Target prices for 10 offensive players with expiring contracts were covered in an article earlier in the week. The focus now turns to the other side of the ball.
Things will get moving March 13 when the exclusive negotiating rights NFL teams have had with their impending free agents ends. The agents of prospective unrestricted free agents are allowed to negotiate with teams beginning at 12 p.m. ET on March 13 until 3:59:59 p.m. ET on March 15. Prospective UFAs who don't have an agent can also negotiate with front office executives of teams. Players can't sign deals with new clubs until the 2023 league year and free agency officially begin at 4 p.m. ET. A player's ability to re-sign with his current club is allowed during the period.
As a reminder, it was my responsibility while working on the agent side to create target or asking prices for the firm's clients headed toward free agency regardless of whether I was the lead agent. In that spirit, I have set target prices with total contract value, overall guarantees, amount fully guaranteed at signing and first three years compensation (when applicable) for 10 intriguing defensive players who will be unrestricted free agents or were designated as a franchise players.
Players don't necessarily sign for their target prices because free agency is a fluid process where adaptations must be made to changing market conditions. Some players are disappointed in free agency's outcome because their market never develops for a variety of reasons (age, unrealistic contract demands, supply and demand at a playing position, etc.).
Remember the target or asking prices for these players may be on the high side and aren't necessarily what their actual deals will be.
DT Daron Payne ($18.937 million franchise tag)
- Contract package: $91 million/4 years ($22.75 million per year)
- Overall guarantees: $70 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $47.5 million
The presumption was 2022 would be Payne's last year in Washington because there wasn't much interest in extending his contract last offseason. That changed with Payne elevating his game as a pass-rusher in 2022.
While playing under an $8.529 million fifth-year option, Payne was third in the NFL among interior defensive linemen with a career high 11.5 sacks. His 18 tackles for loss were the most in the league for an interior defensive lineman.
The Commanders should be prepared to exceed the contract given to Jonathan Allen to keep arguably the best interior defensive line tandem together long term. Allen signed a four-year, $72 million contract extension averaging $18 million per year in 2021.
The 25-year-old Payne should be one of the beneficiaries of Aaron Donald dramatically re-setting the market of interior defensive linemen. Donald signed a three-year, $95 million deal averaging $31,666,667 per year last June on a fully guaranteed contract.
There is a huge gap between Donald and the next highest paid interior defensive lineman (DeForest Buckner/Leonard Williams) at $21 million per year. Donald's deal averages nearly 51% more. Expect this gap to be closed this offseason with young defensive tackles (Dexter Lawrence, Jeffery Simmons and Quinnen Williams) heading into the final year of rookie contracts.
Joel Segal, Payne's agent, represents Buckner. The Buckner deal adjusted for salary cap inflation is a little more than $23.75 million per year.
S Jessie Bates III
- Contract package: $73 million/4 years ($18.25 million per year)
- Overall guarantees: $37.5 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $37.5 million
Bates didn't sign his $12.911 million franchise tender until the latter part of last August after negotiations failed to produce a multi-year agreement. He didn't let the lack signing long-term affect his play last season like during the early part of 2021 when he was in the final year of his rookie contract.
The Bengals declined to place a second franchise tag on Bates for $15,493,200, 120% of his initial one. Safety Daxton Hill, who was selected 31st overall in the 2022 NFL Draft, seemingly is in line to take over after Bates' expected departure.
Bates' reasonable worst-case scenario in free agency should be the five-year, $70 million contract averaging $14 million per year Marcus Williams received from the Ravens on the open market last year with $37 million in guarantees ($32 million fully guaranteed at signing). He probably has his sights set a lot higher than the Williams deal.
David Mulugheta, his agent, re-set the safety market last August when Derwin James signed a four-year, $76 million extension with $42 million in guarantees where $38,584,471 was fully guaranteed at signing. James ended Minkah Fitzpatrick's brief reign as the NFL's highest-paid safety. Fitzpatrick received a four-year extension averaging $18.247 million per year and containing $36 million fully guaranteed from the Steelers last June. When Bates was franchised, Seahawks safety Jamal Adams was the standard with the four-year, $70 million extension worth up to $72 million through incentives and salary escalators he received in 2021.
LB Tremaine Edmunds
- Contract package: $92.5 million/5 years ($18.5 million per year)
- Overall guarantees: $57 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $41.5 million
- First three years: $57 million
Edmunds' departure from Buffalo seems inevitable. He had his fifth straight season of 100 or more tackles in 2022 while playing under a $12.716 million fifth-year option. The two-time Pro Bowler was a more complete player in 2022 as he showed improvement in coverage. Fellow 2018 first-round pick Roquan Smith became the NFL's first $20 million per year off-ball linebacker right before the start of the playoffs in January when he received a five-year, $100 million deal with $60 million in guarantees, of which $45 million was fully guaranteed at signing from the Ravens. Giving five new years is par for the course with lucrative off-ball linebacker contracts. The four highest paid (Smith, Shaquille Leonard, Fred Warner and C.J. Mosley) each did.
DT Javon Hargrave
- Contract package: $60 million/3 years ($20 million per year)
- Overall guarantees: $42 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $42 million
Hargrave moved the needle for interior defensive linemen who weren't known as pass-rushers when he joined the Eagles in 2020 free agency on a three-year, $39 million deal with $26 million of guarantees. His ability to rush the passer improved in Philadelphia. Hargrave had a career-high 11 sacks last season, which was fourth in the NFL among interior defensive linemen. He should be the first beneficiary of Aaron Donald dramatically re-setting the market of interior defensive linemen at $31,666,667 per year last June since he is an unrestricted free agent. Donald raised the salary bar for interior defensive linemen a little more 40%, as the six-year extension he signed in 2018 averaging $22.5 million per year was the previous benchmark.
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CB Jamel Dean
- Contract package: $72 million/4 years ($18 million per year)
- Overall guarantees: $50 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $40 million
Dean is the best cover cornerback available in free agency. He has great size (6-1, 206 pounds) and speed (4.30 seconds in the 40-yard dash). He outperformed his fellow Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis, who signed a three-year, $44.5 million contract (worth a maximum of $45.5 million through incentives) to remain in Tampa during free agency last year, in 2022. Dean's salary floor should the Davis' $14,833,333 per year. The top cornerback deal in free agency last year came in below expectations. J.C. Jackson signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Chargers, which was the same amount Byron Jones received from the Dolphins in free agency two years earlier.
CB James Bradberry
- Contract package: $43.5 million/3 years ($14.5 million per year)
- Overall guarantees: $30 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $30 million
Bradberry joined the Eagles to help form arguably the NFL's best cornerback tandem with Darius Slay after the Giants made him a salary cap casualty last May. He was entering the final year of a three-year, $43.5 million contract (worth up to $45 million through incentives). There were $31.9 million in guarantees where $29.9 million was fully guaranteed at signing. Bradberry made the most of signing a one-year, $7.25 million contract (worth a maximum of $10 million through incentives). Opposing quarterbacks completed 46% of passes (40 of 87 attempts) when targeting Bradberry for a 54.2 passer rating, according to Pro Football Focus. His 17 passes defended were the NFL's third-most this season.
Bradberry, who turns 30 in August, indicated he would be open to returning to the Eagles prior to Super Bowl LVII, but his biggest payday is probably somewhere else.
S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
- Contract package: $40 million/3 years ($13,333,333 per year)
- Overall guarantees: $27.5 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $27.5 million
The Saints dealt Gardner-Johnson to the Eagles late last preseason after reaching an impasse in negotiations for a contract extension. The Saints were reportedly offering $8 million per year while Gardner-Johnson was seeking $12 million per year. Gardner-Johnson thrived in a traditional safety role with the Eagles after spending a majority of his time as a slot cornerback with the Saints. He was the NFL's co-leader with six interceptions despite missing five games with a lacerated kidney. Gardner-Johnson may have adjusted his salary expectations upwards after demonstrating his versatility with the Eagles.
LB LaVonte David
- Contract package: $25 million/2 years ($12.5 million per year)
- Overall guarantees: $20 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $17.5 million
David was Tampa Bay's most consistent linebacker in 2022 despite the presence of 2019 first-round pick Devin White. He signed a two-year, $25 million contract with $20 million of guarantees ($17.5 million fully guaranteed) in 2021 to remain with the Buccaneers as a 31-year-old. David, who is 33, probably thinks a pay cut isn't warranted since he is still playing at a high level.
S Jordan Poyer
- Contract package: $33 million/3 years ($11 million per year)
- Overall guarantees: $22 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $18 million
The Bills added $1.5 million of incentives to Poyer's contract rather than sign him to a contract extension to placate his unhappiness with his deal. Poyer responded by being named to the Pro Bowl. In 2021, Poyer was named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press and Pro Football Writers of America.
Age will likely be held against Poyer, who turns 32 in April, during free agency if Tyrann Mathieu's experience last year is any indication. Mathieu, a three-time first team All-Pro, had a softer than expected market. He didn't sign a three-year, $27 million deal (worth up to $33 million through incentives) where $18 million was fully guaranteed with the Saints until early May, which was a few days before he turned 30.
EDGE Marcus Davenport
- Contract package: $12 million/1 year (worth up to $15 million with incentives)
- Overall guarantees: $12 million ($10.5 million as signing bonus with up to four voiding/dummy years for salary cap purposes)
Davenport is the ultimate buyer beware free agent. He played 63 of a possible 82 games during his five seasons with the Saints. Davenport had a career high 9.5 sacks in 11 games during the 2021 season. While playing on a $9.553 million fifth-year option, he only had one-half sack in 15 games last season but 34 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, quarterback hurries and quarterback hits), according to PFF. Nonetheless, the 26-year-old is probably the most desirable edge rusher available in free agency because of his age, potential and first-round pedigree. Whether that translates to a lucrative long-term deal remains to be seen.