Free Agency: Notable One-Year Deals
Every offseason we see players betting on themselves for the upcoming season saying that they can perform better than they have and, in turn, get a superior contract next offseason. Sometimes players need to prove their performance on the field, while other times they need to prove their performance off of it.
This year more than others, many high-profile players took prove-it deals to try and up their value for 2016. Let’s break down why each only got a one-year deal, how they figure to impact their new teams, and what kind of market they could get next offseason.
Terrance Knighton, DT, Washington Redskins
Why: Probably the biggest surprise one-year deal of the group. His production has outpaced that of Dan Williams the past two seasons, yet he couldn’t sniff his $6m+ per year average on the open market. There were reports of Knighton being out of shape at the start of free agency, but what 330-pound man can be classified as ‘in shape’? This looks more to be the case of the market not matching up with Knighton’s expectations and he’s betting that will change in a year’s time.
Impact: Fits perfectly in the middle of the Redskins line and will change the look of their run defense day one. Last season Kedric Golston, Chris Baker, Barry Cofield combined for 401 snaps at nose tackle last season and a -24.2 run defense grade. That’s unacceptable at the most important run defending position on the line. Knighton’s third-highest run defense grade among defensive tackle the last two years will be a godsend for Redskins fans everywhere.
2016 Market: Talent-wise he should easily get the same contract as Dan Williams got in Oakland. The problem is he’ll be 29 next year while Williams was 27 when he inked his 4-year, $25m, $15.2m guaranteed contract. If Knighton continues to dominate the interior, it’s hard to think he won’t at least be offered a deal in the area of $5m a year that Brandon Mebane currently has (five-year, $25m, $9m guaranteed).
Nick Fairley, DT, St. Louis Rams
Why: Unrealized potential is the reason for Fairley’s one-year deal. He’s flashed Top 5 contract type ability in the past, but has never put together a Top 5 type season.
Projection: If Fairley wanted a place where he would avoid double teams he certainly found it. He joins our No. 1 ranked defensive tackle from a year ago (Aaron Donald) and our top-ranked defensive end from 2013 (Robert Quinn) to form a stacked front in St. Louis. The former Lions defensive tackle was on his way to a monster season before a knee injury relegated him to just 297 snaps. He’s undersized, but showed three down type ability in Detroit. If he can stay on the field for the Rams, Fairley’s +27.3 grade over the last three seasons will fit in nicely.
2016 Market: Geno Atkins’ five-year, $53m, $15m guaranteed is likely the goal for Fairley. It will take a healthy season and he’ll need to match his career-high snap total (693), but if Fairley puts it all together a lucrative deal will be forthcoming.
Greg Hardy, DE, Dallas Cowboys
Why: Hardy was the defendant in a 2014 domestic assault case and could still face a suspension from the NFL.
Projection: Hardy may have only played 52 snaps last season, but there is nothing to suggest he isn’t the same player that would have commanded top dollar on the free agency market last offseason. He should be back to his old dominant self in 2015. The only question is whether he will be working mainly from his usual right side or the left with Jeremy Mincey already entrenched as the right end.
2016 Market: The intense public scrutiny of Hardy will likely die down enough in a year that more teams will be willing to pay for his services. At that point, if he continues to play at a high level, he’s likely to at least match the averages of his former teammate Charles Johnson’s six-year, $76m, $32m guaranteed deal.
Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Arizona Cardinals
Why: Weatherspoon missed all of the 2014 season with an Achilles injury.
Projection: The replacement for Larry Foote in Arizona, Weatherspoon figures to be an upgrade in all facets. Foote blitzed 187 times last season, the most among inside linebackers in the NFL, but he was also one of the least effective with a Pass Rushing Productivity of 7.9 (29th out of 32). In Weatherspoon’s last full season in 2012 he led all 4-3 outside linebackers with a Pass Rushing Productivity of 20.2 and could be well set up for a bounce back season.
2016 Market: A return to form likely won’t catapult the 27-year-old Weatherspoon into the upper echelon of linebacker contracts, but It would put him above a contract like Jon Beason’s three-year, $17m, $6m guaranteed that he signed last offseason. The goal is around Daryl Washington’s four-year, $32m, $5m guaranteed deal, with a little more guaranteed cash.
Henry Melton, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Why: 2015 marks Melton’s third straight season on a one-year contract. The first came via the franchise tag from the Bears in 2013. After an ACL injury that season the market for his services shrunk considerably and he signed for one year in Dallas. Now this one-year deal seems to stem from Melton’s limited snap counts. The defensive tackle was solely a pass rusher last season playing 433 snaps, and although he excelled in them, teams were hesitant to dole out big money to a part-time player.
Projection: There is an obvious connection with Melton returning to Lovie Smith under whom he had the best years of his career in Chicago. What doesn’t make sense is why he didn’t go to a team that would have used him as a starter. Melton isn’t stout enough against the run to be Gerald McCoy’s counterpart and certainly won’t unseat McCoy from his starting position. Melton again projects to be a productive sub-package player and should have the same playing time question marks surrounding him next offseason.
2016 Market: It’s hard to see teams changing their mind on Melton next offseason and his market will still be limited to 4-3/1-gap teams due to his size and ability. The best case scenario is a pass rush needy team pays Melton like the run defense needy Falcons paid Paul Soliai last offseason (5-years, $32m, $11m guaranteed).
Percy Harvin, WR, Buffalo Bills
Why: After skating through two different teams in the last year, Harvin was in no position to command a long-term deal. Reported locker room fights, refusal to play, and a lengthy injury history all played a factor in this one.
Projection: An odd choice for Harvin going to one of the worst passing offenses in the NFL a year ago that already has a budding No. 1 receiver in Sammy Watkins. Again there is some comfort with Harvin going back to Rex Ryan who coached him last year in New York, but Rex Ryan isn’t the offensive coordinator. Greg Roman has shown a propensity for creative play calling from his time in San Francisco and will think up ways to get Harvin the ball, but there are only so many ways to get a receiver the ball before the quarterback’s skill has to take over.
2016 Market: The goal would be to get his old six-year, $64m, $14.5m guaranteed contract back, but that ship has sailed at this point. If Harvin is on his best behavior, someone might trust the 26-year-old enough to dole out a deal in the vicinity of Greg Jennings’ old contract (five-year, $45m, $17.8m guaranteed). I just don’t see him putting up enough numbers in the Bills’ offense to command that deal, though, and he may be looking for a prove-it deal yet again next offseason.
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