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Takeaways from Last Week – July 22

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Desmond Trufant

The Falcons will report to training camp on Wednesday, July 24 and practices begin on Thursday of this week. And with no positive news on Matt Ryan’s deal, focus now centers on the possibility of some rookie holdouts. That was a thing that should have been a thing of the past with the new Collective Bargain Agreement’s rookie wage scale.

Word broke Sunday morning of the potential risk of a holdout from Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant per Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. There is an impasse looming between Trufant and the Falcons over guaranteed money. And it all stems from previous deals negotiated at the 22nd overall spot where Trufant was selected by the Falcons.

In 2011, the 22nd overall pick was Indianapolis Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo.  The Colts refused to fully guarantee all of Castonzo’s four-year deal with the team, only the first three years. Castonzo eventually relented and reported to work on the second day of Colts training camp with $6.535 million in guaranteed money in his pocket.

However in 2012, the Cleveland Browns sweetened the pot for quarterback Brandon Weeden, also taken 22nd overall. They guaranteed the first three years of his deal, and about 60% of his base salary in the fourth year, giving him guaranteed money of $7.511 million.

That’s more guaranteed money than 2013′s 21st overall pick, tight end Tyler Eifert, got in his deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. Eifert received $7.49 million in guaranteed money, which represents all of his contract minus approximately a $765,000 roster bonus he’s due in the fourth year. Eifert’s guarantees differ little from those of defensive end Chandler Jones ($7.421 million), the previous year’s 21st overall pick.

Due to the flat increase of the salary cap, Trufant will receive the same signing bonus that both Weeden and Castonzo received ($4.318 million). If following suit from the Colts’ example by guaranteeing the first three years and signing bonus, Trufant should be due guarantees around $6.65 million this year.  That is based off the first three years and bonus of Weeden’s deal multiplied by roughly the same increase rate seen from Jones to Eifert’s deals (about 1%). More than likely the Falcons will have to relent and guarantee a portion of that fourth year money, but the question becomes how much. The fact that the Falcons moved up eight spots in this year’s draft to select Trufant, buoys his camp’s stance of maximizing the guarantee dollars.

The Falcons gave up third round (92nd overall) and sixth round (198th overall) picks to move up to get Trufant and got back a seventh round pick in 2015. Players taken with those picks were St. Louis Rams wide receiver Stedman Bailey and Houston Texans defensive tackle Chris Jones. Bailey received a $527,400 signing bonus from the Rams, while Jones got $92,512 from the Texans. Combined that would be $619,912, suggesting that it would make sense for the Falcons to guarantee a comparable amount of his fourth-year salary seeing that they were willing to give up that amount via trade. Adding that to his $6.65 million, that would give Trufant a guaranteed payout of around $7.271 million. Whether the actual terms of the deal signed by Trufant are that remains to be seen, but it’s a fair compromise in my eyes. Hopefully it results in Trufant not missing a single snap of practice.

While the possibility of a holdout would hurt Trufant’s chances to win the starting right cornerback position, I don’t think any potential holdout will be long. Trufant displayed his eagerness and commitment to the team this spring during OTAs when he was Skyping with Tim Lewis while away due to league rules. My suspicion is that he’ll push for agent, Doug Hendrickson of Octagon Sports, to get him in camp on time, no matter what. But even if he does miss a few practices, I would be shocked if it was more than a day or two’s worth, and thus I don’t think would be a significant setback to his chances of winning the starting job by camp’s end.

Another Falcons draft pick, quarterback Sean Renfree, is also unsigned and it would be shocking that he missed any camp due to the fact that he’s a seventh round pick. Holdouts from players that are not first round picks or players that suffered life-threatening injuries after being drafted are unheard of.

Renfree is a quarterback, and the guess is his representatives (Lock Metz Milanovic) are likely trying to finagle the similar positional boost that Weeden got. Renfree was taken at the exact same spot the Falcons took defensive tackle Travian Robertson last year. He’ll receive the same exact signing bonus that Robertson received last year: $45,896. Perhaps they are trying to get something extra in his deal. It’s unlikely to be guaranteed dollars, since teams don’t guarantee money outside the signing bonus of players taken after the third round.

This is only a guess, but it could have to do with some incentives or escalators on the back-end of the deal that could pay Renfree money comparable with other backup quarterbacks. The average salary for a quarterback in 2012 was $3.84 million. By the time Renfree’s fourth-year rolls around in 2016 that number should be substantially higher. Renfree’s base salary comes in that year at just $675,000 so one can understand the desire to be paid commiserate with his position.

Although the Falcons probably don’t really have reason to budge on that. There is a built-in way of Renfree to get more compensation if he happens to get extended reps, it’s called the Proven Performance Escalator, which basically pays him the same amount in his fourth season as an original tendered restricted free agent would make (that is $1.323 million this year). It comes in the fourth year of a deal if a player participates in 35% of a team’s offensive/defensive plays over the first three years. But that’s obviously a problem for Renfree, who is potentially playing behind one of the more durable starting quarterbacks in the league in Matt Ryan (*knocking on wood*). To earn such an escalator, Renfree would need to start (or play the equivalent) of 5.6 games (i.e. 35% of 16 games) in at least two of the next three seasons, or the cumulative amount of 16.8 games over the next three years (i.e. 35% of 48 games). Given that Matt Ryan has missed the equivalent of roughly 4.5 games (or 304 snaps per Pro Football Focus) over the past five years, it doesn’t seem likely that Renfree would achieve such a benchmark (again *knocking on wood*). So he would have to try and negotiate it in, although unlike Trufant I don’t think the Falcons have any reason to cave.

In truth, I don’t have a clue why Renfree hasn’t signed a deal yet and I’m just grabbing at straws. Looking at other seventh round quarterbacks taken this year or last, they didn’t get any positional boost. Perhaps the Falcons are waiting for the Trufant talks to get done (or at least closer), with the promise that any leftover savings could be thrown into Renfree’s deal to sweeten it. Lock Metz Milanovic’s lone other drafted client, San Francisco 49ers third round pick Corey Lemonier signed more than a month ago. I can’t imagine Renfree’s shoulder injury was so severe that it’s causing the Falcons to try and protect themselves financially. If that was the case, the Falcons wouldn’t have cleared him medically to merit drafting him in the first place.

But I doubt a holdout is coming from Renfree, and at some point in the next 72 hours between this posting and the start of training camp practices, I suspect the Falcons will officially announce he’s inked a deal. And no more than 96 hours from this posting, I think we’ll see the same with Trufant.

***

The first NFL training camps kicked off Sunday with the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins holding their first full practices. I’d be remiss to not mention the fact that ex-Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes suited up fully for the Dolphins to kick things off. So for all those that thought the Grimes’ departure was justified due to the unlikelihood that he’d be healthy this season were wrong. Now obviously, Grimes needs to make it through camp and most of the regular season healthy, but it certainly shows that injuries once thought devastating and career-threatening like an Achilles tear are a thing of the past (Laker fans rejoice!).

So either players are cheating or medicine has improved drastically in a relatively short time span. Just think back to Giants running back Andre Brown, who tore his Achilles in his first training camp in August 2009. While Brown would return to the field for action the next summer with the Giants, he wound up being cut at the end of camp. And then proceeded to become a journeyman with brief stints with four separate teams before rejoining the Giants in 2011 and spending that season on their practice squad. He wouldn’t become a blip back on NFL radars until last September with a 113-yard effort against the Carolina Panthers. Basically three years of obscurity was Brown’s reward for his ruptured Achilles.

Not the case with players like cornerback Leon Hall who came back in 9 months from an Achilles tear suffered in 2011, and linebacker DeMeco Ryans in ten months the previous year. And there was little to no dropoff as each player had higher grades per Pro Football Focus in the post-injury seasons. Although that has more to do with fact that PFF gives out cumulative grades, and thus players who have shortened seasons have less opportunity to accumulate higher grades. But the point remains that neither player fell into obscurity for one year, let alone three.

Along with Grimes, prominent players such as San Francisco 49ers running back Kendall Hunter and Washington Redskins tight end Fred Davis hope to make similar recoveries this year. So my advice to Cowboys defensive end Tyrone Crawford, who is the first casualty of the summer, keep your head up, you can return better, faster, stronger.

***

Interesting that per Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Packers opted not to deal a seventh round pick for running back Steven Jackson last year due to the Packers balking at Jackson’s then hefty $10.8 million cap hit. It makes me wonder if the Falcons had a similar offer on the table, but ultimately balked. That cost alone would have been prohibitive, but it certainly could have made a difference for both teams.

I recall being seated in the stands prior to the NFC Championship Game, and telling a friend that had the Falcons made a trade deadline move to get Steven Jackson, it could have made a huge difference for the team down the stretch. And now six months later, my opinion is unchanged.

Had the Falcons extended Matt Ryan last off-season as well as renegotiated Michael Turner’s deal down to a much more palatable $4 million (roughly half of what he was set to make) last off-season, it could have netted the team enough savings to pull the trigger on that trade. That coupled with the fact that there is carryover for salary cap savings from one year to the next, illustrates why it behooves teams to cut as much as salary as possible when given the opportunity. Who knows, perhaps this year players like Brandon Graham and Trent Cole become available in October. Thus if/when the Ryan deal is done, it makes absolutely sense for them to save as much money as possible against this year’s cap.

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Author: Aaron Freeman

Aaron is the founder of FalcFans.com.

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