Monday, March 03, 2008

Back Up The Truck

The Eagles backed up the truck and handed $20M in “guaranteed” monies to corner Asante Samuel.

Guaranteed money is the most pertinent measuring stick in NFL contracts. I don’t worry too much about the year to year salary number. NFL teams are always free to dump guys who aren’t performing up to their cap number- subject to the fine associated with guaranteed portion of the contract. The Eagles probably are on hook here for four years- which means Samuel will only be 30 before both sides will be looking at the sensibilities of the deal. To me, the surest road to ruin in pro sports is throwing big money at thirty-something free agents; the Eagles seem to have mitigated the risk some.

I am also not kidding myself. Teams don’t open the vault like this except out of weakness. The existing talent (who figures to be gone, right? they ain’t paying that kind of money to have Lito play nickel? Especially if they can get a high first day pick for him)- Lito Sheppard cost half as much, with half the commitment. In a perfect world, he would continue to play at a pro-Bowl level and not be sidelined a third of the time- leaving the team a portion of $20 million guaranteed to overpay say that offensive guard and second tailback they so desperately need. But, the current corner ain’t working out- and to fix the problem the Eagles need to double the money and commitment- with the noted off-set of said pending trade.

Also, if you are continually economizing at linebacker and safety and interior o-line and wide receiver, you are forced to spend heavy where you don’t continually bargain hunt. With talent challenged bargains at many positions (I love JR Reed and Mikell as cost/reward ratios- but they also mean the other guys better actually be “good”) the Eagles ain’t in a position to be too cute. Samuel's contact isn’t the intelligent, savvy one we associate with Philadelphia; it is an expensive, risky one. By definition, they are valuing Samuel higher than anyone else in the League. Further, they are forced into that valuation. When you are forced into a personnel NFL move, it is evidence again of weakness, not strength.

I dunno; it seems like a wash. I guess maybe a slight plus because again, Samuel won't be 35 for half the deal and they ought to get a good pick for Lito. Otherwise it is a wash: one healthy very good corner for one semi-healthy, malcontent very good corner- at the price of double the money and comitment.

Still, in December the Eagles were at the level of "marginal wild card" team; they are still a marginal wild card team. Any hope for exponential success, both before and now, hangs on McNabb recovering his old form. Yes, Samuel figures to be both better and on the field more than Lito has been- at that aforementioned cost of two-three extra years of commitment and $4 million/year more. The on-field performance risk is less; the financial cap risk heightened.

It feels like a fair price for the performance boost. And in a capped League- if you pay a fair price per performance gained, you ain’t making up ground organizationally- just treading water.

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