Franchise Tag Extension Deadline Approaching

The deadline for extensions for franchise players is now less than a week away so if things are going to heat up with contract negotiations this is the time. Here is a look at this years franchise players with some thoughts on their situations.

Dak Prescott, Cowboys

I’ve discussed Prescott’s contract over and over so there really isn’t much more to say about it. Prescott has wanted a four year contract and Dallas prefers a five year deal. In my opinion it makes little sense for the two sides to not get this contract done- Dallas can use the cap relief in 2021 and there is no reason for Prescott not to do a deal unless he is prepared to hold out another year. .  I don’t believe the Mahomes contract changes much here, but Dallas might benefit getting a contract done before the Texans and Deshaun Watson come to an agreement. I still believe that the solution here is a five year contract where the money over the tag averages somewhere over the Russell Wilson $35 million a year contact. Prescott already signed his tender so that is easily workable. Jerry Jones has often done some last minute pitches so I’d lean toward them finding a way to complete this contract.

Chris Jones, Chiefs

Unlike Prescott, Jones has insinuated that he has no intention to sign the tag to play the year. Jones should be looking for a contract that averages in the ballpark of $21 million a year and that may be too expensive for the Chiefs who already invested in Frank Clark on the defensive line and have a number of players coming up for extensions in two years. Throughout the offseason I have never gotten the feeling that the Chiefs value Jones at the level he should be compensated at and they also have some salary cap concerns. The Mahomes contract did little to improve their cap room nor to increase his salary over the next two years so I’m not sure if that bodes well for a mega-extension here. The Chiefs are setting the stage for taking to less so the team overall can make more so maybe they convince Jones to but into that. I’d lean toward this one not getting done and Jones being a late report to camp.

Yannick Ngakoue, Jaguars

The Jaguars are a mess right now and I am not sure many of the older guard players want to really even be there at this point. Ngakoue took to Twitter to basically share those thoughts with Tony Khan and asked to be traded. This has potential to get messy with such a short window to make a trade and agree on a $20 million or so a year contract. This was probably something that could have been done in the offseason so both sides could save face and move on but this has potential to be real drama as the season approaches. I would be very surprised if this contract was done.

AJ Green, Bengals

I actually forgot that Green was a franchise player this year as there has been such little news out of this one. Green has had a great career and likely wants to be compensated similar to Julio Jones who signed a $22 million extension. Cincinnati did make Green the highest paid receiver in the NFL the last time they agreed to a contract but Green has been hurt two of the last three seasons and the team may want to see how Green meshes with their young QB. The Bengals are not a big injury guarantee team so I would think the long term impact of injury should not weigh heavily on them since Green previously agreed to a low guarantee on his last deal, but they may also be afraid of getting little ROI, especially in the middle of a pandemic. This is one that would be nice to see get done but I would lean toward it not getting finalized.

Matt Judon, Ravens

There has been no drama at all here. Judon has been pretty accepting of the franchise tag which is not surprising since this would be his first real payday in the NFL. Judon started 16 games last year and has been a pretty steady sack numbers guy. 90% of the time I would have thought that the Ravens would have let Judon walk but with a rookie QB coming off an MVP season there should be reason to keep him at least for this year. Former teammate Za’Darius Smith earned $16.5 million as a free agent in 2018 so Judon’s number should be slightly higher. Smith signed his one year deal long ago and I would think if there is a holdup here it is that the Ravens don’t want to invest this kind of money on a long term deal knowing that their QB could be in line for a hefty raise following this year.

Justin Simmons, Broncos

Of all the players on the tag this is the one that would surprise me the most if it did not get done. It would not take much for the Broncos to make Simmons the highest paid safety in the NFL with a $15 million a year contract and for a team that is sold on a rookie QB who will be under a cheap deal for the next two years it makes no sense to put this off. There is absolutely nothing to gain for the Broncos to wait and play this out for a season. It’s actually been a bit surprising that this one is not complete yet and I could see this being the first deal done this week.

Leonard Williams, Giants

This one was the worst use of the franchise tag, but the Giants backed themselves into a corner by trading for Williams last year in a season where the Giants were more likely to finish with the worst record in the NFL than in the playoffs. Williams signed his tender way back in April to lock in his salary for the year as this is the best case scenario for him anyway. Williams tracks more with the DJ Reader group of players who earn in the $13 million a year range but his talent and draft status have him looking for somewhere in the $17 to $20 million range. If he had a big year pressuring the QB he might just get there. This disparity is so big I can not see a deal even being considered by either side.

Shaq Barrett, Buccaneers

Barrett was everything the Buccaneers ever could have dreamed of last year nothing 19.5 sacks while making just $5 million. The problem for Barrett was that he was too good. A good year for Barrett would have put him in the discussion for earning $10 to $13 million a season as a 2nd tier pass rusher but there is no way he could sign for that after this kind of season. This type of season earns you a contract worth $20 million a year. While the Bucs are certainly all in on this season I am not so certain that they can get that far in on a player who a year ago signed for $4 million while trying to prove he could be a starter. Barrett has said he is torn on signing the franchise tag but I can not see a hold out. I think it would be more about just waiting on things before having to report. I would be pretty surprised if this deal was done in the next week.

Brandon Scherff, Redskins

Scherff was also an early adopter of the tag likely realizing that the odds of a long term deal were not great so it made sense to lock the tag in early. Scherff was on track to be the highest paid guard in the NFL but some injuries in the last few years may have made Washington more cautious. Washington may be undergoing some dramatic changes in the next year especially if Haskins does not play significantly better this season. Not sure that getting into a long term expensive investment on a guard makes sense until they have that sorted out. I think this is a one of those deals where both sides are better off with the player on the tag.

Bud Dupree, Steelers

A very typical use of the franchise tag. Dupree was a first round pick who was by no means a bust but certainly was not a top line player either but he made the most of his walk year recording 11.5 sacks, 68 tackles, and 16 tackles for loss. Off a season like that there is no way the Steelers could let him walk. A lot should ride on Dupree’s season as a duplicate year should move him way up the salary chain while a fallback would drop him down a notch. In both cases he will do well for himself but in a blowup year he is going to be in that $17-18 million a year category. The Steelers have cap issues next year so he could be free and clear if he plays on the tender he signed back in April. I would guess the Steelers will make an offer this week they deem fair but there may be much more to gain playing on the tag.

Joe Thuney, Patriots

I think the contract aspect of this one is very similar to that of Scherff in that the Patriots may or may not have a QB on the roster. New England is also a really old football team and if for some reason things go sideways there is probably more benefit in tagging Thuney again next year and trading him than offering him a big extension this year. Thuney’s ultimate salary should not be as high as Scherff’s but should certainly be in the $13 million a year range. The one thing is that the Patriots could use the cap room this year. If they could agree on a contract that didn’t pay him a penny over his tag number this year but gave the team cap relief that would be a way to maintain their trade rights without making an additional investment. That may be a difficult game to play but strategically maybe it makes some sense. I would lean toward no contract.

Anthony Harris, Vikings

This was a tag that surprised me when it happened. I thought the Vikings were going through some changes and they would have allowed Harris to walk away while they reset their salary cap and roster. Harris had 6 interceptions last year and it would probably make more sense for the Vikings to extend him and walk away from Harrison Smith but it seems as if they are deferring both decisions until next year. I think Harris’ salary ceiling will be lower than Simmons but in that $13 million a year range. If the Vikings do plan on a long term with Harris then not extending him now makes little sense. They made the same mistake with Anthony Barr a few years ago, ultimately having it cost more in the long run. Probably won’t be a deal at the deadline.

Derrick Henry, Titans

Reportedly the two sides have been in discussions but nothing looks to be getting done, which would be the best outcome for the Titans. Thus far the Titans have done everything right here by not rushing into an extension that puts Henry in that $13M+ a year club. Henry had a terrific year and may very well have a terrific season again, but any long term contract over $10 million at this position is risky. Henry already signed his tender so the Titans should be in no hurry to do a deal unless it is on their terms. If they make a resonable offer Henry should strongly consider it rather than hoping for a big free agent contract in 2021 or 2022.

Hunter Henry, Chargers

Henry is a terrific player when healthy and health is the reason why he hasn’t been extended yet. Would it shock me if the two sides came to an agreement in the coming days? Not really since the position is so undervalued at the top. Even if Henry was to get hurt again this year hes still going to get an upper level contract. He could benefit from George Kittle getting an extension and significantly raising the market which would probably tip the scales in favor of him playing on the tag unless the Chargers offer him the top contract at the position.

Patrick Mahomes Signs 10 Year Contract Extension

Stunned is the only way I can describe my reaction right now to this news. I had joked in the past that maybe there might be some old school nature to this contract when it happened but never in a million years did I think we would see a contract that runs for 12 years happen in the year 2020. This contract will effectively cover Mahomes’ entire prime of his career leaving him with one last negotiation at the age of 37 for the “twilight of the career” contract.

I can’t really come up with any comparisons to this. Back in the day there was a rush in NFL circles to do $100 million contracts. Players that signed those contracts were players like Brett Favre and Drew Bledsoe in 2001, Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper in 2002, Mike Vick in 2004, Carson Palmer in 2005, and then Tyron Smith in 2014. Culpepper’s was the only one that ran 12 years.

Players moved away from these contracts because for generational talents, specifically at QB, the money grew larger and larger at the position while the players were locked into contracts that were 4 and 5 years old and their salaries lagged. Players moved much more into the realization that the massive size of the contract did not matter but just that the contracts made more sense to run five to six years so that they had access to at least two free agent contracts during the “prime” years of their career. Right now the fight between Dallas and Dak Prescott is over a four year contract just to show how this is so out of the ordinary.

There are a few ways a contract like this could make a little sense. One would be to tie the value to the percentage of the salary cap which can be done with yearly escalators. QB contracts are one of the few positions in the NFL to grow at the rate of the cap but generally you enter into long term agreements to gain a benefit somewhere in the contract. Usually that occurs after the 3rd year when the contract begins to lag the market. It could be a risky strategy for both sides given the uncertainty in the cap the next few years if salaries are tied for the entire contract rather than just the back end of the contract. This would be something that I never anticipated a team doing, but its one of the few ways to makes sense for a player to do a deal this long. Most likely for a team to have this make any sense they would have to set some kind of running average threshold that only kicks in if in its entirety it falls below a certain number.

Another option would be to tie the value to the market. There were clauses in older contracts that can tie salary to the average of say the top 5 at a position or the top player at a position. That would give the team side a little more certainty knowing that the Mahomes base value will likely be a block on the market for some time and let thing grow more organically rather than seeing perhaps a spike in 2025 in the cap that makes Mahomes’ salary astronomical compared to other players at the position.

Could the deal be fully guaranteed? I think teams would want to hold onto their cash rather than do that but that might be a way to spin a contract if its say $45 million a season with the entire $450 million guaranteed. I dont like this for a player because contracts always rise and QBs usually last a long time but its something.

A consideration that I would also have is if this is a 12 year deal designed to sound massive but one that contains a set of options that effectively make these mini contracts. As an example you could do a deal where in 2025 there is a massive $100 million payment and another $40 million in 2027. Numbers that are high enough to really jump the value of the deal or get a player into free agency.

All I know is that it’s certainly something different going on here and one that I never expected see no matter what mechanisms are used. Im sure this will be said to be the ultimate “win-win” but its rare to see that happen, so I guess we shall see if it truly works out that way.

The Most Expensive Players Ranked by Remaining Contract Value

There are plenty of ways to measure who we consider the most expensive players in the NFL. Generally we look at the annual per year/average annual value of a contract but that can sometimes be misleading. The APY is usually a new money average per year and doesn’t take into account creative ways teams account for salary cap dollars. Today I wanted to look at a different way to value players and its what Ill call the remaining contract value (or RCV).

The RCV is a moving number that changes every year. It is simply the sum of all remaining salary cap charges divided by the number of contract years remaining, not including voidable contract years. This gives the best approximation of how much teams will need to allocate in salary cap dollars for their players. First let’s look at the top 15 quarterbacks.

Drew Brees$35,650,0002
Russell Wilson$34,750,0004
Matt Ryan$34,537,5004
Ben Roethlisberger$32,500,0002
Kirk Cousins$32,333,3333
Aaron Rodgers$31,549,5004
Dak Prescott$31,409,0001
Jared Goff$31,268,5495
Carson Wentz$30,175,6295
Ryan Tannehill$29,500,0004
Matt Stafford$27,766,6673
Jimmy Garoppolo$26,833,3333
Tom Brady$25,000,0002
Philip Rivers$25,000,0001
Alex Smith$22,966,6673

At the top of the list is Drew Brees whose RCV is the perfect example of the way that cap management impacts the value of a contract. Brees’ actual contract averages $25 million a season but because of the way the Saints have deferred cap dollars through the years they will need to pay for $35.65 million per year in cap charges for Brees to be on the team. He is the most expensive QB in the NFL and the Saints are lucky he never pushed his annual contract value.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. Goff’s contract in particular is one that has come under much scrutiny because it averages $33.5 million a year but because the Rams proactively extended him the current true annual value is $31.268 million. Wentz’ falls into the same category.

Jimmy Garoppolo has one of the more unique contracts in which the team took a massive cap hit in the first year of the contract to drive the RCV down by nearly $1 million per year. Garoppolo at the time was set to be a free agent but this can be a strategy that teams with large levels of cap room use on extensions to make a much easier to absorb contract. Basically it would combine the benefit of the Garoppolo structure with that of the timing of the Goff and Wentz contracts. The Browns would be the team in the best position to do something like that if they were to extend Barker Mayfield next year.

Now let’s look at the non-QB’s.

Khalil Mack$25,829,2005
Frank Clark$24,800,0004
Von Miller$23,875,0002
Fletcher Cox$23,750,0003
Demarcus Lawrence$23,475,0004
Aaron Donald$23,178,4005
Kawann Short$22,490,5002
Chandler Jones$21,083,3342
Trey Flowers$20,895,2504
Julio Jones$20,498,1674
Amari Cooper$20,000,0005
Nate Solder$20,000,0002
Za’Darius Smith$19,583,3333
Alshon Jeffery$19,453,0002
DeForest Buckner$19,275,6005

I find the non QB category far more interesting because this is really where teams make trouble for themselves. Currently by traditional contract metrics there are only 7 players who earn more than $20 million a season and of those 7 just four earn more than $22 million a year. Yet when we dig into the cap breakdowns we have 12 players with a RCV of $20 million and 7 players who count for $22 million year.

Why does this happen?  In many cases I think teams do a very good job in preparing for the extensions of quarterbacks and they fail to plan well for others. In many cases we have teams that have had to sign players in free agency with artificial low cap hits in the first year just to get them on the team making it a one year bargain and a significant increase in cost later on.

Teams also have a tendency because of the cap hits of these players in that 2nd and/or3rd contract year to often go in and restructure the deal for cap relief. The perfect examples of this are Khalil Mack, Alshon Jeffery and Fletcher Cox. If you get lucky and it works as it did with Cox you can survive it but if it goes sideways and you end up with Jeffery it’s a killer.

I’d argue that at some point Mack, Lawrence, Clark, and Flowers will all be looked as albatross contracts because of the contract structure causing hyper inflated cap charges that far outweigh the average annual value of the contracts they signed.

David Njoku Seeks Trade

In a not too surprising development, Browns Tight End David Njoku has asked to be traded before the start of training camp.

The Browns signed free agent Austin Hooper to a $10.5 million per year contract, the largest contract for a tight end in NFL history, which immediately put Njoku’s status for the year in doubt. Though Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski has been known to favor utilizing two tight ends in his offense the trade request really should come as no surprise.

Njoku is entering a critical period for his future. This is the final year of his original rookie contract with a $6.013 million option year kicking in if he is on the roster on the first day of free agency in 2021. Njoku is a former first round draft pick but thus far has had an uneventful start to his career, peaking with 639 yards in 2018 and then struggling through an injury plagued 2019 where he averaged just 10 yards per game.

For Njoku to hit the option year and put himself in play for a significant extension he needs to get the opportunity to, at the least, get back to the kind of numbers he put up in 2018 while being able to flash the athleticism that made him a 1st round pick. With only so many balls to go around this year on an offense that will feature Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and Hooper it is hard to picture that happening in 2020.

Though Stefanski may favor the two tight end approach, in his time in Minnesota there was really only one season in which one tight end put up the kind of season that would get people excited in free agency (Kyle Rudolph had 840 yards in 2016). Most years the top tight end is going to put up around 500 yards which is not a game changer at all.

You can get by at the position if teams around the NFL feel that you are being tied to the bench because there is a superior player on the team (i.e. Trey Burton in Philadelphia) but with the current memory of Njoku being that injury filled year he really needs to be a featured talent on an offense.

Njoku would be very cheap this year for a team at a salary of just $1.74 million and if he plays well would easily be worth the $6 million option year. He is the kind of player that teams would usually take a risk of sorts on but the question is what the Browns would want and what the market would be willing to trade.

The Ravens this past year received a 2nd round pick for Hayden Hurst, a similar 1st round disappointment who had fallen out of favor in Baltimore. Hurst had two years remaining on his contract plus an option year at the time of trade which should make him more appealing to a trade partner than Njoku who has just one year and the option. I would guess that would drop the Browns expectation to a 3rd round pick.

It’s possible that the compensation could drop even further since Njoku is actively seeking to be traded and the Covid crisis should also put many question marks on the year. While Covid existed during the Hurst trade the NFL seemingly did not take any of it as seriously as they have started to now. No team wants to give up anything significant if there is a chance that Njoku’s lone cheap year could be wasted on a 4 or 6 game season.

Chris Jones Threatens to Sit Out

As a reply to a NFL segment on the lack of progress on a long term extension for Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones, Jones himself chimed in with his own thoughts as to what will happen if he doesn’t get a new deal.

Bell’s refusal to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018 was one of the most hotly debated subjects of the year with various opinions on the pros and cons (from me it was mainly cons) of sitting out. However there is one key difference in Jones’ situation when compared to Bell’s- how many times he has been tagged.

When Bell sat out in 2018 he had already played the 2017 season as a franchise player. Because of that the Steelers would have had to pay him at the QB franchise rate if they opted to tag him in 2019, which was a number that nobody is going to pay to any non-QB. While they could have transitioned tagged him at a lower number that type of tag does not prevent a player from getting legit offers in free agency the way a franchise tag effectively blocks free agency. So while one can certainly argue the logic in sitting out a year there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Because Jones is on his first tag, the Chiefs would still have the right to tag him again next year at a reasonable rate rather than the QB tag number which is what set Bell free. The only difference for Jones next year would be that the tag would only carry a 1st and 3rd round pick as compensation compared to two 1st round picks if he signed elsewhere. That is still a steep cost to another franchise and probably takes at least half the NFL out of the bidding process. Essentially he would have to sit for two seasons to get to the same place Bell was and that is an incredibly long time.

The franchise tag pretty much stinks for good players. I completely understand why it wasn’t a focus of the recent CBA negotiations since it only hampers a few players a year but it creates a bit of a bizarre system where if you are too good but not indispensable you can end up losing money in the long term while lesser players get the riches of free agency right away.

The tag was meant to be a way to keep a team from being torn apart in free agency and losing its most notable players who were considered the face of a franchise. With teams carrying so much salary cap space now its just used as a tool to keep players for a season or two that the team has no real desire to do a long term deal with. Between free agent movement being so common and far better cap managed contracts by teams it really has no place in the game other than to protect losing a quarterback.

July 15 is the deadline to do a long term deal with a franchise player. Jones’ should be looking for a contract in the $21-$22M per year range and I’m not sure the Chiefs are looking to go there, though we have seen last minute deals happen before.

Should Teams Spend More on Cornerbacks?

Roster construction is a very interesting thing in the NFL. In many ways it’s a chess game where you have to adapt as the league changes, changes that are generally dictated by the offense. As passing games explode teams have to move away from the traditional construction focused on linebackers and run stuffers and generally move more to help in the secondary. I wanted to look at how teams are investing in the corner versus wide receiver game these days and seeing if it is something that can be tweaked.

The concept of receiver vs corner has always fascinated me. Really it goes back for me to the peak days of Darrelle Revis with the Jets in 2009 and 2010 when we came across debates of sorts as to who was better- Revis being thrown on often and breaking passes up or Nnamdi Asomugha who just never got targeted. My take on it then was that there was far more value in having a player like Revis because a breakup of a play is a complete shutdown. It’s a non-gain or a limited gain for the offense. Lack of targets just causes the ball to cycle from WR1 to WR2 and even if Asomugha matched up against the top target each play (he did not) the offense would still be efficient.

This was what wound up killing the Jets in the championship game that year against the Colts in which Revis pretty much made Reggie Wayne irrelevant, but around the end of the first half Peyton Manning realized that playing opposite Revis was Lito Sheppard and Dwight Lowery (at least I think those were the two) and Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon went off for nearly 300 yards. The Jets would come back the next year with a team that featured a high priced Revis, a high drafted and eventually highly paid Antonio Cromartie, and a 1st round draft pick in Kyle Wilson. Whether on purpose or by accident the Jets stumbled into a group that had the potential to essentially have two number 1 corners of varying ability and at worse a number 2. It never worked out that way as Wilson busted and Revis and Cromartie only really played two seasons together, but I thought the concept was good. Im sure there are other examples but as a Jets fan this was the group that always stood out to me in the more modern NFL era.

So I wanted to see if that same concept might hold today. I looked at PFF’s stats for WR’s since 2015 and ranked every WR by their position on the team based on targets between 1 and 5. Here is the expected performance.

WRTgtsRecCatch RateYardsyds/tgtyds/recTds1stDInt

The numbers make sense in that the 1st receiver is the most dominant target over the course of a season but most of those numbers are generally a byproduct of opportunity. If you look at the yards per target column the dropoff from a 1 to a 2 is only about 2.6%. This is one of those reasons why so many consider the QB the driver of offensive performance and one reason why there is so much variance on a weekly basis from receivers as the big game potential exists if they find a favorable matchup/gameplan.  If you use a net yardage type formula which will bump the number 1 performance for 1st downs, touchdowns, etc…its about a 3.5% drop on an opportunity basis. A drop from a 1 to a 3 is about 8.5%, to a 4 is 11.5%, and to a 5 is 17.5%.

To that end I kind of wonder why (or if) more teams are not attempting to put supergroups together that do the best job possible of cycling off not just the top target on the field but trying to get the offense to be forced to spread out further and drop down to those 3rd, 4th and 5th players or to generally more ineffective routes for running backs and most tight ends.

Here is a look at how much the NFL spends for their cornerbacks, ranked 1 to 5 by salary. Since draft picks have a low salary relative to their expected contribution I converted the salary of any draft pick still on a rookie contract to the expected APY using the Fitzgerald-Spielberger valuations that Brad and I worked on in the Drafting Stage. The only exceptions were for those who had an option year in play as they were valued at the option value if it was picked up.

RankAverageQuartile 1Quartile 2Quartile 3

Here is the breakdown for wide receivers.

RankAverageQuartile 1Quartile 2Quartile 3

This isn’t meant to compare salaries (I’d say a quick takeaway is that teams find receivers about 18-20% more important to winning based on the numbers), but to give us an idea as to how teams construct their rosters.

In looking at the numbers teams more or less go with a matching strategy. 18 teams have at least one average paid number 1 corner while 16 have at least one number 1 receiver. 25 teams have at least one “high end” (an upper quartile 2) number 2 corner while 23 teams have at least one “high end” number 2 receiver. Here are some of the combinations that exist in terms of groupings of talent.

Avg 1 and High 289
Avg 1 and Avg 21111
At least 2 Avg 21513
At least 2 Avg 2 and Avg 387
At least 3 Avg 31512

There is a little disparity as you get to the teams with at least two average number two or three average number 3 receivers, but nothing too crazy.

But in general offenses dictate matchups and we mentioned above there is not that kind of a dropoff if you force a team to go to their number 2 or even number 3 target. However, when you look at corners there is more of a disparity. The top player on a yards per target basis on a team gave up around 6.4 yards. The second jumps to 7.8. The average third is around 8.5. While the coverage assignments are playing a role in these numbers and one would really need to dig deeper I would think the best way to slow down a passing game is not to go 1 for 1 but to stock up on higher end talent via the draft, trade, and free agency to potentially field a team that can force teams out of their typical patterns of wiping out the weakest link on a team.

Surprisingly the concept of the “cornerback supergroup” really doesn’t exist. Only three teams in the NFL currently have three players under contract who would rank as either an average CB1 and CB2 in the adjusted salary scale I used here. Those teams are the Dolphins, Lions, and Ravens. This is on par with the offense that has three teams with at least 3 receivers who are paid above the average WR1 or WR2 level. However as we drop down there are 7 teams on offense that have at least 4 receivers that rank above the average for a WR3. Defensively we have just 1 that goes four deep- the Patriots.

This just seems short sighted especially since we do see variance not just player to player but often season to season. One of the ways to minimize that risk is to treat the roster just as you would a stock portfolio (similar to my concept of picking multiple top QBs in the draft if you can). Players are always going to bust but the impact of the bust is deadly when there is no alternative option. We reduce that risk dramatically by also investing in another high potential player.

As a way to go a little deeper into this I decided to look to our friends at Pro Football Focus and look at their coverage grades they assigned to corners between 2015 and 2019 who played 300+ snaps and then grouped each of those players by salary and contract type. The lines are the average PFF grade of about 65 and salary around $4 million.

Basically, in every grouping of talent, you see a pretty strong distribution of above and below average seasons. To remove some of the clutter here are the numbers in table form. Please note I broke the free agents up into high and low dollar figures ($5.75M was the cutoff)

OutcomeUDFAExtensionDraftHigh $ UFA/SFALow $ UFA/SFA
Above Average3938944933
Below Average34161303853
Success Rate53.4%70.4%42.0%56.3%38.4%

Because I cut off the numbers at 300 snaps you can discount the UDFA numbers because these are the best of the best UDFAs that warrant playing time. For the other groups the list is much more inclusive especially for free agent signings.

There were two things that caught my eye. One is that teams surprisingly seem to make pretty good extension decisions. The second is that spending on bigger money free agents is resulting in more success stories than those who are wasting money on the lower salary tier. If we go back to our original tables which identified an average number 2 corner at costing around $6 million basically spending below that level in free agency is going to provide diminishing returns.

What if we looked at the draft by round?

Above Average4120147633
Below Average353120181169
Success Rate53.9%39.2%41.2%28.0%35.3%33.3%25.0%

Here again you need to focus on the top rounds because the further we go the more misleading the numbers because we have disqualified so many seasons by having a 300 snap limit. Its basically going with a first round player and then the 2nd and 3rd. The other rounds aren’t planning for a starter they are basically lucking into one similar to the UDFA route.

Our goal is to best ensure we wind up with at least two good corners in any given season. If you have failed to do well in the draft in the past the best route to  that is to sign two expensive players and draft a player high in the draft. If you happen to have landed a player you already know you are going to extend the best thing to do is to sign an expensive player and draft another where you are staggering the salaries.  A rough estimate of a 3 corner matrix using some IPA fueled math in a few configurations would be as follows

Scenario3 Above Avg.At least 2 Above Avg,3 Below Avg.
Extension/1st rnd Draft/Exp UFA21%65%6%
2 Exp UFAs/1st Rnd Draft17%58%9%
1st round/2 Cheap UFAs8%40%17%
3 Cheap UFAs6%33%23%

The first scenario if you do it properly has two rookie contracts running concurrently for a period of time. Basically it means after the rookies 2nd year you know he is an extension candidate so you go in sign a free agent for year 3 and draft a rookie. By the time the first rookie is actually up for a new contract you should know if the 2nd 1st rounder is also great or not. If hes great you are a team with two extension quality players and you can decide what to do with the 3rd.

The 2nd scenario is when you have flamed out in the draft. You sign guys to improve the team ASAP while developing a 1st. You can do this after 1 season of a rookie contract or most of it concurrently. Doing it concurrently is a bit more of a blind bet but can make you much better faster.

The other two scenarios which are more in line with most NFL rosters (remember most don’t even have 3 third tier corners) doesn’t give you the odds needed to really hit a home run in your coverage. Its why there is probably an argument that if you aren’t going to spend on the position outside of one blind pick you may be better off just punting on the position and calling it a loss. That lone 1st round pick isn’t going to cut it.

The possibilities are pretty much endless but the gist of it is the more players you try to fill up the room the better chance you have of pushing the offense off their typical norms by optimizing the chance to hold down those first two and hopefully 3 targets in an offense.

Given the way the league has gone its far more important to be able to provide strong coverage in the secondary on 1,000 snaps in a year than provide a pressure on 80 snaps a season. There is a cost benefit here in free agency since corners are discounted at 20% on receivers and even more on pass rushers. Teams can exploit that by doing a bit more “supergroup” planning rather than just piecing the secondary together the way they currently are which has way too much over-reliance on one player.

Thoughts on the Concept of Trading Jamal Adams

The rumor mill is once again swirling around Jets All Pro safety Jamal Adams as the Jets are apparently hesitant to give him an extension which has Adams reportedly very upset again with the organization. Trade rumors started again which sources close to the Jets have denied but I think these are interesting situations and worth exploring.

Player’s like Adams are very hard to sometimes take a fair look at. On one side there is the player and there really are little holes in his game. He is arguably the best overall safety in the NFL. He plays up in the box, can rush the passer a bit more than others and can cover well enough in the secondary. He’s the best player on the Jets at the moment.

However, being the best player on a bad team sometimes doesn’t carry the same value as the same player on a good team. Since Adams arrived in New York the Jets are 16-32.  His being the best safety has made little impact on the overall success or failure of the team. That isn’t a knock on him its just that there is only so much a safety can do to increase the chances of winning for a team. Adams being at the peak of his career isn’t going to make the Jets a 10 win team. It is also one of the reasons why the league values safety on the lower end of the salary spectrum, basically on par with running backs and tight ends.

That said to a good team that considers themselves a Super Bowl contender whatever added value that safety brings can be worth a lot because getting from 11 to 12 or 12 to 13 wins on a year is huge as is getting that one added win in the playoffs. While Adams isn’t going to make a bad team great or even good he can be considered a game changer in a different kind of situation. If that is something the Jets can exploit it can bring more value than the player himself.

Adams still has two years remaining on his current contract which makes him very valuable around the NFL. That value will diminish after this season as his salary increases from $3.5 to $9.86 million and teams lose that valuable year of control. So the max trade value is going to be in 2020 not 2021. My guess is a fair trade package would be a first round draft pick plus either a third or fourth round draft selection in return for Adams.

The final piece in evaluating a trade will be the money associated with it. My assumption is that Adams should be looking for $17 million a season from the Jets. He was being shopped for two number 1 picks last year and is considered the best player on the defense. The current high value contract on the Jets is CJ Mosley at $17M per season so I think it is a reasonable ask. Mosley did not play a high value position and the Jets went way over the top of the market to sign him. There is no reason that they should not do that for Adams. While Im sure some are going to argue that the Mosley contract is on the prior GM I think its also clear that that was an Adam Gase target not to mention that the contract guys are all the same now too. For the sake of argument lets say that Adams would sign for the standard safety number contract at $15M a season when considering a trade just because I am sure the Jet fan would like the cheapest number to consider.

With those numbers we can start some scenario analysis. The first scenario is to keep Adams and to just use your regular budget to address other positions having to spend $14.5M for someone like James Bradberry or $20M for a Yannick Ngakoue If he (or a similar player) was to shake loose.  

The second scenario is the trade. If traded I would expect a mid first round draft pick to cost around $4.6 million a season and a mid third round pick will cost $1.1 million a year. That should leave the Jets with an extra $9.3 million per year to spend on a player or players in free agency.  So now we are at a 1st, a 3rd, and $9.3 million.

Odds are you will not find a player who is as good as Adams with whatever first rounder you ultimately end up with but if you play the game better you may find someone more valuable. As I mentioned above the veteran salary scale would indicate that safety is not very valuable by themselves. But that first round pick could be used to help get a quarterback if Sam Darnold busts. Clearly that is more valuable. It can be used on an edge rusher, a wide receiver, or a cornerback. Each of those will likely provide more impact on the teams fortunes even if the player is a very good player but not the best at the position. Those are also players that you can not find, or rarely find, in free agency. The third round pick should provide a team with a solid “lunchpail” type player that can start or be a solid situational contributor.

Just to use some Jets players of the past who were not all time greats but might illustrate the kind of return would be something like Jamal Adams for Antonio Cromartie and Brian Winters. The savings could have been used in free agency to cover the cost of signing someone like Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix as a replacement safety and maybe a pairing of Kevin Johnson to help in the secondary and Shelby Harris to play on the line or just spend it all on a player like Chris Harris.

The key for a strategy like this to work is to find whatever way possible to maximize your return in the draft by using the main pick on a position that you rarely can buy in free agency and one that provides massive value between the rookie contract number and veteran contract number for an equivalent player. If you decide to be the Raiders and use a 1st rounder on a running back (or just draft another safety to replace Adams) you are negating the value of the trade.

Lets take this one step further. Lets say the Jets use that pick on a cornerback. While maybe it’s a 50-50 proposition he is good, free agency often isn’t much better as the Trumaine Johnson signing proved.  You would have spent $14.5 million to sign a player in free agency. Now you don’t have to because you got an extra draft pick to use on a premier position like that. From that standpoint the Jets have actually opened up far more than what we mentioned above because they are addressing a need cheaply. When I mentioned Ngakoue and Bradberry above odds are you would not sign two expensive free agents in most years so if you play your cards right you are opening up the possibility to address both needs by drafting one spot and signing the other. If you had budgeted $14.5M to spend on a need you can divide that however you want now. That route doesn’t exist without the trade.

There are other factors that are negatives with a trade. One of the reasons I thought Adams would have been extended by now was because when the Jets did not finalize a trade last year and let it leak out they looked bad. Sometimes situations like that don’t exactly go over well in the locker room either. While the Jets draft picks in recent years have been average at best the fact is around that room they have seen Leonard Williams shipped out, Darron Lee shipped out, Robby Anderson shipped out, etc… while new faces have come in and taken the cash from the team. You cant really put a number on those kind of things.

It is also worth reiterating that these are just rumors. The Jets may simply have decided they don’t want to get into the concept of extending after 3 years. With a quarterback contract in the wings they probably need to see much more from Darnold before even entertaining that discussion and waiting here gives them more footing with Darnold and players in the future that waiting until after year 4 is the right way to do business with them. Perhaps they want to see where the contracts with Justin Simmons and Anthony Harris land if they sign new deals in July. It can also be as simple as the Jets being cautious with the pandemic and not frontloading a contract with less than expected revenues coming in.

But I just think when you are a team that is as bad as the Jets have been you have to consider trading away players who are labelled as cornerstone talents if you can find a viable path in which the trade actually makes the team better overall. I think this is a case where it could make the Jets better overall and certainly cant make them much worse than they have been the last three years.