, Prater has showcased Scobee-esque leg strength, Scobee-esque accuracy inconsistency, and Scobee-esque clutchness (clutch-ocity?). Gene, get this deal done. Relative to the last two extensions you gave out (Lewis, Thomas), this new contract is much more deserved.
And Happy Birthday to my sister, who is the biggest Scobee fan I know.
— Zain Gowani