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Behind some NFC South contract numbers

As a general rule, we in the media throw out some quick numbers when a rookie signs a contract or when a veteran signs a new deal. In most cases, those numbers are pretty accurate. But, sometimes, they don’t tell the whole story.

Over the past week or so, I’ve gathered up some more extensive information on some contracts signed by prominent NFC South players. I think each of these deals is worth a little further exploration.

Jimmy Clausen, quarterback, Carolina Panthers. The Panthers didn’t do anything crazy on this deal like they did back in 2001 when they did an incentive-heavy deal for fourth-round pick Chris Weinke. He played enough as a rookie that the deal ended up costing the Panthers about $15 million, even though Weinke spent most of the rest of his career on the bench. Clausen has some incentives and escalators, but those don’t kick in until 2012 and 2013, the last two years of his contract. He got a $1.3 million signing bonus and, at the moment, is to collect $1.8 million in base salaries over the four-year deal. In other words, Matt Moore’s going to get his chance. There is no financial reason for the Panthers to rush Clausen along.

Donald Penn, offensive tackle, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. People can talk all they want about Tampa Bay ownership being cheap, but that was not even close to being true when it came to locking up the left tackle. The Bucs handed Penn a $2 million signing bonus, and he’ll make $4.5 million this season. Through 2015, Penn is scheduled to earn $35.5 million in base salaries, and that’s just at this moment. There are escalators that could kick in for 2014 and ’15. There also is another $3 million in likely-to-be earned incentives. By the way, Penn stayed away from the club for this offseason as he fought for his new deal. He’s got reason to be involved in the offseason program for the rest of this contract. The deal includes a $400,000 bonus for each year if he shows up for a certain amount of offseason workouts. By the way, if I'm linebacker Barrett Ruud, who also is looking for a new deal, or his agent, I'm looking very closely at what the Bucs gave Penn.

Sean Weatherspoon, linebacker, Falcons. Atlanta got a little creative with this one. Weatherspoon only received a $500,000 signing bonus. But he also has a $965,000 roster bonus for this year, and there’s no doubt he’s going to be on the roster. Weatherspoon currently is to earn $3.9 million in base salaries over the course of a contract that could run through 2014. The club holds an option for that final season, and there’s an option bonus that has to be exercised in 2011. Weatherspoon also has some pretty significant escalators and incentives that would kick in on the back end of the deal.

Patrick Robinson, cornerback, New Orleans Saints. Robinson got a $2.2 million signing bonus and a $470,000 roster bonus for this year. Like Weatherspoon, this is a deal with a club option for 2014 that has to be exercised in 2011. Robinson gets a 2.3 million option bonus if that happens. He also is to earn $2.33 in base salaries over the course of the contract, but those numbers could kick up on the back end of the deal. Robinson also has a $75,000 workout bonus for each of the last three years of his deal.