The contract was heavily weighted in incentives that were almost impossible for Williams, selected No. 5 by the New Orleans Saints, to reach. Williams’ pact had a maximum value of $68 million and included a then-record signing bonus of $8.8 million. However, the bulk of those incentives were based on Williams surpassing the performance of former Denver running back Terrell Davis, who had the most productive four-year start to a career by any running back in NFL history. Williams, upon getting traded to the Miami Dolphins in 2002, restructured his contract so that he could earn incentives and increase his base pay in following years
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Smith has been sidelined since fracturing his left foot a couple of days after signing with the Bengals.
The memory of the Williams deal was revived by Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith. Smith’s odyssey to being the No. 6 overall pick is a misadventure by itself (some projected him to go as high as No. 2 before a series of goofs, such as leaving the NFL scouting combine early). However, his contract may rank right there with Williams as a show-stopper. Or in the case of agent Alvin Keels, a career stopper. Throw in the fact that Smith missed most of training camp while holding out and you have a deal that defies logic.
Smith essentially signed what is really a six-year contract (don’t believe the four-year claim, the team can easily buy the last two years) worth an expected value of $42 million, assuming he hits all the normal thresholds. If Smith hits all the “Superman” clauses in the contract (he basically has to go to the Pro Bowl and Cincinnati has to get to the playoffs every year), he can make a maximum of $50 million.
Now, compare that deal to what quarterback Mark Sanchez(notes) got from the New York Jets at No. 5 and what wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey(notes) got from the Oakland Raiders at No. 7. Sanchez signed a five-year deal in which he will make $47.5 million if he hits the normal thresholds and can max out at $60 million.
In other words, Sanchez can make more money in less time. Of course, Keels can argue that Sanchez got the “quarterback premium,” an unwritten rule of contracts. But that logic doesn’t explain how Heyward-Bey, taken a pick later, did so much better than Smith. Like Sanchez, Heyward-Bey signed a five-year deal and can make $38.5 million with the reasonable thresholds and $54 million with the maximum thresholds
And Heyward-Bey didn’t have to hold out. Moreover, most people say Heyward-Bey was one of the biggest reaches of the first round this year.
To top all of that off, Smith could get only $21.5 million guaranteed because the deal was technically written as a four-year deal with a two-year club option (he’s guaranteed to make $8 million more if the option is exercised).
All of that makes for one really bad contract. Or as one person with extensive knowledge of NFL contracts put it: “One of the worst contracts I’ve ever seen.”