Running back's contract will need readdressing

ATLANTA -- Known for his charitable good works, almost as much as for his football abilities, running back Warrick Dunn has come to the aid of the Falcons by reworking his contract to provide some much-needed salary cap relief.

The notable downside to a restructured deal, which allowed the Falcons to recoup about $1.3 million to $1.5 million in cap room: Dunn's cap charges for 2006 and '07 are now so prohibitive that his contract will almost certainly have to be addressed again in those seasons.

A key component in a Falcons offense that led the NFL in rushing in 2004, Dunn agreed to lower his scheduled base salary for this season from $3 million to $665,000, the minimum for a player of his tenure. He also dropped his 2006 base salary from $3.5 million to $2.5 million. The Falcons guaranteed the difference, $3.35 million, in a signing bonus that was prorated over the balance of the contract. Dunn will receive roster bonuses of $1 million each in 2005 and '06, as proscribed by his original contract.

The maneuver, which did not add any new years to the contract, lowered Dunn's cap charge for '05 from more than $5 million to $3.8 million.

Essentially, Dunn will receive the same $8.5 million for 2005-06 that he was due under his former contract. His payout for '05, however, slightly more than $5 million, is $1 million more than he was due this season under the old deal, a six-year, $28.5 million contract that he signed in 2002 as an unrestricted free agent.

But while the bookkeeping addressed Atlanta's immediate cap needs, it significantly raised the ante for the future. Dunn now carries a cap charge of $8.519 million for 2006 and $10.395 million for the 2007 season.

At 30, Dunn has demonstrated no signs of slowing down, and his 1,106 yards in 2004 not only led the Falcons but also represented his best production since 2000. That said, the eight-year veteran is approaching the point where most running backs start to show decline. Even if he remains at the same level of production, the salary cap charges for '06 and '07 will force the Falcons to make adjustments.

Dunn, a former Florida State player who began his career in Tampa Bay as a first-round pick in the 1997 draft, had a career-best 265 carries last season. Even with a career-low 29 catches in 2004, Dunn still had 294 touches from scrimmage, his most ever.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.