Every AFC team's best contract: Darren Waller, Trey Hendrickson and more

Inglewood, California, USA; Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller (83) celebrates after catching a pass for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In an offseason of major spending across the NFL, surplus value contracts are all the more beneficial for each team. Some clubs were able to take advantage of a weak market in the 2021 offseason with a drop in the salary cap, while others have been proactive in extending players early before they fully blossom into the best versions of themselves. 

Now, we take a look at the best value deals for each AFC team headed into the 2022 season.

Jump to a team:

 KC | LVR | LAC | MIA | NE | NYJ | PIT | TEN

Baltimore Ravens: EDGE Tyus Bowser (Four years, $22 million | three years, $13 million in cash remaining)

There are a half-dozen candidates for this selection, as the Ravens have been particularly sharp with both extending their own players early on and taking advantage of other teams' cap casualties. Baltimore earned three spots on our top 32 contract rankings and an honorable mention for guard Kevin Zeitler

Tyus Bowser is a Swiss Army knife for the Ravens' defense, having played more than 200 snaps in run defense, as a pass rusher and in coverage in 2021. Bowser set career highs with 40 quarterback pressures and seven sacks last season, earning his third-straight season grade of 70.0-plus with a big bump in snaps played. 

Bowser tested off the charts at the 2017 NFL scouting combine, particularly demonstrating his explosiveness with 90th percentile broad jump and vertical scores, but was a bit raw coming out of Houston. As he rounds out his game — an extremely versatile game, at that — he could continue to build on a strong foundation and provide great value to Baltimore for the next few years. 

Buffalo Bills: QB Josh Allen (Six years, $258 million | $150 million total guaranteed at signing, rolling guarantee structure)

The Bills are another team with a long list of great deals on their books, earning two spots on our top 32 contract rankings. Buffalo has a host of other deserving candidates, including cornerback Tre’Davious White, linebacker Matt Milano and safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde — though Poyer is reportedly looking for a new contract before the 2022 season kicks off. 

It sounds silly now given Allen’s performance the past two seasons, but the Bills took a bit of a gamble when they extended him coming off his breakout 2020 campaign in which his 90.9 grade was a 25-point improvement over his first two seasons. With quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz serving as cautionary tales of the early extension, Buffalo believed Allen would continue to play at an exceptionally high level. 

That gamble more than paid off, with Allen’s 88 total regular-season touchdowns scored over the past two seasons more than any other player, and his 70 big-time throws ranking fourth. He’s comfortably one of the top quarterbacks in the sport, and getting his extension done early will benefit the Bills for years to come.

Cincinnati Bengals: EDGE Trey Hendrickson (Four years, $60 million | Three years, $40 million in cash remaining)

Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and his three-year, $21.75 million pact is certainly worth a mention here, but what Trey Hendrickson was able to accomplish in his first season in Cincinnati was remarkable.

Hendrickson’s 75 quarterback pressures in 2021 ranked tied for fourth among edge defenders, his 14 sacks ranked fifth and his 17.8% pressure percentage ranked third. He continued his dominance into the playoffs, earning an 81.7 pass-rush grade that ranked third among edge defenders. A talented and deep New Orleans Saints defensive front limited Hendrickson’s snaps early in his career, which contributed to this modest deal with the Bengals after a breakout 2020 season, but he’s already shown he can be the top edge rusher for a club and outplayed this deal just one year in.

Cleveland Browns: S John Johnson III (Three years, $33.75 million | Two years, $20.5 million in cash remaining)

Guard Wyatt Teller and edge defender Jadeveon Clowney were options here, as well, but it’s important to understand the volatility that comes with the safety position and not overreact to a more average performance for Johnson in 2021 after his stellar four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams on a rookie contract.

Johnson’s free agent pact was one of the better value deals of the 2021 offseason, and while he didn’t grade out quite as well in his first year in Cleveland as he had during his Rams tenure, the safety market has exploded since he signed. Johnson is now the third-highest paid safety in his own division, behind Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and new Baltimore Ravens safety Marcus Williams. Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III received the franchise tag for 2022 and has until July 15 to iron out a multi-year extension, which could make Johnson a bargain compared to the top-paid safety on every other AFC North roster.

Johnson’s 89.8 grade over the past five seasons ranks ninth among safeties, and his 93.2 coverage grade ranks seventh. With the young Browns secondary around him getting another year older, it’s a good bet he returns to form as a major difference-maker on the backend in Cleveland.

Denver Broncos: WR Courtland Sutton (Four years, $60 million | Four years, $54 million in cash remaining)

Running back Melvin Gordon III returning to the Broncos on a one-year, $2.5 million deal was an underrated steal of the offseason after Gordon played so well that upshot rookie Javonte Williams couldn’t eat into his workload despite his own strong campaign. Gordon’s 83.4 rushing grade ranked ninth among running backs with at least 100 carries in 2021, and his 23 explosive runs ranked 10th.

That said, Courtland Sutton’s deal could be one of the best values in the entire NFL, especially with new quarterback Russell Wilson entering the picture in Denver. Sutton’s 31 receptions hauled in 20-plus yards downfield since 2018 ranks 14th, and that’s with him missing effectively the entire 2020 season. Wilson’s 124 completions on passes 20-plus yards downfield over the same span ranks second. This duo could put up huge numbers over the next few years, and Sutton’s deal could look like more and more of a bargain.

Houston Texans: EDGE Jerry Hughes (Two years, $10 million | $5.5 million total guaranteed)

Jerry Hughes is entering his age-34 season, so it’s not exactly a surprise he signed a modest veteran contract. But considering the deals signed by Las Vegas Raiders edge defender Chandler Jones (three years, $51 million) and Buffalo Bills edge defender Von Miller (six years, $120 million), Hughes’ deal is a massive bargain. His 99 quarterback pressures and 89.2 pass-rush grade over the past two seasons outpaced both players. Hughes is more of a pure pass rusher with situational usage, but the disparity in the contracts for the three older edge defenders makes his deal a steal.

New cornerback Steven Nelson and his two-year, $9 million pact also adds a fourth starting-caliber cornerback alongside Derek Stingley Jr., Desmond King II and Tavierre Thomas. Houston has quietly added some pieces on defense that could make a noticeable impact this upcoming season.

Indianapolis Colts: CB Kenny Moore II (Four years, $33.3 million | Two years, $14.295 million in cash remaining)

Moore is reportedly looking for a new deal, which is well-deserved considering his 76.2 overall grade since signing his current contract in 2019 ranks eighth, his 76.9 coverage grade ranks seventh and his nine interceptions in the slot are three more than the next best player over the span.

Moore is the heart and soul of this Colts secondary, a unit that has experienced consistent turnover at outside cornerback and safety over the past several years. He’s a solid run defender in addition to his coverage prowess, and he could perhaps take another step forward with a true No. 1 outside cornerback in Stephon Gilmore joining the team this offseason.

Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Marvin Jones Jr. (Two years, $12.5 million | One year, $5.5 million in cash remaining)

Jones effectively operated as the No. 1 wideout for a disastrous Jaguars receiver unit in 2021, and his consistent, veteran presence was maybe the only thing working in rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s favor. Despite the abject chaos in Jacksonville last season, Jones still earned a 70.4 receiving grade with 73 receptions for 832 receiving yards. His 16 contested catches ranked tied for fifth, continuing to show his dynamic ability at the catch point as a downfield receiver, And more than 20% of his targets came 20-plus yards downfield.

This deal was a great value the moment it was signed, with the two-year length especially notable because it keeps Jones around to continue to build chemistry with Lawrence and complement a group of younger pass catchers.

Kansas City Chiefs: QB Patrick Mahomes (10 years, $450 million | $141 million total guaranteed at signing, rolling guarantee structure)

Tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster also represent great values as pass catchers for the Chiefs, but the man throwing them the ball in Patrick Mahomes is on one of the most team-friendly deals in the entire NFL.

It’s possible Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson sign multi-year extensions averaging more annually than Mahomes’ $45 million before Week 1, and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert could bump him out of the five highest-paid quarterbacks altogether after next offseason. Mahomes will still have nine years of his contract remaining heading into 2023.

Las Vegas Raiders: TE Darren Waller (Four years, $29,800,004 | Two years, $14 million in cash remaining)

Raiders wide receiver Hunter Renfrow recently signed a two-year, $32 million extension that compares favorably to other predominantly slot receiver contracts, and it also creates a pretty fascinating benchmark in negotiations with Waller. Yes, it’s the first veteran contract for a 26-year-old Renfrow versus a second veteran deal for a soon-to-be 30-year-old Waller, but it’d be hard for the Raiders to argue Waller is not as valuable to the team.

The tight end market has continued to lag well behind the wide receiver market — especially for bigger outside wide receivers — but it's now even behind slot receivers, who arguably have a lot of the same receiving responsibilities but less blocking compared to tight ends. We’re not suggesting Renfrow didn’t deserve his extension coming off a breakout campaign in which he tallied over 100 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career, but Waller had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2019-20 and put up roughly the same yards per game in 2021 as Renfrow.

Over the past two seasons, Waller outpaces Renfrow in PFF Wins Above Replacement (WAR) generated, with 0.73 compared to 0.55, despite missing time in 2021. Of course, contracts are more about projecting future performance than paying for past performance, but Waller’s current deal remains one of the top bargains in the league.

Los Angeles Chargers: OG/OT Matt Feiler (Three years, $21 million | Two years, $12 million in cash remaining)

Feiler’s value may truly be realized this upcoming season if he makes the move back to right tackle after starting the 2021 season at left guard. Right tackle is arguably the biggest question mark on the Chargers' roster heading into 2022, and Feiler earned a 75.9 overall grade with an 80.7 pass-blocking mark in 2019 starting at right tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers. If he can kick back outside and play at a similar level, his already strong value deal becomes that much better.

In addition, Chargers first-round pick Zion Johnson lined up predominantly at left guard during his time at Boston College, so it would make all the sense in the world for Feiler to kick back outside to right tackle to potentially turn a weakness into a strength.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy and cornerback Bryce Callahan — if he can stay healthy — could both be massive bargains on near-veteran-minimum contracts in 2022, as well. They’re the type of low-cost veteran additions that provide much-needed depth and could help push this team deep into the playoffs.

Miami Dolphins: OT Terron Armstead (Five years, $75 million | $43.37 million total guaranteed)

It’s not often a blue-chip left tackle hits the open market in the NFL, and Terron Armstead has been just that over his career. The free agent market hasn’t been particularly kind to these older tackles, even as players such as Andrew Whitworth and Jason Peters, among others in recent years, have shown an ability to play at an extremely high level well into their 30s. Armstead did better than most, but this deal could still look like a robbery in a few years.

Armstead has some minor injury concerns that likely led to him reaching free agency and signing a deal that averages just $15 million annually, but whenever he’s on the field, he’s keeping his quarterback upright, earning 80.0-plus pass-blocking grades in seven consecutive seasons. The value here is also amplified when considering the upgrade Armstead represents over the left tackles Miami has started the past few seasons, and the Dolphins' front office deserves praise for remaining patient and inking this deal in the second or even third wave of free agency.

New England Patriots: WR Kendrick Bourne (Three years, $15 million | Two years, $9.75 million in cash remaining)

It shouldn't come as a surprise, but the Patriots have a handful of smart deals to choose from. Edge defender Matthew Judon, tackle Trent Brown and safety Jabrill Peppers could all easily outplay their respective contracts in 2022, granted the discounts for Brown and Peppers also come with some risk, as Brown has had issues keeping his weight down and Peppers is coming off a torn ACL.

Nevertheless, Bourne was simply a slam-dunk signing in the 2021 offseason after he didn’t get the opportunity to fully display his skills in a crowded San Francisco 49ers wide receiver group to start his career. Bourne set career highs across the board in 2021: a 75.2 receiving grade, a 3.5% drop rate, 1.99 yards per route run, 7.2 yards after the catch per reception and 55 receptions for 800 yards. The Patriots will deploy a committee approach at wide receiver, something they’re very familiar and comfortable with, but Bourne has carved out a significant role and good chemistry with quarterback Mac Jones.

New York Jets: EDGE John Franklin-Myers (Four years, $55 million | four years, $53 million in cash remaining)

Safety Jordan Whitehead’s two-year, $14 million deal was a really good value for the Jets as they overhauled their secondary this offseason, but the early extension of a homegrown talent in John Franklin-Myers already looks sharp just one year later.

Franklin-Myers earned a career-best 80.3 overall grade in 2021 with a bump up in snaps (717), and he has now recorded back-to-back seasons with at least 50 quarterback pressures. Also important was Franklin-Myers’ growth as a run defender, with his 75.5 run-defense grade a major improvement over his first two seasons and his 19 defensive stops in 2021 more than his first three seasons combined.

The most impressive aspect here, underscoring the value for the Jets, is the fact they claimed Franklin-Myers off waivers in 2019 after he was let go by the Los Angeles Rams. A commitment to his long-term development has paid off, and the former fourth-rounder is still trending upward.

Pittsburgh Steelers: OG James Daniels (Three years, $26.5 million | $8.75 million total guaranteed)

There is a degree of projection here, but James Daniels has a lot of above-average film on tape for a player who will still be just 24 years old in Week 1 of 2022. Entering his fifth season, Daniels is just nine months older than the quarterback he’ll eventually be protecting in 2022 first-round rookie Kenny Pickett.

Daniels has spent time at all three spots along the interior in his NFL career, finally sticking at right guard — where he’s projected to start for the Steelers in 2022. He is coming off a career-best 71.0 grade, and if you remove Weeks 1-3 as he got his legs under him for the first time ever playing right guard, he earned a 75.8 grade the rest of the way, with grades above 70.0 as a run blocker and a pass blocker.

This signing is betting on traits and talent now that Daniels has finally found a home at right guard, and there’s still room for much more growth. He's younger than five players taken in this year’s draft class.

Tennessee Titans: C Ben Jones (Two years, $14 million | $8 million total guaranteed)

Jones will be 33 years old in 2022, and while the center market certainly isn’t the strongest of the position markets, he’s a great value at this price tag. The 35-year-old Jason Kelce signed a fully guaranteed one-year contract for the same amount this offseason, and over the past three seasons, Jones’ 82.5 grade just narrowly trails Kelce (83.3). Both players, whose respective grades each rank in the top five among centers over the span, have logged over 3,000 snaps since 2019, as well, demonstrating impressive durability in addition to top-end talent.

Jones is a critical piece of the Titans’ rushing attack, earning a 70.0-plus run-blocking grade in every season since 2016. 


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