"Part of the negotiation piece is to ensure that we structure the deal in such a way that we protect ourselves as best we can with respect to (cap)." -- Rick Smith on J.J. Watt's contract extension
With the Texans having spent the better part of the last four years pushed right up against the salary cap, as they've locked up core player after core player, fans would have reason to be at least slightly concerned that a gargantuan extension for all-universe defensive end J.J. Watt would be setting the team up for some more future cap peril.
However, aside from all being players whose contracts the Texans extended a year earlier than the team needed to, Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, Brian Cushing, and Duane Brown all have one other thing in common.
None of them is J.J. Watt.
That's not meant to be disrespectful. Brian Cushing, when healthy, is a top tier inside linebacker. Arian Foster, when healthy, is a top flight tailback. Duane Brown is one of the finest left tackles in all of football. Matt Schaub...well, he seems like a swell guy.
But while they are fine players, most of them, none of them is transcendent like Watt. Few players are, and the ones who are all play quarterback (or are named Adrian Peterson).
The devil in Watt's deal would eventually be in the detail, and John McClain of Sports Radio 610 and the Houston Chronicle was able to obtain the year by year data on Watt's deal. Rick Smith said the deal allowed for future flexibility and would not be a cap killer.
The math seems to back Smith up. Courtesy of McClain, here is what we know about Watt's deal:
1. The extension Watt signed Tuesday, reported as a "six year, $100 million extension," actually adds six more years starting at the end of his existing deal, taking the end point of his overall contract from 2015 to 2021 and adding $100 million in "new money" to the nearly $9 million he was already scheduled to make in base salary in 2014 and 2015. So Watt's new reworked deal, all-in, is eight years, $108.8 million.
2. Watt's 2014 base salary has been reduced to $907,385, but he will receive a $10 million signing bonus this season that will be spread out over the next five years from a salary cap standpoint.
3. Watt's 2015 base salary has been increased from $6.9 million to almost $10 million. Additionally, in March 2015, he will receive a $10 million roster bonus that is currently set to count fully against 2015's salary cap.
4. The 2015 roster bonus can be converted to a signing bonus if the Texans need the salary cap space in 2015. (The conversion would allow the Texans to spread that $10 million over the subsequent five years of the cap, as opposed to taking a monster hit in 2015.)
5. The year-by-year base salaries on Watt's deal look like this (cap hits in parentheses):
2014: $907,385 ($4.575 million) 2015: $9.969 million ($21.969 million) 2016: $10.5 million ($12.5 million) 2017: $10.5 million ($12.5 million) 2018: $11 million ($13 million) 2019: $13 million ($13 million) 2020: $15.5 million ($15.5 million) 2021: $17.5 million ($17.5 million)
So what does this all mean? Well, here are my thoughts:
* I don't know what's going to happen with the salary cap in 2015 (bump up from new DirecTV Sunday Ticket money?), nor do I know what the Texans plans are for some of their players with bigger cap hits (Andre Johnson at $16.1 million, Johnathan Joseph at $12.25 million, and Arian Foster at $9 million come to mind), but if they're able to somehow swallow Watt's nearly $22 million cap figure in 2015 whole, without having to convert the roster bonus to a signing bonus, they have the preeminent defensive player on the planet at an incredibly reasonable deal for the remainder of his prime years, until he's 32 years old. Kudos to Rick Smith and Chris Olsen (Texans' capologist).
* The Texans did the right thing by setting the market with Watt, at what essentially amounts to a cost of living increase over the previous market standard for a defensive player (Mario Williams' 6 year, $96 million, $50 million guaranteed), as opposed to letting someone else set the market with an inferior player. Now, other dominos in the 2011 class should start to fall, if Von Miller's proclamation that Watt is "still underpaid" is any indication.
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* The Texans now have their top three players in what should be a fierce front seven locked up for at least three seasons until Jadeveon Clowney's contract extension (which we are all assuming is going to be massive based on the 29 plays he played in the preseason) even becomes a topic. And even once it does become a topic, whatever young quarterback is leading the Texans back to the playoffs will still be on his rookie deal.
Deciding to extend J.J. Watt doesn't take a talent evaluation genius. Hell, it barely requires someone with working eyeballs. But getting him locked up in a deal that is as team friendly as this one is deserves credit.
Nice work, Texans. Really nice.