Thoughts on Lamar Jackson and the Ravens

Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens have decided to table contract negotiations until after the season ending one of the more intriguing offseason contract stories in recent memory. Jackson had decided to represent himself in these negotiations which took out most of the public posturing and leaking that usually occurs which is what made the story stand out much more than any other recent contract negotiation. While I’ve discussed this often on the OTC podcast, I wanted to jump and share my opinions in a post and answer some of the questions that have popped up on my timeline today about what’s next.

Since day one I always thought this was going to be a very difficult negotiation to get done. Jackson had stated that he wanted to be the highest paid player in the NFL and while that is a reasonable expectation in recent years the Ravens have been hesitant to do that with their players. More often than not the Ravens have looked for discounts on the annual contract value and in return have offered very strong cash flows up front and often more guarantees than comparable players depending on the level of discount.

Here are a few examples of how that strategy works

PlayerAPY1st Year CashGuaranteeYears
Laremy Tunsil$22,000,000$29,650,000$50,000,0003
Ronnie Stanley$19,750,000$41,750,000$70,866,0005
PlayerAPY1st Year CashGuaranteeYears
Jalen Ramsey$20,000,000$30,000,000$71,203,0005
Marlon Humphrey$19,500,000$38,000,000$66,957,4075
PlayerAPY1st Year CashGuaranteeYears
George Kittle$15,000,000$21,700,000$40,000,0005
Mark Andrews$14,000,000$26,500,000$37,583,0594

Stanley got by far the biggest bump in first year new money with a massive raise over the market high and also a huge increase in guaranteed salary. In return he signed for 10% less than Tunsil and took an additional two seasons on the deal which makes the effective number far more than 10% over those five years.

The other two players have around a 25% bump in pay and took under the market in guaranteed salary, however those annual values are closer to the top and in Andrews case he only had to sign for four years.

In these three different cases I think you can get a feel for some of the tradeoffs that occur in these contracts. I do believe that these are the kind of discussions where having an agent to go through the pros and cons of such contracts is beneficial with a willingness to bend on some of the initial wants, which in this case were the highest paid at the position and a fully guaranteed deal while also going through some of the minutiae of the contract. That is not to say that Jackson can’t or didn’t do that on his own, I just know from experience learning the ins and outs of NFL contracts that it takes time and I personally feel as if I an learning new things all the time regarding contracts and the way that thinking changes over time around the league and from team to team. In any event my thought was the two sides were just going to be looking at dramatically different things here and bridging any gaps could be harder than normal.

When the talks began between Jackson and the Ravens the landscape was also different. Deshaun Watson had not signed a fully guaranteed contract and the market was pretty much locked at $45M a season which was the annual value of Mahomes’ contract. Aaron Rodgers threw a bit of a blip in the mix but Watson reaching $46M a year was really the game changer.  Prior to that I would guess the Ravens would have offered Jackson a deal that would have been anywhere between Dak Prescott ($40M) and Mahomes with the main fluctuations based on those cash flow and guarantee considerations. My thought would have been a high of $44.5M a year on a traditional contract and perhaps as a last resort an offer of $41-$42M a year with the deal potentially being fully guaranteed or close to it to hit a historic high. Once Watson did that deal this would all be a pipe dream.

Kyler Murray recently signed a contract for $46M a year and that was followed by Russell Wilson signing for $49 million a year. That pushes the market for Jackson to at least $50 million a season which probably pushes things way up for the Ravens from where they wanted to be. Throw in wanting a fully guaranteed contract on top of that and it is probably an impossible bridge to cross which is how you get to today.

Obviously, there are risks in this approach for the Ravens. Jackson will be a free agent at the end of the season and their only realistic option, even if they want to trade him, is to use the exclusive franchise tag on Jackson. The regular franchise tag cost will be between $31 and $33 million but that opens Jackson up to free agency where teams will pounce on him. The Ravens would have limited cap space to work with if a team made a very strong offer for Jackson that frontloaded the salary cap charges, potentially making an offer that they can not match. They would only receive two first round picks in that scenario, the same price the Seahawks paid for Jamal Adams, so the exclusive tag is the only deal that would make sense here even if just to max trade compensation.

The current exclusive tender cost is about $45 million in 2023. That number is not set in stone and can go up or down based on roster decisions teams make between now and next March but from the Ravens point of view they have to assume this will be the price. They probably don’t care as much about the cash number there but it does become challenging on the cap. We project Baltimore to have about $45 million in cap room next year assuming they make no futures signings so it would leave them with little to work with in the offseason while they sort the contract out.

I would consider another market change between now and next March to be low. Baker Mayfield is the only name free agent and it is highly unlikely that he is going to earn more than $50 million a season. The names who will push the market- Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert- likely would not sign extensions until the summer. So I think the Ravens would feel that the time frame here will be to try to find a new way to find common ground between now and next July.

The other benefit would be, even if the market is pushed slightly, the fact that none of the other players will likely receive any type of fully guaranteed contract. While you can not guarantee that will be the case, the history around the NFL has been that the fully guaranteed deals have impacted nothing.

Jackson also has some risks with this strategy. The threat of injury is real though I think it is overplayed by many. In the last six years I can only think of two QB injuries to starting players that would have impacted negotiations- the Teddy Bridgewater injury in 2016 and Alex Smith’s injury in 2018. Everything else at this position is pretty much glossed over so even if he carries a slightly higher risk due to running so much I wouldn’t worry about it the way you would a receiver or cornerback.

The second issue comes from the sense that there is going to be a delay in getting paid. While we have no idea what kind of contract offer was made for the sake of argument let’s say it looked like this ($48M/year over 5 new years):

YearOld MoneyNew MoneyTotal Running Cash

Assuming the exclusive tag remains stable what would be the comparable cash flows while playing on the tag?

YearSalaryTotal Running CashDifference

Basically you would have to wait until 2025 before the contract turns in your favor if you wind up playing out franchise tags. The Ravens would offset some of that difference by having more cash on hand assuming it is simply being set aside for him and invested. Certainly if the two sides come to an agreement next year without going the tag route the Ravens come out ahead with the delay if the numbers are in this ballpark.

Over the long term the numbers skew more in Jackson’s favor but this is also dependent on the exclusive tag not changing next year. Both sides have a risk here. The way that the process works is that once the tag is applied to Jackson any reductions in cap charges do not count, but before that time they do. Would teams try to screw over the Ravens (namely their division rivals in Cleveland) by holding off on restructures until the last second or would they prefer to see the market held by Jackson having less long term leverage?  Do agent of players quickly suggest restructures because they have a vested interest in not seeing a self represented player get a massive new contract? Anything is possible.

Here are the current top 10 players at the position and their count towards the exclusive tag

NameTeamCap ChargeEstimated Team Cap Room
Deshaun WatsonBrowns$54,993,000$4,000,000
Dak PrescottCowboys$49,130,000$9,500,000
Patrick MahomesChiefs$46,243,381$13,500,000
Josh AllenBills$39,272,281($4,000,000)
Ryan TannehillTitans$36,600,000($8,000,000)
Kirk CousinsVikings$36,250,000$1,000,000
Matt RyanColts$35,205,882$30,000,000
Derek CarrRaiders$34,775,000$34,000,000
Aaron RodgersPackers$31,573,570($1,000,000)
Jared GoffLions$30,650,000$11,000,000

As you can see other than a handful of teams on the list most find themselves needing to create cap space in 2023. If Watson dropped out the number would fall to $42 million next year. If Prescott dropped out it would be $43 million. If both dropped out it would be $38.7 million which changes the money figures dramatically for Watson.  Nobody will see their cap charge increase next year to bump up this figure so the math works in the Ravens favor even if the timing does not.

Both sides will have the knowledge of what the tag will be next March which is likely when talks heat up unless there is a big change of direction during the season (the Ravens are a team that does in season extensions though this is a unique circumstance). Neither side probably loses by waiting but the leverage can move more into the Ravens direction if the exclusive tag drops down.

That said I like the idea of quarterbacks playing the tag out. The way to “punch your own ticket” when it comes to maximizing money in the NFL is to be able to hit free agency. Being a free agent is what landed Cousins a fully guaranteed contract and led to a quite lucrative run with the Vikings while Watson being treated as a free agent led to that legendary contract.

For almost any other positions playing out the tag is not an option. A year in the NFL is a long time. Careers are short and players age very quickly. A star in 2022 may not be a star in 2023 and the odds would be against being a star in 2024 or 2025. So there you work within the system. For QB’s there is a massive bright light at the end of the tunnel since you can keep playing until your mid 30s and probably keep getting paid until your late 30’s if you are good enough. Losing those two tag years isn’t a bad thing the way it might be for everyone else.

Years ago I thought this was the path that Andrew Luck should have taken to really revitalize what was a stagnant QB market. It never materialized and other than Cousins, who was considered a good but not great player, nobody has done it. Dak Prescott made it to a 2nd tag and used that number to help leverage a great contract which will benefit him come time for his next contract negotiation but he still is not totally free.

I actually think the biggest contribution that Jackson could make would be to go the tag route. If he is dug in on receiving a fully guaranteed contract that may be the only way to get there but ultimately it probably would also lead to the most career earnings though it carries more risk than just doing a good deal now.

For the time being I think the delay favors the Ravens but the longer the delay goes the more Jackson gains leverage even if not toward a fully guaranteed contract. It will be interesting to see how he plays it next offseason, but that is a long time away and something we’ll begin discussing again next winter.

2022 NFL Season Preview: Roster Turnover

Today I wanted to look at what teams are generally “running it back” in 2022 and those that have had more of a facelift and how exactly those facelifts are constructed. No just because a team is returning a large number of players does not mean that all things will be the same but it is interesting to look at how well teams do perform with similar teams to the prior year and those with big changes.

The league leaders in roster retention this year are the Rams (76.3%), Saints (76.2%), Bengals (75.8%), Patriots (75%), Cardinals (71.7%) and 49ers and Cowboys (71.2%). The Bucs, Bills, and Lions are all right around 70%. These numbers are just based on players on the teams current active roster and it would include players who were on the practice squad last year but not this year. If the practice squad this year was factored in the top teams are the Eagles, Lions, Bengals, Rams, and Commanders.

Not surprisingly many of these teams were playoff teams last year. The Saints were on the outside looking in last season but didn’t really have much choice but to come back similar to last year. The Lions would be a surprise to continue to trot out so many of the same players. The Commanders are also a surprise if you include the practice squad.

The rebuilding Bears are in a class all alone with just 32.8% of their players coming from last year’s roster. This is not a team with many notable additions as well. We have them adding just 6.6% players who would be considered potential impact players. I valued an impact player as a free agent worth more than $5 million a season and any 2022 draft picks selected in the top three rounds of the draft. It is the 5th lowest percentage in the NFL and when you consider how many roster spots they had to fill it’s tough. It is the reality of having to dig out of a bad salary cap hole and recovering from lost draft picks from trades.

The Falcons, Giants, and Raiders are all right around 50% followed by the Texans at 53%. The other teams under 60% are the Browns, Chargers, Colts, and Jaguars. The Raiders are the lone playoff team from this group. The Falcons, Giants, and Texans are all digging out of a salary cap hole and rebuilding the entire organization. The Browns, Chargers, and Colts are all teams that were close to contention last year and have tried to turn over enough of the roster to get over the hump. The Jaguars are trying to buy their way into relevance again.

11 teams did not add a new $10M a year player to the roster. The Jaguars led the league in additions with 8.9% of their roster this year being new players who will earn at least $10 million a season. They are followed by the Colts, Broncos, and Jets all around 5%. Teams that have these additions usually have added expectations and pressure from that approach.

11 teams also did not add any players earning between $5 and $10 million with the Cardinals, Cowboys, and Packers being the only teams to add nobody earning over $5 million a year.  The leaders here were the Steelers with 8.5% of their team coming from this pool of players, Dolphins at 6.7% and the Bucs, Chargers, Panthers, and Jets all at 5%. These players are certainly expected to contribute this season.

As we move more into the depth category (players between $2 and $5 million a season) we get the appearance of the Texans and the Bears at the top of the chart. 13.3% of the Texans roster will be new players earning this much while the Bears will have 11.5% of their roster spots tied up in these players. The Panthers and Dolphins are around 8% while the Browns are at 6.5%. The Cardinals are the only team to not add a new player in this salary range.

The low level veterans earning under $2 million a year are basically where the most cap strapped teams reside. The Falcons have 19.4% of their roster in this category which is crazy high for a team in the 2nd year of a rebuild. The Giants are just under 15% while the Bears have 13%. The Raiders and Chargers round out the top 5.  If you look at the teams that follow (Colts, Cardinals, etc…) it’s basically teams using whatever cap room they have to bring in veterans to help what they feel are contending teams rather than focusing on younger talent. It is a fair approach on a short term plan. The only two teams with no additions here are the Jaguars and Bengals.

The final category is players under $1 million. These are SFA and UDFA pickups. Generally, this is pure depth signings where you are hoping to find a diamond in the rough and also get some special teams help. It is no surprise to see the Bears with 16.4% of their team coming from here. The Jaguars are at 14.3%. The next three teams are a bit more surprising- the Raiders, Titans, and Commanders.   The Raiders and Titans in particular you would think would have found a way to add more. The Titans do have some roster issues and maybe this was better for the long term. The Raiders had cap room to do more. Washington you think would have tried to do more but it seems to be all about Wentz there. Every team added a player here.

As you look at overall potential impact players (as mentioned above- new players earning over $5 million and 2022 draft picks from the first three rounds) you get the Jaguars at the top with 19.6% of their roster being new players that fit in these buckets. The Jets have 18.3%. This gives both of these teams, which have been terrible for years, that boom or bust potential this season. Both teams should be under heavy pressure to improve greatly from last season.

The Steelers are at 13.6% and the Chiefs are at 12.5%. The number for the Chiefs is a real interesting one. You can see with the way they approached this offseason that it is a bit of a retooling on the fly. They are set at QB and if they can smoothly turn over the roster as they move away from their SB run group they could be set up to fit that same Patriots mold that saw them as incredibly relevant for a decade due to a willingness to keep changing. The Colts, Vikings, and Bucs are all at 12%.

The bottom of the chart is the Cardinals at 5%, Rams and Cowboys at 5.1%, Packers at 6.5% and Bears at 6.6%. The Patriots and 49ers are the other teams under 7%. For the Rams this is understandable as they are basically just defending the title with a few additions. Cardinals and Cowboys fans should be disappointed in what they have done this offseason to improve the team. They are going to have to hit on the few chances they took and probably have a lower level pick or two overperform to make a leap. Patriots and 49ers plans probably would have liked more this year too. The Pats probably did not have the cap room to be overly aggressive without selling out the future. The 49ers could have found a way. Green Bay and Chicago were cap messes, so they also are not a surprise.

Here is the breakdown of every team’s 2022 roster.  

TeamReturning$10+M$5-$10M$2-$5M$1-$2MUnder $1MRnd  1-3Rnd 4-7OtherImpact Adds
NFL. Avg.63.7%2.0%2.4%4.0%6.3%6.9%5.5%7.1%2.1%9.9%

2022 NFL Season Preview: Building Teams via the Draft

Now that the 2022 NFL season is finally upon us and rosters are more or less finalized it is time to break down each teams 2022 roster to see how they have approached team building. Here we will look at how teams have fared in the NFL draft and UDFA process in building their teams. All tables are sortable if you click on the headers.

Homegrown Players

For the first big picture look we looked at every roster in the NFL and broke down their players into a “homegrown” or “non-homegrown” category. A homegrown player is defined as someone who was originally drafted by the team they are currently playing for or signed their first NFL contract with the team that they are currently playing for. This speaks to how well front offices have generally identified players that are a fit for their organization. We have the data both with and without the practice squads. Here is the breakdown for 2022.

TeamActive RosterPS Included
NFL. Avg.59.2%57.3%

The NFL average in this category is about 59% on the active roster and 57% if we also include the practice squad. I’d consider any team over 65% to be a standout in this category and those under 52% to be a bit of a disaster. I do think it is worth pointing out that being very high in this category can also mean that the team is not focusing enough outside the organization (Dallas probably fits that billing this year) and maybe putting too much stock in their own talent, but generally teams that do feature their own picks are the far more stable teams. The lower range teams more often than not need all the stars to align to get it right. The positive for the Jets, Texans, Dolphins, Bears, and Steelers is that each does have a young QB that hope provides that alignment. It is harder when you don’t have that untapped potential.

Team Construction by Draft Round

Often you can get a glimpse as to how each team approaches valuing individual talent by looking at where every player on the roster comes from. For context here is the breakdown by round of the current NFL rosters, not including the practice squad.

Round% of players

This is a look that I enjoy taking every year because it does show the role that UDFA’s can have if they can land a job in the NFL. The pool of players is giant, but team’s do count on them. The big numbers of the top three rounds show why many look at the draft as a top 100 type of exercise as you need contributors from those three rounds to be successful. Here is how each team has developed their roster.

TeamUDFARound 1Round 2Round 3Round 4Round 5Round 6Round 7

No Jets fan should be surprised at the Jets ranking here as they have done whatever they can to move up in the draft and acquire high picks while also signing free agents from other teams who once had a high draft grade. They rank 1st in first round picks and dead last in UDFA picks. Also not a surprise is the Rams ranking last in 1st round talent since they don’t really draft in the first round these days. The top UDFA teams are mainly teams with salary cap issues- the Saints, Lions, Falcons, and Titans all rank high. Those are the teams hoping to really strike it rich with those players.

Draft Retention: 2018-2022

Here is the breakdown of the success each team has had in retaining their draft picks from 2018 to 2022 by round. I also included the percent of UDFA’s that have been signed in that timeframe who are still on the team in 2022.

TEAMRound 1Round 2Round 3Round 4Round 5Round 6Round 7Draft TotalUDFA
NFL. Avg87.7%79.9%77.0%63.5%54.9%39.3%37.0%62.3%8.4%

The important things to look at here really are the deviations from the NFL average. The Raiders, Patriots, Titans, and Vikings figures here should all be concerning at 20-30% below the league average in round 1. The Jets, Vikings, Patriots, Raiders, Jaguars, and Texans are all far enough under the overall expectation that you can’t feel great about the process that has been in place the last few years. The flipside is the Chiefs, Cowboys, Browns, and to a much lesser extend the Eagles and Giants. The Giants fit more into the “don’t have any choice but to keep them” category than doing anything too well. As for UDFA’s it’s a good thing to sign with the Saints, Rams, Raiders, Lions, Titans, 49ers, Eagles and Colts. Signing with the Giants, Cardinals, Steelers, Texans, and Browns may be a lost cause.

Youth Movement: 2018-2022

While it does not hold true of every position in the NFL, more often than not the top production from players comes early in their careers. Here is the breakdown by round of every teams roster broken down by players who started in the NFL no later than 2018.

TeamRound 1Round 2Round 3Round 4Round 5Round 6Round 7UDFATotalTop 3 Rounds
NFL. Avg.7.9%7.9%9.2%7.6%7.0%6.1%4.8%18.7%69.1%25.0%

I think the two ways to look at this are players selected in the top three rounds of the draft and just the roster overall. The top 3 round selections probably give more of an upside potential for a team since the team will be focusing on players who should be entering the prime of their careers. Here we have the Chiefs at the top of the NFL followed by the Steelers, Falcons, Bengals, and Browns. Given how good Patrick Mahomes is this could be scary for the league if some of these players realize their potential. We saw how things came together last year for the Bengals and the Browns and Steeles could try to capitalize this year. This is probably the one positive for the Falcons this year. On the low end are the Raiders, Saints. Commanders, Rams, and Eagles. These are the teams that need their older players to maintain a high level of play or to get great performance from those deeper in the draft. This number should be concerning for Washington.

If we just look at the total some of the teams flip the script- namely the Rams (2nd overall) and Eagles (4th overall). While the higher end young talent may not be there they are not falling into the trap of just filling the roster with older minimum salary veterans, but instead focusing on players who may play a longer term role. The Lions lead the NFL here which could bode well for a few surprise breakout players. The Giants are high here as well which may leave them with a little hope.

The Bucs are at the bottom of the NFL here. Obviously, they have Brady and he is the GOAT but this is a team that may nosedive the minute Brady hangs them up. The Saints are 31st with just 58% of the roster starting their career no earlier than 2018. This is another bad situation for the long term. The Texans and Patriots are both low as are the Bills. The Bills have the QB in place to deal with this and one would expect if they do not win it all this year that they may do something similar to the Chiefs and begin moving veterans off the team in 2023. The Patriots and Texans need their QB’s to really hit or it could be a rough stretch.   

Thoughts on Russell Wilson’s $245 Million Extension

Russell Wilson was the latest QB signing of the season, inking a five year extension worth $49 million a year, with $165 million in injury guarantees. Mike Klis has the breakdown of the contract and overall it seems like a relatively fair contract for both sides.

When the news of the contract first broke this morning, my thought was to look at the cash flows of the contract before really making an opinion on the deal. Here is how the contract breaks down compared to some other recent contract signings.

PlayerYear 0Year 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5 ?
Aaron Rodgers$0$42,000,000$101,515,000$150,815,000
Kyler Murray$33,807,640$72,657,640$105,265,140$147,807,640$184,142,640$230,500,000
Deshaun Watson$0$46,000,000$92,000,000$138,000,000$184,000,000$230,000,000
Josh Allen$40,445,405$68,445,405$98,445,405$137,945,405$176,445,405$216,445,405
Matt Stafford$38,500,000$66,000,000$97,000,000$129,000,000$160,000,000
Dak Prescott$0$75,000,000$95,000,000$126,000,000$160,000,000
Russell Wilson$34,000,000$73,000,000$110,000,000$150,000,000$195,000,000$245,000,000

The numbers here are legitimate for Wilson. Once the extension starts he will rank no worse than 2nd among his peers in new money. The $110 million over two seasons is a big jump up from Kyler Murray’s contract and the $150 million over three years is close to Rodgers, though the Rodgers deal  was revalued at the time of signing which makes the comparison here more difficult (Rodgers got a massive raise if valued like Wilson’s contract).

The benefit for Denver is what you see in the “Year 0” figures. These numbers represent the raise that Wilson received over his prior contract which had two years remaining.  Wilson’s raise will be $34 million over two years, which is a far cry from the $53 million raise he received from the Seahawks back in 2019. In that contract Wilson earned $71 million by Year 1 and here the number is “just” $73 million. Keeping in mind how strong the front end of that contract was for Wilson in Seattle I think you can see the benefits for the Broncos in effectively keeping the numbers flat despite the market jumping by nearly $15 million a year from the last time Wilson signed a contract.

As for the guaranteed dollars, Wilson receives $114 million in new guaranteed salary. Of that total, $73 million is fully guaranteed at signing while another $37 million will become fully guaranteed if he is on the roster when the league year begins in 2024. Considering the cost to cut would be massive in 2024, this guarantee is a virtual lock to be earned. Overall this guarantee would be considered middle of the pack among top contract players, but is certainly solid especially given Wilson’s age. Essentially this is buying into two exclusive franchise tags early on.

The topic of full guarantees came up again when this contract was announced and many are speaking negatively of it not being fully guaranteed.  We only have two 3+ year non  rookie contracts which were fully guaranteed in NFL history- Kirk Cousins free agent contract in 2018 and DeShaun Watson’s contract earlier this year. Both had massive leverage as they were being bid on in free agency (Watson was treated as a free agent by all his potential suitors) and that is leverage no other players have. Wilson is a 34 year old quarterback who never pulled off the full guarantee before and he had two cracks at it in Seattle. The landscape hadn’t changed enough to even expect that to happen. Getting over $100M in new guarantees at this age is a good thing not a bad one.

Now I would imagine that Denver has a very different view of the contract than I do regarding the cash component. They had no sunk costs in Wilson prior to this and most teams in that situation are usually much easier to get a deal done with than their prior teams where they are truly looking at the prior contract as very meaningful. This is how DeAndre Hopkins, Tyreek Hill, AJ Brown, etc… all signed what look like mind blowing contracts so quickly with a new team when their old teams had little interest in those kind of numbers.

For Denver this is a 7 year, $296 million contract with cash flows of $57 million through the first year, $85 million through year two, and $124 million through year 3. Those numbers are under Dak Prescott’s contract figures and would trail Matt Stafford’s first two contract years before jumping him in year 3. These comparisons are not the easiest to make due to all the different circumstances but I would imagine this is why Denver was more than willing to do a contract that nearly hit $50 million a season when valued as an extension.

The question I would have if I were the Broncos is why not get this deal done earlier in the offseason if you were going to extend him sight unseen?  This trade was agreed to early on and there should have been time to hammer out a contract which likely could have been finalized before the craziness of the Watson extension coming down, though maybe nobody saw that coming (I certainly did not). Still there were other contracts that could impact the market in that timeframe as well.

I thought the Rams took the right approach with Stafford last year. Have him play out the season, see how he fits in with the team, let him get a feel for the team, and then negotiate a deal. He won a Super Bowl and wound up with $40 million a year. That should have been the comparable player and situation. Had Stafford flopped the Rams would not have extended him. If Wilson struggles the Broncos are going to regret the contract even with some things that are positive for them. Even though they gave up a lot I think the wait and see approach would have made more sense.

 As for the salary cap impact of the deal, Wilson’s salary cap number this year will drop by $7 million and by $5 million in 2023. It jumps to $35.4 million, assuming they pick up the option million, in 2024 and then ramps up to $55.4 million in 2025, at which point the new TV deals should all be running and driving the salary cap limits way up.

It won’t really be feasible, unless the team goes into a full rebuild, to cut Wilson until 2026. His release that year would leave $31.2 million on the salary cap. Conceivably they could trade him in 2025. The high would be large ($49.6 million) but it would be a few million less than cap number that year if on the roster and would save them from paying his $37 million salary.

NFL Preseason Playing Time By Salary Range

As we get ready for the final roster cutdown I wanted to take a quick glance at team usage in the preseason. The preseason used to be something of a warm up for the regular season with starters often ramping up their participation, peaking with the 3rd preseason game of the year. The depth evaluation phases of games were primarily relegated to the 1st and 4th games of the preseason, but it seems clear that now we are strictly in an evaluation phase in all three preseason weeks.

Here is how our participation breaks down on offense, sorted by salary range.

Contract RangePlayersSnapsSnaps/Player

Approximately 87% of the snaps on offense were played by players earning less than $2 million per season. Their participation rates were basically double the next closest groups. As we get into the expensive tier of players the threat of injury has more or less brought this down just a handful of snaps across three weeks.

On defense we have the following

Contract RangePlayersSnapsSnaps/Player

This skews even further away from using higher priced players. Nearly 68% of all snaps were played by those earning under $1.035M a year despite that group making up just 47% of NFL rosters. If you earn at least $10M a season odds are you were getting the preseason off.

Here is a breakdown of snaps per player for each team based on salary.


I think the interesting things here will be whether or not teams playing more expensive players a little more than others will have any impact on the start of the season or not. The Commanders led the NFL with 35.6 snaps per player making at least $10M a season. The Steelers and Jaguars were both over 34 snaps per player and also had massive playing time for those between $5 and $10 million a season. The Chiefs were the other team over 30 snaps a player for those earning over $10 million.

On the flipside were the Bengals, Broncos, Cardinals, Chargers, Cowboys, Packers, Raiders, Rams, and Ravens who more or less put no expensive players on the field. The Rams, in fact, played almost all low cost players this preseason. The Cardinals did something smear.

These are probably some traits that are worth keeping an eye on in the future when determining future strategies for player usage in games during the summer. If the Chiefs look far more crisp than their opponents in the AFC West maybe it will say something about their approach to the preseason getting their players a bit more game ready. If all teams look equal than it might say more about sitting talent.

I know some want to do away with the preseason but I think even with just three games it is clearly a strong evaluation tool and showcase for players who are fighting to make a team. At the same time this is a game of high priced tickets and tv contracts and it is becoming increasingly clear that as a product the league has no business marketing these games at full price or as anything more than tryouts to make a 53 man roster or practice squad.

2022 NFL UDFA Analysis- 1st Cuts

With the first NFL cutdown complete I wanted to take a look at how the 2022 undrafted players have fared thus far. The first look is to see the success rates based on the guaranteed salary of the players. Please note that these numbers are based on the result of the player’s original contract with the team who signed them. They may or may not still be in the NFL  as that is something I’ll look at that after the final roster cutdowns.


Certainly it would seem that the level of guarantee has had an impact on who has and has not been retained thus far. Of players receiving a minor guarantee the hit rate has been just 46%. Players with no guarantees and guarantees between $5,000 and $15,000 are around 60%. Those numbers rise to 75% for those guaranteed between $15,000 and $50,000 and we move into the 80% range for the other categories. $75,000 seems to be a reasonable number for a team to offer to at least have a higher probability of keeping players through the first cut.

Here is a look at where each team stands with their initial UDFA signings in 2022.

TEAMGuaranteeGPP% ActiveRemaining GuaranteeRemaining Guar. %
NFL. Avg.$612,739$40,20969.9%$518,94280.7%

The Bears had the least success rate but as a team bringing in a number of players to try to stick that is pretty expected. They still have about 85% of their guarantees still on the roster, so that would be above average for more targeted UDFA signings. The Packers and Rams are both under 50% and their guarantee levels are very similar, so they haven’t had any more or less success based on who they guaranteed salary for.  This could be a case of just not having the openings. Neither team put a priority here with the Packers offering the lowest guarantee per player this year and the Rams being the 6th lowest.

Arizona has 50% of the players still on the roster but has already cut 65% of the guarantees they gave out, which might indicate a pretty poor prioritization of UDFA resources. The only team worse than them in this regard is Buffalo who has 64% active but just 34% of the guarantees still on the active roster.

The top hit rate is in Minnesota with 90% of the players still on the roster and 100% of the guarantees still on the team. They had the 7th highest amount guaranteed per player so they put a lot of effort into identifying this group. The Bengals have 89% of the UDFAs remaining but are among the lowest spenders. I rarely read into the Bengals numbers here as they will prioritize keeping guys as long as possible if they have any sunk investment in the player.

Dallas is number 3 and they put a massive priority here. Their $1.8M spent on UDFAs is second only to the Eagles as is their $87K average guarantee. Dallas has grown very risk averse in free agency so they are clearly looking to hit with their UDFAs. They have 85% of the players still on the team.  The Chiefs and Chargers round out the top five with just under 85% each.

Russell Wilson Should Now Be Poised To Set Quarterback Contract Benchmarks

This is a cross post from Broncos Contracts, a new site founded aiming to particularly and fairly analyze the roster of the Denver Broncos. Consider visiting if you are interested in more upcoming big contract decisions facing the Broncos–such as similar recent articles regarding Bradley Chubb, Dalton Risner, and Dre’Mont Jones. Ways to reach out and comment can be found at the bottom of the articles, including reaching out to @nickkorte on Twitter.

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Last month, I set out some guidelines of what a Russell Wilson extension could look like. The core aim was to settle in at an APY neatly in between that of Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, but still giving Wilson cash flow and guarantee structures that would be at or near the top of the NFL.

However, I also said this:

There are also plenty of other quarterbacks that could push metrics up with their own extensions. Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert will be eligible for such for the first time after this season, Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray will be pushing for their own extensions, and even Baker Mayfield could make things move if he proves his first overall pick pedigree given that he got a fresh start in Charlotte just last Wednesday. Wilson could benefit more if any of those players sign contracts beforehand.

Well, Kyler Murray did just that on July 22. And this contract now makes it clear that what I set out last month as a possibility no longer is so.

Continue reading Russell Wilson Should Now Be Poised To Set Quarterback Contract Benchmarks »