Matt Ryan #2 QB, Atlanta Falcons
by Paul Carrozzo
On July 9th, Matthew Stafford signed a 5 year $76.5 million contract with the Detroit Lions. That signing along with the rumors leading up to the signing put Matt Ryan back on the mind. After watching the Baltimore Ravens gamble and lose with Joe Flacco, the question on most fans minds is how soon Matt Ryan’s contract will be extended by the Falcons. Ryan is in the final year of his rookie contract (6 year $67.5 million) and is in position to really break the bank on his next contract.
We must remember where the Falcon franchise was in 2008 when they drafted Ryan 3rd overall. The Mike Vick disaster had the club searching for a new face that it could be proud. Matt Ryan was the man that not only pulled the Falcons out of the depths of public outcry, but it can be argued that the Falcons are now completely distanced from the incident because of Ryan. How can something as unprecedented as this be valued? It really is up to the Falcon brass to weigh in, but my assumption is that the Falcons will not go into the season without extending Ryan.
Oddly enough, it is the contract that Vick signed with the Eagles in 2011 that most closely resembles Ryan’s present value. Add that skill valuation with the goodwill he has created in Atlanta, and it is a recipe for a Top 5 QB contract.
Estimated New Contract: 5 years, $86 million
Jairus Byrd #31 FS, Buffalo Bills
by Paul Carrozzo
When Barry Bonds was in the midst of his steroid stupor, MLB pitchers strategically began walking him for the opportunity to face the next hitter in the San Francisco Giants lineup. The logic was simple enough for even the most casual baseball fan to understand. The risk of pitching to Bonds had exceeded to value of offering the Giants a free base. It became the equivalent of handing money to the bully as a preemptive strike as to not go through the hassle of him attempting to take it with force.
A very similar function is happening in the NFL but with much less fanfare. We all remember Deion Sanders, in his prime, taking half the field away from the offense. Teams decided to just not throw to Deion’s side of the field. To a lesser extent, (although listening to the New York media you would think an even greater) Darrell Revis has had a similar effect on offensive play calling in recent years. What the casual fan has not realized is a Free Safety in Buffalo that has built a reputation to stay away from. Jairus Byrd was the 42nd pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and afforded the Bills the ability to trade their 2008 FS, Ko Simpson, a week before the ’09 season started. The son of a former 2-time Pro Bowler Gil Byrd, Jairus impacted the league almost immediately.
Even though Byrd had a solid first three seasons, 2012 was by far his best. Already having a reputation to avoid throwing at him, the QBs in the NFL almost completely shut off the spiget. According to Pro Football Focus, Jairus Byrd played 1047 snaps for the Bills last year and was thrown at 21 times. Need to repeat that… twenty one times! By comparison Eric Weddle (the best market comparison and 2nd highest paid FS in the NFL) was thrown at 34 times allowing 2 touchdowns against 3 interceptions. Byrd did not allow an interception and picked off 5 passes. Almost one quarter of the time teams threw at Byrd, he converted the opportunity into a turnover. No wonder teams have decided to penalty box throwing at him.
Analysis of Byrd’s future contract value starts and ends with Weddle. Even though Dashon Goldson just signed the highest contract for FS last year, it was a terrible value for the Bucanneers as they will soon find out that he can’t hold a flame to Weddle or Byrd.. As we can see Byrd minimally should be in the ballpark of Weddle’s record breaking 5 year $40mm signed just prior to the 2011 season. Based upon his consistency and the progressively more respect that he has gained from the league, my argument is that he should exceed that contract. The Bills decided to use their franchise tag on Byrd this season, which will make him a 27 year old free agent after this season.
Estimated New Contract: 5 years, $43mm
Hakeem Nicks #88 WR, New York Giants
by Paul Carrozzo
When analyzing contract possibilities, we must remember that there is an ultimate bottom line to war that is waged between the player and the franchise that presently employs him. The franchise stands to benefit from the player’s heightened urgency through increased production on the field that given year. The player’s motivations are aligned with the organization as a good year means a bigger payday. Many times we see a team over pay for past performances similar to Joe Flacco’s blockbuster deal signed after he brought the Ravens a Super Bowl. “Past performance is no guarantee of future results” is the disclaimer on almost every investment prospectus. You would think that the men that own $1B+ franchises would be well versed in the concept and hence heed the warning. Or maybe the exact reason they are billionaires is because they have thrown caution to the wind in prior endeavors.
Hakeem Nicks came to the Giants as the 29th pick of the 2009 draft. The 6’1″ 210 lbs Nicks plays bigger than his frame would suggest. He has been a target of criticism for is inability to stay on the field, but can be dominant when in games. The Giants recently committed $46mm to another of their receivers, Victor Cruz, which will only increase the scrutiny from the New York media. Rueben Randle is an electrifying deep threat that will also be pushing Nicks for targets. When healthy, Giants quarterback, Eli Manning, likes to exploit the mismatches that Nicks creates on the outside.
Competing for WR free agent money in the offseason will be Kenny Britt of the Tennessee Titans and Jeremy Maclin of the Philadelphia Eagles. If Nicks can put up a full season of solid production I can see him in the getting paid as a Top 10 WR. If the Giants choose to franchise him after the season, he will cost $11mm for one year. Even if he has a terrible season, given his age and talent, he will command a minimum of $6mm APY.
Estimated New Contract: 5 years, $47.5mm
Maurice Jones-Drew #32 RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
by Paul Carrozzo
Call me idealistic, but I have an issue when one player calls out another for taking a dive. There are few things lower than purposefully not playing as hard as humanly possible in competition. I categorize snitching on that person as one of the fewer things that are worse. The premeditated act Jones-Drew alleges Greg Jones perpetrated has legal precedent in the US. Normally we think of college and pro basketball when discussing matters of gambling motivation trumping the universally accepted goal of winning. Although our suspicions run deep pertaining to the NFL, we place our national pastime on a pedestal. Well, MJD just took a axe to the base of that pedestal with his accusations that Greg Jones refused to block for MJD for benefit of Jones’…NFL fantasy football investments(?!). This situation comes on the heels of a night club incident that placed MJD as a suspect of an investigation of a bouncer being assaulted. All of this while he is recovering from Lisfranc surgery that derailed his 2012 season. It is no wonder that MJD showed up this spring out of shape, one year removed from holding out which ended disastrously for him.
On the field, Jones-Drew will be challenged with adapting to the Jaguars new zone-blocking scheme. The Jaguars signed Justin Forsett formerly of the Houston Texans who ran for 6.0 YPC albeit on 63 carries. The Texans also employ a zone-blocking scheme so there will not be a huge learning curve for Forsett. The drafting of Denard Robinson has also put a strain on the upside for MJD this year. MJD will have to overcome the rehab from Lisfranc surgery and prove that he is still a viable option at 28 years old.
There is zero chance that MJD will receive an extension prior to the end of the season, which will make him a 29 year old free agent running back. It is customary to view 30 as the brick wall for most running backs in the NFL, but at 5’7″ 210 lbs (when in shape) with a history of leg injuries I argue that MJD may have already crashed. Are the recent off the field issues an admition by him that he is done? The 2013 season will be a very interesting one in Jacksonville.
Estimated New Contract: 1 year, $2mm
Jay Cutler #6 QB, Chicago Bears
by Paul Carrozzo
Marc Trestman has been brought in as the new head coach of the Chicago Bears this off-season. Although Trestman has never been the head man at this level, his resume is impressive especially in the area of quarterback improvement. Only Bernie Kosar, in his injury/ heavy drinking part of his career, declined under Trestman’s tutelage. Whether Steve Young, Scott Mitchell, Jake Plummer, Rich Gannon or their CFL cohort Anthony Calvillo, each player’s productivity spiked when playing for him.
The Bears offensive line struggles were well documented in 2012. The additions of Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson in free agency along with the 20th pick in the 2013 draft, Kyle Long, significantly improved a line that allowed Cutler to be sacked 38 times last year. Slauson is known as a much better pass blocker than run blocker and the Bears were comfortable with the trade off in an effort to keep Cutler upright. Bushrod comes over from New Orleans where he has spent much of his time protecting Drew Brees.
The skill positions will see an upgrade with Alshon Jeffery looking to take a giant leap forward in his sophomore season. Pairing Jeffery with the Brandon Marshall and the addition of Martellus Bennett at TE places Culter as the recipient of an upgraded crop of receivers. Matt Forte will be another year removed from knee surgery and will also be a threat in the new Trestman passing offense.
The surrounding cast is set for Cutler to showcase his skills this year. For the Bears, forcing Cutler to play out the final year of his contract makes absolute sense, considering no one really knows how he will fit in Trestman’s offense. Maybe more importantly is the Bears salary cap situation which will almost force a liquidation of the Bears roster at the conclusion of the 2013 season. When a big market franchise needs to rebuild, they tend to re-sign fan favorites. Cutler, like Trestman, rubs people the wrong way and is not at the top of the fan’s list. One thing that would vault him there is a Super Bowl victory which has eluded this franchise since another pair of eccentric personalities ran the show.
Estimated New Contract: 4 years, $58mm
Brian Orakpo #98 OLB, Washington Redskins
by Paul Carrozzo
Potentially the most sought after free agent at the end of this season. Orakpo combines supreme production with the pedigree of the #13 pick of the 2009 Draft. A Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate in ’09, Orakpo racked up a Redskin franchise record 11 sacks and added 51 tackles. In 2010 the Redskins moved to a 3-4 defense and he responded with very similar numbers in 2010 and 2011 (8.5 sacks, 56 tackles 2010; 9.0 sacks, 60 tackles 2011). In the Week #17 loss to Philadelphia, Orakpo tore his left pectoral muscle. Consistently drawing double-teams, he dedicated the offseason to come back stronger in 2012. The Redskins took it easy on their prized OLB in the preseason but to no avail as Orakpo re-tore the left pectoral muscle only two games into the 2012 season.
A healthy Orakpo is a Top-10 OLB in the NFL. If he produces on his stated goal of Defensive Player of the Year he stands to bring in a haul of $11mm+ APY. That is a big “if”, however, head coach Mike Shanahan feels that his 27 year old star “looks good as ever”.
Estimated New Contract: 4 years, $41.5mm