What impact will the Jamie Collins signing have on the Patriots extending Dont’a Hightower?

Miguel Benzan
January 24, 2017 at 10:42 pm ET

On January 23, 2017 the NFL.Com’s Ian Rapoport tweeted that “The contract extension for #Browns LB Jamie Collins: 4 years, $50M, source said. $26M in guarantees. Large.” It was later reported that Jamie Collins, the former New England Patriots linebacker, received $26.55 million in guarantees.

This blog will attempt to look at any possible impact on the contract negotiations between Dont’a Hightower and the New England Patriots.

BackGround:
Non-Pass Rush Linebacker Deals Ranked by Paper APY
1.) James Collins – $12,500,000
2.) Luke Kuechly – $10,708,366
3.) Navorro Bowman – $9,650,000
4.) Bobby Wagner – $8,795,485
5.) Lawrence Timmons – $8,333,333
6.) Brian Cushing – $7,949,000

Non-Pass Rush Linebacker Deals Ranked by New Money APY
1.) Jamie Collins – $12,500,000
2.) Luke Kuechly – $12,359,059 (not a coincidence that 59 is repeated. 59 is his uniform number)
3.) Navorro Bowman – $11,000,000
4.) Bobby Wagner – $10,750,000
5.) Lawrence Timmons – $9,559,150
6.) Brian Cushing – $8,750,000

As of January 23rd, Jamie Collins using the New Money APY metric is now the 4th highest linebacker in the NFL behind Von Miller ($19,083,833), Justin Houston ($17 million) and Clay Matthews ($13.2 million). Collins is now tied for the 19th highest paid defender using the New Money APY metric. Jamie Collins is now the highest paid non-pass rush linebacker in the NFL. Von Miller and Justin Houston are the only linebackers scheduled to receive more cash in the first four years of their deals than Collins.

Dont’a Hightower was drafted in the first round pick in 2012 by the Patriots. Hightower has played in 67 of 80 regular season games and 11 of 11 playoff games. The one interception of Hightower’s career occurred during the Colts game in the 2013 playoffs. Hightower has 13 defended passes, has forced two fumbles, recovered 3 fumbles, has 17 sacks and has averaged over 80 total tackles a season. Hightower is one of the four captains for the Patriots this season. Hightower is considered one of the team’s leaders. Hightower is highly regarding for his run-stuffing ability and for his ability to pass-rush when called upon. To say that Hightower is tough is an understatement. A constant presence on the injury report Dont’a Hightower has played through injuries during the regular season and has never missed playing in a playoff game. Made a game-saving tackle at the end of Super Bowl XLIX with a bad shoulder.

Dont’a Hightower is 26 years old and he will turn 27 on March 12, days after NFL free agency begins in 2017. 2016 was the option year of his rookie deal. His 2016 cap number was $7,755,875 which consisted of his $7,751,000 fully guaranteed salary and $4,875 in offseason workout bonus money.

Here are Hightower’s snap counts
2016 – 68%
2015 – 54%
2014 – 77%
2013 – 75%
2012 – 52%

Hopefully, that is enough background. Let’s look at why the Collins deal is good for the Patriots in their bid to extend Hightower.

Jamie Collins’ deal while now being the highest non-pass rush linebacker is relatively easy to top while not also overpaying Hightower. If Collins had gotten paid as a top pass-rush linebacker (17M to 19M) or as a hybrid linebacker (splitting the difference between pass-rush and non-pass rush) at around 15M to 16M surpassing that would mean paying Hightower as an elite pass-rushing linebacker which he is not. With Collins’ deal having a value of $12.5M APY a Hightower deal in the $11 to $14 million per year average range is both fair for both sides and would recognize

1.) that Hightower is one of the league’s best inside linebackers
2.) that he is closer to free agency than Wagner, Collins and Kuechly were when they signed their extensions
3.) that the cap has shown a pattern of increasing by 8% a year
4.) that the Patriots traded away Collins and not him.

Let’s take ourselves into the negotiations between Hightower’s agent and the Patriots.

Let’s venture a guess that this is the Patriots’ initial offer.
The first mirrors the Vollmer 2013 structure in that it will make Hightower as highest paid inside linebacker if he remains healthy to earn all of his incentives.  The incentives are:

1.) $250,000 Pro Bowl incentive. This would be considered LTBE (Likely to Be Earned) for the 2017 season since Hightower was an original ballot Pro Bowler in 2016.
2.) a 1 million  roster bonus payable on the 3rd day of the League year that is earned by playing 80 percent of snaps the prior year
3.) Playing-time incentives $500,000 at 70%; $1,000,000 at 75%; $1,250,000 at 80%; $1,750,000 at 85%. These incentives would be considered NLTBE (Not Likely to Be Earned) since Hightower did not play in 70% of the snaps in 2016.

* $18 million signing bonus which would be prorated over 5 years (2017/2018/2019/2020/2021)
* $1,000,000 46-man active roster bonus ($62,500 per game) to help protect the Patriots in case of injury

Dont'a 11M APY Deal

These would be the cap hits if Dont’a earned all of his incentives

Dont'a 14M APY after incentives deal

Would expect Hightower’s camp to counter with an offer whose only incentives are his 46-man active roster bonuses.

Dont'a 14M APY Deal

* 20 million signing bonus which would be prorated over 4 years (2017/2018/2019/2020)

* $600,000 46-man active roster bonus ($62,500 per game) to help protect the Patriots in case of injury

Expect the two sides to eventually come to a middle ground that has features from both sides. 5-year deal for the Patriots. Strong guarantees for Hightower. Offseason Workout Bonus for the Patriots. Bragging Rights for Hightower.

Dont'a 13M APY Deal

I polled my Twitter followers asking them “What will happen with Dont’a Hightower? If League Cap =168M LB franchise tag = 14.754M”
25% of them project Hightower to play the 2017 season under the franchise tag.
6% of them project Hightower to leave the Patriots during free agency.
42% of them project Hightower to sign a deal that is greater than Jamie Collins’.
27 of them project Hightower to sign a deal that is less than Collins’.

Q: Would the Patriots make Hightower one of the highest paid inside linebackers?
A: The Patriots made Mayo one of the highest paid inside linebackers (9.75M APY) late in 2011. The 2012 cap was just over $120 million. It is very likely that since it has been projected to be between 166M and 170M that the 2017 cap will be at least a third greater than the 2012 cap.

Q: What was the 2016 franchise tag for linebackers?
A: 14.129 million

Q: What is your estimate for the 2017 franchise tag for linebackers?
A: Close to 15 million if the League Cap is 170 million.

Q: When is the deadline to franchise tag Hightower?
A: 4PM, March 1

Q: If tagged, when is the deadline to reach a long-term with Hightower?
A: 4PM, July 15

Q: Why tag Hightower if the Patriots plan to reach a long-term deal?
A: It gives both sides more time to come to an agreement without giving another team the opportunity to sign Hightower.

Q: Is it possible that Hightower will become unhappy if the Patriots tag him?
A: Yes but a team should not negotiate out of fear. The franchise tag is a negotiating tool and teams have every right to use it. The Patriots have seen both Wilfork and Mankins verbally show their displeasure with the Patriots regarding their contracts and both later signed lucrative extensions with the Patriots. Great deal of money tends to dissipate any existing ill-well.

Q: What has happened with previously tagged Patriots during the BB era?
A: 2002 – Adam. Signed an multi-year extension
2003 – Tebucky Jones. Traded in April to the Saints for 3 draft picks.
2005 – Adam. Played the season under the tag. Left in 2006 for the Colts.
2007 – Asante Samuel. Played the season under the tag. Left in 2008 for the Eagles.
2009 – Matt Cassel. Traded with Mike Vrabel a day after free agency began to the Chiefs
2010 – Wilfork – Signed an extension a couple of weeks after being tagged
2011 – Mankins – Signed an extension in August.
2012 – Welker. Played the season under the tag. Left in 2013 for the Broncos.
2015 – Gostkowski – Signed tender in March. Reached an extension in July.

Q: What is the new money APY metric?
A: It divides the new money received by a player by the number of new years in contract. Examples = Collins is scheduled to receive $50 million over 4 years. 50/4 = 12.5 Chung signed an one-year extension in 2016. It gave him $5.7 million in new money over the 3 years (2016/2017/2018) of the new deal. Chung’s new money APY is $5.7 million.

Q: What is the paper money APY metric?
A: It divides the money received by a player by the number of years in contract. Examples = Collins is scheduled to receive $50 million over 4 years. 50/4 = 12.5M new money. Chung signed an one-year extension in 2016. It is scheduled to give him $9.9 million in money over the 3 years (2016/2017/2018) of the new deal. Chung’s paper money APY is $3.3 million. Paper money will equal New Money when the player is signing an brand new deal. The New Money APY metric is the one used to compare deals.

Q: What were the details of the Jamie Collins trade?
A: In October the Patriots traded Jamie Collins, a 2013 second round pick, to the Cleveland Browns, for a conditional 2018 fourth-round pick. The condition is that if the Browns are awarded a 2017 3rd round compensatory pick that pick will be traded to the Patriots and if the Browns are not awarded a 2017 3rd round compensatory pick the Browns will trade their assigned 2018 4th round pick to the Patriots in exchange for Collins. Nick Korte, the compensatory pick guru, projects that the Browns will get a 3rd round compensatory pick (103rd overall) for Alex Mack.

Q: What 2017 draft picks do the Patriots now have?
A:
1 Assigned
2 Assigned
3 Assigned
3 If the Browns are awarded a 3rd round compensatory pick in 2017, they will trade it to the Patriots as part of the Jamie Collins trade.
4 Patriots assigned pick. Pats will lose the 4th round pick traded to them by the Seattle Seahawks in 2016 as part of the ________ Deflategate punishment.
5 Traded to the Cleveland Browns for Mingo
5 Denver as part of the A.J. Derby trade
5 Compensatory Pick for Akeem Hicks
6 Traded to the Lions for Kyle Van Noy
7 Assigned
7 Lions as part of the Kyle Van Noy trade

Q: What Patriots linebackers are signed for the future?
A: McClellin through 2018
Ninkovich through 2017
Freeny through 2018
Van Noy through 2017
Roberts through 2019

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