Best and Worst Contracts 2021: NFC East

Welcome to our fourth installment of our summer series looking at the best and worst contracts in the NFL. Each of these is written based on the team perspective rather than the player perspective and is strictly just based on my opinion of the deal. A bad contract doesn’t mean a bad player (in many cases it is a good player who did a great deal for themselves) nor does a good contract mean a great player on the cheap. Let’s take a look at the NFC East this week

Dallas Cowboys

Best: Tyron Smith, 8 years, $97.6M, $40M guaranteed

This Smith contract was one of the great steals of all time. Other than the recent Patrick Mahomes extension I am not sure if there has been a more team friendly contract in the NFL since this deal was signed in 2014.  Somehow the Cowboys convinced Smith to effectively sign his career away at the age of 24 on a contract that just barely made him the highest paid player at the position. Since signing, Smith has made 6 Pro Bowls and been named All Pro twice.

It wasn’t long before Smith contract was obsolete with left tackles topping $15 million a season. Under normal circumstances Smith would have been a free agent or up for an extension either after the 2019 or 2020 season and likely scored a deal in the $15-17 million per year range. Instead he is locked up for the next three years at $12.5 million per year. Dallas has restructured this contract 5 times since 2015, but it was so long and so reasonably priced it never has gotten out of control despite all the bonuses. One of the great deals in the NFL.

Worst: Ezekiel Elliott, 6 years, $90M, $50M guaranteed

There were three places to go here- Dak Prescott with the great player structure and four year term and Jaylon Smith for the price- but it was hard to not go with Elliott. Elliott pulled off a great hold out at a time when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was seemingly convinced that Elliott was the heart of the offense and before they had to open up the purse strings for Dak Prescott. Elliott was able to build off his draft status and the recent contract signed by Todd Gurley to lock down a $50 million guarantee with a favorable vesting schedule that pretty much made it a full guarantee. Only one player since Elliott has signed for more money and if anything the running back position has seen a minor pull back into the $12 to $13 million per year range with far less money guaranteed.

About halfway through the second year of this contract it looked like a disaster. Elliott struggled in the offense and saw his yardage drop to 65 yards per game from 85 yards per game the prior year and 95 games per game the year before that. He will have a $13.7 million cap hit this year and $16.5 million cap hit in 2022, both the highest in the NFL. With over $23 million dead if cut next year the Cowboys are going to be stuck with him and need him to have a career revival this year to justify the costs. Jones pretty much admitted he overpaid for Zeke and it is hard to argue with him about that.

New York Giants

Best: Blake Martinez, 3 years, $30.75M, $19M guaranteed

I had a difficult time with the Giants as they have more than a few deals that are perfectly fair but none that stand out as particularly great.  Part of that may be that the team has moved clearly into a shorter term contract length phase where many of the benefits are based on trying to get better three year costs than comparable valued contracts of a greater length.

The Martinez contract was one of those contracts that was a solid deal at a position where sometimes prices can escalate. The Giants held reasonably firm on the deal and didn’t overshoot the market when they brought Martinez on board. The strategy mentioned above will see the Giants pay Martinez $30.75M over three years which is less than Eric Kendricks and Anthony Hitchens, both players who earn less per year but are signed for more years. The $19 million in guarantees is the second lowest among linebackers who earn $19 million a year. Structure wise the contract is fine and maxes out at $14M in cap charges but only against $5.5 million in dead money giving the Giants options if Martinez takes a step back this year.

Worst: Adoree Jackson, 3 years, $39M, $26.5M guaranteed

Of all the contracts on the team that might be considered questionable this one just seemed indefensible on almost every level. Jackson was cut from the Titans who did not want to pay him a $10.244 million salary this year. Somehow the Giants wound up doing a deal with Jackson that would pay him $16 million this year alone and guarantee him $24.5 million. This is incredibly rare for a player to get cut and land this type of contract. He is the highest paid street free agent at the position and the second highest paid in all of the NFL.

While it is not fair to play the what if game, it is safe to wonder why the Giants didn’t just call up the Titans and offer a 7th rounder for him at the lower price. Given how his career had gone they could have likely locked him up to a three year contract extension that at least would have given them more potential control and probably not cost them much more. There is zero short term or long term upside with this structure. The Giants need him to be an A player to justify this decision.

Philadelphia Eagles

Best: Anthony Harris, 1 year, $4M, $4M guaranteed

This one was a steal for the Eagles who get access to a safety just one year removed from being a franchise player to a very cost effective contract. The safety market is often one where if you jump in fast you pay a lot but if you can be patient you often find a bargain and there was not a better bargain this past free agency than Harris.

Harris should be plenty motivated to have a big season knowing that this will likely be his last chance at scoring a major contract. If he plays well and the Eagles struggle he should have really good trade value bringing the Eagles a relatively high draft pick for a small investment. By the same token if he plays well and he is not traded the Eagles could be in line for a 3rd or more likely 4th round draft compensatory pick in 2023. Both scenarios make the $4 million an easy pill to swallow.  

Worst: Brandon Brooks, 4 years, $56.2M, $32.7M guaranteed

The Eagles occasionally rush into contract extensions for salary cap purposes and, in my opinion, market manipulation and this was one where they clearly did that. Brooks was extended at the age of 30 in the middle of the 2019 season less than one year after tearing his Achilles and promptly injured his shoulder and tore his other Achilles, missing all of the 2020 season.

I would guess that the Eagles were hoping with the early extension to have Brooks for two more years at a price around $13 million a season but they took on about an additional $27 million in injury risk to make that bet and this may not have been the right player to make that bet on. The Eagles have paid signing/option bonuses to Brooks in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and now 2021 for cap purposes making this one of the most leveraged contracts in the NFL. It will cost $15.7M on the cap if they want to move on next season which would actually be a savings over his $19.4M cap hit which is second among all guards in 2022. They need a decent and injury free year from Brooks to keep their options open.

Washington Football Team

Best: Charles Leno, 1 year, $4M, $3M guaranteed

The Bears cap issues was Washington’s gain as the Football Team swooped in and signed a solid left tackle for about as bottom of a market cost as you can find a tackle in the NFL. It was surprising that there wasn’t stronger interest in Leno across the NFL but the timing did not work in his favor as most teams had already made their decisions at the position. Washington cut through all the noise that was floated about interest to sign Leno at a really affordable price.

The signing of Leno allowed Washington to release Morgan Moses who would have cost $3.75 million more than Leno, making this a solid move from a salary cap standpoint even if someone wants to look at the move as a wash in terms of overall impact on the offensive line. Like mentioned above regarding Harris, Leno should carry trade value as well as compensatory pick potential.  There is nothing to dislike about this signing at all.

Worst: Landon Collins, 6 years, $84M, $44.5M guaranteed

Free agency is often a lot about name value and using that name value to blindside a team into a bad contract. Washington likely thought they were putting a major blow to their rival Giants and got talked into a contract that was just massive for a very good in the box safety who was almost assured to disappoint at this salary level where he would be expected to be a savior of the defense.

Collins $45M three year contract value is number two among all safeties, only behind the $46.5M earned by the recently signed Justin Simmons. His $15M signing bonus is tops among safeties and the $44.5 million in guarantees is nearly $10 million more than the next closest player. From a salary cap perspective this was a home run for Collins. Washington paid $21M in prorated bonuses in the first two years of the contract to keep his salary cap figure below $4M in the first year. The number jumped to $14.2M last season and hits $16.9M this year.  Next year it will cost over $9 million in dead money to release him. Collins has played 23 games in two years for Washington.