NFL New Year’s Eve: Reviewing Marquee Free Agent Signings

The NFL New Year draws nigh. Over the last few days pending free agents have been eligible to re-sign with their current team, but starting tomorrow they can sign with any club. Here are some figures to consider concerning the big names who already chose to stick with their team.

* denotes a team using its one-year franchise tag

Defensive Ends (4-3)

Michael Bennett

** all salary information from Spotrac.com

Age: 28 (29 on November 13th)
Old Contract**: 1 year/$4.8 million, $4.8 million average (18th-highest among position)
2013 PFF Grade: 24.2 (5th of 52 4-3 defensive ends with significant playing time)
2013 Contract Quality***: 1.09 (5th among position)
New Contract: 4 years/$28.5 million, $7.125 million average (projected 8th among position)

*** a player’s contract quality is the number of standard deviations his performance is above/below the average at his position (measured by PFF), minus the number of standard deviations his average annual salary is above/below the average at his position (obtained via Spotrac.com); CQ = (performance SDs +/- positional average) – (salary SDs +/- positional average)

Last year, Bennett’s play was worth about $8.8 million, given the salaries and performances of all NFL players at his position. This deal is nearly two million under that each year. May the football gods bless quarterbacks playing the Seahawks this coming season; Michael Bennett surely is not going to.

Greg Hardy

Age: 25 (26 on July 28th)
Old Contract: 4 years/$2.776 million, $0.694 million average (42nd among position)
2013 PFF Grade: 27 (3rd of 52)
2013 Contract Quality: 2.38 (2nd among position)
New Contract: 1 year/$13.116 million*, $13.116 million average (projected 2nd among position)

Hardy will probably be overpaid, at least based solely on his on-field contributions. (It may have been worthwhile for the Panthers to keep him for other reasons, such as selling tickets and not devastating their fan base.) The franchise tag is designed to strongly compensate the player, who has had his free agency stripped of him and receives only a one-year contract in return. The Panthers will be back to square one next year, with Hardy’s stock likely not going anywhere but up with him in his mid-twenties. The Panthers (likely) should have either locked him up long-term or let him go; what does one heavily overpriced year do in the meantime?1

Wide Receivers

Jeremy Maclin

Age: 25 (26 on May 11th)
Old Contract: 5 years/$14.375 million, $2.875 million average (41st among position)
2013 PFF Grade: N/A
2013 Contract Quality: N/A
New Contract: 1 year/$5.25 million, $5.25 million average (projected 27th among position)

Maclin is coming of a season-ending injury. This deal does not look terrible, and will look good if he shows he belongs in Chip Kelly’s offense. It does come with three million guaranteed, though, even if he is injured again or fails to measure up. And in his last healthy season, 2012, Pro Football Focus graded Maclin 101st among 105 wide receivers. Hm.

Anquan Boldin

Age: 33 (34 on October 3rd)
Old Contract: 3 years/$25 million, $8.333 million average (13th among position)
2013 PFF Grade: 17.9 (9th of 111)
2013 Contract Quality: 0.63 (33rd among position)
New Contract: 2 years/$12 million, $6 million average (projected 23rd among position)

Eleven years ago Anquan Boldin was one of the slower wide receivers entering the NFL draft; the Arizona Cardinals still took him 54th overall, and never regretted it. The Ravens did trade him to free up some cap money, but presumably do not regret the eight million-plus they gave him a year, after his thirtieth birthday, as he strongly contributed to their playoff trips and Super Bowl victory. The 49ers are actually paying him pretty much what they did last year (due to some dead money going to Baltimore’s books instead of San Francisco’s). And though he is old, he should not exactly “lose a step” to younger competition; he has always been slow. His strength lies in just that: his strength.

 


  1. A possible theory is that this is back pay for the good work Hardy has already done; after all, he was making pennies the last few seasons as one of the best defensive ends in the game. But Hardy was going to get millions this spring from whatever team signed him. Why would the Panthers (a business, to an extent like any other) grant him millions just because they were able to underpay him for years? 
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