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Patriots Stay Consistent, Ink McCourty to Big Deal

Patriots, McCourty understand guarantees are where it's at.

Check out some of our favorite photos of Patriots safety Devin McCourty from the 2014 Championship season.

Reports late Sunday night that highly-coveted free agent safety Devin McCourty will now return to New England hit on every note that sober observers of the Patriots have come to expect. When New England's own draft picks prove to be the best in the game, they retain them. And when they retain them, they do so at near top-of-market rates, but not market-setting rates. Mankins, Wilfork, Vollmer, Mayo, Gronkowski, Slater, etc have been the standard. McCourty is just another another in a line of big, smart deals done after long in-house evaluation. In the NFL, information is king - both on the field and in projecting performance matted to big financial commitments.

The "Patriots don't pay big money in free agency" myth exists only for low-comprehension observers. The reality is they usually don't pay big money for your free agents. Free agency is an exercise in speculation. There's good speculation, and bad speculation. The Patriots pay big when the unknowns are at a minimum - they don't when the projection into their own system is too much of a guess. That's all. These are the luxuries you have when you aren't trying to catch someone else.

History has shown that this team is willing to go after speculative players in free agency, just not the ones that cost top dollar. Wide receiver Brandon LaFell and cornerback Brandon Browner are two recent examples of this philosophy making good. Established players coming from vastly different systems have come in and done big things for the Patriots organization. But if they hadn't, there was no cap-killing financial marriage. Those kinds of nuptials where you absolutely can't be wrong are reserved for the people they know best.

GI Joe was a Patriot sage: Knowing is half the battle.

The thing that jumped off the page to me as details of McCourty's deal began to trickle out were the real things in any NFL contract: the guarantees. Players, agents, and news outlets are going to continue to play the splashy news headline game:

[Player X] Signs A [X] Year Deal Worth [X] Million Dollars

That's just the seed tossed on the ground at the petting zoo, gobbled up by the rabid goats. The good stuff for players - the real stuff - is the guarantees in the contract. Contingency-free money as a percentage of a deal's reported value should be the ONLY subject of NFL contract positional pissing contests. Devin McCourty's deal isn't top-of-market in headline grabbing total value or average value, and that doesn't really matter.

Let's face it, almost nobody in today's cap system plays out these top NFL contracts, so the total value is relatively meaningless and the averages are poisoned by those phony values. Below is a table showing the NFL's top safety rankings as far as total value and average. Almost everything in that table that will inevitably be paid and earned is bound to be wrong years from now. That's the reality of today's super-awesome player compensation system.



All figures courtesy of*

But what does matter, and should draw the attention of the most savvy players and agents, is the guarantees in any new or prospective deal. These are the moments when a player can use personal leverage to eradicate the shortcomings of the non-guaranteed contracts allowed for in the current NFL pay system. Basically, you shoot for contracts more like you'd get in other sports leagues, and less like those in this one.

Below is a table showing the top safety contracts in regards to guarantees, both in total guarantees and guarantees as a percentage of the contract's reported total value.



Contract figures via*

McCourty's new deal leads in the most-relevant category of guaranteed know, the money you're actually certain to be paid.

One important note, It's not just about signing bonuses in the measure of guarantees - it's about guarantees without offset language. What that language is in McCourty's deal, we don't yet know. But his deal could be a template for future top players to stop shooting for market-resetting values or averages, and shoot for market-resetting guarantees. Player values in a cap system have a definite future ceiling in a game with lots of people scrambling for pieces of the same pie. That's a fact of NFL life nobody can run from - no matter their 40 time.

Future of Top NFL Contracts is More Guarantees

Provided the game doesn't change demonstrably for the worse (looking at you, Roger Goodell), a safety, a defensive lineman, or a wide receiver isn't going to magically be worth more relative to his football peers later than he is now. What can provide increased future value in contracts is the amount money that is done in a guaranteed, non-NFL style.

What this means is that if the new ask becomes amount and percentages of guarantees, smart teams should be less likely to toss monster numbers out to players they don't know extremely well, or that are coming from a system or tree that's not similar to their own. Speculative money is usually dumb money. But speculative money that's guaranteed makes everybody sit up more straight and be certain.

The Patriots just provided the NFL market a reminder by retaining Devin McCourty in the manner that they did: pay for your own by topping the market in guarantees, not by artificially inflating a player's annual value to meet some mythical market pressure.

Those are winning moves.

How (or if) that applies to Darrelle Revis, we don't yet know... is a football analysis website providing unique player-writer generated content; owned & operated by experienced football players.

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