2014 NFL Free Agency: Ranking the Best Value Contracts So Far
It's all about those guaranteed numbers. Free agency is overrated as whole, as are broad contract values in particular. In the NFL, it's all about finding bargains on the open market, and because contracts aren't fully guaranteed in this league, you can find true value by examining the total amount of guaranteed money while basically disregarding base salaries and annual averages.
That'll be the focus here as we establish the 10 best value contracts from the first wave of free agency.
*All contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.
1. Philadelphia Eagles Sign CB Nolan Carroll
Contract: 2 years, $3.65 million with $750,000 guaranteed
Nolan Carroll allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete only 47.8 of their passes against him in 2013, which, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), ranked fourth among all NFL cornerbacks. The 27-year-old had three interceptions and two sacks last season while starting 12 games. He's a solid tackler and is big and strong enough to face top receivers out wide.
So it's hard to explain why a quality player like that in his prime could only land a two-year deal worth less than $4 million, with less than $1 million guaranteed.
For the sake of comparison, the seemingly washed-up Cortland Finnegan got $11 million with $5.5 guaranteed from Carroll's former team in Miami. Finnegan allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a passer rating of 136.0 and was graded by PFF as the worst corner in the league last season.
It's baffling that guys like Finnegan, Tracy Porter and Brandon Browner are being paid much more handsomely than Carroll. Another good break in what's been a tremendous offseason for the Eagles.
2. Oakland Raiders Sign WR James Jones
Contract: 3 years, $10 million with $3.65 million guaranteed
Only 14 months ago, James Jones was coming off a 14-touchdown season with the Green Bay Packers, so I have no idea how a guy with playmaking ability like that essentially only cost the Oakland Raiders less than $4 million with non-guaranteed options beyond 2014.
I know Jones' touchdown total plummeted to three in 2013, but his yardage total rose from 784 to a career high of 817 and he was able to stay relatively healthy for the fifth straight season.
He's about to turn 30, which isn't a big deal for wide receivers anyway, but he's actually fresher than that because he's only been a starter for two years, during which time the former third-round pick has dropped only seven passes in 30 starts. In fact, in 2013 specifically, Jones had the third-lowest drop rate in the league, per PFF.
It's ridiculous that 51 receivers currently have more guaranteed money in their contracts than Jones does.
3. New York Giants Sign CB Walter Thurmond
Contract: 1 year, $3 million with $2 million guaranteed
There was a lot of disparity regarding the contracts given to cornerbacks this year, which is why this list is loaded with corners, as would a list with the opposite premise. Unfortunately for Walter Thurmond—but fortunately for the New York Giants—he comes in as a massive bargain with a one-year prove-it deal worth $3 million.
At least Thurmond is getting more guaranteed money than Nolan Carroll, but the overall value of this contract is absurd considering how well he played for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in 2013.
That four-game drug suspension that Thurmond dealt with last season was certainly a factor. But teammate Brandon Browner faced the same problem and still managed to get a three-year deal with the New England Patriots worth $12.35 million.
Thurmond probably came as cheap as he did because he's a slot specialist, just like Captain Munnerlyn. Not enough teams have wised up to how crucial a good slot corner has become in today's NFL, which prevents guys like Munnerlyn and Thurmond from landing Aqib Talib-like deals.
That works out well for the Giants.
"If he can stay healthy and out of trouble," former Eagles director of pro personnel Louis Riddick said of Thurmond, per NJ.com's Jordan Raanan, "it’s a tremendous value signing."
4. Miami Dolphins Re-Sign DT Randy Starks
Contract: 2 years, $10 million with $5 million guaranteed
Randy Starks hasn't missed a game since 2007 and has been a reliable starter for the Miami Dolphins for half a decade, which might explain why he signed such a team-friendly deal to stay in South Florida.
That $5 million guarantee ranks 25th among players at his position, despite the fact Starks was graded by Pro Football Focus as the seventh-best defensive tackle in the NFL last season.
Starks is 30 and probably can't command a lucrative long-term deal at this stage of his career. But when you consider how steady the two-time Pro Bowler has been, this contract has hometown discount written all over it.
Per MiamiDolphins.com, Starks basically admitted as much:
I’m just happy to be back and this was my first choice and that’s why I didn’t take any visits. I had options out there but this is where I want to be. I want to finish my career here and I think this two-year deal gives me a chance to do that.
5. Minnesota Vikings Sign CB Captain Munnerlyn
Contract: 3 years, $11.25 million with $4.45 million guaranteed
While fellow corners Aqib Talib, Vontae Davis and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie cashed in on big free-agent contracts, Captain Munnerlyn wasn't so lucky. With a deal from the Minnesota Vikings averaging only $3.75 million per year, he becomes only the 32nd-highest paid corner in the game with only the 43rd-highest guarantee at that position.
The Vikings probably got a discount simply because Munnerlyn is pretty much strictly a slot corner who can't handle top-flight outside receivers, but this is still an exceptionally team-friendly deal when you consider that Munnerlyn is only 25 years old, brings plenty of versatility to the table and was graded by PFF as the 11th-best cornerback in the game last season.
Remember, this is also a guy who makes plays. Munnerlyn has 3.5 sacks and four pick-sixes since the start of 2012. If he keeps that up, he'll outplay his salary by a wide margin.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sign C Evan Dietrich-Smith
Contract: 4 years, $14.25 million with $7.25 million guaranteed
At the age of 27, Evan Dietrich-Smith is about as steady as centers come. He gave up only 14 pressures in 16 starts last year with the Green Bay Packers, per PFF, posting positive grades in every major category while ranking in the top 10 at that position.
But the Packers drafted JC Tretter in the fourth round last year and apparently were comfortable moving on from Dietrich-Smith. That surprised us, though, especially considering how cheap the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got him for.
Eleven centers have contracts with more guaranteed money and higher base salaries. Considering that Dietrich-Smith might also be versatile enough to move to guard, that's great value for the Bucs.
7. Oakland Raiders Sign DE Justin Tuck
Contract: 2 years, $10 million with $4.35 million guaranteed
Because Justin Tuck is now on the wrong side of 30, this isn't a ludicrous bargain for the Oakland Raiders. Still, this is the kind of deal I saw Tuck signing only to return to the New York Giants. I figured if he went elsewhere, it would be for a surprisingly big payday.
After all, the stars were aligned for Tuck to win the free-agency lottery. Big name with a big-game reputation and coming off the hottest stretch of his NFL career. Nobody this century has had more sacks during the final six weeks of a season than the 9.5 Tuck registered to finish his contract year in New York.
And yet while the older DeMarcus Ware and much older Julius Peppers landed a combined $30.5 million in guaranteed cash from Denver and Chicago, Tuck had to settle for $4.35 million in Oakland, which ranks 49th among NFL defensive ends.
Strange for a superb all-around edge-rusher who can also defend the run quite well.
8. Arizona Cardinals Sign OT Jared Veldheer
Contract: 5 years, $35 million with $17 million guaranteed
This is still a big-money deal, but Jared Veldheer is supposed to be a franchise-caliber left tackle, which is arguably the most valuable position on the football field, save for quarterback.
Yet, before a failed physical canceled the deal, the Oakland Raiders were somehow willing to give more money to Rodger Saffold, who was considered to be nothing more than a right tackle and probably only a guard going forward.
Veldheer, who is only 26, had most of his 2013 season derailed by injury, but in 2012 he was graded by PFF as the ninth-best left tackle in the league. Pretty good considering it was only his second full season as a starter.
I certainly wasn't expecting to see a soon-to-be-30-year-old Branden Albert get significantly more money than Veldheer, so good on the Arizona Cardinals.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers Sign S Mike Mitchell
Contract: 5 years, $25 million with $5.25 million guaranteed
Mike Mitchell is only 26 and is coming off a breakout season in which he had four interceptions, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and 66 tackles, earning the 20th-best coverage grade among safeties at PFF. We know he has a ton of talent, which is why he was a second-round pick in 2009, and now he's emerged as a late-bloomer entering his prime.
And yet,in a year in which safeties were extremely hot commodities, the Pittsburgh Steelers somehow landed Mitchell for only $5 million per year and basically nothing guaranteed beyond 2014.
Considering that Jairus Byrd, Donte Whitner and T.J. Ward got paid in New Orleans, Cleveland and Denver (a combined $55.8 million guaranteed), that's hard to believe.
10. New England Patriots Sign CB Darrelle Revis
Contract: 1 year, $12 million with $11.5 million guaranteed
When a dude gets $12 million for one year of work, it's hard to call him underpaid. But considering that Darrelle Revis is the best cornerback in the league not named Sherman, this is actually a great deal for the New England Patriots.
Aqib Talib, Vontae Davis, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Alterraun Verner have lower base salaries than Revis, but their new teams were forced to commit to them for four or more years with at least $14 million guaranteed.
In fact, 17 corners have contracts that pay them more guaranteed money than Revis, who was PFF's highest-rated corner in 2013 and has been an All-Pro three times before his 29th birthday.