There are going to be some big contracts engineered by NFL general managers with star players in 2014 when the free-agent market opens for business on Mar. 11.
The most glaring mistake in free-agency history was the one Washington gave to Albert Haynesworth back in 2009—a seven-year, $100 million deal with $41 million in guaranteed money.
Nobody should expect an NFL team to "Haynesworth" this year, but there's no doubt some players will land lucrative deals that will end up being viewed as poor decisions in hindsight.
Not all big deals end badly, though. While nobody can predict the future, here's a look at a few players who are sure to land big deals in 2014 with new teams.
Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals weren't ready to give Michael Johnson a long-term contract after his breakout 2012 season (11.5 sacks), instead signing him to a one-year franchise-tag deal worth $11.18 million (via Spotrac.com).
Based on Johnson's mere 3.5 sacks in 2013, one might assume the Bengals were proven right by not offering a long-term deal. However, Johnson's been phenomenal this year, as you're about to see.
Sack totals don't accurately measure the value of a defensive lineman. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the second-best 4-3 defensive end in the league behind Robert Quinn, who finished the season with the second-highest sack total in the NFL (19):
Top-three 4-3 DEs: Robert Quinn (+71.1), Michael Johnson (+25.1), Cameron Wake (+24.5)— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 29, 2013
Cincinnati is famously tight about paying free agents. After getting slapped with the franchise tag last year, Johnson will hit the market and will be highly coveted by teams that run a 4-3 scheme. As Bleacher Report's Eric Ball put it:
Michael Johnson is gonna get a mega deal in free agency. King of the tipped pass. #Bengals— Eric Ball (@BigLeagueEball) December 29, 2013
Whether he's tipping passes, pressuring quarterbacks, holding the edge on running plays or dropping back into coverage on a zone blitz, Johnson has what it takes to make big plays, and he'll get paid for those qualities this upcoming March.
Jairus Byrd, S, Buffalo Bills
After failing to reach a long-term deal with Buffalo before the 2013 season, Jairus Byrd bitterly signed his franchise tag. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com makes a salient point about Byrd's recent Pro Bowl bid, which will certainly give him leverage for a big deal in 2014:
#Bills S Jairus Byrd took his time coming back from a foot injury, after contract grumbling. And made the Pro Bowl. Big for his future— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 28, 2013
Even before earning the honor, Byrd was convinced he should be the top-paid safety in the NFL, as pointed out by Adam Benigni of WGRZ in Buffalo:
You can bet he's going to stick to his guns about being the highest-paid player at his position when discussing a new contract with Buffalo.
Bills General Manager Doug Whaley told reporters during the team's season-ending press conference that he'd like to keep Byrd, as relayed by Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550:
We've had a conversation—myself and Russ—sat and talked to Jairus, and we're gonna make an offer to the guy and we're gonna try to keep him. We're gonna try to the best of abilities because we're in the business of collecting good players and he's a good player.
Reading between the lines, it doesn't appear Whaley is overly optimistic he'll be able to get a deal done that works for Buffalo long term.
Which player will sign the biggest contract in 2014?
Byrd will hit the market and sign a deal that will likely be similar in length and exceed the value of the one Dashon Goldson signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2012 season—a five-year, $41.25 million contract (via Spotrac.com).
Aqib Talib, CB, New England Patriots
After taking a one-year deal with New England in 2013, Talib has put himself in a position to land a lucrative multi-year deal in 2014.
The talented man-to-man specialist earned a Pro Bowl bid for his stellar season, as noted by ESPN's Adam Schefter, hauling in four interceptions and breaking up an additional 13 passes:
Patriots CB Aqib Talib, selected tonight to the Pro Bowl, also cashed in on a cool $500,000 Pro-Bowl contract clause.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 28, 2013
Just as important as his overall performance on the field is the fact that Talib didn't make a peep off it. The former oft-troubled cornerback appears to have gotten his priorities straight, which is a big deal as far as future contracts go.
Remarkably, Talib has been dealing with a nagging hip injury that has hampered his ability to move laterally.
However, Doug Kyed of NESN.com noted his play is much-improved heading into the postseason after Week 17's win over Buffalo: "He has been dealing with a hip injury for weeks now, but he’s recently been a full participant in practice. His play has improved the further removed he is from the initial injury."
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