Assuming the NFL does not push the start of the league year back we are just a few days away from the start of NFL free agency. Every year teams throw some big money at free agents and this year should be no different. The teams generally get the most offseason publicity as people rave about the impact these new players will have on the team. Then the regular season begins and opinions quickly change. So with that in mind I thought it would be interesting to back and look at the biggest free agent contracts signed in 2019.
Nick Foles, Jaguars- 4 years, $88 million, $50.125M guaranteed
Foles was supposed to lead the offensively challenged Jaguars to the promised land but an early injury set the team back and then when Foles returned he struggled and was quickly benched in hopes of sparking the team. We valued Foles’ performance for the year around $1.9 million, that of a low level backup, The Jaguars will be desperate to trade Foles as cutting him will cost nearly $34 million on the salary cap with another $5 million becoming guaranteed in early March. Woof.
Trey Flowers, Lions- 5 years, $90 million, $56 million guaranteed
While some fans may have been disappointed in Flowers not putting up gaudy stats, the Lions were likely fine with the performance which came close to his “contract year” performance as well. Flowers numbers in 2018 were 57 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 78 pressures to 51-7-62. Whether that is enough for an $18 million a year player is a different debate and Flowers failed to see action in much more than 60% of the defensive snaps, a low number such a high priced player but unless the Lions fell into the trap of expecting him to expand significantly on what he did in New England there should be no regrets yet about this deal. We valued Flowers around $11.9 million on the season, which would be representative of a solid but not overly outstanding defensive end.
CJ Mosley, Jets- 5 years, $85 million, $51 million guaranteed
One of the most ambitious contracts of 2019, Mosley missed almost the entire season with injury. Mosley saw action in week 1, was hurt, sat a few weeks and was seemingly rushed back into the lineup only to get injured again which was an odd way of handling a star player. Mosley didn’t have the kind of injury history that should have warned against this- he only missed three games in his career prior to 2019— so you give this a pass for now. Mosley needs to have a great season in 2020 because he is locked in for 2021.
Trent Brown, Raiders- 4 years, $66 million, $36.25 million guaranteed
Also a very ambitious contract especially when it became clear that Brown was going to play right tackle. The salary alone was going to be hard to ever live up to because right tackles have been paid so much less than their left side counterparts but since the Raiders signed him with that in mind I guess it was not a concern for them. Brown was fine when he played this year and was selected to the Pro Bowl but he missed 5 games with a pec injury and availability has been an issue with him in the past. If they can get 16 games at the same level they will likely be happy.
Za’Darius Smith, Packers- 4 years, $66 million, $20 million guaranteed
I killed this contract when it was signed and boy was I wrong on this one. Smith was as good a pass rusher as anyone in the league this year. PFF graded him just under a 90 on the season while he set career highs in sacks (13.5), solo tackles (41), tackles for loss (17), QB hits (37), and pressures (104). He was also on the field for 84% of the Packers defensive plays. It’s rare that players who are situational/part time guys really blow up when switching teams but Smith did just that. We valued his contribution as being worth nearly $21 million to the Packers this season.
Antonio Brown, Patriots- 2 years, $30.5 million, $10 million guaranteed
Technically this wasn’t an offseason contract but I don’t think you can discount it. Brown came with a glowing buyer beware sticker but that did not concern the Patriots, who were rumored to have made Brown aware of the fact that they would sign him if the Raiders released him. Brown played a game before essentially being banished from the NFL. The Patriots are hoping that they don’t have to pay him his full guarantee.
Landon Collins, Redskins- 6 years, $84 million, $44.5 million guaranteed
The Redskins grabbed the headlines for a day with this contract which made Collins the highest paid safety in the NFL. Collins pretty much is what he is- a good in the box safety with limited coverage skills. Is that worth $14 million? No, but Im not sure what the Redskins really expected here. Collins is not going anywhere for a few years and he will need to make a few splashy plays next year to prevent people from realizing how bloated of a deal this is.
Tyrann Mathieu, Chiefs- 3 years, $42 million, $26.8 million guaranteed
Mathieu would go on to have a pretty solid season with the Chiefs which led to an All Pro nod for the safety. Mathieu was a big part of the Chiefs ability to cover in the secondary and his four interceptions were a pretty big number. If he was signed on a bad team to this contract people would probably question it but on a good team he’s a perfect player. This turned out to be a perfect fit for the two sides.
Earl Thomas, Ravens- 4 years, $55 million, $32 million guaranteed
Thomas had a solid enough season in Baltimore, finishing the year with two interceptions and a Pro Bowl appearance. PFF graded Thomas at a 75 which is certainly good but nowhere near the elite levels that everyone was accustomed to with Thomas. His 53 run defense grade was by far the lowest of his career and there may be some questions as to whether he is slowing down or not. Certainly not a terrible signing but if the Ravens were looking for a home run he probably did not give them that just yet.
Kwon Alexander, 49ers- 4 years, $54 million, $27.5 million guaranteed
This was the signing that got the ball rolling for the Mosley deal mentioned above and it’s a move I didn’t get then and don’t really get now. Alexander played in just 8 games and unlike hard luck injuries that you can’t plan on, Alexander is always hurt, appearing in more than 12 games just once in his five year career. PFF graded him under a 53 on the season and when healthy we valued him around $5 million. They already restructured his contract for some cap relief so they are in for the long haul here and he will need a healthy bounce back season in 2020.
Anthony Barr, Vikings- 5 years, $67.5 million, $33 million guaranteed
Barr actually verbally agreed to a contract with the Jets but then got cold feet and went back to the Vikings to see if they could get a deal done. This was just a mistake on the Vikings part from day one. At the price they agreed upon they should have been able to do a deal the year before while Barr was on his option to lessen the effective guarantee they paid him. The Vikings front office makes almost no mistakes on their contracts but in my opinion this was one. Barr was fine for the season but fine basically means you are worth around $5 to $7 million not $13.5 million. Barr could be a 2021 cap casualty if he doesn’t play at a Pro Bowl level in 2020.
Le’Veon Bell, Jets- 4 years, $52 million, $35 million guaranteed
This seemed like a signing to grab the headlines and grab the headlines they did when they signed Bell. They grabbed them again mid season when it was rumored they were ready to trade him if the right deal came along and will grab them again this spring if they can find a taker. Bell had the worst season of his career averaging just 3.2 yards a carry while he and the staff seemed to struggle to find the right mix of plays for him. Bell was a trooper for the year never complaining about a bad situation but its hard to see it getting much better this year.
Preston Smith, Packers- 4 years, $52 million, $16 million guaranteed
Green Bay got another one right with this Smith once again proving why it’s a good thing I’m not a football scout. Smith had a career high 12 sacks on the season and while that number was a bit of a fluky high conversion rate he was still a solid player on the season. Smith is not going to be a game changer but as a secondary rusher on a team he’ll be ok. No regrets for them here.
Ja’Wuan James, Broncos- 4 years, $51 million, $32 million guaranteed
A questionable deal at signing and James ended up battling knee problems all year long and only appeared in three games. This is somewhere in between the Mosley and Alexander situations. James had missed a good chunk of time two years ago but didn’t have the more extensive history like Alexander. The Broncos kept attempting to get James back onto the field only for him to keep reinjuring himself. Like with Mosley and the Jets what did the Broncos expect to gain from doing that? James’ salary for the year is guaranteed so he is going nowhere and the Broncos will just hope he can play 16 games.
Sheldon Richardson, Browns- 3 years, $37 million, $21.5 million guaranteed
The Browns made their attempt at the “Dream Team” season and while that was a total flop the addition of Richardson was perfectly fine. Richardson will never be the player he was in his early career with the Jets but his salary level is that of a solid but not flashy player and that’s what Richardson is. Richardson played about 73% of the time for the Browns, posted over 40 tackles, had a few sacks, and pressures. We valued him around $10 million on the year and considering our valuation puts rookies and veterans on the same scale that easily justifies this contract.
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.