With free agency fast approached I’ve been getting a number of questions about the wide receivers who are likely going to be searching for new contracts in the offseason. So I thought it would be worth trying to find a baseline value for players to at least give a reasonable expectation for players.
For this study I want to study players across four categories using their statistics from the last three years. The four categories are basic ones: targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns. I want to break these down into per game performance since (in general) we all believe a player will remain healthy for 16 games once we sign him.
To determine value we want to just look at veteran players since they are the players that are relevant to the market. The players have to have a contract with an annual contract value (or at least one I estimate to be) of at least $2 million. For each category we simply calculate the annual dollars by the production. Here are the breakdowns per category and who has been the best and worst value in each category:
|Category||$/Category||Best Value||Worst Value|
|Reception||$94,059||Miles Austin ($35,584)||Larry Fitzgerald ($214,864)|
|Targets||$56,454||Miles Austin ($20,313)||Larry Fitzgerald ($117,794)|
|Touchdowns||$1,477,255||James Jones ($416,667)||Percy Harvin ($4,617,609)|
|Yards||$7,279||Miles Austin ($2,778)||Larry Fitzgerald ($18,301)|
Using the averages we calculate the actual worth of the player if they earned the average across each category. To make life easy we’ll just average the four categories to come up with a total value for the player to give us a baseline number to work with.
The Free Agents
We have four big projections at free agent and two second tier players and one third tier player who we are looking at next season. The trick for any team signing these players is to identify who can continue to provide benefits at these salaries and who will tail off. As we’ll see in the overvalued section it is our biggest priced contracts that are falling short and all of these players will want to push beyond the $12 million mark in a real negotiation.
Dez Bryant– The Cowboys seems to have some reservations about Bryant’s potential off the field problems with any lucrative contract extension. This contract would place him 5th in the NFL in annual value as of today and likely 3rd by March. While it’s not the kind of contract value that we will project by just using high end players it is a fair value if he can give the Cowboys three more years of this production. If a team values the TD stat more they can justify the increase in salary.
Demaryius Thomas– Thomas puts up better numbers across the board than Bryant except when we look at touchdowns. It Is also questionable how much stock teams will put into Manning throwing him the football as they may project him to do worse in a different offense, though I believe someone would argue his touchdowns might rise elsewhere if he becomes the prime scoring option.
Randall Cobb– Cobb is more of a B+ than A grade player. His usage numbers are not number 1 receiver quality as it trails a significant portion of the market. His argument in free agency is that he is targeted less in Green Bay because of Jordy Nelson. Still this salary pushes him as the highest paid player who works a lot in the slot and would put him right around the top 10. There should be nothing insulting about this value if made by the Packers since it essentially pays him the same as Nelson. Both put up similar numbers as well.
Jeremy Maclin– Maclin played the year out to prove he was worth big money and it sure worked for him. The question is if he can convince someone he is worth $10 million or more. The biggest knock will be that his completion rate of 58% is pretty low and he isn’t putting up ridiculous yardage numbers like his former teammate DeSean Jackson does with a similar type of game. Jackson ended up with $8 million a year once released. Still Maclin can point to doing it with potentially subpar QB’s, something none of the top names can claim making him an attractive option for a team like the Raiders.
Torrey Smith- Clearly a Tier 2 player whose asset is the scoring on big plays. Jackson is the only veteran player gaining more yards per reception than Smith and Smith is better at producing touchdowns. But the catch rate is abysmal, the worst in the NFL over that time. No team can invest number 1 money in that type of player and they will have to think long and hard about the longevity issue. His numbers began to trail a bit this year other than touchdowns and no team wants to be stuck with him if the speed goes away. May be a very team friendly deal when all is said and done.
Michael Crabtree– Crabtree thinks he’s a 1 and Richard Sherman thinks Crabtree doesn’t belong in the NFL. The truth is somewhere in between. Crabtree is limping to the finish line and if a team weights the seasons to put more weight on the recent years Crabtree is going to drop down to the $5.8-$6 mil a year territory. Crabtree will need to determine if he wants one more chance to prove he can do better with another team on a one year deal worth $5 million or less or take the longer term deal worth $6 to $7 million.
Hakeem Nicks– Nicks is the player that Crabtree should look at as an example of things going wrong in a one year contract season. A few years ago Nicks looked to be a huge earner, now he’ll earn less than $5 million a season. With nothing improving in Indianapolis for him this is probably a high water projection but if he can keep his current level of interest in playing a team might get a bargain on a one year deal for $3-$4 million as a third option.
The Overvalued Players
The overvalued players are those who are most in danger of being asked to renegotiate their contracts or be released. They have under produced significantly compared to their contract. I’m going to only include those likely to be moved in the offseason and not players who are locked in such as Calvin Johnson (though Detroit had to know the minute they signed him that it was an impossible contract to live up to).
Larry Fitzgerald– Fitzgerald has now gone three seasons without 1,000 yards and I think many teams would view his production as being exclusive to Arizona, meaning he is over-utilized because of his legendary status on the team. Between that and his age the $7.36M value is likely overstating what a team should expect moving forward. He makes $16.25 million next year and has a $23.6 million cap number. He needs to take half of that to remain a Cardinal.
Percy Harvin– Harvin’s signing by the Seahawks was a head scratcher but he’s now with the Jets and can be cut with no dead money left on the Jets salary cap. Harvin is also a player who we have to take major injuries into account for as he has only played 18 games in three years. That makes the $6M a max value number assuming health(unless a team is throwing in a kicker for kick return duties). He is also unique in that he has already alienated two teams with his attitude meaning you want no upfront money that can impact your future salary cap.
The Jets have two options. One is to offer him an incentive filled $5-$6 million contract for a year and then void the remainder of his contract to give him the shot at free agency in 2016. The second is to guarantee him his $10.5 million salary in 2015 and then bring down his next three year’s salary in line with the $6M or so APY listed here. Considering his issues with teams they are best guaranteeing with a signing bonus that is tied to a player controlled void.
Dwayne Bowe– He’s been a disaster in Kansas City and his numbers would probably plummet if the Chiefs had another option at receiver. He makes $11 million next season and the cap strapped Chiefs can save $5 million by cutting him. I’d say this is a very logical move for both sides to opt for a $4-5 million pay cut next year.
Mike Wallace– This was another bad signing from day 1. Wallace has a $3 million guarantee and $10 million salary set for 2015, so for one year his salary might be reasonable. He quit on Miami in the final game of the year but they may be able to send him off in a trade to a receiver desperate team needing a one year rental. If Miami kicks in an extra million or two that should be enough to get the deal done.
Other overvalued players include Andre Johnson, Greg Jennings, and Vincent.
The Undervalued Players
In general the position skews towards over-valuation where far too much of a premium is being paid for name talent rather than added team value. Our biggest bargains all signed recent contracts and thus are not holding out for more money in 2015. Those players are James Jones, Steve Smith, and Julian Edelman.
Our only player who has a legit argument to hold out is Antonio Brown. Brown will earn just $6 million next year and is basically an $11 million a year player. He is under contract for three more seasons ($22.96 million) so he is essentially going to miss out on any chance to cash in if he does not make noise about a new contract in the offseason. So I would at least say there is an outside chance for something to happen with Brown.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.