FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots have drawn criticism recently for how they've dealt with nose tackle Vince Wilfork and his contract situation, but the team deserves praise for collaborating with Sean Kiernan and Mitch Frankel, the agents for rookie linebacker Tyrone McKenzie, to craft a creative proposal that gives McKenzie an opportunity to earn back a lot of the money that his season-ending injury cost him.
The Patriots signed McKenzie, who is out for the season after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the team's rookie minicamp in May, to a four-year $3.124 million deal with a $631,000 signing bonus. The base salaries are $240,000, $320,000, $480,000 and $565,000.
McKenzie's injury cost him a total of $170,000, but he could earn as much as $125,000 of that back due to his innovative deal.
"If you believe in the player long-term then this was a fair thing to do," said Kiernan, the architect of the proposal. "It is to [senior football adviser] Floyd Reese, coach [Bill] Belichick and [director of player personnel] Nick Caserio's credit they agreed."
The minimum base salary for a first-year player in 2009 is $310,000. For a player like McKenzie who will be placed on season-ending injured reserve he would be in line to make a base salary of $215,000, based on the collective bargaining agreement. That would be a net loss of $95,000, but the Patriots boosted McKenzie's base to $240,000, $25,000 more than a player on IR would normally get.
Because McKenzie won't play in 2009 he will get an accrued season towards free agency, but not a credited season of NFL experience, which is used in Patriots' contracts to determine base salaries. If McKenzie was on the active roster this season he would have been in line to make $395,000 as a base salary next season, instead he'll get the 2010 rookie minimum base salary of $320,000, a net lost of $75,000 due to the injury.
However, there is a combined play-time-team performance incentive in McKenzie's contract that allows him to get a $100,000 bonus payment the season after the incentive plateau is reached, allowing him to recoup a significant portion of the money the injury cost him.
The contract is ground breaking for both the Patriots and McKenzie's representatives, Impact Sports, in that since 2004, eight draft picks have suffered season-ending injuries in team minicamps, only one of those players got language in his contract to earn some of the money back.
Kevin Everett, a third-round pick of the Buffalo Bills in 2005, lost about $95,000 due to a minicamp injury and had the opportunity to earn $70,000 of it back.
McKenzie won't play a down this season, but he has already had a huge impact on the Patriots and the NFL.