Projecting Danny Trevathan’s Contract With the Falcons

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY SportsDanny Trevathan

Continuing a series that began with Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack, I will continue by breaking down what could be a potential contract between the Atlanta Falcons and free agent inside linebacker Danny Trevathan of the Denver Broncos.

Trevathan is one of the top free agents this offseason due to being one of the top playmakers on a Broncos defense that ranked No. 1 in many statistical categories this past year and shut down the league’s top-scoring offense in the Super Bowl earlier this month.

Yet despite this fact, he’s not expected to re-sign with the Broncos and will likely hit the open market. The Broncos simply have too many mouths to feed as their offseason priorities will be re-signing outside linebacker Von Miller and quarterback Brock Osweiler to long-term deals. With Miller certain to get the franchise tag if a long-term deal can’t be reached by March 1’s deadline, the Broncos really have no way of stopping Trevathan from becoming a free agent on March 9 unless they can come up with a market-value deal to keep him before then. So let’s now discuss what exactly constitutes Trevathan’s market.

As I did with Mack, I went back and looked at the biggest contracts signed by inside linebackers and 4-3 outside linebackers over the past two years to get a good basis of comparison for what Trevathan might make. I wound up looking at the deals that Donald Butler (San Diego Chargers), Bobby Wagner (Seattle Seahawks), Mychal Kendricks (Philadelphia Eagles), Lavonte David (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Luke Kuechly (Carolina Panthers). I took a closer look at the deals of Wagner, David and Kuechly because all three were signed in quick succession within a month of each other at the start of last season, and of course being the highest among the five contracts also represented benchmarks that Trevathan’s impending contract might seek to eclipse.

I’m using data mostly from Over the Cap, but also got some help from SpoTrac when I needed a bit more clarity on some of the contracts’ terms.

Comparing the Top Contracts of Free-Agent Linebackers

This time I wanted to pay close attention to three different metrics in comparing these contracts. The first is the annual per-year average:

Annual Per-Year Averages:

  1. Luke Kuechly – $12.36 million
  2. Bobby Wagner – $10.75 million
  3. Lavonte David – $10.05 million
  4. Donald Butler – $7.4 million
  5. Mychal Kendricks – $7.25 million

While it would be lovely to be able to get Trevathan at a deal more comparable to that of Butler and Kendricks, I think it’s probably a good bet that the market will push his contract into the realm of Wagner and David’s deals. It’s highly unlikely that Trevathan will come close to Kuechly’s deal.

The next area to look at is the payments in bonuses and salaries over the first three years of the contract. As I’ve explained before, the majority of free-agent deals tend to last just a few seasons because of the nature of backloading them. Thus it’s important for players to maximize how much money they get relatively early in the deal.

Total Payout in the First Three Years

  1. Luke Kuechly – $40.96 million
  2. Lavonte David – $21 million
  3. Bobby Wagner – $20.5 million
  4. Donald Butler – $19.8 million
  5. Mychal Kendricks – $15.5 million

As you can see, Kuechly’s deal is just on a completely different level thanks in large part to two-tiered bonuses that equal $25 million paid out in the first two years of his contract. Notably Butler’s deal is more in line with the deals of David and Wagner, suggesting that something north of $20 million is a very competitive figure for Trevathan.

Lastly, let’s talk about guaranteed money. Often guaranteed money is tricky and often reports are misleading because it depends wholly on language. Some payments are fully guaranteed while others are guaranteed only in the event that a player gets injured. Sometimes bonus money, even that which is unlikely to be paid out, is counted among guaranteed money. For the sake of this, I went with the most liberal interpretation of guaranteed money, which is all that is fully guaranteed, guaranteed for injury and also includes any bonus payments in the first four years of each contract.

Guaranteed Money

  1. Luke Kuechly – $34.36 million
  2. Lavonte David – $25.56 million
  3. Bobby Wagner – $23.48 million
  4. Donald Butler – $23.15 million
  5. Mychal Kendricks – $16.55 million

Again Kuechly outpaces the rest with David, Butler and Wagner giving us a relatively tight range that suggests Trevathan’s guarantees to could approach or exceed $25 million.

I also should note that the Falcons have typically utilized signing bonuses, per-game roster bonuses and base salaries to pay out their guaranteed money in recent long-term contracts to players like Paul Soliai and Julio Jones. When breaking down Trevathan’s contract, I will follow a similar approach. So let’s get to it!

Breaking Down Trevathan’s Possible Contract

Projected Terms: 5 years, $51 million with $26 million guaranteed.

When crafting this deal, I based it heavily off the four-year, $43 million extension that Bobby Wagner signed with the Seahawks in 2015. Why? Firstly, because Wagner’s deal included per-game roster bonuses that the Falcons have also often utilized. Secondly, since Trevathan’s role in Atlanta’s defense should be comparable to Wagner’s in Seattle, it made sense to borrow heavily from that deal.

This hypothetical Trevathan deal includes $15 million guaranteed at signing, which is made up of a $12 million signing bonus (Wagner’s deal included an $8 million signing bonus with an additional $4 million second-year option bonus) and $3 million in fully guaranteed base salaries due in 2016 and 2017.

The remaining portion of the guaranteed money is built on per-game roster bonuses totaling $4.5 million from 2016-20 and Trevathan’s 2018 base salary of $6.5 million being fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster to start the 2018 league year.

2016

Base Salary: $1 million (fully guaranteed at signing)
Prorated Signing Bonus: $2.4 million
53-man Active Roster Bonus: $31,250 (for annual total of $500,000)
Cap Hit: $3.9 million

2017

Base Salary: $2 million (fully guaranteed at signing)
Prorated Signing Bonus: $2.4 million
53-man Active Roster Bonus: $62,500 (for annual total of $1 million)
Cap Hit: $5.4 million

2018

Base Salary: $6.5 million (fully guaranteed if one roster on opening day of league year)
Prorated Signing Bonus: $2.4 million
53-man Active Roster Bonus: $62,500 (for annual total of $1 million)
Cap Hit: $9.9 million

2019

Base Salary: $12 million
Prorated Signing Bonus: $2.4 million
53-man Active Roster Bonus: $62,500 (for annual total of $1 million)
Cap Hit: $15.4 million

2020

Base Salary: $13 million
Prorated Signing Bonus: $2.4 million
53-man Active Roster Bonus: $62,500 (for annual total of $1 million)
Cap Hit: $16.4 million

Assuming Trevathan is on the roster for every game between now and 2018, his deal pays out $24 million over the first three years. That well exceeds that of Wagner’s deal.

When looking at the high, backloaded cap hits this deal has in 2019 and 2020, it essentially works out to be a three-year, $24 million contract. By 2019, when Trevathan is on the verge of turning 29, the Falcons will have to make a decision about his future.

They’ll have to make one of three choices: 1) cut him 2) restructure his deal or 3) give him a brand new one.

While on the surface, 29 years old seems fairly young, it should be noted that New England Patriots middle linebacker Jerod Mayo just retired a few weeks ago just shy of his 30th birthday. James Laurinaitis and Curtis Lofton are two players that just completed seasons at the age of 29. Laurinaitis was released last week by the Los Angeles Rams and Lofton is considered expendable by the Oakland Raiders. So 29 is a fairly advanced age for linebackers, where the Falcons might be staring at Trevathan being on the verge of a downward trend.

How Trevathan Figures into the Falcons Future Plans

Using the aforementioned deal as the basis for analysis, Trevathan could give the Falcons three strong seasons anchoring their linebacker corps.

Trevathan played this past year as an inside linebacker in Denver’s 3-4 scheme under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Prior to this year, he played both middle and weak-side linebacker when the Broncos utilized a 4-3 scheme.

He would probably play in the middle for the Falcons, but his versatility gives the team the flexibility to move him to the weak side if need be in Dan Quinn’s scheme.

Trevathan’s skill set centers mostly on his excellence in coverage, given his athleticism to match up one-on-one against top tight ends in man coverage. While he did get beat a couple of times, the fact that the Broncos weren’t afraid to put him on an island against Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in this past year’s AFC Championship Game speaks to his coverage prowess.

Despite missing most of 2014 with a fractured and dislocated knee cap, Trevathan was able to collect a combined five interceptions and 16 pass breakups in 2013 and 2015 when working as a starter. For the sake of comparison, current Falcons middle linebacker Paul Worrilow has a combined two interceptions and seven pass breakups over his past two years as a starter.

Yet Trevathan’s ability to defend the run shouldn’t be underestimated but it’s worth noting that Trevathan is should not be considered a downhill “thumper.” Despite this, he does add a significant element of speed to the Falcons defense that the team desires.

The Falcons would likely plug Trevathan in the middle for the next three years and hope he gives them the playmaking presence sorely needed at that spot. If that happens, the team could be expected to try and add a replacement for Justin Durant at weak-side linebacker early in this year’s draft.

If that was a player that could be plugged in immediately at weak-side linebacker but also possessed the potential to move to the middle down the road (e.g. Ohio State’s Darron Lee), it would give the Falcons an intriguing option to consider in 2019 when the team is forced to reassess Trevathan’s contract. Any rookie drafted this April will be entering his contract year when the 2019 season rolls around and potentially on the verge of his own long-term deal.

 

As noted above, the Falcons would have three potential options when addressing Trevathan’s contract situation, which will be based on his own durability and performance as well as that of any linebackers the Falcons add between now and then.

The bottom line is that signing Trevathan carries with it the expectation that the team will get a lot faster on defense and get much-needed improvement in coverage for the next three years, with the expectation to play it by ear by the time 2019 rolls around.

In the End, Will the Falcons Pursue Trevathan?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Danny Trevathan

The Falcons have close ties to Trevathan given that defensive coordinator Richard Smith was his position coach for three years in Denver. Smith’s first-hand experience working with Trevathan coupled with the fact that the Broncos linebacker hasn’t even celebrated his 26th birthday  yet makes him highly attractive to the Falcons.

But the Falcons won’t be the only team potentially pursuing Trevathan on the open market. He is likely to be on the Chicago Bears’ wishlist as well. Bears head coach John Fox served in the same capacity in Denver alongside Smith for Trevathan’s first three years in the NFL.

Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio once ran a San Francisco 49ers defense that utilized inside linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis in a similar capacity as the Broncos used Trevathan: on islands against quality tight ends in man coverage. The Bears have a massive need at inside linebacker and a player like Trevathan is perfect for potentially filling it.

It could make the Falcons and Bears potentially the two front-runners for the services of Trevathan this offseason, although they probably won’t be alone. Nearly every team could certainly make effective use of a player with Trevathan’s skills, so any teams with the necessary cap space could find themselves as potential suitors.

But if it does become a two-horse race between the Falcons and Bears to lure Trevathan to town, that suggests the Falcons have a 50-50 shot. On an open market where players often go to the highest bidder, a 50 percent chance is about as good a starting point as you’re going to find. So I would say the odds could certainly be in the Falcons’ favor.

About the Author

Aaron Freeman
Founder of FalcFans.com

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