In what will probably go down as one of the worst free agent signings of all time, Broncos right tackle Ja’Wuan James tore his Achilles today while working out away from the Broncos facility.
Broncos’ OT Ja’Wuan James suffered a season-ending torn Achilles working out today away from the team facility, per sources. James’ $10 million salary for the upcoming season now is in jeopardy being that Denver no longer is obligated to pay him with him working out off site.
James had a fully guaranteed $10 million salary from the Broncos this season and $5 million in injury protection in 2022 but salary in the NFL is only protected for football related injuries. A workout at the Broncos facility or under Broncos supervision would have maintained the protection for James for the season. His injury guarantee will not cover injuries that are sustained doing other activities. The Broncos were one of the first of the high profile “opt outs” from the team offseason programs as advised by the NFLPA.
James signed a pretty stunning four year, $51 million contract with the Broncos in free agency in 2019. James received $27 million guaranteed at signing with another $5 million in vesting injury protection. James played in a total of 63 snaps in 2019 due to a number of somewhat mysterious injuries. James opted out of the 2020 season due to Covid and now will miss the 2021 season. Assuming they release him the Broncos will have paid $17 million for 3 games and 63 snaps.
Even if the Broncos release James they will still carry a salary cap charge of $9 million due to his $12 million signing bonus paid in 2019. The Broncos could instead place James on the NFI list and not pay him for the season. If they did that they would likely maintain their right to try to recover $3 million of his signing bonus through violation of his player contract by engaging in an activity that caused him to tear his Achilles. I think this would be highly unlikely, given that his injury appears to at least be workout related, but just wanted to point out that it is the team’s right to attempt to go down that path if they wanted to. If anything Denver will probably look at this as a get of jail free card since they will avoid paying $10 million in salary on the year.
Denver could also opt to keep him for the year and pay him a salary. It does not have to be the full $10 million but can be any number they agree to. Years ago the Eagles paid left tackle Jason Peters about half his salary when he suffered an Achilles injury away from the team.
The fact that Aaron Rodgers was upset last year with the way the Packers handled the draft was pretty well documented and now it looks as if he is sending out feelers on getting moved in a trade.
Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers is so disgruntled with the Green Bay Packers that he has told some within the organization that he does not want to return to the team, league and team sources told ESPN on Thursday.
These threats from players are often hollow because of the massive costs that can be associated with sitting out/retiring and for Rodgers this should also be the case. Rodgers signed a new contract in 2018 which paid him a $57.5 million signing bonus. There is still $23 million of that money outstanding in his contract and all subject to forfeiture if he were to walk away from the NFL. In addition his $6.8 million roster bonus that was paid this year would also be in jeopardy. Such forfeitures would not begin to trigger until training camp which is a good distance away but would have to be in the mind of Rodgers if he held out for any period of time. There are also now mandatory massive fines in the CBA. Rodgers would lose $50,000 a day if he did not report to camp and held out. There are also minor fines for missing other offseason activities.
These are reasons why the teams often hold all the cards in player disputes like this. They have tremendous financial leverage over the player and know that it is very difficult for the players to actually hold out when the time comes for the real football season to begin.
The Packers, who have all kinds of salary cap issues in 2021, notably did not restructure Rodgers contract for salary cap relief. This is something that they could have done without any renegotiation but the fact that they did not indicates that they want to keep the door open to a trade in the future. That future is in 2022 not 2021.
The cost to trade Rodgers on the cap would be $38.356 million, a loss of $1.1 million in cap room for the year. It would also mean that the team paid Rodgers $6.8 million in 2021 just to trade him. If they delayed a trade until June the cost would be more affordable with “just” $21.152 million dead this year and the balance deferred to next season. Given that everything the Packers have done this offseason would indicate that they want to give it one last shot with Rodgers a trade would pretty much throw their team into chaos.
Trading Rodgers in 2022 would cost $17.204 million on the cap. He has no offseason roster bonuses that year so they would have time to work out a trade and not be required to prepay anything prior to a trade which is what would occur this year if they traded him. Ever since they drafted Jordan Love all signs pointed to a 2022 divorce and even if Rodgers wants to hasten the divorce the Packers hold the leverage to not allow it until next year.
The Giants announced they have picked up the $7.217 million fifth year option on running back Saquon Barkley today. I guess that is somewhat noteworthy but not really that interesting in the grand scheme of things, but the number caught my eye as something I had not really paid attention to before. The number illustrates a bit of an oversight in the CBA that the NFL and NFLPA really should aim to fix.
The current CBA does a better job than the prior one in calculating the fifth year option number with four possible tiers depending on playing time and honors. Barkley fits into one of the top tier categories due to his Pro Bowl selection in 2018. Yet his salary cap number will drop from $10.02 million to $7.217 million. That doesn’t seem right.
Barkley’s option number is supposed to be tied to the transition tag which is the average of the top 10 salaries at the position over the past few years. Between the fact that the salary cap crashed this year and he plays the least valuable position in the NFL that number is low. Even the franchise tag would only have been $8.655 million.
However the NFLPA always had protection for their highly compensated players in the event of this by having the tender be worth no less than 120% of their prior year salary. For Barkley that would be $12 million in 2022 based off his 2021 cap number. But instead of a 20% raise, Barkley will take a 28% loss despite reaching one of the top tier levels.
How far off is Barkley’s number from everyone else? Here are the first round picks at their current option levels and their 2021 cap numbers.
2021 Cap Number
Leighton Vander Esch
The average increase was 128% if we take out Barkley’s number and Lamar Jackson’s astronomical raise. No other player is under a 32% raise and that number is for a player who hasn’t even hit 20% playtime in his first three years. Barkley is at -28%.
Clearly this is not the intent of the rule and it is one that should be fixed. While this has impacted some players in the past to some extent (Ezekiel Elliott would not have gotten a 20% raise for example) all would get a raise. Most likely this will impact highly drafted running backs but could also impact the occasional safety or defensive tackle who might be drafted near the top.
I think if I were Barkley I would file a grievance about it and see if there is a chance to change the interpretation of the CBA. While the CBA does state that the option shall equal the transition tender that applies in the 4th year of the contract perhaps he can argue that the transition tender in his case should equal a 120% raise which is supposed to supersede the transition number when the transition tag is calculated to be below a players current salary. He probably doesn’t have anything to lose if he does challenge it.
In any event this is one of those minor things that sometimes we don’t really think about until it happens and something the two sides could agree to fix in a side letter, if they have not done so already, so it does not hurt another player in the future.
With free agency all but finished this year I wanted to take a first look at the teams that gained and lost the most snaps this year in free agency. This gives us an idea both about continuity on a team as well as how much immediate help the teams will be looking for in the draft and then when the non-compensatory period of free agency opens up in a few weeks.
The average team this year dropped 6,259 snaps from their roster- 2,918 on offense and 3,341 on defense. That doesn’t mean that all of these players were signed just that they are no longer on the team in 2021.
The Chargers lead the way with 9,615 snaps lost. The team dropped Hunter Henry, Sam Tevi, Rayshawn Jenkins, Casey Heyward, Dan Feeney, Melvin Ingram, Forrest Lamp and a whole host of other players. The team looks to be building a new unit around their young quarterback with nearly 6,000 offensive snaps lost.
The Lions, who traded away Matt Stafford, ranked 2nd with 9,580 snaps lost this year. With a new GM and staff this was to be expected. The team lost Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Duron Harmon, Danny Amendola, Danny Shelton, and a host of other players.
The Cardinals, who have always been near the top of this list for the last few years, continue to tinker with the team, dropping 8.920 snaps, over 5,300 of them on defense. Patrick Peterson and Haason Reddick led the way for the defensive changes.
The other teams with over 8,000 snaps dropped included the Titans, Bengals and Jets.
The most continuity belongs to the Buccaneers who lost just 1,317 snaps this year. The next closest team, Washington, lost 3,350 so it was a massive gap between Tampa and everyone else. Tampa really went out of their way to keep the roster complete this year. The Bills dropped just 3,366 snaps and the Packers just slightly over 3,400.
Not surprisingly the Texans added the most snaps with nearly 9,100 snaps coming into the organization from the outside this year. There are few notable names on the list as they just overhauled the entire roster by signing a large number of lower cost players. I can’t recall the last time a team with a bonafide QB on their roster had this kind of roster change. This is what you would expect of a team that is completely rebuilding and looking to draft a QB not one with a QB in place.
New England added 7,782 snaps and unlike the Texans they spent big to acquire those players. Matt Judon, Hunter Henry, and Jonnu Smith were just some of the names they brought in this year. Combined with the return of a number of veteran Covid opt outs this years Patriots should look quite different than last year’s team.
The Jets added 5,484 snaps to the team this offseason. Though the volume of players was not like a team like the Jaguars the Jets opted for players who were more consistent contributors and should have less risk of flaming out when asked to play a bigger role.
The Cardinals and Lions both added over 5,400 snaps to help replace some of those losses. The Jaguars were the only other team over 5,000.
The Buccaneers and Packers added no new snaps to the team this year. That’s pretty wild. Not even a street free agent who played a few snaps elsewhere last year. I’m not sure if I have seen that before. The Rams added just 1,148 snaps and it was all on offense with no new snaps on defense. The Steelers and Ravens added just 10 and 11 snaps on defense.
On offense the Browns added just 3 snaps to the team but over 3,700 defensive snaps. The Broncos took a similar approach with just 31 offensive snaps added to the team and over 2,800 defensive ones. No other teams were that low on offense.
Gains vs Losses
While pretty much almost every team still has holes to fill (only five teams are in the positive- the Jaguars, Bills, Patriots, Texans, and Dolphins), the bottom right quadrant are the teams I would really be looking at as needing big hits in the draft, players to return from injury, or players to step up and play a bigger role than before. They are most likely the teams to be most active in the next phase of free agency.
Here is all the snap data that we have from last year and this year. The heading should be sortable if you click on the column header.
In the last few days I have gotten a few emails and a number of tweets asking me about three players and their roster status. Since I cant keep up with all of it I thought I would explain it here.
The three players in question are Kyle Rudolph, Malik Jackson, and Alshon Jeffery with Rudolph getting the most attention since we had removed him from the roster a few weeks ago when the Vikings announced he was going to be cut. Normally I wait until releases are official to move players on and off the salary cap estimates for each team but during the free agency time period I usually make exceptions to try to keep up with reporting. So with Rudolph I put his numbers in the dead money for the Vikings and moved him off the team. Except the Vikings never released Rudolph then or anytime in the near future after the cut was announced.
What happened here was that the Vikings made the decision to designate Rudolph what is called a June 1 cut. This was kind of unexpected but what happens in the June 1 is that the players salary cap charge counts in full against the salary cap from now until June 1 acting the same as if he was on the team even though he is actually on the Giants roster. So once they designated him the June 1 I reinstated his contract and removed him from the 2021 dead money section. On June 2nd his salary cap charges will officially come off the books with $1.45 staying as dead money in 2021 and $2.9 million as dead money in 2022 (we already put that in). So that is why Rudolph reads as he does.
The same holds true for Jackson and Jeffery on the Eagles (as well as Tre Boston in Carolina but nobody asked me about him that I can recall). Both were designated June 1 cuts so their numbers stay on the roster and will be removed on June 2. The Eagles moves for these two were obvious and something we predicted back in December when they very smartly renegotiated those two contracts to clearly take advantage of this rule to help with their salary cap problems.
This type of salary cap accounting is also why players like Drew Brees won’t officially be retired by the Saints until June 2 even though he already announced his retirement. So if you are wondering about why he is still listed on the roster this is also the reason why. Hopefully this will help clear up any confusion you may have on some of the player statuses on OTC.
With free agency still going strong I thought maybe we would turn some attention to the top performing agents this year. What I did was look at every free agent (or set to be free agent) contract that averages at least $1.5 million per year that was signed after the Super Bowl (1 year franchise tags excluded) that we have records of and added them all up to see which agents are having a great offseason in 2021. This list isn’t complete as our own records are a work in progress but Ill try to update this list at the end of next week as well.
The biggest winner this year has been Todd France who thus far we have with over $360 million in contracts negotiated and there are more on the way. The biggest home run was Dak Prescott but he also dominated the edge rusher market with three of the top four performers- Bud Dupree, Leonard Floyd, and Carl Lawson. Well over $200 million in guarantees for the players and about 65% of the contracts were protected for injury.
Drew Rosenhaus was second with over $240 million in contracts negotiated across 10 players we have records of, Shaq Barrett being the biggest of the group. Rosenhaus has over $100 million in full salary protection negotiated into his contracts with no vesting guarantees and all guaranteed at signing for his players.
Third of all agents this year is Vincent Taylor of Elite Loyalty all on the strength of the massive contract he negotiated on behalf of Trent Williams. This was arguably the best non-quarterback contract signed this offseason eclipsing $20 million a year in real value for a 33 year old left tackle.
Here is the list of who we have as the top 20 ranked by total contract value negotiated this free agency period. Again its not complete but I thought it was a different way to look at some things this year.
While we did a big study of free agency in our free agency guide I have gotten a number of question about team specific results. Rather than look at overall free agent decisions for now I wanted to look at the success rates on longer term contracts for each team from 2017 to 2020.
For this group I looked at all players who signed a contract that was at least three years in length as a free agent (street free agents qualify, but franchise players would not) and switched teams. If a player was extended I considered the contract to be complete even if the player technically is still playing on the old years of the contract. Such players would finish 100% of their contract. If the player is still active I included just the years they could have possibly completed in the equation, so they will have completed 100% of the years played so far on a contract. For everyone else whether cut, traded, renegotiated their salary down, etc…I considered the contract to have ended such that if a player only completed 1 year on a four year deal they would be considered to have completed just 25% of the contract. I did the same kind of calculations for salary actually earned vs salary that could have been earned. Each group was then added up to determine the percentages completed of the deals.
Now its important to note that the results here are going to skew more negative on teams with older contracts and positive on teams with newer contracts but for a quick run through this was the easiest thing to do. Its also further screwed up a bit by Covid opt outs but I don’t really have a good answer for how to tackle that at the moment. Here is a look at the total APY spent on player contracts and the % of possible years completed for each team.
The teams in the top left quadrant had pretty successful targeted runs thus far in free agency. While they did not spend much on their team they seemed to get the matches right on cost and years on the contract. Teams in the top right spent a lot and have gotten a decent return so far. The bottom left didn’t spend much and didn’t really do a good job with those players either. Teams in the right are the ones really over abusing free agency, spending a lot of money adding tons of years to contracts and moving on from those contracts pretty early.
If you are searching for the Cowboys you wont find them so don’t go crazy looking. This is because they hardly spent anything and had such an awful return it messed up the graph. Ill put them at the end in a table, but that’s why I did not include them.
On average teams wound up adding about $54 million per year in long term contracts over the four year period with an expected return of about 62% of the contract length. This number will fall over time since players signed in 2019 and 2020 with guarantees are basically protected from release due to salary and I think based on the free agent guide data the actual success rates will be closer to 40 to 45% but that doesn’t give us a good look at the current organizations.
On a per contract basis (adjusted for years) the teams spending the most were the Jaguars at a crazy $12.1 million per year. The Chiefs were next at $10.9 million a year followed by the Packers ($10.6M), Jets ($9.8M), and Vikings ($9.7M). The Chiefs and Packers have few signings which is why the large cost and the Vikings number is inflated because of Kirk Cousins. The Jaguars and Jets just signed a lot of expensive guys with no return. The worst returns on investment thus far are the Cowboys, Bengals, Texans, Eagles, and Vikings. For many of those teams it is because the contracts are early and often contracts are frontloaded.