Free Agency Review: Market Movement on Defense

Yesterday we broke down spending in 2017 by position on offense and today we will look at the defense. Pass rushers were the ones to cash in while the traditional linebacker positions continue to struggle to keep up with inflation in the NFL.

Pass Rushers

The prices for pass rushers continues to explode in the NFL with the top of the market seeing over 10% salary growth, which does not even include Melvin Ingram’s one year tag that he has yet to sign. While I thought JPP and Chandler Jones actually came in under expectations, in hindsight I think it really just reinforces two things- how much the franchise tag is a burden for great players and how much the Jaguars drive prices in free agency when involved. Thus far 2017 has added four new pass rushers into the top 10 and 7 in total to the top 20. While there are a few older deals in this group it seems clear that unless there is a massive change in the value placed on rushers that the new floor for anyone with even a small ability to rush the passer is going to get close to $9 million in the future with the top of the market probably maxing out around $17 million.

Cornerbacks

Though a few big contracts dropped out this year the replacement players still did enough to offset those releases/contract expirations and raise overall prices by about 3%. Trumaine Johnson’s franchise tag makes him the highest paid player in the secondary while AJ Bouye, Stephon Gilmore, and Dre Kirkpatrick all got top 10 contracts. Of the top 10 contracts in the NFL, 7 of them have now been signed in the last two years so the high end is clearly rising but for the most part there is still some disparity between those perceived as top corners and those just below. It seems that there are fewer younger free agents that can move into the $7.5-9.5 million category

Interior D-Line

For the interior linemen I consider players signed to play 34 end or tackle and I think it’s a unique market. They didn’t have the high end growth that the cornerbacks had but overall saw a slightly higher rise of nearly 4% in top 20 salaries, but really it was attributed to just two players. The biggest contract went to Calais Campbell who got the Jaguars involved and saw the money rise. For a player his age to get a $15 million a year deal is incredibly impressive. Brandon Williams almost made the top 10 with his $10.5 million contract. But a number of players who expected to earn in the $10M+ range failed to come close.  Donatri Poe and Bennie Logan both signed $8 million contracts, which would just crack number 20, just cracked the top 20, while Nick Fairley hit $7 million. Jonathan Hankins still is without a contract and everyone else is basically $5 million or less.  Id lean towards there being limited suitors at this point for players and that we will see the market shrink next year.

Safety

The safety numbers will be bigger once I process Reshad Jones contract and it sounds like he signed a whopper of a deal that has the potential to turn the safety group on its head, but for the time being Eric Berry’s record setting deal and Tony Jefferson’s $8.5 million contract were enough to pull the averages up slightly from 2016.  Three contracts came in around $6 million and moving forward I think that the $6 to $7 million range is going to definitely be the floor for a starting safety. The Berry and Jones contracts are probably good signs for the high end as well.

43 Outside Linebacker

This has long been a stagnant position and it continues to be stagnant trending on negative after free agency. Donta Hightower made enough of an impact to slight raise the top of the market but you wont find anyone to say they thought his contract hit expectations. Though there are incentives in the contract he failed to even reach Bruce Irvin’s numbers of a year ago and was nowhere near the $10M threshold to push the market let alone some of the big numbers being thrown around for him. Malcolm Smith cracked the top 10 at $5.3 million and that was that as there was just no interest in anyone else who was out there.

Inside Linebacker

As the game has changed this is one of those positions of less and less importance, at least in the traditional sense. Overall the market dropped by about 3% and that will go further if some more moves are made with player salaries. The top contract signed this year was just $6 million for Lawrence Timmons and the second largest was AJ Klein for $5 million. Many of the contracts ranked 5 through 20 have been signed in the last two seasons so the trend is clearly down for the position and I don’t think it shows much signs of rebounding.

The following tables show the current spending on defensive players and the percentage growth over 2016.

RankSCBILB43OLBEdgeInterior D-line
Top 5$11,050,016$14,650,480$10,071,812$8,485,000$16,983,333$17,175,833
Top 10$9,570,308$13,475,240$8,552,573$7,086,833$14,837,039$15,047,790
Top 15$8,646,906$12,301,860$7,235,048$5,907,425$13,145,560$13,462,273
Top 20$8,008,929$11,431,795$6,276,286$5,062,324$11,890,370$12,317,955
RankSCBILB43OLBEdgeInterior D-line
Top 54.1%3.2%-3.0%1.0%5.7%0.0%
Top 101.8%3.8%-4.0%2.4%11.9%2.7%
Top 151.3%3.6%-3.6%1.5%12.2%2.7%
Top 201.9%3.1%-3.3%-0.4%11.1%3.9%

  • McGeorge

    I’m curious about what the Jets offered Hightower, that he’d resign with the Pats for less than 9MM/year, as its unlikely he’ll get paid the amount specified in the contract his 4th year. He’s 26, probably only has 4 productive years left, and I think he should have taken the extra money from teh Jets if it really was there.

    • Jim

      I imagine it was something like this: the Jets “offered” ~$12m/yr contingent on him passing a physical. Had Hightower accepted the offer, he would of then failed the physical voiding the contract. Instead of accepting the contingent offer, he visited them for a non-contingent offer, they did the physical and the Jets then withdrew the offer (perhaps made a smaller one?) I don’t believe Hightower left much, if any, money on the table.

      • Werner

        As a Patriots linebacker you have to get yourself traded to go up in APY. That’s the only credible way to make sure other Teams take you on at face player/position value. It wa much to evident, that Patriots would match any reasonable Offer and that Hightower would have wanted a hefty raise to leave, which the position just doesn’t yield..