Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco turned down a long-term deal in the $16 million per year neighborhood prior to the start of the 2012 regular season. The decision seemed like a mistake until the playoffs, when Flacco led the Ravens to a Super Bowl XLVII victory.
Flacco, who was named Super Bowl MVP, passed for 1,140 yards and 11 touchdowns without an interception while having a 117.2 passer rating during four playoff games. His outstanding postseason play forced the Ravens to briefly make him the NFL's highest-paid player with a six-year, $120.6 million contract, including $51 million in guarantees.
Cashing in on playoff success to the same degree as Flacco is a rarity. However, a good Super Bowl performance can help players land lucrative contracts, especially if it follows a solid regular season or outstanding playoffs.
Here are several players headed toward free agency who could benefit from the Super Bowl:
Butler burst onto the NFL scene with a game-saving interception in the final seconds of Super Bowl XLIX as an undrafted rookie. He isn't quite playing to the same level this season as in 2015, when he earned a Pro Bowl berth, and 2016, when he earned second team All-Pro honors.
Butler's inconsistency might be somewhat due to a tumultuous offseason. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore essentially got the money Butler wanted from the Patriots when he signed a five-year, $65 million deal with $40 million of guarantees in free agency. The Saints showed some interest in Butler, a restricted free agent, but weren't willing to sign him to an offer sheet because the 11th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft was too steep of a price to pay.
Trading backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers leaves Butler as New England's best candidate to get franchised. The 2018 cornerback tag number should be slightly over $15 million. The more likely scenario is Butler leaving New England in free agency since head coach Bill Belichick investing heavily in two cornerbacks would be out of character. If Butler seeks a deal similar to Gilmore's despite the decline in play it wouldn't be surprising.
The two-year, $20.062 million extension (with a maximum value of $21.562 million) Solder signed at the start of the 2015 regular season has a clause prohibiting the Patriots from designating him as a franchise or transition player when his contract expires after the season. Solder was part of the reason why Tom Brady was sacked almost as many times during New England's first five games this season as in the 12 he played last regular season. He has rebounded from a slow start to the season.
Solder is in an enviable position. Slightly above average and mediocre left tackles have become valuable commodities in free agency. The Chargers made Russell Okung the NFL's highest paid offensive lineman (by average yearly salary) with a four-year, $53 million deal that has $25 million fully guaranteed in free agency this year even though he is never going to be confused with future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas as a pass protector. Matt Kalil's five-year, $55.5 million contract containing $25 million in guarantees with the Panthers is prime example of mediocrity getting rewarded. There has been some speculation that Solder could retire instead of cashing in during free agency because of the serious health issues of his young son.
Lewis emerged from a crowded backfield to become New England's primary ball carrier down the stretch. Only Rams running back Todd Gurley had more than Lewis' 510 rushing yards over the last six games of the regular season. He earned AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after a career-high 129 rushing yards in a Week 16 contest against the Bills.
Lewis' size (5-9, 195 pounds) suggests a change-of-pace role, but Lewis could be the best dual-threat running back that will be available in free agency. Devonta Freeman, the league's highest-paid running back on a long-term deal ($8.25 million average with the Falcons) is only a few pounds heavier than Lewis at the same height. Giovani Bernard, another undersized running back, signed a three-year, $15.5 million contract extension with the Bengals in 2016.
The Patriots playing hardball with LeGarrette Blount when entering free agency after productive seasons led to him returning on inexpensive, team-friendly one-year deals. Lewis' best contract will be elsewhere if the Patriots use similar tactics with him. Regardless of the approach, New England should be willing to pay Lewis more than the $4 million per year James White, who is primarily utilized as a receiver out of the backfield, was given in a three-year extension last April.
Amendola took a pay cut for a third straight year to remain in New England. Injuries to Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell resulted in Amendola playing a more prominent role than anticipated this season. Amendola has been Brady's go-to guy in the playoffs. He has 18 catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns in New England's two playoff games, which includes the game-winning touchdown catch against the Jaguars in the AFC Championship game. The two-year, $11 million extension Edelman signed before a season-ending ACL tear in the preseason will be Amendola's salary ceiling with the Patriots. It would not be surprising for the 32 year old to remain in New England for less money than he could get with another team considering his willingness to continually rework his contract to avoid leaving.
The Eagles never imagined Robinson would have such a big defensive impact when he was given a one-year deal at his $775,000 league-minimum salary following an injury-plagued 2016 season that led to the Colts releasing him. Robinson's 50-yard interception return for a touchdown jump-started the Eagles in a 38-7 NFC Championship game rout of the Vikings. It seems unimaginable now that there was concern whether Robinson's roster spot would ultimately be in jeopardy because of a slow start in training camp, when the Eagles made a preseason trade with the Bills for cornerback Ronald Darby.
Darby being sidelined for eight games after dislocating his right ankle in the season opener paved the way for Robinson to play a lot more than expected. Robinson excelled in covering slot wide receivers. He led the Eagles with four interceptions and graded out as Pro Football Focus' fourth best cornerback this season.
Robinson has probably priced himself out of Philadelphia with his career year. The biggest payday of Robinson's career, which so far is the three-year, $14 million deal he received from the Colts in 2016, should be awaiting him in free agency.
Bradham signed a two-year, $7 million contract in 2016 to reunite with Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who coached him when he had the same position with the Bills during the 2014 season. Bradham assumed the responsibility of setting the defense when middle linebacker Jordan Hicks tore his Achilles midway during the season. Bradham led the Eagles with 88 regular-season tackles.
The free-agent market for non-pass rushing linebackers was soft in 2017. The big deals came staying put rather than going elsewhere on the open market. Christian Kirksey (Browns), Alec Ogletree (Rams), Vontaze Burfict (Bengals) and Telvin Smith (Jaguars) received extensions from their respective teams averaging between $9.5 million and $11.1 million per year. Although that neighborhood will be out of the question for the Eagles, Bradham's salary floor should be the five-year, $26.25 million deal with the $13 million in guarantees that Malcolm Smith got from the 49ers last March in free agency.
Burton makes the most of limited opportunities playing behind Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz and 11-year veteran Brent Celek. The Eagles valued the 2014 undrafted free agent enough to give him a $2.746 million tender in restricted free agency, which entitled Philadelphia to a 2017 second-round pick as compensation with an unmatched offer sheet. A contract similar to the five-year, $32.5 million extension with $16 million in guarantees Vance McDonald signed with the 49ers in 2016 wouldn't be out of order because of Burton's receiving skills.