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Brock Coyle goodbye shows value of contract guarantees

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NFL: Preseason-Seattle Seahawks at Kansas City Chiefs John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a hectic week for the NFL, with the legal tampering period beginning on Monday and resulting in a blur of activity that kicked off as soon as the window to speak to free agents opened at noon New York time. The activity stayed at a frantic pace through the rest of the week, with reports about tenders for exclusive rights free agents and restricted free agents hitting the wires on Wednesday, and then on Thursday the NFL announced the players who received performance based bonuses for 2018.

The Seattle Seahawks were no different than any other team, as they had multiple players leave for paydays elsewhere, including All Pro safety Earl Thomas, Pro Bowl alternate J.R. Sweezy, lockdown nickel corner Justin Coleman, third down back Mike Davis, backup quarterback Brett Hundley and starting defensive tackle Shamar Stephen. However, they also retained a couple of their own key components, with both D.J. Fluker and K.J. Wright signing incentive-laden, two year deals, and added players who could pay big dividends in 2019, in kicker Jason Myers and guard Mike Iupati.

However, a one time member of the Seahawks who will not be coming back to the Pacific Northwest, or to any other NFL team, is linebacker Brock Coyle. Coyle originally signed with Seattle as an undrafted free agent out of Montana in 2014, and after three years with the Hawks, signed a one year deal with the rival San Francisco 49ers for the 2017 season. Signed mostly as depth and to fill a role on special teams, however, when the Niners benched and then released Navorro Bowman during October of that year, it was Coyle who was tasked with filling the void. Coyle ended up playing 646 defensive snaps in filling in for Bowman (for reference, Justin Coleman played 654 and 672 snaps for the Hawks in 2017 and 2018, respectively).

Coyle was far from spectacular, but he was far from horrible as well, and his on field performance that season led to a three year contract at a modest $8.4M ($2.8M APY). Unfortunately for Coyle, however, despite having missed only thirteen games due to injury during the first four seasons of his career, just 61 defensive snaps into 2018 he saw his season come crashing to a halt. Initial reports listed Coyle as having sustained a concussion, however, he landed on injured reserve before Week 2 even kicked off, where he spent the duration of the season.

Obviously head trauma is no joke, and it wouldn’t be impossible for a player to spend an entire season on injured reserve with a concussion suffered during the opening week of the season. Unfortunately for Coyle, the concussion was not the only issue, as within days reports emerged that he had also sustained a T4 compression fracture. For those who are unfamiliar with what that means, T4 is one of the vertebrae that is located in between a person’s shoulder blades. Here is a picture from a 3-dimensional interactive tool at HealthLine.com with the T4 vertebra highlighted.

As for what a compression fracture is, it means the vertebra’s structural integrity basically gave out and collapsed in some manner. There are surgical methods to repair collapsed vertebra, including vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty, but there is still debate in the medical community on the efficacy of these procedures.

In any case, whether those treatments are effective or not is another discussion for another day, because it’s not the point of today’s post. Today’s post is focused on the fact that on Thursday the Niners waived Coyle with an injury designation, meaning that he failed his exit physical with the team. Obviously, it would seem logical that the compression fracture was what led to the failed physical, and within a few hours Coyle posted confirmation of that to his Twitter account when he announced that he would be stepping away from the game.

Now, luckily for Coyle, when he negotiated his three year contract last offseason his guarantees included an injury guarantee for just under half of his 2019 base salary, covering $1M of his $2.05M. Now, that may seem like a good deal, but it’s actually a completely irrelevant guarantee. Under the terms of Article 45 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, 50% of Coyle’s 2019 salary is automatically guaranteed, up to a maximum of $2.4M in salary (so $1.2M is the maximum a player could collect under this injury protection).

Thus, Coyle stands to make $1.025M in 2019 as a result of the same injury protections that provided former Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril with an injury protection payout during the 2018 season. In addition, because he had a contract for 2020, even though he had no injury protection in the contract, the CBA provides all players extended injury protection for seasons beyond the year after which they suffer the injury.

Under this extended injury protection, Coyle may be protected for up to 30% of his 2020 salary, up to a maximum of $1.917M (maximum payout to Coyle, or any other player, of $575k). According to our “friends” down at NinersNation.com, his base salary for 2020 was scheduled to be $2M. So, by virtue of being under contract for 2020, even in the absence of injury protection in his contract, Coyle stands to potentially get paid $1.6M from San Francisco over the next two seasons. That is on top of the $1.4M in dead money that will come from the unamortized portion of the $2.1M of signing bonus that Coyle was given just a year ago.

In short, Coyle could cost the 49ers $3M of cap space over the next two years, in spite of being unable to play football due to a spine injury. Obviously, the Niners have already spent the $1.4M of that which came with his signing bonus in 2018, however, the other $1.6M is additional money he stands to make from the team.

This is just one of those small things that comes into play had Coyle not taken a multi-year contract, and is one of the risks that a player takes by signing a one-year prove it deal. A prove it deal may indeed give a player a chance to prove they are worth more, as Sheldon Richardson and Bobby Hart were able to do in 2018. However, on the flip side, if a player signs a prove it deal and sustains an injury along the lines of that suffered by Coyle, all of a sudden they’re left with nothing.

It’s just one of those details that is worth keeping in mind when a player is considering how to proceed during free agency, and should likely be a part of any discussion between a player and their agent when discussing the options. These injury guarantees provided by the CBA are not huge when compared to the dollar amounts that players can earn in free agency, but simply let me know if you ever stumble across someone willing to turn down $1.6M in payouts after suffering an on the job injury.