The deadline to extend Franchise players is Monday which leaves Kirk Cousins, Le’Veon Bell, and Trumaine Johnson just a few more days to gain that added job security for the season. While none are reportedly close to a deal these contracts can often come out of nowhere at the last second (think Muhammad Wilkerson who signed so late it was reported he didn’t get an extension) despite whatever posturing there is on both sides. Let’s take a quick look at the three players.
I can’t help but think that the Redskins have completely botched this contract. Last year I think it made all the sense in the world to not sign Cousins long term. He came off a good year after three seasons of relatively non-descript play. The odds were against Cousins being a long term viable starter off what could have been a fluke season and the investment in light of the Brock Osweiler contract would have been $18-$20 million a season with close to $40 million in guarantees, so Id argue that rolling the dice on one year for $19.95 million was worth it.
But after another relatively good year the Redskins really needed to make a firm decision on his status. Either he stays long term on say a $23 million a year contract or he goes via trade to a team like the 49ers. Instead they tagged him at $24 million and have allowed him to sit and stew about his future. He is already beyond the Osweiler and Tannehill two year salary levels and if they tag him again next year he would be in the Andrew Luck region. The price should have gone up in light of the Derek Carr $25 million contract extension and I can’t see any reason that Cousins would sign for less than that.
Washington’s front office was in such turmoil that its hard to make a prediction here. Id say if this was any other team in the league Cousins would sign a new contract on Monday, but Washington has taken an odd hardline stance on his value while at the same time being happy enough to keep him around at $24 million for the season. I’d guess a contract won’t get done.
This is a rare case where the positional price of running back likely plays a role. Running backs are the cheapest positional players in the league and the top of the market is just over $8 million a season. Bell’s tag value already pushes him past $12 million. There have been two recent running backs to jump over the $10 million a year hurdle. One was Adrian Peterson who signed a generation ago and nearly played out his contract while the other was Marshawn Lynch on a shorter term $12 million a year extension that saw him retire after just one year.
Bell also has some red flags due to multiple injuries and some off the field stuff, but I don’t think that will be a concern for the Steelers who would more or less be able to recover signing bonus money anyway and those are the only guarantees they do in contracts.
Given the market for the position, Bell has reason to get a deal done rather than play the year out. Unlike Cousins there is not going to be a better offer next year if the Steelers come in at $10 million a season. The risk of injury at the position is so big that anything above $9 million a year he has to probably consider even if his goal is much higher. His threshold number should be to increase his salary this year to $18-$20 million which would blow McCoy’s $16 million year one salary out and that would be fair for both sides. Given the way the Steelers often treat their own players it would be a bit of a surprise if they could not come to an agreement.
I’m not really sure what the Rams were thinking with Johnson. When they tagged him last year he basically ran to lock in that close to $14 million salary because the odds were against him earning much more than in free agency anyway. When they did it a second time at nearly $17 million he ran even quicker to sign it before the Rams came to their senses.
To put the numbers in some kind or perspective his $30.6 million he will earn on the tag will be above Janoris Jenkins $29 million, well above AJ Bouye and Darius Slay at $27 and $25 million and close to the 2 year payout of Stefon Gilmore at $32 million and Desmond Trufant at $33 million.
Johnson will still be a free agent next year and likely earn anywhere from $13 to $15 million in cash in 2018, whether with the Rams of someone else. Assuming he does that it would put his 3 year salary at $43 to $45 million which is putting him in the Richard Sherman and Joe Haden class of contract. Would anyone have given him that kind of contract last year? I think the answer is a clear no.
Either way that this works out I think the Rams don’t look good. If you use the tag on a player like Johnson you are using it to make a long term deal. If they call your bluff in year one you probably just need to make whatever deal you can. Doing it two years in a row just seems crazy, but at this point his asking price from the Rams should be significantly higher than his market value. It just seems like a lose-lose proposition for the team and Johnson probably has little incentive to give in much which makes it unlikely a contract gets done.
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.