2012 NFL Free Agency: Projecting Which Players Will Land Ridiculous Contracts
Football fans who stop paying attention to the NFL after the Super Bowl, listen up! The National Football League offseason features a dance like no other on earth: the free-agency foxtrot!
Nowhere else do rampant capitalism, socialistic regulation, ego, talent and timing combine to produce this showcase of the historical money-for-talent dance.
It's auction to the highest bidder—with complicated steps worthy of an Arthur Murray poster. There will be posturing, pretense and, in some cases, an outright addiction to the grand gesture. Yes, Daniel Snyder, I mean you.
While a blessedly lockout-free spring should avoid the truncated free-agency frenzy of 2011, this March will feature the usual point/counterpoint footwork as NFL owners indulge in their one-percenter version of “making it rain.”
And, as usual, some players will cash in by changing partners—and others by “dancin’ with the one who brung ya.”
Drew Brees: Pride of the Saints
The NFL planet will be rocked to its core if Drew Brees doesn’t land an enormous contract extension and keep his family in the Crescent City. I know that Tom Benson is an enigmatic guy and not always the most dependable owner—but come on, even he understands what he has in No. 9. Right? Please say right.
I’m one of those people who don’t understand why anyone (anyone!) needs to be paid more than $10 million per year for anything. But that’s another article.
In the context of professional sports, the new NFL record holder has been not only underappreciated, but also underpaid. If you want the mind-numbing details, check out Pat Yasinskas’ article for espn.com. Personally, if I wanted that many numbers I’d be a baseball fan.
Essentially, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are the highest paid quarterbacks. This, I’m sure, comes as a huge shock to you. They are in the $18-20 million base-per-year range. (I’m assuming, for now, that Peyton can play and that whatever deal he works out will end up in this ballpark.)
For some entirely irrational and misguided reason, Michael Vick is just below them at $16.5 million. Why, you might ask? Don’t get me started. If you want to get me started, read my column on No. 7’s huge deal.
Is anyone really going to argue with me about Brees being a better QB than Vick? I didn’t think so.
So “Breesy” should end up in the $17 million range. At least. And don’t wuss out on me with “salary cap” nonsense. Honestly, if the team doesn’t get this done, N’awleans fans should ride Benson out of town on his umbrella.
NFL Wide Receivers: A Fleet of 2012 Corvettes
I think that offensive coordinators and quarterbacks turn into three-year-olds when it comes to wide receivers: “Oooo, look at that tall, shiny toy—I want one!”
To be fair, every quarterback should have a couple—like every woman should have a little black dress and a string of pearls. You really can’t go anywhere without them.
Ask Eil Manning, who has helped build two sets of elite wide receiving corps, resulting in two Super Bowl wins.
So which shiny toys will take it to the bank in 2012?
You know he hates A.J. Smith’s guts, even if he does probably appreciate Philip Rivers. And the Chargers won’t want to pay the $12-13 million that Jackson will want.
But someone will indeed pay it. Chicago? If Jay Cutler gets a vote—yes.
I don’t even think this really qualifies as extremely “ridiculous," since the 29-year-old is young and proven.
Someone is also going to pay big for Colston. New Orleans may have to let him go, since they will be paying Brees. Remember that Colston was a low-round draft pick so this is likely his shot at a big payday.
Playing as one weapon in the enormous Saints’ offensive arsenal hurts him stats-wise, but he’ll find a buyer. The question is “Will he be this good without Drew Brees?” He should be successful, and might even be worth seven million. If he gets 10, it’s ridiculous.
(Side note: while some team is going to overpay for Colston, somebody is going to get a deal in Robert Meachem if New Orleans loses him.)
Manningham is going to get a ridiculous contract based on his Super Bowl fingertip catch. A team like the Jets is going to forget that Eli Manning had a margin of error about the size of a razor on that throw.
The Bears might reach here if they miss on Jackson. Super Bowl hype is going to help Manningham cash in—possibly at a ridiculous level. Remember, he is the third WR for Big Blue.
Burress may have lost two years of his career in jail, but the hype left over from his Super Bowl-winning touchdown will get him another contract that is too high for someone his age. I’d hire the guy—I just wouldn't pay him over $3 million. But someone will.
Johnson is the biggest risk-reward in this group. He’s young and very talented. But he has the emotional maturity of a 14-year-old.
I realize that he doesn’t exactly corner the market on wide receiving immaturity, but it’s a gamble whether he will grow up and be an A-level WR or turn into the next T.O. These guesses are why owners make the big bucks, I guess.
Jackson is the same story. But the Eagles will franchise the pouter and hope for the best—or hold out for a trade.
Speaking of Owens, the lightening-rod star spent 2011 in the Indoor Football League. I have tremendous respect for his talent and hard work, but at this point any contract would be ridiculous. Randy Moss' return to the gridiron? Ditto.
If you’re going to sign an old WR, make it Ward. You can get him for way under $4 million and his leadership alone is worth that.
Speaking of immaturity, something must still be wrong with Lloyd. I know he’s 31, but that’s not exactly Methuselah for a WR. So, why on earth would the Rams be considering letting the only decent WR they have get away? Hmmmm.
Personally, I’d keep him. Have you seen footage of this man catching a football? Circus is his middle name. Still. And the other Rams wide-receiving options are...? See what I mean?
I don’t include Wes Welker on this list because I am assuming the Pats will franchise tag him. If they don’t, Peyton Manning will want him. I also don’t include Reggie Wayne, because you know he’ll end up where Peyton ends up.
Matt Flynn: The Next Matt Cassel? Kevin Kolb? Scott Mitchell?
Wow. Do any of those comparisons make you want to open up the team’s war chest?
Incumbent Texans starter, Matt Schaub, has been a Pro Bowl-caliber QB for so many years now that most people forget he ever was a backup. (And what genius decided that pocket Schaub was a good choice to back up Michael Vick anyway? But, again, another article. Apparently I have a lot to say about Vick.)
The above three names should be all the “cautionary tale” proof needed to keep teams from overpaying for the Green Bay second-stringer.
But they won’t be. Someone will. Probably the Redskins or Dolphins or Browns.
You can always count on Snyder to overpay. I mean, he does have a scouting department, right? Well, he should fire them and save the money because he clearly isn’t listening.
Flynn has proven that the game is not too fast for him and that he can throw a football to the best five wide receivers in the game. Other than that—he’s a rookie.
Somebody is going to pay this guy $7 or $8 million. Probably for multiple years.
You can take this one of two ways:
1) They never learn.
2) Hope springs eternal.
Tom Brady should get a cut of every free-agent quarterback’s contract for the next decade. Everyone is always looking for the next No. 12. Yeah, that’s going to happen.
And after breaking it down that way—I would probably hire Matt Flynn. I’ve seen all of his pro snaps and he’s got presence. Presence counts. Ask Eli.
I just hope that the team doesn’t pay him so much that they can’t go get one of those bright, shiny WR toys, too. It’s going to be a little harder when you aren’t throwing to Driver, Jennings, Nelson, Jones and Finlay.
NFL Running Backs: Pay It Backwards
Fans outside of Chicago and New England understand the concept of rewarding productive-but-underpaid young running backs with a good-sized second contract.
But it’s risky to do the right thing. Cleveland’s Peyton Hillis, the Bears’ Matt Forte, San Diego’s Mike Tolbert and the Texans' Arian Foster are all in line to reap the benefits of slaving away for low salaries early in their careers.
It sounds like Chicago has come finally to its senses about Forte so...
Cleveland may feel compelled to keep pounder Hillis, due to the otherwise abysmal state of their offense. But it would be a mistake.
Hillis would have to be Jim Brown reincarnated to win back a fanbase disenchanted with his injuries and attitude. (I blame coach Pat Shurmur and president Mike Holmgren for mismanaging the situation, but I’m not sure the Dawg Pound can get over it.)
And that opens the door for someone else to overpay Hillis. I’m guessing Mike Shanahan. He wants a pounder and they are hard to come by these days. Or how about Rex Ryan? Someone is going to make Hillis’ less-than-brilliant agent a rich man.
Lynch underperformed on a great contract in Buffalo and overperformed on his “comeback” contract in Seattle. If he has the sense God gave a goat, he will stay in coffee town.
If there is one thing you can take to the bank this spring, it is that Chargers GM A.J. Smith will try to underpay Mike Tolbert. Tolbert may have been the Chargers Offensive Player of the Year, but I am convinced that Smith’s philosophy is “Yeah, but what have you done for me next year?”
Rice may be a quiet ground-game production machine, but he labored for $555,000 in 2011 at the end of a four-year deal. Rumors abound that the Ravens are close to a new (and presumably lucrative) deal with the diminutive yardage factory.
Far from ridiculous, this paycheck would be overdue. And it would allow the Baltimore team to franchise guard Ben Grubbs. And that would be a ridiculous win for the front office.
What is ridiculous is that the Houston Texans seem perfectly content to let Arian Foster continue to run his heart out and risk his health for wages that reflected his undrafted rookie status and not his subsequent rushing accomplishments.
Houston may be waiting to see if they land Peyton Manning before spending any money. But turning off your offensive's best player by refusing to upgrade his contract is ridiculous.
I lose respect for the team on a daily basis and they will earn my utter contempt if they do to Foster what Chicago did to Forte last season. It’s sports, guys—can we at least pretend we care about fairness? I guess not.
Continuing on in the Houston Texans' short-sidedness tour—Mario Williams is a free agent. He was injured most of last year and rumors have swirled since midseason that the excellent play of rookies J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed have made Williams expendable. If you say so.
If the Texans truly think this and are willing to lose him, Mr. Williams is going to become the highest paid defender in the NFL. Despite being on IR for most of the 2011 season, there is no reason to think that “Super Mario” can’t continue to perform at the level that proved the Texans were right to pick him ahead of Reggie Bush in the first place.
The Bucs, Browns, Titans and Pats could certainly use a pass-rusher.
Signing a known commodity would be what Bill Belichick is known for. But I don’t see the Patriots ponying up the winning bid for Williams' services.
Not to be cruel, but if you had a choice, would you go to Cleveland or Tampa Bay right now?
Even franchising a pass-rusher would be over $22 million. And that could be too much for a Texans team that needs to re-sign some other pieces, notably center Chris Myers.
Williams has managed 192 solo tackles and 53 sacks thus far in his NFL career. He is 27 years old.
Heck, I’ll sign him. There are some people at the office I'd love for him to meet. Can someone loan me $100 million for a four-year deal? I’m good for it. Really.
Timing Is Important...
When your contract year rolls around can be as important as how you perform. 2012 will have the usual number of players who win and lose the timing lottery when it comes to scoring a ridiculous contract:
Webb got a lot of “face time” in the NFL playoffs. If Baltimore can’t offer a tender high enough to lock up the restricted free agent, things could get interesting. Remember that Mr. Ray Rice will be getting a “ridiculous” deal. The team also needs to hang onto Joe Flacco and guard Ben Grubbs.
Rogers picked a good, high-visibility time to have a terrific year for San Francisco. But he is 31—and consistency without injury is an issue.
Campbell had good timing on a bad year. In an horrendous season, Mr. Campbell's was virtually the only name coming out of the desert that wasn’t linked to something disappointing. (No, household name Larry Fitzgerald doesn’t count.)
Avril got press as the Detroit D-lineman who was not only producing, but was also not stomping on people. That should help his bottom line considerably.
The Indy pass-rusher chose a bad year to be a free agent—and to turn 31.
Grimes may be one of the few bright spots on a rotten Atlanta defense, but it was an unfortunate season to look like an injury risk.
Peyton Manning: A Ridiculous Situation from Any Angle
I have no idea. You have no idea. Nobody but the guys catching all those rehab passes has any idea. Manning may be about to become "the biggest free agent in NFL history," but that isn’t going to necessarily translate into a huge contract.
I would wager quite a bit of my own (limited) coin that money isn’t the only consideration for Manning. Can you see No. 18 packing up to head for the Browns? For any amount of money? Yeah.
On the other hand, money must be a factor to a degree or he’ll get a call from the NFLPA about not setting a bad precedent.
Just a note: teams without a fantastic offensive line need not apply.
No sane owner would pay in the $20-$30 million range for a QB who may not be able to throw. Would they?
Sanity doesn’t seem to be a prerequisite for franchise ownership. If the Jets, ‘Skins, Dolphins and Cardinals are all willing to close their eyes and reach for the checkbook—it will be a very, very big check.
More ridiculous things have happened. I think.
Don’t you sometimes think that NFL teams could save themselves a lot of money if all the owners locked themselves in a room and I loaned them a ruler?