Contractually Speaking: Ryan Mathews

Ryan Mathews recently signed a big fat deal with the Chargers to be their starting RB. He was the 12th pick in the 2010 draft, and has now become one of the wealthiest Charger players. Such is the life of an NFL rookie high first-round pick these days. Sure, his deal pales in comparison to Sam Bradford's $50 million guaranteed, but what Mathews got was no chump change.

Let's compare Mathews to some recent #12 overall picks

Year Team Player Position Length Guaranteed $ Total $
2010 SD Ryan Mathews RB 5 $15.083 $25.65
2009 DEN Knowshon Moreno RB 5 $13.125 $16.7
2008 DEN Ryan Clady OT 6 $11.415 $14.75
2007 BUF Marshawn Lynch RB 6 $10.285 $18.935
2006 BAL Haloti Ngata DT 5 $9.275 $11.9

 

As you would expect, the #12 overall pick has been making steadily more each year. The guaranteed money has steadily risen even as the deals varied from 5 years to 6 years and back to 5 again. It's worth noting that the 6th year on both those deals are "voidable" where the player can opt out if he reaches a certain level of performance. According to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Mathews also has this 6th year, but it can be easily voided by lining up for 35 percent of the snaps in 2010 or 45 percent of the snaps in any of the following four years. Acee also mentions that Mathews' total value number as reported is based on a number of escalators in his contract based on yardage totals. It's possible that the other picks also have similar clauses, but because the Mathews contract is so fresh the total dollar value may not be measured on the same scale.

Having taken all that in you're either really confused and looking for clarity, or curious to dig a little deeper. Well, let's see what we can do about that.

Big waves were made about Ryan Mathews being close to signing once the two picks around him got signed. That begs the question about what his deal is like sandwiched in between some other deals in the 2010 draft.

Pick Team Player Position Length Guaranteed $ Total $
10 JAX Tyson Alualu DT 5 $17.5 $28.0
11
SF Anthony Davis OT 5 $15.954 $26.5
12 SD
Ryan Mathews RB
5 $15.053 $25.65
13 PHI Brandon Graham DE 5 $14.0 $22.0
14 SEA Earl Thomas S 5 $12.32 $21.1

 

It looks like our friend A.J., that old curmudgeon who loathes to give out contracts, got a little generous here. In both guaranteed money and total money Ryan Mathews is closer to the 11th overall pick than the 13th pick. And it's not like its a sliding scale where the rate of money difference between each pick is increasing because Mathews and Davis are closer money-wise than Davis and Alualu.

Has this generosity happened before? Is A.J. a softy when it comes to first round pick salaries? Or is this something special for our newest Charger?

Year Pick Team Player Position Length Guaranteed $ Total $
2009 15 Hou Brian Cushing
LB
5 $10.0 $14.0
2009 16
SD Larry English
LB 5 $9.9 $13.55
2009 17 TB
Josh Freeman QB
5 $10.245 $26.0
2009 18 DEN Robert Ayers LB 5 $9.7 $18.34
2008 26 HOU
Duane Brown
OT
5 $6.2 $9.1
2008 27 SD Antoine Cason CB 5 $6.3 $12.03
2008 28 SEA
Lawrence Jackson
DE
5 $6.1 $11.25
2007 29
BAL
Ben Grubbs OG 5 $5.5 $8.0
2007 30
SD Buster Davis
WR 5 $5.4 $7.83
2007 31
CHI
Greg Olsen
TE
5 $4.9 $7.769

 

There's a lot of numbers up there to look at, and probably too much to soak up in just a few seconds of glancing. Unfortunately, when I start explaining stuff it may not help that much. There's a bunch of caveats to take into account like the fact that QBs get more money than other players, so I had to add another pick from the 2009 draft. However, I did leave Freeman's contract up there just as a reference. Moving to the next pick didn't help much because Ayers has a differently-structured contract than English or Cushing. Cushing has a final year escalator clause that adds a potential $4 million to his total and English has $4 million in incentives he could earn. However, even with that extra money, they don't reach the heights of Ayers' contract. Go figure.

Although we do see that in 2009, it looks like the guaranteed money is slotted nicely and the total dollars, if anything, worked out in the Chargers favor. In 2008, as far as I can tell Cason fleeced the Chargers in total money. There's nothing I see that Duane Brown (or even the previous pick, Jeremy Maclin) can do to equal Cason's total money, and Cason took home more guaranteed money. A.J. is a softy again.

In 2007, Buster Davis seems to have worked out a little extra for himself in guaranteed money and the total money is just slotted in there. Its worth noting that Buster Davis did not hold out and all the other Chargers signees mentioned did (even if it was minimal in Mathews' case).

It does seem like there is a little extra wiggle room for Chargers rookies in their contract negotiations, at least compared to their adjacent picks. I was teasing A.J. Smith for being a "softy", but in reality its Ed McGuire who makes these deals for the front office. McGuire has been with the Chargers for a long, long time and he's been mentioned as one of the top "capologists" in the game, even before that term was as widely-used as it is today. I trust that some of these discrepancies, especially with the total money values, are a case of McGuire just gaming the system in ways we can't imagine.

Okay, since I've kind of confused myself and then wandered off into a love-fest with a guy I've never met, hopefully there's enough insight in here to quench your hungry football appetites while we wait for games that matter.

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