By Leo Silbert
Every year players seem to be getting more and more per season, setting new salary records for position groups and setting the salary floor for a player of a certain level. Last year, Olivier Vernon was given more guaranteed money than J.J. Watt was given by the Texans, even though he is not the same level of a player as Watt (not a jab at Vernon, more me saying no one is at the same level as Watt therefore no one should be paid more than him at his position). Vernon wasn’t the only high-priced free agent from last offseason though, with Josh Norman signing a record high contract for a corner back, Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson signing the 2nd and 3rd highest contracts given to a defensive tackle and Kelechi Osemele becoming the highest paid guard in NFL history. For the most part, the big signings of this past free agency period worked out well for their teams, but that is a rare occurence with many more examples of free agent flops than success stories over the years (like Albert Haynesworth, Nnamdi Asomugha and Brock Osweiler).
First, there were 6 players franchise tagged so far, quarterback Kirk Cousins and Le’Veon Bell were given exclusive franchise tags, becoming the 16th and 17th players to ever be given the exclusive franchise tag while edge rushers Chandler Jones, Jason Pierre-Paul and Melvin Ingram, defensive tackle Kawann Short and corner back Trumaine Johnson were given non-exclusive tags. These 7 players would have been the cream of the crop in free agency so now with them being basically off the market (unless a team wants to give up 2 first round picks to go along with the cost of the players who have been non-exclusive tagged) so that means the lesser players on the market will be given the kinds of deals the top guys would have taken up. There has also been 2 mega deals given out to Eric Berry and Antonio Brown which set new standards for a market deal at the safety and wide receiver positions respectively.
The first person who is almost assured to be overpaid is going to be Alshon Jeffery. When Jeffery is healthy and not suspended and on his game, he is one of the top 15 wide receivers in the league, but since he is going to be a free agent, chances are he will end up being paid like a top 5 wide receiver. Because Jeffery is the top receiver on the market, teams will be competing for his services hard and he’ll likely end up with a deal similar to the deals given to Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas. Another receiver to likely get overpaid is Terrelle Pryor from the Browns. This was Pryor’s first real season of any real production at the receiver spot and he is already 28 years old, but his market value is projected to be around $9 million per season right now but that is likely to be raised by teams trying to outbid the Browns who have the most cap space in the league with over $100 million to give out this season. Other wide receivers who I can see getting overpaid are: Kenny Still due to his speed and the fact that Taylor Gabriel was such an important piece on the Falcons as a speedy deep threat, Terrance Williams due to his size and that he was on a good offense in Dallas and Kenny Britt due to his size and the fact that he got 1,000 yards receiving with a bad Rams offense.
Next, I am going to go over the guys trying to cash in on a great season in their contract year. First is obviously AJ Bouye who before this season wasn’t well-known to anyone but by the end of the 2016 season, he was playing like one of the 5 best corners in the league. He is also helped by the contract Josh Norman was given last off-season as a very similar player. Tony Jefferson from the Cardinals played like a top 10 safety for the first time in his career and he has to be loving how Eric Berry set a new high for safeties since Jefferson will likely get something somewhat close to Berry’s deal? Jonathan Cyprien is another safety who stepped up his game immensely at the safety position this past season so he is also set to be paid handsomely. Zach Brown had a breakout year on a 1 year deal with the Bills so he can end up getting a similar deal to the one given to Jerrell Freeman last year. Nick Perry finally showed some of his first round potential in his fifth season and is now set to hit the open market. Ricky Wagner was horrendous in 2015, but has possibly turned his great contract year into $10 million per season. Terrelle Pryor also fits into this category.
Now, I’m just going to list the offensive guards who are going to benefit from not only Kelechi Osemele’s 5 year $58 million deal from last off-season, but also from Laurent Duvernay-Tardif’s 5 year $41.25 deal that sets the market for an above average guard. First off is Kevin Zeitler who is one of the best guards in the game and has a chance to set a new record high contract for a guard this off-season as Osemele did last off season. Then there is TJ Lang who is a little bit older, but he is another top 1o guard in this league and will be paid as such. Larry Warford has had an up and down career, but he is going into free agency on an upswing so his contract will too. Ronald Leary is a good guard who thanks to Duvernay-Tardif can expect more than $40 million in a contract in his near future with his pedigree of being a part of one of the best lines in football upping his stock. And finally J.C. Tretter who can play both guard and center well will be looking for a new contract possibly outside of Green Bay so he can go into free agency with the reputation of being versatile and being a part of one of the best lines in the league.
And finally, here are the players who will be overpaid because they are now the best at their positions available after the top guys got stuck with the franchise tag. Jabaal Sheard was the top pass rusher on the Superbowl winning Patriots so he can now probably expect over $40 million over a 5 year deal. Stephon Gilmore has never lived up to his first round billing, but with Trumaine Johnson being franchised and Logan Ryan saying he will let the Patriots match any offer he will get in free agency which means to pry him away a team would have to go into Josh Norman money territory, which I don’t believe any team will do, and AJ Bouye having already been covered in this article, then Gilmore can expect somewhere in the $12 million per season area. Both Jonathan Hankins and Brandon Williams will end up in the contract range of Damon “Snacks” Harrison’s 5 year $46.5 million deal signed last off-season with Kawann Short being tagged and likely expecting something in the Fletcher Cox contract stratosphere. Colin Kaepernick hitting the market could lead a team to believe that they can fix his faults ad pay him $12 million a year. As for running backs, I don’t think any of them will be overpaid unless they go to the wrong system like Jamal Charles to a power running scheme or Adrian Peterson to a shotgun running scheme.