Looking at veteran free agency
I plan to spend much of the next 6 weeks taking a look at veteran free agents for 2019 with help from the Top-50 list from NFL Trade Rumors; the plan is to review positions of need on the Redskins roster, one position per article, over the course of this week and next, and then to revisit the position lists as we get closer to the start of the new league year.
Veteran free agent lists will be highly fluid once the Super Bowl has finished, and teams start to talk to their own players. Many of the top free agents will be re-signed by their teams during, or in the week following, the Scouting Combine, which will be held from 26 February to 4 March.
I plan to revisit lists of key available free agents again ahead of the beginning of free agency when it becomes clearer which players have decided to stay with their current teams, and which ones seem committed to testing their value in the open marketplace. Consider this a ‘warm up’ as we look at the very top tier - a selection of positions from a top-50 list. This is just the opening act.
Free Agent Frenzy starts 13 March
The league year ends at 4:00 p.m. ET, on 13 March, which is when teams are free to sign veteran free agents to new contracts. There is a two-day ‘legal tampering period’ prior to the end of the league year when players’ agents are allowed to talk to any team in the league to arrange contracts on behalf of their clients.
According to OverTheCap, the Redskins are projected to have $21.56m in cap space available this off-season. Using some ‘rule-of-thumb’ numbers, the team probably needs to allow about $2.6m for draft picks, and keep another $5m or so available to sign players as injuries occur during the season.
That would leave around $14m in available 2019 cap space to spend on veteran free agents in the upcoming off-season.
Remember that the first year of most NFL contracts typically has the lowest cap hit, so the Redskins would be able to sign one or more players with a cumulative APY that is greater than the available 2019 cap space due to the accrual accounting methods used in accounting for the salary cap.
To put a fine point on that, because the APY numbers are average numbers for the life of the contract, while the 2019 cap hits generally represent the lowest year of those contracts, it might be possible for the Redskins to, say, sign four veteran free agents whose APYs are $7m, 5m, $4.5m and $4m (a total of $20.5m) even though they have only around $14m available for 2019.
Of course, the team can clear space by cutting or trading players or ‘create’ space by re-structuring contracts in an effort to have more money available for free agency in 2019 and beyond.
Potential cap casualties
Here are the top-ten Redskins players who would have a significant effect on salary cap:
- Alex Smith - Restructure of contract could reduce 2019 cap hit by an estimated $9m by shifting cap dollars to the remaining 3 years of the contract. This is not a cap savings, but a mere deferral to allow more flexibility in roster construction in the short term. This idea was discussed in some detail in an article published in early December.
- Trent Williams - Trading Williams could reduce the 2019 cap hit by $9.34m, with an additional $12.75m reduction in 2020.
- Josh Norman - Trading Norman could reduce the 2019 cap hit by $8.5m, with an additional $12.5m reduction in 2020.
- Ryan Kerrigan - Trading Kerrigan could reduce the 2019 cap hit by $10.75m, with an additional $11.75m reduction in 2020.
- Jordan Reed - Cutting or Trading Jordan Reed could reduce the 2019 cap hit by $6.07m, with an additional $17.5m reduction in the remaining years of his contract (‘20 & ‘21). Alternatively, renegotiating Reed’s contract could probably create an estimated savings of $2m to $3m per season, while keeping Reed on the roster.
- Zach Brown - Cutting or Trading Zach Brown could reduce the 2019 cap hit by $5.75m, with an additional $8m reduction in 2020.
- Vernon Davis - Cutting Vernon Davis would reduce the 2019 cap hit by $5m.
- Stacy McGee - Cutting or Trading Stacy McGee would reduce the 2019 cap hit by $2.275m, with an additional $10.5m reduction in the remaining years of his contract (‘20 & ‘21). With a 2019 salary & roster bonus of just $4m, 3 years remaining and no guaranteed money, it’s not crazy to think that the Redskins might be able to trade McGee for a 6th or 7th round draft pick, or swapping picks to move higher in the draft order.
- Chris Thompson - Cutting or Trading Chris Thompson would reduce the 2019 cap hit by $3m.
- Mason Foster - Cutting Mason Foster would reduce the 2019 cap hit by $2m.
As you can see, the Redskins have a wide range of options available for attacking the salary cap and roster.
- They could simply stand pat on the existing roster and focus on the draft and limited free agency;
- they could make selected salary cap moves, giving them sufficient room to make one or two key signings, or
- they could really clear out the roster, load up on draft capital and perform a complete roster teardown & re-build over the next two off-seasons.
The Redskins have a very large number of players under contract currently, as they ended the year with 24 players on IR, one player on Reserve/NFI, and one on the Commissioner’s exempt list in addition to the regular roster, practice squad players and futures contracts.
Still, the team will have holes in the roster, partly due to injury, partly due to expiring contracts, and partly due to the need to upgrade positions.
The front office expects to have 8 draft picks April in addition to the cap space available to sign veteran free agents starting 13 March.
Upcoming Redskins veteran free agents
The team can bolster the roster in a number of ways:
- Re-signing its own free agents
- trading for veteran players
- Drafting player in Nashville from 25-27 April (The Redskins will probably have 8 draft picks, the first being 15th overall)
- Signing veteran free agents, starting from 13 March
- Signing undrafted college free agents, starting the moment the draft ends on 27 April
Today’s article will focus solely on veteran safeties, and today I plan to only look at the top-ranked 3 safeties that appear on the Top-50 veteran free agents list published this week by NFL Trade Rumors.
I’ve scanned the fifty names and found six safeties on the NFLTR list
#7 Earl Thomas, Seattle, 30 years old
Based on the photo above, nobody expects Earl Thomas, whose relationship with the Seattle Seahawks organization broke down in the ‘18 off season, to return to the team he has played with since being drafted by them in the first round of the 2010 draft.
Thomas, 29, might be the key piece to improving the Redskins secondary in 2019.
Washington released D.J. Swearinger after he shot his mouth off to reporters one too many times late in the regular season; Montae Nicholson’s future is uncertain following a drunken altercation at about the same time, and a mid-season trade for HaHa Clinton-Dix failed to pay strong dividends, leaving the position — which looked very strong just a few weeks ago — one of great need requiring immediate attention (yet again) in the 2019 offseason.
The Redskins will almost certainly need to draft a safety and sign a veteran, so, bringing in Thomas as an impact player and mentor could be a smart move.
Thomas played just four games in 2018, before missing the rest of the schedule with a broken leg but had three interceptions. In his nine-year pro career, he’s had 28 interceptions and forced 11 fumbles.
Spotrac does not have an estimated contract value for Thomas, but his last contract with the Seahawks was for 4 years and $40m. He’ll certainly be looking for a bigger annual payout, though he’ll probably have to accept a short-term contract or a limited guarantees.
The five players who currently earn more than Earl Thomas have APYs of between $10.25 and $13m per year, so that probably provides an idea of the amount that a team needs to pay to get Thomas’ services. To me, it seems too much for the Redskins, who need to plug multiple holes with relatively limited salary cap space. I’d put his likelihood of becoming a Redskin somewhere between slim and none.
#12 Landon Collins, New York, 25 years old
The 33rd overall selection in 2015 draft, Landon Collins has been a steady, productive member of a bad Giants football team. Collins has been selected to three Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro selection in 2016. The Giants safety just turned 25 and would be an ideal signing as a young emerging star.
Spotrac.com estimates Landon Collins will receive a contract in the neighborhood of five years and 46.8 million dollars, for a 9.3 average yearly salary. That’s big money for a safety for sure, but there are good reasons why it makes sense to spend on a player such as Collins, but not for another safety such as Seattle’s Earl Thomas.
Primarily, Collins has been, for the most part, able to stay healthy year in and year out during the first four years of his career. He missed the final four games of the 2018 season after injuring his shoulder and was put on IR, and ,before this season, in three years, he only missed one game. Young players are often able to play through general wear and tear better than older players, and considering just how young Collins is, perhaps the best is yet to come.
This in-division opponent would be a very strong addition to the Redskins defense. By signing Collins and drafting another young safety, the Redskins might, for the first time in a very long time, have stability at the safety position. I’d be strongly in favor of making an attractive offer to Collins and building the defensive backfield around him for the next 5 or 6 seasons.
#15 HaHa Clinton-Dix, Washington, 26 years old
HaHa Clinton-Dix has been healthy throughout his career, but Packers fans weren’t unhappy to see him go, and the change of scenery when he came to Washington didn’t seem to make a positive difference for him. Drafted 21st overall in 2014, Clinton-Dix has never really fulfilled his pedigree, and is starting to look like an under-achiever.
He was supposed to be a veteran upgrade to Montae Nicholson, but — personally — I never saw it. The former Packer and Crimson Tide safety often looked out of position and uncomfortable on the field.
Spotrac puts his projected contract value at $9.9m (5 years, $49.5m).
D.J. Swearinger signed a 3-year, $13.5m contract with the Redskins in 2017 per OverTheCap; I find it hard to imagine that the Redskins would be willing to pay HHCD anything close to 5 years at $9.9m per season. I imagine that, if they re-signed him at all, it would be on a contract similar to the one they gave to D.J. Swearinger a year ago: 3 years for $15m or less.
The Redskins traded away a 4th round draft pick to the Packers in Week 8 to bring HHCD to the Redskins in hopes of bolstering the defense on the way to an expected playoff spot. The playoff spot didn’t materialize, HHCD never really played at the level expected of him. Swearinger is gone; Nicholson is having issues. The Redskins need a veteran leader at Safety, but on a budget. I’m not sure if HaHa is the player or the leader that they’re looking for. If Clinton-Dix can command more than $5m per season on the open market, I suspect the Redskins front office would be inclined to let him walk in hopes of picking up a compensatory draft pick in return.
#I6 Tyrann Mathieu, Houston, 27 years old
I’m honestly a bit surprised to see the artist formerly known as the Honey Badger ranked below HaHa Clinton-Dix, though he is a year older and was drafted in the third round, as opposed to HHCD, who was a first-rounder. The reasons for Mathieu’s draft position were related to off-the-field concerns, not on-field play, and it seems that his 6 years in the NFL have been sufficient to show that he has taken control over his life.
Mathieu has said that he wants to return to the Texans, but that’s what every upcoming free agent (except, perhaps, Earl Thomas) says in January. He should be a top-tier free agent if he decides to test the market.
Spotrac does not have an estimated contract value for Mathieu, but he signed a one-year deal with Houston in the 2017 offseason that was notable for being a very bad market for free agent safeties. He will certainly be hoping to sign a longer, higher-dollar deal this season, as this is likely to be the single biggest contract of his life — this is the one where he will hope to cash in. I suspect he’ll command something in the $8m to $10m range, and that he’ll be hoping to be signing something like a 5 year, $50m deal.
Personally, I think he’d be a great roster addition for the Redskins, though I’d prefer Landon Collins. If Mathieu is forced to sign a lower-dollar contract, I suspect that he’d prefer to simply stay in Houston, or perhaps re-join Bruce Arians in Tampa Bay.
I don’t think the Redskins are going to want to pay him at the top end of his range. I’d love to see him in a Redskins uniform, but I don’t think it’s gonna happen.
#18 LaMarcus Joyner, LA Rams, 28 years old
Joyner was projected to be a free agent last off-season, but the Rams, as expected, used the Franchise Tag on him. I wrote about him at the end of February last year:
Team: Los Angeles Rams
Weight: 190 pounds
Age entering 2018 season: 27
Entry to NFL: 2nd round, 2014 draft (Rams)
Joyner blossomed under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, notching the first three interceptions of his career and proving to be one of the Rams’ best defensive players. His timing, in a contract year, couldn’t have been better.
News & updates
There have been numerous reports, driven by comments from Mike Garafolo, that the Rams may put the franchise tag on Joyner.
Joyner added 78 tackles, one sack, 3 passes defended and an interception in 2018, playing for one of the high-octane teams of the NFC.
Spotrac estimates Lemarcus Joyner’s market value at an APY of $10.6m. Stood out in his walk year and is pretty versatile in coverage. Those players in recent years have scored big contracts in free agency.
Spotrac has not updated its salary projection for Joyner since last year.
How would he fit with the Redskins?
Joyner has three career interceptions — all of them in 2017, just in time for his free agent off season. He’s undoubtedly a good safety, and at 27 he’s the right age, but his contract is likely to be too rich for the Redskins, who have a young developing talent in Montae Nicholson to start opposite DJ Swearinger.
The Rams have a lot of roster decisions to make this season, and there may not be room to pay Joyner the $10m - $12m he is likely to command on the open market. Of course, the Redskins are unlikely to want to pay top dollar to the second-oldest top-tier free agent safety in the market either.
Joyner seems destined to be playing for the Rams, or another serious super bowl contender in 2019. I seriously doubt we’ll see him in burgundy and gold.
#29 Adrian Amos, Chicago, 26 years old
Team: Chicago Bears
Weight: 214 pounds
Age entering 2018 season: 25
Entry to NFL: 5th round, 2015 draft (Bears)
I honestly have never paid attention to Amos on the football field. Here’s a profile from 247 Sports:
The young defender started all 16 games for the Bears at strong safety this year, the first time since his rookie season in 2015. He ended the regular season with 73 tackles, one sack, nine pass deflections and two interceptions. He entered the year with just one interception. In the playoff loss to the Eagles, Amos racked up six tackles, two pass deflections and one interception. After All-Pro free safety Eddie Jackson went down with an ankle injury in Week 15, Amos stepped up his game down the stretch.
A fifth-round pick in 2015 out of Penn State, Amos started all 16 games that season. He ended the year with 67 tackles, one sack and two pass deflections. The following year, Amos recorded 65 tackles and five pass deflections in 15 games. Ahead of the 2017 season, the Bears signed veteran Quintin Demps and drafted Jackson in the fourth round. Demps and Jackson began the year as starters before Demps went down with an injury.
Amos went on to appear in 13 games in 2017, recording 69 tackles, three pass deflections and recorded his first career interception. The Bears opted to not upgrade the position this past offseason and he held his own for the Bears in 2018.
As a recruit, Amos was listed as a three-star prospect with a 0.8378 composite score by 247Sports as part of the Class of 2011. He was ranked 939th nationally, 72nd among all cornerbacks and 15th from the state of Maryland. He fielded offers from a total of five schools, including Connecticut, Temple, Vanderbilt and West Virginia before committing to Penn State.
Spotrac does not have a projected contract value for him, but with about 65-70 tackles per season and a half-dozen passes defended, he lags behind HaHa Clinton-Dix statistically. The middle range for safeties seems to be $5m - $7m per year. I would expect to see him signed in the $4m - $6m per year range, but that’s a guess based on reading a short profile and looking at his career statistics.
At 25, Amos is young enough to be an attractive free agent, and he is likely to be the least expensive of the 6 free agent players listed here. Chicago’s cap space situation is similar to the Redskins in 2019 (around $19m available), but they have a more complete team. I suspect that they will give Amos a market rate offer, meaning that the Redskins would probably have to outbid them for his services. However, I suspect that he would not be an upgrade on HaHa Clinton-Dix, so, if the Redskins want to spend this kind of money for a second tier safety, I imagine they would simply attempt to re-sign HHCD.
What should the Redskins do at safety this off season?
This poll is closed
Re-sign HaHa Clinton-Dix + draft another safety
Hope that Montae Nicholson can play in ‘19 + draft another safety
Sign a veteran free agent from another team + draft another safety
One of the 6 players here + Montae Nicholson
Draft 2 safeties in April
Deshazor Everett & a prayer
Considering age, likely contract demands, on-field performance, off-field issues, etc, which of the 6 profiled players would you want the Redskins front office to prioritize this off season?
This poll is closed