An agent can't get something for a client if he or she doesn't ask for it. Asking is the easy part. Getting an asking or target price becomes the hard part, especially when a player has a soft market for his services.
Agents and NFL teams may have already gotten a sense of the 2023 free agent market. Meetings between agents of impending free agents and teams routinely occur at the NFL Combine, which ended on March 6. These types of discussions technically aren't permitted by NFL rules. Teams are rarely penalized for tampering with players from other teams when those players are scheduled to become free agents.
The exclusive negotiating rights teams have had with their impending free agents ends on March 13. That's when NFL teams are allowed to negotiate with the agents of prospective unrestricted free agents during a two-day period beginning at noon ET and ending at 3:59:59 p.m. ET on March 15. Prospective UFAs who don't have an agent can also negotiate with front office executives of teams. Players can't sign deals with new clubs until the 2023 league year and free agency officially begin at 4 p.m. ET. A player's ability to re-sign with his current club is allowed during the period.
It was my responsibility while working on the agent side to create target or asking prices for the firm's clients headed toward free agency regardless of whether I was the lead agent. In that spirit, I have set target prices with total contract value, overall guarantees and amount fully guaranteed at signing for 10 intriguing offensive players who will be unrestricted free agents or were designated as franchise players.
Players don't necessarily sign for their target prices because free agency is a fluid process where adaptations must be made to changing market conditions. Some players are disappointed in free agency's outcome because their market never develops for a variety of reasons (age, unrealistic contract demands, supply and demand at playing position, etc.).
Remember the target or asking prices for these players may be on the high side and aren't necessarily what their actual deals will be.
Lamar Jackson, QB, ($32.416 million franchise tag)
- Contract package: $210 million/4 years ($52.5 million per year)
- Overall guarantees: $170 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $150 million
- Other considerations: No franchise/transition tag clause
The Ravens took a calculated risk by placing a non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson. He has the ability to sign an offer sheet with another team. The Ravens would get two first-round picks as compensation if the offer sheet isn't matched. Curiously, multiple quarterback-needy teams quickly expressed that they didn't have an interest in the 2019 NFL MVP.
Jackson, who represents himself, and the Ravens reportedly resumed negotiations prior to him getting a franchise tag. The big sticking point is believed to be his insistence on a fully guaranteed contract. Jackson reportedly turned down a five-year contract extension offer worth approximately $250 million with $133 million fully guaranteed, according to multiple reports, before cutting off negotiations as the start of the 2022 regular season approached. The exact amount of the total guarantee wasn't disclosed at the time. It was believed to have at least been on par with Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson getting 67.3% of his deal guaranteed. This would put Jackson's total guarantee in the $170 million neighborhood at a minimum.
It's unlikely that the other quarterbacks in line for lucrative contract extensions this year (Joe Burrow-Bengals; Justin Herbert-Chargers; Jalen Hurts-Eagles) are going to help Jackson in his quest for a fully guaranteed contract. If this assessment is correct, the fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract the Browns gave quarterback Deshaun Watson in connection with his trade from the Browns to the Texans last March will be more of an aberration that it already is.
It may be a smart move for Jackson to shift gears where he extracts major concessions from the Ravens in most major aspects of a deal to abandon seeking a fully guaranteed contract. Doing so would likely close the door on other veterans getting fully guaranteed contracts for the foreseeable future, which might make the Ravens receptive to making the necessary concessions to entice Jackson into signing a traditional deal.
Josh Jacobs, RB, ($10.091 million franchise tag)
- Contract package: $61 million/4 years ($15.5 million per year)
- Overall guarantees: $40 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $31 million
The Raiders surely regret declining a fifth-year option in 2023 with Jacobs for a fully guaranteed $8.034 million, given he led the NFL in both rushing and yards from scrimmage (combined rushing and receiving yards) in 2022 with 1,653 and 2,053 yards, respectively. If Jacobs wasn't a running back, he would have a legitimate chance at replacing Christian McCaffrey as highest paid at the position because of his contract-year performance. McCaffrey signed a four-year extension, averaging $16,015,853 per year with $39,162,500 of guarantees, in 2020. He has a running back-best $30,062,500 fully guaranteed at signing. Jacobs is still a relatively low mileage running back despite being second in the NFL last season with 340 rushing attempts. During his three years at Alabama, he only carried the football 251 times.
Orlando Brown Jr., OT
- Contract package: $94 million/4 years ($23.5 million per year)
- Overall guarantees: $62.5 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $51.5 million
The Chiefs decided to let Brown hit the open market instead of putting a franchise tag on him for a second straight year at $19,994,440. Brown rejected a reported six-year, $139 million deal with a $30.25 million signing bonus at the deadline for franchise players to sign long term last July 15. Brown would have become the league's highest-paid offensive lineman at $23,166,667 per year because of a highly inflated last year of the contract. The deal was backloaded and too long for a 26-year-old Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle to accept.
Recent history suggests that Brown could reset the offensive tackle market because quality left tackles in their prime rarely become unrestricted free agents. Nate Solder briefly topped the offensive lineman pay scale when he left the Patriots for the Giants in 2018 free agency. Trent Brown, who replaced Solder in New England for the 2018 season, did the same thing in 2019 free agency when he signed with the Raiders.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB
- Contract package: $90 million/3 years ($30 million per year)
- Overall guarantees: $65 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $45 million
The 2023 starting quarterback market is becoming well-defined with Derek Carr, Daniel Jones and Geno Smith contracts in place. Carr signed what is essentially a three-year, $100 million contract with $60 million fully guaranteed. The base value of Smith's three-year deal is $75 million. He can earn as much as $105 million through incentives. It wouldn't be a surprise for Garoppolo to fall well short of these two deals because of concerns about his durability. During Garoppolo's five years with the 49ers, after signing a five-year, $135 million contract that briefly made him the league's highest-paid player, he only played 57 of a possible 82 regular-season games.
Saquon Barkley, RB, ($10.091 million franchise tag)
- Contract package: $56 million/4 years ($14 million per year)
- Overall guarantees: $29 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $29 million
Getting a deal done with quarterback Daniel Jones meant Barkley was getting a franchise tag, which he didn't want. The situation is reminiscent of the Titans in 2020 when quarterback Ryan Tannehill signing long term assured running back Derrick Henry of a franchise tag. Henry eventually signed a four-year, $50 million deal, averaging $12.5 million per year, that June. The maximum value is $51 million through incentives and had $25.5 million fully guaranteed. Adjusting for salary cap inflation, Henry's contract worth is a little more than $14 million per year.
- Contract package: $47.25 million/3 years ($15.75 million per year)
- Overall guarantees: $31.5 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $31.5 million
Smith-Schuster had a bounce-back year with the Chiefs after an injury-plagued 2021 season. He went to Kansas City on a one-year, $3.76 million contract with the Chiefs worth up to $11.26 million through incentives. Smith-Schuster caught 78 passes for 933 yards with three touchdowns in 16 games. He could be one of the beneficiaries of a weak free agent crop of wide receivers. The three-year, $46.5 million contract (worth up to $48 million through incentives) with $30.75 million fully guaranteed Allen Robinson got from the Rams in free agency last year, after a subpar 2021 season (36 catches for 410 yards with one touchdown in 12 games), is probably on Smith-Schuster's radar screen. Robinson can void out of the third year in 2024 by reaching 2,201 combined receiving yards in 2022 and 2023.
Evan Engram TE, ($11.345 million franchise tag)
- Contract package: $57 million/4 years ($14.25 million per year)
- Overall guarantees: $35 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $35 million
A change of scenery did wonders for Engram. He signed a one-year, $9 million deal worth up to $10 million through incentives with the Jaguars after a disappointing 2021 campaign for the Giants where he caught 46 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns. Engram had a career year in Jacksonville. He had 73 catches, 766 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 2022. The David Njoku deal will likely serve as a salary floor for Engram. The Browns gave Njoku a four-year, $54.75 million contract worth a maximum of $56.75 million through incentives last June as a franchise player. Njoku was coming off a 2021 season in which he caught 36 passes for 475 yards and scored four touchdowns.
Jakobi Meyers, WR
- Contract package: $68 million/4 years ($17 million per year)
- Overall guarantees: $40 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $35 million
Meyers can be encouraged that Christian Kirk signed a four-year, $72 million deal (worth up to $84 million through incentives) with the Jaguars in free agency last year although he had never had a 1,000-receiving-yard season. On the other hand, the 2023 free agent wide receiver class is considered to be weak. Meyers had a career-best 866 receiving yards in 2021. He had 804 yards last season and averaged a career-high 57.4 yards per game. Meyers does most of his damage from the slot, just like Kirk did before going to Jacksonville. According to Pro Football Focus, 69.5% of Meyer's passing snaps were in the slot last season. The two-year extension, averaging $15.85 million per year, Hunter Renfrow, who operates primarily out of the slot, got from the Raiders last June probably also factors into the equation for Meyers.
Kaleb McGary, OT
- Contract package: $62 million/4 years ($15.5 million per year)
- Overall guarantees: $33 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $33 million
The Falcons rightfully declined a fully guaranteed, $13.202 million, fifth-year option for 2023 with McGary last spring. He hadn't demonstrated he could be the answer at right tackle until the 2022 season. McGary was a force against the run and improved as a pass protector last season. He is still a better run blocker than pass protector. The latest data point in the right tackle market is the four-year, $60 million extension with $31,333,333 in guarantees Jack Conklin received from the Browns toward the end of the 2022 regular season.
Isaac Seumalo, OG
- Contract package: $41.25 million/3 years ($13.75 million per year)
- Overall guarantees: $27.5 million
- Fully guaranteed at signing: $25 million
Seumalo played every regular-season game for the first time since 2019 after injuries limited him to just nine games over the last two seasons. Philadelphia's offense didn't miss a beat with Seumalo shifting to right guard to take over for Brandon Brooks, who retired after the 2021 season. As arguably the top offensive guard slated to hit the open market, Seumalo would be justified in looking for money similar to what Laken Tomlinson received in free agency last year. The Jets signed Tomlinson to a three-year, $40 million contract (worth up to $41.2 million through incentives) with $26.6 million in guarantees, of which $24 million was fully guaranteed at signing.