Target prices for 10 offensive players with expiring contracts were covered in an article earlier in the week. The focus now turns to the other side of the ball.
Things will get moving next week when the exclusive negotiating rights NFL teams have had with their impending free agents ends. The agents of prospective unrestricted free agents are allowed to negotiate with teams beginning at noon ET on March 14 until 3:59:59 p.m. ET on March 16. Prospective UFAs who don’t have an agent can also negotiate with front office executives of teams. Players can’t sign deals with new clubs until the 2022 league year and free agency officially begin at 4 p.m. ET on March 16. A player’s ability to re-sign with his current club is allowed during the period.
As a reminder, it was my responsibility while working on the agent side to create target or asking prices for the firm’s clients headed toward free agency, regardless of whether I was the lead agent. In that spirit, I have set target prices with total contract value, overall guarantees, amount fully guaranteed at signing and first three years compensation (when applicable) for 10 intriguing defensive players who will be unrestricted free agents or were designated as a franchise player.
Players don’t necessarily sign for their target prices because free agency is a fluid process where adaptations must be made to changing market conditions. Some players are disappointed in free agency’s outcome because their market never develops for a variety of reasons (age, unrealistic contract demands, supply at playing position, etc.).
Remember the target or asking prices for these players may be on the high side and aren’t necessarily what their actual deals will be.
Contract package: $67.5 million, three years ($22.5 million per year)
Overall guarantees: $47.5 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $47.5 million
The Patriots did Jackson a huge favor by not sticking him with a $17.287 million franchise tag. It sets the stage for Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey to finally have some company in the $20 million-per-year defensive back club. Ramsey signed a five-year, $100 million contract extension worth up to $105 million through salary escalators in 2020. He also set records for cornerbacks with $43.703 million fully guaranteed at signing and $71.203 in total guarantees.
Jackson is the NFL‘s premier ballhawk. His 22 interceptions are the NFL’s most since the start of the 2019 season. Jackson was second in the NFL last season with eight interceptions He also had a league-leading 23 passes defensed. Jackson was named to his first Pro Bowl and was AFC Defensive Player of the Month in November.
Contract package: $35 million, two years ($17.5 million per year)
Overall guarantees: $30 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $25 million
Pass rushers heading toward their mid-30s historically don’t age particularly well. Miller, who turns 33 in a couple of weeks, has demonstrated there’s gas left in the tank. The Super Bowl 50 MVP got a little bit of vindication for refusing to accept a pay cut last offseason similar to 32-year old J.J. Watt’s two-year deal with the Cardinals averaging $14 million per year by earning AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for September. Watt’s contract has $23 million of guarantees ($20 million fully guaranteed at signing) and is worth up to $31 million through salary escalators and incentives.
Miller gave the Rams’ pass rush a boost after a midseason trade from the Broncos. He had nine sacks in the last eight games of the 2021 season, including the playoffs. Miller signing for less than his expiring six-year contract averaging $19,083,333 per year, that made him the NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback in 2016, is inevitable. A shorter-term deal, somewhere between Watt’s and the expiring contract, seems appropriate.
($12.911 million franchise tag)
Contract package: $51 million, three years ($17 million per year)
Overall guarantees: $20 million (all signing bonus)
Fully guaranteed at signing: $20 million (all signing bonus)
The 2021 regular season wasn’t up to the standard Bates set in 2020 when he earned second-team All-Pro honors. Bates admitted his contract status affected his play early in the season. He previously expressed frustration over a lack of progress on a new Bengals contract in the preseason. Bates played more like an All-Pro during Cincinnati’s Super Bowl run.
The Bengals dragging their feet last year on a new deal will likely be beneficial to Bates financially because of Jamal Adams dramatically resetting the safety market last August. Adams received a four-year, $70 million extension worth up to $72 million through incentives and salary escalators from the Seahawks. The previous safety benchmark was the four-year, $61 million contract averaging $15.25 million per year the Broncos gave Simmons last March, several days after he was franchised for the second straight year.
Any deal Bates signs with Cincinnati will be light on contract guarantees because of a vanilla contract structure with veteran players. The only guaranteed money is a signing bonus or a roster bonus due a few days after signing. The bigger deals contain a third or fifth day of the league year roster bonus in the second year. This roster bonus is supposed to be a substitute for additional contract guarantees.
Contract package: $72 million, four years ($18 million per year)
Overall guarantees: $50 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $40 million
Clowney rebounded in 2021 from an injury-plagued 2020 season with the Titans where he was sackless in the eight games he played before season-ending surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. He had nine sacks in 14 games last season with the Browns to tie the second-best mark of his eight-year NFL career while playing under a one-year, $8 million contract year worth a maximum of $10 million through incentives.
It was a steep drop from the one-year deal Clowney signed for $13 million, which was worth up to $15 million through incentives, after there weren’t any takers in 2020 free agency at his original asking price, which was reportedly over $20 million per year. Last season was Clowney’s third year in row playing on a one-year deal. He was franchised by the Texans in 2019 and subsequently traded to the Seahawks. At 29, Clowney’s window for a lucrative long-term deal is getting smaller. It probably makes sense for Clowney to have lower salary expectations than before because of his previous experiences as a free agent. If not, another one-year deal could be on the horizon.
Contract package: $66 million, four years ($16.5 million per year)
Overall guarantees: $35 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $35 million
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said the team would do everything to keep Mathieu prior to the 2021 season starting. He cited the $15 million salary cap reduction from where the financial landscape would have been without the COVID-19 pandemic revenue losses affecting the salary cap as a factor for delaying a new deal. Mathieu, who turns 30 in May, seems intent on testing the market now.
Making Mathieu a franchise player was never going to be a realistic option even if left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. hadn’t received the designation. His franchise number was $23.63 million with the way the 120% salary increase provisions work for designations.
Mathieu surely took note of the Vikings giving a 32-year-old Harrison Smith a four-year extension averaging $16 million per year, which made him the league’s second-highest-paid safety, less than two weeks after the Adams deal. The average is a little misleading. It is inflated by $18.1 million in the final year of the contract.
Contract package: $40 million, three years ($13,333,333 per year)
Overall guarantees: $27.5 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $27.5 million
The third time on the open market should be a charm for Campbell. He didn’t sign a one-year, $2 million deal worth up to $2.5 million through incentives with the Packers until last June because nobody was willing to meet his target price, which was initially in the $10 million-per-year range, according to my sources.
Only two off-ball linebackers with expiring contracts topped the $10 million-per-year mark in 2021. Lavonte David and Matt Milano remained with the Buccaneers and Bills, respectively. A 31-year-old David accepted a two-year, $25 million contract with $20 million in guarantees. Milano took a four-year, $41.5 million contract (worth up to $42.8 million through incentives) containing $23.5 million in guarantees.
It was the second year in a row Campbell signed a one-year “prove-it” deal in free agency. The base value of the Packers’ contract was for one-third of the money he made in 2020.
Campbell definitely “proved it” last season. He thrived in Green Bay as an every-down linebacker. Campbell was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for October. It was a precursor to Campbell earning All-Pro honors. Campbell’s previous experiences in free agency may temper his expectations.
Contract package: $30 million, two years ($15 million per year)
Overall guarantees: $22.5 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $22.5 million
Gilmore is hitting the danger zone for cornerbacks performing at the highest level. He’ll be 32 in September. The only cornerback to be selected to the Pro Bowl on the original ballot after turning 32 over the last 10 years is Hall of Famer Champ Bailey in 2012 when he was 34. In the eight games Gilmore played for the Panthers after an early-season trade from the Patriots, he seemed capable of following in Bailey’s footsteps.
Contract package: $62 million, four years ($15.5 million per year)
Overall guarantees: $36 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $32 million
Riches in free agency didn’t await Reddick last year despite tying for fourth in the NFL with 12.5 sacks in 2020. Consequently, Reddick took a one-year, $6 million deal worth up to $8 million through incentives from the Panthers to reunite with Matt Rhule, his college head coach at Temple. There should be a different outcome this time around since Reddick proved his 2020 performance wasn’t a fluke. He had 11 sacks last season. Reddick’s 23.5 sacks over the last two seasons are the NFL’s fifth most during this span.
Contract package: $30 million, three years ($10 million per year)
Overall guarantees: $20 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $15 million
Douglas had a remarkable in-season turnaround last year. He was released by the Raiders in the preseason and quickly signed by the Texans. Once the Texans released him, he was on the Cardinals’ practice squad until the Packers signed him for minimum salary after Jaire Alexander got hurt. Douglas had a knack for big plays in his 12 games with the Packers. He picked off five passes and returned two of the interceptions for touchdowns. Since the 2017 third-round pick’s play with the Packers was at a much higher level than he had ever reached before, it would be understandable for teams to have reservations about making a big financial commitment to him.
Contract package: $36 million, three years ($12 million per year)
Overall guarantees: $25 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $25 million
Jones excelled at stopping the run in 2021. He had the highest run-stop win rate for defensive tackles at 48%, according to ESPN. The best run-stuffing interior defensive lineman free agent contracts in 2020 went to Javon Hargrave and D.J. Reader, who signed for $13 million per year and $13.125 million per year, respectively, with the Eagles and Bengals. Dalvin Tomlinson got $10.5 million per year from the Vikings to pace such 2021 free agent signings.