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Contract Analysis for QBs and RBs

This article is part of our NFL Free Agency series.

With dust settling on the first and second waves of free agency, contract details have been reported for the majority of signings. Per usual, the initial reports were full of exaggerations, often intended to paint agents in the best light.

Carlos Hyde‘s “two-year, $6 million contract”, for example, is more like a one-year, $2.5 million deal for practical purposes. His spot on the Week 1 roster may be safe, but it’s not the type of contract that hints at any real expectation beyond one season of competent backup work.

If we simply looked at initial reports on twitter, we might erroneously conclude that the market treated Hyde and Jamaal Williams as similarly valuable. But a closer look reveals that Williams’ two-year, $6 million contract is one where he actually has a good chance to be paid the $6 million, whereas Hyde’s deal is heavy on incentives and light on guarantees.

Before we dive into contract details, here are some of RotoWire’s other top resources for keeping track of the 2021 NFL offseason:

Free Agent Grid

Franchise Tags

Pro Day Tracker

Coach/Coordinator Directory

2021 Player Projections


Andy Dalton

One-year, $10 million contract with $7M guaranteed. Can earn another $3M in incentives/bonuses.

Last year, the Cowboys gave Dalton a $2 million signing bonus and $1 million base salary. This time around, he’s getting a $7 million bonus and a $3 million salary. Dalton’s strong time preference for money makes me think he’s better at investing than he is at playing quarterback. Maybe he’ll give Allen Robinson some stock picks to make up for all the uncatchable passes?


Ryan Fitzpatrick

One-year, $10 million contract with $6M guaranteed. Can earn another $2M via incentives.

Over The Cap has Fitzpatrick getting a $6 million signing bonus, $3 million base salary and $1 million in per-game roster bonuses. It’s similar to Dalton’s contract, which makes the Bears look pretty foolish if we compare the Red Rifle to Fitzmagic over the past three years.

Fitzpatrick averaged 20.8 fantasy points in his seven starts for Miami last year, and he’ll now move to an uptempo offense with a top-10 O-Line and a young, talented group of pass catchers. Washington could still use an early pick on a rookie QB, but there’s little question Fitzpatrick will in ahead of Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen


Jameis Winston

One-year, $5.5 million contract (all guaranteed). Can earn another $7M via incentives.

Winston will compete with Taysom Hill, who is entering the second season of a two-year, $21 million deal. The contracts shouldn’t have any impact on Sean Payton’s Week 1 decision, considering both QBs are scheduled for free agency against next offseason. Hill and Winston both have bonus-based contracts with voidable years, so there’s no cap benefit to be had from trading or releasing the loser of the summer job battle. 


Cam Newton

One-year, $5.1 million contract with $3.5M guaranteed. Can earn another $9M via incentives.

ESPN’s Mike Reiss did a great job explaining the contract in his recent article titled ‘Cam Newton’s contract shows Patriots are not promising him starting job‘. Here’s what Reiss said:

Newton will earn $5.1 million if he’s healthy and on the roster as a backup, with upside to $6.6 million if he starts all season and $8.6 million if he starts and the team makes the playoffs. The rest of the money he can earn, up to a total of $13.6 million, is based on honors and how far New England might advance in the playoffs. 


Other QB Signings

Jacoby Brissettone-year, $5 million contract (all guaranteed). $2.5M incentives.

Joe Flaccoone-year, $3.5 million contract (all guaranteed).

Mitchell Trubiskyone-year, $2.5 million contract ($2M guaranteed). $2M incentives.

C.J. BeathardTwo-year, $5 million contract ($2.5M guaranteed).


Running Backs

Aaron Jones

Four-year, $48 million contract with $13M guaranteed

The average annual value (AAV) ties Joe Mixon for sixth among running backs, while Jones ranks only ninth in guaranteed money. For fantasy purposes, none of is this is too important, as it’s rarely wise to worry about three years into the future with a running back. For now, we know Jones will play with Aaron Rodgers for at least one more season, though AJ Dillon looms as a threat to steal carries, potentially including goal-line touches. Of course, Jones can afford to lose some carries if he gets more targets now that Jamaal Williams is gone. 


Kenyan Drake

Two-year, $11 million contract with $8.5M guaranteed. Can earn another $3.5M via incentives.

Drake got a better contract than Chris Carson, who is eight months younger and has averaged 33.1 more yards per game as a pro. Granted, Carson has played 45 games in four seasons, while Drake has suited up for 77 of a possible 80 contests in his five years. 

The problem here — at least for Drake’s dynasty managers — is that the strong contract came from a team with a better running back. Sure, the price tag commits Vegas to finding some role for Drake, but it’s still a small commitment relative to the first-round pick spent on Josh Jacobs

This could be one of those annoying situations where the backup isn’t quite startable in fantasy leagues but does get just enough touches to mess things up for the starter. And it could be a multi-year problem, with Drake’s contract giving him strong protection next offseason unless he’s a total flop in 2021.


Chris Carson

Two-year, $10.4 million contract with $5.5M guaranteed

This is essentially a one-year, $5.5 million contract with a 2022 team option for $4.9 million. Disappointing for Carson, but it could work out nicely for fantasy purposes, returning to backfield with Rashaad Penny, Travis Homer, DeeJay Dallas and Alex Collins. While the Seahawks figure to add another body or two before training camp, they have only three picks in the upcoming draft (56th, 130th, 252nd) and are 31st in projected cap space (-$648,013, per OTC).


Jamaal Williams

Two-year, $6 million contract with $3.25M guaranteed. Can earn another $500k via incentives.

The guaranteed portion includes $1 million of Williams’ 2020 base salary, which is scheduled to be $3.75 million but can bump up to $4.75 million if he hits an unreported performance escalator. Should that happen, the Lions likely would be willing to pay Williams an extra million bucks. Either way, Williams has a good chance to make it through both years of the contract. The real trick will be convincing the Lions to take D’Andre Swift off the field for more than 10-20 snaps per game.


Mike Davis

Two-year, $5.5 million contract with $3M guaranteed.

Unlike Williams, Davis didn’t get any protection for the second season of his contract. The guarantees are from his signing bonus ($1.5M) and 2021 base salary ($1.5M), while his $2.5 million base salary for 2022 is non-guaranteed. You could still argue this is the fifth- or sixth-best contract among free-agent RBs, and there’s no doubt Davis found a good landing spot in terms of opportunity to earn snaps. Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison and Tony Brooks-James are the other tailbacks on the roster (as of March 30).


Other RB Signings

Leonard FournetteOne-year, $3.25 million contract (all guaranteed). $750k incentives.

Phillip LindsayOne-year, $3.25 million contract ($1M guaranteed). $500k incentives.

Devontae BookerTwo-year, $5.5 million contract ($2M guaranteed). $250k incentives.

James WhiteOne-year, $2.46 million contract (all guaranteed).

Carlos HydeTwo-year, $4.43 million contract ($1.4M guaranteed).

Mike BooneTwo-year, $4.475 million contract ($2.6M guaranteed).

Mark IngramOne-year, $2.5 million contract ($500k guaranteed).

Marlon MackOne-year, $2 million contract (all guaranteed).

Malcolm BrownOne-year, $1.75 million contract (all guaranteed).

Tevin ColemanOne-year, $1.1 million contract ($400k guaranteed). $800k incentives.

Matt BreidaOne-year, $1.06 million ($140k guaranteed).

Lamar MillerOne-year, $1.21 million ($138k guaranteed).


Other Notes

  • Taylor Heinicke‘s contract originally was reported as “two years, $8.75 million”, but the contract details from OTC tell a different story, with the young QB getting a $1 million signing bonus and base salaries of only $1 million and $1.5 million. He can earn another $1.25 million through per-game roster bonuses, but that still leaves Heinicke well shy of $8.75 million. He’s getting low-end backup money, and likely needs to battle Kyle Allen for the No. 2 job.
  • With only $500k guaranteed, Ingram’s contract doesn’t necessarily lock him in for a roster spot. Lindsay and David Johnson both have stronger contracts, and none of the three plays special teams. It isn’t unheard of for a team to roster three tailbacks that don’t contribute on special teams, but it also isn’t ideal. Having said that… injuries could sort things out quickly enough, given that we’re dealing with three veteran running backs. It’ll really get messy if Houston adds another RB in the draft.
  • The last few RBs listed above — Coleman, Breida, Miller — likely will need to defend their roster spots in training camp. I’m a little surprised to see that Coleman, rather than Breida, got the best contract of the three.



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