The exclusive negotiating rights NFL teams have had with their impending free agents ends on March 11. Beginning at 12 p.m. ET on March 11 until 3:59 p.m. ET on March 13, teams are allowed to negotiate with the agents of prospective unrestricted free agents. Players can't sign deals with new clubs until the 2019 league year and free agency officially begin at 4 p.m. ET on March 13. A player's ability to re-sign with his current club is allowed during the period.
Agents and NFL teams have already gotten a sense of the 2019 free agent market. Meetings between agents of impending free agents and teams routinely occur at the recently concluded NFL combine, although these types of discussions are prohibited by NFL rules. If the past is any indication, agents and teams have already started exchanging detailed proposals for the most desirable players hitting the open market. Teams are rarely penalized for tampering with players from other teams when those players are scheduled to become free agents.
As is usually the case, a robust market is expected during the first wave of free agency, which typically is over after the initial days of the signing period. Teams have over $1 billion in salary cap space at their disposal.
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. Below are seven offensive players (and one kicker), and you can see my.
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: $94 million/4 years
- Overall guarantees: $62.5 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $50 million
Foles didn't waste any time in buying his way out his contract by paying the required $2 million after the Eagles exercised an option to retain him for another season. The Eagles decided against considering putting a franchise tag on Foles strictly for trade purposes.
Foles enters free agency as the best quarterback available. The Super Bowl LII MVP came to Philadelphia's rescue for a second-straight year because of another season ending injury to starting quarterback Carson Wentz. Foles led the Eagles to victory in the final three regular season games for a wild-card playoff berth.
There were 20 quarterbacks who were either clear-cut starters or took the most snaps for their respective teams last season on veteran contracts. These 20 contracts averaged approximately $23.5 million per year, contained slightly under $54.275 million in guarantees where a little less than $44 million was fully guaranteed at signing. The average length was four years.
The deal most closely approximating these values was Alex Smith's with the Redskins. Smith signed a four-year, $94 million contract extension last March after his trade from the Redskins. The maximum value is $106.5 million because of $12.5 million in incentives based on Smith's playtime and Washington's playoff success. The extension has $71 million of guarantees, of which $55 million was fully guaranteed at signing.
The expectation is Foles will sign with the Jaguars. A reluctance to pay Foles would be understandable considering he has been most successful when only having to play for a handful of games. The Jaguars or some other team should be willing to pay Foles at least in the Case Keenum neighborhood. His former Rams teammate signed a two-year, $36 million contract with the Broncos last March in free agency. The deal is worth up to $40 million through incentives and had $25 million fully guaranteed at signing. Keenum just reworked his deal to facilitate a trade to the Redskins, which becomes effective on March 13 when the 2019 league year starts.
- Contract package: $77.5 million/5 years
- Overall guarantees: $48 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $35 million
- First three years: $51 million
Bell finally hits the open market after being designated as a franchise player by the Steelers for two-straight years. He boycotted the 2018 season instead of playing under a $14.544 million franchise tag. Bell, who recently turned 27, was the first franchise player to sit out a full season since Chiefs defensive end Dan Williams in 1998.
The three-time All-Pro rejected a five-year deal in the $14 million to $15 million per year range containing a $10 million signing bonus and a $10 million roster bonus due a few days after signing as the mid-July deadline for long term deals with franchise players was approaching according to various reports. Slightly over $33 million of the money was in the first two years. The three year cash flow was $45 million to $47 million. The lack of true guaranteed money, which is consistent with how Pittsburgh structures veteran contracts, was problematic.
Bell's exact financial demands during last year's negotiations were never disclosed. He reportedly wanted the same $17 million per year disgruntled wide receiver Antonio Brown, who is on the trading block, got from the Steelers in a 2017 contract extension.
Bell is reportedly seeking $50 million in the first two years of his contract. His goal of $50 million over the first two years is quite ambitious. Bears edge rusher Khalil Mack and Rams interior defensive lineman Aaron Donald are the only two non-quarterbacks with a two-year cash flow at or above $50 million.
Replacing Todd Gurley as the NFL's highest-paid running back is more attainable than $50 million in the first two years. Gurley dramatically reset a running back market that had been in steady decline with the four-year, $57.5 million extension (worth a maximum of $60 million through realistically achievable salary escalators) he received from the Rams last July. He has a running back record $45 million in guarantees. $34.5 million is fully guaranteed within 12 months of signing. Just over $47 million is in Gurley's first three new contract years.
- Contract package: $40 Million/3 years
- Overall guarantees: $27 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $24 million
Tate, who excels in the slot, was on his way to a third-straight 1,000 receiving yard season and fifth-consecutive one with at least 90 catches in 2018 before a midseason trade from the Lions to Eagles. The Lions had shown little interest in giving Tate, who will be 31 in August, the contract extension he had long desired. He had clearly outperformed the five-year, $31 million deal he signed in 2014.
Jarvis Landry, who was designated as a franchise player by the Dolphins last year before being traded to the Browns, fundamentally changed the way slot wide receivers are paid. The Browns signed Landry to a five-year, $75.5 million deal with $47 million in guarantees, with $34 million fully guaranteed at signing. The $11.5 million per year extension with $24.25 million in overall guarantees Doug Baldwin, Tate's former teammate when he was with the Seahawks, received from Seattle in 2016 could have some significance.
- Contract package: $63 million/4 years
- Overall guarantees: $35 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $35 million
Brown was acquired from the 49ers for what was essentially a mid-fourth-round pick during the 2018 NFL draft because of left tackle Nate Solder's departure to the Giants in free agency last March. Solder signed a four-year, $62 million contract with $34.8 million fully guaranteed from the Giants to briefly become the NFL's highest-paid offensive lineman.
Brown stepped up to fill the void created by Solder leaving. The massive Brown, who is listed at 6-8 and 380 pounds, played his best football in the postseason. He kept Pro-Bowlers Melvin Ingram and Dee Ford, who led NFL edge rushers with 78 quarterback pressures last season, in check.
Donovan Smith re-signing with the Buccaneers earlier in the week becomes the latest salary data point that could relevant for Brown. Smith signed a three-year, $41.25 million deal with $27 million fully guaranteed.
- Contract package: $58 million/4 years
- Overall guarantees: $31.5 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $31.5 million
Saffold should benefit from the explosion in offensive guard salaries over the last couple of years. He is the best guard available in free agency. An unrestricted free agent has set the guard market in each of the last three years, with Kelechi Osemele (2016), Kevin Zeitler (2017) and Andrew Norwell (2018). Continuing the trend will require Saffold eclipsing the six-year, $84 million extension ($14 million per year average) containing $40 million in guarantees Zack Martin received from the Cowboys last offseason. Unlike Osemele, Zeitler, and Norwell, the 30-year-old Saffold won't be hitting the open market for the first time, which could bring the streak to an end. The longest tenured Ram indicated late in the 2018 season that he is willing to take less money to stay in Los Angeles as long as he is being compensated fairly.
- Contract package: $46 million/4 years
- Overall guarantees: $25 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $25 million
Paradis hadn't missed an offensive snap in his 57 career games, which date back to the start of the 2015 season, before a broken right fibula in the ninth game ended his 2018 season. The 2014 sixth-round pick really came into his own in 2016. Paradis followed up his 2016 campaign with a 2017 season in which he didn't allow a sack. He was having a Pro Bowl caliber season when the injury occurred.
Ryan Jensen capitalized on a strong performance in 2017 as a full-time starter for the first time to become the NFL's highest-paid center on a four year deal with the Buccaneers averaging $10.5 million per year, which contains $22 million fully guaranteed, last offseason. The Steelers just signed Maurkice Pouncey to an extension eclipsing Jensen's deal. Pouncey's extension reportedly averages $11 million per year.
- Contract package: $70 million/5 years
- Overall guarantees: $35 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $30 million
- First three years: $45 million
Wide receiver salaries unexpectedly exploded during free agency last year. Wideouts who haven't done much to distinguish themselves during their NFL careers, such as Albert Wilson and Paul Richardson, signed $8-million-per-year deals. Allen Robinson received a three-year, $42 million contract with $25.2 million in guarantees because the Bears were confident of a complete recovery from the left ACL he tore in the Jaguars' 2017 season opener. The Chiefs signed Sammy Watkins to a three-year, $48 million contract with $30 million fully guaranteed after catching only 39 passes for 593 yards and eight touchdowns with the Rams in 2017.
Williams should be the biggest beneficiary if history repeats itself. He's arguably the best deep threat available in free agency and has excellent size (6-4, 205 pounds). Williams posted career highs of 69 receptions, 1,059 receiving and seven touchdowns in 2016 for the Chargers while Keenan Allen missed practically the entire season after reconstructive knee surgery.
- Contract package: $21 million/4 years
- Overall guarantees: $11 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $11 million
The 49ers placing a $4.971 million franchise tag on Robbie Gould may have prevented a reunion with the Bears, who surprisingly released him in 2016 at roster cut-downs. Since Gould's release from the Bears, he's made an NFL best 96.5 percent of his field goals (minimum of 20 made). He has converted on 82 of his 85 attempts. The franchise tag might be enough ammunition for Gould to become the league's first $5-million-per-year kicker.