After a roster teardown last season, the Miami Dolphins have started the process of reconstructing their roster through free agency. In the first day of the NFL legal tampering window, the team kept busy, reaching agreements with Clayton Fejedelum, Shaq Lawson, Ereck Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, and most notably, Byron Jones. Jones’s deal is reported to be a 5-year pact worth $82.5M, with $46M guaranteed at signing. While the deal sets new benchmarks by APY, total guarantees, and fully guarantees, the cornerback market, which I wrote about in September, remains stagnant. To further elaborate, the table below illustrates several notable deals in the CB market by APY, APY as % of cap, and length.
When looking at Jones’s deal from a dollar figure, he leads the CB market by APY, leapfrogging the incumbent and new teammate, Xavien Howard, by 9.6%. This is a solid number for Jones but if we want to understand how his deal fits in discussion with market growth for CBs, it’s important to value the deal by looking at the APY as a % of cap. This method prevents older deals from being negated because of salary cap growth. For example, while Patrick Peterson’s APY is $2.5M less than Jones’s, the extension that Peterson signed in 2014, when adjusting salaries for cap inflation, would lead the CB market with an annual value of $20.878 in 2020. So, while Jones’s deal might be perceived to be a breakthrough for the CB market, the reality is the market will remain stagnant until we see a player sign a deal with an APY valued higher than 10.5%. Again, this isn’t to say that Jones signed a bad deal. His APY as % of cap of 8.32% sits between Josh Norman’s 9.7% figure and Trumaine Johnson’s 8.2% figure. I wouldn’t have expected Jones to get a deal near Norman’s percentage of cap as Norman was coming off an all-pro season and was arguably the best cover corner leading up to him hitting the open market. For the CB market to see significant growth, it will require a player like Jalen Ramsey or Marlon Humphrey to maximize their leverage. For Ramsey, the LA Rams gave up tons of draft capital and it would be shame for them to do so for a two-year rental. I could see Humphrey as another player getting a new deal in the future with an APY around 10.5%. He’s a player who really established himself last year and has the same representation as Patrick Peterson.
Moving onto cashflows of Jones’s deal, the below table illustrate running cashflows for a few of Jones’s peers.
In his first year, Jones’s contract pays out more than any cornerback with exception of Johnson’s Year 1 cashflow he received in 2018. However, where Jones’s deal separates itself is Year 2 and Year 3. The Year 3 cashflow of $54.375M is also the total guaranteed value of the deal.
Another interesting thing to look at is the sum of Jones’s and Howard’s cash flow for the 2020 season. The Dolphins will be spending $37.925M in cash for their top 2 CBs and $44.835M for all CBs on their roster. To put these number into perspective, the Ravens are second in the league in cash spending for CBs at $28.615M, per OTC numbers. The average cash spending by teams for CBs in 2020 is approx. $14.4M. Obviously this number will fluctuate as we get through the rest of FA, draft, and potential extensions, but I’d still expect the Dolphins to be at the top in CB spending for at least this year. That being said, anything short of a top 10 pass defense this season will be seen as a disappointment. In looking at Jones’s contract structure, it is pretty player friendly. Jones will receive a $15M signing bonus, and fully guaranteed 2020 and 2021 salaries. In 2022, when Jones turns 30, Jones has a $14.375M base salary. Of that amount, $6M is already guaranteed and another $8.375M becomes guaranteed on the 5th day of the 2022 league year. That being said, if things go terrible with Jones and the Dolphins, the team can walk away from him before the 5th day of the 2022 league year and avoid paying the additional $8.375M in base salary for 2022. However, at that point, they would have paid Jones $46M for just two seasons, which would come out to an average of $23M. For Dolphins fans, lets hope that won’t be the case.