A couple of years ago at this time, Mark Brunell was the subject of harsh criticism from fans who believed Brunell's new contract was the reason for so many popular Jaguars players having to be released for salary cap purposes. Never has a player been criticized more unfairly.
Two years later, what we know is that Brunell accommodated the Jaguars with a contract every team in the league would like to have with its starting quarterback. Here's why.
Brunell agreed to a contract that is "flat" in how its numbers are presented over the life of the deal; no spikes in salary and no deferred bonus money that would continue to drive the remaining amortization up. The bonus amortization is a steady $2 million on the 2002, '03 and '04 salary caps, and the salaries vary little: $6.25 million in '02, $6.75 million in '03 and $6.5 million in '04.
What all of that means is that Brunell provided the Jaguars with cap flexibility; the team could trade or cut Brunell at any time during that period and realize a savings over Brunell's cap hit. Brunell's remaining amortization was always less than that year's salary.
That's how you stay ahead of the salary cap curve. Keep salaries high and amortizations low and you can always get out from under a contract if a player's production dips beneath the contract's value. Kordell Stewart is a perfect example. The Steelers will cut Stewart next week because he is no longer their starting quarterback and because releasing him will provide the team with more than $6 million of salary cap savings. Better yet for the Steelers, Stewart has only $1.8 million of remaining amortization, a minor amount of "dead money" that will be extinguished this year.
High salaries, low amortizations; that's the way to go. And that's why the "franchise" tag is attractive in some cases, especially when it involves lower-salaried positions.
When the Jaguars put the "franchise" tag on Donovin Darius yesterday, they assured they won't have to pay Darius bonus money unless they agree to a new contract with their strong safety. Darius will get $3 million in salary in '03, and that's a lot of money for a safety who has never been selected to the Pro Bowl, but the absence of bonus money provides the team with great flexibility for Darius' future.
Of course, the worst-case scenario is the opposite; high amortization and low salary. In that circumstance, the player has the ability to hold his team hostage, because very few teams can afford to cut or trade a player and accept a cap hit in excess of what they had already scheduled for that year.
And, of course, that's exactly what players and their agents want. They want to hold their teams hostage. It's the next best thing to a guaranteed roster spot.
The Jaguars are in the midst of negotiations with Darius, Fred Taylor, Stacey Mack and others. It's most important that they follow the lead they established in negotiating the Brunell deal: High in salary, low in bonus and keep it flat.
Simply put, the contract that was so harshly criticized by fans is the model of what this team needs.