Daily Focus: How Miller’s deal affects value of Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack
Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.
How Von Miller’s deal affects the value of Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack
After several months of negotiations, Von Miller and the Denver Broncos agreed to a record-setting long-term contract. Miller is currently the highest-paid non-QB in NFL history but that might not last for very long. Miller heads into 2016 as PFF’s No. 7 ranked player in the NFL, and there are two players ahead of him on the list that are younger and have set themselves up for monster deals in a couple of years: Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald and Oakland Raiders ED Khalil Mack.
Donald was the best player of 2015, winning the annual Dwight Stephenson award, and ranks No. 4 heading into 2016. The former Pitt Panther stepped into the league and immediately started dominating offensive lines from the 3-tech. He graded well his rookie year as the No. 3 overall defensive interior player behind J.J. Watt and Sheldon Richardson. He then built off his stellar rookie campaign reached Watt-like levels in 2015.
Donald utterly destroyed guards and centers in every game except two where he was merely average. So how well does Miller’s deal foreshadow what Donald’s will be in two years when the LA Ram is a free agent? Very well, we believe. While the two play different positions, both are disruptive and productive and both make game changing plays. Donald’s contract might be more affected by long-term deals given to other defensive tackles but considering the contracts given to Ndamukong Suh (six years, $114 million with $60 million guaranteed), Fletcher Cox (six years, $102 million with $63 million guaranteed), and Muhammad Wilkerson (five years, $86 million with $53 million guaranteed), Donald should see numbers close to Miller and possibly higher with the quickly rising salary cap.
Similar to Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack quickly established himself as one of the best players in the league at his position as a rookie, also ranking No. 3 as an edge defender. While critics pointed to his lack of sacks as a rookie, Mack still pressured the QB with 10 hits and 40 hurries — very respectable numbers. While the former Buffalo Bull graded well in pass rushing, his run-stopping ability was better than any edge defender by a long shot. Like Donald, Mack took a big leap his sophomore year to grade as the best edge defender and fourth-best defender in 2015. He again was in a different league in run defense grade but his difference-making ability as a pass rusher is what took the Raider over the top.
Mack’s Week 14 game immediately jumps out, but he was highly productive save for two games. If Mack continues to disrupt the QB like Von Miller has, Mack’s contract will be earth-shattering. A better all-around player than Miller, Mack is so good in all facets of the game that he confused All-Pro voters into thinking he plays two different positions at all times.
It will be two years until Donald and Mack see contract extensions as today’s rookie contracts are incredibly affordable compared to the Sam Bradford days. Don’t be surprised if these leverage each other in 2018 to get more money than the Super Bowl MVP did this offseason.
Can David Amerson build off his second half success to prove his worth of his new contract?
According to Ian Rapoport, the Oakland Raiders and CB David Amerson agreed to a four-year, $38 million extension with close to $18 million guaranteed. That’s a lot of cash for ten good games after a couple of years of bilge.
As you can see Amerson — a former second-round pick of the Washington Redskins — struggled his first two seasons. In fact, he graded as the worst CB in the NFL in 2014 and was cut by the team that drafted him after not being active for Week 2 in 2015. Amerson’s resurgence with the Raiders was shocking but to give him a contract that pays better per year than Chris Harris Jr. or even teammate Sean Smith received this offseason is even more shocking. This isn’t to say Amerson won’t play up to expectations, but it’s putting a lot of faith in a player that has just half a season’s worth of excellent play.
Kickers are people, too
In other record-setting news, the Baltimore Ravens and kicker Justin Tucker agreed to a four-year, $16.8 million deal with $10.8 million guaranteed. Despite missing a career-high seven field goals in 2015 (six were over 50 yards), Tucker graded as the top kicker. PFF’s special teams guru Gordon McGuinness once said he’d draft Tucker in the third round of the NFL draft knowing what we know now.
While you can debate whether drafting a kicker that early is a good idea, there is no denying the impact Tucker has had for the Ravens. He consistently booms kickoffs deep resulting in touchbacks — 85.1 percent touchback rate in 2015 and 62.7 percent for his career. No one came close to that rate in 2015 and while the NFL changed the rules to potentially make touchbacks less valuable, Tucker’s consistency from inside 50 yards is incredible.
Perhaps the league is shifting to view kickers as more valuable than ever, as now have seen a record-setting contract and the Buccaneers’ trade up in the second round of the 2016 draft. Ravens fans and kickers’ fans alike should be pleased with this contract — Tucker deserved to get paid and did.