July 8, 2009
Slaton Preps for a Payday
by Keith Weiland
Texans running back Steve Slaton created a few offseason waves when he agreed to new representation from Harold Lewis of the National Sports Agency. Coming off a rookie season in which he amassed 1,659 yards on 318 touches, Slaton has already outperformed a rookie contract in which he signed for a third round bonus of $664,386.
Given the team’s strained contract situations with other high-profile starters, namely tight end Owen Daniels, linebacker DeMeco Ryans, and cornerback Dunta Robinson, word of Slaton acquiring a new agent was probably met with more than a couple groans around Reliant Park. Agents get paid by helping clients sign new deals, and Slaton’s rookie performance deserves a raise at some point.
So is a holdout imminent?
It doesn’t appear so based on an email exchanged between Lewis and ESPN.com blogger Paul Kuharsky last month regarding the running back. Lewis writes (in CAPS, I might add, because HE IS AN AGENT!!! AND WANTS YOUR ATTENTION!!):
"OUR HOPE FOR HIM IS THAT HE WILL JUST GET BETTER AND BETTER EVERY WEEK, AND HELP HIS TEAM TO THE PLAYOFFS AND BEYOND ...AND AFTER REALLY GETTING TO KNOW HIM, I HAVE NO DOUBT THAT WILL HAPPEN....OF COURSE WITH SUCCESS COMES GREAT "NEW " CONTRACTS....AND NOTHING MAKES ME HAPPIER THEN THAT!!!!"
The inclination is to believe Lewis since the timing for a new contract could be better after the 2009 season. The timing isn’t all that bad now though, since the Texans have roughly $10 million available on the salary cap (with a couple top draft picks still to sign) and nobody trustworthy enough on the depth chart behind Slaton.
But waiting another year has the chance for an even bigger payday. Assuming Slaton remains healthy, the game ought to slow down a bit for him this year, helping him see more opportunities on the field for bigger gains. He should also be better conditioned for the lengthy NFL season, as he was given a midseason “breather” by his head coach and hardly registered in the stat sheet in a Week 10 game against the Ravens. Better conditioning and the year of experience should mean that Slaton stays on the field longer, gets more touches, and accumulates better stats, all helping him negotiate for more money with his next contract.
Perhaps just as noteworthy though is that the 2010 season is chugging full steam ahead towards being an uncapped campaign. With the Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire and only preliminary discussions between the owners and players’ union underway, a quick resolution on a new extension seems very unlikely. While scuttlebutt has been that the uncapped year may not be quite the megabuXXX boon as first thought for players, it is still expected to richly reward the league’s star players, a short list that would include Slaton if he improves upon his rookie season this autumn.
So the question of Slaton’s desire for a new contract is now less about when he will demand that the Texans shred his old agreement and more about how much he will deserve with his new one. Given his age (23) and his level of performance (a Pro Bowl alternate as a rookie), Slaton should demand quite a bit. Since most negotiations involve a peer group for benchmarking and comparision, there are a couple recent ones worth reviewing.
Marion Barber of the Cowboys, a fourth round selection in 2005, outperformed his rookie contract when he had a Pro Bowl season in 2007. As a restricted free agent, Barber signed a seven-year contract with a reported $16 million in guarantees and a three-year payout of $21 million.
49ers running back Frank Gore, a third round selection in 2005, cashed in on a stellar second season to the tune of a four-year extension signed in 2007 with a mix of guarantees worth a total of $14 million.
These two deals are each two years old now, and the league’s salary cap limit has grown more than 17 percent since then. If the growth continues at this pace for another season, Slaton could be looking forward to guarantees in the neighborhood of $19 million and possibly more, especially if the Texans continue to leave themselves bereft of alternatives and in a weakened bargaining position.
That’s some serious cash, even for a billionaire like owner Bob McNair, particularly when it's combined with his other big cash outlays, such as the $12.5 million guaranteed to defensive lineman Antonio Smith in March, the $10 million option bonus due to quarterback Matt Schaub after the season ends, and the more than $30 million owed to Mario Williams in 2010 and 2011 before his rookie contract expires and is likely extended.
Toss in the new contract money expected by Robinson, Ryans, and Daniels as well as the money to be negotiated by guard Chester Pitts and receiver Kevin Walter, and it becomes a lot harder to willingly sign Slaton to such an amount, even if he has earned the right to ask for that much. This might be even more true on a team like the Texans with a suspected distaste for making heavy investments in running backs, the plug-n-play disposable part of the zone blocking offense imported from the Broncos.
McNair's pot of gold must have bottom somewhere. In light of how many new megabuXXX contracts and extensions will be demanded within the next year, all to players deserving to be paid handsomely for their abilities, how can there not be a few difficult decisions on the horizon to decide who gets what they deserve from the Texans and who gets the opportunity to look for it from another team?
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