Looking at veteran free agency
I plan to spend much of the next 5 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 last week and this, 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.
Allotment of compensatory draft picks should be announced on 22 February.
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 wide receivers and tight ends, and today I plan to only look at the handful of these players 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 very few receivers or tight ends on the NFLTR list
#23 Golden Tate, WR, Philadelphia, 31 years old
According to OverTheCap, Philadelphia is projected to have the worst salary cap situation in the league this off-season.
The current OverTheCap estimate is for the Eagles to be $14.4m OVER the 2019 salary cap, which means that the front office will have to do quite a lot of roster shuffling to be able to sign or re-sign players in free agency.
Of course, Howie Roseman will have chances to add to the available cap space, but many of those opportunities will come at the cost of roster depth, which was already sorely tested by salary cap cuts and limited draft picks last off-season. The most widely expected move is for Philly to part ways with Nick Foles, which could save them $18.8m in 2019, but one has to wonder where the Eagles would have been without Foles in each of the past two seasons, and where they might be in the future without their reliable sometimes backup, sometimes starting quarterback.
Unlike last year, when most of the Philly free agents were backups and depth players, this season sees some front line players approaching free agency, with Jordan Hicks being among them. Others include Brandon Graham, Golden Tate, Haloti Ngata, Ronald Darby, Paul Warrilow, Richard Rodgers, Jordan Matthews, Jay Ajayi and others. The team has 19 veterans who are upcoming free agents, with very few of them anything less than starters or key backups on the team. With Carson Wentz entering his 4th season, Roseman will need to be mindful of his upcoming contract situation in its other contract negotiations as well.
With these salary cap challenges in mind, Golden Tate may walk in free agency. The Eagles dealt a third-round pick to the Detroit Lions for Tate at the trade deadline. The deal hasn’t worked out as Tate has seen inconsistent targets.
If Tate were to leave in free agency, Field Yates believes the Redskins would be an ideal landing spot:
“With Jamison Crowder set to be a free agent, the Redskins will be searching for slot answers this offseason. Moreover, the team is going to need to invest heavily in playmakers to give this offense some life; Tate is excellent running after the catch and can gobble up 100 or more targets per season.”
It’s very unlikely that Tate returns to Philadelphia next season. He will command a salary that the Eagles aren’t in a position to offer with their current cap situation. On top of the financial issues, Tate just hasn’t fit into Doug Pederson’s offense. A fresh start elsewhere could benefit Tate in a lot of ways.
The Redskins took a swing in free agency with Paul Richardson last season. If it wasn’t quite a swing and a miss, it was no better than a foul ball, as Richardson struggled to develop a connection with Alex Smith, and ended up on IR and lost for much of the season.
Golden Tate is a much more proven commodity, and — despite his age — might offer value to the Redskins on a short one, two or three year contract with minimal guarantees. Tate could add the tough on-field leadership the Redskins receiving corps has lacked since the departure of Pierre Garcon. A veteran like Tate signed in free agency combined with a second or third round draft pick used on a receiver could reinvigorate a position group that currently looks like one of the weakest in the NFL.
I mentioned Garcon above, and it seems no coincidence that Spotrac lists Garcon and Desean Jackson as two of the four comparable contracts in estimating Tate’s projected contract value, which they put at 3 years, $30.6m (APY $10.2m). This was too rich for the Redskins in the 2017 offseason, but perhaps they’ll feel differently two seasons later, having seen that Jay Gruden’s offense isn’t guaranteed to get every receiver open. Perhaps the Washington front office will be willing to pay the freight for this tough and reliable receiver in the hopes of reigniting the explosiveness of the Redskins offense.
#43 Jared Cook, TE, Oakland, 32 years old
Although Cook has been playing at a Pro Bowl level for Oakland, he is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and the Raiders are 3-10, in the middle of a youth movement and roster rebuild and aren’t exactly sure where they will be playing home games next season before moving to Las Vegas in 2020.
Surely, coach Jon Gruden, who loves his veterans, especially ones who produce and are positive locker room influences (check and double-check for Cook), would be on board for a Cook re-signing, yes?
The Raiders are Cook’s fourth stop after he signed a two-year, $10.6 million free-agent deal with Oakland in March 2017. Originally a third-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2009 out of South Carolina, Cook has also spent time with the Rams and Green Bay Packers.
Cook holds the single-game receiving-yards record for a tight end for three teams (169 yards for the Titans in 2011, 141 yards for the Rams in 2013 and 180 for the Raiders in this season’s opener) and seems primed for a big payday.
Jon Gruden isn’t always transparent with the media, most recently claiming he was surprised by general manager Reggie McKenzie’s inevitable firing. Yet he left no room for interpretation when declaring his team’s best player after upsetting the Steelers.
“Jared was awesome,” Gruden said of tight end Jared Cook. “He clearly is our MVP. In my opinion, he is phenomenal.”
Cook caught seven passes for a team-high 116 yards in the Raiders’ 24-21 win over AFC North-leading Pittsburgh. He leads the Raiders in targets (88), catches (61), receiving yards (825, a career high) and touchdown catches (six) through 13 games. Cook has never made a Pro Bowl, but his 10th year seems destined to end with that honor. And after this season, the Raiders’ best player hits unrestricted free agency at 31 years old.
Cook is bound to attract enticing offers around the league after the best season of his career, so we’ll see how badly Gruden really wants his tight end back. But as Gruden rebuilds the Raiders around 20-something-year-olds Derek Carr, Kolton Miller, Maurice Hurst and others, the head coach has made it clear he wants his veteran tight end here for the long term, too.
The only way the Redskins would be in the market for a veteran tight end would be if they parted ways with Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis or both.
It’s difficult to see the Washington front office moving Reed or Davis off the roster (one for being injury prone and the other for being too old) and then signing Cook as the replacement.
I have a hard time thinking of a 2019 free agent who is less likely than Jared Cook, despite his obvious skills, to attract an offer from the Redskins.
#46 Adam Humphries, WR, Tampa Bay, 26 years old
Aside from Mike Evans, Humphries has arguably been the Bucs best receiver in the second half of the season.
The former undrafted free agent ranks second on the team in receptions, third in yards and has four touchdowns in his last four games. Sliding in as the team’s primary slot receiver, Humphries has sure hands and has the trust of quarterback Jameis Winston.
What opened up the door for Humphries was DeSean Jackson‘s ineffectiveness of late and O.J. Howard‘s injury.
Humphries is entering free agency after this season. General manager Jason Licht needs to ensure he remains in Tampa. Humphries is still an unknown player around the league and shouldn’t be too expensive.
The 25-year-old has upped his catches, yardage and targets in each of his first four seasons, and he now heads into unrestricted free agency as an intriguing proposition.
On the one hand, Humphries’ slight 5-foot-11, 195-pound stature may pigeonhole him into a slot receiver role in the collective mind of some teams. However, the 25-year-old has proven capable of also making an impact downfield on occasion. Humphries equaled a career high with seven catches of over 20 yards in 2018, and despite his wiry frame, he’s proven durable by playing in 47 of a possible 48 games the last three seasons.
With the certainty of a new head coach and the strong possibility of a new offensive coordinator in Tampa in 2019, Humphries’ chances of returning to the Buccaneers remain firmly up in the air at the moment.
Spotrac estimates a projected 4 year, $41.7m contract for Humphries (APY $10.4m), which seems wildly high to me, but perhaps he’ll get it.
I’d be surprised if he gets it from the Redskins, who are probably not in a salary cap position to spend this kind of money on a young receiver who, while having played a very strong half-season to finish 2018, has yet to truly break out in the NFL.
#50 Cole Beasley, WR, Dallas, 30 years old
He’s been very reliable for this offense over the years. In 2016, he was Prescott’s favorite target, catching 75 passes for 833 yards. Despite having Bryant and Cooper to throw to over the last three seasons, Prescott has frequently looked Beasley’s way as he’s been an important safety net for the team’s young quarterback. It’s not hard to make a case that Beasley’s importance in this offense is pretty valuable, yet it just feels like the writing is on the wall and he’s played his last game in a Cowboys uniform.
Beasley’s frustration is just one piece of the puzzle that will likely have him donning a different jersey next season. To be fair, it’s been rocky for the Cowboys offense and Beasley’s had a front row seat. From quarterback changes, to receiver changes, to having a new receiving coach in Sanjay Lal - Beasley’s been through it all. From the quarterback debacle in 2015 to watching his Cowboys brother, Dez Bryant, be tossed aside last offseason - it’s been difficult. And he even had to deal with critics coming from all directions as the receiving group got a lot negativity when the offense was spinning it’s wheels prior to Cooper showing up. Even though Beasley and company were getting open, it just wasn’t enough to keep the offense rolling and they received the brunt of the blame. And now after finishing up a four-year deal where he’s averaged $3.4 million per season, he’s entering free agency with a palette of work that is not indicative of his true value. That’s got to be frustrating for anyone.
Recently, he’s turned to social media to share some frustrations, but none of which is off the rails. It’s one football player who is also a person. He doesn’t publicly put down any teammates. He doesn’t deflect the blame elsewhere. He’s just one guy who doesn’t shy away from being honest, even if it’s things we don’t want to hear.
Beasley is a great competitor with a great character. From his no-nonsense attitude to treating us to his “spirit fingers” touchdown celebration, he’s just a guy you love being on the football team you cheer for. But the front office doesn’t make decisions based on fans emotions and there are a few factors that don’t favor Beasley returning to Dallas. We could rationalize that his frustrations with the team would be enough to push him away, but that’s not going to be the deciding factor. Beasley can sweep that under the rug as long as he feels the team is on the right track and he’s someone they plan to utilize in order to be a winning football team.
The trickier part comes with appreciation. That is, how many dollars worth of appreciation does the Cowboys front office have for Cole Beasley? Jason Garrett can talk all he wants about what kind of great teammate he is or Stephen Jones can praise him for how much he’s meant to the team, but the proof is in what figures will be on that paycheck.
And here lies the problem. The Cowboys have to prioritize their
needswants and let’s face it - there are some expensive contracts looming for this team coming up. They can’t pay everyone or else they wouldn’t have let the team’s single-season rushing leader DeMarco Murray walk back in 2015. And like Murray, the Cowboys may feel they can supplement what Beasley brings to the team by looking elsewhere.
Beasley played the last four years with the Cowboys on a contract that paid him a total of $13.6m (APY $3.4m). Though Beasley has been a valuable and consistent part of the Cowboys offense, he has had limited production throughout his career and is now 30 years old.
It’s hard to imagine that many teams will pay big dollars to this reliable slot receiver with limited athletic ability.
The Redskins have their own free agent in Jamison Crowder, who is younger and offers potentially greater upside, as well as Trey Quinn, who — though he was injured for nearly all of his rookie season — has comparable skills and 3 years remaining on his rookie contract, which will pay him between $587k and $767K per year.
I don’t see the Redskins making a play for Beasley, though he should end up with a role and on some NFL team early in free agency, possibly even continuing his career with the Cowboys, despite the recent Twitter flare up between he and the front office.
How do you feel about Golden Tate as a potential Redskins free agent signing in 2019?
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Fantastic! Sign him at 4:00 pm on 13 March!
Meh... good receiver, but 31 years old and expensive.
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The perfect answer for the Redskins at Tight End
Good TE, but not the guy the Redskins need
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Just what the Redskins need - a young wide receiver on the rise. Sign him!
He shows promise, but he’s not a good fit for the ‘Skins
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He’s been killing every defense he’s played and would be a perfect weapon for Jay Gruden’s offense
Another aging slot receiver isn’t gonna make a difference for Washington... the Skins should probably pass
No. Fucking. Cowboys.
Desean Jackson will earn $10m (non-guaranteed) in 2019. He seems to be unhappy in Tampa Bay. Should the Redskins trade for him this off season?
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Meh... maybe for a 6th or 7th round pick. Maybe not.
No. Just no.