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Free Agent Winners, Losers, & the Guaranteed Truths

Free Agent Winners, Losers, & the Guaranteed Truths
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The 2018 NFL league year got off to a raucous start with free agent (tampering period) signings flying in one after another. But now three weeks in, the rumor mill has dominated the majority of news wires, as teams lay low to focus on the upcoming draft, un-drafted signings, & subsequent summer roster moves. We’ll take a moment in this “lull” to look back at the March free agent signings, looking directly at the guaranteed portions of notable contracts to detect their true value. Keep up with the fun @spotrac.


Related Free Agency Links:

The Fake & Real Totals
To date, Spotrac has $2.44 billion in total value accrued for 2018 free agent contracts. Of this, $1.13 billion is fully guaranteed at signing, a respectable 46%, up from 38% in 2017, and up 12% since 2015. When looking at multi-year contracts only, this figure lowers only slightly, down to 44%.


Guaranteed at Signing by Position
QB 72.6% Of the 18 QB deals, 10 have at least 50% GTD at sign.  43.3% 49.7% 45.1%
DT 50% Talented players + red flags = shorter but more guaranteed deals 39.1% 37.6& 45.5%
WR 48.6% Shorter 3 year deals with 2 years fully guaranteed is the new trend. 40.8% 37% 39.1%
ILB 47% Generally devalued, this was a talented crop to hit the market. 31.3% 37.6% 37.6%
TE 46% Deals are being structured very similar to WRs, with just a bit less $. 31.9% 34% 33%
OT 43% Solder was the only legitimate prize to be had here. 36.8% 18% 18%
CB 42.3% Volume kept this number at bay. The top signings approached 50% 36.4% 42.2% 40.6%
OG 42% Outside of Norwell (45%) & Fulton (46%), the deals were very minimal.  44% 36.5% 33.6%
S 41% The total numbers are down, but the guarantees are actually well up. 42.7% 35.5% 25.7%
C 40.5% Ryan Jensen (52%) was the only real winner in terms of g’tees. 30% 39% 40.6%
DE 39% The great ones never get here, so those that do find softer deals. 39.9% 42.7% 27%
RB 37% The Dion Lewis/Carlos Hyde are “fluffy" 26.6% 41% 36.5%
OLB 32% Not one OLB received at least $8M in upfront guarantees this March. 39.4% 34.4% 29.1%


Notable “Potential Outs”
In focusing on the guaranteed at signing portion of a contract we’re able to see a deal for what it actually is, rather than what it can be. We’ve coined these values the “Potential Out” for a player’s contract, something we show on the player page, and the free agent tracker.

Here’s a look at a few 2018 free agent signings that aren’t what they appear to be on paper:


POS TEAM Terms Potential Out
Trumaine Johnson CB NYJ 5 $72,500,000 3 yr / $45,000,000
Andrew Norwell G JAC 5 $66,500,000 2 yr / $30,000,000
Anthony Hitchens ILB KC 5 $45,000,000 2 yr / $21,500,000
Ryan Jensen C TB 4 $42,000,000 2 yr / $22,000,000
Nigel Bradham OLB PHI 5 $40,000,000 2 yr / $14,000,000
Trey Burton TE CHI 4 $32,000,000 2 yr / $18,100,000
Jerick McKinnon RB SF 4 $30,000,000 1 yr / $12,000,000
Spencer Long C NYJ 4 $27,400,000 1 yr / $6,500,000
A.J. McCarron QB BUF 2 $10,000,000 1 yr / $5,000,000
Teddy Bridgewater QB NYJ 1 $6,000,000 1 yr, $500,000
Dion Lewis RB TEN 4 $19,800,000 2 yr, $10,300,000
Richard Sherman CB SF 3 $27,150,000 1 yr / $8,175,000
Zach Brown ILB TEN 3 $21,000,000 1 yr / $5,750,000
Michael Crabtree WR BAL 3 $21,000,000 1 yr / $8,000,000
Jordy Nelson WR OAK 2 $14,200,000 1 yr / $7,368,750


Free Agent Winners & Losers

WINNER: The Bears & Chiefs Process

These two teams are coming from very different places (Chicago near the bottom, Kansas City straight out of the postseason), but they both had a similar process in place that appears to have culminated in the 2018 offseason. In shooting up the draft board to select their future QB1s last year, the Chiefs & Bears were looking to fill in blanks elsewhere this March, and for both this began at the WR1 position.

Sammy Watkins joins a young, electric Chiefs' offense on what will be at least 2 years, $34M, while the Bears are hoping Allen Robinson can regain his Pro Bowl health, on what looks like at least 2 years, $28M. Toss in TE Trey Burton at a strong 2 years, $18.1M, and Chicago has much improved their weapons for QB Trubisky's first full year. Both teams made significant cuts to their defense to clear up cap space,


LOSER: A.J. McCarron

The last QB to fall this free agency found a decent landing spot in Buffalo, but his compensation mixed with the Bills immediate plans to add competition to the position put him on notice before he even steps foot at One Bills Drive. The 27-year-old will make $5M in 2018 (double his career earnings to date), and is "likely" to be the Week 1 starter. But with many believing the Bills will move up the draft board to select a notable QB in a few weeks, his term can, and should, be limited. The Bills can release him next offseason for a $2M dead cap hit, clearing $5M in space. Should the Bills select a QB with their #12 pick, that player will sign a contract worth $15M over 4 years.


WINNER: Le'Veon Bell

6 notable running backs per shown pink slips this March, including two of the highest paid in Doug Martin, ($7.15M), & DeMarco Murray,  ($6.3M). Add to the equation that free agent running backs signed contracts withan average of $3.5M per year, and that the average salary for ALL active running backs not named Le'Veon Bell right now stands at $2.5M, and Bell's $14.544M salary for 2018 is a boatload. In fact, no free agent running back even secure $14.5M in upfront guarantees for their entire contract this March.


PUSH: Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals saw all of their 2017 QBs escape the roster this offseason, and many will question the choices they made to fill in those blank spaces. Sam Bradford may have been the most talented QB available this offseason, but he comes with far more risk than reward at this point. They'll pay him a maximum $20M in 2018, which would be 7th among all 2018 QBs. If he's healthy, he's a viable replacement to the now retired Carson Palmer, but if is a tough word to hang on at the QB position.


WINNER: Los Angeles Rams

After back-to-back franchise tags for their star CB Trumaine Johnson, the Rams saw him walk into $34M guaranteed with the Jets. LA countered by acquiring Aqib Talib ($11M) from the Broncos, Marcus Peters ($1.7M) from the Chiefs, signing Sam Shields to a basically minimum contract, & bringing back Nickell Robey-Coleman on what should be a 2 year, $11.25M contract. Many figured trading away Robert Quinn was merely a cap dump, but the Rams countered that move by securing Ndamukong Suh on a market value 1 year, $14M payday. Their big loss appears to be the trade away of ILB Alec Ogletree, a position they'll likely focus on in the upcoming draft.


LOSER: Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins swapped out a lot of notable bodies over the course of a month, shipping out WR Jarvis Landry ($16M), DT Ndamukong Suh ($26.1M), & OC Mike Pouncey ($9M) to be replaced by WR Danny Amendola ($6M), DE Robert Quinn ($11.4M), & OC Daniel Kilgore ($5.3M). Furthermore, after gutting their most expensive core, the Dolphins restructure over $16M of QB Ryan Tannehill's 2018 salary, which increased his dead cap figure in 2019 to $13.4M (when they're likely to move on from him). Miami got older and cheaper this March, and don't appear to have a crisp plan in place to get better in the short-term.


WINNER: Guaranteed Money

As we've shown above, the percentages are improving, more in 2018 than ever before. Yes, it was extremely helpful that legitimate quarterbacks hit the open market, but it says something that even that (Cousins, Keenum, Smith, Bradford) didn't accept much if any "fluff" in their deals. Of the 266 free agents who have signed thus far, only 10 agreed to "5" year deals, while 15 locked in for 4 years. No player has a potential out greater than 3 years, NFL teams have yet to extend any upfront guaranteed money into the 4th year of a contract - the next piece to this puzzle.