During the two-and-a-half days of the negotiating window before the official start of NFL free agency, there is always crazy money spent and some players get vastly overpaid. Many of these high-priced deals won’t work out, and some of these players will be cut and out on the street inside of two to three years. That’s just the facts of NFL free agency.
Where things have changed a bit is in signing good players coming off injuries. Previously, he would get a one- or two-year deal to make sure that he can play to the level he was at before the injury. That wasn’t the case in San Francisco, where the Niners gave ILB Kwon Alexander a four-year, $54 million deal while he is still rehabbing from ACL surgery last fall. Last year, the Bears did the same thing with WR Allen Robinson— and the results were good — so teams are gambling that the surgeries are good and the player will come back strong.
Last year in free agency, a market never developed for safeties and there were many quality players still available when clubs opened training camp. This year it was just the opposite as the safeties on the market got some of the best contracts in the negotiating period. Former Giant Landon Collins earned the biggest deal, landing a 6-year, $84 million contract with Washington. Many team executives scoffed at that deal, as Collins is what we call a box safety who isn’t particularly strong when it comes to coverage.
The safety signings didn’t end there. Multiple players landed huge deals, including Tyrann Mathieu (3 years and 42 million in Kansas City), Lamarcus Joyner (4 years and 42 million with the Raiders) and Adrian Amos ($37 million over four years in Green Bay). Deals like this for safeties were unheard of just a year ago. What makes it even more interesting is that perhaps the best free-agent safety — former Seahawk Earl Thomas, a perennial Pro Bowler — has yet to land a deal. He is going to want at least as much as Collins earned; whether he gets it coming off injury at age 30 remains to be seen.
Going into free agency, the player and contract most in the league were looking at was former Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell. Last year, Bell walked away from the $14.5 million franchise tag and sat out the 2018 NFL season. The Steelers previously offered Bell a long-term deal, but the guarantees were not to Bell’s liking, so he sat out the year.
When Pittsburgh declined to tag Bell again, he became a free agent this year. He had hopes of not only scoring a big contract but making up for the lost $14.5 million. That never happened. Yes, Bell scored a great deal with the N.Y. Jets, getting a reported $52 million over four years with about $35 million in guarantees. But he didn’t recoup the lost $14.5 million from last year and never will. Bell and his agent, Adisa Bakari, misread the RB market. Fact is, the only team that offered serious money to Bell was the Jets. There were no other big-money offers and the Jets were bidding against themselves.
Bakari also represents former Atlanta Falcons RB Tevin Coleman, and he too wants a huge deal. As I write this, no big offers have been presented, so it remains to be seen what the RB market really is.
The position that usually draws a lot of money in free agency is cornerback. This year, the CB market has been relatively quiet. Yes, there have been a few deals, but nothing outrageous. In fact, most deals have been in line or even less than a year ago.
If there has been a surprise in the corner market, it has been the money for Seahawk Justin Coleman from the Detroit Lions. Coleman has been a nickel corner for Seattle but Detroit paid him like a No. 2 corner. Coleman is capable of playing outside, and the Lions released one of their corner starters last week, so Coleman could in fact be playing outside instead of over the slot. If that is the case, the money he received makes sense.
The Bears passed on re-signing their own slot corner, Bryce Callahan, in favor of former Jet Buster Skrine. Callahan’s play in 2018 was excellent, but he missed the final three regular- season games, as well as the Bears' playoff game with a broken foot. In his four-year career, Callahan has missed a total of 21 games, never playing a full season. The Bears' thinking is as good as Callahan is when healthy, he just misses too much time with injuries, thus the signing of Skrine. Because Callahan is strictly a slot corner, it remains to be seen what kind of deal he'll receive.
The biggest corner deal so far has been former Houston Texan Kareem Jackson's in Denver. Jackson, who is 31, landed a three-year, $33 million deal from the Broncos. There are still some quality corners out there, including Ronald Darby and Pierre Desir, so we’ll see if the market changes that much in the coming days.