We've already talked about the target prices for the top offensive players looking for new deals this offseason. Here, we'll cover the other side of the ball.
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 15 intriguing players becoming unrestricted free agents or given a franchise designation.
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: $132 million for six years
- Overall guarantees: $80 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $50 million
- First three years: $73.5 million
Lawrence viewed playing under a $17.143 million franchise tag last season as an opportunity to break the bank in 2019. He was designated as a franchise player again for $20,571,600 at the Collective Bargaining Agreement's required 20 percent increase from his 2018 number after demonstrating he is the "war daddy" pass rusher Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been looking for since releasing future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware in 2014. Lawrence followed up his breakout 2017 season with a second straight Pro Bowl selection in 2018. He has been adamant about not playing under a franchise tag two years in a row.
The Cowboys have initiated discussions about a long term deal with David Canter, Lawrence's agent. Lawrence has a significant amount of leverage because a third franchise tag in 2020 is cost prohibitive. The procedures outlined in the CBA dictate that Lawrence's third franchise designation will be the greater of 144 percent of his current $20,571,600 figure or the largest number at any position, which would be quarterback. 144 percent of Lawrence's 2019 tag number is $29,623,104.
The five-year, $85 million contract with $52.5 million in guarantees the Giants gave Olivier Vernon during 2016 free agency after factoring in salary cap inflation could have significance in Lawrence contract talks because Canter negotiated the deal. It wouldn't be surprising if Canter is insisting that this type of adjustment to Vernon's contract should be the starting point for serious discussions. Lawrence has been more consistent than Vernon was when he signed. Vernon's phenomenal last half of the 2015 season was unlike anything else in his career to that point. A comparable deal to Vernon's would average a little less than $20.75 million per year with the 2019 salary cap being set at $188.2 million.
- Contract package: $56 million for four years
- Overall guarantees: $30 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $30 million
Thomas didn't miss a beat when he ended his holdout a few days before the 2018 regular season started because his "pay me or trade me" ultimatum to the Seahawks fell on deaf ears. He had emerged as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate before fracturing his left leg, the same one he broke two years ago, in a Week 4 contest against the Cardinals. The five-time All-Pro was tied for the NFL lead with three interceptions when he got hurt.
Fortunately for Thomas, an injury in a contract year isn't a kiss of death financially anymore. The Panthers raised a lot of eyebrows by signing left tackle Matt Kalil to a five-year, $55.5 million contract with $25 million in guarantees, of which $24 million was fully guaranteed at signing, as a free agent in 2017. He got the deal after missing most of the 2016 season, his final one with the Vikings who drafted him, because of a hip problem and regressing since being named a Pro Bowl alternate as a rookie in 2012.
The Bears gave wide receiver Allen Robinson a three-year, $42 million contract with $25.2 million in guarantees at the start of free agency this year despite him tearing the ACL in his left knee during the Jaguars' 2017 season opener. Robinson was coming off a subpar 2016 campaign which could have been partially attributed to quarterback Blake Bortles' struggles.
Although Thomas turns 30 before the 2019 season starts, he was playing at a much higher level than either Kalil or Robinson were before their injuries. He was arguably the NFL's best safety during the first quarter of the season.
Thomas' expiring contract averaging $10 million per year made him the NFL's highest paid safety when signed in 2014. Thomas reportedly trying to reclaim his place at the top of the safety pay scale isn't surprising. Eric Berry is the current standard with the six-year, $78 million contract containing $40 million in guarantees he received from the Chiefs in 2017. He was 28 when he signed the deal.
Thomas' deal may be affected more structurally than financially given his age, with teams beginning to take a more enlightened approach toward injured free agents. Topping Berry's $40 million in overall guarantees seems less likely than his $13 million average yearly salary.
- Contract package: $85 million for five years
- Overall guarantees: $52.5 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $37.5 million
- First three years: $54 million
Jarrett cemented his status as one of the NFL's best premier run stuffing interior defensive linemen in 2017. He displayed more ability to put pressure on quarterbacks than most of the other interior defensive lineman who are a force against the run in 2018. Jarrett had career highs of six sacks and 53 quarterback pressures, which was tied for sixth among interior defensive linemen, according to Pro Football Focus.
His ability to provide pass rush has put Jarrett in a different salary stratosphere than the typical run stuffer. The top of the market for these types of players is the $12.5 million per year Linval Joseph received from the Vikings in a four-year extension he signed in 2017 with $31.5 million of guarantees.
Jarrett's agent is Todd France, who also represents Fletcher Cox. The six-year extension France did for the Eagles defensive tackle in 2016 averaging $17.1 million per year may be a good a barometer for a Jarrett deal. Jarrett isn't quite the same caliber of player, but the Cox deal averages approximately $20.75 million per year if adjusted to the 2019 salary cap environment.
The $17 million per year neighborhood is also consistent with franchising Jarrett in consecutive years. 120 percent of Jarrett's current $15.209 franchise number is $18,250,800. The average of two Jarrett franchise tags is just above $16.725 million per year.
- Contract package: $67.5 million for five years
- Overall guarantees: $37.5 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $27 million
- First three years: $42 million
The Ravens using a franchise tag on Mosley for $15.443 million didn't make sense financially given the current state of the inside linebacker market. It has remained stagnant since Luke Kuechly signed a five-year extension with the Panthers in 2015 averaging $12,359,059 per year. Kuechly's deal has $34,363,324 in guarantees, of which $26 million was fully guaranteed at signing. Adjusted for the 31.35 percent growth in salary cap since Kuechly signed, his deal is worth approximately $16.25 million per year with just over $45 million in guarantees.
As the leading tackler on 2018's top ranked defense by conventional statistics, the Ravens retaining Mosley is a top priority. Mosley has become a fixture at the Pro Bowl with four selections in his five NFL seasons. The 26-year-old has earned second team All-Pro honors four times as well despite receiving criticism for his pass coverage.
- Contract package: $62.5 million for five years
- Overall guarantees: $35 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $25 million
- First three years: $39 million
Conventional wisdom suggested that the Giants would designate Collins as a franchise player for $11.15 million. His availability expands a pretty deep safety pool.
Collins established himself as one of the game's best safeties during a 2016 campaign in which he earned first-team All-Pro honors. He hasn't quite played at the same level over the last two seasons. Nonetheless, Collins has been selected to the last three Pro Bowls. His 428 tackles are best among safeties since he entered the NFL in 2015.
The 2017 extensions of Kam Chancellor and Reshad Jones with the Seahawks and Dolphins respectively averaging $12 million per year may be important salary benchmarks for Collins. Chancellor has $25 million in guarantees while Jones is at $33 million.
- Contract package: $90 million for five years
- Overall guarantees: $55 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $40 million
- First three years: $57.75 million
Flowers is the most attractive young edge rusher on the open market. Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark, Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, Chiefs outside linebacker Dee Ford and Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence were given franchise tags. The Patriots passed on doing the same to him with a $17.128 million designation.
Flowers' 7.5 sacks during the 2018 season didn't quite measure up to the franchise tag recipients' respective totals. His 64 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, quarterback hurries and quarterback hits) according to PFF put him in a six-way tie for the 13th most in the NFL with Von Miller (Broncos), Geno Atkins (Bengals), Melvin Ingram (Chargers), Yannick Ngakoue (Jaguars) and Clark. Flowers had one more pressure than Lawrence and beat Clowney by five.
The ideal situation for Flowers is the teams having familiarity with him getting into a bidding war for his services. Former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who is in his second year as head coach with the Lions, needs to improve Detroit's pass rush. Bob Quinn was a long-time Patriots scout and front office executive before becoming Lions general manager in 2016. Brian Flores, who assumed Patricia's role with the Patriots after his departure, was hired as the Dolphins' head coach following New England's win over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII. Miami had trouble getting to the quarterback last season.
- Contract package: $72.5 million for five years
- Overall guarantees: $40 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $32.5 million
- First three years: $47 million
Fowler got a chance to reinvent himself when the Rams gave the Jaguars a 2019 third-round pick and a 2020 fifth-round pick to get him at last season's trading deadline in late October. His career never quite got untracked in Jacksonville. Fowler tore his left ACL in Jacksonville's first minicamp practice a week after being the third overall pick in the 2015 draft. Although Fowler had a career high eight sacks in 2017, the Jaguars declined to pick up their fifth-year option on him for 2019. $14.2 million was a pretty steep price for someone who operated primarily as a situational pass rusher.
Fowler wasn't a consistent pass rushing force after his arrival in Los Angeles but more than validated the trade against the Saints in the NFC Championship Game. His overtime hit on quarterback Drew Brees while he was throwing caused the interception which helped set up the game winning field goal. Fowler also tied for the Rams' postseason lead in sacks with 1.5.
It wouldn't be surprising if some team gets seduced by the potential that made Fowler an early first-round pick and his playoff performance. Not having the fifth-year option exercised may work in Fowler's favor in a manner similar to how it did with 2014 fourth overall pick Sammy Watkins, but not necessarily to the same degree. The wide receiver received a $16 million per year deal from the Chiefs last March in free agency.