• Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo cashes in: The new Las Vegas Raiders quarterback is set to earn $24.25 million per year after being projected for $15 million per year.
• Bengals get a steal in tackle Orlando Brown Jr.: Brown will earn $16 million per year over his four-year deal with Cincinnati, bolstering their previously shaky offensive line in the process.
• Tight end Mike Gesicki falls well below projections: The Patriots signed Gesicki for just a $4.5 million base value despite his projection coming in at $11 million per year.
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With the first week of 2023 NFL free agency in the rearview mirror, we wanted to take a step back and reflect on some of the more surprising deals of the offseason thus far. There are always factors at play that film study, statistics and market analysis can’t capture, but we’re nevertheless still surprised in both directions when a deal comes in well above or well below expectations.
With more deals yet to come, we wanted to highlight five free-agent contracts that came in larger than expected and five contracts that came in below expectations.
Players who got more than expected
- Contract: Three years, $29 million ($9.67 million per year)
- PFF projected contract: One year, $3.25 million, $2 million guaranteed
We were obviously way off here, and we’re not making any excuses for that. The simple reality is the Philadelphia Eagles have had the best starting offensive line and the best depth behind that unit over the past several seasons, and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland is as good as any coach in the league. Dillard not being able to crack the lineup for another team would’ve been a much bigger red flag, and the former first-round pick offers guard-tackle flexibility that could contribute to his value.
Dillard’s official contract details are still not public, so this could be the “up to” amount boosted with incentives, but we thought a one-year flier to get his career back on track was in the cards. On 340 snaps at left tackle in 2021, Dillard earned a 71.7 pass-block grade. That is the best indicator we have from his NFL experience of the player Tennessee believed it was signing. We’ll see if he can play at a high level as a full-time starter, but it’s fair to wonder if he signs a deal even close to this one without his first-round pedigree.
- Contract: Three years, $21 million ($7 million per year), $10.7 million total guaranteed
- PFF projected contract: Three years, $10.5 million ($3.5 million per year), $5.75 million total guaranteed
Oliver had a bounce-back 2022 season after a slow start to his NFL career, serving as a quality third tight end in Baltimore behind Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely, but this is a strong payday for a player with a limited role. Oliver’s 74.6 run-blocking grade in 2022 ranked second among tight ends with at least 100 run-blocking snaps on the season, and his presence alongside T.J. Hockenson enables the Vikings to be a lot more effective out of 12 personnel.
All of that said, the Vikings misjudged the tight end market a bit — we did, as well — and jumped early on this addition with few signings of significance at the position following suit. If Hockenson signs an extension this offseason after getting acquired at the trade deadline and now entering his fifth-year option in 2023, Minnesota could lead the NFL in total cash investment at the position by a comfortable margin.
- Contract: Three years, $72.75 million ($24.25 million per year), $45 million total guaranteed
- PFF projected contract: One year, $15 million, $12 million guaranteed
We get all the narratives here, and we understand the Raiders first tried to trade up to the No. 1 overall pick via the Chicago Bears before making this move. But this go-around with Josh McDaniels as head coach in Las Vegas was supposed to be different than his first tenure, and all he did this offseason was reunite with old friends and act very Patriots-like, minus the part where he has Tom Brady.
McDaniels also has familiarity with Jacoby Brissett from their time in New England, and Brissett signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Washington Commanders. Given Garoppolo’s extensive injury history and the lack of other serious suitors, this is just way too much for a bridge quarterback.
- Contract: Three years, $22.35 million ($7.45 million per year), $11 million total guaranteed
- PFF projected contract: Two years, $6.5 million ($3.25 million per year), $3.75 million guaranteed
After a bumpy start to the 2022 season that included working through an injury, McGovern settled in tremendously and was among the best pass-blocking guards in the NFL. From Week 7 through the end of the season. McGovern’s 84.3 pass-blocking grade ranked fifth among guards, including a start in Week 18 at center.
What we likely fell victim to here is a situation that can skew both directions and is often hard to nail down: When a player is solid at a lot of positions, is it because of great versatility or because the team doesn’t necessarily view them as a long-term solution at one spot?
McGovern shifted over to center in Week 18 and was replaced by rookie Tyler Smith, which was almost certainly because McGovern had experience there and knew how to run the show better than a rookie. In 2021, McGovern logged snaps at all three spots on the interior, plus a few as a sixth lineman and fullback. He is exceptionally versatile, which bodes well for a Buffalo Bills interior that needed a boost, and he gets a really nice payday and hopefully can stick full-time at left guard.
- Contract: Three years, $18.75 million ($6.25 million per year), $9 million total guaranteed
- PFF projected contract: Two years, $7 million ($3.5 million per year), $4.25 million total guaranteed
Anzalone is clearly beloved by a coaching staff that he followed from the New Orleans Saints to the Detroit Lions, and he deserves a lot of credit for staying healthy for the majority of 2021 and the entirety of 2022 after injuries plagued the beginning of his career. That said, Anzalone played just 1,215 snaps over his first four NFL seasons and nearly matched that with 1,076 in 2022 alone.
Is this a bit of a buy-high on a team leader and favorite of the coaching staff? Was the off-ball linebacker market pretty quiet across the league otherwise? Yes and yes. Does that make this a bad deal? Not necessarily. It’s just more than we expected, and perhaps some of this money could’ve gone toward an interior defender or a third wide receiver. However, it sounds like Detroit hasn’t shut the door on the return of wide receiver D.J. Chark Jr.
Players who got less than expected
- Contract: Four years, $64 million ($16 million per year), $31.1 million guaranteed
- PFF projected contract: Five years, $105 million ($21 million per year), $70 million guaranteed
Last offseason, Brown had an offer on the table from the Kansas City Chiefs that was effectively $95 million over five years with an artificially inflated final year that he was smart to not agree to. However, fast-forward a year, and when you fold in Brown’s $16.662 million franchise tag for 2022, he’s set to earn just more than $80 million over those same five years coming off a Super Bowl title.
Brown may not be an elite left tackle, but he is a very good one, and we just saw Houston Texans tackle Laremy Tunsil reset the market with a three-year, $75 million extension a few days after Brown joined the Bengals. Brown is set to earn roughly $50 million in cash over the next three years, Tunsil is due to rake in $72.15 million. Brown is also two years younger than Tunsil.
This was maybe the heist of the offseason from Cincinnati, with the added bonus that he no longer plays for the Chiefs.
- Contract: Three years, $33 million ($11 million per year), $21 million guaranteed
- PFF projected contract: Four years, $64 million ($16 million per year), $40 million guaranteed
The NFL did not do what many expected them to do in the wide receiver market this offseason, and for that they deserve commendation. With a very weak free-agent class and a draft class not held in the highest regard, many expected the top available targets to get inflated contracts out of desperation. On the contrary, the wide receiver market has been fairly weak, perhaps signaling that teams are willing to spend crazy amounts of money for Tier 1 wide receivers and then look to save by being more pragmatic with secondary and tertiary options.
All of that said, and even with the known factors at play of Meyers going undrafted after not testing well, it’s somewhat surprising he couldn’t do a bit better than this. He’ll be an interesting fit alongside Hunter Renfrow but can still produce as a Z receiver, and after a few years of being the top option in New England, he now has Davante Adams commanding attention away from him.
- Contract: One year, $4.5 million, $3.55 million total guaranteed
- PFF projected contract: Three years, $33 million ($11 million per year), $21.75 million guaranteed
Gesicki received the franchise tag from the Miami Dolphins in 2022, and this eventual deal a year later is an example of how horrible a weapon the tag can be. He didn't fit in their offense from Day 1 and found himself with a non-existent free agent market as a result.
Gesicki can win up the seams, has a massive catch radius and will be a favorite of quarterback Mac Jones on third downs and in the red zone. Over the past four seasons, Gesicki’s 28 red-zone receptions rank in the top 10 among tight ends and his 16 touchdowns rank tied for fourth. New England ranked dead last in touchdown percentage once entering the red zone in 2022, at 44.2%, and Gesicki will go a long way in changing that number.
This is a great buy-low for New England even if Hunter Henry’s presence means they’ll now have two below-average run-blocking tight ends.
- Contract: Three years, $19.5 million ($6.5 million per year), $12.025 million total guaranteed
- PFF projected contract: Three years, $40.5 million ($13.5 million per year), $24.25 million total guaranteed
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Edwards deal was that it came immediately on the first day of the legal tampering window. Edwards returns home to Chicago after a breakout 2022 season in Philadelphia during which he made major strides as a true three-down player over the middle. While this was his first season as a full-time starter, he looked the part of a top middle linebacker dating back to Week 8 of 2021 when he started playing all the snaps in Philadelphia.
From Week 8 of 2021 through Week 18 of 2022, Edwards led all off-ball linebackers in overall grade (88.5) and pass breakups (11) and ranked fourth in total tackles (188). He is still not necessarily a player you want taking on tough assignments in coverage, but we expected a stronger market here nonetheless. Chicago added two of the top free agents at the position and got a total bargain with Edwards.
- Contract: Two years, $7.25 million ($3.625 million per year), $3.75 million total guaranteed
- PFF projected contract: 3 years, $18.75 million ($6.25 million per year), $11.5 million guaranteed
In an offseason where the interior defender market exploded leaguewide, particularly for players who have demonstrated solid pass-rush acumen, it’s almost bizarre that Fox didn’t have a stronger market outside of Los Angeles. In 2022, Fox’s 15.7% pass-rush win rate ranked seventh among interior defenders and his 40 total pressures tied for 15th.
Fox can stand to improve as a run defender, but that’s not what gets you paid in this league, and with other players like the New Orleans Saints’ Nathan Shepherd, Seattle Seahawks’ Jarran Reed and Minnesota Vikings’ Dean Lowry receiving solid paydays, it was a bit surprising Fox couldn’t find a deal more at their level.