Recent Posts by

A look at the NFL Tight End Market and Potential Market Movers

Per my recent article on the NFL Cornerback Market, several NFL positional groups have experienced robust growth over the last 5 years. This growth can be attributed to star players maximizing their leverage and the 31.35% rise in salary cap since 2015.  The top 5 of the QB market has grown 57.96%, the safety market has experienced a 51.34% market boom, linebackers at 48.74%, and edge rushers at 40.34%.  

However, there are also positional groups that haven’t experienced the same modicum of success. The stagnant cornerback market was highlighted in my article and the devaluation of running backs has been discussed for several years. Another positional group experiencing sluggish growth is tight end. Since 2015, the top of the tight end market has only grown 6.91%, the lowest growth rate of all positional groups, excluding special teams. Below is a graph illustrating all the positions that haven’t kept with up with salary cap growth.

tight end salary growth

Tight End Market

In looking at the top of the tight end market, 3 of the 5 highest APY values have remained flat since 2016. This includes Jimmy Graham’s $10M APY, Travis Kelce’s $9.368M APY, and Jordan Reed’s $9.35M APY.  In fact, Graham’s $10M APY has been the benchmark for the TE Market since 2014. No other positional group has been close to having the same benchmark for such an extended period. Graham first became the highest paid TE when the Saints extended him to a 4 Year, $40M extension in 2014, eclipsing Rob Gronkowski’s 6 Year, $54M extension from 2012. Graham went on to play the entire deal with the Saints and Seahawks and became a free agent in 2018. The Packers then signed him to a 3 Year, $30M extension and Graham quickly regained the title of highest paid TE with the same $10M APY. The tables below illustrate the top 5 of the TE market by APY and Guarantees.

top 5 tight end contracts
tight end guaranteed money

Other noteworthy deals since Graham’s extension include Greg Olsen’s 2 Year, $17.1M extension with $12.115M guaranteed, Kyle Rudolph’s 5 Year, $36.5M extension with $16.025M guaranteed, and Trey Burton’s 4 Year, $32M FA deal with $22M guaranteed. While Burton’s deal didn’t crack the top 5 by APY, he eclipsed Jordan Reed’s fully guaranteed figure by $4M, setting the new benchmark in Fully Guaranteed at $18M.

Looking ahead, there are 3 players who I believe will uplift the market between now and the upcoming off-season.

Market Movers

  1. Travis Kelce

            The Kansas City Chiefs have had great success with tight ends over the last two decades. From 1997-2008, the Chiefs saw great production from Hall of Fame Tight End, Tony Gonzalez. Several years later, the Chiefs selected Travis Kelce in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft. In his first 33 regular season games, Kelce recorded 1,737 receiving yards and 10 Touchdowns. This led the Chiefs to extend him in 2016 to a 5 Year, $46.8M extension, making him the 2nd highest paid TE at time of signing. Since his extension, Kelce has continued to prove his worth. The table below illustrates his production among other top ranked TEs since 2016.

nfl tight end stats

Further illustrating Kelce’s value, the table below compares his production to WRs since 2016.  Kelce ranks 10th in Yards/G, 9th in TD/G, 11th in Targets/G, and 9th in Receptions/G.

kelce receiving stats

While Kelce will have 2 years remaining on his deal after this season, his level of production has given him the leverage to approach the team for a new deal. The Chiefs have also shown good faith in extending players with multiple years remaining as they extended Mitchell Schwartz this past off season. Regarding a value for Kelce, his representatives should make the case for high producing TEs to be paid like a low-end Tier 1/ high-end Tier 2 WR. This should put him in the $13M-14.5M APY range. Assuming the salary cap for 2020 is set around $200M, an APY between $13M-$14.5M would be between 6.5-7.25 percent of the salary cap. Kelce’s 2016 extension was 6% of the salary cap at time of signing. The highest paid TE by APY as % of signing was Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham at 7.5%. Kelce’s figure should be in that ballpark.

2. Austin Hooper

The Falcons drafted Austin Hooper in the 3rd round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Coming off a Pro Bowl season last year, Hooper’s receiving totals in his first 9 games this season puts him on pace for over 1,000 yards. Hooper is a prime example of a player maximizing his future earnings by producing at the right time as he will be an Unrestricted Free Agent after this season.  It’s doubtful the Falcons will retain him as they will have major cap issues next year, as highlighted in Zack Moore’s recent article. However, Hooper will have many buyers on the open market and should easily surpass all the current benchmarks in the TE market.

3. George Kittle

George Kittle was a great find for the 49ers in the 5th round of the 2017 draft. Since entering the league, Kittle has racked up over 2400 receiving yards, ranking 3rd in TEs. His value to the offense is further validated by his 256 targets since 2017. The next closest over the same time period is Marquise Goodwin at 169 targets. While Kittle has one more year on his deal after this season, the 49ers should do an extension early as he is the focal point in their pass game. Kittle should also eclipse all the current benchmarks in the TE market.

Other Candidates

Other candidates who could uplift the TE Market include Eric Ebron and Evan Engram. After posting career highs in receiving yards and touchdowns last season, Ebron has struggled to find the same level of production this year. However, his first-round pedigree and upside will make him an attractive option for several teams during 2020 free agency. Regarding Engram, the Giants will need to decide on whether to exercise his 5th year option by the first week of May 2020. Thereafter, he’ll be eligible to sign an extension.

A Look at the NFL Cornerback Market

The market for several positional groups on defense have experienced robust growth due to salary cap growth and free agency spending.  In just the last year, the average salary for the 5 highest paid linebackers grew a bullish 36.86%. Players like C.J. Mosley and Kwon Alexander reaped the benefits of hitting free agency at the right time while non-expendable players like Bobby Wagner, Deion Jones, and Myles Jack were locked up via extensions. Elite edge rushers have also cashed in. After Khalil Mack reset the market in every major contract metric last year, Demarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark, and Trey Flowers all signed new deals this summer to contribute to the 9.07% YOY growth in the top 5 of the edge rushers market. Looking at safeties, the top of the market has already been reset twice this year. During free agency, the Washington Redskins awarded Landon Collins the title of highest paid safety with an APY value of $14M until Kevin Byard eclipsed that figure at $14.1M a few months later.  Free Agent deals of Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu were also factors in uplifting the top 5 of the safety market by 15.91% over the last year. The top 5 of the cornerback market, however, hasn’t experienced nearly the same growth.

Below is a chart to compare how the average APY of the top 5 players from each defensive positional group fares with salary cap growth. For the purpose of this article, middle linebackers and 4-3 outside linebackers are considered one group. 3-4 outside linebackers and 4-3 defensive ends fall in the edge rusher group, and 3-4 defensive ends, 4-3 defensive tackles, and nose tackles are in the interior DL group.

As illustrated on the graph above, since 2015, the top of the market for safeties, linebackers, and edge rushers have experienced a faster growth rate than the salary cap. However, interior DL and cornerbacks have failed to keep up with salary cap inflation, posting growth figures of 17.57% and 9.91% respectively. Despite the interior DL Market falling behind salary cap growth, it has still shown positive signs. New benchmarks were set last year when Aaron Donald signed an extension worth an annual value of $22.5M and $86.892M in total guarantees, an 18% and 37% increase over the previous benchmarks. Additionally players Chris Jones, DeForest Buckner, and Kenny Clark will likely continue to strengthen the market. Benchmarks in the cornerback market, however, have experienced little movement.

The Cornerback Market

            Until earlier this year, Josh Norman’s $15M APY was the benchmark in the cornerback market, virtually since 2016. The exception was in 2017 when Trumaine Johnson played under a franchise tag valued at $16.742M. The next season, Johnson signed a lucrative free agent deal with the New York Jets, but Norman regained the highest paid cornerback title. This past May, the Miami Dolphins signed Pro-Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard to a 5 Year, $75.25M extension with $46M in total guarantees. While Howard’s APY of $15.05M holds as the new benchmark in the cornerback market, the growth is minimal when factoring salary cap inflation. Below is a table
comparing Howard’s and the four other currently highest paid cornerbacks by APY.

As you can see by the APY as a % of cap at signing, Howard’s APY would rank last when factoring in cap inflation. Furthermore, Norman’s contract still holds the benchmark for total guarantees at $50M. So the question is why hasn’t the cornerback market, arguably the most important position on defense, seen a stronger uplift in recent years? First, there haven’t been many upper echelon cornerbacks hit free agency.  The second point relates to Patrick Peterson’s deal. Peterson’s extension at signing was a whopping 10.53% of the cap and has essentially been set as the ceiling in the market. With Peterson arguably considered the best cornerback over the last few years, it will likely take an All-Pro or Pro Bowl caliber cornerback to broach a contract structure in the range of Peterson’s. Below are a few young cornerbacks who should spike the market.

Jalen Ramsey

The former 5th overall pick has established himself arguably as the best young cornerback in the NFL. In his 3 year career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Ramsey has been selected to two Pro Bowls and was voted 1st Team All-Pro in 2017. It’s clear he’s the nucleus to the Jaguars defense and should be rewarded as such. Earlier this year, the Jaguars exercised the 5th year option giving team control at least through the 2020 season. However, it would be smart for the team to work towards an extension sooner rather than later. The longer a team waits to extend a good player, the more expensive it becomes. If both parties are willing to get a deal hammered out this season, I would expect Ramsey’s deal to have annual value in the ballpark of $19M, which would put the deal around 10% of salary cap and uplift the top of the market by 26%. Prolonging extension talks to next year, could put Ramsey in the $20M+ territory, assuming another year of salary cap growth and a new CBA on the horizon.

Byron Jones

            The Dallas Cowboys selected Byron Jones 27th overall in the 2015 NFL draft. In his first 3 seasons, Jones played a combination of safety and cornerback before settling as a full time cornerback last year. The new permanent position fared well in the first year. Per Pro Football Focus, in 2018, Jones was targeted by opposing quarterbacks once every 8.8 coverage snaps, ranking him as the eighth-most avoided cornerback. With Jones playing this season under the 5th Year option, Dallas will have a difficult decision to make next year. Both Dak Prescott’s and Amari Cooper’s deals expire next season as well and Jones could be the left as the odd man out.

Marcus Peters

            In his first three seasons with the Kansas Chiefs, Marcus Peters was viewed as the next best young cornerback in the NFL. He earned the 2015 AP Defense Rookie of the Year, 2 Pro Bowl nods, was voted First Team All Pro in 2016, and was a turnover machine with 19 interceptions over a 3 year span. While Peters still leads the league in interceptions, with 22, since entering the league, his play declined in his first year with the Los Angeles Rams. Per Pro Football Focus, Peters gave up over 100 receiving yards on four separate occasions. Peters’ performance did improve towards the end of the season and if he can carry that momentum as he enters the final year of his deal, he could be in for a nice payday.

Other Candidates

Other candidates who have the potential to change the landscape of the Top 5 of the cornerback market include Marshon Lattimore, Marlon Humphrey, and Tre’Davious White. All three players were selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft and will be eligible for a contract extension after the end of the 2019 NFL season. Furthermore, Pro Football Focus named all three players on their Top 25 NFL Players under 25 for 2019. The list is filled with impressive talent that includes Quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Forecasting an Extension for David Johnson

The Arizona Cardinals have been in a retooling mode over the last two seasons, evident by the team’s high roster turnover and mediocre 7-8-1 and 8-8 record in 2016 and 2017 respectively. With the team drafting Josh Rosen 10th overall, the front office should now focus on developing and retaining young talent to surround the young QB. One player who fits this mold is Running Back, David Johnson.  Johnson was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2015 draft and had a solid rookie season before breaking out in 2016 with 2,100 all-purpose yards, 20 Touchdowns, and Pro-bowl and All-Pro accolades. After suffering a season-ending wrist injury the following season, he now enters the last year of his rookie deal and is looking for an extension. The Cardinals have publicly stated Johnson is a core player and look forward to rewarding him, so it’s clear both sides are motivated to hammer out a deal. The question will be at what number?

Key Points

Before determining a fair value for Johnson, there are a few points I want to discuss. The first relates to what Jason Fitzgerald wrote in his recent article, where the multiple franchise tag isn’t a good option for Johnson and the best way to maximize his earnings is by doing an extension with the Cardinals. If Johnson were to go the multiple franchise tag route, the Cardinals would have him under his current $1.907M salary and likely apply the franchise tag in 2019. During his tagged year, Johnson would be incurring injury risk while having no long-term financial commitment from the team, which is a crucial need for Running Backs given their short career span. After Johnson would play out his first franchise tag, he would either hit free agency in 2020 or be tagged for the 2nd time. If he were to hit free agency, he’d be 28 years old and teams probably wouldn’t value him the same given his age. Being tagged a 2nd time would put Johnson in similar circumstances during his first tag, where he’d have nothing guaranteed past the tag year. One might point to Johnson’s peer, Le’Veon Bell, as a RB who seems to be doing well with the multiple-franchise tag option; however, the key difference is Bell will be hitting free agency at 27, an age where teams are more likely to show the money for a Running Back vs Johnson who would be 29 after his 2nd tag. My second point relates to the Cardinals usage of Johnson. During negotiations, Johnson’s camp should look for him to be paid like a true 3-down back. During the 2016 season, his first season as the entrenched starter, Johnson had 373 total touches, which was more than any other RB that season. I would expect Johnson to continue to be the work-horse, as he’s arguably the most dynamic player on the offense and the ability of new OC, Mike McCoy, to build a system around his players. Johnson can also further his case on his value by pointing out he had the second most targets on the team in 2016, with 120 targets. The Cardinals rushing offense also struggled when Johnson wasn’t on the field, dropping from 18th to 30th from 2016 to 2017. My last point relates to the timeline of a deal. I would expect Johnson’s camp and the Cardinals to set a deadline of exactly one month before the start of the 2018 season. The CBA doesn’t credit a player with an accrued season if their holdout extends to anything less than a month before the regular season. This has huge financial consequences as a player is eligible only for Restricted Free Agency if they have less than 4 accrued seasons. Johnson would only have 3 accrued seasons with an extended holdout.


Below is a list of some of the recent RB deals and each player’s performance 2 years leading up to the deal:

One thing to note from the table above is that I’ve included Le’Veon Bell. Although he rejected the Steelers’ offer last year, it’s important to reference the offer in determining an appropriate APY for Johnson. I would expect the Cardinals’ offer to be lower as Johnson doesn’t have the same leverage that Bell did.  Bell was already tagged at a $12.12M APY figure with a second tag valued at $14.544M, with no team control thereafter. In Johnson’s case, the Cardinals theoretically have him under control for the next 3 years at roughly $27.207M, whereas the Steelers had Bell for 2 years at $26.664M at the time of their offer. In addition, when a team like the Steelers don’t guarantee anything past the first year, they need to compensate with a higher APY.  Considering the points above, below is my estimate for Johnson’s extension and how it compares to his peers:

  • 5 Year Extension worth $48.75M in new money ($9.75M APY)
  • Signing Bonus: $10M
  • Fully Guaranteed: $19.5M ($10M SB + $3.5M 2018 Base Salary + $6M 2019 Base Salary)
  • Total Guaranteed: $25.5M (Fully Guaranteed Amount + $6M 2020 Base Salary which vests on 3rd day of 2020 league year)
  • 1 Year Cash Flow: $17.593M
  • 3 Year Cash Flow: $29M

I would expect Devonta Freeman’s APY to be the starting point as Johnson is used more when healthy and has more upside. In regards to cash flow, I believe the only way the Cardinals will agree to a 3 year cash flow higher than $27.207M, the sum of Johnson’s current salary and estimates of the next 2 tag values, is if they can get more years of control. In addition, the Cardinals will likely look to do a vesting guarantee in the third year, which gives them the flexibility to move on from Johnson for any reason after just 2 seasons. This structure was also used on Tyrann Mathieu as he was cut two years into his extension before additional guarantees in his deal triggered.

Team Impact

   The table below illustrates the cap hits each year of Johnson’s deal and the cost/benefit if the Cardinals were to release him any given year. The Cardinals are approx. $14M under the cap, with a projected $44.9M next year, so I don’t anticipate Johnson’s extension causing any salary cap constraints. In addition, if the Cardinals structure Johnson’s deal as below, Johnson’s cap hit % through 2020 will never exceed 4.21%, which is a very reasonable rate for a player of Johnson’s caliber.

Final Thoughts

It’ll be interesting to see whether Johnson and the Cardinals will be able to reach an agreement in the next month. If Johnson is realistic about his value and not asking to be in the range of Le’Veon Bell’s offer from last year, I would expect a deal in the next few weeks. Assuming Johnson signs an extension in the neighborhood of what I’ve projected, he’d trade in this year’s $1.907M salary and either a shot at free agency next year or approx. an $11.5M Franchise Tag for a deal totaling $50.632M over 6 years. At signing, Johnson would be guaranteed $19.5M, which would be paid over 2 years and then the Cardinals would decide in March 2020 whether they want to continue to employ the RB or let him walk.

Hardik Sanghavi graduated from DePaul University in 2016 with a major in finance and minor in accounting. During his time at DePaul, Hardik interned with ESPN Chicago and Priority Sports & Entertainment. He now works as a Commercial Underwriter in the Insurance Industry and is a contributor on You can follow him on twitter at @hardiks94

Forecasting an Extension for Zack Martin

Historically, Offensive Guard has been one of the least recognized positions in football. However, over the last two seasons, the Guard Market in the NFL has been “Boomin’.” Per Jason Fitzgerald’s article in March detailing Market Movement, six contracts signed by Guards in 2017 were high enough to be valued in the top 10 at the position and the top 20 average APY for Guards increased by 23% this year. The next player that will continue to contribute to the growth of the Guard Market is Dallas Cowboys Right Guard, Zack Martin.

Current Deal

Martin signed a 4 year, $8.967M deal with the Cowboys after being selected 16th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. His deal includes a 5th year team option, similar to all first round draft picks under the current collective bargaining agreement, which the Cowboys had no reluctance to exercise last March. Martin’s 5th year option, currently guaranteed for injury, becomes fully guaranteed on the 1st day of the 2018 league year and will pay out $9.341M in P5 Salary. However, when a player of Martin’s caliber has less than 2 years on his deal, it is smart for teams to start considering an extension as it prevents the player from testing the open market. The player benefits as he gains long-term financial security and transfers injury risk to the team.

Key Points

Before forecasting an extension for Martin there are a few points to consider. In determining an appropriate value for a player, teams and agents typically pull a list of comparable players from the player’s respective position. However, in Martin’s case, because he is regarded as one of the best Offensive Lineman, his comps should include Guards and Left Tackles as Left Tackles dominate the top of the Offensive Line Market. Second, the Cowboys have a precedent of signing their first round Offensive Lineman to long term, top of the market deals, exemplified by Tyron Smith’s and Travis Frederick’s extensions. Looking at their contract structures will be important in determining the appropriate structure for Martin. Lastly, ESPN’s Todd Archer reported Martin’s camp and the Cowboys halted contract talks in September and will resume again next off-season.  That being said, Martin will be only one year from free agency when negotiations resume, so the cash flow in Martin’s first new year should be, at minimum, the 2019 franchise tag number for Offensive Line, which is forecasted at approx. $14.2M. In addition, Martin’s APY should be based off the 2018 NFL Salary Cap. For the purpose of this article, I’m assuming it will grow at its average growth rate of 5.71% per year since 2011. That would bring the 2018 Salary Cap number to $176.54M.


Below is a list of recently signed deals in the Tackle and Guard market and each player’s performance 2 years leading up to his new deal:

Not only has Martin shown incredible toughness and durability as he has only missed 2.5% of snaps the last two years, but Martin has also earned 1st and 2nd Team All-Pro Recognition from the highly regarded football analytic site, Pro Football Focus. That being said, the $12M mark set by Kevin Zeitler in the Guard Market should be the floor in negotiations for Martin’s extension. The Cowboys could argue against this as Zeitler’s deal was done in Free Agency, where he had more leverage. However, Martin is regarded as the better player and, as previously mentioned, the Cowboys have set a precedent for their First Round Offensive Lineman, Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, by making them the highest paid players at their position at time of signing.

Considering the points above, I project Martin’s extension:

  • 6 Year Extension worth $84.6M in new money ($14.1M APY)
  • $38M Total Guaranteed (includes signing bonus, 2018-2019 base salaries, and $6.459M of 2020 base salary guaranteed for injury.)
  • $31.541M Guaranteed at Signing (includes signing bonus, 2018-2019 base salaries)
  • $8M Signing Bonus
  • 1st Year Cash Flow: $17.341M
  • 3 Year Cash Flow: $44.541M

The table above illustrates Martin’s key metrics against his comps. As I believe Zeitler’s $12M mark should be the floor for Martin’s negotiations, the next question would be where he fits among the three highest paid Tackles. Martin is a far better player than Okung, so it should not be a surprise for Martin to get the better deal. Then comes Trent Williams and Terron Armstead, who are also better than Okung and played at elite levels leading up to their deals. That being said, I would expect Martin’s numbers to be more in line with Williams’ and Armstead’s figures. If the Cowboys aren’t willing to sign Martin to the $14.1 APY figure that I’m projecting, Martin’s side should use the argument that a $14.1M APY would only be 7.99% of the 2018 projected cap. Williams’ and Armstead’s APY were 9.21% and 8.37% of the salary cap at time of signing. Regarding Martin’s guarantee structure, although his dollar figures are higher than most of his comps, the % of guarantees to his total contract value will be lower than his peers as that would be tradeoff for having the highest APY dollar figure. However, Offensive lineman typically have longer career spans and are more likely to play out their entire deal, so compromising with a lower % guarantee for a higher APY is the route Martin should take.

Team Impact

Now that we’ve looked at Martin’s projections, it is important to see how his numbers align with his counterparts on the Cowboys Oline.

Looking at APY as % of Cap, Martin’s 7.99% is only lower than Tyron Smith’s 9.17%. The reason Smith’s number is so high relates to his deal being team friendly as illustrated by guaranteed % and the length of the extension. That being said, Dallas had to compromise by inflating Smith’s APY. The only other outlier on the table above is La’el Collins % Guaranteed and Signing Bonus percentages. This is because Collins’ recent extension reflects what he would have approximately earned on his rookie deal had he not fallen out of the draft.

In looking at Martin’s Cap Numbers throughout the deal, his cap hit will be at its peak in 2019 at a whopping $15.8M. This could lead Dallas to restructure Martin’s deal by converting a large chunk of his P5 into a signing bonus. As a result, Dallas would free up cap space in 2019, but Martin’s Dead Money figures would increase in the later years of his deal. This would make it more difficult for Dallas to release Martin later in his career.

Final Thoughts

Since entering the league in 2014, Martin has played at a high level, consistently. His first round status, dominance in the trenches, and being one year from free agency will give Martin leverage in negotiations with Cowboys Brass. This leverage should not only be used to make Martin the highest paid Guard, but the highest paid Offensive lineman by APY. The tradeoff for Martin will be to have a lower % of his deal guaranteed. However, with Martin playing a position with a longer career span, he is more likely to play his entire deal so going for a higher APY is worth the tradeoff for lower guaranteed %. I would expect both sides to reach an extension by the beginning of the 2018 League Year.

Hardik Sanghavi graduated from DePaul University in 2016 with a major in finance and minor in accounting. During his time at DePaul, Hardik interned with ESPN Chicago and Priority Sports & Entertainment. He now works as a Commercial Underwriter in the Insurance Industry and is a guest contributor on You can follow him on twitter at @hardiks94.

Forecasting an Extension for Devonta Freeman

The Atlanta Falcons’ accomplishments this season were a testament to their success in drafts over the last few years. From Devonta Freeman and Jake Mathews to Desmond Trufant and Vic Beasley, General Manager Thomas Dimitrioff and his staff have done a solid job under the draft-and-develop philosophy. As the Falcons now attempt to move past their devastating Super Bowl defeat and continue to build through the draft, it will be imperative for the front office to also extend some of their key players. With Desmond Trufant recently signed to a 5 year extension, Devonta Freeman will be the next priority.

Justifying an Extension

   The Falcons drafted Devonta Freeman in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL draft. During his rookie season, Freeman saw limited action as Steven Jackson was the lead back. The following season, after age caught up to Jackson and the Falcons released him, Freeman earned a starting role and has rushed for over a 1,000 yards and averaged over 500 receiving yards in each of the last two seasons. In addition, Freeman’s durability during this time has been quite remarkable as he has only missed 3% of games. That being said, as Freeman enters the last year of his 4 year rookie deal and is due $1.8M, it will be in the best interest for the Falcons and Freeman to work out an extension. A new deal by training camp will provide Freeman with injury protection and financial stability while the Falcons will avoid entering a bidding war if Freeman were to test free agency next year.

The Running Back Market

Before I forecast an extension for Freeman, it is important to have an understanding of the current Running Back Market. Over the last few years, as NFL offenses have become pass-heavy, the demand for Running Backs has diminished. This is not only evident through the lack of Running Backs selected in the first round, but also the mediocre salary teams are willing to commit to the position. For example, the average APY for the 10 highest paid Running Backs is $6.99M. When comparing this metric to other positional groups, only Fullbacks, Kickers, and Punters have a lower figure as seen in the graph below.

I also want to point out that the current highest paid RB, by average salary, is Le’Veon Bell at $12.12M. Second on the list, at $8.01M, is LeSean McCoy. The reason Bell’s salary is so much higher than McCoy’s and the rest of the RB market is because he is on the franchise tag. If the Steelers and Bell can reach a long term extension, Bell’s APY will likely drop to an APY that is more reflective of the current market. However, this is not to say that there can’t be outliers in the RB market. When a RB is a once-in-a-generation type player, like Adrian Peterson or Marshawn Lynch, teams are willing to shock the market as the Vikings and Seahawks did a few years ago when they gave Peterson and Lynch a $14M APY and $12M APY respectively.

Circling back to Devonta Freeman, to project an extension we will need to analyze recently signed deals in the RB Market and understand the performance that warranted the deals. This will allow us to identify a few comparable players which will help in determining a benchmark for Freeman’s extension. That being said, the table below compares key performance metrics for Freeman and RBs who have recently signed new deals. One point to mention here is that the stats below are reflective of each RB’s performance two seasons leading up to his respective deal.

Running Back Performance for New Contract

After analyzing the table above, it is clear that Devonta Freeman’s performance has justified a top of the market salary. As I wouldn’t put him in the same category as Le’Veon Bell, I believe Freeman’s production is similar to LeSean McCoy’s, Doug Martin’s, and DeMarco Murray’s production prior to their respective deals. That being said, I would expect the Falcons and Freeman’s agent to use the preceding three RBs as comparables during negotiations.

Projecting Devonta Freeman’s Extension

Below, I estimate Freeman’s extension:

  • 4-year extension worth $31M in new money ($7.75M APY)
  • $19M Total Guaranteed; $12.5M Fully Guaranteed which includes a $5M signing bonus
  • 2019 Base Salary of $6.5M guaranteed for injury at signing. Salary becomes Fully Guaranteed after 3rd day of 2018 league year
  • 1st Year Cash Flow: $5M
  • 3-Year Cash Flow: $19M

In addition, the table below illustrates how Freeman’s extension racks up against his comparables. As you can see, I am projecting Freeman’s APY to exceed Doug Martin’s $7.15M and DeMarco Murray’s $6.375M figures while falling short of LeSean McCoy’s $8.01M figure.

Devonta Freeman Contract Projection

Freeman and Martin

I am projecting Freeman’s APY to be higher than Martin’s APY as I believe Freeman has been more durable and consistent than Martin. Although Martin may have more upside in the ground game as he has had two seasons with over 1,400 rushing yards, Freeman’s success in the passing game and goal line situations are hard to overlook.

Freeman and Murray

I would be surprised if Freeman’s APY doesn’t clear Murray’s $6.375M figure. When Murray signed his deal with the Titans in 2016, he was 28 years old and had 1,127 career rushing attempts. On the other hand, Freeman is 25 years old and has half the rushing attempts and less wear and tear than Murray.

Freeman and McCoy

Days before the start of the 2015 NFL League Year, the Buffalo Bills traded for LeSean McCoy and signed him to a $40.05M deal over 5 years. His contract not only has the highest 1st year Cash Flow in the RB market at $16M, but also the second highest APY at $8.01M. While McCoy’s performance justified a top of the market deal, I believe the Bills overvalued his deal with player-friendly cash flows and bonuses. I would not anticipate the Falcons making the same mistake with Freeman. In addition, I also consider McCoy as the more talented RB.

Salary Cap Impact

The table below illustrates the impact of Freeman’s extension on the Falcon’s salary cap:

Devonta Freeman Salary Cap Projection

One thing I want to point out is that the Falcons will have approx. $1.7M in cap room after signing their 2017 draft picks. With such low cap space, I am projecting Freeman’s extension to have $0 roster bonus and a low 1st year cap hit. In addition, I want to point out in the later years of Freeman’s deal, his cap number slightly drop off. This would be beneficial for Freeman as it would increase his chance of playing out his entire deal.

Final Thoughts

Similar to any negotiation, there will certainly be a give-and-take between both parties. For example, if Freeman’s priority is to be recognized as one of the highest paid Running Backs by APY, the Atlanta Falcons will pay less guaranteed money for the higher APY or vice-versa. Furthermore, I believe one argument that could work in favor of the Falcons during negotiations relates to the fact that Freeman has not shown the huge upside year as Martin did during his two 1,400 yard seasons or as Murray did during his 1,800 yard season. To counter that, Freeman’s agent could argue that this is because Freeman has not had as many carries as he shares time with Tevin Coleman, as well as the fact that the Falcons have primarily been a passing offense the last two seasons. Ultimately, Freeman’s versatility, durability, and overall commitment to his team will certainly be difficult for the Falcons to pass up, and I would expect an extension before training camp.

Hardik Sanghavi graduated from DePaul University in 2016 with a major in finance and minor in accounting. During his time at DePaul, Hardik interned with ESPN Chicago and Priority Sports & Entertainment. He now works as a Commercial Underwriter in the Insurance Industry. You can follow him on twitter at @hardiks94.

Extensions vs Free Agent Signings: Wide Receivers

Each year, teams across the NFL invest a large portion of their salary cap in Contract Extensions and Free Agent Deals for players who seemingly perform well. Once a team strikes a deal with a player, it is not only important to analyze the performance that justified the new deal, but it is also critical to monitor a team’s return on investment once the player has signed.  That being said, I have conducted a breakdown of the Wide Receiver Market to highlight some trends in relation to the performance of a WR before and after signing a deal and to present a risk analysis between a team signing a WR from the open market or via extension. (more…)