Posted March 15, 2013

NFL Free Agency: Best, worst contracts from Week 1

NFL Free Agency
Jared Cook has yet to play like an elite tight end, but he's being paid like one now. (Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Jared Cook has yet to play like an elite tight end, but he’s being paid like one now. (Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

As is always the case once free agency opens, teams have been throwing money around left and right. That rush to the checkout line does not guarantee success, however.

And, already, some franchises appear as if they have done a better job than others hunting for deals. We take a look at the best and worst contracts handed out thus far …

Free Agent Tracker & Grades

Best

Cliff Avril (two years, $15 million); Michael Bennett (one year, $5 million), Seattle: Was every other team asleep at the wheel here? Avril, arguably the premier free agent available this year, at $7.5 million per season was one thing. But Bennett on a deal that looks befitting a player trying to prove himself after injury?

The Seahawks obviously do not have an endless supply of available money under the cap, but consider the contracts of some of their most important players: Russell Wilson (cap hit of $681,000 in 2013), Bobby Wagner ($979K) and Richard Sherman ($601K), for example (all numbers courtesy overthecap.com). Those deals allow them to go after short-term solutions like the two pass rushers in a win-now attempt.

Eventually, Seattle will have to pay up to keep those players. But Avril and Bennett will be off the books by the end of 2014.

Steven Jackson (three years, $12 million, $4 million guaranteed), Falcons: Feel free to include Reggie Bush’s contract here, too, as the standard for running back deals — Bush received an average of $4 million over four years, with $9.5 million guaranteed.

Consider this on Jackson’s deal, though: Jackson, who will take over for Michael Turner as the Falcons’ No. 1 back, received less guaranteed money than did Shonn Greene ($4.5m) to be Chris Johnson’s backup.

Wes Welker (two years, $12 million, fully guaranteed): It’s rare to see a free agent ink a fully guaranteed contract, but the Broncos are pretty confident that they’re getting their money’s worth in Welker.

The longtime Patriot is not a No. 1 receiving option — he has to play a pretty specific role out of the slot — so he was never going to get paid like one. But his contract came in at a little less than what Brian Hartline just signed for in Miami; Welker made 44 more catches than Hartline last season.

Keenan Lewis (five years, $26 million, $11 million guaranteed), Saints: Pick just about any of the recently signed cornerbacks and drop them in here — Chris Houston, Dunta Robinson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Greg Toler and Derek Cox all came in at or around $5 million per season.

Lewis, though, stood above those players in the free-agent pecking order heading into March 12. So, even at $11 million guaranteed, the Saints have to feel like they scored a nice deal.

Chris Canty (three years, $8 million, $2.8 million guaranteed), Ravens; Cullen Jenkins (three years, $8 million, $3 million guaranteed), Giants: Jenkins, released by the Packers, actually signed prior to the start of full-fledged free agency — a benefit afforded him by his release in Philadelphia. Canty could have done the same after being cut by the Giants but needed until the 12th to find a home.

Either way, both deals are solid and cap-friendly. The Giants wanted to move on from Canty and, in Jenkins, found a reliable replacement at a nearly identical price.

Canty, meanwhile, helped the Ravens stem the tide against the ongoing exodus of former defensive starters. The 30-year-old appears to be a terrific fit for the Ravens’ 3-4 front (New York plays a 4-3).

Worst

Jared Cook (five years, $38.5 million, $19 million guaranteed), Rams: Jared Cook has never made more than 49 catches in a season and he has eight career touchdowns. Yet, the Titans are paying him like an elite tight end — a max of $7.7 million per season puts Cook right in the same neighborhood as Aaron Hernandez, Vernon Davis, Jason Witten and others.

So, the bar is high, to say the least.

Cook was one of the more intriguing players on the market, because there’s long been a belief that he could thrive outside Tennessee, where he was somewhat underutilized. The Rams had better hope that opinion is correct.

Jermon Bushrod (five years, $35.9 million, $22.5 million guaranteed), Bears: Bushrod should send Drew Brees a fruit basket or something for this deal.

Bushrod is an upgrade over J’Marcus Webb on Jay Cutler’s blindside, but anyone expecting him to be Joe Staley or Ryan Clady is going to be sorely disappointed. In fact, Bushrod was not even that much better than Webb last season — Bushrod rated out as the 44th-best tackle on Pro Football Focus; Webb at No. 47.

A lot of Bushrod’s success can be attributed to Brees’ penchant for getting rid of the football quickly. Cutler is not cut of the same fiber, in that regard. Bushrod will improve the Bears’ line, but he needs to be borderline elite to justify that contract.

Erik Walden (four years, $16 million, $8 million guaranteed), Colts: I … don’t get it.

Walden recorded 3.0 sacks in each of the past three seasons with Green Bay, so the Colts will use him as a pass-rushing linebacker in their 3-4. But Walden was probably the worst Packers’ defender last season, and possibly in 2011 as well. By all accounts, Green Bay barely even budged when Walden his free agency. Indianapolis might know something we all don’t, but this feels like a costly miss.

Mike Wallace (five years, $60 million, $27 million guaranteed), Dolphins: Before we get too far into this, the Dolphins had to have a No. 1 receiver. Without getting a legit top guy to play alongside Brian Hartline, this offense and QB Ryan Tannehill had no chance.

But, wow. The $27 million guaranteed alone is enough to make you take a step back, especially when considering how contentious Wallace’s final year in Pittsburgh was. And, broken down even further, the contract revealed that while Wallace will stand as a mere $3.25 million cap hit in 2013, he’ll count $17.25 million against it in 2014.

That is, to say the least, staggering. Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland has gone all-in to try to turn around this team. If they don’t win in 2013, though, Ireland likely will be out of a job, and the new general manager will inherit a bit of a salary mess.

Jerome Simpson (one year, $2.1 million), Vikings: That may not sound like a lot, until you consider that Simpson missed three games to suspension last season, caught just 26 passes for all of 274 yards, did not score a touchdown … and received a raise over his 2012 contract.

Maybe Minnesota panicked when it looked at its receiver depth chart, post-Percy Harvin.

76 comments
metalhead65
metalhead65

 you and your analytics lose any credibility by saying bushrod is not that much of a upgrade over webb. make up all the metrics you want but bears fans know how awful webb was. and I suspect brees will be missing bushrod and his overrated protection when he does not put up his usual super stats next season because he not being protected by bushrod. the bears fixed 2 of their biggest problems with those signings whether you agree or not. Cutler's improved play and production next season will be proof of that.

MikeBouchard
MikeBouchard

If Wes Welker isn't a number one receiving option, why then ,does he lead the league in catches every year?

OppieRations
OppieRations

This happens every year, the lesser teams pay more, the playoff teams pay less.

stratus5ss
stratus5ss

Really, you like Cliff Avril and Steven Jackson better than Jared Cook and Jermon Bushrod? Have you seen Avril anchor and play the run? How many carries do you think Jackson is going to be able to handle this season? Cook was one of the most sought after free agents out there. You are kidding yourself if you can't see Bushrod as a significant upgrade over any other Bears offensive tackle. Time will tell.

Dghs48
Dghs48

Hey Kevin:    Is that your real nose?  Was that a smile or just a gas pain?  Humor can be fun if you let it. 

kooldog222
kooldog222

why is the Wallace deal so bad, but the Harvin deal  good?, almost the same money minus all those draft picks.

 

Mike26
Mike26

The ONLY team making ouy like bandits is the RAI-DUHS.....just wait and see what happens in 2013!

Dghs48
Dghs48

Da Bears will soar.....Super Bowl in sight

DragonFly34
DragonFly34

Every team over pays players for potential alone.  Were I as fast as Wallace Id be up front getting paid just like him

RickDesper
RickDesper

What does it mean to say "Welker is not a #1  option."  He makes more catches than anybody else in the NFL.  He's hardly a role player.  

 

Strange definition of "#1."  

steelerman
steelerman

My observations about the Dolphin/ Wallace signing is this. It has the POTENTIAL to be a significant improvement but it is certainly not a done deal. Tannenhill is very young as is Wallace. Mr Wallace did not demonstrate maturity at Pittsburgh and often times was not a "TEAM" player and was not on the same page as a very mature Ben Rothliberger and the offensive scheme because he refused to show up for training camp and other reasons. Mr Tannenhill is not yet a mature and quality QB, although he certainly was a refreshing improvement and shows very desireable qualities he still needs time. The Loss of The running back Bush leaves the Dolphins a one dimensional team, Passing. Just hope that Wallace , although very fast stops dropping so many passes and gets on the same page with the young QB. Good luck.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

 @metalhead65 Funny to read a post claiming that the author lacks credibility because you don't agree with his metrics, yet your only rebuttal is a guess at what will happen next year.

Scramble
Scramble

 @MikeBouchard Because it's easier to throw a three yard pass than a fifteen yard pass. Flacco got credit for thirty yards on a one yard pass to Ray Rice.

M as in Mancy
M as in Mancy

 @stratus5ss

 He's going by overall numbers. Total sacks, hits, pressures, batted passes divided by the number of passing snaps played. Include rush ypc on the left side for rushing evaluation.

 

And there ya go, Webb is bad, but Bushrod isn't much better. Don't trust your lyin' eyes.

JJ2
JJ2

 @kooldog222 Because he wasn't a free agent, he was a trade.  This list is just FREE AGENTS.

NeMoeImya
NeMoeImya

 @kooldog222 It's a real mystery, but I'd put it down to Harvin being an elite player, while Wallace is just an above-average WR.

 

Or it could be something else.  But I'd bet it's that.

Kevin11
Kevin11

 @Dghs48 Duh bearsssssssss? Not very likely. Trying to live through your favorite team like most bearsssssssss fans just shows how LAME you are. 

 

Get back to the bar, your crappy beer is getting warm.

Mike26
Mike26

 @DragonFly34 But you SUCK  at catching the ball and are a primetime wuss!

RickDesper
RickDesper

But apparently Mike Wallace _is_ a "#1 receiver."  

 

Their production numbers would disagree.

burninnspear
burninnspear

 @steelerman #7 very mature? I know some ppl in the public who have meet him say different. Dolphins paid for speed. So be it. 

metalhead65
metalhead65

 @JoeCabot what's funny about ? are you a Bears fan? even if you are not there is no logical way you can say bushrod is not a huge up grade over webb. stop making up stats and actually watch the games and you will see the difference is night and day between the 2. as for my prediction for next year you are right it is only a guess but I think it is a pretty safe 1. what would be great is for the bears to release webb and have the saints sign him,then there would be no doubt who was responsible for brees being able to put up those stats.

stratus5ss
stratus5ss

@M as in Mancy @stratus5ss Oh man, now that is just disturbing. Thanks for your explanation.

BryanCustard1
BryanCustard1

@RickDesper

for some reason people cling to the idea that a No. 1 is an outside the numbers, big receiver (Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, etc.), not necessarily the guy who gets targeted the most. Welker works the middle of the field, and is essentially an extension of the running game, with short, almost guaranteed 4 and 5 yard pass plays on first or second down, coupled with a few trips up the seam to keep everyone honest. The production is there, but the definition is not necessarily about production, but more about positioning on the field. (Decker or Demariyous Thomas would be Denver's "No. 1", but push comes to shove, Welker will probably have more catches and a similar number of yards)

 

BtW- Mike Wallace will never be a No. 1 until he learns to run more than a 9 route or a bubble screen

steelerman
steelerman

Right, a no brainer. Welker is a known quantity. Wallace, a roll of the dice.

BryanCustard1
BryanCustard1

 @burninnspear  @steelerman The guy who has had to have two rape cases conveniently disapppear? Is that the guy he said was immature? And Tannehill may be young, but the kid has got poise, and showed some balls last season staring down the rush. He played well for a "normal" rookie, and should continue to progress towards being a really good QB.

steelerman
steelerman

I will qualify my statement. Big ben is a mature QB. His behavior off the field I will leave others to decide and will not pass judgement. I personally don't know the guy and don't  care for gossip.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

 @metalhead65  Again, you support my original point.  At least the guy has stats to support his argument even if you dismiss them as being made up..   You have nothing but a hope, prayer, and a guess.  By the way, the writer did say that Bushrod would be an improvement, just not one worthy of the big contract.

metalhead65
metalhead65

 @JoeCabot  @metalhead65 hey he is entitled to his opinion but what I disagreed is what he based it on. you do not have to be a bears fan to know that one of the biggest problems they have had is Cutler has no protection. even if you hate the guy you can't deny he is under constant pressure,don't believe it all you have to do is look at his sack totals since he has been with the bears. according to this writer though the guy they signed is not much of a improvement which is quite a ridiculous thing to say. while there is more to protecting the qb than the left tackle it is considered the key position to protecting him. and this writer dismisses bushrod's importance based on a bunch of made up fantasy stats. like I said I watch the games and no matter how fast he gets rid of the ball the qb still needs time to make his reads before he throws it which is something Cutler did not have. and then he goes on to say they wasted money on a tight end considered by most fans and experts as 1 of the top 2 available. considering the guy the Bears had last year had hands of stone bennent will be a huge upgrade and a solid investment. to sum it up this clown bashes the Bears for doing what anybody who watches football said they had to do to improve.

 

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

 @metalhead65  Don't know much about Bushrod.  What I know about Webb is that he was constantly being criticized by Bears fans, which may mean something or may not. given that Bears fans seem to be a self-anointed bunch of experts on football.  Just maybe though there was more to Drew Brees' success than one lineman?   The funny part though, is that I am always amused by posters who decide that a writer has no credibility because of a differing opinion. 

John129
John129

Good answer, Jordan was a #2 guard

burninnspear
burninnspear

 @BryanCustard1  @RickDesper Ireland relies all little too much on his coordinators and what they want in players. Our problem is the lack of Turnovers. If we created any last year we are a playoff team. Hence Dansby and Burnett gone. 

BryanCustard1
BryanCustard1

 @burninnspear  @RickDesper sounds good. I like Philbin and Tannehill, just not a fan of Ireland. He puzzles me sometimes, and Miami fans are always rational, until they start talking about the Jets or Pats lol ;)

burninnspear
burninnspear

 @BryanCustard1  @RickDesper again we had the money to get it done. Were handling our business this offseason (we just signed Gibson) to make a serious run in 2014. If it doesn't work out we just push the reset again. 

BryanCustard1
BryanCustard1

 @burninnspear  @RickDesper definitely an upgrade, and I like him on your team and as a player, just don't like the money. But, hopefully he finds himself the benefit of Tannehill's cannon of an arm and continued progession, and he lights it up for a couple years. I like the concept and team fit, just not the idea of paying Wallace that kind of money.

burninnspear
burninnspear

 @BryanCustard1  @RickDesper I don't have any control on how they plan to use him. As a fan who watched every game, there were times the plays over the top were there. From the Nannee/Moore/Binns group this in upgrade

RickDesper
RickDesper

 @burninnspear  @BryanCustard1 So five first downs that account for 50 yards of a TD drive, that's not important, eh?  

 

I thought receivers were paid to make receptions and move the ball.  If you get a TD, fine.  But most WRs don't make more than 10 TDs/year.  

BryanCustard1
BryanCustard1

 @burninnspear  @RickDesper fans may be realistic, management are the ones who don't seem to be. I like Wallace, but more at Hartline money than Megatron money.  Those numbers you project sound about right, but ask yourself is that really worth the money you pay for it?

burninnspear
burninnspear

 @BryanCustard1 So be it. If you don't think Wallace adds value with his speed to your team I don't know what to say. We had the space to get it done. If it doesn't work out after 2 years everyone will move on. 

BryanCustard1
BryanCustard1

 @burninnspear Sorry dude, Miami overpaid for a guy that runs two routes, drops a lot of passes, and generally pisses and moans all the time. Sounds like a guy I want to pay $17 million next season

burninnspear
burninnspear

 @BryanCustard1  @RickDesper every Miami fan expects around 70-1000-8. The national people and people like you are the ones who are mad. We don't expect a #1 type guy just someone who can open up PA and make 1 big play a game = 1 million.

BryanCustard1
BryanCustard1

 @RickDesper Essentially, there are not enough guys to who are true No. 1 receivers (big, tall, fast, guys that can beat the D over the top, or challenge them with clean route running). I count about 5-10 depending on what you consider prototypical size, so they force guys into the definition, like Mike Wallace. Historically, its a guy who was the No. 2 on his original team, but who is expected to be the No.1 on his new team (Alvin Harper, Peerless Price,just a couple of examples.). It drives me nuts, but some team will always pay a guy based on potential alone.

BryanCustard1
BryanCustard1

 @steelerman I hear you, Ireland is a puzzle to me, I just don't understand him half the time.  The Ted Ginn pick was ridiculous, and he generally whiffs in the draft. For Miami's sake, I hope they get a new guy in there, but we shall see.

steelerman
steelerman

Thankyou. BTW I am a hard core Steeler fan But live in Miami and have had season tickets for years. Since the Marino days. I Am a fan of the Dolphins, but do not like many of the decisions ownership and management have made over the years. These is the team that gave away WES WELKER for Ted Ginn Jr. A most unforgivable brain fart.

steelerman
steelerman

 @BryanCustard1  @burninnspear If that is all you have to contribute to a conversation about football, dig up dirt you know nothing about. I have nothing else to say to you

BryanCustard1
BryanCustard1

 @steelerman  my bad, should have read your qualification, it makes sense, and I fell like a buttfumbler lol, sorry sir

steelerman
steelerman

 @burninnspear A different playing philosophy is not an indication of lack of maturity. Ben Is used to extending plays by ad libing and running around. Haley wants him to stay in the pocket. I agree with Ben. His strength is his ability to ad lib and make big plays out of broken plays.

burninnspear
burninnspear

 @steelerman He doesn't have a mature relationship w Haley. But I heard that from the gossip.