Calculated & Likely Contract Projections for 2017 NFL Free Agents

With the 2016 NFL regular season now in the books, we’ll begin to turn our focus toward players with expiring contracts. We’ll continue to update our list of the Top NFL free agents showing projected contracts and current market values for each player as we go. Check back often and follow us @spotrac to keep up as we add to this list.
How We Project
Our market values are calculated using a combination of standard and advanced stats associated with the player’s position. These statistics are compared against players of the same position and age who have recently signed a new contract. All stat comparisons are derived from the two years prior to the new contract, or what we call the “Prime” comparison range. As stats certainly don’t tell the whole story, many of our projections will include Calculated and Likely values, designating what our logical estimate for the player is based on trends or intangibles that haven’t been accounted for in our calculations.

1. Kawann Short, DL, Panthers

Calculated: 6 years, $109.4M ($18.2M AAV; $65M guaranteed)
Likely: 6 years, $109.4M ($18.2M AAV; $65M guaranteed)

Deals for Marcell Dareus (BUF) & Fletcher Cox (PHI) raised the financial bar for interior linemen who can rush the pass and stop the run. While Short’s pass rush production is a bit below the aforementioned, he’s arguably the best defensive player set to hit the open market this coming spring. The Panthers are likely prepared to slap a franchise tag (estimated $13.5M) on him as soon as possible. View the full projection

2. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers

Calculated: 5 years, $45.5M ($9.1M AAV; $22M guaranteed)
Likely: 4 years, $40M ($10M AAV); $22M guaranteed

Like Short above, it’s hard to imagine Bell getting anywhere near the open market next March. However the franchise tag may not be a viable option for Pittsburgh as the running back tag is projecting north of $12M for 2017. With the $8M per year mark the current bar for recent top running back contracts (McCoy, Murray, Martin) it’s hard to imagine the Steelers placing that much cap into the position next year. With that said, it will still likely take more than $8M per year to lock in Bell long term, as his skill set both as a runner and a pass catcher sets him apart from any other back in the league. View the full projection

3. Jamie Collins, LB, Browns

Calculated: 5 years, $56M ($11.3M AAV; $35M guaranteed)
Likely: 5 years, $62.5M ($12.5M AAV; $40M guaranteed)

Collins has grown to become one of the most versatile and consistent linebackers in all of football across his first 4 NFL seasons. Now a member of the Browns via a shocking late October trade from New England, Collins is almost sure to cash in in the coming months, keeping him away from the open market. With a franchise tag for linebackers projected at $14.7M per year and $50M+ cap space currently the Browns almost certainly won’t let Collins leave this offseason. It’s perfectly possible (maybe even likely) that Collins is able to leverage another million per year into this deal, which would place him with Luke Kuechly’s current value. View the full projection

4. Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins

Calculated: 5 years, $117.2M ($23.4M AAV; $48M guaranteed)
Likely: 1 year, $23,943,600 franchise tag (fully guaranteed)

Cousins finished off the 2016 regular season on a bit of a downward slide, but showed plenty of flashes of great throughout the year. There’s been buzz about yet another franchise tag this offseason, a move that will cost the Redskins $24M in 2017. Structurally Cousins will be seeking a minimum of $37M over the first two seasons & $50M over the first three, figures both Tyrod Taylor and Brock Osweiler achieved recently. His inconsistent play this season could keep his guaranteed at signing dollars relatively low. View the full projection

5. Dont’a Hightower, LB, Patriots

Calculated: 5 years, $46M ($9.2M AAV; $28M guaranteed)
Likely: 5 years, $55M ($11M AAV; $30M guaranteed)

Hightower had back to back outstanding seasons in 2013 & 2014 before a knee sprain shortened his 2015 campaign. He’s back at it in his contract year, finishing Top 15 among all linebackers according to PFF. With nearly $21M in combined market values between them, it seems highly unlikely at this stage. View the full projection

6. Chandler Jones, DE, Cardinals

Calculated: 6 years $93M ($15.6M AAV; $40M guaranteed)
Likely: 6 years $93M ($15.6M AAV; $40M guaranteed)

The Cardinals have benefited greatly since acquiring Jones from the Patriots this offseason, as the 26 year old finished the season ranked in the Top 10 among all edge defenders according to PFF. While his pass rush production numbers aren’t “elite”, when combined with his ability to stop the run, Jones has grown into a complete player, and will demand big money should he hit the open market. Statistically Jones’ market value calculates north of $15M per year, similar to deals recently signed by  Olivier Vernon and Mo Wilkerson. View the full projection

7. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears

Calculated: 4 years $46.3M ($11.5M AAV; $27.5M guaranteed)
Likely: 4 years $56M ($14M AAV; $31M guaranteed)

Jeffery’s 2015-16 campaigns didn’t exactly go as planned in terms of lining up his next deal. He missed a chunk of time last year, then served a 4 game suspension in 2016 (PEDs), leaving him with an average of 53 receptions, 800 yards, and 3 touchdowns over each of the past 2 years with the Bears. With that said, he’s far and away the most notable WR set to hit the market, and his price tag will resemble that. A second consecutive tag for Jeffery will cost the Bears a whopping $17.5M, seemingly out of the question. Jeffery’s $11.5M calculated market value ranks 7th among active WRs, but it’s much more likely his falls closer to the $13.5M per year mark when it’s all said and done. Guaranteed money will be an interesting element to watch based on his unreliability and inability to find the end zone of late. View the full projection

8. Eric Berry, S, Chiefs

Calculated: 5 years, $49.6M ($9.9M AAV; $27M guaranteed)
Likely: 5 years, $55M ($11M AAV; $30M guaranteed)
Berry played out the 2016 season on a $10.8M franchise tag (a move that would cost the Chiefs $12,967,200 in 2017). Kansas City likely isn’t looking for a break-up here, so a long-term deal makes sense in terms of better cap/cash management going forward. This deal will likely fall in between Harrison Smith’s 5 year, $51.25M contract with the Vikings, and Tyrann Mathieu’s 5 year $62.5M contract in Arizona. View the full projection

9. Melvin Ingram, OLB/DE, Chargers

Calculated: 5 years $61.1M  ($12.2M AAV; $30M guaranteed)
Likely: 5 years, $80M ($16M AAV; $45M guaranteed)
Ingram’s production dipped a bit from a breakout 2015 campaign into 2016, but he could very well be the best available pass rusher on the market when it comes to free agent season. San Diego hasn’t been known to break the bank on defensive players, but Top 10 defensive pass rushers are going for $15M+ these days. There will be a nice market for the 27-year-old should he be allowed to hit it, though a $14.75M projected franchise tag might be the Chargers best option. View the full projection

10. Brandon Williams, DT, Ravens

Calculated: 5 years, $58.1M ($11.6M AAV; $30M guaranteed)
Likely: 5 years, $60M ($12M AAV; $33M guaranteed)
After 2015 it appeared as though Williams was on track to be the next big money defensive linemen. His production (numbers) dipped a bit in 2016, but his value to the Ravens’ defensive line is enormous. Baltimore should be able to reel him in long-term for less than Malik Jackson’s $14.25M AAV right now, but that will likely become the target should he be able to hit the open market. View the full projection
More Coming Soon!
We will continue to update this view as new calculations are processed. Join the conversation with questions/comments/suggestions @spotrac

Category: NFL Free Agency


Article by: Michael Ginnitti

Managing Editor of Spotrac