Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
13 Nov 2009
by J.I. Halsell
Now that we've moved to the defensive side of the ball, we’ll start our analysis with the highest-paid starters at defensive end. It’s clear that the NFL is a copy-cat league; one of the latest trends in the league is the proliferation of the 3-4 defense. As we all know, in this scheme the outside linebackers operate more as defensive ends who additionally have pass coverage responsibilities. For the purpose of this study we’ll therefore consider 3-4 outside linebackers as defensive ends, as it would not be fair to compare Terrell Suggs to Lance Briggs.
To illustrate the premium paid for elite pass rushers, the table below shows that there are more defensive ends than players at any other position -- aside from quarterback -- with averages per year of at least $10 million (six).
The most recent addition to the $10-plus million club is the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware, who recently signed a contract extension worth $78 million in new money and $40 million guaranteed for six new years. Ware’s $6.7 million guarantee per year matches that of the Ravens’ Terrell Suggs, who signed his lucrative contract extension this summer. Comparing Ware's contract to Suggs shows that Ware will only make $1.6 million more than Suggs in the first three new years, but over the life the contract will make $15.5 million more than Suggs.
Two players who have surely taken notice of the Ware and Suggs deals are the Panthers’ Julius Peppers (who was franchised) and the Raiders’ Richard Seymour. Short of being franchised in 2010, both players stand to become unrestricted free agents after this season. It seems that both players should be handsomely rewarded, but with both players being 29 years old at the start of this season could potentially deter a club from compensating either at the same total price point as Ware. The table below shows that elite defensive ends tend to be extended when they’re roughly 26 years of age and are typically extended for six new years. Given their age, it would not be surprising to see Peppers and Seymour extended for only four new years, at averages on par with their younger but comparable elite pass rushing peers. Based on the current defensive end market, a four year extension with $28 million guaranteed ($7 million guarantee per year) and $56 million ($14 million per year) in total new money would hardly be surprising.
The Steeler nation may be wondering why James Harrison is not on this list in light of his contract extension this past offseason. Harrison just missed making the top ten with an average per year of $8.76 million, ranking him 11th in the league.
Early in his career, San Diego’s Shawne Merriman looked like a lock to become one of the highest paid defenders in the league, but recent injuries and inconsistent play have, it would appear, placed the Chargers in no hurry to sign Merriman to a lucrative extension. With the prospects of the uncapped year in 2010 making Merriman a restricted free agent this coming offseason instead of an unrestricted free agent, Merriman could be waiting longer than expected for his next multi-year contract.
Other potential free agents this coming offseason include Denver’s Elvis Dumervil, Tennessee’s Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Green Bay’s Aaron Kampman. Pittsburgh’s LaMarr Woodley, despite his rookie contract not expiring until after the 2010 season, could potentially be in line for an extension this coming offseason, and the Giants’ Osi Umenyiora ($5.5 million average per year), despite being under contract until 2012 on a contract he signed in 2005, has been lobbying for a new contract for a while now. I wouldn’t think that any of the aforementioned would approach the DeMarcus Ware contract, but the two guys to keep an eye on are Peppers and Seymour.
Here are the top ten starting defensive end contracts in the league:
|Top Ten Starting Defensive End Contracts (in millions of dollars)|
Next week, we’ll continue our tour along the defensive line and analyze the top ten starting defensive tackle contracts in the league.
Follow J.I. Halsell on Twitter: @SalaryCap101
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