Today was the first day of the “unofficial” free agency period in which agents can begin discussion with outside organizations. While no deals can be signed between players and new team’s, extensions are very common over the next few days. With a deadline of 4PM March 10, teams often put forth their best final pitch to a free agent. Player’s also should have a better idea of where they officially stand around the NFL over this talking period as they get a better feel of interest than they did at the combine. While we don’t have much in the way of specifics on the contracts let’s take a look at the general overview of the signings.
Randall Cobb, WR, Packers- 4 years, $40 million
This is a big number for Cobb, who has primarily been a slot receiver in his career. Prior to this contract the best real deal for a slot player was the Giant’s Victor Cruz coming in at $8.7 million a year. Cobb will also earn more than Jordy Nelson, by a few hundred thousand a year, which is a very good deal for him. Cobb is also young and the 4 year term will likely give him another chance for a big deal down the line. This deal is probably a sign that the Packers were afraid of losing Cobb if they played hardball to the deadline due to teams with increasingly large cap surpluses to spend. I’d consider this contract a strong sign overall for the receiver market and Jeremy Maclin in particular.
Kareem Jackson, CB, Texans- 4 years, $34 million, $14 million guaranteed
This contract sent shockwave around the NFL as two years ago a player like Jackson would have struggled to reach the $6 million a year mark, let alone a first year payment of $14 million. This is a thin group of cornerbacks and the Texans may have feared losing him because of that so they came in with a lucrative offer. If this is a sign of things to come then expect corner Byron Maxwell and safety Devin McCourty to get big money next week. However I do caution to take this deal cautiously as last season the Packers jumped the gun on a new contract with Sam Shields due to fear of losing him and as it turned out they overpaid considerably.
Derek Newton, RT, Texans- 5 years, $26.5 million, $10 million guaranteed
Though Newton had struggled through a good portion of his career he played well last season which helped him earn this contract. From an annual value persepctive this contract is below the top tier of the market (all at $6M or more) and kind of hits a mid point between the Breno Giacomini’s of the world and the top tier. That said the initial cash flows of $13.5 million over two years will track with the top tier, which I would imagine was a compromise on the lower APY. I’d consider this a pretty market neutral contract indicating minimal shifts from the past.
Doug Free, RT/G, Cowboys- 3 years, $15 million, $6 million guaranteed
I was a little surprised Dallas brought back Free only because it would have helped them slightly with their salary cap had they done this sooner. When they allowed his prior contract to void I assumed that the door was shut. From a football perspective this makes more sense than re-signing Jeremy Parnell who haa almost no track record whereas Free is a solid veteran. Based on the reported guarantee I would expect that Dallas can escape this deal after one season. The price is what was certainly expected for a veteran player.
Mark Ingram, RB, Saints- 4 years, $16 million
Many people asked me how the Saints can be over the cap and sign Ingram, but the cap isnt a concern until March 10 at 4PM. By then the Saints will have restructured a number of contracts to be under the cap. Bringing back Ingram was likely a sign that there was lukewarm interest in Ingram at a high price outside of New Orleans so it made sense to come back to the place where he began his career. I would not be shocked if the first year payout and guarantee match the $5.2M or so salary he would have earned if the Saints picked up the option year on him last year. This contract should be a sign that the Marshawn Lynch deal has no bearing on the market and that prices will remain unchanged from last season.
Brett Kern, P, Titans- 5 years, $15 million
This is one of those signings where people get caught up in the $15 million number for a punter, but from an annual value perspective this only rank’s 8th in the NFL. Kern gets a lot of use in Tennessee so I’d say the contract is well deserved.