The Jaguars‘ aggressiveness in the open market last offseason finally paid big dividends after years of free agency futility. Cornerback A.J. Bouye was signed away from the AFC South rival Texans for $65 million over five years where $26 million was fully guaranteed at signing. Defensive lineman Calais Campbell was brought in after spending his entire nine-year career with the Cardinals. His four-year, $60 million deal had $30 million fully guaranteed at signing.
Not only did the Jaguars win in free agency but on the field in 2017. The duo transformed Jacksonville’s defense into arguably the NFL‘s best while earning All-Pro honors. The Jaguars won the AFC South and an appearance in the AFC Championship Game appearance for the first time since the 1999 season.
Acquiring quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots for a 2018 second-round pick at last year’s late October trading deadline made the 49ers relevant again. Garoppolo’s five impressive starts to end the season, in which the 49ers were victorious, were all that was needed to sign the impending free agent to a five-year, $137.5 million contract at the beginning of the offseason. The deal briefly made Garoppolo, who is out for the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee during a Week 3 game versus the Chiefs, the league’s highest paid player.
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For every veteran acquired via free agency or trade that pans out, there are just as many or more that don’t. For example, The Texans gave quarterback Brock Osweiler a four-year, $72 million contract containing $37 million fully guaranteed at the start of free agency in 2016 after just seven career starts. He was supposed to be a significant upgrade at quarterback over Brian Hoyer. Instead, the Texans defended their AFC South title on the strength of the NFL’s top-ranked defense and in spite of the big money free agent.
Osweiler ranked near the bottom in a majority of major statistical categories in 2016 before losing his starting job to Tom Savage late in the season. Savage subsequently suffering a concussion paved the way for Osweiler to return to the lineup in time for the playoffs.
Almost miraculously, the Texans were able to pawn off 2016’s biggest free agent bust on the Browns. The Texans had to give the Browns, who were placing a premium on draft capital, their 2018 second round pick and a 2017 sixth round pick in order for Cleveland to take on Osweiler’s $16 million fully guaranteed 2017 base salary and his unsecured 2018 and 2019 contract years worth $35 million. A 2017 fourth-rounder was acquired by the Texans from the Browns in return. Cleveland released Osweiler at last season’s roster cutdown after being unable to move him to another team despite a willingness to eat a significant portion of his salary as a part of a deal.
Here’s a look at the early season hits and misses with veterans obtained in trades or signed as free agents. Players, such as 49ers running back Jerick McKinnon, Dolphins offensive guard Josh Sitton, Rams cornerback Aqib Talib and Packers defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson who suffered significant injuries have been excluded from the misses.
Contract Value: $141 Million/6 Year Extension
Average Yearly Salary: $23.5 Million
Contract Guarantees: $90 Million ($34 Million as signing bonus)
Fully Guaranteed At Signing: $60 Million
The 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year has made an immediate impact after the Bears gave up their next two first round picks to get him from the Raiders on Labor Day weekend, and a blockbuster contract in the process. The league’s highest paid non-quarterback won NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for September after generating five sacks, forcing four fumbles and returning an interception for a touchdown in the season’s first four games. Mack’s dominance has made him a leading candidate to win his second Defensive Player of the Year award and helped put the Bears in playoff contention.
Contract Value: $84 Million/3 Years (Worth up to $90 Million with incentives)
Average Yearly Salary: $28 Million
Contract Guarantees: $84 Million
Fully Guaranteed At Signing: $84 Million
Great expectations have come with the NFL’s first lucrative fully guaranteed veteran contract. Cousins has been up to the task with the league’s stingiest defense in 2017 taking a step backwards so far this season. He has been one of the NFL’s most productive quarterbacks statistically. Cousins ranks in the top 10 in completion percentage (third), passing yards (fifth), touchdown passes (tied for eighth) and passer rating (10th). He is on pace to throw for 5,123 yards and 32 touchdowns while completing 71.2 percent of his passes for a 102.7 passer rating, which would all be career highs. Cousins needs to solve his ball security issues. Five of his six fumbles, which are third most in the NFL, have been recovered by the opposition. Cousins also is tied for the league lead with 11 batted passes according to Pro Football Focus, which matches last season’s total.
Contract Value: $81 Million/5 Years (Worth up to $84.5 Million through salary escalators)
Average Yearly Salary: $16.2 Million
Contract Guarantees: $50.459 Million
Fully Guaranteed At Signing: $20.459 Million
The Rams gave the Patriots their 2018 first round pick (23rd overall) and a 2018 sixth round pick to get Cooks and a 2018 fourth round pick in an April trade. Cooks was impressive enough in offseason workouts to land a new contract as the start of training camp was approaching before playing a down of football for the Rams. The addition of Cooks to replace Sammy Watkins, who signed a three-year, $48 million contract with the Chiefs in free agency, and third year quarterback Jared Goff’s improvement have transformed the Rams into arguably the NFL’s most prolific offense. The Rams are leading the league in total offense (464.3 yards per game) and averaging 32.7 points per game, which is almost a field goal more than last year’s squad. The 2017 Rams led the NFL in scoring. Cooks has 28 receptions and 505 receiving yards in six games. He needs 12 catches and 89 more yards to top what Watkins did in 15 games with the Rams last season.
Contract Value: $13 Million/2 Years (Worth up to $15 Million with incentives)
Average Yearly Salary: $6.5 Million
Contract Guarantees: $6 Million (Fully Guaranteed)
Ebron signed with Indianapolis after the Lions released him in early March to prevent his $8.25 million 2018 fifth-year option from becoming fully guaranteed. He has been an offensive bright spot for the struggling Colts. Ebron is tied for the NFL lead with six touchdown receptions, which is a career best. He is on track for career highs of 80 catches and 869 receiving yards in addition to 16 touchdowns.
Contract Value: $5 Million/1 Year (Worth up to $6.5 Million with incentives)
Contract Guarantees: $4 Million (Fully Guaranteed)
Brown has already established himself as one of the NFL’s most dangerous deep threats during his short time in Baltimore. His 20.2 yards per catch are second in the NFL. Brown is on pace for career highs of 1,131 receiving yards and eight touchdown receptions in a bounce back year. Assorted ailments, including a cyst on Brown’s spine, and a sickle cell trait diagnosis slowed him over the last two seasons.
Contract Value: $17.25 Million/3 Years (Worth up to $18.75 Million with incentives)
Average Yearly Salary: $5.75 Million
Contract Guarantees: $8.5 Million
Fully Guaranteed At Signing: $7.5 Million
Kennard has taken advantage of the increased opportunities to rush the passer that he didn’t have during his four years with the Giants. His five sacks are as many as he had with New York in the 31 games he played during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Contract Value: $12 Million/3 Years
Average Yearly Salary: $4 Million
Contract Guarantees: $6 Million
Fully Guaranteed At Signing: $4 Million
Crowell is tied for seventh in the NFL with 430 rushing yard despite splitting carries with Bilal Powell. His 2019 rushing yards against the Broncos in Week 5 were a Jets single game franchise record. Crowell’s 6.1 yards per carry are third best in the NFL. He’s also produced five rushing touchdowns, which are tied for fourth most in the league.
Contract Value: $40 Million/2 Years (worth up to $42 million with incentives)
Average Yearly Salary: $20 Million
Contract Guarantees: $15 Million ($10 Million as signing bonus)
Fully Guaranteed At Signing: $15 Million
Bradford didn’t perform anything like he did in the 2017 season opener against the Saints, which earned him earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors, before being benched three games into the season for 2018 10th overall pick Josh Rosen. The Cardinals were smart to insist on big annual game day active roster bonuses in Bradford’s contract given his injury history. Bradford only played six quarters of football in 2017 due to issues with a left knee which previously suffered two ACL tears. The $5 million of per game roster bonuses ($312,500 each game) this season is the largest ever in an NFL contract. The per game amount is only payable if Bradford is on the 46-man active roster for that particular game. The base value of Bradford’s 2018 compensation is considered to be $20 million although the per game roster bonuses are treated as incentives under the salary cap. As long as Bradford continues to remain inactive on game day, like he has since being benched, the Cardinals will save $4,062,500. It’s hard to envision any scenario where Bradford is with the Cardinals in 2019.
Contract Value: $61.25 Million/5 Years
Average Yearly Salary: $12.25 Million
Contract Guarantees: $30 Million
Fully Guaranteed At Signing: $24 Million
Butler is doing his best to validate Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s mysterious benching of him in Super Bowl LII. He has already been burned for three touchdowns of 35 yards or more. Butler gave up a fourth touchdown to Ravens wide receiver Michael Crabtree in Tennessee’s last game. His early season struggles resulted in Adoree Jackson replacing him in the starting lineup against Baltimore.
Contract Value: $11 Million/2 Years (worth up to $12 million with incentives)
Average Yearly Salary: $5.5 Million
Contract Guarantees: $2.5 Million (Fully Guaranteed)
Hurns signing a few days after the Jaguars released him in March helped accelerate Dez Bryant’s departure. The hope was Hurns would at least replicate Bryant’s production, which had been declining, for less than half the money. Bryant averaged 50 catches for a little less than 680 yards with just under six touchdowns over the last three seasons. Hurns hasn’t distinguished himself in the Cowboys‘ wide receiver by committee approach. He has expressed frustration with the play calling. Hurns only has 8 catches for 84 yards with one touchdown in six games this season.
Remaining Contract Value: $16 Million/1 Year (worth up to $18 million with incentives)
Contract Guarantees: $1 Million (Fully Guaranteed)
The Browns didn’t trade a 2018 third round pick to the Bills for Taylor to be the long term solution at quarterback. This became abundantly clear when the Browns used the first overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft on 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. Taylor sustaining a concussion in Week 3 against the Jets opened the door for Mayfield to take his job sooner than expected. Mayfield led the Browns to their first victory since Week 16 of the 2016 season in relief of Taylor. A benching was eventually going to happen. Taylor was only completing 48.8 percent of passes for 462 yards and had a 63.7 passer rating as the starter.
Contract Value: $66.5 Million/5 Years
Average Yearly Salary: $13.2 Million
Contract Guarantees: $34.8 Million ($15 Million as signing bonus)
Fully Guaranteed At Signing: $30 Million
The Jaguars didn’t sign Norwell to a contract making him the NFL’s highest paid offensive guard to be ordinary. Zack Martin now holds that distinction with the contract extension he received from the Cowboys in June. Norwell didn’t allow Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to be touched in 2017 while earning first team All-Pro honors. He has already given up two sacks this season. Norwell’s run blocking isn’t up to its past standards either.
Contract Value: $36 Million/2 Years (worth up to $38 million with incentives)
Average Yearly Salary: $20 Million
Contract Guarantees: $36 Million ($11 million in 2019 injury only)
Fully Guaranteed At Signing: $25 Million
The Broncos haven’t gotten the Keenum who helped the Vikings win the NFC North last season with a 13-3 record, which tied for best in the NFL, en route to an NFC Championship Game appearance after starting quarterback Sam Bradford’s early season knee injury. His 2017 performance is looking like an anomaly so far. Keenum threw seven interceptions last season. He’s already exceeded that in six games this season. Keenum’s eight interceptions are tied for the most in the NFL. His 63.1 completion percentage and 80.5 passer rating are 24th and 29th respectively in the NFL. Keenum still has the confidence of Broncos head coach Vance Joseph although Denver fans are clamoring for backup Chad Kelly to play. That might change if Denver, who has a 2-4 record, doesn’t start turning the season around.
Contract Value: $5 Million/1 Year (Worth up to $8 Million with incentives)
Contract Guarantees: $3.5 Million (Fully Guaranteed)
Davis was signed to pair at cornerback with Tre’Davious White, who made the All-Rookie team last year. He was a healthy scratch in the season opener against the Ravens. Davis started the second game versus the Chargers before abruptly retiring at halftime. The Bills promptly placed Davis on the reserve/left squad, which prevents him for playing again this season should he change his mind. Davis made a costly decision. The Bills can recoup nearly all of his $1.5 million signing bonus and voided his $2 million base salary guarantee. Davis won’t earn the remaining $875,000 of his per game roster bonuses. He’ll make just under $500,000 for his brief stint in Buffalo if payment for Week 2 can be avoided by the Bills. The NFLPA is expected to push for the Week 2 payment.
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