2020 Free Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

New York Jets WR Robby Anderson
New York Jets WR Robby Anderson
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Is it just us, or was free agency somewhat muted in 2020?

While we saw our prerequisite annual "largest contracts ever signed" bonanza this offseason, most of that came through contract extensions rather than the free agency class. Christian McCaffrey's $16-million-a-year deal, Amari Cooper's $100-million contract, Hunter Henry becoming the first $10-million-a-year tight end, Laremy Tunsil's massive behemoth of a deal in Houston, even Darius Slay's huge contract extension in Philadelphia -- none of them happened on the open market. This is a big shift from last year's class, where money was flying left and right to players without contracts. Perhaps the threat of COVID-19 and the questionable status of the 2020 season has left teams a bit gun-shy about signing free agents.

At the moment, teams have "only" spent $2.4 billion on unrestricted free agents, Last year, they had spent $2.7 billion by this point, with an extra $100 million coming in May and June. Some of that missing $400 million will belong to the 150 or so free agents who typically sign in May or June of each year, and I'd expect 2020 to also make up the $45-million gap they have in guaranteed money compared to 2019, but still -- all things considered, it has been relatively quiet.

That's not to say some people didn't get paid, mind you. You may have heard about one Thomas Edward Patrick Brady pulling a typical move for an older New Englander and moving to Florida. Byron Jones' $82.5-million deal breaks the record for largest signed by a cornerback, beating out new teammate Xavien Howard's deal from last year. Teddy Bridgewater gets his chance to start, Robert Quinn is headed to the Windy City, Jack Conklin's a Brown -- just because the headlines often went elsewhere doesn't mean there's not a significant chunk of interesting deals to evaluate.

Breaking the bank for a game-changer makes sense when you have the cap room to do so. To generate that cap space, 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 (AV) 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. Free agency is one of the few times where players in demand have the upper hand in their negotiation with management, and if you want a superstar, you're going to have to open that checkbook. The point of good AAV contracts is to make room for the kinds of players you can't get for a bargain.

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, we want to limit our analysis to a reasonable number of contracts to talk about, featuring the players in whom most fans will be interested. 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. We're also only looking at deals for people who actually reached free agency; extensions, trades, and franchise tags offer a different set of negotiating positions, so we leave them out in the tables to get the most apples-to-apples comparisons.

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.


2020 Free-Agent Quarterbacks
Player Age Tm Yrs Dollars Average Guaranteed Proj
Tom Brady 43 TB 2 $50,000,000 $25,000,000 $50,000,000 15.8 18.0 -2.2
Philip Rivers 38 IND 1 $25,000,000 $25,000,000 $25,000,000 13.8 18.0 -4.2
Teddy Bridgewater 28 CAR 3 $63,000,000 $21,000,000 $33,000,000 5.0 15.1 -10.1
Marcus Mariota 26 LV 2 $17,600,000 $8,800,000 $7,500,000 8.4 6.3 2.1
Case Keenum 32 CLE 3 $18,000,000 $6,000,000 $10,000,000 7.5 4.3 3.2
Chase Daniel 33 DET 3 $13,050,000 $4,350,000 $5,000,000 4.6 3.1 1.5
Jameis Winston 26 NO 1 $1,100,000 $1,100,000 $148,000 12.0 0.8 11.2

As usual, we have to point out that systems like this find projecting quarterbacks to be somewhat difficult -- Taysom Hill excepted, your quarterback position is an all-or-nothing proposition, so there's not a middle class of just-above-average value being produced by a rotational quarterback or something. For starters, the expected value of a contract is roughly $Allofmymoneyplease, while they expected value of a backup is "neverseethefield" AV. Still, we do the best we can when trying to project value for players going from backup to starter, and vice versa.

Of the two aging $25-million men, the system does prefer Tom Brady over Philip Rivers. Rivers had the stronger performance last season in both AV and DVOA, but Brady was better in both 2017 and 2018. With only 416 pass attempts in NFL history from players 43 or older, there's not really a great aging curve for Brady as he begins his third decade of professional football. I would suspect his odds of bouncing back to be less than the model is expecting, but at the end of the day, he is still Tom Brady, and will have a better receiver corps to work with in Tampa Bay. I suspect our projected DVOA for Rivers will be higher when we crunch the numbers later this summer, but don't count out Tom Terrific.

Teddy Bridgewater gets slammed with a negative grade because of his injury history; Carolina's paying for the healthy player who showed up in New Orleans last season, not the one who struggled through injuries since 2015. If you prorate Bridgewater's five starts in 2019 and only use that as the projection, he would come out with a -1.4 AAV, which seems more in line with reality. Obviously, there's the danger that last year was something of a mirage, or that he could get injured once more, but 2019's performance is almost certainly going to be more in line with reasonable expectations than Rehab Teddy.

Among the backups, the system still likes Case Keenum the best among players who actually qualify for the tables, but we're cheating a bit and adding Jameis Winston to the list, because people would ask. Winston's performance in Tampa Bay projects to a value of $16.6 million a year -- but that's not a market that exists for quarterbacks. The only quarterbacks in the league making between $15 and $20 million a season are Jacoby Brissett and Taysom Hill. All established, non-rookie starters are making over $20 million, and journeymen like Ryan Fitzpatrick are down around $5.5 million. Winston kind of fits in an awkward spot there, but it's still stunning just how cheaply the Saints picked him up for; he is immediately the best backup quarterback in football.

Running Backs

2020 Free-Agent Running Backs
Player Age Tm Yrs Dollars Average Guaranteed Proj
Melvin Gordon 27 DEN 2 $16,000,000 $8,000,000 $13,500,000 7.1 7.8 -0.7
Todd Gurley 26 ATL 1 $5,500,000 $5,500,000 $5,500,000 7.7 5.3 2.4
Jordan Howard 25 MIA 2 $9,750,000 $4,875,000 $4,750,000 4.8 4.7 0.1

Hey, no absolutely terrible deals! Last year, the Jets were giving Le'Veon Bell $27 million guaranteed; no one sniffs that much this year.

I'm still not a fan of the Melvin Gordon deal. If I were a Broncos fan, I'd be more worried about Gordon's $13.5 million in guaranteed money than I would be about his $8-million-a-year average. Gordon's numbers collapsed last year after a holdout, and he's honestly very fortunate he managed to get more than a year's salary guaranteed. I'd also be worried about how much he's going to get used. These numbers assume a similar role in Denver's offense as he had in Los Angeles, and I doubt that Denver would want to reduce Phillip Lindsay's workload enough to give Gordon 20 touches a game; Royce Freeman only had 11 touches a game last season. For this deal to work out, Gordon has to go back to how he was in 2017 and 2018, and take a significant chunk of work from Lindsay -- which would mean he would have to be more efficient than Lindsay, which was not the case last year. So color me skeptical.

I actually do like the Todd Gurley deal, as a one-year rental. Because Gurley is still getting paid $5 million by the Rams (… theoretically …), the Falcons are getting away with a relatively cheap price for a guy who was an All-Pro just two years ago. And unlike the Broncos, they did have a need for someone to take the most touches in their backfield, with Devonta Freeman out of town. As long as the Falcons don't talk themselves into giving Gurley a massive extension, this was a solid pickup.

Wide Receivers

2020 Free-Agent Wide Receivers
Player Age Tm Yrs Dollars Average Guaranteed Proj
Emmanuel Sanders 33 NO 2 $24,000,000 $12,000,000 $10,000,000 7.0 7.5 -0.5
Robby Anderson 27 CAR 2 $20,000,000 $10,000,000 $12,000,000 5.2 6.3 -1.1
Randall Cobb 30 HOU 3 $27,000,000 $9,000,000 $18,000,000 5.8 5.7 0.1
Breshad Perriman 26 NYJ 1 $6,500,000 $6,500,000 $6,000,000 4.5 4.1 0.4

The Jets basically replaced Robby Anderson with Breshad Perriman, and while that means they traded away some certainty and consistency at the wideout position, they did end up saving enough money to make it worth their while. Anderson had a -4.2% DVOA last season, compared to Perriman's 16.5%, so that would appear, on paper, to be an upgrade. Now, Perriman is still something of an unknown project -- he had more than 500 receiving yards in December, which is about one-third of his career totals, and he has never had as many as 40 receptions in a year. Anderson has never had a positive DVOA, but he has also had worse quarterbacks than Jameis Winston throwing to him, and has shown he can handle more volume than Perriman can. The Panthers didn't massively overpay for Anderson and, again, the system is more confident in Anderson's ability to produce than Perriman's, but the difference between them is less than the $3.5 million more Carolina paid for Anderson.

Many pundits were surprised that the 49ers let Emmanuel Sanders go, as the 49ers' offense did step up a notch when Sanders was acquired in a trade. Some of that is less "Sanders is good" as much as it was "the 49ers had zero experienced wideouts," however. It should also be noted that Sanders missed time with ankle and Achilles injuries in 2017 and 2018, which knocks his value down a little bit. The Saints are paying less than a $1-million-per-year premium, so it's hardly an egregious overpay, but it might go a ways to explaining why the more cash-tight 49ers opted to go with a first-round rookie over Sanders in 2020.

Tight Ends

2020 Free-Agent Tight Ends
Player Age Tm Yrs Dollars Average Guaranteed Proj
Austin Hooper 25 CLE 4 $42,000,000 $10,500,000 $23,000,000 5.8 5.7 0.1
Jimmy Graham 33 CHI 2 $16,000,000 $8,000,000 $9,000,000 3.7 4.3 -0.6
Greg Olsen 35 SEA 1 $7,000,000 $7,000,000 $5,500,000 3.6 3.8 -0.2
Eric Ebron 27 PIT 2 $12,000,000 $6,000,000 $5,000,000 4.4 3.2 1.2
Tyler Eifert 29 JAC 2 $9,500,000 $4,750,000 $3,250,000 3.1 2.6 0.5
Jason Witten 38 LV 1 $4,000,000 $4,000,000 $3,500,000 2.9 2.2 0.7

Austin Hooper, the league's highest-paid tight end? That's a confusing sentence to type, but it more reflects the fact that Travis Kelce last got paid in 2016 and George Kittle is still on his rookie contract more than it does on Hooper. Hooper may not be hanging with the league's best at his position, but he did finish sixth in DYAR and 13th in DVOA last year; a solid pair of hands if not a game-changer. The fact that his deal comes out as more or less fair should get you prepared for the numbers Kelce and Kittle will bring down soon.

If the Steelers are hoping they'll get 2018 Eric Ebron's 13 touchdowns, they are going to be sorely disappointed. But Ebron for just $5 million guaranteed is a very solid pickup; he generally ranks somewhere in the 15-to-20 range among tight ends in DYAR, and he could easily earn a full-time spot over Vance McDonald. He'll drop too many passes to earn top tight end money, but he's making just over half of what Hooper's making. A good deal there.

I don't know what the Bears are doing with their tight ends, but anything that involves paying Jimmy Graham $8 million dollars a year in 2020 is not a good plan.

Offensive Line

2020 Free-Agent Offensive Linemen
Player Age Tm Yrs Dollars Average Guaranteed Proj
Jack Conklin 26 CLE 3 $42,000,000 $14,000,000 $30,000,000 7.5 14.2 -6.7
Andrus Peat 26 NO 5 $57,500,000 $11,500,000 $33,850,000 8.5 11.6 -3.1
Graham Glasgow 28 DEN 4 $44,000,000 $11,000,000 $26,000,000 6.4 11.1 -4.7
Andrew Whitworth 38 LAR 3 $30,000,077 $10,000,026 $12,500,000 10.8 10.1 0.7
George Fant 28 NYJ 3 $30,000,000 $10,000,000 $13,700,000 5.4 10.1 -4.7
Bryan Bulaga 31 LAC 3 $30,000,000 $10,000,000 $19,250,000 7.6 10.1 -2.5
Ereck Flowers 26 MIA 3 $30,000,000 $10,000,000 $19,950,000 5.7 10.1 -4.4
Connor McGovern 27 NYJ 3 $27,000,000 $9,000,000 $18,000,000 5.8 9.1 -3.3
Halapoulivaati Vaitai 27 DET 5 $45,000,000 $9,000,000 $20,000,000 3.6 9.1 -5.5
Ricky Wagner 30 GB 2 $11,000,000 $5,500,000 $5,750,000 7.0 5.6 1.4
Brandon Shell 28 SEA 2 $9,000,000 $4,500,000 $5,100,000 5.3 4.6 0.7
Wes Schweitzer 26 WAS 3 $13,500,000 $4,500,000 $4,000,000 5.6 4.6 1.0
B.J. Finney 28 SEA 2 $8,000,000 $4,000,000 $4,500,000 3.5 4.0 -0.5
John Miller 27 CAR 1 $4,000,000 $4,000,000 $2,000,000 5.6 4.0 1.6

Our numbers may be a bit slow in catching up to the offensive line market; a world where Laremy Tunsil just took down a $22-million-a-year extension and George Fant earns a $30-million contract requires a bit of recalibrating as the market catches up. For now, look more at the relative value between players listed here than at the overall values.

The Browns signed All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin to a three-year, $42-million deal. Wait, let me rephrase -- the Browns signed Jack Conklin, who made the All-Pro team as a rookie four years ago to a three-year, $42-million deal. That Conklin is more in the ballpark of what the Browns are paying for, and he bounced back to something approaching that level last season. In between, however, he had an ACL tear in 2017, and fought through an injury-plagued 2018 season as well. That 2016 All-Pro season is long enough ago that the model no longer considers it at all, so those two relatively middling seasons in between do knock him down as such. If you use only 2016 or 2019 in the model to evaluate the value of a healthy Conklin, he becomes the best right tackle in the class, and the best tackle period if you only look at players under 38 years old, Andrew Whitworth. He's still not a value at $14 million a year, but in a world where Trent Brown gets $16.5 million and Lane Johnson's up at $18 million, Conklin's deal makes a lot more sense than the model is giving it credit for.

The model likes Carolina's John Miller the best which ... ehhh. Miller's a starting-quality guard, but the kind that you're looking to improve upon if you're stuck with him. Miller and Wes Schweitzer, whose $4.5-million deal was also picked up as a bargain, are top-64 guards in the league, so it's not a disaster to be starting either, and filling a starting position for cheap does allow you to spend money elsewhere, so I get it. I'd point to Rick Wagner as my favorite offensive line deal of the summer, however; I feel like the Packers got a value on someone coming off of a down year, who has historically played at a higher level. Buy low, sell high and all that.

Interior Defensive Line

2020 Free-Agent Interior Defensive Linemen
Player Age Tm Yrs Dollars Average Guaranteed Proj
D.J. Reader 26 CIN 4 $53,000,000 $13,250,000 $20,250,000 6.5 9.2 -2.7
Javon Hargrave 27 PHI 3 $39,000,000 $13,000,000 $25,500,000 6.3 9.0 -2.7
Jordan Phillips 27 ARI 3 $30,000,000 $10,000,000 $18,500,000 5.5 6.9 -1.4
Michael Pierce 27 MIN 3 $27,000,000 $9,000,000 $18,000,000 6.4 6.2 0.2
Linval Joseph 31 LAC 2 $17,000,000 $8,500,000 $9,500,000 6.6 5.9 0.7
A'Shawn Robinson 25 LAR 2 $17,000,000 $8,500,000 $9,500,000 6.4 5.9 0.5
Ndamukong Suh 33 TB 1 $8,000,000 $8,000,000 $8,000,000 5.9 5.5 0.4
Michael Brockers 29 LAR 3 $24,000,000 $8,000,000 $14,000,000 5.8 5.5 0.3
Vernon Butler 26 BUF 2 $15,000,000 $7,500,000 $9,300,000 3.6 5.2 -1.6
Quinton Jefferson 27 BUF 2 $13,500,000 $6,750,000 $6,250,000 4.8 4.7 0.1
Gerald McCoy 32 DAL 3 $18,300,000 $6,100,000 $9,000,000 5.3 4.2 1.1
Rodney Gunter 28 JAC 3 $18,000,000 $6,000,000 $11,150,000 4.8 4.2 0.6
Maliek Collins 25 LV 1 $6,000,000 $6,000,000 $5,750,000 7.5 4.2 3.3
Nick Williams 30 DET 2 $10,000,000 $5,000,000 $4,900,000 2.6 3.5 -0.9
Danny Shelton 27 DET 2 $8,000,000 $4,000,000 $4,000,000 7.7 2.8 4.9

The two least-bargain-like deals (I try not to say "worst" here, because you're never going to get the best player available at a bargain) go to the two most expensive interior linemen -- D.J. Reader to Cincinnati on a $53-million deal, and Javon Hargrave moving to Philadelphia for $25.5 million guaranteed. I'll be honest: I'm not sure how much sense it makes to be paying nose tackles eight-digit salaries in the modern NFL, but Reader and Hargrave are two of the top ten at their position in the league. I'd judge the Eagles' deal to be slightly worse, as I'm not sure interior line was really a need with Fletcher Cox already there, but Hargrave did have 28 pass pressures to Reader's 14. I'm also sure that neither team was looking for a bargain when they went out to get Reader and Hargrave, and that they certainly accomplished.

The model loves the Lions replacing Snacks Harrison with Danny Shelton, though I'd always be a little wary that any one of Bill Belichick's old assistants would do a better job evaluating the Patriots' defensive talent than Belichick himself. Shelton had a phenomenal season in 2019 in New England, but he also had value as a two-down run-stopper in Cleveland. Maybe it shouldn't be leading the position by as much as it is, but $4 million a season for a solid run-stopper with experience in your system run is a good value.

Edge Rushers

2020 Free-Agent Edge Rushers
Player Age Tm Yrs Dollars Average Guaranteed Proj
Dante Fowler Jr. 26 ATL 3 $45,000,000 $15,000,000 $29,000,000 6.4 10.1 -3.7
Robert Quinn 30 CHI 5 $70,000,000 $14,000,000 $30,000,000 6.8 9.4 -2.6
Kyle Van Noy 29 MIA 4 $51,000,000 $12,750,000 $30,000,000 9.2 10.8 -1.6
Mario Addison 32 BUF 3 $30,450,000 $10,150,000 $15,250,000 5.6 6.8 -1.2
Shaq Lawson 26 MIA 3 $30,000,000 $10,000,000 $20,800,000 3.8 6.7 -2.9
Leonard Floyd 27 LAR 1 $10,000,000 $10,000,000 $10,000,000 7.4 6.7 0.7
Vic Beasley 28 TEN 1 $9,500,000 $9,500,000 $9,500,000 5.8 6.4 -0.6
Carl Nassib 27 LV 3 $25,250,000 $8,416,667 $16,750,000 4.5 5.7 -1.2
Emmanuel Ogbah 26 MIA 2 $15,000,000 $7,500,000 $7,500,000 4.8 5.0 -0.2
Devon Kennard 29 ARI 3 $20,000,000 $6,666,667 $12,250,000 6.7 4.5 2.2
Stephen Weatherly 26 CAR 2 $12,500,000 $6,250,000 $6,250,000 3.2 4.2 -1.0
Jordan Jenkins 26 NYJ 1 $5,000,000 $5,000,000 $0 7.2 3.4 3.8
Kyler Fackrell 28 NYG 1 $4,600,000 $4,600,000 $3,500,000 3.9 3.1 0.8

The Kyle Van Noy deal is difficult to judge, because he's kind of a hybrid edge rusher/inside linebacker, and thus kind of falls into a no man's land here. Judged as an edge rusher, his $30 million guaranteed is a very solid deal for Miami; he had 46 pass pressures last season, 12th-most in the league on a team where a lot of guys were playing a lot of roles. On the other hand, Van Noy could also be judged as an inside linebacker, where his solid skills against the run come into play. $15 million guaranteed at signing for a top-20 edge rusher is a moderate bargain; $15 million guaranteed at signing for an inside linebacker is significantly more questionable. I'd subjectively split the difference, say that the Dolphins mildly overpaid for a Patriots defender that Belichick was more than happy to let go, and still point out that I'd rather have Van Noy at $12.75 million a year than Robert Quinn at $14 million or Dante Fowler at $15 million.

I am very surprised Jordan Jenkins drew little attention from the rest of the league. He had eight sacks last year and seven the year before that; he's not someone who is going to put a team over the top, but you could do far worse if you were looking for someone to rush the passer 20 to 25 times per game. With no significant bites on the open market, Jenkins returns to the Jets for a one-year, $5-million deal, which is less than what a first-round rookie would be making.


2020 Free-Agent Linebackers
Player Age Tm Yrs Dollars Average Guaranteed Proj
Cory Littleton 26 LV 3 $35,250,000 $11,750,000 $22,000,000 7.3 11.9 -4.6
Joe Schobert 26 JAC 5 $53,750,000 $10,750,000 $21,500,000 8.0 10.9 -2.9
Blake Martinez 26 NYG 3 $30,750,000 $10,250,000 $19,000,000 8.5 10.4 -1.9
Jamie Collins 30 DET 3 $30,000,000 $10,000,000 $18,000,000 8.9 10.1 -1.2
Nick Kwiatkoski 27 LV 3 $21,000,000 $7,000,000 $13,750,000 5.7 7.1 -1.4
Christian Kirksey 28 GB 2 $13,000,000 $6,500,000 $4,000,000 5.8 6.6 -0.8
A.J. Klein 29 BUF 3 $18,000,000 $6,000,000 $11,300,000 6.5 6.1 0.4
De'Vondre Campbell 27 ARI 1 $6,000,000 $6,000,000 $6,000,000 7.5 6.1 1.4

The Raiders certainly needed to improve their terrible linebacker corps. The model thinks they overpaid for both Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski, but after watching Nicholas Morrow and Tahir Whitehead last season, you can understand why. For the record, if you only use Littleton's last two years as part of the data -- only the seasons he was a starter -- then Littleton jumps over everyone not named Jamie Collins in the projected AV department, which makes his deal look significantly better.

The De'Vondre Campbell signing is interesting. The model likes the move for Arizona, as he was a durable, every-down player with experience at both weak- and strongside linebacker and in nickel; $6 million a year isn't too bad for a player like that. But that deal is very misleading. With incentives, Campbell's deal actually could go up to $8.5 million, which already would put him into negative values. Then, on top of that, Campbell's deal is actually a five-year deal which voids after one as part of some salary cap trickery, meaning Campbell will cost the Cardinals $4 million against the cap in 2021 whether he's on the team or not, on top of whatever they'll end paying Campbell or whoever else starts for them that year.  I'm not sure I'd be prioritizing piling up future dead money for a player of Campbell's credentials; always read the fine print on a contract before passing judgment.

Defensive Backs

2020 Free-Agent Defensive Backs
Player Age Tm Yrs Dollars Average Guaranteed Proj
Byron Jones 27 MIA 5 $82,500,000 $16,500,000 $54,375,000 6.1 9.7 -3.6
James Bradberry 27 NYG 3 $43,500,000 $14,500,000 $31,980,000 4.9 8.5 -3.6
Trae Waynes 28 CIN 3 $42,000,000 $14,000,000 $15,000,000 4.9 8.2 -3.3
Kendall Fuller 25 WAS 4 $40,000,000 $10,000,000 $23,500,000 3.5 5.9 -2.4
Desmond Trufant 29 DET 2 $20,000,000 $10,000,000 $14,000,000 4.6 5.9 -1.3
Chris Harris 31 LAC 2 $17,000,000 $8,500,000 $9,500,000 6.0 5.0 1.0
Malcolm Jenkins 32 NO 4 $32,000,000 $8,000,000 $16,250,000 5.4 4.7 0.7
Eric Murray 26 HOU 3 $18,000,000 $6,000,000 $10,750,000 3.2 3.5 -0.3
Vonn Bell 25 CIN 3 $18,000,000 $6,000,000 $3,000,000 4.5 3.5 1.0
Josh Norman 32 BUF 1 $6,000,000 $6,000,000 $3,000,000 3.9 3.5 0.4
Anthony Brown 26 DAL 3 $15,500,000 $5,166,667 $8,000,000 3.6 3.0 0.6
Sean Davis 26 WAS 1 $4,000,000 $4,000,000 $2,000,000 3.0 2.4 0.6
Juston Burris 27 CAR 2 $8,000,000 $4,000,000 $2,100,000 3.2 2.4 0.8
Mackensie Alexander 26 CIN 1 $4,000,000 $4,000,000 $1,500,000 3.0 2.4 0.6

We're going to have to start splitting safeties and cornerbacks in future editions of this piece if current trends continue. Four of the five safeties signed here had a positive value, with only Eric Murray coming in just under average. No one in the NFL wants to pay safeties anymore, it seems; it has become the least-valued position in football, special teams excluded. Meanwhile, all the big cornerback deals come out negative -- they probably are being paid a series of premiums compared to their prior performance, but some of that score is due to being evaluated with the same baseline as the safeties.

I really do think the Chargers may get a heck of a deal in Chris Harris. He was not the same Chris Harris of old last year in Denver, but he was asked to play nearly all of his snaps on the outside. Harris used to be able to play the slot and outside with equal aplomb, but he has been better as a slot corner in each of the past few seasons -- I think the Broncos were using him wrong. The problem is, the Chargers already have a slot corner in Desmond King. So, does Harris get to go inside to the slot and see if he can't rejuvenate his career, or do the Chargers stick him where he struggled in 2019 and hope a 31-year-old corner can find a fountain of youth? The former seems like the higher chance of getting value out of Harris, but how much sense that makes with King already there is an open question.

I get why the Dolphins would overpay for Byron Jones. He's not quite a top-ten corner, but he had a 54% success rate and allowed just 6.1 yards per pass, eighth among those with at least 50 targets. There are questions on how he'd handle covering No. 1 receivers, but those are questions that you get a chance to answer when you have numbers like that. James Bradberry being anointed the co-best player available at the position does give me pause, however. His reputation exceeds his advanced stats, he only has four interceptions the last two years despite being targeted 210 times, and he's coming off of a 2019 that is notably stronger than his previous seasons. Buyer beware, at least somewhat.


30 comments, Last at 08 May 2020, 8:08pm

#1 by Will Allen // May 06, 2020 - 3:52pm

Xavier Rhodes?

Points: 0

#4 by Bryan Knowles // May 06, 2020 - 4:28pm

Misses the $4 million cutoff; it ends up as a +4.0 deal because it's very cheap and Rhodes was really good two seasons ago; it's not fully pricing in his fall off of a cliff the year before.

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#2 by Raiderfan // May 06, 2020 - 3:58pm

“Hunter Henry becoming the first $10-million-a-year tight end” Didn’t Graham already do that? Twice?

“a Patriots defender that Belichick was more than happy to let go” Was he happy to let him go, or was he unable to match that contract? I think it was the latter.

Points: 0

#5 by Bryan Knowles // May 06, 2020 - 4:35pm

You're absolutely correct re-Graham; the comment should be "more than $10 million-a-year".  It will be fixed.


As for Van Noy, perhaps "didn't feel was worth the price" might be a better way to put it; that's Belichick's entire modus operandi -- get players for cheap, get the most out of them, move on when they become expensive, rinse, repeat.  If the Pats felt that Van Noy was integral, they could have figured out a way to keep him.  But the Patriots do this every year -- let their star defenders test the free agent market, and bring back the ones that are willing to come back for less than market value.

Points: 0

#3 by Pat // May 06, 2020 - 4:05pm

"but it's still stunning just how cheaply the Saints picked him up for; he is immediately the best backup quarterback in football."

The best backup? Best valued backup, absolutely. A non-rookie backup quarterback for $1M is already cheap, and for one who's started 16 games multiple times, it's nuts. But plenty of the other backups around the league would strike me as "better" in an absolute sense, as in, I'd probably rather have Dalton or Keenum as my starter rather than Winston. Chicago might have a better backup quarterback too (although not a better starter/backup combo, obviously), and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. I'm not saying Winston's far worse than those guys or anything, but it's certainly close enough that I wouldn't say Winston's "immediately the best backup."

Also was this article done a few days ago or did Dalton just get left off? 

Points: 0

#10 by takeleavebelieve // May 06, 2020 - 11:29pm

Volatile QBs with high-upside (e.g. 2013 Josh McCown) make the best backups, especially with a solid supporting cast. When Jameis is on, he’s as good as anybody. And when he’s off... well, your backup is only out there because the starting QB can’t be, so realistically, you were probably going to lose anyway.

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#12 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 06, 2020 - 11:44pm

Ryan FitzPatrickSimmonsGerald will re-acquire his long-reign as the league's best backup as soon as Tua begins starting in the second week of the pre-season.

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#6 by Bryan Knowles // May 06, 2020 - 4:47pm

I stand by calling Winston the best backup in football.  Your mileage may vary based on risk/reward, but he has an average DVOA of 2.4% over the past three seasons (weighting each year by pass attempts, to be fair).   That's better than Dalton's -5.8%, Trubisky's -7.7% or Foles' -15.7%.  Keenum's 3.0% does beat out Winston, but his 2017 28.1% DVOA is a clear career outlier, while Winston has been the more consistent performer throughout his career.  Obviously, one stat isn't enough to determine which quarterback is best or not, and you can argue about supporting casts and schemes and all that, but I'd argue that based on their overall quality, Winston should be a starting quarterback; the other four should not.

And this was done before this weekend and only published today, because the author had to unexpectedly move!  Dalton also comes in well under the $4,000,000 threshold, but he'd come in at a +6.4 AAV if he had made the main tables.


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#9 by theTDC // May 06, 2020 - 9:11pm

Case Keenum's excellent DVOA in 2017 comes entirely from his fantastic Vikings supporting cast. His awful DVOA in 2016 comes entirely from his supporting cast with the awful Fisher-era Rams. The fact that we have such a clear and obvious example of the value of supporting cast makes defending Winston per DVOA kind of suspect. The guy has had Mike Evans to throw the ball to for his entire career, as well as a few other weapons, and his DVOA is average. 

More importantly, just watching Winston play, I mean the guy is like 28 years old and yet he still just loves to throw the ball to the other team. He also has a terribly inaccurate arm. The guy from the eye test is just nowhere near "slightly above average". Not even close.

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#13 by Yu Narukami // May 07, 2020 - 2:05am

Weird advanced stat: Jameis Winston is just 26 years old.

(and Joe Burrow is going to be 24 during the 2020 season) 

Points: 0

#14 by dryheat // May 07, 2020 - 8:00am

He's also been playing football while not being able to see well down the field.  I wouldn't be surprised if LASIK alone gets Winston into top 15 territory.  Of course, unless Brees gets hurt, he won't get much chance to show it.

Points: 0

#15 by Pat // May 07, 2020 - 9:57am

I find it super-hard to believe that Winston's problems were in any way related to something that humans have been diagnosing and fixing forever. It's as if someone would come out and say "it turns out our offensive lineman didn't know that working out builds up their strength, now that they know, they'll be unstoppable!"

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#18 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 07, 2020 - 12:59pm

Wade Boggs and LeBron James didn't know they had vision issues until they checked it out; both had LASIK.

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#21 by Mike B. In Va // May 07, 2020 - 9:40pm

Wilson Ramos was an average catcher before getting Lasik. It makes a difference .

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#19 by dryheat // May 07, 2020 - 1:12pm

I used to play competitive basketball and had no idea I was nearsighted.  I thought that everybody else had the same vision as I did.  I was amazed when I first put on glasses of what human eyesight was supposed to look like.  I expect many people have gone through the same discovery.

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#22 by Bobman // May 08, 2020 - 1:38am

Sadly, as we get older, many of us go through the opposite process.  Man, I could read street signs a full block away, now I ask my kids "Is that Willis Street? Looks like a W and a couple tall letters in the middle.  Williams maybe?  I think we're lost."  When I was 50 a handful of years ago I griped to my doctor about it. "I want perfect vision again."  He said "you want somebody messing around in your eyeballs with a laser just so you don't have to wear glasses?  What happens if there's a miniscule mistake? Sure you get a big fat malpractice settlement to enjoy while you're freakin' blind. Plus at high altitudes, those surgeries have a reputation for failure." (I climb mountains) 

Pretty sure he was right, but it doesn't mean I don't miss good eyesight. A lot.

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#29 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // May 08, 2020 - 1:54pm

My 75 year old father has been wearing glasses since he was three years old.  He got laser surgery two years ago, and hasn't worn glasses since.  He had one far-sighted eye and one near-sighted eye, but apparently the technology has improved to the point that they could correct both.

I've almost - almost! - become used to seeing him not wearing glasses after seeing him wear them my whole lifetime.

Anyway, if a 72 year old can go through the surgery on both eyes and come out with better vision, I wouldn't necessarily rule it out in your 50s.

Full disclosure, though: I'm in my 50s, have been wearing glasses since the second grade, and haven't checked out corrective surgery.  Not because I'm afraid of the surgery, though, but because I have a heard to envisioning not wearing glasses.

Points: 0

#30 by almon // May 08, 2020 - 8:08pm

I did PRK (predecessor to Lasik) when I was 30, loved it. Then got the bright idea of doing it again last year at 51 years old. Doctor said “hey bro wanna get perfect vision in both eyes but have to wear reading glasses? Or monovision so one eye is far sighted and the other is near sighted so you can see both?” I went for monovision. It ain’t perfect, but I’d do it again...as long as you don’t mind the first month when I almost rear ended people twice because my depth perception sucked. It’s better now, so it’s safe for you to share the road with me...

Points: 0

#16 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // May 07, 2020 - 9:58am

But he does get a chance to show Peyton in practices that he can be Brees' eventual replacement, which has to be a bit part of the upside for him to taking this contract.

There's also a possibility that working with Brees and standing on the sideline for a year helps the mental side of his game.  There's no guarantee that helps him to become a better decision-maker around protecting the ball, but he's young enough (and young enough relative to Brees) that he may yet learn to improve in this area.

Points: 0

#17 by Joseph // May 07, 2020 - 10:04am

To me, whether Brees plays all the games or not, the biggest tell will be what Payton and the Saints front office decide to do AFTER the season. They just committed some big coin to Taysom Hill, and Payton has praised his QB ability in public. So, since Winston is on a 1 year contract--what do the Saints do in the offseason? Do they try to re-sign him or do they let him go without even attempting to retain him? Do they try to extend him in the middle of the year? 

IMO, if the Saints try to retain Winston in any reasonable way, either he has progressed, or Hill has regressed, or both.

Points: 0

#24 by horn // May 08, 2020 - 12:15pm

Playoff DVOA would seem important, no? Foles started a lot more than 3 games during the SB run. I count 6.  And you should throw out the meaningless DAL game week 17 that season where he played less than a quarter. And then 2 more playoff starts the following year. 

I mean, counting that DAL game and NOT the Super Bowl or NFCC win seems like the very definition of GIGO for this exercise. He won 4 playoff games and should have won a 5th if Alshon doesn't let it go through his hands in the RZ for an INT to end the game. 

Anyone who'd prefer Jameis coming off the bench in a playoff game over Nick is sadly mistaken. Using stats, results or the eye test.

Points: 0

#26 by theslothook // May 08, 2020 - 12:42pm

And yet, his playoff magic residue seems confined to Philadelphia. I mean...did you watch any of his time in Jacksonville? Probably not because its the Jaguars, but I can give you the cliff notes. He was pretty bad. 

Points: 0

#27 by Bryan Knowles // May 08, 2020 - 1:38pm

Or his time in St. Louis, for that matter.

I would agree that someone who is inconsistently good -- like Foles, who has shown stretches of good-to-very good play (that playoff run, part of the 2013 season) -- has a place; I'd take the upside over someone who is consistent but bad (spoilers for the Chicago chapter in FOA 2020!).  But -- and I'll admit I haven't run the precise numbers -- I'm fairly confident Winston has played more good football games than Foles has, playoffs included, both in terms of raw numbers and in percentage of starts.

Points: 0

#7 by ssereb // May 06, 2020 - 4:55pm

How does the model handle position changes in the last three years, e.g. Ereck Flowers moving from tackle (butt of jokes) to guard (serviceable starter)?

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#8 by mehllageman56 // May 06, 2020 - 5:15pm

I think Jenkins wanted to resign with the Jets because he likes Gregg Williams' system.  He's definitely a bargain though, and the Jets are lucky to have him since they have very little otherwise at the edge position, to the point where one can argue Jamal Adams is their best edge defender.

Points: 0

#11 by Mountain Time … // May 06, 2020 - 11:44pm

The Ravens got a steal in Derek Wolfe for $3M next year. The Broncos re-signed Shelby Harris for the same amount, which is also a great value. I thought they would both be way more sought-after.

Points: 0

#20 by Fishbol // May 07, 2020 - 3:31pm

Where does Darius Slay's new deal fall?

Points: 0

#23 by Bobman // May 08, 2020 - 1:42am

I know it was a trade, but they then signed him long-term making it very similar to a FA deal.  How does that work out?  I suspect not quite great, since the price is so steep. But he SHOULD be so much better than anybody else they have in the middle that even if it's negative on the scale, Reich will be just fine with it.

I'd love to see a matrix of values for Clowney at $12M, $14M, $16M, $18M....

Points: 0

#28 by Bryan Knowles // May 08, 2020 - 1:47pm

The reason why Buckner's not an apples-to-apples comparison is because he didn't get to negotiate on the open market, so there's a slightly different set of forces at play, there.  Still, it's not a million miles off.  His deal would come in at -3.3 AAV; that drops to -1.2 AAV if you assume you're going to get last year's production as a regular thing from here on out.  

The model sees that Clowney dropped to just three sacks last season, and wonders if the injuries and inconsistent play will continue -- the break-even point is roughly $11 million per year; it's closer to $15-16 million per year if you just go off of 2016-2018's numbers.

Points: 0

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