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Gerald McCoy is not overpaid, and we’re looking at contract values in the wrong way

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We should be looking at contract values relative to the salary cap, instead of in absolute terms.

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

NFL contracts are interesting things. We all obsess over them a little, talking about this and that player begin overpaid, but we have very few concrete ways of measuring the relative pay of players. In part because the salary cap rises over time, in part because rating players is fairly subjective, and in part because good players don’t hit the market very often so you’re bound to need to bid high to get them—there are few alternatives.

Over at ESPN, though, Bill Barnwell tried to bring some order to this chaos by establishing a baseline value at every position, and then seeing whose contract is worth more in terms of percentages. This kind of works because he looks at the first three years of every contract, a decent indicator of the kind of money players will actually take home before inevitably getting cut.

Surprisingly, there’s a Bucs player on this list: Gerald McCoy at number 21. Even though every top defensive tackle signed after McCoy has gotten significantly more money, and his presence hasn’t limited the Bucs financially in really any way. Which is something Barnwell seems to be aware of, given that he spends the actual text explaining why his formula is wrong in this specific case.

There are six defensive tackles in the NFL who make far more than the rest of the league’s interior linemen and crash this list. McCoy got paid first, signing his deal in October 2014, when the former third overall pick was nearly two seasons away from requiring a franchise tag, let alone hitting unrestricted free agency. The Bucs structured McCoy’s old CBA rookie deal with a small sixth year, which always made it likely McCoy would negotiate a new contract before that final season, but McCoy has the smallest contract of the big six because he took his money first.

Oh. Well. Thanks for explaining why in this specific case the player you found is overpaid, actually isn’t overpaid. At all. Nice. Saves me some work, Barnwell.

One of the problems here is that we keep talking about raw numbers without adjusting for the rising salary cap. It’s at $167 million now compared to $120 million in 2011, a massive rise that makes any notion of comparing the value of contracts signed in 2011 to those signed now pretty futile.

Perhaps we should move to evaluating contracts by the percentage of the salary cap they take up. That’d be interesting.