Should Trent Cole hold out? Starting with an original post at McNabb or Kolb, and continuing in the comments section of Derek’s post from a couple of days ago, there seems to be a lot of interest in what the future of the Eagles star defensive end will be. Starting with this post, I’m planning an occasional series of posts on other players, I will look at individual players’ contract situations and what we can reasonably expect the future to hold.
What is Trent Cole’s current deal?
In Cole’s second year in the league, he was given an extension through the 2013 season. Since his rookie deal ran through 2008, there were five new years agreed to as part of that deal.
His base salaries from his rookie deal were left more or less untouched. The only new monies from the deal were a) base salaries from 2009-2013; b) a pair of $6 million bonuses, one paid in 2006 and the other paid in 2007, both of which were ultimately treated as signing bonuses; and c) some relatively small workout bonuses ranging from $100K to $175K per season. Thus, at a baseline, the deal included $13.8 million in base salaries, $12 million in signing bonuses, and $650K in workout bonuses.
In addition, Cole can earn salary escalators in his contract ranging from $500K to $2 million per year. In total, these performance-based escalators can pay him an extra $5 million. Note that he has actually earned the escalators for the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
The easiest way to think about the deal is that it pays him between $5.3 million and $6.3 million per year for the five new years on the deal, with $2.4 million per year of that guaranteed.
Is Cole underpaid?
He certainly is highly-paid as it is. But to know if he is underpaid, we need to look at some comparable deals.
Cole is currently 27 years old. First, let’s look at some information put up by JI Halsell at Football Outsiders from last fall. Focusing only on the new money portion of that chart, let’s look at how Cole stacks up against the 4-3 DEs / 3-4 OLBs on that list (the 2nd through 6th ranked guys). I threw on three Eagles DE comparables signed between 2006 and 2008 as well. I have also put on sacks in the three years prior to the contract signing, and career pro bowl appearances as of the signing. These are not, of course, the best possible metrics for evaluating defensive end play, and I don’t intend to start a discussion of how good Cole is. My point here is to show whether Cole has any right to be considered with those guys (click for larger size):
As of the date of the signing, I’m not sure Cole is as good as Ware has been. But is he as good as Freeney or Allen at the time they signed their deals? I could see that argument being made. At a minimum, it is not unreasonable to put him in Suggs’s or Smith’s league.
So if I am Trent Cole, I figure that I should be getting $10-12 million per year. Not because of what I have done, necessarily, but that the range is what a team would value my expected contribution to be over the next 6 years.
But Cole signed his deal of his own free will. Why would/should he ask for a new one?
Ah, now here’s where it gets difficult. Sure, Cole is underpaid. Absolutely. But so what? He signed a deal early, a deal that both he and the Eagles were happy with at the time of the signing. He took sure money over the risk of injury and the risk that he wasn’t this good and likely regrets that today. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Right?
Yes, that’s a nice theory. But the reality is that players get their deals renegotiated all the time. It isn’t always good for their image with the public, but so what? Brian Westbrook got a straight up raise. So did Donovan McNabb. There is precedent. So the question isn’t whether Cole has a right to ask for more, the question is whether he has enough leverage to get the Eagles to reset his deal. The worst that can happen is they say no.*
So what should Cole do to get a new deal? Should he hold out?
Here is the real question worth debating. What should Trent Cole do?
The first thing he should do is have his agent start letting the Eagles know he wants to redo his deal. Quietly. See what the response is. If he isn’t getting the action he wants, the next thing to do is to take the campaign public. Leak it to the media, let some intrepid reporter start making noises.
That’s all fine, and may have happened, or be in process. But the first real noticeable action is to hold out. Not out of training camp. Out of OTAs. Why OTAs? Because they aren’t mandatory. There are no penalties for missing OTAs, especially for a veteran like Cole who doesn’t really even get much out of them. Send the message.
Cole didn’t do that though. Which makes the question of holding out of training camp a strange one. Training camp holdouts are subject to penalty, most significantly 25% of the proration from his signing bonus. Remember: the Eagles ultimately paid $12 million in signing bonuses because the 2007 portion was converted to signing bonus prior to it being paid. That means that Cole would be subject to having to repay $500K if he violates section 9(a) of article XIV of the CBA:
No forfeitures of signing bonuses shall be permitted, except that players and Clubs may agree … that if a player willfully takes action that has the effect of substantially undermining his ability to fully participate and contribute in either pre-season training camp or the regular season (including by willfully withholding his services in either pre-season training camp or during the regular season or willfully missing one or more games), the player may forfeit the greater of: (a) 25% of the prorated portion of his signing bonus for the applicable League Year for the first time such conduct occurs after the beginning of training camp until the end of the season for his Club, and the remaining 75% prorated portion of his signing bonus for the applicable year for the second time such conduct occurs during that period that year; or (b) the proportionate amount of his signing bonus allocation for each week missed (1/17th for each regular season week or game missed).
Assuming Cole has such a clause in his contract – and it is my understanding that most if not all contracts signed since 2006 have such a clause – that’s a steep price to pay. Would the Eagles pursue a claim? Probably not – Cole is too valuable to alienate like that. But why open the door in a year where owners are looking for reasons to attack?
One way to think about the costs and benefits of holding out is to consider that Cole could add $5 million for 2010 (upping his deal average from $5.3m to $10.3m) with a cost of $0.5m. Thus, if he has just a 10% probability of the holdout resulting in a raise, he should be neutral on whether to use this strategy.
However, that is a massively simplified way of looking at it. In fact, the Eagles could become less willing to give him a raise at all. The cost of holding out could be much greater due to alienating the negotiating partner, especially since Cole is contracted to the team through the 2013 season. And I would say that holding out would lower the chances of the Eagles cutting a deal to approximately 0%.
So if I were Trent Cole, I would absolutely not hold out of training camp. OTAs, yes. Training camp … I’m not sure I see the upside, given that the Eagles usually don’t respond well to being pressured. In fact, they do seem prone to cutting off their nose to spite their face in such instances.
Should the Eagles renegotiate Cole’s deal?
One of my favorite questions. I think that the biggest hazard of the team’s long term deal strategy is that by year 5 or 6 of the deal, players become unhappy with it. While the Eagles measure time in terms of the extension years – so this is only year 2 of this contract from the Eagles’ point of view – this is the 5th season that Cole will play under the renegotiation. It seems to him like a long time ago that this deal was agreed to. And it was.
Further, when a player so drastically exceeds expectations, as Cole has done and as Westbrook has done before him, it is probably good for the organization to reward such a performance. It creates incentives for everyone.
The problem is drawing the line. In a situation like Sheldon Brown’s, where he had certainly outperformed his deal but where the remainder of it was in line with his actual market value – he didn’t actually get much more money from the Browns in the end – it is a tough call.
Similarly, you have to be careful about the “rules” for qualifying for a raise like that. The Eagles have claimed that they won’t consider giving a player a raise until the third year of the extension period kicks in. They also look at how long the existing deal has left.
The magic number appears to be 3 years in and/or 3 years left. For Cole, that’s 2011. So if the 3-and-3 rule is correct, then the Eagles should say, yes, we will discuss this, but not until next year. Sorry.
That said, this year presents a unique opportunity. Obviously, the lack of a cap allows deals to be somewhat front-loaded, creating spending room in future capped years. Given how expensive a fairly-priced Trent Cole would be, that front-loading could be quite helpful if the team is going to give him a raise eventually. So if the team is willing to make an exception, this is a key year to do so.
If it were me, I think I’d extend Trent sometime before the season starts. But I think the Eagles should certainly put him near the top of their to-do list for 2011. Along with Kevin Kolb, Stewart Bradley, DeSean Jackson, Brod Bunkley … the list for next year is certainly getting long and expensive, isn’t it?
* Well, ok, let’s acknowledge the players’ complaint, which is that the worst that can happen is the Eagles organization marginalizes him and hurts his value out of spite. I am sure that is what Lito Sheppard and Mike Lewis would claim. Is that realistic? Not in this case, and for those two guys, even then it is a tough argument. But it is one that probably has traction in the locker room, so let’s just all note it and agree to move on.