Denver Broncos- Menelik Watson, 3 years $18.4M, $5.5M guaranteed
I like a lot of things about the Broncos front office…their handling of the right tackle position isn’t one of them. I thought they couldn’t do much worse than last year when they signed Donald Stephenson to a three year, $14 million deal, but they did just that with the Watson contract. In 4 years Watson has started a total of 17 games and played in just 27 games. Last year he played in less than 23% of the Raiders snaps so it’s not as if he was coming off a monster season. He’s now the 10th highest paid right tackle and the Broncos, for the time being, have over $10 million invested in the position between he and Stephenson. For $6.6 million they could have just signed Mitchell Schwartz in 2016.
Kansas City Chiefs- Tamba Hali, 3 years $21.5M, $11.5M guaranteed
Hali has had a terrific career, but he was long past his peak as a pass rusher when this contract came down. There were two big problems I had with this one. First was the bizarre timing. Maybe the team didn’t know the extent of Justin Houston’s injury or maybe they didn’t expect the info to come out when it did, but the team oddly allowed his prior contract to void causing $3 million to accelerate on the salary cap. He was signed almost immediately after that occurred and it easily could have been done days before. That was really the cause of problem 2. Because an unnecessary $3 million hit the cap they were forced to use a low base salary in 2016 and fully guarantee his entire 2017 salary. He saw his playing time reduced last year and was not as productive. Once players hit his age teams should be more cautious and only guarantee one year so they can decide each year on their contract.
Los Angeles Chargers- Russell Okung, 4 years, $53M, $25M guaranteed
Going into the offseason the Chargers had plenty of bad contracts but they cut most of those players which left me with Okung. It’s hard to see where the Chargers came up with this number for Okung, when they technically made him the highest paid tackle in the NFL (in real terms he isn’t, but he is still very high). His $25 million guaranteed at signing is the 4th highest at the position and he’s the only player on a four year deal. As a point of reference the highest guaranteed 4 year player is at $22 million. He received the 8th highest signing bonus and as is customary with the Chargers contracts he gets the first two years guaranteed. The comp players for him this year were all in the $11 million per year range with around $35 million in the first three years. Okung is at $13.25 and $39.25 million respectively. Okung got unfairly criticized last year for his contract he negotiated with the Broncos and most of those voices were silent when he negotiated a terrific contract with the Chargers.
Oakland Raiders- Sean Smith, 4 years, $38M, $15M guaranteed
This was a big need for the Raiders last year, but Smith fell into that very tricky category coming into free agency at the age of 29. Of the current corners in the NFL Smith is the highest paid 30+ year old at the start of the year and the ones who are closest are all at the end of their deals they signed in their mid 20’s. With the first two years virtually guaranteed you are taking on the risk that the player can hold off father time and Smith clearly looks as if he did not last season. Smith should have fit into the group of players earning between $7 and $7.5 million a year with around $12 million guaranteed and a $23 million three year payout, not the $20 million guarantee and $30 million three year payout Smith received.
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.