Ask any NFL player, fan, or executive familiar with today’s modern bargaining structure about what is the most important part of an NFL contract, and they will probably say the amount of GUARANTEED money. Make no mistake, there is a big difference between what a contract is worth and what a player will receive regardless of performance.
Don’t believe me? As of this writing there have been more than $1 billion worth of contracts handed out from NFL teams in an attempt to take down 2014′s champions, the Seattle Seahawks. As of now “only” $350 million of that is guaranteed, but in any event, some of the biggest names of the past few years have either been paid to stay put or changed teams for the promise of a big deal. Let’s take a quick look at some of the more interesting moves thus far, broken down by conference:
Looking smart, on paper: Eagles, Seahawks, Saints, 49ers
So far the NFC has been by far the less active of the two conferences with the biggest winners doing their best work by simply cutting a few costly contracts to keep their top guys in place. The Saints, Seahawks, and 49ers cut ties with talented yet ultimately for them, luxury item guys, such as Lance Moore and Donte Whitner. This was done in order to sign the top offensive weapon on the market in Jimmy Graham along with the best defensive back in Jairus Byrd, the most coveted defensive lineman in Michael Bennett and to bring back the ageless Anquan Boldin.
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The Eagles locked themselves into an offensive line that both kept Nick Foles clean and road-graded the way ahead of Lesean McCoy for the next few seasons, all while keeping one of Foles’ favorites Riley Cooper and keeping the oft-injured but indisputably talented Jeremy Maclin in house. Also as I type this they just traded to add the lightning bug, Darren Sproles, to what was already arguably the most talented stable of running backs in the league. Add Maclin, Sproles, keeping an already great offensive line together, Nick Foles having a full offseason as a starter all with Chip Kelly calling the plays? These Eagles might look even more like the Oregon Ducks than ever….QUACK.
In trouble if the season started tomorrow: Dallas, Carolina
These two teams are in some of the deepest cap trouble of any team in the league, Dallas chose to deal with having the worst defense in the league last year by releasing one of the best defensive players in the league, Demarcus Ware. Carolina may go from looking like a potential trendy Super Bowl pick to not making the playoffs in a matter of days. As of now they don’t have a single wide receiver that you’ve heard of on their team, seemingly plan to bring back the fantasy football ruining 3 headed monster of Deangelo Williams, Johnathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert. And aside from signing Greg Hardy, they seem to be content to let the rest of their free agents on Defense test the waters, with Mike Mitchell already bolting for Pittsburgh and Captain Munnerlyn in limbo.
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After a down year the teams in the AFC are not content to stand pat with a ton of big names changing teams and a lot of splashes being made.
Looking smart, on paper: Cleveland, New England, Denver
Homer Warning: I’m from Cleveland, grew up a Browns fan, and my sophomore year was on the same team for a time as Donte Whitner. The grain of salt needed for the following is less of a grain and more of a deer-sized saltlick. That being said the perennial punch line Cleveland Browns, while making some moves that may either be extremely successful or crash and burn have at least been aggressive. They lost D’Qwell Jackson and T.J Ward respectively and brought in hometown hero Whitner, one of the more seasoned safeties in the league who helped lead the 49ers fierce secondary, and also Arizona stalwart Carlos Dansby. In addition to this they haven’t lost Alex Mack, and cut 2/3 of last year’s QB carousel. If they manage to land one of the veteran skill players and can draft a promising QB this is a team that with the Ravens and Steelers floundering can make the playoffs this season.
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New England and Denver seemed to be destined to make headlines as it relates to each other. The Broncos are clearly in title or bust mode, adding one of the top pass rushers of this decade in Demarcus Ware, and backing him up with their second straight top New England pilfered free agent, Aqib Talib. This makes what was a decent yet sometimes suspect unit fearsome, with Ware and Von Miller rushing the quarterback, Talib and the also new T.J. Ward in the secondary. This should make up for losing some of their offensive punch with Eric Decker leaving and Knowshown Moreno testing the waters of free agency.
The Patriots chose to let Talib go and replaced him with better-if-he’s-healthy Darrelle Revis. Though they need some offensive help a team with Brady at the helm can afford to splurge for a change on the other side of the ball. If Revis can get back to his New York Jet form then the Pat’s defense all of a sudden can go from porous to dangerous. Revis ability to essentially take 1/3 of the football field away from opposing offense’s passing attacks will not be squandered with Bill Belichik moving the chess pieces.
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In trouble if the season started tomorrow: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New York
The Steelers and Ravens are in the same position, cap strapped with too much money tied up in guys who suddenly got hot at the right time (Joe Flacco) or sentimental favorites (Heath Miller and Troy Polamalu). These teams underachieved last year and due to their current situations are forced to run it back with essentially the same units in a division that will see the Browns and Bengals improve greatly. New York is in trouble because they weren’t great last year and have made one of the cardinal mistakes of free agency. Giving a #2 receiver a #1 money. Not to say Decker isn’t talented but we’ve seen how this worked out with T.J. Houshmanzadeh, Muhammad Wilkerson, and the like. I’m of the mindset that a team with a lot of holes could be better served trying to spread money out rather than make a huge move.
There are plenty of big names still on the market but as the dominoes start to fall and the draft nears there are only a few impact moves left to be made, what will your team do?
Kyle Collins is by day a not-so mild mannered drone for one of the world’s largest tech companies, by night he’s a sports enthusiast/wrestling smark/videogame geek/travel nut/chicken connoisseur/ comic book nerd and self- proclaimed “hopefully non-threatening black man”. Follow him at https://twitter.com/TKCExperience for tweets that he hopes get more RTs, because that’s how he validates his existence.
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