PFR Originals

This Date In Transactions History: Vikings Extend Harrison Smith

In 2016, Vikings GM Rick Spielman praised Harrison Smith as “better safeties” in the NFL. Actually, Smith proved himself to be one of the best in the league at his position but, as Spielman joked, assigning him that label would have driven up the price. Four years ago today, the two sides met in the middle to tie Smith to Minnesota through the 2021 season. 

[RELATED: Latest On Dalvin Cook, Vikings]

All told, it was a five-year extension worth $51.25MM in new money with $15.278MM fully guaranteed and $28.58MM in total guarantees. At the time, the deal made Smith the highest-paid safety in the league. Smith fell short of Devin McCourty‘s $22MM watermark for full guarantees, but he was the kingpin in terms of average annual value and total value.

The metrics certainly indicated that Smith was one of the best in the league and this contract reflected it. Pro Football Focus positioned the then-27-year-old as the NFL’s No. 1 safety in 2015, despite the fact that he only played 13 games. He ranked in PFF’s top 10 for safeties in pass coverage, run defense, and pass rush grades. And, since 2012, he was the only player to post 300+ tackles (311), 5+ sacks (5.5), 10+ interceptions (12), and a 4+ interception/touchdown ratio.

Sometime after Smith’s big extension, the NFL’s safety market dipped dramatically. In 2018, teams weren’t willing to make major committments to mid-field veterans, leaving notables like Kenny Vaccaro, Eric Reid, and Tre Boston in limbo throughout the offseason. Other ill-fated deals ruined the fun for safeties, but Smith’s deal was different.

Smith has been a Pro Bowler in each of the last five seasons and he’s missed only three regular season games in the last four, under the extension. This year, he’s slated to earn $10.75MM, which puts him eighth among all safeties in 2020 comp. The Smith extension was pricey, no doubt, but it’s now an undeniably team-friendly deal. And, if his performance slips for whatever reason this year, the Vikings have an easy escape hatch – his $9.85MM base salary for 2021 is non-guaranteed. However, history suggests that he’ll continue to deliver, and the Vikings will probably start chatting with him about his next contract soon.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR Originals: 6/29/20 – 7/5/20

Here’s a look back at some of our faves from the past week:

Top Edge Rushers Still Available

Putting pressure on the opposing quarterback is critical to a team’s success in today’s NFL, and there are a number of players still languishing on the free agent market who are capable of doing just that. While the pandemic has understandably made teams leery of authorizing big-money contracts, some of the available talent can be had for a fairly minimal commitment, and it would not be surprising to see them come off the board as we get closer (hopefully) to training camp.

So let’s take a look at the best of the unsigned pass rushers.

  1. Jadeveon Clowney: Not many players have been in the news more than Clowney this offseason. By now, everyone knows that Clowney was seeking a multi-year deal with an AAV of at least $20MM when free agency opened, but he has had to modify his demands in a big way. The Browns are believed to have two offers on the table: a one-year pact worth $15MM, and a multi-year contract worth around $12MM/year. Cleveland does not seem to be high on Clowney’s list of preferred destinations, but the club does have the makings of a postseason contender. It will be interesting to see if another team tries to top the Browns’ proposals to land a potentially game-changing talent.
  2. Everson Griffen: Back in May, Griffen was rated as our No. 3 best available free agent, and he would be the No. 2 talent on that list today now that Cam Newton has signed with the Patriots. Shortly after the list was published, we heard that the Cardinals may be interested, but nothing has transpired on the Griffen front in the last six weeks. The 32-year-old showed that he still has plenty left in the tank after registering eight sacks in 2019, and the fact that he is still unsigned may indicate that his contract demands are too high right now.
  3. Ezekiel Ansah: The Seahawks paired Clowney with Ansah in 2019 with the hopes of creating a true two-headed pass-rushing monster. That did not exactly work out as planned, as Clowney managed just three sacks and Ansah posted 2.5 while playing in 11 games. Ansah just couldn’t regain the form that he displayed during his best years with the Lions, and it certainly seems as if he does not have another double-digit sack campaign in him. Still, he is another year removed from the shoulder injury that marred his 2018 season and delayed his 2019 debut, so he will surely get a chance to be a part of someone’s pass rush rotation in 2020.
  4. Michael Bennett: Bennett wants to play in 2020, but thus far, it doesn’t sound as if there has been much interest in his services. The three-time Pro Bowler enjoyed a nine-sack effort with the Eagles in 2018, but he was traded to the Patriots in March 2019 and clashed with New England brass. In October, the Pats shipped him to the Cowboys, for whom he posted four sacks in nine games. In total, he collected 6.5 sacks last year while playing fewer snaps than he is accustomed to. He may very well start to attract more interest once camp gets underway.
  5. Markus Golden: No one other than the incumbent Giants has expressed interest in Golden since free agency began, and it seems like the 29-year-old will be back with Big Blue in 2020. The Giants put the rarely-used UFA tender on him, which means that he will only be eligible to play for New York if he does not sign another offer prior to the start of training camp (presently scheduled for July 28). Though Golden posted 10 sacks in 2019, he did so off of just 26 pressures, which teams likely see as an unsustainable conversion rate. The UFA tender would pay Golden $4.125MM this season.
  6. Jabaal Sheard: Sheard has never quite lived up to his potential as a game-changing pass rusher, and the 8.5 sacks he totaled in his rookie season in 2011 remain a career high. But he has averaged over five sacks per season over the course of a mostly-durable nine-year career, and he still looks the part of a starting DE. Fresh off a reasonably productive three-year stint with the Colts, Sheard has not yet been connected to any club this offseason.
  7. Clay Matthews: Matthews opened the 2019 campaign with his hair on fire, posting six sacks in the first five games of the season. It appeared that the two-year, $16.75MM contract the Rams gave to the longtime Packer in March 2019 was going to pay off in a big way, but Matthews suffered a broken jaw in October that derailed his season. He picked up two more sacks the rest of the way, and LA cut ties with him earlier this year. There have been no public reports of interest in the 34-year-old, but he could be a valuable veteran presence if deployed in the right way.
  8. Vinny Curry: Curry has always been a situational pass rusher. Even when he started all 16 regular-season games for the Eagles in 2017, he played in just over half of the club’s defensive snaps. His one year in Tampa Bay in 2018 was not a smashing success, but he returned to Philadelphia in 2019 to reprise his role as a player who can come in on passing downs and who represents a legitimate threat to get to the quarterback. The Jets were said to be interested in him in March, and Gang Green could still use pass rushing help, but the two sides have not yet come together on an agreement.
  9. Terrell Suggs: Suggs’ career accomplishments stand head and shoulders above those of most everyone else on this list. The former Defensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and seven-time Pro Bowler has 139 career sacks to his credit, but he finally started to slow down in 2018, his final year in Baltimore, and he looked the part of an aging defender during his 13-game stint with the Cardinals in 2019. Arizona cut him late last season and he was scooped up by the Chiefs, which allowed him to collect his second Super Bowl ring. It’s unclear if T-Sizzle has any interest in continuing his playing career, but he has nothing left to prove.
  10. Cameron Wake: Another player that would be higher on this list if not for his age, Wake was released by the Titans in March. The 38-year-old has said he wants to keep playing, but after a terrific run with the Dolphins from 2009-18, Wake’s one year with Tennessee did not go according to plan. He registered just two sacks in nine games and missed the final stretch of the season with a back injury. He might well be healthy now, but we are unaware of any teams with interest at this point.

This Date In Transactions History: NFL Suspends Cowboys’ Rolando McClain

When linebacker Rolando McClain was handed a 10-game suspension on this date in 2016, it was assumed he’d be back for the Cowboys’ late-season run. However, four years later, it’s uncertain if the 30-year-old will ever play in the NFL again.

[RELATED: Jadeveon Clowney Eyeing Cowboys?]

The 2010 first-round pick had three productive, yet tumultuous, seasons with the Raiders. In 2012, he was booted from team practices after several incidents, and McClain took to Facebook to complain about the organization. One time, he wrote that he wanted “to be anywhere besides [Oakland].” He was released by the team the next offseason before briefly catching on with the Ravens. Less than a month after signing with Baltimore, McClain suddenly announced his retirement.

The Cowboys traded for McClain in 2014, even though the linebacker was one year removed from the field. It paid off for Dallas – McClain went on to appear in 13 games for his new team, registering 81 tackles, one sack, and one forced fumble. He earned his first suspension from the NFL the following offseason, limiting him to only eleven games in 2015, although he still collected 80 tackles and a pair of sacks.

After signing another one-year deal with the Cowboys during the 2016 offseason, McClain was handed the 10-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He then failed another drug test midway through the season, and the NFL slapped him with an indefinite suspension. Following his third ban in two years, McClain was arrested on firearm and drug charges.

McClain was conditionally reinstated in August of 2019, but the Cowboys cut him almost immediately. Then, in December, McClain was hit with yet another indefinite suspension from the league office. The league did not publicly disclose the reason for the ban, but it likely means that the once-promising linebacker will never play in the NFL again.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

This Date In Transactions History: Colts’ Andrew Luck Becomes NFL’s Highest-Paid Player

Four years ago today, the Colts made Andrew Luck the highest-paid player in NFL history. The deal was supposed to tie Luck to Indy through the 2021 season, but it didn’t pan out that way.

[RELATED: Colts Sign Michael Pittman Jr.]

Luck agreed to a five-year extension worth $122MM, with $87MM in overall guarantees and $47MM fully guaranteed at signing. Without the deal, Luck would have been eligible for free agency following the ’16 season. From there, the Colts could have retained Luck for an additional two seasons via the franchise tag at estimated values of $25MM and $35MM, but it would have put them in a difficult position down the road. Instead, both sides used Luck’s expected franchise tags amounts as a framework for talks and hammered out a deal.

With the contract, Luck leapfrogged Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers in average annual value. The deal made sense, but it did not come without risk. Luck was coming off of an injury-riddled, seven-game season in which he completed just 55.3% of his passes and logged 15 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.

Luck’s shoulder was largely a non-issue in 2016 as he threw for 4,240 yards and 31 touchdowns with a career-high 63.5 completion percentage. After the season, he went under the knife to fix his shoulder, and that’s where things started to get messy. First, Luck was held out of training camp and 2017 preseason. Then, he was ruled out for week after week in the regular season. Finally, in November, the Colts were forced to place Luck on season-ending IR.

Luck had to claw his way back into things – when he was finally able to throw a regulation-sized football, it was a noteworthy event. In 2018, things seemed to be trending up. The former No. 1 overall pick led the Colts to a 9-1 record to close the season, allowing them to squeak into the playoffs. The Colts even downed the Texans in the first round, before falling to the Chiefs. With a seemingly healthy Luck and lots of young talent, the Colts were moving in the right direction.

Then, just before the start of the 2019 season, Luck shocked the world. At the age of 29, Luck retired from football, largely due to the mental grind of the sport. With that, Luck’s five-year extension turned into a two-year add-on. The Colts, meanwhile, turned to Jacoby Brissett as their new starter, with little time to get him comfortable in his new role.

The Colts did not seek repayment on the deal – they could have recovered $12.8MM of the $32MM signing bonus he was entitled to under his current contract, plus two $6MM roster bonuses, totaling ~$25MM.

Luck is done with football, but speculation about his potential return persists. Earlier this year, before the Colts landed Philip Rivers, GM Chris Ballard did his best to quell the talk:

Andrew’s retired,” Ballard said. “Do I talk to Andrew? Yes, I do. Haven’t talked to him in a few weeks, I’m sure he’s been busy being a father. But Andrew’s retired, and I think we all need to accept that. That’s where he’s at. He’s retired.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR Originals: 6/22/20 – 6/28/20

Here’s a look back at some of our faves from the past week:

This Date In Transactions History: Ravens’ Ed Reed Signs Record Deal

In his prime, few players were more fearsome than safety Ed Reed. On this date in 2006, the Ravens rewarded Reed with a six-year, $40MM contract, making him the highest-paid player at his position in league history. 

The previous league-leading deal for safeties belonged to Adam Archuleta, who inked a six-year, $30MM deal with the Redskins in March of ’06. Reed blew past him on a rocket ship, and for good reason.

Reed became a starter as a rookie in 2002 and quickly cemented himself as a key cog in Baltimore’s defense. He notched 21 interceptions in his first three seasons and led the league with nine picks in 2004. Although he was held back by an ankle injury in 2005, the Ravens saw a Reed as a multiple-time Pro Bowler who was ready to get back to his old form.

It was his time,” GM Ozzie Newsome said. “He has earned the contract.

Indeed, the Ravens were right. Reed came back in a big way in ’06 as he started in every game and tallied five picks, plus two in the postseason. He earned Pro Bowl nods in every season from 2006 through 2012 and picked up four First-Team All-Pro nods in that span.

Reed earned his first ring in the Super Bowl following the 2012 season and notched his ninth career postseason interception in the big game. Although he was still productive, Reed and the Ravens went their separate ways in the offseason. Reed signed a three-year, $15MM deal with the Texans, but that deal was terminated midway through the ’13 campaign. He reunited with Rex Ryan by signing with the Jets, but he was unable to turn back the clock. After sitting out the 2014 season, Reed signed a one-day contract with Baltimore so that he could retire a Raven.

Reed’s final season on the field was forgettable, but the extension he signed with the Ravens in 2006 proved to be a win-win for both sides. Reed cashed in and gained financial security in a violent sport, and the Ravens got elite level production out of him for the majority of the deal.

This Date In Transactions History: Vikings Lock Up Danielle Hunter

Two years ago today, Danielle Hunter inked a five-year deal worth $72MM. It was a serious pay bump for the former third-round pick, who was still a few months away from his 24th birthday. The add-on gave him ample security – a $15MM signing bonus, $40MM in overall guarantees, and favorable cashflow with $48MM over the first three years. Still, the deal proved to be a win for the Vikings. 

[RELATED: Latest On Dalvin Cook, Vikings]

The Vikings didn’t want to let Hunter get anywhere near the open market. In his first three pro seasons, Hunter registered 25.5 sacks, more than any other player who entered the league in 2015. He waited a while to hear his name called on draft weekend, but he outperformed Vic BeasleyLeonard Williams, and other notable edge rushers in that class by a longshot. Also, Hunter and teammate Everson Griffen combined for 57 combined sacks from 2015-17, the second most of any duo in the NFL in that span.

In 2017, just prior to the extension, Hunter graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 29 ranked edge defender in the NFL. Last year, Hunter finished seventh in the category, ahead of Cameron Jordan, Myles Garrett, Demarcus Lawrence, and a host of other big names. He’s notched 14.5 sacks in each of the last two seasons, bringing his career tally to 54.5.

Meanwhile, his $14.4MM average annual value ranks 18th among edge rushers, according to Over The Cap. The Vikings have four more years of control over Hunter and, at this time, he stands as one of the league’s best veteran values.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Five Franchise Tagged Players Have Yet To Sign Tenders

Teams have until July 15th to hammer out long-term deals with franchise tagged players. As of this writing, there are five players who have not signed their one-year tenders: Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, Broncos safety Justin Simmons, Buccaneers edge rusher Shaquil Barrett, Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones, and Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue

[RELATED: Dak Prescott Still Wants Four-Year Deal; Cowboys Want Five-Year Deal]

The franchise tag is a sore spot for players, because it prohibits them from realizing their true value on the open market. Sometimes, players begrudgingly sign on the dotted line after skipping out on a portion of offseason activities. There have also been some notable holdouts to extend into the regular season – Le’Veon Bell, for example.

You can put Green in the former camp. The Bengals superstar wants long-term security from the only team he’s ever known, but he says he’ll sign the one-year tender if they can’t come to terms.

In the past, Simmons has indicated that he won’t skip Broncos activities, but Mike Klis of 9News speculates that agent Todd France could talk him into playing some hardball. Offers have been exchanged between the two sides, but, for now, the safety is looking at a one-year, $12.7MM proposition.

Jones – currently in line for a $16.1MM deal – has expressed frustration with the slow pace of negotiations with the Chiefs. The Chiefs, meanwhile, already have a $20MM defensive lineman in Frank Clark. Barrett, who said he’d be a good sport about signing the tender, says he’s expecting to have some movement by tomorrow, though it’s not clear if that means receiving an extension offer or putting pen to paper.

Ngakoue, of course, is prepared to go to war with the Jaguars. The two sides have been locked in a heated stalemate for a long time and the Jags say they won’t cave to the defensive end’s trade demand.

Poll: Will The Jets Trade Jamal Adams?

Jamal Adams wants out. Last week, after taking a couple of shots at the Jets via social media, the star safety formally requested a trade. For now, the Jets are holding the line, but Adams feels that he can force their hand.

[RELATED: Jamal Adams Seeking $20MM+/Year?]

Contractually speaking, the Jets hold all the cards. Adams is under contract through 2021 thanks to his fifth-year option and the Jets aren’t exactly rushing to give him an early extension. Then, after 2021, the Jets could theoretically use the franchise tag to keep him away from the open market, perhaps even twice to delay his free agency for several more years.

Still, Adams is livid. He says the Jets told him that their extension proposal was in the mail in January. Months later, he has yet to receive that offer, and he’s not taking the pandemic as an excuse. For months, we’ve heard that Adams would look to become the league’s highest-paid safety by a healthy margin. Now, per one report, Adams has advanced his asking price even further. He wants to become the league’s highest-paid defensive player, which means a deal in excess of $20MM/year.

Interestingly, Adams is reportedly willing to table his extension demand for certain teams. The 24-year-old (25 in October) says he’d be willing to play for the Chiefs, 49ers, Cowboys, Ravens, Eagles, Texans, Seahawks, or Buccaneers. At least a few of those eight teams could trade for Adams and wait until next year before getting into talks.

“[Adams] was a big reason I was excited about coming here,” Jets GM Joe Douglas said earlier this year. “I feel this guy is a core player. The main goal that I’m trying to do right now is to surround him with like-minded players, because we know Jamal is a dog.”

The Jets clearly want to smooth things out, but it’s fair to wonder whether this situation is beyond repair. In the past, the Jets have rebutted trade offers from the Ravens and Cowboys by setting a sky-high asking price, but they’re working with significantly less leverage now that Adams has gone public with his complaints.

Will the Jets trade Adams? Cast your vote below (link for app users) and back up your choice in the comment section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.