The NFL offseason has its shining moments, and free agency seems to have been timed just right to not collide with the crescendo of the World Baseball Classic and the start of the NCAA Tournament.

Alex Vigderman and James Weaver teamed up to identify a handful of players whose contracts we found interesting, taking into account what we expect from their production over the next few years. We’re not talking as much about the big ticket contracts, because often they’re not that interesting. Pay a bunch of money for the best player, and pay more than you should because of the winner’s curse.

In order to do this, we need to have a sense for what we think a player will do over the course of the contract. We quickly built a projection system to do just that, so let’s cover that first.

Projection Methodology

To try to value a player’s projected contributions, we took a relatively streamlined approach. 

Each projection started with a Marcel-like* weighted average—in this case, a three-year average with 2022 counting five times, 2021 counting three times, and 2020 counting once. Each player has a weighted average for his Total Points per snap and his snap count.

Marcel is a baseball projection system designed by Tom Tango that you can learn more about here.

Then we tacked on an aging factor, again for both Total Points per snap and snap count. That comes from the average change in performance or play time from year to year for players of a given position group (quarterbacks, running backs, pass catchers, offensive linemen, defensive front, and defensive backfield). There’s also a little bit of smoothing done to iron out smaller samples of positions and ages.

We’re talking about free agents—and therefore players who are already past their first contract—so this aging factor projects decline in both expected play time and performance every successive year.

From there, we can just multiply the projected performance per play by the projected playing time, and we have a rough look at each player’s slow march towards their eventual demise.

And now, onto some contracts that we think represent good value based on those criteria.

For quick reference, we’re including how each contract’s Average Annual Value (AAV) ranks at the position, and where his projected production ranks over the course of the full contract. Obviously many of these players won’t play out their contract in its entirety, but it’s a good shorthand way of judging each deal.

Derek Carr, QB

Team: New Orleans Saints

Age: 31

Contract: 4-year, $150M

AAV Rank: 10th

4-year Production Rank: 7th

Derek Carr has found a new home in New Orleans after Raiders Head Coach Josh McDaniels sent a clear signal that he was ready to move on from Carr by benching him. The 4-year, $150M contract that Carr signed ranks 10th in AAV among QBs. His projected 3-year Marcel Total Points Value is 214, which ranks him 7th in projected quarterback production over that timespan. In his last season with the Raiders, Carr ranked 23rd in SIS’ Independent Quarterback Rating (IQR) at 90.2 and T-20th in adjusted net yards per attempt with 6.0. Reuniting with his former coach Dennis Allen, Carr will have a chance to provide stability at QB for the Saints and lead them back into the postseason after a 2-year hiatus.

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB

Team: Las Vegas Raiders

Age: 31

Contract: 3-year, $72.75M
AAV Rank: 16th

3-year Production Rank: 23rd

Replacing Carr in Vegas is McDaniels’ old friend Jimmy Garoppolo, who comes over from an up-and-down tenure in San Francisco. Garoppolo’s 3-year Marcel Total Points Value is 79, which ranks him 23rd among quarterbacks, but his contract AAV ranks 16th. He has multiple partial seasons included in that production estimate, so he’s a bit undervalued by this method, but we also understand that there is added injury risk here.

The question that has always hovered over Garoppolo is whether or not he is a win-with quarterback. Last year, Garoppolo ranked 8th in IQR and T-3rd in ANY/A among QBs with 100 or more attempts and has consistently been in the top 20 in IQR over the last 4 years. Joining a familiar system with McDaniels and pairing him up with a top 3 running back and top 3 receiver sets him up well for success. 

Orlando Brown Jr., T

Team: Cincinnati Bengals

Age: 26

Contract: 4-years, $64M

AAV Rank: 17th

4-year Production Rank: 12th

The Bengals needed to upgrade their offensive line after finishing 27th in Blocking Total Points in 2022. They have now done that by bringing in arguably the best offensive line free agent in this class in Orlando Brown Jr. The Bengals made Brown the 17th-highest paid tackle in the league and according to the Marcel Total Points Value, this is a steal. Brown projects to have the 10th highest Total Points value over the next 3 years. After ranking 11th among tackles in Total Points in 2021, he fell back to 32nd in 2022. However, even with the drop, he had more Total Points than any Bengals tackle. This is an upgrade for the Bengals, and if they can get the 2021 version of Brown, it is a steal.

Jessie Bates, Safety

Team: Atlanta Falcons

Age: 26

Contract: 4-year, $64M

AAV Rank: 4th

4-year Production Rank: 20th

The Falcons bolstered their already-interesting back end by signing Jessie Bates to a top-five contract among safeties. These Total Points projections suggest that might be a bit rich, as he’s projected to produce more like a middle of the pack safety over the course of the contract.

Bates is coming off back-to-back extremes, ranking 6th among safeties in Total Points in 2022 after ranking 66th in 2021. That down season a year ago featured an insane 15 yards per target allowed, whereas he yielded 6 yards per target in the surrounding seasons. If we see that as a fluke, his production numbers are underselling him. He is now paired with Richie Grant on the back end, a 2021 second-rounder who was the team leader in Total Points in 2022 primarily thanks to his play against the run.

Allen Lazard, WR

Team: New York Jets

Age: 27

Contract: 4-year, $44M

AAV Rank: 28th

4-year Production Rank: 38th

Allen Lazard will follow Aaron Rodgers to the Jets (presumably) after agreeing to a 4-year deal that will make him the 28th-highest paid receiver. His Marcel Total Points Value has him as the 37th-best receiver over the next 3 years. A bit of an overpay, but if it was necessary to bring in Rodgers, then it was worth it. Lazard was Rodgers’ favorite target last year, as he accumulated 100 targets (36 more than Christian Watson) and 1,249 intended air yards (311 more than Watson). Lazard was also one of the best big play threats for Rodgers, as he ranked 9th overall in the NFL in boom percentage (EPA greater than 1).. Bringing a familiar face will make the transition smoother for Rodgers in New York, especially bringing in his main guy from the Packers.

James Bradberry, CB

Team: Philadelphia Eagles

Age: 29

Contract: 3-year, $38M

AAV Rank: 14th

3-year Production Rank: 12th

James Bradberry returns to the NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles on a deal that makes him the 14th highest paid corner in the league. This comes at a potential value for the Eagles, as Bradberry projects to have the 12th highest Marcel Total Points Value with 107. Last season, Bradberry ranked T-3rd in EPA/Tgt allowed and was 1st in Y/A allowed among corners. If he can continue to produce those types of numbers, the Eagles will be well on their way to allowing the lowest EPA/Play on pass defense again.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR

Team: New England Patriots

Age: 26

Contract: 3-year, $25.5M

AAV Rank: 33rd

3-year Production Rank: 51st

JuJu Smith-Schuster left Kansas City and signed a deal with New England that makes him the 33rd-highest paid receiver. This is a bit high, as Marcel Total Points projects him to be the 51st-best receiver when it comes to production. However, JuJu comes from a Kansas City team where he was 2nd in targets on the Chiefs and was 3rd in the NFL in positive play percentage. With Jakobi Meyers out of the fold, JuJu will have an opportunity to prove that he is a No. 1 option in an offense looking to create a spark in 2023.

Samson Ebukam, DE

Team: Indianapolis Colts

Age: 27

Contract: 3-year, $24M

AAV Rank: 29th

3-year Production Rank: 22nd

The defensive line pipeline between the 49ers and Colts continues to flow, with Ebukam following a couple seasons after DeForest Buckner went to Indy. We shouldn’t compare those two players in terms of production, but Ebukam is a nice midrange pickup to complement 2021 first rounder Kwity Paye. He’s a solid contributor as a pass rusher and run defender, and he’s projected to be the 22nd-most-productive DE over the life of the contract, getting paid first-round-rookie-contract kind of money.

Patrick Peterson, CB

Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

Age: 32

Contract: 2-year, $14M

AAV Rank: 32nd

2-year Production Rank: 18th

Patrick Peterson will look to make some noise at the back end of his career in Pittsburgh after signing a 2-year deal that will make him the 32nd highest paid cornerback in the league. This is undershooting him a bit even acknowledging his age, as he ranks inside the Top 20 in projected Total Points over the next two years. Even in the twilight of his career, Peterson is still a productive player as he ranked 3rd among corners in Pass Defense Total Points last season with only being targeted 59 times. After letting Cam Sutton walk for $11M a year, the Steelers added a veteran presence to the secondary for $4M less who can mentor a young corner if they decide to bring one in via the draft.