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NFL Draft

Breaking Down Marshon Lattimore’s New & Next Contract

  • The Draft Network
  • June 23, 2021
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Remember when the COVID-19 salary cap ceiling in 2021 was first set, and the New Orleans Saints were like, $80M over the cap? Good times.

Nobody believed the Saints couldn’t get out of it—the Saints have been getting out of tight cap spots for as long as Drew Brees has been throwing accurate slant patterns. But they had to do more wiggling than ever. Just to get their draft class signed, New Orleans had to restructure Marshon Lattimore before his rookie contract even expired.

Let’s start by just understanding the restructure. Lattimore was on his fifth-year option, which was with $10.2M in base salary. The Saints converted as much of that to bonus money as possible: $9.254M, to be exact. That leaves Lattimore with $990K in base salary for this season, which is the minimum base salary for a player in his fifth year, as set by the new CBA. The $9.254M that becomes bonus money is now prorated across five seasons—this season, which is the last year of Lattimore’s deal, and 2022-2025, which are automatically voided years that exist exclusively to prorate the money through the maximum five-year window.

So this year, Lattimore hits the cap for only $2.84M: the $990K of base salary plus 1/5th of the bonus money: $1.851M ($9.254M divided by five). That cap relief gave the cap-strapped Saints the space needed to sign their rookie class. That’s good news for the Saints, and doesn’t really affect Lattimore’s eventual earnings—he’s making the same amount of money, just getting it earlier. Everyone wins. Nice, simple, easy restructure.

Well, not really.

ESPN Insider Field Yates shared these notes on the Lattimore restructure.

$30M base salaries in void years? What in tarnation?!

There’s a lot going on there. Let’s chunk it up.

The void years that were added to Lattimore’s restructure to prorate the bonus money over five years? They are not real. They will automatically void—hence the name—at the end of the 2021 season. All of the prorated bonus money will accelerate back onto the cap for 2022, which totals $7.403M ($9.254M minus the $1.851M already paid). The salary figures listed for those void years will never be paid.

However, the salary figures for those years still technically exist—and per the 2021 CBA, a player who has already restructured his contract cannot sign a second restructure within a calendar year that includes a salary increase. So whatever base salary is listed on the void years (2022 - 2025) cannot be increased, in the event that the Saints try to restructure Lattimore’s contract again between now and next June.

Why would the Saints restructure with Lattimore again? Well, if they extend him before he hits free agency in March, they’re technically restructuring his deal. Remember, if Lattimore’s contract expires in mid-March (when the 2021 league year ends and 2022 league year begins), then the prorated bonus money accelerates onto the 2022 cap. If Lattimore is extended by the Saints before that contract expires, before he hits free agency, then they will sign him to a deal that extends into those void years, thereby keeping that prorated bonus money on those years and preventing it from accelerating onto 2022. The Saints are incentivized to extend Lattimore to keep that bonus money prorated. This is one of the reasons why void year restructures, while certainly helping teams, also help players.

The Saints don’t need an incentive to extend Lattimore—he’s a great player for them and they want to keep him around. They’ll likely make him one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the league, rivaling the five-year, $105M contract Jalen Ramsey signed with the Los Angeles Rams last year.

And there’s the rub. Because the Saints anticipate signing Lattimore to a big deal, they need to ensure they can give him big base salaries in the upcoming seasons. If they didn’t give him huge figures in his base salaries on the void years in this restructure, they wouldn’t be able to give him big salaries in the upcoming extension talks. So… $30M base salaries in the voidable years. As Yates notes, the Saints have done this with a couple of other contracts (Terron Armstead, Taysom Hill)—each time, it’s just been to ensure that they don’t have a limit on the size of the contract they eventually sign with those players. 

So what contract will the Saints eventually sign Lattimore to? 

Lattimore has been a great corner, though his best play likely came during his rookie season in 2017, which gives him a slightly weird arc. With that said, he remains a highly competitive man-cover defender and is only 25 in the upcoming 2021 season. Last year, Tre’Davious White signed a four-year, $70M extension that would run through his age-27 to age-30 seasons, which featured $55M in total guarantees and a $17.5M APY. That contract, which is currently the third-biggest cornerback contract in the league, feels like a reasonable comparison to Lattimore’s upcoming deal. Throw in the residual bonus money and he’ll be making more than White across the next four seasons.

The Saints executed plenty of creative cap finagling to get under the COVID-affected cap ceiling, and the big base salary restructures just represent another careful, precise tool in the toolbox necessary to get all of these gymnastics done.

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