Chris Johnson contract math

Chris Johnson has three years remaining on the rookie contract he signed in 2008. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Organized team activities are in full swing, and so is contract posturing in the AFC South, where three prominent players looked to make statements with non-participation.

Andre Johnson re-joined the Houston Texans, but the Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson and the Jacksonville Jaguars' Rashean Mathis remain out. All three are hoping for new deals.

Players generally support other players in such instances. I once covered an event that involved a phone conversation between two players and rather than a goodbye, the final salutation to a guy who was looking for a bigger payday was something along the lines of “Get yours.” Over the years, I’ve heard that many times.

“We all understand that there is a business side to it, we all understand that there are going to be contract situations that make guys feel like they want to hold out,” veteran Titans backup quarterback Kerry Collins said.

“… Here’s the thing: The NFL is going to get what it wants out of you. So I don’t blame guys for trying to get what they can out of it financially. That’s just the way it is.”

While I will hit Andre Johnson and Mathis in separate posts, let’s turn to Chris Johnson …

He’s due a $550,000 base salary this season, though it’s more sensible to look at his 2010 number by including prorated pieces of his bonuses. That’s more like $1.6 million.

Does his play through two years make him worth more than that? Absolutely. Do the Titans deserve to continue to reap the benefits of being smart enough to select him in the draft where they did and for the cost of that pick? For sure.

We just saw a new deal for San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis who is heading into his fourth season. The current precedent for tearing up an original contract and doing something new set there is still at least one year away for Johnson.

I do not expect the Titans to redo Johnson’s deal before he plays a third season, and to hear his friends Mike Sims-Walker (here) and Ahmard Hall (here) talk, I am not as sure as some that he will hold out when training camp commences.

That said, we should look more carefully at the finances at play.

Many of us have been wrong when discussing Johnson’s current salary specifics and in interpreting the 30-percent rule that is in play here in the final year covered by the collective bargaining agreement. I apologize for the volume I added to that, and while this may now provide too much detail for some of you, it will also result in a far more accurate picture.

We’ve been saying Johnson got $7 million guaranteed when he signed his rookie deal as the 24th overall pick in 2008. But that’s oversimplifying and not breaking it down sufficiently, which is where one-time Washington Redskins cap guru J.I. Halsell comes in.

According to Halsell, who’s now part of Football Outsiders and has a website called SalaryCap101.com, here is how Johnson’s contract broke down when he signed it:

  • Signing Bonus: $250,000

  • Year 1 Roster Bonus (earned 5 days after execution of deal): $875,000

  • Year 1 Salary: $295,000

  • Option Bonus (to be exercised in Year 2 to add Year 5 to contract): $3,860,000

  • One-time Incentive (backed up by paragraph five guarantees to ensure it's earned): $1,605,000

  • TOTAL: $6,885,000

So the guarantees were a bit under the $7 million we keep repeating.

Halsell says Johnson has made a total of $7.27 million so far, and can make $3.56 million on the remaining three years of his deal.

As for the 30-percent rule, it extends beyond Johnson’s scheduled 2010 base salary of $550,000.

Here is the explanation from the NFL Players Association:

30% Rule (Article XXIV, Section 8(b), pages 133-134 and 241)

Renegotiations/extensions entered into in the 2010 League Year of 2009 NFL player contracts may not increase per year from 2009 to 2010 or beyond more than 30% of 2009 Salary. For example, if 2009 Salary is $2m, the maximum Salary available in 2010 is $2.6, 2011 is $3.2m, etc. Salary for 30% Rule does NOT include amounts treated as Signing Bonus or early termination buyout prorations tied to NLTBE [not likely to be earned] incentives (those tied entirely to LTBE incentives are open issue with NFL), but DOES include option extension bonus prorations.

Let’s focus on that last line.

Johnson’s $6.885 million in guarantees hardly came from a one-time signing bonus at the start. His 30-percent rule salary, Halsell points out, is then based off these two numbers: Johnson’s 2009 base salary of $385,000 plus the option proration of $965,000.

Add those together and add 30 percent and that’s the salary raise possibility.

So the Titans can give Johnson maximum salary increases of $405,000. They could only increase his non-bonus salary by that much in 2011 and 2012 too, and then with that proration disappearing they’d be able to increase it by $1.37 million beyond that.

Such increases would not exactly provide the backbone of the monster deal Johnson is looking for, but certainly better than what we were thinking before ($165,000 in 2010).

Halsell thinks it’s enough to build a deal around if the Titans want to. (Again, GM Mike Reinfeldt just told The Tennessean that “given the circumstances, I don't think there's the likelihood anything is going to happen.”)

“In light of the Patrick Willis structure, the Titans now have a structure that they could mimic to get CJ an extension,” Halsell said. “There is the 30 percent rule consideration, but the Willis deal shows that this can be navigated while still rewarding the player."

Willis' annual increase potential was $498,000 compared to Johnson's $405,000.

"A pretty similar number to Willis,” Halsell said. "In short, a deal can get done with CJ.”

Willis got five years and $50 million with $29 million guaranteed.

If the Titans didn’t have Johnson under contract for three more years, that sounds like a pretty good framework to me. I would think that would be a starting point at best for Johnson’s agent, Joel Segal.

But I still believe the ultimate leverage rests with the Titans, and so does veteran agent Ralph Cindrich, who represents Jeff Saturday and James Farrior.

“I think they can sit on him,” Cindrich said. "Mike Reinfeldt can be a tough guy. But [Bud] Adams can care less at times. I don’t see a new deal unless it favors them. Not unless they mumble and jumble a lot of figures together to make it sound a lot better than it is.”

Looking long term, Halsell agrees. Piece together the sort of deal Johnson wants now, and run the risk that in a few years he will be in the same spot Andre Johnson and Mathis are in now.

“With a player like CJ who has three years remaining on a contract that he signed [left] to honor, a club is hesitant to set a precedent of redoing contracts with that many years left,” he said. “Because then the next player (maybe Kenny Britt if he breaks out) is going to want his deal redone early.

“Bringing it full circle, CJ could end up like Mathis and Andre Johnson if, in the spirit of getting a big payday today, he signs a contract for seven years with four new years as an example. Because you know three or four years into it when the big money of the deal is gone and he's underpaid relative to the running back market, he's going to want another deal.”