Bargain Hunters: Birds Sit Out First, Most Expensive Wave Of Free Agency
The first day of the NFL’s legal tampering passed Monday with plenty of tampering, and somehow much of it not legal.
Players, of course, aren’t supposed to reach agreements with teams during this three-day window, but the league conveniently looks the other way as players and teams come to financial terms almost immediately.
Free agency is the same story nearly every year: the staggering financial gains for mediocrity helps reset the market for really good players who are already under contract and waiting on their next opportunity to extend for even bigger money.
Notice the trend from the biggest contracts handed out during the Day 1 sweepstakes: Former Patriots offensive guard Joe Thuney and former Steelers pass rusher Bud Dupree each inked deals worth at least $80 million while pass rushers Leonard Floyd and Trey Hendrickson each netted contract at $60 million or more, joining former center Corey Linsley.
Together, those five have combined for no Pro Bowls, although Linsley made All Pro for the first time this season.
Former Titans tight end Johnnu Smith collected $50 million over from New England. He’s now one of the NFL’s highest-paid tight ends despite having just 41 receptions, 488 yards and eight touchdowns last year, his career bests. Former Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson cashed in with the Bengals for $60 million over four years despite also never making a Pro Bowl.
This isn’t to suggest that these players won’t succeed in their new homes or don’t have their best days ahead. Many of these signings are young players on their second contracts and will get most of their guaranteed money in the first two years of the contract, which gives insurance to the team that it can escape fairly soon without much of a cap hit.
The Eagles hit home runs on those signings a few years ago, bringing in Malcolm Jenkins, Brandon Brooks and Rodney McLeod on moderate deals compared to the big winners from their free-agent classes. All three earned extensions with the Eagles, and Jenkins and Brooks emerged into top players at their positions.
Of bigger concern for the Eagles should be that two former players who underperformed went elsewhere and prospered enough to warrant multi-year deals. Nelson Agholor, a 2015 first-round pick, parlayed his career season with the Raiders into a two-year, $26 million deal with New England. Ronald Darby, who came to the Eagles via trade in 2017, rescued his career with Washington last year and signed a three-year, $30 million deal in Denver.
History has shown that many of these exorbitant deals simply won’t work out or be worth the amount that teams forked over, further backing the adage that free agency is meant to fill immediate roster holes but proper roster construction is done by drafting well and equipping the team with good, cost-controlled talent.
Still, the trigger-finger from fans gets extra twitchy when names and numbers start to circulate around Twitter even despite the franchise’s own mixed history on free-agent signings and even with most understanding that the Eagles weren’t in financial position to engage in bidding wars for some players who could really help them.
The Eagles absolutely need bodies at cornerback, safety and linebacker. They also need a backup quarterback. Some would have like them to get into the wide receiver market.
But the franchise that walked into the offseason needing to clear about $70 million just to be cap compliant can’t rub elbows this year with teams like the Jets and Patriots, who had tens of millions of cap space to exploit.
Rest assured, the Eagles won’t come away from this spending period without eventually dipping their toe into the water. The list of available talent is long, and many of the best signings happen after the first two weeks.
The best approach is to let the white-hot market settle for a few days and find bargains as the teams with ample cap space drain that cash on the selected few.
The market will have plenty of legit corners available several days from now, as Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, Xavier Rhodes, Malcolm Butler, Janoris Jenkins, Shaq Griffin, William Jackson and countless others with starting experience remain unsigned as this is being written.
Is there risk involved with aging players whose best days are behind? Sure. But that’s why many of these corners are likely to see one-year or shorter-term deals with less guaranteed money.
Same deal at other positions. The list of safeties and linebackers who can come in, start and play adequately enough to fill a temporary hole is abundant. Also, teams adding high-priced free agents today will be releasing veterans who can still play to continue to clear space.
Price tags will gradually decrease in the coming days, as supply vs. demand creates more advantageous scenarios for teams with less money to spend. It happens every offseason.
None of the players signed after the first wave will move the needle, but the Eagles are taking the long view here (mostly by necessity) and need to lean heavily on the draft to rebuild the franchise foundation. It’s substance over style.
They have 10 picks and could pick up more if they deal Zach Ertz or anyone else. The draft will be their best source of talent acquisition.
For now, the Eagles will play the market carefully. It’s their only option, but it’s also their best one.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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