NFL Network Analytics Expert
The start of the new league year has significantly altered rosters across the NFL via big-money contracts and blockbuster trades. And while we’ve already seen plenty of intriguing activity at the game’s most important position, the table is set for an interesting second wave of quarterback movement — which is likely holding up some deals at other positions.
On Wednesday night, I took a look at all of the early developments through the lens of contextual production data and forward-looking projections, along with reported contract values. In order to rate each acquisition, I considered the involved player’s past on-field résumé and his new team’s current roster/coaching philosophy, then compared these parameters and contract values to other players at the same position.
Taking all of that into account, here are three moves with the highest potential return on investment — and three that appear quite suspect.
NOTE: Positional contract rankings below are pulled from Over The Cap.
The contract: Two years, $14.25 million with incentives that could push the total value to $27 million.
This deal is a great pairing of minimal downside with lots of upside. Using last year’s QB contracts as a comparison, Trubisky’s annual salary would’ve ranked 28th. This deal is also an alignment fit, as Next Gen Stats show that Trubisky’s 114.4 passer rating on throws of fewer than 10 air yards led the NFL in 2020 (his most recent year as a starter). Last season, Pittsburgh’s offense had the highest rate of pass attempts traveling fewer than 10 air yards at 71.9 percent. Trubisky can leverage those shorter passes into big gains — and ideally, the former No. 2 overall pick’s growth and development will allow the Steelers to include more difficult passing concepts.
The contract: Three-years, $40.5 million.
Using last season’s scale of corner pay, Ward’s new deal would rank around 11th in average annual salary. Paying outside of top-10 money for a soon-to-be 26-year-old with top-end trajectory? Yeah, that’ll play — especially with the scheme fit. According to Pro Football Focus, Ward’s 49.8 completion percentage allowed in coverage since 2019 is the lowest mark in the NFL (min. 150-plus targets in coverage). PFF also shows that he’s only missed five percent of tackle attempts since 2019, another No. 1 mark among corners. As far as fit is concerned, San Francisco allowed a 68.3 opponent completion percentage in 2021 (29th) and a 97.4 opponent passer rating (25th).
The contract: Three years, $52.5 million with $34 million guaranteed.
In this loaded AFC West, stopping opposing quarterbacks will be imperative. Jones has logged sacks on 2.8 percent of his pass rushes since 2016 — by Next Gen Stats’ count, that’s the third-highest rate in the NFL (min. 1,000 pass rushes). And his five turnovers forced by pressure in 2021 were tied for the most in the NFL. The 12.0 percent QB pressure rate last season was Jones’ second-highest personal mark in the NGS era (since 2016) — and that’s even more impressive when you consider that J.J. Watt was injured for much of the season, allowing offenses to fully scheme against Jones.
The trade: Acquired from the Indianapolis Colts (along with a 2022 seventh-round pick) in exchange for a 2022 third-rounder and a 2023 third-rounder, which can convert to a second-rounder based on Wentz’s snap totals. The teams will also swap 2022 second-round selections.
Fresh off a brief tenure in Indianapolis that ended in disappointment, Wentz has an average annual salary that currently ranks ninth among quarterbacks at $32 million. According to my win-share metrics, he was QB19 in 2021. When not under pressure last season, Wentz had an NGS passing score of 82, which ranked 23rd. His 66.4 completion percentage (26th) and 6.7 yards per attempt (27th) when pressure-free also left much to be desired.
The contract: Four years, $72 million with $37 million fully guaranteed and a max value of $84 million.
This one is all about return on investment. Looking at that hefty price tag, the Jaguars clearly have a LOT of faith that Kirk will produce at a high level. On the plus side, NGS shows that his 9.6 yards per target when aligned in the slot last season ranked second-best in the NFL among receivers with at least 50 slot targets. (Only Cooper Kupp had a higher figure at 11.7 yards per target.) That was a big uptick for Kirk, who averaged 6.3 yards per target on 60 total slot targets in 2019 and 2020. For the kind of money he’s being paid, though, you’d assume Kirk would be able to produce on the outside, as well. But computer vision shows that his outside route production has been less consistent, in large part because his speed drops off more on outside routes, so defenders have extra time to pursue him.
The trade: Acquired from the New England Patriots in exchange for a 2022 fifth-round pick.
OK, this one is a head-scratcher for the Patriots, who only receive a fifth-round pick while offloading the balance of Mason’s non-premium contract (just a $7.4 million in 2022, then $8.5 million in ’23). The 28-year-old has been PFF’s fifth-highest-graded guard since 2016.
For Tampa, a Super Bowl contender once again with Tom Brady‘s unretirement, the deal makes all the sense in the world. Mason fills a huge need left by Ali Marpet’s surprise retirement. Mason’s run-blocking grade rates in the top three among right guards since 2019, per PFF.
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