2019 Free Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

2019 Free Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis
2019 Free Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Bryan Knowles

With the salary cap ever-twirling upward, we seem to get a batch of "largest ever" contracts every year as free agency comes around. This year alone, we saw the largest-ever average salaries set for an offensive lineman (Trent Brown), a center (Mitch Morse), an inside linebacker (C.J. Mosley), and a safety (a tie between Landon Collins and Tyrann Mathieu) in free agency, not including the record-setting contract extensions we've seen around the league this offseason. In 2011, the first year under the current collective bargaining agreement, the league's cap sat at $120 million. It has ballooned to $188.2 million in 2019; that extra $68.2 million would be more than the payroll of the 2001 Patriots. It's a great time to be getting paid.

Of course, you can't build a team on massive contracts alone. The Saints didn't blink last year at re-signing Drew Brees to a two-year, $50 million contract in free agency, while the Bears didn't complain about having to give Khalil Mack a six-year, $141 million megadeal upon his arrival from Oakland. Those sorts of game-changing players can't be found on the cheap. It can be worth outbidding a few rivals for a stellar player at a high-priority position from time to time; they're building blocks around which you can construct the rest of your team. To afford them, however, you have to find savings elsewhere on the roster. One of the best ways to do that is to find good values in free agency; players available on middle-class contracts who provide a bigger impact on the field than they do to your pocketbook.

That's why, every year, we take a look at the year's free agent class and try to find the best values around -- the guys on the free-agent market who signed for surprisingly cheap, and can make up the veteran backbone of a roster. Signing a boatload of these guys isn't a surefire recipe for playoff success, but it can sure make the rest of your roster construction that much easier.

Our methodology is mostly the same that we used last year. Using Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value statistic as our measure of player quality, we perform a regression analysis that looks at each player's previous three years of performance and their age. This allows us to create a rough approximation of their future performance, based on how similar players either developed or declined over the course of their careers. The word "approximation" is doing a lot of work here, but in terms of comparing players across years and positions, it's a very useful tool.

We then compare that projected value with the implied value of the new contracts -- that is, what AV a player would have to put up to justify their contract, based on how teams have divvied up their salary cap dollars in the past. That allows us to calculate each contract's Age-Adjusted Value, our estimate of the value that each contract creates or destroys.

As usual, a couple final caveats: a low AAV score does not necessarily mean a bad contract, just a not very cost-effective one. You're not going to get the top edge rusher or quarterback in a class on a steal; you have to outbid several teams to go get them, and that's going to push their contract value up. This year, especially, there was a lot of money to go around in free agency -- over $2.7 billion in contracts signed just through May 6, with guys like Ndamukong Suh, Ezekiel Ansah, Danny Shelton, and Jay Ayaji still waiting for a team. The average free agent signed a deal worth almost $8.9 million this offseason so far; that number was just at $6.6 million last year. That average will go down as more players sign before training camp, but suffice it to say that teams were not shy about sending money out there this offseason.

Secondly, we're only looking at contracts of $4 million per year or more, or about the top 100 guys signed. While there are certainly values below that -- Markus Golden on a $3.75 million deal to New York, Ha-Ha Clinton Dix on a $3.5 million deal to Chicago, and Adrian Philips on a $2 million deal to the Chargers stand out -- we want to limit our analysis to a reasonable number of contracts to talk about, featuring the players most fans will be interested in. Any major contributor at less than $2 million per year is a bargain almost by default; it's more interesting to try to find the guys making $6 million or more who still provide a good return on investment.

Each table will have a player's new deal details -- their total value, value per season, and amount of guaranteed money. We list both their projected AV -- the amount of value our regression indicates they'll produce going forward -- and their needed AV -- the amount of value their contract implies. Then, you'll have the Age-Adjusted Value, which is how the model grades each move. Finally, you'll have words which explain where the model might be overly optimistic or pessimistic on specific players.


Player Age Tm Yrs Dollars Average Guaranteed Proj AV Needed AV Age-Adj Val
Nick Foles 30 JAC 4 $88,000,000 $22,000,000 $45,125,000 6.3 16.6 -10.3
Teddy Bridgewater 27 NO 1 $7,250,000 $7,250,000 $7,250,000 2.4 5.5 -3.1
Ryan Fitzpatrick 36 MIA 2 $11,000,000 $5,500,000 $7,000,000 9.3 4.2 5.2
Tyrod Taylor 30 LAC 2 $11,000,000 $5,500,000 $6,000,000 8.1 4.2 3.9

Systems like this don't do well at projecting quarterback contract values, which is why earlier years of this article left them off. For starters, the expected contract value of a good starting quarterback is roughly $Allofmymoneyplease, and the expected value of a backup is "neverseethefield" AV. Even so, there was no version of this that would pop up a good score for Nick Foles, who has started a grand total of nine regular season games over the past three seasons. So, the model sees a quarterback with a huge free agent contract -- only Peyton Manning, Kirk Cousins, and Drew Brees have signed larger deals in free agency, even after adjusting for the salary cap -- and assumes the player must be a superstar. At the same time, it sees a player who hasn't been able to get on the field and hasn't exactly lit the world up when he has been on it, and assumes they are very much not a superstar. Therefore, terrible signing.

Of course, neither of those characterizations are fair. Foles hasn't seen the field much because the Eagles have a first-round quarterback ahead of him, and his game-managerial style led Philadelphia to a Super Bowl win, which has to count for something. In reality, Foles will be the 13th-highest paid quarterback in the league under this new contract. He's expected to be a slightly above-average starter, not an All-Pro. If he can provide something above, say, Jameis Winston-levels of success, his new deal will be just fine in Jacksonville.

The model prefers Miami's signing of Ryan Fitzpatrick, arguably the greatest journeyman in league history. As of time of writing, Fitzpatrick is the 27th-highest paid quarterback in the league. FitzMagic, as fleeting as it can be, is generally above that level of performance; he has finished above that rank in DVOA and DYAR in all but one season since 2010. He's not someone you're building a team around, certainly. If you are a contender, you might well prefer Foles' safer, less explosive style to Fitzpatrick's gunslinging. But for just $11 million over two seasons, Fitzpatrick is a great deal while Miami tries to figure out what the heck it's actually going to do at the quarterback position in 2020 or 2021.

Running Backs

Player Age Tm Yrs Dollars Average Guaranteed Proj AV Needed AV Age-Adj Val
Le'Veon Bell 27 NYJ 4 $52,500,000 $13,125,000 $27,000,000 11.8 13.4 -1.5
Mark Ingram 29 BAL 3 $15,000,000 $5,000,000 $6,500,000 7.8 5.1 2.7
Tevin Coleman 26 SF 2 $8,500,000 $4,250,000 $3,250,000 6.5 4.3 2.2

We're cheating a little bit with Le'Veon Bell, pretending that his 2018 season never occurred in his projection. The model gives out a red flag when a player misses an entire season -- that's usually an ACL tear or some other major injury which needs to be considered before signing someone to a mega-contract. If anything, however, Bell's health (if not his conditioning) is likely to be better for missing the entire 2018 season with a contract dispute, so we'll let this little sleight-of-hand slide.

Of course, that still leaves the issue of living up to the second-highest AAV contract for a running back, which is far from easy. Bell's projected AV is the second-highest we've ever had for a running back in free agency, and it still doesn't quite hit the mark. Plus, there's always the real chance of regression. Bell's AAV is only beaten by 2015 DeMarco Murray, who was coming off an 1,800-yard season and never came close to sniffing those heights again. Bell hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2014, so investing a ton of money in him, at a position of less and less importance in the modern game, has to be something of a questionable value. No running back has put up the 13 AV Bell's contract projects to over the past four seasons, but Bell hit that mark in his last two healthy years. If the Jets get four years of in-his-prime Le'Veon Bell, then this deal will be worth it. Will a 30-year-old Bell still be one of the top five backs in football, though?

The model likes the Ravens' pickup of Mark Ingram, and your fantasy team should, too -- the Lamar Jackson version of the team ran more than any other team in football, so Ingram should be getting plenty of work. The only question would be if he can carve out enough of a role in a backfield with rookie Justice Hill, Gus Edwards, and Kenneth Dixon, but Ingram should find plenty of room, even at age 30. Splitting time with Alvin Kamara kept some tread off his tires, so he should be fresher than your average veteran, as well.

It's also worth briefly talking about Tevin Coleman, who comes out as quite a deal for the 49ers. He's a good example of why you need to consider these numbers in the larger context of how teams are constructed; the addition of Coleman means the 49ers have the second-highest cap hit at running back in 2019, which isn't really a great way to build a team. Last year, the 49ers were in this space with the worst major running back deal of the year, $7.5 million a year for Jerick McKinnon, a back who has still never had a 1,000-yard season. They had the worst major running back deal the year before as well, with Kyle Juszcyk's $5.25 million a year contract. Coleman's a value if he gets playing time, but the San Francisco backfield is filled with highly paid players -- not to mention the fact that their most successful back over the Kyle Shanahan era has been Matt Breida and his sub-million-dollar salary. The 49ers have had lots of cap room to work with, and have done a good job at front-loading their contracts to absorb the majority of the salary cap hit in years where they have had extra room to spare, but it often feels like they're bidding against themselves for the players they want. If Coleman ends up as the third back on the depth chart -- a real possibility -- there's no way his deal will be worth it in the long run. It's a very solid deal in a vacuum, but did the 49ers need to add another player to their backfield stable? You'd be hard-pressed to find a deeper stable of backs in the league, but you'd have to think that cash could have been better spent elsewhere.

Wide Receivers

Player Age Tm Yrs Dollars Average Guaranteed Proj AV Needed AV Age-Adj Val
Golden Tate 31 NYG 4 $37,500,000 $9,375,000 $22,950,000 6.4 6.2 0.2
Jamison Crowder 26 NYJ 3 $28,500,000 $9,500,000 $17,000,000 4.6 6.3 -1.6
Adam Humphries 26 TEN 4 $36,000,000 $9,000,000 $12,000,000 5.3 5.9 -0.6
Cole Beasley 30 BUF 4 $29,000,000 $7,250,000 $10,700,000 4.8 4.8 0.1
John Brown 29 BUF 3 $27,000,000 $9,000,000 $10,100,000 4.8 5.9 -1.1
Tyrell Williams 27 OAK 4 $44,300,000 $11,075,000 $10,000,000 7.5 7.3 0.2
Devin Funchess 25 IND 1 $10,000,000 $10,000,000 $7,000,000 5.7 6.6 -0.9
Cordarrelle Patterson 28 CHI 2 $10,000,000 $5,000,000 $5,000,000 4.5 3.3 1.2
Danny Amendola 33 DET 1 $4,500,000 $4,500,000 $4,250,000 5.4 3.0 2.4
Breshad Perriman 25 TB 1 $4,000,000 $4,000,000 $4,000,000 2.7 2.6 0.1
Donte Moncrief 26 PIT 2 $9,000,000 $4,500,000 $3,500,000 4.0 3.0 1.0
Randall Cobb 29 DAL 1 $5,000,000 $5,000,000 $2,000,000 4.7 3.3 1.4

I try to mention the largest contract in each of these writeups, but which contract here counts as the largest is open for interpretation. Tyrell Williams' deal in Oakland has the most dollars attached to it ($44.3 million over four years), while Golden Tate's Giants contract has the most guaranteed money ($22.95 million at signing). Either way, the model is OK with both of these deals. Williams goes from fourth fiddle with the Chargers to third fiddle with the Raiders, but he's a big, fast slot guy who has never had a problem making big plays in limited opportunities. Tate's season in Philadelphia needs to be quickly forgotten, but he was solid in Detroit the past two years and, sadly, is likely the best receiver on the depleted Giants roster. You can question why the Giants are bringing in any free agents with a roster that looks tankoriffic, but they didn't overpay Tate to bring him in.

Then you turn across New York and look at Jamison Crowder. When healthy, Crowder has been a fine player, if not much more than that -- good for 60 or so receptions for somewhere in the neighborhood of 700 yards. He certainly has better hands than Jermaine Kearse, whom he presumably will replace in the slot. But he's coming off an injury-plagued campaign, with ankle and other ailments limiting him to about half the season and holding him under 400 yards. The best-case version of Crowder -- the 2016 sophomore who led Washington in touchdowns and was second in receptions -- is probably worth the $9.5 million he's getting from Gang Green. The problem is, Crowder declined from that in his healthy year of 2017, and then missed so much time in 2018. You'd hope to get that sort of player for a discount, not the third-biggest AAV deal given to a receiver this season.

Even as he turns 34, Danny Amendola remains an effective role player. He's no longer the threat he was in New England, but he's still a solid WR2, even with the likes of Ryan Tannehill throwing him passes last season. Moving to Detroit and Matthew Stafford will likely improve Amendola's fortunes, working inside with Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay split out wide. A one-year, $4.5 million deal is just about perfect for him; his age prohibits a longer deal, but his level of production in recent years is more than worth that amount.

Tight Ends

Player Age Tm Yrs Dollars Average Guaranteed Proj AV Needed AV Age-Adj Val
Jesse James 25 DET 4 $22,600,000 $5,650,000 $10,500,000 3.1 3.2 -0.1
Jared Cook 32 NO 2 $15,000,000 $7,500,000 $8,000,000 5.8 4.3 1.6
Tyler Kroft 26 BUF 3 $18,750,000 $6,250,000 $6,300,000 1.2 3.5 -2.3
C.J. Uzomah 26 CIN 3 $18,300,000 $6,100,000 $6,250,000 3.1 3.5 -0.4
Jeff Heuerman 26 DEN 2 $8,000,000 $4,000,000 $2,000,000 2.2 2.3 -0.1
Tyler Eifert 28 CIN 1 $4,000,000 $4,000,000 $1,200,000 3.6 2.3 1.3

You always have to beware overpaying someone coming off a career season, especially at age 32, but the Saints' deal for Jared Cook is very, very solid. Reports that the Patriots were interested in Cook as well are very interesting -- you think a bidding war there would have boosted Cook's price up. Instead, our No. 5 DYAR tight end from a year ago is just the eighth-highest paid tight end in 2019, behind a trio of four-year-old deals, with a paltry amount guaranteed. He'll have to get close to last year's Pro Bowl campaign for the deal to be worth it, but going from Derek Carr to Drew Brees should only boost his production.

Cook's age kept him from pulling down the largest deal among the tight ends this year. That instead went to Jesse James, off to Detroit. James is really a run-blocker first and foremost, so AV doesn't really capture his value in the same way it would for a pass-catching tight end. Rookie T.J. Hockenson will almost assuredly be Detroit's primary pass-catching tight end, so it remains to be seen how much James will actually see the field in 2019. It's not a terrible deal or anything, but I would have had to guess six or seven times before coming to James as the tight end who got the most money this offseason, even in a weak class.

The deal the model hates the most goes to Tyler Kroft to Buffalo for over $6 million a year. First of all, Kroft's coming off of a broken foot, which doesn't do wonders for anyone's value. Secondly, his four-year career has seen him catch just 67 passes, only once topping a dozen in a season. Thirdly, while those catches did lead to a disproportionate number of touchdowns, he averages less than 10 yards per reception; not a great fit for Josh Allen's "hurl it downfield and see what happens" passing style. Fourthly, the Bills drafted Dawson Knox and already had Jason Croom under contract. The Bills have had a very strong offseason, I think, but the Kroft deal is not part of it.

Offensive Line

Player Age Tm Yrs Dollars Average Guaranteed Proj AV Needed AV Age-Adj Val
Trenton Brown 26 OAK 4 $66,000,000 $16,500,000 $36,250,000 7.9 17.5 -9.7
Ja'Wuan James 27 DEN 4 $51,000,000 $12,750,000 $27,000,000 6.4 13.6 -7.2
Mitch Morse 27 BUF 4 $44,500,000 $11,125,000 $20,400,000 6.7 11.8 -5.1
Rodger Saffold 31 TEN 4 $44,000,000 $11,000,000 $19,000,000 8.7 11.7 -3.0
Jamon Brown 26 ATL 3 $18,750,000 $6,250,000 $12,500,000 5.9 6.6 -0.7
Matt Paradis 29 CAR 3 $29,030,000 $9,676,667 $10,000,000 5.8 10.3 -4.4
Billy Turner 27 GB 4 $28,000,000 $7,000,000 $9,000,000 4.3 7.4 -3.2
Josh Kline 29 MIN 3 $15,500,000 $5,166,667 $7,250,000 6.6 5.5 1.1
James Carpenter 30 ATL 4 $21,000,000 $5,250,000 $7,000,000 5.3 5.6 -0.3
John Miller 26 CIN 3 $16,500,000 $5,500,000 $6,500,000 5.7 5.8 -0.2
Ty Nsekhe 33 BUF 2 $10,000,000 $5,000,000 $6,200,000 4.9 5.3 -0.4
A.J. Cann 27 JAC 3 $15,055,000 $5,018,333 $6,005,000 6.0 5.3 0.7
Bobby Hart 25 CIN 3 $16,150,000 $5,383,333 $5,500,000 7.0 5.7 1.3
Nick Easton 27 NO 4 $22,500,000 $5,625,000 $4,000,000 3.7 6.0 -2.3
J.R. Sweezy 30 ARI 2 $9,000,000 $4,500,000 $3,000,000 6.4 4.8 1.6
Daryl Williams 27 CAR 1 $6,000,000 $6,000,000 $3,000,000 8.0 6.4 1.6
Matt Kalil 30 HOU 1 $7,500,000 $7,500,000 $2,250,000 3.9 8.0 -4.1
Spencer Long 28 BUF 3 $12,600,000 $4,200,000 $1,200,000 5.2 4.5 0.8

Trent Brown was considered the best lineman in this year's free agency class, and rightfully so. Still. Brown becomes the highest-paid tackle in the league, whether you base that on average salary or money guaranteed at signing. He falls short in total dollars, as it's just a four-year deal, but this is the power of leverage at work. Brown has never made an All-Pro team -- never even made a Pro Bowl team -- and the Raiders are paying him like a superstar. To make matters worse, they're keeping him at right tackle, where salaries are usually lower -- Brown makes just $500,000 more than the second-best-paid left tackle, but $3.75 million more than the second-best-paid right tackle. That's Ja'Wuan James, who also feels overpaid on his new Denver deal, making Brown's value seem so much the worse. I like Brown, and I think he has loads of potential, but he's not at this level yet.

The model needs a little work here, to do a better job separating interior linemen from exterior linemen (a project for future seasons); it's underrating centers quite notably, though Mitch Morse's injury history would still likely lead it to being skeptical of his new deal. I would also strongly disagree with the model's claim that J.R. Sweezy is a value for Arizona, at any price; Sweezy's AV is inflated by the fact that he keeps getting starts for who knows what reason, and games started is AV's primary determining factor for linemen. I would, however, agree that Daryl Williams' one-year deal in Carolina makes plenty of sense. If he was healthy -- and he wasn't, with a bunch of knee problems a year ago -- he probably would have been the best right tackle on the market. A one-year "prove you're healthy" deal for $6 million is a great deal for the Panthers, and could end up being a huge boost in next year's free agency class if Williams is, indeed, healthy.

Interior Defensive Linemen

Player Age Tm Yrs Dollars Average Guaranteed Proj AV Needed AV Age-Adj Val
Malik Jackson 29 PHI 3 $30,000,000 $10,000,000 $17,000,000 6.5 7.3 -0.7
Henry Anderson 28 NYJ 3 $25,200,000 $8,400,000 $17,000,000 3.9 5.9 -2.1
Sheldon Richardson 28 CLE 3 $37,000,000 $12,333,333 $15,000,000 6.7 9.0 -2.3
Malcom Brown 25 NO 3 $15,000,000 $5,000,000 $5,500,000 8.1 3.6 4.5
Brandon Mebane 34 LAC 2 $10,550,000 $5,275,000 $5,250,000 5.2 3.8 1.3
Darius Philon 25 ARI 2 $10,000,000 $5,000,000 $5,000,000 6.1 3.6 2.4
Shamar Stephen 28 MIN 3 $12,450,000 $4,150,000 $4,900,000 5.0 3.0 2.0

The model does not like Sheldon Richardson's deal, the biggest of the bunch, though I'm not sure I'd agree. Richardson's only the 10th-highest paid tackle in the league, and while I can easily name ten better interior linemen in 2019 -- he's not the guy he was five years ago-- he's a very solid player. I suppose no one making double digits of millions of dollars per year can be a real value, but I'd rather pay Richardson $12.3 million than Malik Jackson $10 million. The model likes the Jackson deal better, in large part due to Jackson's superior sack totals. I suppose to each their own.

I also would not have pegged Malcom Brown, coming off of the worst season in his young career, as the best value. AV doesn't agree with that assessment, calling 2018 Brown's best season, but he had way fewer tackles, sacks, and general production last season. At just $5 million a year, he's worth the money, and should be the Saints' starting nose tackle immediately, but I would not have been so emphatic in calling him the best interior lineman contract this year.

Edge Rushers

Player Age Tm Yrs Dollars Average Guaranteed Proj AV Needed AV Age-Adj Val
Trey Flowers 26 DET 5 $90,000,000 $18,000,000 $40,000,000 8.4 12.7 -4.3
Za'Darius Smith 26 GB 4 $66,000,000 $16,500,000 $20,000,000 5.7 11.7 -6.0
Justin Houston 30 IND 2 $24,000,000 $12,000,000 $18,500,000 5.4 8.5 -3.1
Preston Smith 26 GB 4 $52,000,000 $13,000,000 $16,000,000 7.4 9.2 -1.8
Cameron Wake 37 TEN 3 $23,000,000 $7,666,667 $10,750,000 4.8 5.4 -0.7
Terrell Suggs 36 ARI 2 $10,000,000 $5,000,000 $7,000,000 7.4 3.5 3.9
Alex Okafor 28 KC 3 $17,900,000 $5,966,667 $6,805,000 5.4 4.2 1.2
Clay Matthews 33 LAR 2 $9,250,000 $4,625,000 $5,500,000 5.5 3.3 2.2
Shaquil Barrett 26 TB 1 $4,000,000 $4,000,000 $3,000,000 4.0 2.8 1.2
Anthony Chickillo 27 PIT 2 $8,001,000 $4,000,500 $2,915,000 4.3 2.8 1.4
Bruce Irvin 32 CAR 1 $4,000,000 $4,000,000 $1,500,000 4.1 2.8 1.3

If you had asked in January, I would have not expected Trey Flowers to become the second-highest paid defensive end in football. However, he became easily the crème de la crème of the position after DeMarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney, Frank Clark, and Dee Ford were all franchised. Supply-and-demand strikes its head again -- Flowers' 21 sacks don't even reach the top 50 over the past three seasons, but most of those 50 weren't coming available … at least, not on the free market. That sack number really isn't fair, either, considering New England's scheme. After quarterback, there's no position as important as a strong edge rusher, and Flowers has been very good for a couple seasons, now. Overpaid, maybe, but if you needed outside pass rush, you just weren't going to find it anywhere else.

And Flowers for just $1.5 million more per season than Za'Darius Smith makes Detroit's deal seem all the much sweeter. Smith basically has one season of success under his belt, his 8.5-sack season last year in Baltimore. That was good, not great, and was pretty clearly the high point of his Ravens career. So Green Bay going out and giving him $20 million in guarantees is ... not good. That's overpaying for a potential one-year wonder; I have a hard time justifying paying him more than, say, Jadeveon Clowney.

The numbers say the Terrell Suggs deal was a very good one, and I'd agree ... in theory. Even at age 36, Suggs still racked up 7.0 sacks and 15 quarterback hits; he has continued to be effective long after most of his contemporaries have hung up the boots. It's going to be really weird seeing him outside of a Ravens uniform. He's a great fit in Arizona's 3-4 scheme as a rotational player, but he seems like the kind of guy who should have been snapped up by a team looking to contend right now. Right guy, right system, right price ... maybe wrong locale.


Player Age Tm Yrs Dollars Average Guaranteed Proj AV Needed AV Age-Adj Val
C.J. Mosley 27 NYJ 5 $85,000,000 $17,000,000 $43,000,000 11.7 18.1 -6.3
Jordan Hicks 27 ARI 4 $34,000,000 $8,500,000 $17,000,000 7.0 9.0 -2.0
Anthony Barr 27 MIN 5 $67,500,000 $13,500,000 $15,900,000 8.9 9.5 -0.7
Kwon Alexander 25 SF 4 $54,000,000 $13,500,000 $14,250,000 7.2 14.4 -7.1
K.J. Wright 30 SEA 2 $14,000,000 $7,000,000 $6,500,000 6.1 4.9 1.1
Mark Barron 29 PIT 2 $12,000,000 $6,000,000 $5,750,000 6.2 6.4 -0.2
Thomas Davis 36 LAC 2 $10,500,000 $5,250,000 $5,250,000 6.1 3.7 2.4
Preston Brown 26 CIN 3 $16,500,000 $5,500,000 $4,800,000 6.2 5.8 0.4
Mychal Kendricks 28 SEA 1 $4,500,000 $4,500,000 $0 5.5 3.2 2.3

C.J. Mosley is now the highest-paid inside linebacker in the NFL, making $17.0 million per year. The highest-paid player before this offseason was Luke Kuechly on a $12.4 million deal, signed back in 2015, so I suppose we were due, but that is a big jump. Mosley's a very good run defender, and Gregg Williams will probably find all sorts of crazy ways to rush him at the passer, but he's pretty clearly a rung or two below the top inside linebackers in the league, at least. By far the best one available, but that's a very, very large number to live up to.

Still, I'd rather pay Mosley the biggest linebacker contract in history than be San Francisco and owe Kwon Alexander $13.5 million a year for four years. It's seems clear, at this point, that the 49ers like Their Guys and couldn't give a hoot about what the rest of the league things of in terms of value. Alexander's deal is structured so the 49ers can get out of it after 2019 if need be, so it's not quite as bad as it looks on first glance, but they have a lot of deals like that. They made Jimmy Garoppolo, at one time, the highest paid player in NFL history before he had played a full season. Kyle Juszczyk is the highest-paid fullback, more than doubling any other player at that position. Jerrick McKinnon reportedly got a much higher deal from San Francisco than any other team was even considering. They overpaid Malcom Smith and Pierre Garcon. They have had plenty of cap room to do these moves, and have structured them in team-friendly ways, but John Lynch definitely is not getting high marks for finding value anytime soon. Giving $13.5 million to an inconsistent player coming off an ACL tear is questionable at best -- even if it works out, and Alexander becomes an All Pro, there's no way this was the correct size of a contract to give.

The model likes the Thomas Davis signing the most. I'd be concerned about his age -- 36-year-old linebackers aren't exactly swarming the league -- but Davis has continued to be a strong linebacker even into his dotage. The Chargers needed help inside, and Davis is solid both against the run and in pass coverage, even against players nearly half his age.

Defensive Backs

Player Age Tm Yrs Dollars Average Guaranteed Proj AV Needed AV Age-Adj Val
Earl Thomas 30 BAL 4 $55,000,000 $13,750,000 $32,000,000 5.7 8.5 -2.7
Landon Collins 25 WAS 6 $84,000,000 $14,000,000 $31,000,000 6.3 8.6 -2.3
Tyrann Mathieu 27 KC 3 $42,000,000 $14,000,000 $26,800,000 5.8 8.6 -2.9
Kareem Jackson 31 DEN 3 $33,000,000 $11,000,000 $23,000,000 5.2 6.8 -1.6
LaMarcus Joyner 28 OAK 4 $42,000,000 $10,500,000 $16,700,000 5.0 6.5 -1.5
Justin Coleman 26 DET 4 $36,000,000 $9,000,000 $16,000,000 3.7 5.6 -1.8
Adrian Amos 26 GB 4 $36,000,000 $9,000,000 $12,000,000 5.1 5.6 -0.5
Tashaun Gipson 29 HOU 3 $22,500,000 $7,500,000 $11,250,000 5.3 4.6 0.7
Bradley Roby 27 HOU 1 $10,000,000 $10,000,000 $9,500,000 4.7 6.2 -1.5
Pierre Desir 28 IND 3 $22,500,000 $7,500,000 $9,000,000 3.8 4.6 -0.8
Robert Alford 30 ARI 3 $22,500,000 $7,500,000 $8,950,000 4.2 4.6 -0.4
Buster Skrine 30 CHI 3 $16,600,000 $5,533,333 $8,500,000 4.4 3.4 1.0
Steven Nelson 26 PIT 3 $25,500,000 $8,500,000 $7,500,000 4.3 5.2 -0.9
Kenny Vaccaro 28 TEN 4 $24,000,000 $6,000,000 $7,250,000 5.5 3.7 1.8
Bryce Callahan 27 DEN 3 $21,000,000 $7,000,000 $6,500,000 4.3 4.3 0.0
Eric Weddle 34 LAR 2 $10,502,050 $5,251,025 $6,251,526 7.0 3.2 3.7
Jason McCourty 32 NE 2 $10,000,000 $5,000,000 $5,500,000 4.2 3.1 1.1
Ronald Darby 25 PHI 1 $6,500,000 $6,500,000 $4,500,000 4.6 4.0 0.6
Jimmie Ward 28 SF 1 $4,500,000 $4,500,000 $3,000,000 3.4 2.8 0.6
Darqueze Dennard 27 CIN 1 $4,500,000 $4,500,000 $2,500,000 3.6 2.8 0.8

It has been a while since safety has been an in-demand position in free agency. Safeties really struggled to get any sort deal last year, but this year's talented crop was just too good for even budget-minded general managers to pass up on. None of the top three -- Earl Thomas, Landon Collins, or Tyrann Mathieu -- end up as value signings, but that's not what they're supposed to be; three of the top safeties in the game got paid more or less appropriately for top-flight free agents in high demand. Of the three, the model likes Collins best, mostly because he's 25 and presumably has his best years ahead of him. That is not the case for Earl Thomas, who hasn't played a full season since 2015, but he's still Earl freaking Thomas; when he has been on the field, he has been almost as dominant as ever. Mathieu is probably the farthest from his peak, but he's three years younger than Thomas. His deal is the worst value of the three -- and the worst value among safeties -- but these aren't Kwon Alexander-like stretches; these are normal overpays for outbidding other teams for a top player at his position.

There was, however, one more highly regarded safety who ended up not getting a large deal. Eric Weddle didn't wait until free agency started officially; he got a head start by being released on March 5, allowing him to sign on March 8, a full five days before the big three could even think about signing. I don't think Weddle is quite on a level with Collins or Thomas, but he's making less than half of what those guys will make going forward. The other guys are better long-term options considering Weddle's age, but you can count better box safeties than Weddle on one hand and still have some fingers left over. He's a great signing for a Rams team replacing Lamarcus Joyner.


14 comments, Last at 14 May 2019, 2:59am

1 Re: 2019 Free Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Such a breath of fresh air to see the Dolphins finally make it out of the bottom of these tables, even if it means they're out of them completely. I wasn't very happy with the Flores signing at first, but so far so good for the new GM/HC tandem.

5 Re: 2019 Free Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Yeah. AV does a good job for offensive lines ~in general~, but it really can't differentiate between individual offensive linemen on the same team. If a lineman started all 16 games for a team, and didn't make a Pro Bowl or an All-Pro list or anything like that, AV sort of assumes they were as good as the rest of the line. If a player was particularly good, they would have received a postseason award! If a player was particularly bad, they would have been benched!

Over the long run, that ends up working out OK (good players have long careers, bad players...don't), but you can see the potential pitfalls there. A player might start because there's no one better behind them, or because the coaches are stubborn or because they have a large contract, even if someone else on the team might be 'better'. That tends to work itself out over time, but it means that, at least for 2018, Bobby Hart had a ~career~ year, tied for second-best on the team behind only Joe Mixon. He and Clint Boling, as the two linemen to start all 16 games, both had 9 AV last year. That was, I would say, an ~outlier~ for Hart, who had never hit above 5 AV before.

If you believe that Hart had a career year last season, nearly twice as good as anything he's ever done before, then his contract totally makes sense. It does, uh, not exactly pass the eye test, though.

3 Re: 2019 Free Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

What I'm deducting from these tables is that the Packers' moves may be okay in the short term, but not in the long term. Life post-Rodgers will likely be incredibly painful unless they luck their way into a third straight HoF QB.

9 Re: 2019 Free Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Amos and the Smiths' deals are each 4 year contracts, and the Packers have basically tied themselves to Rodgers for the next three seasons - I think they actually timed those contracts up pretty well. Bigger concern is probably whether it was worth tying so much cap space up just in those 3 guys or if they could have spent that money more effectively for this last push with Rodgers.

7 Re: 2019 Free Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Despite his river boat gambler reputation, Ryan Pace was highly disciplined in FA this year. Buster Skrine, Cordell Patterson and HaHa Clinton-Dix are positive NPV picks. Last year’s moves were much more aggressive as he paid up for scheme fit (Taylor Gabriel, Tre Burton) and took injury risk (ARob) and double doinks (C. Parkey was a -2 age adj value)

What does the Khalil Mack signing look like after year 1? (He wasn’t included in last year’s analysis)

12 Re: 2019 Free Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

It would be interesting to see the numbers for Antonio Brown. While not a FA, he did manage to make himself effectively a FA, quashing a deal with Buffalo in favor of his preferred Oakland destination. And he got a huge raise in the deal. Will he be worth it?

I expect major age-and-QB-related regression from AB.

14 Re: 2019 Free Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

For positions like TEs and WRs, it doesn't look as if things like the new QB and scheme factored into the "approximation." And of course you couldn't factor in Indy's Pro Bowl TE Jack Doyle getting injured last year, but I'm just wondering what the Ebron signing looked like 12 months ago as opposed to today?

The WRs above were all pretty close to par, value-to-need-wise, but I wonder if a guy like Funchess who had an injured QB and was under pressure as the #1 last year will do better in Indy with a more creative OC, healthy QB (knock wood), and guys like HIlton and the TEs to leave Funchess unmolested by close coverage and maybe able to improve his catch rate, upping his production.