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 and 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 save 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 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 cornerbacks, and today I plan to only look at the seven CBs that appear on the Top-50 veteran free agents list published this week by NFL Trade Rumors.
Redskins needs at the position
The Redskins aren’t losing any cornerbacks to free agency, but Josh Norman is a potential cap casualty, Dunbar finished the ‘18 season on IR with a mysterious nerve injury, and the rest of the CB group is very young and — so far at least — unproven.
In addition, at least two of the free agents profiled below have the capability to play safety, a position of real need for the Redskins. A guy who could add some veteran presence to the CB group, as well as providing depth for the safety position could prove very valuable for the Redskins defense in 2019.
I’ve scanned the fifty names and found 7 corners on the NFLTR list
#25 Ronald Darby, Philadelphia, 25 years old
The news about Darby in the 2018 season came in mid-November when he tore his ACL in a Sunday night game against the Cowboys, just one season after he had suffered a dislocated ankle in the opening game of the season versus the Redskins.
Darby has been considered one of the reasons for the Eagles’ success over the past two seasons, and his torn ACL one of the reasons why they weren’t able to defend their super bowl title in 2018.
Spotrac is estimating a contract of 6 years, $80.7m ($13.4 APY) for Darby, and, doubtless, there are teams that will benefit from signing him, possibly even the Eagles, though, at the moment, they have the worst projected 2019 cap position in the league at $14.45m over-budget.
More likely Darby will end up in New England or with a team like the Colts, Jets or Bills — teams that have plenty of money to spend, a quarterback locked in, and time to wait for Darby to return to health. None of this describes the Redskins.
#31 Jason McCourty, New England, 32 years old
McCourty had a cap charge of just $3.375m for the 2018 season, according to OverTheCap, though he has a million dollars in incentives that might be earned.
He played well for the Patriots, and will have choices in 2019. One of them could be retirement — especially if the Patriots add a championship ring to his finger. After a career with the Titans and a season with the Browns, that may be enough for the player to hang up his cleats. Of course, if the Patriots get stopped by the Chiefs in Kansas City on Sunday, McCourty might want to come back for another try. Perhaps even with those Chiefs, who could use some cornerback help.
At the age of 32, McCourty is no team’s future; rather, he is a veteran presence that helps ‘finish’ the defense for a playoff contending team.
No one with the choices he will have at the end of the playoffs is likely to choose the Redskins.
#32 Bryce Callahan, Chicago, 27 years old
Callahan broke a bone in his foot in early December, causing him to miss the final three regular season games plus the wildcard-round loss in the playoffs.
According to Pro Football Focus, Callahan is inside the top 10 in at least four major statistical categories for nickelbacks, including a league-best 0.69 yards per coverage snap.
Furthermore, among all cornerbacks in the NFL, Callahan is ranked by PFF seventh-best overall with a rating of 81.4.
While Callahan’s value to Chicago’s defensive success this season was undeniably high, there’s a chance he won’t return to the team in the 2019 season. It would have been an easier decision for the Bears to try to re-sign Callahan in the offseason if he did not suffer a season-ending foot injury, but he can still expect an offer from the team, thanks to his massive performance when he was healthy. But the Bears face potentially even more cap space restrictions than the Redskins do, with an estimated $14.2m available (compared to the estimated $21.5m available to the Redskins).
Callahan finished the 2018 NFL regular season with two interceptions and six passes defended as part of the Bears’ stop unit that ranked seventh against the pass with only 221.9 passing yards allowed per game. He also had two picks in 2017.
Spotrac projects that the 27 year old Callahan can expect a contract of 4 years, $28m (APY of $7m) in free agency. This is a contract that the Redskins, who need a veteran CB who can play at a consistently high level, can afford.
Bryce Callahan locked down the slot for the Bears in 2018 pic.twitter.com/FN3zfGfs89— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 15, 2019
I think it’s possible that he Bears may not be able to pay Callahan a market-value contract, though Chicago’s prospects as a perennial playoff team may encourage Callahan to structure his contract in a team-friendly fashion. The Redskins have a lot of youth (and one aging veteran) in the CB corps; Callahan might be just the right player to complete the group, giving the Redskins a replacement for the slot corner they lost when Kendall Fuller was traded to the Chiefs.
#33 Kareem Jackson, Houston, 31 years old
NFLTR lists Jackson as a cornerback; NFL.com lists him as a strong safety.
Houstontexans.com lists him as both:
In any event, the 31 years old Jackson has spent his entire career with the Texans, who selected him 20th overall in the 2010 draft.
His most recent contract with the Texans paid him around $8.5m per year, and I suspect that he’ll be content to finish out his career in Houston, but if he decides to enter free agency, this 31-year-old defensive back, at a price of around $9m per year on a 2 or 3 year deal, could be a very good addition for the Redskins, allowing for a great deal of flexibility in pass defense.
I wouldn’t be disappointed to see the Redskins sign Jackson, but I’d be a bit surprised if it happens.
#42 Steven Nelson, Kansas City, 25 years old
Nelson was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2015 draft by Kansas City.
A Fansided article published in November had a lot to say about the Chiefs CB:
Up to this point in his career, Nelson has been mostly an average cornerback. Much of that has to do with injuries and playing next to Marcus Peters the last few seasons. Peters’ own ball-hawking ability and Pro Bowl status was a shadow over the rest of the secondary. Peters also could have been part of the reason that Nelson struggled during his early stages.
When the defense had someone like Peters on the defense, offenses schemed to take advantage of the other cornerbacks on the field. Nelson and the rest of the cornerbacks over the last few years were often matched up with number one receivers as offenses avoiding Peters’ side of the field. Another issue was that considering Peters tended to play outside of the scheme of defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, which means some of those plays given up by Nelson and others could have been partially Peters fault.
Playing in a boundary role helps Nelson’s style of play using that boundary as another defender considering he tends to play more aggressively.
When asked about Pro Football Focus ranking Nelson in the top 20 cornerbacks in the league so far this season, he seemed confident as he told reporters he’s not surprised. Last season we saw a small glimpse of this kind of player from Nelson once he got back into the game. Spending the first half of the season on Injured Reserve, it took a few games to get back into the swing of things, but Nelson looked like a solid cornerback down the final stretch for Kansas City last year.
Outside of Kendall Fuller who has one more year on his rookie deal following 2018, the only other cornerbacks on the Chiefs roster that are set to be here for 2019 are rookies Tremon Smith and Charvarius Ward. Orlando Scandrick is on a rental deal this season and will likely hit free agency which leaves the Chiefs with some open spots.
If Kansas City can find a way to sign Nelson this offseason to a long-term deal, it would be extremely beneficial for the team. Not only have you finally gotten what you wanted out of Nelson, but it also allows you to play those younger rookies still possibly next season or bring in a third cornerback from either free agency or the draft to solidify the spot. They would have to only find one player instead of two on the back end.
Kansas City is sitting on available cap space of around $35 million for the 2019 off-season, and they do not have a ton of needs. There is every reason to believe that they will bring Nelson back, but if they don’t, he might be just the right mix of youth, experience and skill that the Redskins should be targeting for their CB group.
#46 Pierre Desir, Indianapolis, 28 years old
Desir was drafted in the 4th round of the 2014 draft by the Browns, but following the firing of the head coach and GM at the end of the ‘15 season, Desir was cut by the Browns ahead of the ‘16 season.
He spent some time on and off the Chargers roster, playing 5 games in the 2016 season.
After a cup of coffee in training camp with the Seahawks, Desir ended up with the Colts in 2017, where he earned a starting role, but ended the season on IR after 9 games. He rejoined the Colts in 2018 on a one-year, $1.75m contract, and played regularly for the playoff-bound Colts this season.
In 2018, Desir received an overall grade of 77.5 from Pro Football Focus, which ranked as the 18th best overall grade among all qualifying cornerbacks for the season.
My biggest question about Desir is why he is listed among the top 50 free agents of the season. He seems to be a cornerback who has hung around the NFL for 5 years, staying just ahead of being a practice squad player at times, and has now found a situation where he has shined for a season. I can’t imagine any reason why Desir would want to leave Indianapolis, or why the Colts — who have the largest amount of projected cap space ($117m) in the NFL this offseason — would let him go if he is expected to continue playing at a high level.
#47 Darryl Roberts, New York Jets, 28 years old
Darryl Roberts was a 7th round selection by the Patriots in the 2015 draft. After spending his rookie season on IR, he was released, and picked up on waivers by the Jets, playing 12 games for them in 2016.
He was paid $705,000 in 2018.
Roberts is a versatile defensive back who ended the year playing safety when Marcus Maye was injured. Earlier in the year, he had started five games at cornerback when Trumaine Johnson went down with an injury.
According to Pro Football Focus, Roberts has been the Jets’ third-highest rated defensive player this season, behind only Jamal Adams and Maye.
The Jets are sitting on a ton of cap space ($93m) and Roberts doesn’t appear to be the kind of player to command a huge payday — he is a borderline starter/backup with the flexibility to play both CB and free safety. That kind of flexibility would be valuable for the Redskins, who need depth especially at free safety, and Roberts is likely to fit inside their budget if the Jets allow him to walk this offseason, but New York has no reason to let him leave if they believe he can play.
What should the Redskins do at CB this off season?
This poll is closed
Stand pat — maybe use a late round draft pick for a developmental player
Use free agency to strengthen the CB unit
Use a Friday draft pick to try to strengthen the CB unit
Cut Josh Norman to try to reduce salary cap spending, and replace him with a cheaper option, regardless of whether it’s a draft pick or UFA
Considering age, likely contract demands, on-field performance, off-field issues, etc, which of the profiled players would you want the Redskins front office to prioritize if they pursued a UFA CB this off season?
This poll is closed
What is the Redskins’ biggest need here?
This poll is closed
A talented slot corner
A true boundary corner
A hybrid corner/free safety