Highest earners this off-season? Look to the guaranteed money
The NFL free agency period is a whirlwind, and all the different figures that fly around (total salary, guaranteed money, cap hit, bonuses, incentives) can make it difficult to understand exactly how much money is being forked over to new signings.
Unlike MLB contracts, dollar amounts in the NFL are hardly set in stone after pen meets paper. League executives take full advantage of the provisions in the CBA, frequently cutting costly players long before their gaudy contracts expire.
So instead of focusing on the total amount of cash a contract contains, which is often reported but rarely paid in full, let’s concentrate on those who have gotten the most guaranteed money (reportedly) in free agency thus far:
Guaranteed money: $21 million
[daily_cut.nfl]The fact that DeMarco Murray compiled the 17th-most rushing yards (1,845) in history last year, yet barely cracks the top 10 of this list speaks volumes to how the NFL views running backs right now.
Murray could reportedly double his income to $42 million if he stays with the Eagles for the entirety of his five-year contract. The 27-year-old’s chances of doing that depend entirely on whether his 2014 campaign signaled the beginning of a sustainable peak or was merely a byproduct of running behind Dallas’s fearsome offensive line.
Guaranteed money: $22 million
With Michael Crabtree likely a goner, San Francisco needed to find another capable threat outside for Colin Kaepernick. Smith fills that void well and his ability to break big plays (career average of 16.9 yards per catch, 11 touchdowns in 2014) along with Kaepernick’s cannon arm should give opposing defenses headaches.
However, Smith isn’t a complete receiver—he can get jammed at the line, and his short and intermediate route-running leave something to be desired. Despite his high touchdown output last year, he logged the lowest yards and receptions totals of his career.
8. Jared Odrick, DT, Jaguars
Guaranteed money: $22 million
Odrick was essentially replaced in Miami by a beast of a man ranked higher on this list. But the former Dolphins’ tackle still managed to find a team in Florida willing to pay him big bucks in the form of a five-year contract from the Jaguars that could earn Odrick up to $42.5 million.
Last year was a tale of two seasons for Odrick and the Miami defense, which allowed 18.9 points per game through Week 9 and gave up 27.8 points per game thereafter. That includes a stretch where the Dolphins rush defense was trampled by the Broncos, Jets and Ravens for a combined 661 yards on 5.7 yards per carry.
Jacksonville has to hope Odrick, a former first-round pick who started 16 games for the first time last season, can shore up a unit that ranked 27th against the run last year.
7. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Chiefs
Guaranteed money: $22.5 million
Maclin showed far surer hands in 2014 than he previously had in Philadelphia, dropping just one pass after averaging seven during his first four years with the Eagles, according to Pro Football Focus. He also ranked sixth among WRs in YAC (489), producing a robust 15.5 yards per reception.
Though the Missouri product is undoubtedly a dangerous deep threat, his chances of making a huge impact on Kansas City’s passing game are limited as long as the conservative Alex Smith is his quarterback. Andy Reid would be smart to utilize Maclin’s speed and sure-handedness in the slot, which would complement Smith’s skill set better
Randall Cobb, who reportedly received $17 million in guaranteed money to return to Green Bay for four years, would have been an excellent fit. But Maclin isn’t a bad consolation prize.
6. Mike Iupati, OG, Cardinals
Guaranteed money: $22.5 million
Iupati, the latest longtime 49er to join the exodus out of the Bay Area, has a well-deserved reputation as a mauler. Luring the 27-year-old away from a division rival could end up costing Arizona $40 million over five years, but Iupati is a menacing presence in the rushing game who’s made the Pro Bowl for three straight years and should help boost Andre Ellington’s production.
That being said, Iupati is basically a turnstile when it comes to pass blocking. He was graded as the 63rd best pass-blocking guard by Pro Football Focus last year, which almost completely negated his value. For a fragile quarterback like Carson Palmer, that’s not good news.
5. Julius Thomas, TE, Jaguars
Guaranteed money: $24 million
It pays to be a favorite target of Peyton Manning. For the second straight off-season, a key component of Denver’s passing offense is leaving for greener pastures. The Broncos were fine last season without Eric Decker, but Thomas’s combination of size and athleticism will be hard to replicate.
This very well might end up being a shrewd signing by Jacksonville, and will almost certainly aid the development of Blake Bortles. But this team still has a lot of holes, and Thomas has been a better fantasy football producer than actual football player due to his unrefined blocking skills.
Thomas will be Jacksonville’s second highest-paid player next year with a reported base salary of $9 million, just ahead of Marcedes Lewis, the guy he’ll likely replace in the starting lineup. It’s not ideal for tight ends to take up two of the top three spots on your payroll, but the Jags likely felt they had to do this to give Bortles a bona fide weapon (and put some fans in the seats).
4. Byron Maxwell, CB, Eagles
Guaranteed money: $25 million
Maxwell is no doubt grateful to Seattle after he parlayed one full season starting for the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom into a six-year contract with the Eagles that could net him up to $63 million.
Maxwell is a solid starter outside, allowing just one touchdown to receivers in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus. But Maxwell also managed just one interception in the regular season, during which opposing wideouts caught 63.3 percent of passes thrown their way when lined up against him for 679 yards. He was also picked on in the final two rounds of Seattle’s postseason run.
There’s a good chance the 27-year-old doesn’t see the end of his contract in Philly, especially since the Eagles’ young core of linebackers (Kiko Alonso, Mychal Kendricks, Marcus Smith) won’t always be as cheap as they are now.
3. Devin McCourty, FS, Patriots
Guaranteed money: $28.5 million
The only player to stick with his original team on this list, McCourty received an act of loyalty from Bill Belichick that he rarely shows defensive backs (Ty Law is scowling somewhere). McCourty’s near-$30 million coup in guaranteed money is a record for a safety, breaking the mark set by New Orleans’ Jairus Byrd last off-season.
The Saints likely already regret pledging that much money to Byrd, who woefully underperformed last season before injuring his shoulder after just four games. Perhaps we’re giving the Patriots too much credit here, but this situation doesn’t have the same feel—McCourty was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the league’s best safety last year, and it wasn’t particularly close.
2. Darrelle Revis, CB, Jets
Guaranteed money: $39 million
This is where total money can get deceptive. Revis signed a five-year deal to return to the Jets that could net him up to $70 million, just $7 million more than Maxwell reportedly can receive. But Revis is guaranteed at least $39 million in his contract—and he’ll likely be worth every penny.
Opposing receivers caught just 44 of 85 passes (51.8 completion percentage) thrown Revis’s way in 2014. The newly minted Super Bowl champion was ranked as the No. 4 CB overall by Pro Football Focus last season, behind only Chris Harris, Vontae Davis and Richard Sherman.
1. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Dolphins
Guaranteed money: $60 million
Suh was widely expected to net the largest haul of any free agent this off-season. His lucrative six-year deal with Miami leaked before the free agency period officially started on Tuesday, as the Dolphins essentially scared off any other potential suitors by signing Suh to the largest contract for a defensive tackle in NFL history.
The three-time All-Pro behemoth could earn up to $114 million if he stays in Miami through the entirety of his contract, but he’s already been guaranteed more money than both J.J. Watt ($51.9 million) and Gerald McCoy ($51.5 million).
So even if Suh becomes the next Albert Haynesworth, he’s guaranteed to retire from the NFL as a very wealthy man and will at least be remembered as the first big domino to fall in this wild week.
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