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.

TeamCBEDGEIDLLBSTotalDef/Off Gap
Steelers$17,121,905$29,974,453$37,291,796$20,816,367$25,007,000$130,211,521$40,441,490
Bears$8,879,345$19,888,456$15,682,709$13,429,958$20,330,639$78,211,107$20,605,361
Bengals$24,039,938$30,108,120$28,109,124$4,180,410$23,980,021$110,417,613$17,573,777
Chargers$31,629,489$54,773,385$22,205,262$6,137,238$8,221,784$122,967,158$15,390,777
Ravens$42,281,598$16,789,884$16,374,993$6,432,152$24,436,272$106,314,899$11,889,059
Colts$26,858,877$21,986,719$35,193,188$26,841,362$6,217,202$117,097,348$3,973,065
Eagles$37,171,510$46,468,254$33,448,844$8,425,952$6,402,778$131,917,338$2,863,071
Jets$23,083,680$42,082,885$16,664,568$21,340,675$13,959,459$117,131,267-$617,165
Jaguars$31,792,171$28,419,865$27,014,091$21,573,031$14,302,654$123,101,812-$2,127,961
Seahawks$11,807,672$17,975,042$29,940,000$6,047,932$35,895,162$101,665,808-$2,944,967
Bills$33,601,273$27,852,610$23,406,289$22,441,534$20,285,119$127,586,825-$4,123,228
Texans$26,751,879$21,053,889$11,485,965$19,746,037$10,188,609$89,226,379-$5,941,755
Falcons$18,545,163$7,942,107$22,568,247$19,571,165$6,327,572$74,954,254-$7,139,936
Patriots$24,252,039$24,782,814$18,710,936$6,295,000$19,482,976$93,523,765-$7,221,645
Packers$34,596,417$19,644,538$33,476,698$16,939,087$15,115,406$119,772,146-$8,342,963
Vikings$14,081,461$34,536,316$20,066,498$18,618,878$19,922,992$107,226,145-$13,497,837
Dolphins$47,242,884$25,762,866$10,264,485$23,493,726$11,466,544$118,230,505-$16,154,713
Giants$18,389,623$13,567,900$29,701,373$6,878,901$6,994,718$75,532,515-$17,626,346
Titans$10,111,813$39,339,916$15,248,292$15,382,718$19,555,870$99,638,609-$19,513,986
Saints$25,962,424$31,249,159$15,217,172$14,875,513$24,240,000$111,544,268-$24,783,285
49ers$27,596,609$35,471,065$11,560,178$25,531,000$12,330,038$112,488,890-$25,700,240
Broncos$22,031,831$26,665,394$19,136,450$6,615,000$21,938,464$96,387,139-$26,519,491
Rams$32,998,086$20,680,848$40,469,967$12,066,339$4,916,374$111,131,614-$29,559,675
Lions$13,639,510$31,876,933$14,154,519$9,979,784$14,283,325$83,934,071-$43,572,235
Buccaneers$22,410,812$21,585,196$37,231,614$23,369,590$5,867,138$110,464,350-$44,091,147
Chiefs$8,696,891$22,368,370$25,820,795$9,474,165$16,095,689$82,455,910-$53,365,446
Commanders$31,034,327$14,490,286$24,516,185$9,232,111$8,932,524$88,205,433-$54,548,029
Cowboys$18,061,107$21,868,544$11,805,744$14,370,279$8,500,000$74,605,674-$57,362,641
Panthers$25,806,805$16,343,605$14,525,043$21,966,638$9,567,869$88,209,960-$58,087,038
Raiders$11,403,901$51,812,194$13,624,816$7,796,609$8,224,888$92,862,408-$62,745,008
Browns$27,164,681$38,418,394$11,404,153$10,771,541$16,247,912$104,006,681-$66,086,018
Cardinals$7,223,590$10,225,362$21,155,330$17,328,578$15,937,500$71,870,360-$83,772,154
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
2022$12,669,481
2023$16,007,000
2024$51,857,000
2025$45,614,500
2026$55,549,500
2027$43,535,000
2028$46,357,360

 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
Exclusive$45,177,732$54,213,279$78,067,122$177,458,133$59,152,711
Nonexclusive$32,000,000$38,400,000$55,296,000$125,696,000$41,898,667

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.

Breaking Down Dallas Goedert’s $57 Million Contract Extension

The in-season extension surprisingly keep coming with the Eagles signing tight end Dallas Goedert to a four year contract extension worth $57 million in new money with a maximum contract value of $59 million. The following is the breakdown of the contract per a league source with knowledge of the deal.

Goedert will earn a $10,218,660 signing bonus this year and will have his salary reduced from $1.246 million to $920K for the rest of the year. His salary cap number should increase from $1.789 million to $3.688 million as a result of the extension.

In 2022, Goedert has a $1.035 million base salary and a $3.215 million option bonus. These are both fully guaranteed at signing. My assumption is that the contract will carry two void years for cap purposes to bring the cap charge in 2022 to $3.72 million.

In 2023 Goedert will earn a $1.08 million salary and an option bonus of $12.92 million. He can also earn a $250,000 workout bonus. This is all guaranteed for injury and will become fully guaranteed in March of 2022. Goedert’s cap number should be $6.6 million.

Goedert’s 2024 salary is $14 million and he can also earn a $250,000 workout bonus. $6 million of this salary is guaranteed for injury and will become fully guaranteed in March of 2023. The cap number should be $19.52 million.

In the final year of the contract there is the same $14 million salary and $250,000 workout bonus. None of the salary is guaranteed. The cap number is also $19.52 million.

All in all it works out to $57 million in new money with $35.13 million in guarantees of which $14.877 million is fully guaranteed at signing and $29.12 million is virtually guaranteed at signing.

In my opinion this is a pretty solid contract for Philadelphia. Despite ranking 3rd in annual value, the one year cash flows will rank 5th, trailing market leader Mark Andrews by $12.25 million. His two year cash flow will rank 3rd trailing both George Kittle and Andrews by around $5.5 million. He will pull within $2.25 million of Andrews after three years and finally jump his contract in the final year of the contract. This was a good way of hitting a target annual value while keeping the cash flows in a class down from that target APY.

I would imagine the tradeoff for the Eagles was giving that guarantee on the 2024 salary but because the cash flows are team friendly up front I doubt that was a big concern for them nor was the player favorable vesting schedule since the overall guarantees will trail some other deals both in total and on a percentage basis. Because the Eagles did not have to go higher in the 2024 guarantee they should have plenty of wiggle room to bring the contract down in the event things do go south that year.

Analyzing the Trade Value of Deshaun Watson

Prior to this offseason there had only been just two notable trades centered around the quarterback position dating back to 2015 – the Nick Foles/Sam Bradford deal between the Chip Kelly-run Eagles and the St. Louis Rams, and the Patriots sending Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco in favor of a 40-year-old Tom Brady. Broadening the search, there was the Washington Football Team’s trade for Kyle Allen in 2020 as well as Ryan Tannehill going from Miami to Tennessee as a backup option to Mariota. Clearly, there was little-to-no star power involved.

Then, this past spring, we saw a slew of quarterback movement across the league. Five starting quarterbacks were moved in four separate trades – Matt Stafford, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold, and Teddy Bridgewater. Each of these deals had vastly different repercussions, but taken as a whole, they set the market for future trades including the quarterback position.

With rumors swirling about a potential trade including the Texans’ Deshaun Watson prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline, I’ll dig into what his true value is.

I. 2021 Offseason Trades

The Rams mortgaged their future by trading away two future 1st round picks – which they are no stranger to doing – as well as a 3rd round selection in the 2021 draft, in order to go all in on winning a Super Bowl. They did so with the gusto to move on from Jared Goff – the quarterback who led the franchise to the Super Bowl just two years prior and had yet to play a snap on the added years of his extension. On the other side of that deal, the Lions sent away the corner stone of their franchise for the past 12 season in exchange for three Rams’ draft picks and the aforementioned Goff. Both quarterbacks were on deals that exceeded $134 million in total value, both with more than $57 million fully guaranteed at signing. However, Stafford, with only two years left and no guarantees in the final year, is nearing the end of that deal. On the other hand, Goff was entering the first of a four-year extension that included a fully guaranteed second year of $26.150 million. The difference in contract structure was certainly a factor in the Lions receiving such drastic compensation for the 33-year-old quarterback.

Notice, the Lions restructured Goff’s deal after the trade, resulting in $15 million in 2021 cap savings but $5 million increases to the cap hit in each of the 2022, 2023, and 2024 seasons. This was likely a calculated move due to the deflated 2021 salary cap and the expected boom in the seasons to come.  

In another trade involving a 2016 1st round quarterback, the Eagles severed ties with Carson Wentz for a conditional 2022 2nd round pick and a 2021 3rd rounder – which was flipped in order to help the team move up 2 spots in the first round of the 2021 draft to select Devonta Smith. The fractured relationship between Wentz and Philadelphia is well documented and a divorce made sense for all parties involved. However, like Goff, Wentz had yet to play a snap on the new years of his $128 million extension, of which $66.5 million was guaranteed at signing.

Additionally, the 2022 2nd round selection that the Eagles received only becomes a 1st round pick if Wentz hits certain playing time percentages in 2021 – a metric that is completely out of the Eagles’ hands and could fail with one snap decision by Indy’s management to bench the quarterback or a season ending injury, which Wentz is no stranger to.

The other two trades involved the Carolina Panthers and first year general manager Scott Fitterer. After signing Teddy Bridgewater in the 2020 offseason, the Panthers decided to bring in the much-beleaguered Jets quarterback, Sam Darnold, in exchange for a 2021 6th round pick and two 2022 picks – a 2nd and a 4th rounder. This move signaled the beginning of the end in Carolina for Teddy, who was moved just 3 weeks later to Denver in exchange for a 2022 6th round pick.

If you’re confused by the movement of all these players, have no fear. I’ve included a summary of each deal below to put everything into perspective.

TeamReceivedTeamReceived
Los Angeles RamsMatt StaffordDetroit LionsJared Goff
   2021 3rd (#101)
   2022 1st
   2023 1st
Indianapolis ColtsCarson WentzPhiladelphia Eagles2021 3rd (#84)
   2022 2nd*
Carolina PanthersSam DarnoldNew York Jets2021 6th (#226)
   2022 2nd
   2022 4th
Denver BroncosTeddy BridgewaterCarolina Panthers2022 6th

*Conditional; could become a 1st if Wentz plays in 75% of the Colts’ total offensive snaps or if Wentz plays 70% of the Colts’ total offensive snaps and the Colts make the 2021 season playoffs

Stafford and Goff are both former 1st overall picks. Wentz is a former 2nd overall pick. All three were playing on deals that were top 5 in total value among quarterbacks when signed. Bridgewater was no slouch himself in the business of football, having signed a three-year $63 million deal ($33 million of which was guaranteed at signing) in the 2020 offseason. Darnold was the only one of the five who did not force their former team to take a dead cap hit of $17 million or more by trading him, and that is only because he is still on his rookie deal.

II. Deshaun Watson

Looking at these five quarterbacks in comparison to Deshaun Watson, it is evident that the Texans could get far more than what the Lions got in exchange for Matt Stafford – overlooking Watson’s potential legal complications.

First, Stafford was already 33 years old when he was traded. In comparison, Deshaun Watson is just 26 and entering the prime of his career – making his situation more akin to Wentz, Goff, and Darnold.

However, those three vastly underperformed in the year prior to leaving their former teams. In 2020, Wentz put up career lows in passer rating and yards as well as career highs in INTs and sacks in just 12 starts. Similarly, Goff threw for career lows as a full-time starter in TDs and adjusted completion percentage on balls thrown over 20 yards in the air, a metric tracked by ProFootballFocus. He also regressed significantly in passing yards from 2019. Lastly, the former Jet threw for more INTs than TDs, was sacked a career high 35 times, had a career low passer rating, and won only two games in 12 starts.

On the other hand, Watson’s 2020 season was the best of his career, throwing for career highs in yards, TDs, and completion percentage while also nearly cutting his 2019 INT total in half. Not only were these figures career highs, but his 4,823 passing yards led the league. He did all that without his favorite target, Deandre Hopkins, after he was traded to the Cardinals in the offseason.

Watson’s statistics also exceed Stafford’s in every category – and most importantly, in the run game. Watson has proven to be a better passer when comparing the three seasons prior to (potentially) being traded. However, in the modern-day NFL, having a quarterback who can both throw with accuracy and have the ability to take off and run is of increased importance. That is exactly what Watson is. From 2018 through 2020, the only quarterbacks with more rushing yards than Watson were Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen. Likewise, only Matt Ryan and Pat Mahomes topped Watson in combined passing and rushing yards over that period.

On top of being one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the league, Watson is one of the best deep ball passers in the league, ranking 3rd in adjusted completion percentage on balls thrown over 20 yards in the air in 2020 and 1st in 2019 among quarterbacks who threw at least 50 such passes. Keep in mind, all of this 2020 success took place with Brandin Cooks (in his first season with the Texans) and oft-injured Will Fuller as his top targets.

If that wasn’t enough, Watson is under contract through the 2025 season when he’ll be just 30 years old. That gives the team who trades for him the rest of this year and four more seasons with Watson under contract.

III. Trade Value

Now, determining what a player’s worth is in draft capital is much more difficult than determining how much he should be paid. There are many schools of thought – none of which are perfect. The three most popular include the draft pick value chart’s devised by Jimmy Johnson, Jason Fitzgerald and Brad Spielberger, and the football analysis website ProFootballFocus (PFF). Each of these charts have their own methods of analyzing the weighted trade value of all 250+ draft picks, yet they’re all means to the same end – trying to calculate the true trade rate of some of the most valuable commodities that NFL team’s control.

TeamTraded AwayTraded ForJimmy JohnsonFitzgerald-SpielbergerProFootballFocus
Detroit LionsMatt StaffordJared Goff   
  2021 3rd (#101)966610.194
  2022 1st+4201,0380.390
  2023 1st++1907790.246
SUM  706 (#26)2,478 (#3)0.830 (#10)
Philadelphia EaglesCarson Wentz2021 3rd (#84)1707550.237
  2022 2nd*+ OR 2022 1st+190   420779   10380.246   0.390
SUM  360 (#54) OR 590 (#32)1,554 (#18) OR 1,793 (#11)0.483 (#35) OR 0.627 (#19)
New York JetsSam Darnold2021 6th (#226)12530.055
  2022 2nd+1907790.246
  2022 4th+344810.109
SUM  225 (#73)1,513 (#19)0.410 (#45)

*Conditional +Value equal to the 16th pick in the following round ++Value equal to the 16th pick in the second round following the round the pick is actually in

A future year’s pick declines in value (similar to the time value of money) and is considered for draft value as a mid-round selection in the round following that in which the selection is actually in. Additionally, if a pick is two years down the line, it is valued as a mid-round pick two rounds following. This is why the Lions received less than the equivalent of two mid round 1st round picks in the 2021 draft across all three methods.

In fact, the Lions only received the equivalent of the 26th overall pick according to the Jimmy Johnson chart, the 3rd overall pick according to the Fitzgerald-Spielberger chart, and the 10th overall pick according to PPF’s metrics. There is obviously a large disparity from the Jimmy Johnson chart to the other two. The same discrepancy holds true in both the Eagles and Jets trades. Even so, this analysis proves just how important it is to get picks upfront rather than waiting for them due to their rapid depreciation rate.

Analyzing the 2021 trades above we see that the Lions clearly got the most draft capital measured by each of the three value metrics – not even including the value that Jared Goff carries.

Considering that Watson is seven years younger than Stafford, under contract for an extra three years, and drastically outperformed the ex-Lions quarterback, Watson’s trade value could be more than two times what Stafford’s was. If this is true (and not taking into account the potential legal issues that Watson faces) then the Texans could expect to receive a package including 3-4 first round picks – especially if they are in future years – as well as multiple day two selections.

The team’s public demands do not look as outlandish now as they did before conducting this analysis. Still, given the rumors about Watson’s off field conduct, it may make more sense to structure this deal in way that is more similar to the Wentz trade, predicating which round selections will be given up depending on his play time percentage or roster status. If that is that case, Houston will likely push for more picks in order to raise the total value of the deal in the case that the playing time criteria is not met.

Only time will tell if a team is willing to take a shot on the fifth-year quarterback (who could be facing a league suspension or even criminal punishment) but if they do, Houston’s return would likely be like everything in Texas – much bigger!

Early ROI: 2021 Player Acquisition vs Wins

We are only three weeks into the season but I thought I would take a quick look at the return teams have gotten this year on their outside player signings. To count as an outside signing a player must have not been on the team as of the last week of the 2020 season and be in the league long enough to be eligible to sign a new contract, which more or less limits it to veteran acquisitions. Players acquired by trade and waivers (if they readjusted their contract) were included. The value of the players acquired is simply the sum of the contract annual values.

It is no surprise that the worst performing teams are all the winless teams. The Jets added $75 million in contract value this offseason and have been terrible through three games. They did lose their biggest acquisition(Carl Lawson) to injury before the season began but that likely would not have changed the outcome. The Jaguars spent $67 million and have also been a dud. They do not have the injury excuse. Detroit was at $61 million, but that kind of comes with an asterisk. They traded for Jared Goff’s big contract but probably do not view him as worth that value. The Colts and Giants were in the $45-$50 million range and neither looks good, with the Colts having a similar asterisk as the Lions due to the Carson Wentz contract.

New England was the biggest spender at over $90 million and has 1 win while the Texans spent similar to the Jets and have a victory. Washington was the other team to spend a good amount with little early return.

Of the teams over the average spending line, the Titans and Bengals are on the winning side of the ledger while the Broncos, Raiders, and Cardinals are all undefeated.

The following graph shows the spending and current record for each team. I’ll try to update this every few weeks.