Much has been made about the contract talks that occurred between the Chiefs and Orlando Brown Jr in the past month. However, now that we have some general ideas of the final contract offered (that was ultimately rejected), we can do a comparison between the franchise tag and the reported contract.
A lot of contract analysis looks at the first 3 years of a contract for the "true" value expected on a deal. In short, this is where the majority of the guaranteed money is earned, tends to be when superstars ask for new contracts/extensions or tends to be the tipping point on underperforming player's contracts where the cap savings out-weighs the dead money. Granted, this is usually true for 4-5 year deals and Brown was offered 6, but we will cover that in a moment.
With Brown playing on the franchise tag this season (assuming he signs it), is he better off betting on himself with the tag or should he have taken the contract?
First, I am using the reported figures by both national reporters and on this site. None of those breakdown the individual years, so I am going to do my best to guess what the annual amounts are each season. Wish I had exact ones, but we don't, so bear with me.
Brown's reported contract was 6 years, $139 million per Adam Schefter. Schefter has also reported that he would have gotten a $30.25 million signing bonus, with $95 million in the first 5 years, making the last year of the contract worth $44 million. All professional analysts and armchair reviewers consider that final year to be strictly for inflating the average annual value (AAV) of the overall contract, with no intention of ever paying it out. There was likely no guaranteed money and would serve only to bring both parties back to the table to negotiate the next deal, in effect making the Brown contract a 5 year pact with a 1 year poison pill on the tail end.
Knowing all of this, we can make a best guess as to the structure of the first 5 years of the deal. First, the signing bonus. Contracts with a large signing bonus tend to pay the NFL minimum salary in the first year. Looking at the last time the Chiefs did a similar extension, we see the same thing. We have to go back to the Frank Clark contract in 2019, in which he received a $19 million signing bonus and the then league minimum $805k in base salary, per OverTheCap.com. Given that Brown was offered $30.25 in a signing bonus, it is safe to assume he would receive the league minimum for a player with 4 years of accrued service in 2022, $1.035 million per spotrac.com.
Going back to the Clark contract, he received workout and other bonuses which got him a nice round cap number of $6.5 million per OverTheCap.com. Assuming the Chiefs would do the same with Brown, we can infer extra bonuses of $415k in year 1 to get his total cap number to (30.25M/5=6.05M) + 1.035M + 0.415M = $7.5M cap hit.
All together, this means Brown was in line to get $30.25M + 1.035M + 0.415M = $31.7M in actual cash in year 1.
If there was $95 million in the first 5 years, then that means we have $63.3 million left to spread out over the next 4 years of the deal. A straight average of that would be $15.825M per year, but the Chiefs and other NFL teams structure most deals to escalate in salary over time in an effort to match the growth of the salary cap.
Going back to 2011-2022, the cap has increased an average of 5.2%/year, which notably includes the Covid-19 related dip of the 2021 cap. If we try to match the increase of Brown's deal to a 5% annual increase, while keeping things rounded to the nearest $100k, we would get a year 2 salary of X with three annual escalations of 5%. Thus, (X + 1.05X + 1.1025X + 1.157625X) = 6.330M or a base salary in year 2 of $14.7M when we solve for X.
Multiplying through X, we get the following best guess of Brown's contract structure in terms of actual cash paid:
Year 1: $31.7M
Year 2: $14.7M
Year 3: $15.4M
Year 4: $16.2M
Year 5: $17.0M
Year 6: $44.0M
So in the first three years, Brown would earn $61.8M in actual cash. What about on the franchise tag?
Brown is tagged for $16.7M in 2022. So far, a losing strategy. But, barring a significant injury (knocks on all the wood) or a significant drop in play (knocks on all the wood again), Brown will be signed to a deal next season that is similar if not greater than the one he was offered this year. But, I just want to focus on the tag - what if Brown goes full Cousins+ and plays 3 years on the franchise tag?
First and foremost, I don't want this to happen. The stress as a fan of wondering how contracts will play out for 4 months from the beginning of the league year to the final date for new deals for tagged players in July is just no fun. But, I find that looking at the worst case scenario helps to inform us a bit more about what the Brown camp was considering during negotiations. Also, 3 franchise tags conveniently fits my first 3 years of a contract comparison. This post is nearly 1000 words already, so I think it is time to cut one corner.
Based on NFL rules, a player tagged a 2nd time must be paid 120% of his previous year's salary (yes, there is a formula to be considered too, but that formula will almost always produce a number lower than 20%. The only time it wouldn't would be if the top of the market at the position went up by more than 20% in one year and that at least 5 players had that increase). In the third year, the tag is now 144% (or 120% of 120%) of the 2nd tag salary.
Given this info, a triple tagged Brown would receive:
Year 1: $16.700M
Year 2: $20.040M
Year 3: $28.858M
Which would be a three year total of $65.598M in actual cash. That is $3.8M more than the first three years of the deal Brown was offered! Brown would be turning age 29 after completing his three tags (birthday in May) just in time to negotiate a new long term deal since the Chiefs would not be allowed to tag him a 4th time. He could then get a 4 year deal and re-enter the market at age 33, same age that Trent Williams was last year when he reset the LT market.
In conclusion, from Brown's camp's perspective, there is an inherent risk of playing on the tag since nothing is guaranteed beyond the current year. But there is also less downside than is often portrayed. If Brown thinks he is worth more than a contract whose likely value is only 5 years $95M for an AAV of only $19M, playing on the tag is not the worst option. By the 2nd tag, he is already exceeding that AAV and by year 3 the tag would put him squarely at either the top or the top 3 in AAV for LTs.
Seems like a good, though not great, wager to me.