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 started on Monday when the exclusive negotiating rights NFL teams have had with their impending free agents end. Beginning Monday at noon Eastern until Wednesday at 3:59:59 p.m. Eastern, teams are allowed to negotiate with the agents of prospective unrestricted free agents. Players can't sign deals with new clubs until the 2021 league year and free agency officially begin at 4 p.m. Eastern. 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 franchise players.
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. It may particularly be the case this year because of the salary cap dropping from $198.2 million to $182.5 million. 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: $110 million, five years ($22 million per year)
Overall guarantees: $68 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $50 million
First three years: $68 million
Nobody expected Barrett to duplicate his 2019 season in which he led the NFL with 19.5 sacks. This was also the case with DeMarcus Lawrence in 2018 after his breakout 2017 season with 14.5 sacks led to a franchise tag. Lawrence ultimately signed a five-year, $105 million contract containing $65 million in guarantees ($48 million fully guaranteed) with the Cowboys in 2019 after getting a second franchise player designation.
Barrett had eight sacks in 2020 but comparable quarterback pressures (combined sacks, quarterback hurries and quarterback hits) as in 2019 according to Pro Football Focus. His 77 pressures, which were the league's second most, were five fewer than his 2019 total. Barrett saved his best football for last. He had four sacks and 21 pressures in four playoff games.
Contract package: $86 million, four years ($21.5 million per year)
Overall guarantees: $65 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $45 million
Williams validated general manager Dave Gettleman's belief in him last season when use of a $16.126 million franchise tag a year ago was viewed as a curious decision. The 2015 sixth-overall pick finally lived up to his draft potential by having his best season as a pro in 2020. Williams had a career-high 11.5 sacks, which was seventh in the NFL and the second most for an interior defensive lineman. He was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week twice during the 2020 season. Nobody else earned this honor multiple times in 2020.
The Giants placed a second franchise tag on Williams for $19,351,200 to buy more time on a working out a multiyear contract. Williams likely views the DeForest Buckner and Chris Jones deals as benchmarks to surpass after a career year. The Colts gave Buckner a four-year, $84 million contract extension averaging $21 million per year with $56.378 million in guarantees after acquiring him from the 49ers last March. Jones, who was also a 2020 franchise tag recipient, signed a four-year, $80 million contract containing $60 million in guarantees (worth up to $85 million through incentives) with the Chiefs right before the July 15 deadline for franchise players to sign long-term deals.
Contract package: $66 million, four years ($16.5 million per year)
Overall guarantees: $45 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $37.5 million
Simmons has thrived in Vic Fangio's defense ever since Fangio became the Broncos' head coach following the 2018 season. The Broncos hit Simmons with a franchise tag for a second straight year with an NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement mandated 20% raise for $13,729,200 because he's arguably been the league's best free safety the past two seasons. A timely long-term deal should make Simmons the NFL's first $15 million-per-year safety. Closing the gap between cornerback and safety pay might be Simmons' objective. Since the end of the 2019 season, the top of the cornerback market has increased nearly 33%. The Rams made Jalen Ramsey the league's first $20 million-per-year defensive back right before the start of the 2020 regular season. If there isn't a long-term deal, a third straight franchise tag will be avoided because it would be at the 2022 nonexclusive quarterback number by CBA rules. This quarterback number is currently $25.104 million.
Contract package: $72 million, four years ($18 million per year)
Overall guarantees: $50 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $40 million
A serious injury in a contract year used to be the kiss of death financially for free agency. That's not necessarily the case anymore (Matt Kalil, Allen Robinson, Earl Thomas, etc.). Dupree was well on his way to his second straight double-digit sack season when he tore his right ACL in early December. He had eight sacks in 11 games. Dupree expects to be 100% by the time training camps open during the latter part of July.
Should teams balk at this type of conventional contract because of the injury, Dupree might want to borrow a page from Drew Brees when he first signed with the Saints in 2006. Brees suffered a career-threatening right shoulder injury in the Chargers' last game of the 2005 season. Brees' six-year, $60 million contract was a one-year deal for $10 million in which a $12 million payment needed to be made after the 2006 season to pick up the remaining five years. Under this structure, Dupree's 2021 compensation would be comparable to the $13 million Jadeveon Clowney took from the Titans last year on a one-year deal. In addition to the option bonus, the other guarantees would kick in if the team moved forward with the remaining three years of the contract. Dupree's fallback position should be the best one-year "prove it deal" he can sign at a place he feels he can showcase his abilities.
Contract package: $48 million, three years ($16 million per year)
Overall guarantees: $34 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $25 million
Hendrickson having as many sacks as reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald didn't seem realistic before the 2020 season started. He had 13.5 sacks in 2020, tied with Donald for the second most in the NFL. A training camp elbow injury that kept 2018 first-round pick Marcus Davenport sidelined for the first four games opened the door for Hendrickson to emerge.
The 2017 third-round pick's playing time was so sporadic he didn't earn the CBA's Proven Performance Escalator available to third- through seventh-round picks in the final year of their rookie contracts raising fourth-year compensation to the lowest restricted free agent tender, which was $2.133 million in 2020. That's after participating in a minimum of 35 percent of the offensive or defensive plays (whichever is applicable) in two of the first three seasons of their deals or an average of at least 35 percent playtime in their first three seasons.
Hendrickson is a classic buyer-beware free agent because of his limited track record performing at a high level. Dante Fowler Jr.'s disappointing 2020 campaign, where he only had three sacks after signing a three-year, $45 million free agent contract (worth a maximum of $48 million through salary escalators) with the Falcons, may be a cause for concern with Hendrickson.
Contract package: $45 million, three year ($15 million per year)
Overall guarantees: $32 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $32 million
Griffin is probably the best of a less-than-stellar group of free agent cornerbacks. His 2020 season didn't quite match up to 2019 when he played in the Pro Bowl. Nonetheless, his best football should be ahead of him considering he doesn't turn 26 until July. That's why going to a short-term-deal route like James Bradberry may be in order for Griffin. Bradberry signed a three-year, $43.5 million contract containing $31.9 million in guarantees with the Giants in free agency last year. The maximum value of Bradberry's deal is $45 million because of incentives.
Contract package: $62 million, four years ($15.5 million per year)
Overall guarantees: $37.5 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $33.5 million
Johnson could be a primary beneficiary of the Broncos, Jets and Saints designating safeties Justin Simmons, Marcus Maye and Marcus Williams as franchise players. He has the versatility to play deep or in the box. Johnson could be looking to become the NFL's highest-paid safety. That distinction belongs to Budda Baker, who signed a four-year, $59 million extension averaging $14.75 million per year with the Cardinals in August. Baker's deal has $33.1 million of overall guarantees.
Contract package: $40 million, three years ($13,333,333 per year)
Overall guarantees: $27.5 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $27.5 million
Brown missed the final six games of the 2020 regular season because of an elbow injury. He just received full medical clearance from doctors. The latest two data points for off-ball linebackers are Lavonte David and Matt Milano forgoing free agency to re-sign with the Buccaneers and Bills, respectively. The 31-year-old David accepted a two-year, $25 million contract with $20 million in guarantees. Milano signed a four-year, $41.5 million deal worth up to $42.8 million through incentives containing $23.5 million in guarantees.
Contract package: $56 million, four years ($14 million per year)
Overall guarantees: $30 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $30 million
Stopping the run is Tomlinson's strong suit. Tomlinson's 5.1% run-stuff rate was the third-best in the NFL last season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The top of the market for run-stuffing interior defensive linemen was set by 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 in free agency last year.
Contract package: $20 million, two years ($10 million per year)
Overall guarantees: $15 million
Fully guaranteed at signing: $13.5 million
Ability has never been the issue with Verrett. Availability has. Verrett only played six games during the 2016 through 2019 seasons primarily because of a partially torn ACL in his left knee and a ruptured Achilles tendon. He earned Pro Bowl honors with the Chargers in 2015, which was his last healthy season before 2020. Finally healthy, Verrett regained his Pro Bowl form last season. In most years, Verrett would have been the leading candidate to be named the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year, which went to quarterback Alex Smith for his miraculous return to action with the Washington Football Team. The injury history is likely to limit interest in Verrett, who will be 30 in June, and have an impact financially.