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Building a contract for a WR/TE/RB/FB/Special Teamer who is also your next starting QB

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How to build a contract for Taysom Hill’s unique role

NFL: DEC 08 49ers at Saints Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Taysom Hill has served an important and unique role in New Orleans over the last few seasons. He began working with the special teams coverage units toward the end of the 2017 season when special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff saw something from Hill in practice. He ignited the media’s coverage of special teams as a third-string QB making stops on punt and kick returns and even blocking punts as well. His role then expanded into a jack-of-all-trade roles beginning in 2018 where he was given a small share of the QB snaps and started lining up all around the Saints offense. That role grew even more in 2019 where he became a legitimate weapon where he caught 6 touchdowns passes and ran for an additional touchdown as well. He also added another touchdown reception in the playoffs.

All of that without mentioning that he has also thrown 13 regular season passes as well. Six of which have completed for 119 yards and an interception. In face, we should just have a look at all of the places Hill has lined up since joining the Saints in 2017.

With an array of production all over the offensive formation and special teams, in 2020 Taysom looks to be set as the heir apparent in New Orleans at the quarterback position. The Saints are planning to place a first-round tender on him as a restricted free agent later this week. They will reportedly use that as a buffer as they try to work out a long-term deal to keep Hill in New Orleans for years to come.

But what does a long-term deal look like for a guy that has played snaps all over the offense and special teams that is in line to be the next starting QB? While it is an unprecedented and unfamiliar situation, there is no front office in the NFL better equipped to hand this negotiation than that on Airline Dr.

What we know is that Drew Brees is back this season for his 20th in the NFL. The Saints hope to have both Brees and Hill’s contracts worked out before Thursday, March 18th. This will prevent any of the other 31 NFL clubs from making formal offers to either QB. Not that Drew Brees is listening anyway. More to the point, it keeps other teams from having the chance to put an offer in for Taysom Hill. Which, granted, may not happen with the cost for another team to sign him away being a first-round pick. But for the Saints it is more about being able to dictate the terms of agreement on their own. If another team does happen to make an offer, the Saints are forced to match or exceed that contract to keep Hill, which could throw off the work they have already put in through negotiations.

The Saints will likely finish up Brees’ contract first as he is the biggest domino to fall. It would make sense that they would then turn their attention to Hill (and likely Vonn Bell as well). So how do you build a contract for a guy that will serve this year int he Saints’ “Joker” role all around the offense and possibly transition into starting quarterback as early as next year? I have two ideas.

Escalating Base Salary

My first idea takes from contract terms we saw the Saints utilize last year in signing Nick Easton. Here is his contract breakdown:

Nick Easton Basic Contract Details

Contract Year Base Salary Signing Bonus Dead Cap
Contract Year Base Salary Signing Bonus Dead Cap
2019 $2 Million $500K $4 Million
2020 $4.5 Million $500K $1.5 Million
2021 $5.5 Million $500K $1 Million
2022 $7 Million $500K $500K

Nick Easton’s contract is a 4-year $22.5 million deal. There are the base salary amounts you see above, a $2 million signing bonus and some roster bonuses that really put his contract around $22,343,750. For the sake of this conversation though and easing the digit a bit, we will stick with $22.5 million. Now, while a 4-year deal at that amount does average out $5.625 million, you will notice that the contract’s base salary actually changes each season. That is because while contracts are given an “average per year” (or APY) snapshot for negotiation purposes, they rarely in fact pay out evenly year-to-year.

You will also notice the decrease in dead cap had a big drop-off after the first year. That is because only $4 million of this contract was guaranteed and the Saints paid it all at signing with $2 million base salary in 2019 and a $2 million dollar signing bonus on top that was paid out immediately, but spreads out over the four-year deal. Hence the increments of $500K each season paying out for signing bonuses correlating with the decrease in dead cap.

Now for the fun part, how would a contract like this work with Taysom Hill? You build the escalating base salary to reflect his responsibility with the team. In 2019, he will be your backup QB and like still serve in that Joker role. So pay him accordingly. Last year, Teddy Bridgewater was the league’s highest-paid back-up QB at $7.25 million guaranteed. Thus:

Taysom Hill’s 2020
$7 million base salary
$2 million signing bonus
Total 2020 payout: $9 million
Saints cap hit: $7.5 million

This way, you can be on the hook for Taysom Hill no more than you were with Teddy last season despite paying out $9 million to Taysom for both his roles as backup QB and offensive weapon. This works out because the $2 million signing bonus paid to Hill upon signing is broken out over this fictitious four-year deal

The big cap hit comes in 2021, where you expect that Drew Brees will have hung up his cleats and want to show Taysom your plan for him to assume the QB role once that happens.

Taysom Hill’s 2021
$10 million base salary
Total 2021 payout: $10 million
Saints cap hit: $10.5 million (because signing bonus)

Yes, this puts Taysom at a low-end salary level for starting QBs. But hey, remember, he has only thrown 13 regular season passes. He is still unproven. This protects the Saints in case Taysom does not pan out, or gets hurt in the midst of taking a much larger share of snaps than accustomed. Perhaps more importantly, hopefully out of the weight of Brees’ dead cap (or at least a chunk of it) this also allows Jeff Ireland, Mickey Loomis, and Sean Payton to put more weapons around the newly minted starter. Then, if he pans out, it is a bargain. But don not worry, Taysom is taken care of moving forward where he enter (today’s) mid-tier QB pay. Here is the deal in total.

Proposed Taysom Contract (Escalating)

Contract Year Base Salary Signing Bonus Dead Cap
Contract Year Base Salary Signing Bonus Dead Cap
2020 $7 Million $500K $19 Million
2021 $10 Million $500K $11.5 Million
2022 $15 Million $500K $1 Million
2023 $15 Million $500K $500K

A four-year, $49 million contract with the first two years guaranteed along with the $2 million signing bonus. This leaves wiggle room to increase signing bonus and decrease base salaries and guarantee more money to sweeten the pot. Once the 2022 and 2023 seasons roll around, Hill is making mid-tier Jacoby Brissett-type money, the salary cap is raising, and QBs are likely getting paid more. Taysom can also then begin to look for extensions with New Orleans if the market dramatically increases and he proves he has earned more money. Now for a quick look at another option.

Incentive-Based

No need to put together fancy tables for this one. It is as simple as it sounds. Decide on a base salary this and next year that escalates to a mid-tier Qb contract level in years 2022 and 2023. Instead of using the escalating base for the 2021 season to hit a happy medium in regards to whatever Brees’ decision is, use the same type of incentive that was in place for Bridgewater’s contract in 2019. Offer Taysom an additional sum of money (say $7 million on top of an $8 million base salary) if he starts more than eight games.

That way, if Brees does return, it is unlikely that Taysom sees that many starts and the Saints save some moola. If Brees does not return for a 21st season, Taysom is in the building, starts more than 8 games, gets paid, and the Saints are set and able to pay their guy sooner than anticipated.

Worst-case scenario here is that you pay Brees who decides to come back, he misses time, and Hill hits his incentive. Now you have to pay both. But that is the risk you take with such a contract structure.

Which option do your prefer? Other ideas? Drop them in the comments. I am confident that the Saints front office will come up with something way better than either of these ideas. But it is always fun to look at the possibilities as we understand them.

We will see what Mikey Loomis and cap-God Khai Hartley cook up, and hopefully soon. Seems reasonable to me that the near-$5 million tender will be placed this week and a contract hopefully landing between Thursday the 12th and Thursday the 18th. That is the sweet spot between the CBA vote and the opening of free agency. During that week, the Saints will know the terms under which their contracts will be governed and will have time before their self-imposed deadline to get the deal done.