The start of NFL free agency comes with enough numbers to make a Princeton mathematician dizzy. But not all of the contract numbers you hear during this frenzied time are what they seem to be.
Take, for example, the relatively close cases of free-agent cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and A.J. Bouye. The former signed with the Patriots for five years and $65 million. The latter signed with the Jaguars for five years and $67.5 million. At first glance, it appears that Bouye “beat” Gilmore, as his $13.5 million average annual salary is a half-million higher and moves the market for future cornerback deals the way Janoris Jenkins moved it for these guys a year ago.
But look more closely, and you find Gilmore’s to be the better deal. It comes with $40 million in injury guarantees and $31 million fully guaranteed at signing, including an $18 million signing bonus and fully guaranteed salaries of $4.5 million in 2017 and $8.5 million in 2018. (Also, $9 million of his $9.5 million 2019 salary is guaranteed against injury at time of signing.)
Bouye’s deal comes with “only” $26 million in guarantees: a $10 million signing bonus and fully guaranteed salaries of $3 million this year and $13 million in 2018. There is no injury guarantee for 2019. Gilmore got more up front and more security beyond 2018. Of the two, his is closer to a “true” three-year deal, as opposed to the two-year deals most of these free-agent contracts really are. Gilmore’s deal comes with even more protection, as $5 million of his 2019 salary converts to a full guarantee if he is on the roster on the third day of the 2019 league year. The Patriots would have a small window — basically the month between the Super Bowl and the start of the 2019 league year — if they wanted to cut him healthy and avoid paying him any 2019 money.
As such, even saying nothing of his greater likelihood of playing in the Super Bowl during his contract, Gilmore got the better contract.
The purpose of this story is to help you sort through some of the deals that have been signed so far and figure out who did the best (and, in some cases, the worst). Please note that this is not intended as a comprehensive list, as I haven’t even seen all the deals yet. This is a sampling of the structures I have seen, and there are too many of those to go through them all. If you don’t see your favorite player’s deal here, or if there’s one you’re curious about, hit me up on Twitter at @DanGrazianoESPN, and I’ll try to help you out there.
Meanwhile, here’s an attempt to sort through some of what free agency has wrought so far:
1. The offensive line market went nuts
Desperation drives a lot of what happens in free agency. There’s an offensive line shortage in the league, and this year’s draft is short on solutions. If you were an offensive tackle on this market, you are now very rich. The Vikings gave Riley Reiff $26.3 million in full guarantees on his five-year, $58.75 million deal and Mike Remmers $10.5 million in full guarantees on his five-year, $30 million deal. After offensive line woes destroyed the Vikings’ very promising 2016 season, they were determined to fix the issues. Reiff, who was moved from left tackle to right tackle in Detroit this past season, is a bit of a Hail Mary as a long-term left tackle solution. But of the free-agent tackles, he was the one with the most left tackle experience, and again, the Vikings were desperate.
On and on it went with offensive line. The Rams got Andrew Whitworth out of Cincinnati by guaranteeing him a $2.5 million 2018 roster bonus in addition to this year’s $5 million signing bonus and $7.5 million salary. Russell Okung, who acted as his own agent a year ago and got smoked by the Broncos in contract negotiations, used an adviser this time and secured a fully guaranteed $25 million over the first two years of his four-year, $53 million deal with the line-needy Chargers. Right tackle Rick Wagner got a $14.5 million signing bonus and a total of $29.5 million in injury guarantees on his five-year, $47.5 million deal with the Lions.
The guards cleaned up too. Kevin Zeitler’s deal with the Browns is a whopper and is one of the few that looks like a surefire three-year contract. Zeitler got $60 million for five years, including a $12 million signing bonus and a fully guaranteed $6 million 2017 salary. His $10 million 2018 salary is fully guaranteed against injury, and $5 million of it is fully guaranteed at signing. The rest becomes fully guaranteed on the 10th day of the 2018 league year. Of his $10 million 2019 salary, $3.5 million is guaranteed against injury right now and becomes fully guaranteed if he’s still on the roster on the third day of the 2018 league year. As such, Zeitler gets $23.5 million in guarantees by the third week of March 2018.
Ronald Leary got his 2017 and 2018 salaries fully guaranteed from Denver — $18.65 million fully guaranteed at signing. Larry Warford scored an $8.4 million signing bonus and $17 million in full guarantees from the Saints. Zeitler’s new teammate, Cleveland guard Joel Bitonio, got a whopper of a contract extension that added $10 million in cash to his 2017 income plus a fully guaranteed $5.5 million 2018 salary and an injury-guaranteed $6.5 million 2019 salary.
It’s a good year to be an offensive lineman, for sure.
2. The pass-catcher market did not
Late in the week at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, I was told that the markets for free-agent wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Terrelle Pryor weren’t developing the way those players had expected and that DeSean Jackson might be the wideout who did the best in free agency. This turned out to be the case.
Jackson’s deal with the Bucs is for three years and $33.5 million, including $20 million fully guaranteed at signing: his $6.5 million 2017 salary, a $6 million 2017 roster bonus and $7.5 million of his $11 million 2018 salary. That’s a little bit better in terms of guarantees than what Jackson’s former Washington teammate, Pierre Garcon, got from the 49ers. Garcon’s deal is technically a five-year, $47.5 million deal, but only $17 million of it is fully guaranteed at signing, and the final three seasons are each team options that have to be exercised before the end of the previous league year.
Meanwhile, Jeffery’s one-year deal with the Eagles, originally reported as a $14 million deal, is actually a $9.5 million deal. It’s a $7.75 million signing bonus, a $1 million 2017 salary and a $750,000 workout bonus. The other $4.5 million comes via incentives tied to receptions, yards, touchdowns and postseason honors such as All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections.
Pryor turned down a long-term offer from Cleveland, and the Browns then gave $10.5 million in full guarantees and $17 million in injury guarantees to Kenny Britt. Pryor settled for a one-year, $6 million deal from Washington. This was originally reported as an $8 million deal, but $2 million of it is listed as incentives “not likely to be earned,” so it’s really only $6 million.
As for the tight ends, it appears the Colts’ Jack Doyle, of all people, set the market early with a three-year $18.9 million deal that guarantees him $7.5 million at signing and lets him hit the market again at 30. That isn’t anything earth-shattering, but it became the benchmark as the market unfolded.
Jared Cook wanted more from the Packers than Doyle got from the Colts, so Green Bay turned instead to Martellus Bennett, who accepted $6.3 million in guarantees on a three-year, $21 million deal. The fact that Bennett barely beat Dion Sims’ deal with the Bears (three years, $18 million with $6 million in full guarantees) tells you where the tight end market is, and that could be because there are so many good ones coming out in this year’s draft.
3. Still waiting on running back …
Kyle Juszczyk’s deal in San Francisco is the eye-popper so far, reported as $21 million for four years with $10.5 million in guarantees. I haven’t seen the breakdown on that one yet, but if those are the numbers, it’s clear that Kyle Shanahan has some creative ideas about ways to employ the former Baltimore fullback in his offense.
But not many running backs have signed. Danny Woodhead got a three-year, $8.8 million deal ($3.25 million fully guaranteed) in Baltimore, but we’re still waiting on Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy, LeGarrette Blount, Latavius Murray and Jamaal Charles. That glut of veterans, plus the impact backs available in April’s draft, portend a depressed market for the position.
4. … and defensive tackle
Brandon Williams got a nice deal to stay in Baltimore. It’s five years and $52.5 million with $24.5 million in full guarantees at signing: a $12.5 million signing bonus and fully guaranteed salaries of $3.5 million in 2017 and $8.5 million in 2018. Compare that to the deal Damon Harrison got from the Giants a year ago, and it’s a higher average annual value ($10.5 million to Harrison’s $9.25 million), a higher signing bonus ($12.5 million to $8 million) and more guarantees ($24.5 million to $20 million).
That’s a pretty big jump for the defensive tackle market in just one year, and the fact that guys such as Johnathan Hankins, Dontari Poe and Bennie Logan still haven’t signed indicates that teams (other than Baltimore) might not be fully comfortable with it.
5. Calais Campbell cleaned up
Agent Tom Condon had a big week, securing Zeitler’s deal, a big deal for Matt Kalil in Carolina and the Campbell deal in Jacksonville, which is huge for a guy who turns 31 in September.
Campbell’s deal is for four years and $60 million — $15 million per year on average if he were to play out the whole thing. But even if he doesn’t, it’s a very player-friendly contract. He got a $6 million signing bonus and fully guaranteed salaries of $9 million in 2017 and $15 million in 2018. That means he’s sure to see $30 million of it, and the Jaguars have a $3 million option bonus on which they have to decide 22 days before the start of the 2019 league year.
Pass-rushers are always at a premium, which is why guys such as Chandler Jones, Jason Pierre-Paul and Melvin Ingram all got franchised and why Nick Perry landed an $18.5 million signing bonus on his new five-year, $60 million Packers deal. But Campbell’s deal still stands out as one of the jewels of this year’s free-agent class so far.
6. Mike Glennon’s deal isn’t as crazy as you thought
Glennon will earn $16 million in cash for the Bears in 2017, including his $3 million signing bonus, $8 million salary and $5 million roster bonus. That would rank him somewhere around No. 20-25 in starting quarterback pay for 2017. The Bears can get out of the deal free and clear after one year, and even if they want to wait and see again in 2018, Glennon’s only guaranteed money for next year would be a $2.5 million roster bonus the Bears would have to exercise by the third day of the 2018 league year. Assuming they plan to start Glennon in 2017, which they’ve said they do, their commitment to him is far from unreasonable.