The “hold in” drama in Seattle continues with the team dealing with contract disputes with starting left tackle Duane Brown and starting safety Jamal Adams. Both players are in the final year of their contracts and looking for extensions and not looking to take the field until their contracts are taken care of. I thought it would be worth a look at both players who are getting a ton of attention right now as the hold in moves into the preseason.
Brown likely falls victim to his age as he will be 36 this season and 37 when a new contract begins. Since 2013 there have been few players Brown’s age to continue playing. Not including Brown, only three players have been that old and continued to play. Andrew Whitworth has played from age 36 through 40 and will play this year at 41. Jason Peters played left tackle through the age of 38 and then played guard at the age of 39. Donald Penn played at the age of 36. That’s it, so there is not much history to really work off of.
Whitworth signed for $11.25 million on a three year contract which guaranteed him $15 million. Peters signed a contract with $15.5 million in guarantees worth a little above $9 million a season at the age of 37. Penn was a lesser regarded player by the time he was 36 and would not be relevant to any discussion.
Both of those contracts were signed in 2017 at a time when the market was much lower. Whitworth’s contract ranked 8th in the NFL while Peters was 12th. My guess is this is the disconnect here. Seattle, if they are interested in doing a new contract, probably views a deal similar to Whitworth’s as fair. Brown’s argument should be that the market has changed.
The current top 10 players in the NFL now average $18.392 million per year compared to just $11.87 million in 2017, an increase of nearly 55%. Applying that type of inflation would put the fair market value between $14 and $17.5 million a year. Those numbers are a major jump from the older numbers.
Brown has dug in on a holdout before, refusing to play with Houston which eventually saw him traded to Seattle. Seattle’s contract offer represented a 29% raise on a yearly basis from what he was making as a Texan. The same raise would put him around $15 million a season.
Working against Brown is that there is a question as to how much he would get in free agency. Whitworth was coming off back to back Pro Bowls and was one year removed from being an All Pro. Brown hasn’t been selected to a Pro Bowl since 2017 and his All Pro year came in 2012. So the situations may not be all that comparable.
My gut feeling is that the $15M a year number would be fair. Brown is set to earn $11 million this year so I think the real trick for Seattle is to get the guarantee to be in the $20 million range. Guarantees have also increased since 2017 but if they are already prepared to pay him $11M this year it would only be an additional risk of $9-11 million to guarantee him that number. That would offer them more protection than playing out the year and re-signing him anyway and gets them away from the animosity of the franchise tag if things got there.
Adams’ situation is more complicated. This was something that was likely always going to be a mess from the day they traded for Adams. Adams had already become a bit of a malcontent from the Jets and the contract asks had already started at a high level. The Seahawks inexplicably traded two first round picks for Adams without doing a contract extension ahead of time. At the time of the trade the Bears and Texans had already set big standards for money that would paid following a trade and Jalen Ramsey followed suit. Each player earned a contract worth at least $20 million a season which if I had to guess is what Adams is looking for.
The safety market is different than the other positions in that it is lagging and has been lagging for quite some time. The top safety in the NFL earns $15.25 million per year and a jump from $15 to $20 million would be outrageous at 31%. Mack was a 23.1% raise from the top edge mark at the time while Ramsey was a 16% increase. Tunsil did earn a 33% raise and CJ Mosley a few years ago had a 36% increase over market.
In modern times no safety has been considered such a market changer that they have ever received that kind of raise. I tend to think it is because there are so many good safeties in the league that a drop from a great to a good safety is not a major difference. In modern times the biggest market increase was just 7.7%, which was earned by Landon Collins in 2019. If we look at top defensive players we can get a few baseline values for Adams.
|Player||Mkt Increase||Safety Value|
This basically can give you a range of fair values for a “market mover” on defense with a low value around $16.5M a year and a high value of $20.5M a year. The average of $18.2M would probably be a reasonable number.
Of course reasonable may not be at play here. I would guess Adams views himself as a jack of all trades who transcends the safety position. A coverage type linebacker recently earned a contract extension worth $19.7 million a season. Adams can rush the passer and edge rushers earn $20 million a year. So he is much more than a safety.
I rarely agree with those arguments which in my mind are similar to running backs and tight ends who claim to be wide receivers. Most of the NFL won’t pay up for a safety that can rush a passer. It is a nice quality to have but isn’t something teams looks for as often the opportunities are not that big and many will not tailor a defense to utilize that. I’m also not sure if Adams is considered a great coverage player. In the last two years he ranks tied for 32nd among safeties for pass break ups per PFF and his 1 interception ranks 68th. That doesn’t mean he won’t get paid in free agency just that he would not be looked at as a transcendent player.
I have long held the belief that Seattle can not pay Adams more than Bobby Wagner who is the highest paid player on the defense at $18 million a season. I think they can go up to that number and make him the “co-leader” on the team but I don’t believe there is any way to go over it especially since there was no difference with or without Adams in their ultimate team success.
If Adams won’t budge on a deal in the $16.5 to $18 million a year range then Seattle’s best course of action is to go the franchise tag route. The franchise tag next year projects to be worth about $12.4 million and the cost to tag again would be $14.9 million. Those are going to be way under the cash he would earn on any contract extension and should be a strong reason for Adams to consider whatever offer may be on the table from Seattle. Adams would be difficult to deal with on a tag but they could also look to trade him at that point to a team that would extend him at the price he wants.
While this will likely be looked at as a negative for Seattle if it happens since they traded so much for him I think the fact that Adams would be on the roster under the tag in 2022 or traded for a 2022 draft pick would likely limit the criticism the front office would face especially if they continue their playoff streak.
As for a date for all of this to conclude? That is anyone’s guess. Certainly by the regular season the players will need to play or run all kinds of risks for the year. Id guess both could be fined for technically not practicing but I don’t think that will happen if they are trying to negotiate. If there comes a point where the two sides clearly will not make an agreement than I think they will likely be forced back to practice to make sure they have the best chance to up their stock for free agency next year.
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.