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NFL 2019 Snap-shot: 2020 UFA usage through 9 Weeks

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We are now halfway through the 2019 NFL season and the trade deadline is officially in the rear view mirror. Most rosters are pretty set at this point, though there will of course always be minor roster shuffling throughout the season.

I wanted to update the previous snaps article (read here) and add some new data into the fold.

Using the new OTC Valuation Metric, I compiled the Current APYs of each team’s UFAs. Next, I have the Positional Value for each player as determined by the new OTC Valuation Metric. Finally, there is the Value Over Current APY.

I wanted to add our new valuation component because, as I mentioned in the original article, not all snaps are created equal. The valuation metric puts a dollar amount on the players that are headed out the door after 2019. We can see which teams are paying more than they need to for certain players based on their production halfway through the season, and if they shouldn’t be too worried about replacing them in free agency at the right price. On the flip side, we can see which teams are getting quality production out of a currently cheap asset that will soon cost much more. The proprietary OTC Valuation metric was created by OTC in partnership with Pro Football Focus).

First, here are updated tables for offense, defense and overall snaps attributed to 2020 UFAs for each team (% Change from Weeks 1-4):

Overall Snaps (Offense + Defense) by 2020 UFAs Weeks 1-9
Offense Snaps by 2020 UFAs Weeks 1-9
Defense Snaps by 2020 UFAs Weeks 1-9

Next, I broke each team’s UFAs down according to the OTC Valuation Metric following the first nine weeks of the season (there have been 135 of the 256 total NFL regular season games played thus far).

“Total Value of UFA” is the sum of all of the UFAs “Positional Values” (no special teams) through nine weeks of the regular season.

“Current APY of UFA” is the sum of the current average per year of each of the UFAs contracts.

“Value Over APY of UFA” is the Total Value of UFA less the Current APY of UFA

A positive Value Over APY means the team is currently paying less (on a per-year basis) to their pending 2020 UFAs than our OTC Valuation Metric believes the players are worth (based on their play in the current season). These are players that are contributing quality snaps at their position and the team may look to re-sign.

A negative Value Over APY means the team is currently paying more (per-year) to their pending 2020 UFAs than our OTC Valuation Metric believes the players are worth (based on 2019 production). These are players that are contributing snaps, but not to the caliber of their contract, or those who have been unable to register many snaps to generate value.

To put the team tables (below) into perspective, first here are some leaguewide numbers for Value Over APY (“Overall,” “Offense,” and “Defense” list the # of players):

Overall:

Overall Team Value Over APY

The average Value Over APY for a full NFL roster is $10,824,088, with an average of 12.28 UFAs per team.

The average Value Over APY for offenses is $4,966,000.56, with an average of 5.47 UFAs per team.

The average Value Over APY for defenses is $5,790,450.72, with an average of 6.81 UFAs per team.

Based on the OTC Valuation metric, Dallas has production from UFAs worth $44 million more than the average NFL team. They have a lot of quality players they need to re-sign. On the other end of the spectrum, Indianapolis is paying more to their pending 2020 UFAs than their production dictates they are worth, so they will probably have no issue letting some of those players walk.

Offense:

Offense Value Over APY

Defense:

Defense Value Over APY

Here is each team broken down by division. The Rows are the team overall, then the offense (# of UFAs on Offense), and the defense (# of UFAs on Defense). :

AFC East
AFC North
AFC South
AFC West
NFC East
NFC North
NFC South
NFC West

Finally, I took a look at our projected 2020 Cap Space for each team as compared to their 2020 UFA Value Over APY:

This demonstrates how much cap space would remain if the team signed all of their UFAs to contracts worth what the OTC Valuation Metric has deemed the players’ true worth. No team will do this, but it gives you a better idea of each team’s situation as they approach free agency. For example, Tampa Bay and Arizona have 16 and 19 UFAs respectively. The UFA groups on each team are outperforming their contracts by about $30 million collectively in 2019. However, Tampa Bay has $82.5 million and Arizona has $79.4 million in projected 2020 cap space. So, if they were to sign all of their UFAs to contracts in accordance with the OTC Valuation Metric, they would still have $53.4 million and $45.7 million respectively.

On the other hand, teams like the Giants and Colts will likely be letting the majority of their 2020 UFAs walk, and are more likely to benefit from replacing those players on the roster with others.

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NFL 2019 Snap-shot: 2020 UFA usage through 4 Weeks

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Through one quarter of the NFL season, I wanted to take a look at which teams are giving the most playing time to pending unrestricted free agents (I included players with a 2020 Void Year as UFAs).

All snaps are not created equal, and an injury may have thrust a particular player into a larger role, even though that is not necessarily a good thing for the team. Therefore, it is not automatically a red flag if a team has a lot of UFAs contributing significantly (especially if the team has performed poorly thus far). 

Nevertheless, teams must plan ahead. Certain position groups with several UFAs seeing a lot of snaps could raise eyebrows for a front office. Draft picks and/or free agency dollars could be earmarked based on early 2019 production. 

With that said, I broke down the team-specific positions to keep an eye on.

First, here are the league-wide numbers:

Overall Team Snaps for 2020 UFAs: 

Offensive Snaps for 2020 UFAs:

Defensive Team Snaps for 2020 UFAs:

The breakdown for each team with each player is below. I have also included the projected 2020 Cap Space for each team below:

Columns: Player | Position | Off. Snaps | % of Total | Def. Snaps | % of Total

AFC East

NYJ – $53.7M 2020 Cap Space (34 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $45M Effective Cap Space)

NE – $45.7M 2020 Cap Space (46 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $43.1M Effective Cap Space)

MIA – $115M 2020 Cap Space (41 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $110M Effective Cap Space)

BUF – $86.7M 2020 Cap Space (44 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $83.1M Effective Cap Space)

AFC North

PIT – $2.4M 2020 Cap Space (41 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – (-$2.66M) Effective Cap Space)

CLE – $61.2M 2020 Cap Space (47 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $59.2M Effective Cap Space)

CIN – $60.6M 2020 Cap Space (41 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $55.5M Effective Cap Space)

BAL – $68.9M 2020 Cap Space (39 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $62.7M Effective Cap Space)

AFC South

TEN – $50.4M 2020 Cap Space (38 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $43.8M Effective Cap Space)

JAX – (-$10.5M) 2020 Cap Space (46 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – (-$13M) Effective Cap Space)

IND – $108.9M 2020 Cap Space (42 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $104.3M Effective Cap Space)

HOU – $88.8M 2020 Cap Space (39 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $82.7M Effective Cap Space)

AFC West

OAK – $78.7M 2020 Cap Space (33 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $69.5M Effective Cap Space)

LAC – $62.8M 2020 Cap Space (38 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $56.1M Effective Cap Space)

KC – $23.6M 2020 Cap Space (40 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $18M Effective Cap Space)

DEN – $67M 2020 Cap Space (37 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $59.9M Effective Cap Space)

NFC East

WAS – $53.4M 2020 Cap Space (45 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $50.3M Effective Cap Space)

PHI – $39.3M 2020 Cap Space (36 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $31.7M Effective Cap Space)

NYG – $65.2M 2020 Cap Space (37 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $58.1M Effective Cap Space)

DAL – $92.6M 2020 Cap Space (36 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $85M Effective Cap Space)

NFC North 

MIN – (-$1.2M) 2020 Cap Space (37 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – (-$8.4M) Effective Cap Space)

GB – $25.1M 2020 Cap Space (41 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $20.1M Effective Cap Space)

DET – $46.4M 2020 Cap Space (36 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $38.8M Effective Cap Space)

CHI – $14.6M 2020 Cap Space (35 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $6.5M Effective Cap Space)

NFC South

ATL – (-$8M) 2020 Cap Space (40 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – (-$13.6M) Effective Cap Space)

CAR – $51.6M 2020 Cap Space (37 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $44.5M Effective Cap Space)

NO – $27.1M 2020 Cap Space (39 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $20.1M Effective Cap Space)

TB – $82M 2020 Cap Space (37 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $74.9M Effective Cap Space)

NFC West

SEA – $75.4M 2020 Cap Space (40 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $69.8M Effective Cap Space)

SF – $26.4M 2020 Cap Space (42 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $21.8M Effective Cap Space)

LAR – $37.2M 2020 Cap Space (39 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $31.1M Effective Cap Space)

AZ – $83.3M 2020 Cap Space (32 Players currently under Contract for 2020 – $73.6M Effective Cap Space)

Each team has their own pressing needs, but they also have financial realities they have to deal with moving forward. The rest of the season will go a long way in determining priority extensions and which players teams will let walk. However, the lineup a team rolls out in Week 1 (again, excluding injuries) is the lineup they determined was optimal after Training Camp. We can certainly learn from these figures through four weeks.

As seen on Colin Cowherd’s The Herd

Projecting an extension for Cody Whitehair

By: Brad Spielberger  

Throughout the 2018 off-season, the Bears were in talks for an extension with their 2015 second-round pick out of Florida State, nose tackle Eddie Goldman. Ryan Pace extended one of the players that he was personally responsible for drafting in Chicago for the first time. So far the returns have been positive. Early extensions such as Goldman’s enable teams to have a better understanding of both their roster and salary cap situation for the following offseason before that offseason arrives. Last year the Bears knew they wanted to keep Goldman around. Agreeing to a deal as he was entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract was the smart decision to move up the timing of his deal before the market increased.

This off-season is no different. 

By the numbers

The second-round draft pick at No. 56 overall for the Bears in 2016 was Kansas State interior offensive lineman Cody Whitehair. Like Goldman, the veteran interior lineman is entering the last season of a four-year rookie contract. 

At every step of the way during his tenure with the Bears, Whitehair has demonstrated exactly what the Bears were seeking when they drafted him three years ago: versatility and reliability. Whitehair has shifted back and forth between center and left guard multiple times already and has featured well in both spots. He has even handled some duties at right guard in emergency situations. That the veteran has missed only 25 total snaps in three years (per TheQuantEdge), demonstrates just how dependable of a player he is. 

Pro Football Focus deemed Whitehair’s rookie season third-best among all centers since they began recording statistics in 2006. Here is what the analytics database had to say about Whitehair’s second season in 2017: 

“Though tasked with playing guard to the tune of 259 offensive snaps last season, Whitehair still predominantly played center and played extremely well at the position in 2017. Whitehair ranked fifth in run-block grade (81.8) and fourth in run-block success percentage (17.6) in 2017.”

Whitehair was not only PFF’s third-highest-graded center in 2016, he was No. 13 in 2017, and No. 10 in 2018. At the initial peak of his accomplished career, he allowed a grand total of zero sacks and zero QB hits in 2018. This was while playing every offensive snap. 

Run blocking may have suffered a bit for the whole Bears’ offensive line unit in 2018, which will have to be mitigated in coming years. But it was Whitehair and the Bears’ collective pass protection that took a major leap forward. 

Here was PFF’s review of the whole season for the big men up front in Chicago: 

“The Bears finished the season with the league’s second-best pass blocking efficiency of any offensive line, and this was yet another team without a real weak link. Rookie James Daniels ended up earning their lowest grade at 62.3 overall, but Charles Leno Jr., Bobby Massie, and Cody Whitehair were all over 70.0.” 

All of these accolades are great, which brings up an important query: why are the Bears moving Whitehair to left guard after he was one of the NFL’s premier centers (according to at least one metric) in the last three years? It’s a multi-faceted answer.

First, James Daniels is the more natural center, as it was his college position. Second, Whitehair struggled mightily with shotgun snaps in 2018. Matt Nagy utilized the shotgun formation on 79 percent of all offensive snaps in 2018, which was tied for the second-highest percentage in the NFL. The Bears cannot afford to be stressing over quality shotgun snaps. It should be a routine exchange and the more natural center in Daniels gives them that drilled regimen.

What’s most important in Whitehair’s position shift is getting the rest of the Bears’ offensive line to ascend. PFF had complements for Charles Leno Jr. and his run blocking, but the rest of the big boys struggled mightily. Pairing Whitehair and Leno Jr. together on the left side is a calculated decision from Nagy, Pace, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. Tarik Cohen and David Montgomery are elite change-of-direction running backs who need space to work with before they can create magic out of thin air. Thanks to the presence of these two dynamic backs, I expect there to be a heavy usage of counters and cutbacks to the left side behind Leno Jr. and Whitehair. 

Taylor Gabriel and Cordarrelle Patterson running jet sweeps from the right side to the left should also be a feature of the Chicago offense in 2019. According to SharpFootball’s 2019 NFL preview, the Bears ran the ball behind the center and to the left more than they did to the right in 2018. This may have had something to do with Kyle Long’s absence. An understandable point considering Long’s proficiency as a bruiser in the running game. But I see this trend continuing, and perhaps expanding, in 2019.

While purely speculative, one can also assume that the Bears did not want to put too much on James Daniels’ plate in Year 1. It’s difficult enough to be a rookie in the NFL. If Daniels also had to learn all of the cadences and snap counts of a brand-new offense (along with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky), it could have been a disaster. The shift from center to left guard for Cody Whitehair and vice versa for James Daniels in 2019 makes plenty of sense, and better suits both of their skill-sets long term.

Now what effect does moving Whitehair from center to left guard have on his contract? Many seem to believe that left guards get paid significantly more than centers, but that is not the case. 

Below is a table with the top-five free agent contracts in each off-season based on average per year for both left guards and centers:

Top Five Free Agent Signings by APY

As you can see above, only in 2018 did the top-five contracts at left guard have a higher average APY than those at center. This is primarily a result of somewhat of an outlier of a contract – Andrew Norwell’s $13,300,000 per year free agent deal with the Jaguars. Norwell may have proven to be a cautionary tale for teams looking to extend their guards to big deals: he missed five games in 2018 and did not play particularly well in the other 11. In the 2019 free agency cycle, Rodger Saffold, another second-round draft pick and perhaps the best comparison to Whitehair’s situation, was the only left guard to top $7,000,000 APY. However, Mitch Morse, Maurkice Pouncey, and Matt Paradis all topped the $9,000,000 mark at center, and technically these are Whitehair’s cohorts of the past three seasons. 

Saffold received an overall PFF grade of 73.2 in his 2018 season with the Rams, compared to Cody Whitehair’s 70.4. A discrepancy that small doesn’t mean a great deal, both were good players last year. Whitehair has the benefit of youth, as he is just 27-years-old whereas Saffold is 31. 

If we look at the centers specifically, Morse is 27 and Paradis is 29. Two guys more relatable in age to Whitehair. They also played the same position as the Bears’ interior swingman the past few seasons. That makes them a potentially better gauge of his true market, even though he is sliding over to left guard for 2019. 

Morse was drafted No. 49 overall in the 2015 draft, one year before Cody Whitehair was selected at No. 56. Morse played out his rookie contract with the Chiefs and became an unrestricted free agent this off-season. While Morse did play at a high level when healthy, he missed five games in 2018 after missing nine games in 2017. There are some concerns about his concussion history, as he has already been diagnosed with three, and he remains in the Bills’ concussion protocol as of today, August 21st.

Paradis, meanwhile, is a journeyman center that was selected in the sixth round in 2014 and eventually placed on the Broncos’ practice squad. He became a UFA in 2019 after playing on a second-round RFA tender for $2.914 million in 2018. Paradis also missed seven games in 2018, though he hadn’t missed a snap in three years prior to that. Managing a PFF grade of 79 was all the more impressive in a shortened 2018 season.

Below is a table with each of the four player’s PFF grades since 2016: 

PFF Grades

While PFF grades are not the end-all be-all authority on player effectiveness, this table demonstrates the type of impact that draft pedigree can have on contract negotiations. Paradis is the only player taken later than the second round. Though he grades out better than the other three players above, he will have received the smallest contract of the group. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I believe Whitehair will come out with the largest contract of his peers.

The largest APY signing at left guard in 2018 was Norwell with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Norwell was an undrafted free agent with the Panthers and played on a RFA tender in 2017 before agreeing to terms in Jacksonville. It should be noted that the Jaguars went on a spending spree in 2018, shelling out the fourth-most cash in the league. Norwell’s three-year PFF grade average prior to 2018 was a 79.37. Norwell’s $13.3M APY extension under the 2018 salary cap equates to $14,125,620.80 APY under the 2019 salary cap. Norwell received $30 million fully guaranteed at signing out of a $66 million total, which is roughly 45 percent. Rodger Saffold, Mitch Morse, and Matt Paradis all received similar guaranteed-at-signing percentages of around 45 percent. 

While Ryan Pace, Joey Laine and Co. have presumably attempted to negotiate a lower number by offering the extension a year early (a la Jaylon Smith in Dallas), Whitehair’s camp is still probably looking for top dollar. Pace had no problem making Eddie Goldman one of the highest-paid defensive tackles in the NFL last off-season after his third season. Expecting anything but a similar contract at left guard for Whitehair may be foolhardy. The goal for the Bears’ front office at this point should be to just keep the eventual number below Norwell’s.

Whitehair’s contract projection: 

Four years, $49 million ($12.25M APY), $22.5 million fully guaranteed at signing ($14.5 million signing bonus, $1.5 million 2019 base salary, $3 million 2020 base salary, $3.5 million 2020 roster bonus). 

In this deal, there will also be a 2021 roster bonus of $3.5 million guaranteed for injury only at signing. The roster bonus will become fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2021 league year. Whitehair is currently due a $1,026,078 base salary in 2019 and the remainder of his rookie contract signing bonus is for $318,103. 

Below is a table with the full contract details, including a small $473,922 pay-bump to his 2019 base salary that becomes fully guaranteed:

Whitehair has too many positives working in his favor to not receive a strong, secure contract extension. He’s 27, a former second-round draft pick, extremely dependable and reliable, and capable of playing at a high level at multiple positions. The change of position in the contract year muddles negotiations a bit, but the left guard and center market are still pretty similar.

This projection is a very nice payday for Whitehair, especially when considering that the extension is a year early as he enters the fourth year of his rookie deal. For comparison’s sake, Jaylon Smith of the Dallas Cowboys just became the fourth highest paid inside linebacker (based on APY) in the NFL after starting just 22 games since being drafted in the second round of the 2016 draft (at No. 34 he went 22 picks ahead of Whitehair). As I mentioned at the top of the article, Cody Whitehair has missed only 25 snaps in his three year career out of a possible 3,073… Jaylon Smith has missed 26 starts out of a possible 48. The inside linebacker and interior offensive line market have nothing to do with each other, but consistency brings huge value, particularly to a position that relies on the unit to develop chemistry. 

Whitehair becoming the fourth highest paid left guard/center in terms of APY would mean his APY falls around $11 million. This estimate of $11 million APY was essentially where my Whitehair projection began, but the more I dove into the (scarce) resources available to determine Whitehair’s market, the more that number moved upward. 

All of the Bears’ moves to clear cap space prior to the 2019 free agency period and most recently with Charles Leno Jr. were not for naught, as another draft pick will be rewarded before the 2019 season kicks off. This hypothetical move will take up roughly $3.4 million in 2019 salary cap space, lowering the Bears’ number to around $18 million (per the NFLPA Public Salary Cap report dated 8/21/2019)

Projecting an Extension for Chicago Bears DT Eddie Goldman

When I began writing this article, the Khalil Mack rumors appeared to be nothing more than a pipe dream. No one really believed the Raiders would trade one of the best defensive players in the NFL, but here we are. Without getting into the details of the trade and Mack’s monster contract (which I will do soon), I want to look at a guy who will benefit greatly from Mack’s presence on the defense. DT Eddie Goldman’s ability to take on offensive linemen is even more crucial now with an elite edge rusher on the roster.

Bears GM Ryan Pace has been known to extend his guys before entering the final season of their contract, and communication between Eddie Goldman’s camp and the Bears has reportedly been productive. One thing immediately stuck out when looking for comparable players for Chicago Bears DT Eddie Goldman; he is still only 24 years old and doesn’t turn 25 until after the 2018 regular season. A second-round draft pick out of Florida State in 2015, Goldman took a major leap this past season after injuries limited him to just six games in 2016. He appeared in 15 games and contributed on 57.5% of the Bears defensive plays, battling opposing interior offensive lines alongside Akiem Hicks. Hicks was rewarded for his outstanding play with a four-year, $48 million extension on September 9, 2017. One year later, is Eddie about to cash in too?

Goldman’s role is mainly as a run stuffing nose tackle, but in his rookie season he had 5 sacks, showing he’s certainly capable of getting after the quarterback. A nagging ankle injury derailed much of his sophomore campaign, but he never needed surgery and was able to get proper rest once the Bears were no longer in contention. Goldman showed just the type of dynamic player he can be in 2017, and with presumably more growth ahead for the 24-year-old, the Bears would be smart to lock him up long term.

According to Pro Football Reference, Goldman had 27 solo tackles and 17 assists in 2017, both career highs by double digits. While his sacks dipped to just 1.5 in 2017, Goldman made his presence felt in the backfield with 3 more tackles for loss. Basic statistics are not always the best way to measure a position such as nose tackle, as they can be hard to come by.

The Quant Edge is a goldmine of advanced data, including an “Injury Impact Tool” that shows the effect on a team that comes from an individual player being on the field or off it (I highly recommend checking out the site, it is a great new resource for NFL fans). The table below shows Bears opponents’ average yards per carry during Eddie Goldman’s “In Splits” and “Out of Splits.”

In 2016 when Goldman missed ten games with an ankle injury, opponents’ yards per carry rose over a yard from 3.59 to 4.63 yards per carry. This trend continued in 2017 when Goldman played over half of the defensive snaps. Other immeasurable data, such as how Goldman’s presence on the field frees up pass rushers like Akiem Hicks, paints a more complete picture of Eddie’s contribution to the Chicago Bears. Goldman now commands the respect of opposing offensive lines, and if he pulls double teams this season then Hicks, Leonard Floyd, and brand-new Bear Khalil Mack will be getting after the quarterback quite often. Additionally, Goldman’s relationship with Bears DC Vic Fangio is very strong, as he had many kind words to share with the media when Fangio chose to stay in Chicago this offseason.

Goldman’s importance in Chicago is clear; determining his market requires a look around the league, and it is a bit foggy. With Goldman being a 2015 draft pick he still has a year left on his deal, so there are no comparable players from his draft class that have received new contracts (Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton were the only DTs drafted ahead of him). The next issue with finding comps is that 3-4 DTs and 4-3 DTs are technically different positions. However, the NFL considers all DTs the same when it comes to determining franchise tag amounts, so I am going to include 4-3 DTs. The players I have used to compare with Eddie Goldman, for varying reasons, are Beau Allen, Star Lotulelei and Timmy Jernigan.

The below table is the average playtime percentages and cumulative stats for the two years preceding when these players signed their current contracts:

Beau Allen is a 26-year-old, 4-3 DT for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Allen was a seventh-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2014 NFL Draft out of Wisconsin. Allen was given a three-year, $15 million contract by the Bucs on March 15, 2018. The Eagles defensive line is arguably the best in the NFL, so Allen electing to sign as a free agent with the Bucs was a different situation than Eddie Goldman’s. Nevertheless, they have both worked to maximize their limited opportunities, Goldman because of injury and Allen because of a steep depth chart. Allen is the biggest special teams contributor of the group, but has the fewest sacks per game by a good margin. It is fair to wonder what the impact was on Beau Allen playing with one of the best DTs in the league in Fletcher Cox, although Jernigan was obviously in the same position. Allen’s deal will serve as our floor.

Star Lotulelei at 28 years old is quite a bit older than Goldman which complicates the comparison, but he just signed his second NFL contract for five years, $50 million on March 15, 2018 with the Buffalo Bills. Lotulelei was playing under his fifth-year option in 2017 in Carolina, as he was the Panthers’ first round draft pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Lotulelei is on the field a ton both on defense and in special teams and plays a more similar role to Eddie Goldman than the other two comps. Here are Lotulelei’s In-Splits and Out-of-Splits:

Lotulelei clogged up the middle against the run and created space for Carolina’s great edge rushers on the outside. He certainly had proven more in his career before signing his latest contract, but Eddie Goldman will likely be signing a third contract by the time he turns 28. Given Goldman’s youth and potential, I think Lotulelei’s $10 million APY could be a benchmark used in negotiations by Goldman’s representation.

Finally, Timmy Jernigan will serve as our ceiling. Jernigan is a 25-year-old, 4-3 DT for the Philadelphia Eagles. He was drafted in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Florida State (sound familiar?) by the Baltimore Ravens and was traded to Philadelphia going into 2017. About two months into the 2017 season, on November 10, Jernigan was given a four-year, $48 million contract extension. Jernigan’s 10 sacks and 13 tackles for loss in the two seasons prior to his current contract show how he can get into the backfield and disrupt an offense. While the Eagles obviously regret very little about their 2017 season, they might regret giving Jernigan an early extension. Jernigan underwent back surgery for a herniated disc this offseason and is on the Eagles’ Non-Football Injury list heading into 2018, meaning he will miss at least the first six games of the season. This is essentially the risk you take with an early extension. It enables teams to negotiate a more team-friendly contract but opens them up to paying a player earlier than necessary who ends up injured. This may be on the minds of Ryan Pace and the Bears front office.

Following the Bears’ trade for Khalil Mack and his subsequent massive extension, the Bears have $6,255,556 in cap space according to OverTheCap.com. Goldman’s 2018 Cap number is currently $1,809,282. Taking a look at Jernigan’s contract, I predict the Bears will try to structure Goldman’s the same way for 2018:

Timmy Jernigan’s Extension Year

The base salary from Jernigan’s final year of his rookie deal was not changed in the extension, so the $2 million proration of his $10 million signing bonus (additional $376,891 is remainder of original signing bonus) was the only additional money added to his 2017 Cap Number. The Bears will attempt to mirror this in Goldman’s extension.

At 24, Eddie Goldman will have a great opportunity for “another bite at the apple.” We saw above that Star Lotulelei just signed a five-year, $50 million deal at 28. For this reason, I think four new years on an extension will be the maximum Goldman’s camp is looking for. Lastly, throughout this offseason, far before Khalil Mack, Ryan Pace has shown he is willing to pay a premium for top end talent that he believes in. Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel, and Allen Robinson all came with several question marks. Limited roles, injuries, etc. Eddie Goldman has his own injury history, but he also has a huge leg up on all of those guys; Goldman was Ryan Pace’s second ever draft pick as General Manager. Oh, and the first? Kevin White, who is effectively still making his Bears debut this Sunday, playing in his sixth NFL game. This deal is a win-win for all parties.

Look for a Goldman extension in the four year/$44 million range, with an $8 million signing bonus and $20 million fully guaranteed at signing (so Bears will have $4,255,556 in 2018 Cap Space). Ryan Pace likes to guarantee base salary, so approximately $7-8 million total could be guaranteed for Goldman’s 2019 and 2020 seasons. Lastly, Pace also employs March roster bonuses; the remaining $4-5 million guaranteed at signing could be in 2019 and 2020 roster bonuses. 

Here is Akiem Hicks’ contract extension from last season for reference to Pace’s style:

Potential Teddy Bridgewater Trade Destinations

With two solid showings in the preseason under his belt, Teddy Bridgewater has become a trade target for teams seeking a temporary upgrade that can provide a bridge to their next franchise quarterback… or at the least a reliable backup. The New York Jets have made it clear that Sam Darnold is their guy come Week 1, and Josh McCown proved last year that he can be a more than adequate #2. The Jets took a bit of a gamble signing Bridgewater to a one year, $6 million deal ($5 million non-guaranteed P5 base salary, $500k signing bonus, $500k workout bonus) that included an additional $9 million in incentives based on performance and percentage of playing time. These incentives (for example: $250k for every game he plays 50% of the snaps) effectively discourage the Jets from starting him. The gamble appears to have paid off whether the Jets ultimately decide to keep Bridgewater as a backup, especially considering that Josh McCown is 39 years old, or if they end up trading him for what could be a decent return.

2017 was the year of the backup QB. NFL teams understand now more than ever the importance of depth at the most vital position on the field. The Eagles proved that teams with stout defenses and a bevy of weapons can recover from the loss of an MVP-caliber QB if their backup is above average. The teams I selected as Bridgewater’s potential destinations all share one thing: a strong need for an upgraded QB2.

New York Giants – The Giants appear to have no reliable backup quarterback for Eli Manning, as Davis Webb’s two lackluster preseason performances have not inspired any confidence. While 4th round pick Kyle Lauletta has shown flashes and may develop into a quality quarterback, the adjustment from Division I-AA University of Richmond to the NFL will take some time. The Giants decided against jumpstarting a rebuild this offseason and instead are attempting one last push before Eli (37 years old) retires. It would be foolish with all they have invested in this offense, including consecutive first round draft picks in Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley, to allow it all go to waste should Eli get hurt.

The division rival Eagles obviously showed how crucial a good backup QB can be. But it doesn’t have to be a miraculous Super Bowl run; Teddy Bridgewater subbing in for Eli for a hypothetical 2-4 week injury could be the difference between a playoff berth or an early trip to the golf course in a highly competitive NFC East. Eli Manning carries a $22.2 million cap hit into 2018, which is the final year of his deal that includes guaranteed base salary. On the third day of the league year in 2019 he will earn a $5 million roster bonus, but if he is cut before then the only dead money the Giants will carry on the cap is the final $6.2 million of his signing bonus. The aforementioned Davis Webb and Kyle Lauletta are carrying a combined 2018 cap hit of just $1,528,456.

What likely prevents this move is the fact that the Giants have very little cap room, with just $1,481,401 currently available, and with Odell Beckham Jr. still seeking a new deal. However, Odell’s 5th year option currently counts for $8,459,000 against the cap for 2018 and that number could be reduced with a new deal that has a small base salary amount for 2018. This would certainly be a great concession for Odell and his agent to make that benefits both parties in the long run. Cutting former first round pick and major disappointment Ereck Flowers is certainly an option as well after the Giants signed Nate Solder to a huge deal to become their new starter at LT. One big factor that cannot be forgotten: Giants new head coach Pat Shurmur was the Vikings offensive coordinator the last two seasons and obviously knows Bridgewater well.

New Orleans Saints – If there is one surefire way to determine that a franchise does not believe they have their quarterback of the future on the roster it is playing him on special teams, which is exactly what the Saints did with Taysom Hill in 2017. Hill, an undrafted free agent out of BYU (where he was plagued by injury), has been referred to as the “heir apparent” to Drew Brees. Place me firmly in the camp that believes comments like these coming from the Saints are more an effort to boost Hill’s confidence than anything else. Rumors that the Saints were seriously considering drafting Lamar Jackson only bolster this belief.

Hill threw two interceptions on his first two drives in the Saints latest preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals, and while an argument could be made that one of them was more WR Cam Meredith’s fault, the second one was downright ugly. Hill displayed the athleticism that has caught the eye of the Saints with three carries for 43 yards, but he had a paltry 4.53 YPA on his fifteen passes. Suffice it to say, he is not the heir apparent to Drew Brees in New Orleans.

Tom Savage is the only other QB on the roster. The Saints are another team far too heavily invested in making a deep playoff push the next two seasons as Drew Brees’ career comes to an end to have it all collapse should Brees miss time. The NFC South is just as competitive as the NFC East, if not more so. Every game matters. The Saints’ defensive overhaul last season was very successful, and the Saints traded away their 2019 first round pick to move up for UTSA Edge rusher Marcus Davenport. Like the Giants, the Saints do not have a ton of cap room, due in part to a very questionable contract for free agent LB Demario Davis, which earned a spot on Jason’s “Worst of bad NFL contracts” list here. Regardless, trading for Bridgewater is something the Saints should certainly consider.

Denver Broncos – Paxton Lynch receiving a downpour of boos in Denver following another bad performance against the Chicago Bears in the Broncos’ most recent preseason game is just further confirmation that the QB situation behind Case Keenum is not in a good place. Perhaps no team in the NFL last year had an uglier QB carousel than Denver, completely derailing what is otherwise a very solid team at most positions on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

Keenum was signed to put an end to the disaster that was the Trevor Siemian/Brock Osweiler/Paxton Lynch trio. However, should Keenum go down, the Broncos will have to turn to Chad Kelly, the last overall draft pick in 2017. Kelly has impressed thus far in preseason and is certainly talented; an injury and character concerns killed his draft stock more than anything he ever did on the field. Nevertheless, Denver would be smart to ensure that their contingency plan if Keenum misses some time is better than two young, unproven quarterbacks (Lynch may be proven… proven he is indeed not an NFL caliber QB).

The Broncos have some cap room to work with, about $9.8 million. This team is also on the “too good to let a bad QB ruin their entire season” list.

Dallas Cowboys – This might make the most sense of any team on this list as the Dallas Cowboys currently have Cooper Rush, an undrafted free agent out of Central Michigan, as their #2 QB. Much like the division rival Eagles, the Cowboys have an elite offensive line that can make life easy for an above average quarterback. Dak Prescott may have suffered from a sophomore slump, or he may have sorely missed Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield, but whatever caused his struggles the fact is he was not great in 2017. Prescott clearly has the full trust and support of the coaching staff and front office in Dallas, but another rocky start may put that into question.

The big offseason storyline in Dallas was obviously the loss of Jason Witten to retirement and the release of Dez Bryant. The two accounted for a whopping 45.1% of Dak Prescott’s targets in 2017 and were replaced by a blocking tight end in Geoff Swaim (nine catches in three seasons in Dallas) and former Jacksonville Jaguars WR Allen Hurns. The Cowboys also drafted Michael Gallup, a wide receiver out of Colorado State, who has been impressive in camp and the preseason lining up in Dez’ old spot as the ‘X’ receiver. Replacing nearly half of Dak’s targets while losing the ultimate security blanket that was Jason Witten is no small task. With all of these new pieces working to build on their chemistry and skills in Dallas, a highly accurate quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater at the very least would provide a great benefit in practice.

The other big offseason storyline in Dallas has been the Cowboys’ pursuit of Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. With Cowboys safety Xavier Woods suffering an injury against the Bengals that reportedly may cause him to miss time in the regular season, adding a safety is likely their top priority, as it may be the most glaring weakness on the roster. This development may prevent a move for Bridgewater. The Cowboys may also elect to go with a cheaper option at safety which would leave room for Bridgewater. A move for Thomas would require a trade and likely a big new contract, something that has been extremely rare for safeties this offseason. There are plenty of theories for why this is, my personal belief is that all NFL teams have drastically reduced the value of safeties given the new lowering-the-helmet rule. It’s hard to justify spending top dollar on a position that the NFL rule book appears to have all but eliminated from the game (enough on that tangent, though I could certainly go on).

Houston Texans – The Texans may not want to add another QB to their roster with a history of significant knee issues considering what they had to endure after Deshaun Watson went down last season. The loss of Deshaun Watson to a torn ACL (the second of his career) effectively ended the Texans season in 2017 as they went 1-8 in their final nine games with Tom Savage at the helm. The Texans certainly have the talent to make some noise in the AFC South following a productive offseason. Houston added former Arizona Cardinals S/CB Tyrann Mathieu to a secondary that needed some help, as well as former Kansas City Chiefs guard Zach Fulton and former New Orleans Saints guard Senio Kelemete to an offensive line that needed a lot of help.

The NFL has yet to experience J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney sharing the field for an extended period, but there is no question that opposing offensive tackles and QBs are already shaking in their boots. Whitney Mercilus is an underrated pass rusher as well, he could be a nightmare for opposing offenses to deal with if they are forced to pay too much attention to the outside. Add in a healthy Will Fuller for Watson to target opposite Deandre Hopkins and this team could take a major leap in 2018.

I am less high on Deshaun Watson than everyone else on the planet seems to be, maybe (read: definitely) because I’m a die-hard Bears fan and am sick of hearing how Watson should have been drafted ahead of my guy Mitchell Trubisky. All jokes aside, Watson throws a ton of interceptable passes that go unnoticed because Deandre Hopkins is perhaps the best jump ball receiver in the NFL. Watson had a 3.9% interception rate, ranking above only Trevor Siemian and Deshone Kizer for QBs with 200 or more pass attempts in 2017. But most importantly, Watson’s backups are Brandon Weeden (who the Texans released in 2017 because they preferred Tom Savage and Brock Osweiler) and a special teams player in Joe Webb. The backup QB situation alone is enough of a reason for the Texans to take a serious look at making a move for Bridgewater. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the Texans currently have more than $34 million in cap space.

Miami Dolphins – Much like the Houston Texans, there is no shortage of knee issues for QBs already in Miami. On the other hand, losing Tannehill in 2017 forced the Dolphins to coax a lazy Jay Cutler out of retirement (for the not so cheap price tag of $10 million) because the backup QBs on their roster were not playable. That is still the case this season, with David Fales and Brock Osweiler currently slated to replace Tannehill should he get hurt in 2018. Fales earned the trust of Dolphins head coach Adam Gase when the two spent time together in Chicago, but he is no more than a solid QB room presence. Osweiler is on his fourth team in two years.

Unlike the first five teams mentioned, I don’t believe the Dolphins have a great shot to make the playoffs regardless of the situation at QB following a potential injury to Tannehill. I am not as bearish on Miami as many other pundits though, and the AFC is not a deep conference in 2018, so anything is possible.

After clearing several big contracts from the books this offseason (Ndamukong Suh for example), the Dolphins have $14.38 million in cap space. The Dolphins appear to believe in Tannehill, but it is impossible to predict the performance of any player coming off an ACL tear. The Dolphins are likely going through a mini rebuild and looking for their next gunslinger. I for one was shocked that they did not make a move in the draft for Josh Rosen, but that’s just one man’s opinion.

Seattle Seahawks – Last but not least the Seattle Seahawks; in my opinion the worst team on this list. Reports surfaced, and were subsequently disputed by some in the Seahawks organization, that Seattle reached out to the Colts offering a 2nd round pick for QB Jacoby Brissett. The compensation seems a bit excessive, but Seattle has made plenty of extremely puzzling moves this offseason, so it wouldn’t come as a total surprise. The Seahawks have holes to address at a ton of positions besides quarterback, but if Russell Wilson were to go down there is no doubt in my mind that backup QB Austin Davis would struggle to win a single game. The Seahawks have clearly shown that they are making a concerted effort to clear the books to focus on the future, but a one-year flyer on Bridgewater would not affect them long term.

If these rumors are true, I’d say this is very scary news for Seahawks fans. There is no indication that Russell Wilson has any plans of leaving when his contract expires in 2019, but this alleged move by Seattle would be the first warning sign. The offer of a second-round pick would be far less confusing if the Seahawks are working on a contingency plan for Wilson. It’s worth noting that this article could have been written about Jacoby Brissett as well, but with Andrew Luck’s health still a question mark I’d be shocked if the Colts traded a promising young QB with two years remaining on his rookie deal.

Roquan Smith Contract Delay

Panic has not yet set in for Bears fans over the team’s inability to wrap up contract negotiations with first-round pick Roquan Smith, but they are starting to lose their patience. With Chicago set to face off against the Ravens in this Thursday’s Hall of Fame game (August 2nd – 8pm ET), the Bears were one of the first teams to report to camp on July 19th. Almost immediately, a certain player’s absence became a bigger headline than the guys there.

Fast forward to July 31st, all 32 NFL teams have reported to camp, and Roquan Smith is now the only unsigned draft pick from the 2018 NFL Draft. Jets 3rd overall pick QB Sam Darnold inked his deal yesterday after holding out over similar concerns. Both Smith and Darnold are represented by mega-agency Creative Artists Agency; CAA also represented nine other first round draft picks (full agency breakdown here). Roquan Smith’s deal will be in the $18.5-$18.8 million range over four years, fully guaranteed, with a signing bonus around $11.5-$11.8 million.

Initial reports on the holdup with Darnold claimed that the issue was related to offset language. Newer reports indicated, much like the reports about Roquan Smith, that guaranteed money void/forfeiture language was causing the delay. With respect to an offset, if the Jets and Darnold part ways before this contract is up and Darnold signs with another team, the Jets would want his new contract to offset some of the money he is owed from them. Darnold and his agent, on the other hand, would like to be able to collect from the Jets in addition to this hypothetical new contract; this is often called “double dipping.” (More in-depth breakdown of offsets as well as Darnold and the Jets’ situation from Jason Fitzgerald here).

With Darnold officially signed, some details about the major contract sticking points were revealed by Pro Football Talk:

It appears Sam Darnold’s agent did a wonderful job securing guaranteed money ASAP, as well as eliminating void language. Darnold and his agent did however relent on the offset issue. Odds are that Baker Mayfield’s contract including offset language did not make for an easy negotiation there.

So… why is Roquan Smith, also represented by CAA, the last man standing? According to reports there are a few reasons, with one known factor being a disagreement over guaranteed money forfeiture following a potential fine or suspension under the NFL’s new helmet-to-helmet rule. In many NFL contracts there are clauses that allow the team to void part of the guaranteed money owed to the player if he were to be suspended or fined stemming from an incident either on or off the field. NFL players are paid on a bi-weekly basis like many standard salaried employees, with their base salary split into increments of 16 for each game in the regular season. Missing two games for a suspension could mean losing 1/8th of your yearly salary if there is forfeiture language to that effect in your contract. A common example would be if a player were to fail a drug test for PEDs. This helmet-to-helmet issue is unprecedented territory, however, as no one in the NFL truly knows what to expect from the rule.

The helmet-to-helmet rule is brand new for 2018 and it has already been very poorly received throughout the league. Members of the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles were perplexed following a meeting with NFL referees. With the new rule already causing confusion, several players including Giants 2nd overall pick RB Saquon Barkley and recently extended Rams RB Todd Gurley made sure there were no clauses in their contracts allowing the team to void guaranteed money if they are fined/suspended for lowering their helmet under the new rule. On the other hand, Denver Broncos 5th overall pick DE Bradley Chubb and Indianapolis Colts 6th overall pick LG Quenton Nelson do not have the language excluded. NFL fans likely do not need reminding about the total mess that was the NFL’s “catch rule,” a very ambiguously worded and rarely consistent rule that thankfully was rewritten for 2018. Unfortunately, it appears the NFL may have replaced that mess with a new mess, the helmet-to-helmet rule. Only with this rule, the implications of a questionable call can go far beyond the playing field.

So, why aren’t there any other draft picks still fighting this fight? First and foremost, the issue affects certain positions more than others. Middle linebacker is arguably the position most affected by the new rule. However, the Bills #16 overall selection MLB Tremaine Edmunds, who has the same agent as Roquan Smith, signed on May 12th. The Bills reportedly had no issue excluding language that subjected their player to a loss of guaranteed money following punishment under the new rule. For the Bears to go to war over this issue with a physical middle linebacker like Roquan Smith, drafted to the self-proclaimed “Monsters of the Midway,” a franchise known for its ferocious defense delivering crushing blows to their opponents, seems like a crazy hill to die on. Chicago is essentially fighting to put Roquan in a situation that would lead to timid play and second-guessing himself as he also learns the nuances of the NFL game. Just last season, Bears MLB Danny Trevathan laid a big hit on Packers WR Davante Adams that was not deemed by the on-field referees to be deserving of an ejection. In fact, if you watch the video, the refs didn’t even think it was deserving of a flag until they saw the condition Davante Adams was in. Then, following review from the league office, Trevathan was given a two game suspension. Long story short, football produces some big hits. Aaron Rodgers spoke after the game about how he believed Trevathan had no intention of going for Davante’s head, it just happened to work out that way. So Roquan Smith and his camp cannot be blamed for wanting protection from a rule that no one has seen in action thus far.

Neither side appears eager to relent, and as a result Roquan Smith has missed almost two weeks of his first training camp. There is plenty of time before the season starts for Roquan to get fully immersed into the defense, but why start off the relationship with your alleged franchise cornerstone player on defense in this manner?

It appears the Bears just couldn’t have one off-season where positivity reigned supreme. After inking several high-priority free agents in Allen Robinson, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel; hiring an exciting new head coach in former Chiefs OC Matt Nagy; aggressively maneuvering in the draft to land their guys (like trading away next year’s second-round pick to move up for Memphis WR Anthony Miller); and bringing back important contributors from 2017 such as CBs Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara… they just had to get in a contract dispute with their first-round pick and have the last remaining unsigned draftee.

Camp Holdouts Seeking Second NFL Contract Have Not Been Successful

With the rookie wage scale effectively eliminating bargaining ability for draftees, players seeking their second NFL contract often come to the negotiating table with big demands after feeling undervalued for their first four (or five) years in the league. This year there are plenty of veteran camp holdouts that want to boost their current contracts such as Julio Jones and Earl Thomas, but this article takes a closer look at the guys that have yet to sign a truly negotiated contract in their young careers.

Being selected in the first round of the NFL Draft can become a double-edged sword with the fifth-year option, which provides teams with an incredibly valuable tool to retain top talent at a discounted price. For first rounders, the initial rookie deals are far superior to those of their counterparts taken later in the draft. However, these later round players can then get a seat at the negotiating table for their second contract a whole season earlier. Teams exercising the fifth-year option is very similar to tagging a player; the player receives a fully guaranteed, one-year contract that is based off the market at their respective position.

As we’ll see with the first holdout below, although Le’Veon Bell was a second-round pick and thus not subject to the fifth-year option, he has now been franchise tagged in consecutive seasons. Monday, July 16th was the deadline for franchise tagged players to reach an agreement with their team on a new contract. A deal didn’t come to fruition for any of the remaining players that had received a franchise tag for the 2018 season (Bell, Detroit Lion Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, Dallas Cowboy Demarcus Lawrence, and LA Ram Lamarcus Joyner).

Here is where the top holdouts currently stand:

Le’Veon Bell

RB Top 10 APY – $14,544,000 – $5,083,333 (Bell only one over $8.25 million)

Le’Veon Bell (Steelers): Franchise Tag – 2018 Salary Cap Charge: $14,544,000

% of 2018 Team Cap: 8.04%

1/103 RB

Fully Guaranteed Money: $14,544,000

Age: 26

Steelers Cap Space: $5,483,820

For the second offseason in a row Le’Veon Bell has chosen to holdout from attending the Pittsburgh Steelers OTA’s after the club placed another franchise tag on him for the 2018-2019 season. Bell is set to make $14,544,000 this season on the tag, which by rule must be 120% of the previous year’s salary. The money becomes fully guaranteed whenever Bell signs the tag.

Le’Veon believes he should not be paid as a pure running back, and that any reference to the running back market is a mischaracterization of his contributions on the field. He may have a point: on top of leading the NFL in rushing attempts in 2017 with 321, Bell was also 10th in the league in receptions with 85, just 3 fewer than Julio Jones. Bell had 60 more offensive touches than the second highest player, LeSean Mccoy, who had 346 to Bell’s 406.

Bell had reportedly been seeking somewhere in the $17 million APY range on a five-year deal with a signing bonus in the $15-$20 million range to maximize his upfront cash flow. Last season’s biggest sticking point for Bell was guaranteed money, which the Steelers historically are not willing to shell out (Antonio Brown’s 2017 extension converted P5 base salary to signing bonus and includes multiple roster bonuses, but not a dollar of P5 base salary is guaranteed).

Bell had shifted his focus accordingly, but ultimately the two sides were unable to reach a long-term deal before the deadline on Monday, which prompted Le’Veon’s agent to say that this is likely his last season in Pittsburgh. At 26 years old for a running back there is probably one good payday left, and Bell clearly knows this. He aims to maximize his next deal which apparently will come next offseason from a team other than the Steelers.

43DE Top 10 APY – $17,143,000 – $9,125,000

Khalil Mack (Raiders): 2018 Salary Cap Charge: $13,846,000

% of 2018 Team Cap: 7.61%

10/71 at 43DE

Fully Guaranteed Money: $13,846,000 – Fifth Year Option

Age: 27

Raiders Cap Space: $2,342,599

In 2015, Mack became the first player in NFL history to be named an AP All-Pro at two positions in a single season; defensive end and outside linebacker. Following this historic achievement and consistently elite production, the Raiders obviously chose to execute Mack’s fifth-year option, and that brings us to present day. For top ten draft picks, the fifth-year option salary amount is equal to the transition tag at the player’s position during his fourth season (so 2017 defensive end in this case, full list here).

As Khalil Mack watched the Raiders organization shell out a 10-year, $100 million deal to new head coach Jon Gruden, there is no question he wondered why some of that money wasn’t coming his way. Six months later, as Gruden & Co. have made so many head scratching moves it could lead to hair loss, Mack and the Raiders are no closer on reaching a deal. Mack is set to play this season on his fifth-year option of $13,846,000 and become a free agent heading into 2019. The two sides allegedly are not close because of what Joel Corry of CBS Sports describes as “sticker shock” in a recent article. As the quarterback market has continued to grow exponentially over the past year, the non-QB market has not kept up the pace. Mack and fellow 2014 draft-pick-turned-superstar Aaron Donald are not interested in topping the current market, they’re interested in blowing the roof off it. Additionally, although they don’t play the same position, they may be engaged in a game of chicken, as whoever signs a new deal first provides the other with the ability to use that contract as a benchmark.

As we saw with the quarterbacks, particularly Kirk Cousins, guaranteed money is a major focus in contract negotiations this offseason. Olivier Vernon and Von Miller have the premier defensive end/outside linebacker contracts, with Vernon receiving $40.5 million fully guaranteed and Miller $42 million fully guaranteed at signing. Cousins and recently-extended Matt Ryan both have double that amount fully guaranteed, with $84 million and $94.5 million respectively. Khalil Mack’s camp is likely doing all they can to anchor guaranteed money negotiations closer to the recent quarterback numbers than to the top defensive player numbers.

34DE Top 10 APY – $16,666,667 – $7,000,000

Aaron Donald (Rams): 2018 Salary Cap Charge: $6,892,000

% of 2018 Team Cap: 3.85%

7/49 at 34DE

Fully Guaranteed Money: $6,892,000 – Fifth Year Option

Age – 27

Rams Cap Space: $2,206,614

It is not an exaggeration to say that if Aaron Donald ends up playing for his fifth-year option amount of $6,892,000 in 2018 it may be one of the more underpaid seasons for a premier player in NFL history following the standard four-year rookie deal (more on this later). The fifth-year option for a first-rounder outside of the top ten is calculated by taking the average of the 3rd through 25th highest salaries at the player’s position, in this case defensive tackle. Coming off Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2017, it still does not appear that Donald is going to receive the payday he deserves.

The Rams front office have shown with several offseason moves that they are certainly aware of how good they have it with Donald right now, and that they must capitalize before he gets a likely record-setting deal. With only 3.85% of the 2018 Team Cap allocated to Donald, and with Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and Marcus Peters still playing on their rookie deals, the Rams have gone all-in for 2018. The trade for cornerback Aqib Talib, who is set to make $8 million this season, bolsters a secondary that was exposed at times last year. The acquisition of Ndamukong Suh on a one year, $14 million deal creates one of the scariest defensive tackle combos of all time. The franchise tagging of Lamarcus Joyner to avoid negotiating a big, long-term payday for now… I could keep going. All of this is possible because of Donald’s fifth-year option.

Donald deserves a monster contract, a fact he is keenly aware of, but he may have to forego getting it now for a very legitimate chance at a Super Bowl ring instead. There is not much money left to dish out in LA at this point.

WR Top 10 APY – $17,000,000 – $14,000,000

Odell Beckham Jr. (Giants): 2018 Salary Cap Charge: $8,459,000

% of 2018 Team Cap: 4.77%

19/202 WR

Fully Guaranteed Money: $8,459,000

Age – 25

Giants Cap Space: $7,288, 664

Honorable Mention goes to Odell Beckham Jr., although it now appears he is going to participate fully in team activities. Coming off a season-ending injury in 2017 likely hurt Beckham Jr.’s bargaining power, but he has made it known he expects to be paid big money soon.

Let’s get back to this pesky fifth-year option, often a common thread seen every year with camp holdouts. What can first round draft picks do to avoid it?

Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, and Odell Beckham Jr. were all taken in the 2014 NFL Draft, and after remarkable starts to their careers they have all fallen prey to the exploitation of the fifth-year option. Beckham Jr. went 12th overall, Aaron Donald 13th, and then went a guy who did not have the same issue this offseason: Kyle Fuller at 14th overall to the Chicago Bears.

This is admittedly somewhat of a conspiracy theory, and although there can be huge upside, it is likely too risky a move to pull in the NFL… but bear with me here (no pun intended). Kyle Fuller looked like a rising star in his first two seasons with Chicago, then in year three the injury bug reared its ugly head (or did it?). Fuller didn’t play a snap in 2016 following a routine knee scope operation and there were rumblings, some coming from inside the organization, that he was healthy enough to have played at some point. Chicago has never won more than six games in the four years Fuller has been on the team, so his presence in year three of a rebuild (“rebuild” may be putting it nicely) would not have made a difference in the team’s overall success. After the 2016 season the Bears chose to decline Fuller’s fifth-year option for 2018 as concern arose about his desire to play in Chicago, injury concerns, or perhaps his toughness. After an outstanding 2017 season, and with zero returning starters at corner, the Bears were set on retaining Fuller… and now they had to pay top dollar. Did Fuller hold out of 2016 on purpose to avoid the fifth-year option and get a head start on his second contract? It is easy to say “of course not, because if he got hurt in 2017 than this huge gamble would have turned into a disaster.” Perhaps.

Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace decided to place the rarely-used transition tag on Fuller for 2018, guaranteeing $12.971 million for 2018 and providing Chicago with the “right of first refusal” to match any offer sheet the player may agree to with another team. A few weeks later, after Fuller signed an offer sheet with the rival Green Bay Packers, the Bears matched. Fuller received $18 million fully guaranteed in his four-year, $56 million deal. Mack, Donald, and Beckham Jr. will certainly surpass that amount barring something catastrophic happening this season, but for now it is Kyle Fuller that is in the best financial position. I’m not suggesting this is a route that rookies take to avoid the fifth-year option, nor am I suggesting that this is what happened, but it did work out pretty darn well for Fuller.