The fact that Patrick Willis signed a long-term deal is a pretty big deal, and not just because the 49ers locked up arguably the best linebacker in the league until 2016.
The 49ers, and specifically chief negotiator Paraag Marathe, created a unique contract rewarding Willis while simultaneously circumventing league rules.
Now, circumventing league rules isn't a bad thing if you are talking about the salary cap. In the age of the cap, if you aren't cheating you aren't trying. Technically speaking, it's not really cheating. But innovative teams find innovative ways to keep their players.
With Patrick Willis' new contract, chief negotiator Paraag Marathe created a mold for keeping a team's highly valued players under the umbrella of labor uncertainty.
The buzz around the NFL is the 30% rule, which states that a player cannot make more than 30% more in 2010 than they did in 2009. The quick loophole, as seen in Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb's new deal, is to convert most of the money into a signing bonus. A quick way to pay a player while circumventing the 30% rule.
But why would a team want to put so much money up front in 2010 when it's not even guaranteed there will be football in 2011? Teams would effectively be paying a premium for one season, not knowing what would come next. And the players might be okay this year, but low salaries would still take their toll as the contract wears on.
Here is where Marathe really shows his value for the 49er franchise. Willis' deal not only has a signing bonus, but it also utilizes a "supersede bonus" that is paid next near. And the bonus is written in such a way that the 49ers don't have to pay out the entire bonus now, as is typically the case.
So Willis gets his money spread out over the first couple years of the contract. And Willis gets his extension in an environment that's not to long-term-extension friendly. And the 49ers aren't on the hook for the entire contract up front, making it easier on a franchise that might need all potential disposable income for a new stadium.
Strong franchises need strong front offices. Perhaps more importantly, strong franchises need innovation. The West Coast Offense was genius in its innovation. In the early part of the decade, the Eagles innovated a philosophy for drafting players, retaining layers, and strutting contracts.
Now, it seems that the 49ers have a spark of innovation with Marathmatics.