2023 Free Agency Recap

Now that free agency is more or less finished, I wanted to go back and take a look at what teams added and lost the most this offseason and how much things have changed for teams when it comes to future cap considerations. For this analysis I will look at all contracts that have an annual value of at least $1.08 million per year and only includes players that were on a roster at the end of 2022 (practice squad included). The numbers also include trades along with free agent signings. Contracts include players signed through the 29th of March so it will not include the most recent signings like Calais Campbell. Also note that for roster losses we are only including players who signed with other teams not outstanding free agents who remain unsigned.

2023 Additions

Teams added, on average, $31.7 million per year in contract value. The median addition was $30.2 million.  Not surprisingly the team that added the most was the Chicago Bears. The Bears came into the offseason with nearly $100 million in cap room for the year and added nearly $75 million in ontract value.

Following the Bears were the Broncos who went on a big spending spree and wound up adding $64.2 million per year in contracts to the team. The Texans and Raiders were neck and neck for 3rd and 4th place with $63.9 million and $63.4 million respectively added to the team.  Both also led the NFL in total players added at 16, five more than the next closest team, so they were adding a number of lower cost players. This has been a trend for the last three years for the Texans and looks to be one for the Raiders as well.

The Falcons are at $56.7 million and counting. At an average cost of $7.071 million per player they were the team that had the highest average per player. While I would not say they swung for the fences they certainly were taking an approach much different than Houston.

The most surprising team was the cap starved Saints who deferred as much as they could to the future to add $55 million in contracts to the team. While a large portion of that is attributed to Derek Carr they still continued to add to their team in hopes of competing for the playoffs.

On the other end of the spectrum there were six teams that added under $10 million of talent. The Bucs only added $8.7 million which was pretty much expected as their salary cap was wrecked from running it back two times following their Super Bowl win in 2020. The Chargers just added one player, linebacker Eric Kendricks, at $6.625 million. This was a bit surprising for a team that clearly is all in on 2023.

The Jaguars went on a massive spending spree in 2022, but in 2023 not so much with just $3.4 million added to the team. The Ravens are mainly in limbo because of their contract dispute with Lamar Jackson as their only gain was WR Nelson Agholor at $3.25 million. Speaking of teams in limbo, the Packers added a grand total of $2.355 million in talent to the team.

Finally we had the Rams who added nobody in free agency but they did bring in Hunter Long as a throw in on the Jalen Ramsey trade. His contract averages $1.24 million a year so technically he qualified, but realistically this team added $0 to the team this year. I’m not sure if that has ever happened before. It probably has but it’s a rough offseason for Rams fans hoping for some help.

Roster Losses

The team that was picked apart the most were the 49ers who lost 12 players this year at a total of $84.845 million in annual contract value. While over $20 million of that is attributed to Jimmy Garoppolo, they did have a tighter cap situation this year and were very targeted in who they decided to acquire and had to let many of the depth leave here.

The Eagles were next with $74.8 million in talent losses across 10 players. They did not have a starting QB leave the team so this was arguably the most impactful group of major losses teamwide. The Raiders were 3rd with $69.6 million in losses though that includes Derek Carr who they did not want back at all so they probably don’t look at it as meaningful.

The Chiefs lost 10 players at a total of $52.4 million and they were followed by the Saints who were basically reshuffling the chairs on the deck as they lost $50.8 million in talent. The final team to lose at least $50 million in annual contract value were the Rams who re-signed almost nobody.

The Chargers were the only team with less than $10 million in losses as they lost just $3 million in contract value. Seattle was next at $10.3 million, followed by the Falcons at $12.8 million and the Bears, Giants, and Dolphins around between $13 and $15 million each.  

Net Changes

When we get into our net changes we can get a better idea of the teams that on paper should be significantly better and those who may be worse. The Bears top the list with a net gain of $61.4M on the season, nearly $20 million more than the next closest team which was the Falcons at $43.8 million. The Texans and Broncos remain in the top 5 at $34.8 and $30.1 million, but the changes come after that with the Seahawks, Giants, and Dolphins replacing the teams like the Saints and Raiders that both added and lost a lot on the year.

The Eagles were a massive loser on the year dropping $62.4 million in contract value overall. While they were able to retain some players it certainly played out like we assumed with the 2022 team basically being a WYSIWYG kind of roster for at least one more season. The Rams had a net loss of $48.9 million followed closely by the 49ers at $46.7M.

Obviously these three teams view themselves very differently with the Rams voluntarily just tearing it apart while the other two believe they should be competitive. If I had to guess I would say the 49ers view the bigger addition of Javon Hargrave as more meaningful than the smaller multiple losses while the Eagles will believe that their core is intact and that they can fill out their losses in the draft.

The Jaguars, Ravens, and Packers are the other teams with at least $20 million in net losses in the offseason. The Jaguars are interesting because they still have the Trevor Lawrence rookie window but my opinion of free agency is that you essentially operate in two year windows in free agency and when you go as crazy as the Jaguars did in 2022 that really eliminates the chance to go back into it in 2023. The Packers are clearing things out after their Rodgers extension mistake and the Ravens are going to get criticized no matter what the outcome is this year.

Here is the summary data for the free agent gains and losses.

TeamGainedAPY GainedLostAPY LostNet APY Change

Impact on 2024

There are a number of different ways to look at decisions made this year and how they impact 2024. For example the Falcons had the largest net change in cap position by adding over $98 million in chargers to the 2024 salary cap and were 3rd in the NFL with a net gain of $24.5 million in prorated charges next year, but despite all of that they rank 15th in the NFL in projected cap room.

The teams that really fit the “all in” framework for 2023 are those who added significant charge to 2024 and are not in a great salary cap position. The top team is the Saints in that regard. They are 32nd in the NFL in projected cap room, saw their cap get about $82 million worse than it was at the start of free agency and added over $30 million in prorated charges to 2024 already. Those were both 2nd in the NFL.

The Dolphins are about $10 million over the 2024 cap and added $76 million in cap charges to 2024. They were 11th in prorated charges added at $16.5 million but that number is actually worse if we factor in the dead money from the June 1 cuts. I didn’t do that here since it only impacts a few teams so far.

Denver is just $4 million under and they added $80 million in cap charges and about $16 million in net prorated bonus money gains. The Chargers are going to fall into this group as well. They are 30th in the NFL in projected cap room and added a massive $39.87 million in prorated charges to their 2024 salary cap. Overall they added $59 million in cap charges to 2024 which is incredible considering they signed just one player in 2023. They are all in with the same team that lost in the wildcard round. Typically that is not a formula for success so they really need the draft to be a massive hit.

The two teams with the biggest focus away from 2023 and mainly on 2024 are the Rams and the Titans. The Rams improved their salary cap position by $58 million and shed over $12 million in prorated money from 2024. They are up to 18th in the NFL in projected cap space with $55 million and should be open to more dealing during the season.

The Titans shaved $28.5 million and are doing a rebuild that should have started last year. They are 3rd in the NFL in projected 2024 cap room with $128 million and should take any and every phone call for Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill from now until the trading deadline.

Here is a graph illustrating the changes and a table with the data.

TeamNet Cap IncreaseNet Prorated Increase2024 Est. Cap Space

QB Salary Cap Charges and the Playoffs

With the exits from the playoffs of Josh Allen and Dak Prescott this past weekend along with the rumored trade of Aaron Rodgers, there has been more and more discussion about the ability to win and how much the QB earns. We do some work on playoff roster analysis so I thought I could throw a quick post together looking at the top earner for each team in a given season (so not the spend on the entire QB room, just the top player) and how much that salary cap level made the playoffs.

For this post I looked at the last five seasons and determined what QB had the highest salary cap charge for a team. That might not mean that the player was the starter, just that this was what the team budgeted at the top level for the highest earning position on the team. Each cap number was then adjusted to be a percentage of that years unadjusted salary cap. The players were then binned by cap percentage 0-1%, 1-3%, 3-5% and so on. Finally, I grouped the teams into playoff and non-playoff teams.

I thought the numbers here were kind of interesting. When we look at playoff teams you can see that a good number are cheap players and then there is a peak in that moderate-high range between 11 and 13% of the cap before it falls down. While that is certainly a positive for the low cap number when we get to the non-playoff chart it also becomes pretty clear that while there is a high reward on those lower cost players there is certainly a risk factor as that is also our biggest group for missing the playoffs. Here is how the success rates break down for each range and what those ranges would be based on a $225M salary cap:

Cap RangePlayersPlayoff RateMin Cap (2023)Max Cap (2023)
Under 1%540.0%$0$2,250,000
Over 17%520.0%$38,250,000$47,000,000

I think this gets us deep into the concept of risk and reward. The groups that have the highest success rate clearly are the most expensive players with over 50% of the teams spending between 11 and 17% making the playoffs. I would imagine when all is said and done with restructures that group would include players like Mahomes, Allen, Prescott, Rodgers, Cousins, Watson, and Goff next year. But it is certainly not 100% and too often the hit rate is considered to be just that and then you are left bitterly disappointed when you are one of the 45% or so of the teams on the outside looking in.

The other number that stands out, and it’s a very small group, are the teams that have been forced to carry a QB at a super high cap charge. There have only been five and the only one to make the playoffs was Mahomes this past year. While 17% is no magical number I think this is something to keep in mind for cap planning that when you do have one of these veterans under contract you should aim to keep the structure within a certain range. There may be no need to max out the restructures and instead should try to keep the numbers manageable year after year.

When we get into our cheaper players our success rates drop to about 40%. These are mainly going to be draft picks with a few exceptions for journeymen players like Jameis Winston, Mitchell Trubisky, and Marcus Mariota. The worst range is that 7 to 11% range which is mainly going to comprise those players who got a starting job off a small sample of games like Nick Foles, Teddy Bridgewater, and Case Keenum or were trade ins like Carson Wentz. This is no mans land in the NFL and generally speaking a waste of a team’s time if its not a pure cap manipulation for the front end of a veteran player’s contract.

What about long term success?  Here is the average spent per top QB, as a percentage of cap, by playoff appearances.

Playoff AppearancesAvg. Cap Spend

The team with 5 is the Chiefs but this group of teams that hits the 4 and 5 are mainly high end rookies during their rookie years and their initial extension years when the salaries drop lower. The peak spend comes from teams with 2 and 3 playoff appearances, which are mainly the teams with the Cousins type QB contracts.

Here is a look at the five year average salary cap spend and the average playoff appearances per group.

RangeTeamsAvg. Playoff Seasons

Again you can see the upside that comes from the long term of being able to have that salary cap figure remain low over a long term with our 5 to 7% averaging 3 playoff appearances in the last five years compared to 2.7 for the most expensive capped teams (these teams are the Vikings, 49ers, and Packers on the expensive end and the Bengals, Chiefs, Ravens, Patriots, and Browns on the lower cost end). Granted these are all small size groups but I think it helps to illustrate that the unknown of draft is often no worse than going nuts navigating the cap each year just to have about the same success rate.

Cardinals Restructure JJ Watt’s Contract for 2023 Cap Relief

The Cardinals have done an interesting restructure of J.J. Watt’s contract for 2023 according to ESPN’s Field Yates that I thought was worth a quick discussion.

Watt’s original contract was set to void on the day prior to the start of free agency in 2023. Once the contract voided it was going to leave the Cardinals with $7.2 million in dead money next season. Watt indicated he is retiring after the season and that gives teams more leeway with contracts like this to improve their cap situation.

To make this work what the Cardinals would do is remove the void year and replace it was a dummy salary worth the minimum in 2023 ($1.165 million). That makes Watt’s 2023 salary cap number fall from the $7.2 million had the contract voided to $3.565 million. Even though Watt is retiring, the timing of this restructure would indicate that Watt will be released from his contract and not placed on the retired list by Arizona.

By doing the restructure prior to the end of the regular season the Cardinals now have the ability to designate Watt a post June 1 cut. On June 2, 2023 his cap number will then fall to $2.4 million with $4.8 million deferred to 2024. Had the Cardinals not done this prior to Saturday then Watt would have actually had to remain on the roster until June 1 of 2023 to get the same cap treatment. I would guess that the Cardinals likely would have to guarantee a large amount of future salary in the event they did not release him as promised to get him to sign the contract. That would make certain that Watt has a chance to change his mind about retiring in the future and be free to sign anywhere.

This is a neat little trick with the cap that not enough teams do outside of the Eagles. It’s something I’ve discussed in the past regarding the Saints in particular with Michael Thomas for next season if he wants to continue playing his career elsewhere. They have until Saturday to modify a contract to be able to take advantage dropping a salary to the minimum and using the June 1 designation. If retiring though they can do the deal at anytime.

Defensive Spending- NFL Preseason 2022

The other week I looked at how teams were set up financially on offense and today I’ll take a look at the spending on defense. The numbers are based on the new money average per year of the top 30 players on defense.

Overall Spending on Defense

The average team invests $102 million per year in defense, compared to about $120 million on offense. The Eagles lead the NFL with nearly $132 million being spent on defense. No team in the NFL has been more proactive on both sides of the football in utilizing the benefit of the “rookie contract window” than Philadelphia. The Steelers rank 2nd with about $130 million spent on defense. The Bills come in 3rd with $128 million followed by the Jaguars at $123 million and the Chargers just behind them.

The teams currently with the low cost approach are the Cardinals with $72 million, Cowboys with $74 million and Falcons with $75 million. The Giants and Bears round out the bottom five at just over $75 million and $78 million respectively. The Falcons, Bears, and Giants are all rebuilding teams while Dallas and Arizona have simply gone offense first.

CB Spending

There is always great debate between the Edge or Corner decisions so it is always interesting to see how these teams split. The Dolphins are at the top of the NFL with $47 million spent on cornerbacks. They are followed by the Ravens at $42 million. Those are the only teams with $40 million or more spent annually on cornerbacks. The Eagles are at $37 million, the Packers $35 million and the Bills $34 million. The Dolphins and Ravens have massive gaps between corner and Edge spending ($21.5 million and $25.5 million more per year on corners) while the other three are closer.

Punting on the idea that coverage is worth spending on are the Cardinals at just $7.2 million, Chiefs ($8.6 million), and Bears ($8.9 million). The Titans, Raiders, and Seahawks are all between $10 and $12 million. The Raiders and Titans have gone heavy at Edge and light here while the other three are just light at both positions.

Edge Spending

The NFL average is $27 million on Edge rushers. The Chargers are tops in the NFL at just under $55 million per season, though it should be noted that they traded for one of the big contracts that make up that total. The Raiders are just under $52 million. The Eagles are at $46 million followed by the Jets at $42 million, and the Titans at $39 million. The Jets number shocked me but its because we are classifying JFM as an Edge and he easily could be classified as an interior defender instead.

The teams that seem to dislike the pass rush are the Falcons at a ridiculous $7.9 million, the Cardinals ($10.2 million), Giants ($13.6 million), Commanders ($14.5 million), and Panthers ($16.4 million). In Washington’s case and perhaps the Cardinals you can argue similar to the Jets above about positional roles deflating the value here.

Interior D-Line Spending

Not surprisingly the Rams with the massive Aaron Donald contract are number 1 with nearly $40.5 million invested in the interior. The Steelers are next up at $37.3 million followed closely by Tampa at $37.2 million. Indianapolis, Green Bay, and Philadelphia are the next three teams.

Miami is lowest in the NFL at $10.3 million followed by the Browns at $11.4 million, Texans at $11.5 million and 49ers at $11.6 million. The Cowboys round out the bottom five at $11.8 million.

Linebacker Spending

Teams are nowhere near as aggressive at this position as others with just $14.6 million a year being spent on non-rush linebackers. It is no surprise that the Colts and 49ers lead the way in spending at linebacker as they are the only two teams with linebackers earning close to $20 million a season. Miami, Tampa, and Buffalo are all over $22 million.

The Bengals are barely spending a dime here with just $4.2 million spent per year. The Seahawks after shedding Bobby Wagner’s contract dropped from a top spender to a bottom feeder at $6 million. The Chargers, Patriots, and Ravens are all close to the Seahawks as well. This seems to be a good position for teams focusing on paying up at the corner and edge positions to pass on.

Safety Spending

Finally we have safety where the Seahawks spend a ludicrous $35.9 million a year. It is 2.4 times the NFL average and nearly $11 million more than the next closest team (the Steelers). It is more than they spend on any other defensive position and is more than the combined total of the cornerback, edge, and linebacker spending on their own team. The Ravens are at $24.5 million followed closely by the Saints at $24.2 million and the Bengals at $24 million. A good chunk of the Bengals spending is allocated to Jessie Bates who has yet to sign his tender.

The Rams are at the bottom of the NFL at just under $5 million. The Buccaneers are 31st at $5.9 million followed by the Colts ($6.2 million), Falcons ($6.3 million), and Eagles ($6.4 million).

Offensive vs Defensive Spending

Here is a look at how each team’s spending on the top 30 on defense compares to the top 30 on offense.

Teams in the top right quadrant are basically spending everywhere on the team. The Eagles and Jaguars really stand out here since they have rookie QBs and are still in the top spending on both units.

The bottom right are the teams making offense a priority. If you see the Cowboys and Cardinals (and to a lesser extent the Raiders) lose in a bunch of shootout type games the blame is going to fall squarely on the GMs who constructed the teams. The Chiefs may fall into that category but will likely escape that scrutiny.

In the top left we have the teams who are heavy on defense and light on offense. For teams with rookie QBs this is expected. For teams like the Colts and perhaps the Vikings it should lead to some questions if their offenses are pretty dull this year.

Finally the bottom right are the teams just not spending at all. Chicago, Atlanta, and New York are all in complete rebuilds and are pretty much doing what is expected. The team that stands out here is New England. They are still more or less committed to the Brady era philosophy that you can just patch it all together and win, but with Mac Jones on a rookie deal you wonder if they are missing out on something here.

The team with the biggest gap between defense and offense is the Steelers who have $40.5 million more per year spent on defense. The next closest team is Chicago at $20.6 million and that will fall if they do sign Roquan Smith to an extension. The only other teams who spend more on defense than offense are the Bengals, Chargers, Ravens, Colts, and Eagles.

On the other hand Arizona is nearly $84 million less a year on defense than offense. The Browns are at $66 million, followed by the Raiders at $62.8 million, Panthers at $58.1 million, and Cowboys at a $57.4 million gap between defense at offense.

The following table should be sortable if you click on the headers.

NFL. Avg.$23,633,416$27,062,668$22,108,604$14,624,040$14,849,203$102,277,930-$19,459,635

Thoughts on Kyler Murray’s $230.5 Million Contract Extension

Kyler Murray agreed to a $230.5 million contract which would make him the second highest paid quarterback in NFL history today and Pro Football Talk has the full details of the contract. So with all of the key number more or less out at this point let’s take a look at the contract and how it compares with the rest of the market.

Cash Flow Analysis

Here is the running cash breakdown of the quarterbacks who earn in excess of $40 million per year on multi year contracts on a new money basis.

PlayerAPYYear 0Year 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5Year 6
Aaron Rodgers$50,271,667$0$42,000,000$101,515,000$150,815,000FAFAFA
Kyler Murray$46,100,000$33,807,640$72,657,640$105,265,140$147,807,640$184,142,640$230,500,000FA
Deshaun Watson$46,000,000$0$46,000,000$92,000,000$138,000,000$184,000,000$230,000,000FA
Patrick Mahomes$45,000,000$6,000,000$35,450,000$75,900,000$113,850,000$155,800,000$197,750,000$257,700,000
Josh Allen$43,000,000$40,445,405$68,445,405$98,445,405$137,945,405$176,445,405$216,445,405$258,000,000
Derek Carr$40,474,160$5,122,481$38,122,481$80,122,481$121,422,481FAFAFA
Dak Prescott$40,000,000$0$75,000,000$95,000,000$126,000,000$160,000,000FAFA
Matt Stafford$40,000,000$38,500,000$66,000,000$97,000,000$129,000,000$160,000,000FAFA

Murray received a relatively strong contract in this respect.  While his raise for the next two years will rank just third, that number jumps to 2nd by the end of his first new year, trailing Dak Prescott’s massive $75 million haul from the Cowboys. Through two years Murray will rank 1st in the NFL before dropping behind Aaron Rodgers in year 3. Murray will earn slightly more than Deshaun Watson in the final two years of the contract.

This is a different level than the Allen and Mahomes contracts, both of whom will have to play, at the least, into a 6th year. Murray likely has Watson to thank for that as Watson pushed the market beyond Mahomes’ and Allen’s average annual values a few months ago. This allowed Murray to take the approach of being the “next man up” when it came to his contract. Had the Cardinals done this deal earlier than the Watson contract I feel confident that he would have maxed out at no more than $44 million and possibly as low as $42 million per year as comparisons to Mahomes and Allen are very difficult to make.  This is not a critique of doing the deal earlier as no rookies are usually extended that early and the Browns doing what they did with Watson was completely unexpected, but it is worth pointing out.

Also worth pointing out is that it appears that Murray did give up his 17th game check as part of this negotiation. Allen also did that when he did his extension. It is not an insignificant number as it is about $1.75 million. I don’t factor those into my analysis of the contracts unless it is clear they were negotiating with them in place, but some agents have been more forceful on including them in any new contracts.

Guarantee Structure

Murray looks to have about $104 million fully guaranteed at signing and $162 million guaranteed for injury. It looks as if there will also be a rolling guarantee structure based on Florio’s breakdown of the contract similar to Allen’s and Mahomes’ where some non-guaranteed money will become guaranteed during the course of the contract. About $65 million of the guarantee will come in the way of prorated bonuses which will rank 3rd behind Prescott ($66 million) and Rodgers whose whole contract is effectively signing and option bonuses. I always like these structures for a player.

Needless to say the contract is not fully guaranteed and I think we can stop the speculation, at least for now, that the Watson contract was any more meaningful in that regard than the Kirk Cousins contract signed back in 2018. Both of those were situations where the teams were extremely leveraged due to needs and willing to do anything. Extensions are not the same situation and likely never will be unless you get a weird situation where you have a great young QB who somehow is still on a bad team and he is threatening to not play.

While the main focus of this guarantee will be on the total dollar figure, which trails only Watson, I’d rather try to add some context to the numbers. For whatever reason nobody wants to discuss guaranteed salary in the way they do new money. Basically teams are sometimes able to get a massive guarantee discount via extension but it is hidden due to the way we report the guarantee.

Two of the better ways to look at the guarantee package are to compare it to the total years given up by the player in the contract and the percentage of the total contract value. In both cases we look at the effective contract length and value which includes the money that existed in prior contracts.  

PlayerTeamTotal YearsTotal ValueInjury GuaranteeFull GuaranteeInj. Guar/YearFull Guar/Year% Inj. Guar% Full Guar
Aaron RodgersPackers3$150,815,000$150,665,000$101,415,000$50,221,667$33,805,00099.9%67.2%
Deshaun WatsonBrowns5$230,000,000$230,000,000$230,000,000$46,000,000$46,000,000100.0%100.0%
Dak PrescottCowboys4$160,000,000$126,000,000$95,000,000$31,500,000$23,750,00078.8%59.4%
Matt StaffordRams5$183,000,000$120,000,000$63,000,000$24,000,000$12,600,00065.6%34.4%
Kyler MurrayCardinals7$265,692,360$161,700,000$104,300,000$23,100,000$14,900,00060.9%39.3%
Josh AllenBills8$284,644,595$150,000,000$100,000,000$18,750,000$12,500,00052.7%35.1%
Derek CarrRaiders4$141,300,000$65,300,000$24,900,000$16,325,000$6,225,00046.2%17.6%
Patrick MahomesChiefs12$477,631,905$141,000,000$63,081,905$11,750,000$5,256,82529.5%13.2%

Despite the big number here Murray ranks 4th in full protection per year and percentage of contract fully guaranteed and 5th in injury protection per year percent of contract guaranteed for injury.  Now perhaps the rolling mechanisms (I don’t have those particulars) make up for this but this contract is definitely lighter on the injury side. Even if we go back a few years and look at players like Jared Goff (68.3% guaranteed for injury), Carson Wentz (69.6%), and Russell Wilson (68.2%), this one is a step back from where contracts had been even on extensions. It is relatively on target with the full guarantee.

Now I think guarantees, especially for QB’s, are a bit overrated since the early cut rates are still pretty low but it is important to consider the scope and size of the total contract when we look at these things rather than just eyeballing the total guarantee number.  

Other Contract Mechanisms

There are two things that stick out with Murray’s contract. One is that he has $9.3 million tied up in workout bonuses, about 4% of his contract. This to me was a strange addition unless it was requested by Murray’s side. I personally like the workout bonus for a player since its easy offseason money to earn unless he just has no desire to remain in the city in the offseason, but ideally you would get this money as a roster bonus at the start of the league year. As far as I know Murray has always attended workouts so its not as if this is holdout protection and they didn’t include camp bonuses each year so that doesn’t seem to be a concern for Arizona. Arizona also has no players under contract to my knowledge with a workout bonus so it is not as if this is the Packers where the teams want’s everyone to have the workout money. So I will lean toward this being a Murray suggestion.

Murray has $4.25 million tied up in per game bonuses which is a real weird thing for a QB. Of all the QB’s in the NFL I only have a record for 10 players with a per game bonus, and 8 of those players have contracts that average under $4 million a year. The other player is Jimmy Garoppolo of the 49ers, a team with a big commitment to per game bonuses. In the grand scheme of things it is not a lot relative to the size of the contract but it would seem to indicate a bit of worry by Arizona that he won’t hold up 17 games and this at least reimburses them a few dollars a year. Arizona has used per game bonuses in the past so this should also help them in future extension and free agent signings in looking to max compensation tied to per game play.

About $50 million of Murray’s salary is tied to roster bonuses which is a great get for him. While not at the level of Mahomes and Allen, the $10 million a year in roster bonuses would rank 4th among QBs (Goff is third). These are great because they force the team into early decisions and often lead to conversions to signing bonuses which are only more helpful for keeping a player employed by the team.

Another $7.5 million in incentives are available to Murray. At $1.5 million a year that is fifth among active QB’s earning $30 million or more a year on multi year contracts. He trails Allen, Wentz, Goff, and Mahomes. I would imagine this is on the lower end because the contract value is probably higher than where Arizona wanted to be a few month ago.

Salary Cap Impact

Murray’s cap hits should be as follows (give or take a few bucks)

YearCap Hit

 The new contract only increases the cap charge this year by $1.28 million, assuming that his workout does not prorate(which it may depending on contract language, but it would be a minor change). His cap next year will drop by $13.7 million. While the $51.86 million charge in 2024 is eye popping, that is the year that we would expect the salary cap to increase significantly as new TV deals roll in and all the Covid stuff should be paid back. So this wont be $51M on a $220M cap but probably on a $250M or $260M cap. While high it is not outrageous and currently would rank 3rd in the NFL. The Cardinals could bring that number down significantly with a restructure as they have maximum proration years remaining in 2024 without the need for void years. As long as Murray doesn’t implode that should not be a concern.

As the contract stands right now a franchise tag in 2029 would cost a minimum of $55.6 million which is probably a fair number from the Cardinals perspective. A max restructure in 2024 would bring that number way up to around $64 million which would be great for Murray if it occurred.

Thoughts on QB Market Impact

After the numbers came in for Watson I would guess that this is probably mildly disappointing. If we throw out the Rodgers contract as meaningful this would represent a 0.2% raise over Watson. Watson raised the market over Mahomes by 2.2% and Allen by 6.9%, which is a contract closer in length. This would be the most minor market increase by a QB in modern history (Joe Flacco was around 0.5% on his two contracts). The average has been in the ballpark of 7%. While nobody expected him to hit the 10%+ mark that the elite players have, I think it was fair once the Mahomes mark was surpassed to think a 2-3% raise was possible as the “next man up”.  That was the range for players like Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins. Clearly if there was any hope for QB guarantees to get easier that was gone with this deal.

I think as we look forward to Lamar Jackson’s new deal the Ravens are probably happy with the level of injury protection in the contract, the per game bonuses, the workout numbers, and incentives. Id guess that they would offer $46.2M a year based on what went down here even though Jackson has had a better career than Murray.

Thoughts for Arizona

Despite what I said about the raise being low, the fact is I would not have projected Murray to get any raise over Mahomes a few months ago. Even the Rodgers contract I think would have been meaningless. While I like Murray and have at times said he should at least have been in MVP discussions during the year, the fact is his seasons have seemingly trailed off after the first month or two of the season. It may be more of a team thing as Arizona has had some older players on the team but rightly or wrongly QBs get the credit and blame when a team flames out.

To me Murray right now is not a sure thing. Dead money on QB’s has skyrocketed in recent years as teams have committed million of guaranteed dollars with the assumption that he will just get better but often it doesn’t happen. The Cardinals decision to double down on the coach, GM, and QB in the same offseason for so many years is quite risky in my mind, but I guess once you sign the first two you may as well do the QB at the same time.

Arizona has more or less been an average spender in the NFL and have had the benefit of a cheap QB. They are a team that in recent years has looked more like the Ryan Grigson Colts struggling to put a long term competent roster around a young QB and instead taking fliers on veteran free agents and trades while going year to year on most of their contracts. They have to find a way to get more continuity to their roster and I would imagine with a high priced QB that is going to mean they have to rely on the draft more than before with the free agents likely falling more toward veteran minimum territory. If the close of the season is a precursor to what the results will be the next two years this will wind up being looked at negatively the same way that Wentz and Goff were even if it is not entirely Murray’s fault.

For Lamar Jackson’s wallet, patience is a virtue

Lamar Jackson is representing himself—a rare, if not unique, endeavor. But unlike the few other players who have eschewed an agent, Lamar is pursuing one of the richest contracts in the history of pro sports.

The logistical implications of this decision are explicitly laid out in Article 48 of the CBA: teams are prohibited from negotiating with anyone other than an NFLPA certified agent or the player himself. So, if a deal is to get done, Lamar and the front office must negotiate directly.

This of course requires a willingness from both sides to negotiate. For months, the team has said publicly that Lamar isn’t ready to engage in talks, though that may have changed last week.

It’s a bizarre, somewhat awkward situation that, as a former Ravens analyst, has long intrigued me. About six months ago, I argued that a novel structure containing a non-refundable signing bonus and heavily front-loaded cash flows, while misaligned with the incentives of an agent, would be mutually beneficial for both Lamar and the Ravens.

This proposal is admittedly more viable in theory than in practice—it’s too risky for an owner and too complex from a player perspective. Yet even if the Ravens and Lamar were to each sign off on the structure, the dollar figures are now obsolete. The closer we get to free agency, the more leverage Lamar has.

Before diving into why, I feel obligated to state the following, as there seems to be at least some opposition to the notion that Lamar deserves a megadeal. Lamar is 25 with an MVP; it’s not a coincidence that, since 2018, the Ravens are 38-14 when he starts and 6-11 when he doesn’t. If he were a free agent today, there would be a bidding war.

I imagine most OTC readers know that the Ravens have the franchise tag at their disposal, and I’m sure many of you are familiar with how it works. Still, the franchise tag provides a natural benchmark for negotiations, and its intricacies are crucial to Lamar’s situation, so I’ve provided a summary below (full details are in Article 10 of the CBA).

  • A player can be franchise tagged up to 3 times.
    • The Year 2 tag amount is 120% of the Year 1 tag amount.
    • For a quarterback, the Year 3 tag amount is 144% of the Year 2 tag amount. Since the 2011 CBA, no player has been franchised three times.
  • There are two types of franchise tags: Nonexclusive and Exclusive.
    • A player designated with theNonexclusive Franchise Tender can sign an offer sheet with another team. If this happens, the tagging team can choose to match the deal or instead receive two first round picks from the signing team as compensation. The Nonexclusive tag is calculated using data from the preceding five years. The sample calculation that is depicted below can also be found in Appendix E of the CBA.
  • A player designated with the Exclusive Franchise Tender cannot negotiate with any other team. The Exclusive tag is calculated as “the average of the five largest Salaries in Player Contracts for that League Year as of the end of the Restricted Free Agent Signing Period…or the amount of the (Nonexclusive) tender…whichever is greater.” Note that the calculation of any five largest Salaries for the current League Year shall not include any renegotiation of an existing Player Contract that occurs after the tag was designated.
    • For both tag types, Salary excludes performance bonuses other than roster and reporting bonuses.

The Nonexclusive tag, calculated using five prior years of data, is stable. Thus, the flurry of recent quarterback deals won’t have much impact on the 2023 Nonexclusive figure—expect it to be in the $31-$34 million range.

On the other hand, the more volatile Exclusive tag can reflect this market change. As of today, the 2023 Exclusive figure is over $45 million.

This of course could change. Uncertainty around Deshaun Watson remains high, and it’s likely that at least one of the quarterbacks listed above gets restructured. But as previously noted, any renegotiation made after the tag is placed is not reflected in the calculation of the Exclusive tag—an important fact because the franchise tag deadline occurs before the start of the league year and tags are almost always placed before restructures are filed.

There has never been an instance of Nonexclusive tagged player signing an offer sheet with a new team. Given the infrequency of quarterback tags, this is unsurprising. Sending multiple first round picks AND handing out a huge contract to any non-quarterback is unjustifiable (see Jamal Adams).

Evidenced by the compensation in recent quarterback trades, Lamar will break this trend if he is given the Nonexclusive tag. Thus, the Exclusive tag really becomes the benchmark for negotiations.

Blindly using the 3-year tag amount with respect to negotiations doesn’t really make sense, as the 2025 figure is significantly more than Lamar would make on the open market. Going year-to-year obviously shifts more risk onto the player, but remember Dak Prescott signed one of the biggest deals in league history after suffering a brutal injury while on the franchise tag. When it comes to quality quarterbacks demand always exceeds supply, so the 2-year/~$100 million Exclusive tag cost is a realistic starting point.

Tag Type202320242025Total3 Year Average

The Ravens could figure out a way to fit a $45 million cap hit for Lamar in March 2023, though doing so would leave them in a disastrous salary cap position. If no extension is done by then, it’s entirely possible they take two first rounders and move on—especially if the 2022 offense more closely resembles the 2021 version than the 2019-2020 editions.

Maybe Lamar wants to leave, though he’s explicitly said otherwise. Maybe he doesn’t think he’s worthy, as owner Steve Bisciotti speculated. Maybe his patience is strategic, though this requires there was some prior exchange of figures that he wasn’t happy with.  Whatever the reason, his patience should pay off.

Aaron Donald Signs Record Breaking $95 Million Contract

Aaron Donald hinted at retirement this offseason, but the Rams were able to get Donald back in the fold for the season by basically doing something unprecedented in the NFL- they literally just disregarded the three existing years worth about $57.3 million on his prior contract and signed him to a new contract worth $95 million per PFT.

This type of contract is very rare in the NFL and unheard of at these dollar figures. Generally when there is a contract issue between a player and a team the sides will often come to an agreement on adding incentives to the contract or moving salary from a future year into the current one. In rare cases there is a raise to appease a situation but usually that raise is for a year. The biggest raise I can think of was the Patriots $8 million increase for Tom Brady in 2019 when the marriage was about to break up in New England between Brady and Belichick. The biggest move for a non-QB was, I believe Jason Kelce last year getting $3.5 million bump. Here we have a raise that will average either $12.5 and $13.3 million a year (it depends on how you value the 17th game which did not count on the cap but was being paid regardless) with $60 million being virtually guaranteed at signing.

Donald is clearly a very special player, but this is the kind of contract that will likely cause headaches with most of the other teams in the NFL. Donald is 31 years old and was already the highest paid interior defender in the NFL. He had three years remaining on his contract which generally cuts off negotiations before they can even begin. The contract itself is filled with superlatives.

Donald’s $31.67M per year average salary makes him the first non-QB to earn over $30 million a year. He will earn $10.67 million per year more than the next highest paid interior defender. He will earn about $8.7 million more a year than Trent Williams who held the distinction of signing the largest contract (measured by true value, not the fake years for Davante Adams) for a player over 30 at $23 million per year. It is $11.7 million more a year than the next closest defender over the age of 30. On a salary cap inflated basis this is the biggest contract ever for a D-lineman at 15.2% of the cap, 1.7% more than Warren Sapp’s contract from 1998. Basically it shatters every norm that has been expected in contract negotiations and that is never good for teams around the NFL who have to deal with players who are not Aaron Donald but expect to be treated that way.

Donald and Aaron Rodgers, both represented by the same agency, have likely set a blueprint for more and more players to follow. Both players discussed retirement off seasons where they were personally successful and the team was also very successful. Both players set massive new contract highs with Rodgers topping $50 million a season to go along with Donald’s $31.7 million. These numbers were incredible raises over the existing contracts and at ages when usually players are devalued.

Whether by design or just something that they lucked into, I would definitely expect more veterans to follow suit if their prior team is coming off a playoff season. Perhaps that will lead to more and more teams no longer willing to sign five and six year extensions and instead capping off most deals at three or four years and fighting harder to reduce the cash flows paid on the front end of the contract. For example Donald’s prior contract paid $26.7 million per year over the first three new years and just $18.3 million per year on the final three years, making it much easier for the player to look for the big raise, which Donald got. Donald’s overall deal with the Rams, valued over the original six years, stands at $29.2 million a year, which would be quite the haul for a contract signed back in 2018.

Donald will also hold the rare distinction of being a veteran non-QB who was able to set the market twice in his career. I believe Trent Williams did it in 2015 and 2021 and depending on how you look at Lane Johnson in Philadelphia he may have done it twice. On defense I’m drawing a blank at least in the modern NFL. Darrelle Revis signed two top of the market contracts at cornerback (one in 2013 and one in 2015) but his first contract was worth more than his second one so that didn’t set the market again. Players like Ndamukong Suh, Von Miller, Mario Williams, etc…all signed massive deals off their rookie contracts but didn’t take that leap the second time.

I know my Twitter timeline is filled with salary cap comments about the Rams, but the with the lack of draft picks they have the both avoid the big outlaying of cash in the first year of rookie contracts as well as the expectation of big extensions on the horizon for top picks. Though this is a major raise for a player it is not the same thing as extending a player who had no existing salary. So their situation is a bit different than many other teams.

It will be interesting to see where the league goes from here and how they react to this contract. It will also be interesting to see how much this impacts Cooper Kupp’s ability to get a massive new contract from the Rams.