Every year, NFL teams sign marquee free agents at every position while they draft younger players to fill other holes in their roster. Contract language sometimes delays even the most “NFL-ready” rookies while other disputes in contracts take centerstage during the league’s offseason periods (see Roquan Smith, Le’Veon Bell, respectively).
With all that in mind, we at PFF have devised a method of looking at the league’s best contracts as we enter the 2018 NFL season. We wanted to know which teams have the league’s best players under the lowest amount of guaranteed, annual money and which of those athletes had been standouts at their respective positions. To do so, we utilized our data scientists Eric Eager & George Chahrouri’s recently revealed Wins Above Replacement metrics for every NFL player who has signed a contract after their rookie deal.
To qualify for this study, a player must be at least one year into their second contract in the league, under contract for at least the 2018 and 2019 seasons and logged at least 1,000 snaps over the past three seasons.
Combining all of the data with PFF grades from Premium Stats 2.0, the question still remained: which NFL players at each position produced top-level WAR values, based on the amount of guaranteed money per season and the amount of money they’ll be due after the 2018 calendar year. The formula developed was essentially that, and the results were very appealing. Are teams paying the premium for top-notch players at each position? Are there individuals who are currently outplaying their contract value?
All of that information granted us the ability to isolate a player’s three-year average WAR value over their guaranteed salary (both this season and remaining) to take a look at which players are signed to the best contracts at their positions, with respect to their peers. All contract data comes from overthecap.com.
Here are the top five offensive line contracts headed into the 2018 NFL season:
Staley was the highest-graded offensive tackle in the NFL last year, and when you consider that he earns $8.75 million per year, with none of that guaranteed, the value there for the 49ers is impressive. Staley allowed just 24 combined sacks, hits and hurries on 606 pass-blocking snaps in 2017, finishing fourth at the position in pass-blocking grade. He also ranked second at the position in terms of his run-blocking grade, and he was one of just two offensive tackles to post grades of at least 80.0 in both run and pass-blocking.
Sitton was our 10th highest-graded guard in the NFL last year, and he immediately upgrades the Dolphins offensive line after joining them this offseason. Excelling in pass protection, Sitton has produced a PFF pass-blocking grade of at least 80.0 in all of the past eight seasons, earning a 90.0 or higher in four of the past five.
Just 24 percent of Schraeder’s contract is guaranteed, and he makes just $6.3 million per year, so what's not to love if you're the Falcons. Reliable as the Falcons right tackle, he has produced PFF grades of 70.0 or higher in each of the past four seasons, and grades of 70.0 or higher both in pass-blocking and run-blocking in two of those years.
Penn and the Raiders recently restructured his contract, and with that including a small pay cut, and so his value for the Raiders has actually improved. Penn ranked tied for 24th among offensive tackles with a 97.0 pass-blocking efficiency in 2017, allowing four sacks, two hits and 19 hurries on 486 pass-blocking snaps. Penn has been a model of consistency since arriving in the NFL, producing PFF grades of 73.0 or higher in all 11 seasons since 2007. He posted a career-high 90.0 PFF grade in 2016.
With the retirement of Joe Thomas, there is a strong case to be made that Yanda is now the most obvious Hall of Fame-caliber offensive lineman currently active in the NFL. Coming off a season ending injury, just $3.95 million of his salary is guaranteed, but it’s the value he brings to the field for the Ravens that is really important. Yanda has produced PFF grades of 80.0 or higher in every season, and that includes a rookie year in 2007 that he spent out of position at right tackle. In his last 1,400 pass-blocking snaps, Yanda has allowed just one sack. Yes, one sack. In 2016, he led all guards in pass-blocking efficiency.