Has there been anything quite like the Greg Hardy contract that the Dallas Cowboys got done? With the remarkably structured deal, the Cowboys got a high profile pass rusher that should greatly improve that aspect of the defense. Although they are prepared to pay him top dollars for performance, the team is completely protected from suspensions and the remote possibility that he does not live up to expectations. And the team stayed true to its long term strategy of not overpaying for top tier free agents and relying on the draft.
It was a case of the Cowboys finding a way to have their cake and eat it, too. Because of the unique situation surrounding Hardy, they were able to acquire the services of one of the top pass rushers in the league without having to guarantee him a cent. Had he not gone through the prosecution, appeal, and overturning of his conviction, there is no way he would have been available or have considered such a deal. The league's stated commitment to cracking down on domestic violence played a part, since it gave Dallas leverage to get him to agree to a way to protect itself from the effects of a suspension. And look at what the Cowboys got.
To mangle a saying, the genius is in the details. Stephen Jones and the people who help him write contracts went into the laboratory and came up with something unexpected. Hardy has a chance to earn the money he wants and restart his career after his domestic violence issue, but Dallas looks to be the big winner in this, with no real downside to be seen.
Spotrac has a breakdown of the contract that I am using for the numbers. Here they are, with an explanation of what they mean (a big thanks to OCC for helping me understand all this; any errors are on me).
- Base salary: $745,000. If Hardy is suspended, this is the only money he will be paid for the games during the suspension.
- Roster bonus: $1,156,874. This only is paid for the games he is on the 53 man roster, which protects the team during a suspension.
- Workout bonus: $1,311,600. He is eligible to earn this as soon as he is reinstated, so it, like the base salary, factors into the cap hit at the present time,
- No signing bonus. None of the contract is guaranteed. It is somewhat remarkable in this. A player of his caliber simply does not sign a deal with no guaranteed money. This is the ultimate "betting on himself" deal for Hardy. If something should happen to give the team reason, they could terminate this at any time, and any money not paid by that point just disappears.
- Per game bonus: $578,437. This is split into likely to be earned (LTBE) and not likely to be earned (NLTBE). This is where things get a little unique. LTBE and NLTBE are determined based on the last year for the player, and in 2014, Hardy was on the league's exempt list for 14 games following the domestic violence conviction that was later overturned on appeal. That means only $1,156,874, or two games' worth, is considered LTBE. That, his base salary, and the workout bonus compose the money currently counted against the cap, or $3,213,474. The remainder of the per game bonuses total $8,098,118, if my calculator is correct, and this is money that would be added to the cap hit after the original hit is exceeded as he is paid during the season.
- Sack production incentives: He gets $500,000 for eight sacks. It increases to $1,000,000 for 10 sacks, $1,400,000 for 12 sacks, and $1,804,400 for 14 sacks. Because of his truncated season last year, this is also NLTBE.
- Dallas is not able to use the franchise tag on Hardy in 2016, so this is strictly a one year deal unless he and the team were to negotiate an extension during the season. That seems unlikely at this point.
If you add all that up, it totals $13.1 million, which as Todd Archer notes in his look at the contract, is exactly what Hardy earned last year under the franchise tag with the Carolina Panthers. That is undoubtedly what these numbers were all based on.
The one tricky thing about this is how to account for the money Hardy is expected to earn above the current cap hit. Since the NFL has still not determined what kind of suspension he will serve, that is an unknown amount. But according to an article about the contract at Over the Cap, that amount, whatever it is, will have to be fit under the 2015 cap. This means that Dallas still has to find that extra cap space, which could be as much as roughly $8 million. That specific number should be of interest to Brandon Carr, since it represents exactly the cap space the Cowboys could free up by designating him a post-June 1 cut. The team can also work out a long term deal with Dez Bryant and do another restructure of the Tony Romo contract to gain space. And any suspension will of course reduce the cap space needed.
The incentive money is different, since it can be carried over to the 2016 cap, but only under certain conditions. OCC covered how this works in his post last year on the Henry Melton contract.
- If the un-achieved LTBE credits are greater than the NLTBE credits that actually were achieved, the difference will be added to the next year's salary cap.
- If the NLTBE incentives that are achieved are greater than the LTBE incentives that are not achieved, the difference will be deducted from the following year's cap.
Since the entire incentive is NLTBE, then Dallas would see any incentive money paid out roll over as dead money for 2016. But given the amount involved, the likelihood of a shortened season, and what having eight or more sacks out of Hardy would mean, it is a very cheap price to pay.
And while Dallas has gotten itself an impact player for one year on what can only be considered a game-by-game lease, it is still able to continue to with the plan of drafting and developing talent from within. DeMarcus Lawrence is the immediate beneficiary, since he is no longer the top option for generating a pass rush. He can continue to learn and improve, and should be much more ready to step into the top rusher role in 2016. Plus the Cowboys can draft a defensive end or two without having to depend on them for immediate contributions. The team will have to figure out how to get through any Hardy suspension, but when he is available the effect should be instant.
It was a completely out of the box solution to the problem of an anemic pass rush and cap constraints. It only happened because of a unique combination of circumstance - and a burst of genius from Stephen Jones and his staff. They had a plan, and stuck to it in a truly inspired manner.