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Recapping the News From Day 1 of Free Agency

by Chase Stuart on March 12, 2014

in Current Events

What uniform will DeMarcus be Waring in 2014? [punches self in face]

What uniform will DeMarcus be Waring in 2014? {punches self in face}.

Free agency kicked off at 4PM yesterday, the start of what may be the dumbest day of the year. Some absurdly large contracts were dished out, as always, but free agent signings weren’t the only news stories on Tuesday.  The new regime in Tampa Bay appears ready to move on from the Darrelle Revis era, possibly via a trade to the Browns or an outright release. The Cowboys ended their game of renegotiating chicken with DeMarcus Ware by cutting him; he was joined on the waiver wire by Chicago DE Julius Peppers, 49ers CB Carlos Rogers and Steelers OLB LaMarr Woodley.

One of the first major signings came in Miami, where 29-year-old Branden Albert was finally brought to South Beach. The Dolphins tried to trade for Albert to replace Jake Long last year, but talks with the Chiefs fell apart, leaving the team to turn first to Jonathan Martin and then Bryant McKinnie at left tackle. The Dolphins gave Albert big money — a five-year deal worth $46M with $25M guaranteed – but after last year’s headache, this is probably money well spent.

The Bucs added former Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson as soon as free agency opened, luring him with a whopping five-year, $43.75M ($24M guaranteed) deal.  Tampa Bay desperately needed to improve the pass rush, and Johnson will team with Gerald McCoy to make the defensive line a strength of the team. And while losing Revis will hurt, Tampa Bay signed Alterraun Verner late in the day to 4-year, $26.5M deal with $14M guaranteed.  That’s a pretty reasonable deal: If Verner plays out that contract, Tampa will have saved nearly $40M compared to what they would have paid Revis over that time.

The Browns played a bit of whack-a-mole on Tuesday.  Cleveland lost inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson to Indianapolis before the start of free agency, and replaced him yesterday with former Cardinal Karlos Dansby (initially reported as four years, $24M, $14M guaranteed). Dansby, as you may recall, was arguably the second best free agent signing of 2013, so this was probably an upgrade (but the Browns got older). More curious was the team’s decision to pass on resigning safety T.J. Ward (who signed a reasonable $5.75M/Yr deal with the Broncos) and sign former 49er Donte Whitner to a four-year deal worth $28M. To replace Whitner, the 49ers signed longtime Colts safety Antoine Bethea.

In other mix-and-match news, Oakland signed ex-Ram Rodger Saffold to an insane 5-year deal worth $42.5M with $21M guaranteed, and the Raiders plan to play him at guard. That’s more money than outgoing Raiders left tackle Raiders Jared Veldheer received from the Cardinals, who will earn $35M on a five-year deal. Arizona fans should be excited about the massive (and necessary) upgrade the left side of the line is getting this year, assuming Jonathan Cooper (the #7 pick in last year’s draft) is healthy. The left tackle market was essentially closed out (with the exception of Anthony Collins) less than an hour into free agency, when Eugene Monroe resigned with the Ravens for $37.5M over five years.

The Colts were active for the second year in a row, signing former Ravens defensive lineman Arthur Jones and reuniting him with Chuck Pagano. A little later, Jim Irsay broke the news that cornerback Vontae Davis was staying in Indianapolis (with no hometown discount).

Tuesday was a good day for free agent defensive linemen. The Bears signed Raiders DE Lamarr Houston to a five-year, $35M deal with $15M guaranteed a few hours before releasing Peppers (what are the Raiders doing with all their cap room?). In defensive tackle news, ex-Giant Linval Joseph is now a (very wealthy) Viking, former Seahawk Clinton McDonald signed with Tampa Bay, and ex-Texan Earl Mitchell went to Miami; Mitchell will replace Paul Soliai, who is now a Falcon.

Soliai and his massive contract will be joined by former Kansas City DE Tyson Jackson and his massive contract, as Atlanta desperately tries to beef up a run defense that was 31st in yards and yards per carry in 2013 (the Falcons also resigned DL Jonathan Babineaux). These moves probably signal a switch to a 3-4 defense under Mike Nolan and also show the influence Scott Pioli appears to have in Atlanta.  In addition to Jackson, the Falcons added former Chiefs guard Jon Asamoah in the team’s quest to keep Matt Ryan upright.

It was mostly quiet on the running backs and wide receiver fronts.  Washington provided help for Robert Griffin III by re-signing Santana Moss and taking Andre Roberts (4 years, $16M) away from Arizona, Dexter McCluster moved on from Kansas City to Tennessee (3 years, $4.5M guaranteed), and Cleveland signed Bengals restricted free agent Andrew Hawkins to an offer sheet. More curiously, the big dominoes (Eric Decker, Golden Tate, Julian Edelman, Hakeem Nicks,, Emmanuel Sanders) have yet to fall, which may be a reflection of the talent at the position in this year’s draft.

With Maurice Jones-Drew a free agent, the Jaguars went out and signed Toby Gerhart to a three-year deal worth $10.5 million with $4.5 million guaranteed (Jacksonville also released Justin Forsett earlier in the day). In Oakland, running back Darren McFadden resigned with the team, while backup Rashad Jennings signed with the Giants.  New York also picked up former Seattle outside linebacker O’Brien Schofield for two years and eight million dollars and ex-Chiefs guard Geoff Schwartz. In ex-Giants news, Indianapolis resigned running back Ahmad Bradshaw, and in ex-Colts running back news, Donald Brown is now a Charger.

The Jaguars made a splash by throwing big money at ex-Broncos offensive guard Zane Beadles (5 years, $30M) and appear to be trying to resurrect the Seahawks defense in the southeast under Gus Bradley.  Before the start of free agency, the Jaguars signed defensive lineman Red Bryant and the team is expected to sign Walter Thurmond today. It’s only a start, but Bradley at least now has some pieces in place for the defense he plays to run in Jacksonville. The Jaguars then redefined addition by subtraction, sending Blaine Gabbert to San Francisco for a sixth round pick and a conditional 2015 pick. The Gabbert trade was apparently San Francisco’s attempt to lower expectations: a few hours later, San Francisco traded for Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin, reuniting the Stanford product with his former head coach, Jim Harbaugh. As of press time, Pete Carroll has not yet signed Richie Incognito.

At cornerback, Davis and Verner weren’t the only players to pen new deals.  John Elway may have been the star of day one: after signing T.J. Ward to a relatively cheap deal and moving Denver into the pole position for DeMarcus Ware, the Broncos signed Aqib Talib near midnight on Tuesday. The deal was not necessarily a good one — 6 years, $57M, and an insane $26M guaranteed — but the Broncos are wisely going all in while they still have Peyton Manning. At cornerback, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Thurmond, Charles Tillman, and Antonio Cromartie now the cream of the corner crop entering day two (unless/until Revis is released).

The safety market was more active; in addition to the Ward/Whitner/Bethea carousel, both Pennsylvania teams dipped their toes into the market. Former Saint Malcolm Jenkins fills an obvious hole in Philadelphia and was signed to a reasonable deal; meanwhile, Pittsburgh added ex-Panther and Raider Mike Mitchell to a less-reasonable one. Rounding out the safety news, the Bears added former Giant Ryan Mundy, while the Bengals and Chiefs resigned Taylor Mays and Husain Abdullah, respectively.

But the shocking news at the position came later in the evening, when New Orleans somehow emerged with Jairus Byrd inked to a new deal. The Saints are in an ugly cap situation — you know what’s going on with Jimmy Graham, and the team had to release Lance Moore and was looking to release or trade running backs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas just to get some cap relief. Well those moves will be a formality now, after giving Byrd a six-year, $56M deal with a whopping $28M guaranteed. Byrd will team with Kenny Vaccaro to give the Saints arguably the best safety combo in the league (or at least east of Seattle).

As usual, the first day of free agency was a little bit crazy and a lot bit fun to follow.  How often do these free agent signings lead to a championship? Well, that’s another question entirely.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Chase Stuart March 12, 2014 at 12:13 am

Update: Jets RT Austin Howard signing with Oakland.

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Chase Stuart March 12, 2014 at 11:18 am
Chase Stuart March 12, 2014 at 11:43 am

Incredibly, the Saints have also retained Pierre Thomas: https://twitter.com/AlbertBreer/status/443771039995396096

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Kibbles March 12, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Talib’s $26 million guaranteed is only insane if it’s guaranteed, and not “guaranteed”. Elvis Dumervil’s extension with the Broncos contained $43 million in “guaranteed” money. He wound up collecting about half of it, because the other half was only guaranteed against injury, not performance, and the guarantees didn’t trigger before a certain date. That’s why Denver cut him- if they’d waited, he had $12 million “guaranteed salary” that would have become $12 million guaranteed salary.

Denver traditionally hasn’t given out big signing bonuses under John Elway, instead opting for a series of high base salaries that became fully guaranteed at certain dates. The nice thing is that this gives the team the flexibility to move on from a player at any time with minimal dead money charges. Look at Peyton Manning’s deal- it’s essentially a series of 1-year deals (actually, it’s a 1-year deal followed by a 2-year deal followed by a pair of 1-year deals). Technically, the entirety of his contract was “guaranteed”, but the only part he was certain to collect was his first year’s salary. I suspect Talib’s deal is similar, with a small signing bonus, a guaranteed salary for the first year or two, and a series of decision points where Denver can opt to move on from him without ever paying him the rest of that “guaranteed” money in his deal should they decide he’s no longer worth the cost.

Without seeing the structure, it looks like a deal of indeterminate length (maxing out at 6 years) that averages about $9-10m per year, which seems about right for Talib given the market for CBs this offseason.

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mrh March 12, 2014 at 10:14 pm

The Dolphins gave Albert big money — a five-year deal worth $46M with $25M guaranteed – but after last year’s headache, this is probably money well spent.

I’m a Chiefs fan and have a great fondness for Albert, but I think they made a good move and the Fins spent poorly. Albert has only once played all 16 games and the past three years he played 41 total with an AV of 15. Total.

Since 1988, there have been 8 tackles aged 27-29 who played 41 games (+/-2) with a total AV of 15 (+/-2) in that span. Over the next three years, they averaged a total of 25 games played and 10 AV total. Only 2 of the 8 actually played all three years – 6 of them played two seasons or less. The 7th, LJ Shelton played exactly three more seasons. The 8th and most successful, Irv Eatman, played several more years (and 44 games in the next 3 with a total AV of 19).

It’s a small group of comps but to me it looks like OTs turning 30 with an injury history are not good investments. Monroe had essential the same number of GP and AV over the last 3 years and is 3 years younger and $10M cheaper. Even allowing for the inaccuracy of AV, I like the Ravens move way more.

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prowrestlingisstrong March 13, 2014 at 12:42 am

The Patriots are geniuses. The Broncos paid a ridiculous sum of money for a good corner but one who is injury prone and with a history of being a head case. While the media is busy engraving the Broncos 2014 superbowl, the Patriots grab revis for $12 million for one year. They upgraded the position with no future cap problems.

Giving Ware $20 mil guaranteed seems risky as well. He seemingly plays 1/2 his games around 50% healthy and never looked comfortable in the 4-3 in Dallas. Can he do any better then Shaun Phillips last year? This is eerily similar to the 2010 Eagles.

The golden rule of free agency. If someone is available, there is a reason.

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Kibbles March 13, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Aqib Talib’s $10m AAV is right in line with what other corners were getting. His contract’s average annual value is $9.5m, which is actually LESS than Sam Shields’ $9.75 AAV. Talib ostensibly has twice as much guaranteed, but as I mentioned, just because money is “guaranteed money” doesn’t mean a player is guaranteed to get it. Elvis Dumervil wound up collecting about half of the “guaranteed money” in his contract extension with Denver, because Denver only guaranteed the money for injury, and they were able to cut him for underperformance before most of the money came due. Assuming Talib’s contract is structured similarly (probably a safe assumption, because that’s Denver’s standard operating procedure in contract negotiations), there are three possible outcomes to his deal. 1) Talib suffers a career-ending injury, and Denver’s on the hook for big money. Major failed gamble. 2) Talib outperforms his contract, and Denver has him locked up for 6 years at very affordable prices for a top CB (especially as the cap continues to rise- 4 years from now $10m for a top CB will seem like an absolute steal). 3) Talib tanks, and Denver winds up controlling him for 1-2 years at a cost of $10m a year.

You compare this to the Revis deal. Now, all else being equal, I would *MUCH* rather have Revis for one year at $12m than Talib for one year at $10m, but all else is not equal. If Talib lives up to his contract, Denver controls him for a long period of time at affordable prices. If Revis lives up to his contract, New England has to resign him every year at quickly escalating prices or else watch him leave for greener pastures. If Talib underperforms his contract, he gets cut loose like a kite. If Revis underperforms his contract, same thing. Denver took on extra risk in the form of injury guarantees, but in return received a lot more potential upside. I’m not saying one contract is better or worse than the other, I’m saying they’re different types of contracts, and Denver’s risk exposure has been dramatically overstated (how many players suffer career-ending injuries?) Also, when teams give contracts to players with known issues, they typically build protections in those contracts in case the issues resurface. When New York gave a big contract to Revis, who was a known holdout risk, they built holdout protections into the deal. When Denver signed Peyton Manning, they worked in language saying they owed him nothing if his neck problems resurfaced. I’m sure whatever team signs Justin Blackmon in the future will include language protecting them should he run afoul of the substance abuse policy again. So again, I would wager that Denver’s exposure to risk has been dramatically overstated. The worst case scenario is that Talib winds up wasting cap space over the next two years, but Denver has plenty of cap space to waste over that span, and after that span they’ll clear a bunch of money off the books with Peyton Manning leaving and be ready to re-sign their young core players such as Demaryius, Miller, Julius Thomas, etc.

Yes, if a player is available in free agency, there’s always a reason. The corollary to this is that just because there’s a reason they were available doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea to sign them to big deals. See: Manning, Peyton; Vazquez, Louis; and Welker, Wes. See also: Brees, Drew; Sanders, Deion; White, Reggie; Sharpe, Shannon; Gonzalez, Tony; and Moss, Randy (those last two were actually traded for rather than acquired through free agency, but if a player is available for trade, there’s a reason). Past results don’t guarantee future performance, but Denver’s work in free agency has been the difference between them being a .500 team and them being among the best teams in the NFL without adding dead money to future seasons, so I’d say Denver’s past results at least earn them the benefit of the doubt.

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Chase Stuart March 13, 2014 at 2:11 pm

Good analysis, Kibbles. Thanks.

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James March 13, 2014 at 1:39 pm

You did not just compare Shaun Phillips to Ware. Ware’s comps are pass rushers who had multiple 1st team All Pro selections and 3+ Pro Bowl trips between ages 27 and 31 (namely Reggie White, Michael Strahan, and Bruce Smith), not players that went to the Pro Bowl once during a career year. Phillips’ best season earned him 11 AV, while Ware’s had *at least* 11 AV every season except last year and his rookie season in 2005.

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Kibbles March 13, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Early reports on Talib are that, as expected, he got very little guaranteed money in the form of signing bonus- just $5m, which pro-rates to $0.8m per year remaining in dead money. Assuming Denver used their typical structure of tying future guarantees to roster bonuses and trigger dates, and assuming (like most contracts) that the last couple of years are back-loaded to inflate the “bottom-line” value that all of the media outlets love reporting, there’s a very good chance that if Talib doesn’t work out, Denver can cut him after 2 years, putting just $3.3m in dead money on the 2016 cap and paying him somewhere from $15-20m over that span.

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Andrew March 13, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Great points about the Talib deal. I can’t find those early reports, though. If you’re right, I think it’s a good (not great) deal. If it’s much bigger real guaranteed money, I think it’s bad (not terrible). One thing worth mentioning: Not so sure he’s the best guy to have on a long-term deal, even just psychologically. Possible he’s a guy who may play better in a contract year, on average.

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Kibbles March 14, 2014 at 1:08 pm

The “early report” I was referring to was a story on the Denver Post about something else entirely that casually dropped that Ware, Talib, and Ward all received $5m signing bonuses.

Mike Florio over at PFT is now reporting that instead Talib has $11.5m in guaranteed salary this year, $5.5 next year, and $8.5 the year after. Each salary is guaranteed for injury (as predicted), but only becomes fully guaranteed in March of that year (again as predicted). Talib also has up to $500,000 he can earn in per-game roster bonuses if he manages to stay healthy.

So, basically, Denver signed Talib to a 1-year, $12m deal with a team option to add a second year at $6m, and then another team option for a third year at $9m, followed by up to three more team option years in the $11m range. They can cut him after any season (before the start of free agency) with minimal cap ramifications. Again, I’d rather have Revis this year for $12m than Talib this year for $12 (much, much rather, in fact), but all those extra team options at the end of the deal will become extremely valuable as the salary cap continues to rise, provided Talib keeps up his performance. And if Talib doesn’t, there’s little lost.

It’s not getting Wes Welker for the cost of Brian Hartline or anything, but it’s a pretty solid deal for the Broncos, which is little surprise because they have a reputation as hardball negotiators who sign players to extremely team-friendly deals under Elway.

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prowrestlingisstrong March 13, 2014 at 5:08 pm

@James

I am not saying Phillips is a better player then Ware by any stretch, but Phillips had a good year last year and Ware did not. If Ware gets 11 sacks all he will be doing is replacing Phillips production for like like five times the price. Same with Talib, he is a good corner, but rogers-cromartie had a good year last year as well and now you will paying Talib a lot more for what will probably similar production. Take away name value and I think the Broncos will only see a substantial upgrade at strong safety, which also happens to be the only good contract they handed out. Meanwhile the offense lost Decker and did nothing to improve an mediocre o line outside a returning Clady. I just dont think they improved as much as people believe. They needed to invest money at LB and interior line

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James March 17, 2014 at 1:46 pm

I don’t disagree with any of that, but since Phillips and DRC were free agents they were going to have to pay more to retain them as well, so while they may not have improved over the 2013 squad it’s an improvement from where they could have been before FA started.

Ware specifically could be a major upgrade, as while it’s by no means guaranteed, I think it’s fair to say he’s much more likely than Phillips to have an All-Pro season and make a huge impact for that defense, which is part of why he’s paid more. As for the offense, while they definitely downgraded at receiver they should still have one of the best offenses in the league next year, and they can hope the defensive improvements will offset most of that loss.

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