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Positional Values in the NFL

Positional Value. Thatís really the crux of what we are talking about when we are talking about Darrelle Revis. Itís not about the Jets not having the money to pay Revis. Itís not about Woody Johnson feeling slighted that his star corner constantly is making a push to earn more money. Itís not about the Jets not being able to fit Darrelle Revis under their current salary cap structure. Itís about positional value.

Iím not going to delve deep into statistical analysis or anything else, Iím just going to talk in generalities about the game and the way it has been reflected in salaries at the positions. I think we can all agree that the NFL is now a passing league, something very different than what it was 8 or 9 years ago. There is only one player that touches the ball on every offensive snap and that is the QB. QBís are the primary ballholder on about 60% of the snaps and are responsible for nearly 70% of all yardage. They are irreplaceable on the field and thus get paid the most money. As you cycle through everything kind of builds off that point. The Left Tackle is expected to keep the player upright and in general is paid more than an average starting Wide Receiver. The WR catches the ball from the QB and would logically get paid a lot of money. Running backs generate the next level of yards and then they are followed by Right Tackles, Centers, and Guards, who are all closely paid.

Defense kind of builds on that point as well. The 43 Defensive End and 34 Outside Linebacker earn the most money. Why? Like a QB they can factor in every play. They pressure the primary offense generator in the QB. They also are expected to contain the running game. Cornerbacks would rank next because they stop the wideouts. You can follow that with the interior defenders who are expected to stop the run and potentially pressure the QB, albeit to a far lesser extent than the outside rushers. You then have your safeties and the 43 OLBs and 34 DEís that are seen more as pieces than difference makers.

In general almost every team follows the model when it comes to positional spend. The only strange one is Right Tackle where basically nobody is paid to be a Right Tackle (the top 10 is only around $6 million per year and the average starter makes less than $3 million a year and that includes two players originally paid to play the left side) even though at this point they are nearly as important as a Left Tackle due to the numerous shifts defenses use with their pass rushers. But again that has been the market that the league has determined. In Revisí case he fits into a grouping where the highest paid player makes $12 million a year (Nnamdi Asomugha) and the 10th highest paid player, who I think is Dunta Robinson, makes 9.5 million. So itís a narrow spread. Drew Brees makes $20 million a year while Mark Sanchez makes just under $13.75. Mario Williams makes $16 million while Tamba Hali makes $11.5 million. Yes there is a premium to be paid for great talent, but the question becomes how much.

There are a handful of players that come to mind that were able to ďbreak the systemĒ. Those players on offense were Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Chris Johnson, and Adrian Peterson, where I think its an easier sell because you produce yards. Defensively the only player that would be close is Calais Campbell who plays 34 Defensive End and makes a great living doing so. Nídamukong Suh also fits the bill at DT, but his salary was based on draft status rather than positional value, so he is someone we wonít really count. Campbell earned his money as a pass rusher who just happens to play in a 34 set and really fits the normal salary allocations when you consider his pay is based on a scale given to the pass rushers.

It should be noted that Calvin Johnson and Peterson were follow the leader deals in that the high market was set before they signed their contracts so the real groundbreakers were Fitzgerald and Chris Johnson. The only real defensive player in recent memory to break the system was Nnamdi Asomugha when he played with the Oakland Raiders, who probably have the worst cap management in the history of the NFL. As soon as the Asomugha contract ended he immediately was recycled back into the normal ranges when he signed with the Eagles in 2011.

As always I may have a few numbers off here and there in my own player database I keep, but in general here is the difference in spending between the number 1 and number 5 player at each position, keeping in mind that we are using the position at the time of signing not where they play now (i.e Jerod Mayo is an ILB not a 43 OLB, Dave Diehl not a RT, Richard Seymour a DE not a DT, etcÖ). I donít think errors in my record keeping will make a large material difference, but if you notice something feel free to email me about it. The average increase was 35.6%.

Position High Salary 5th Highest Salary Percent Increase
WR $16,207,143 $9,700,000 67.1%
RB $14,213,333 $8,619,500 64.9%
34DE $11,000,000 $7,100,000 54.9%
DT $12,227,000 $8,009,000 52.8%
43OLB $8,120,000 $5,716,250 42.1%
S $9,886,667 $7,000,000 41.2%
C $8,186,000 $6,000,000 36.4%
G $9,500,000 $7,200,000 31.9%
43DE/34OLB $16,000,000 $12,666,667 26.3%
QB $20,000,000 $16,000,000 25.0%
TE $9,000,000 $7,235,000 24.4%
CB $12,000,000 $10,000,000 20.0%
RT $6,510,625 $5,500,000 18.4%
LT $11,500,000 $9,762,500 17.8%
ILB $10,000,000 $9,000,000 11.1%

Revis is certainly looking to be a trendsetter at the position and hit those Fitzgerald and Chris Johnson ranges. In fairness to Revis if he wants to sell himself as a difference maker there are those 4 deals to point to. I donít think the Campbell deal holds any relevance because if he was in a different base defense the pay would be somewhere like 10th or 11th at the position if he continued to be a rusher and 2nd or 3rd if they moved him inside. If I were advising Revis I would change my public message to discuss those contracts rather than the Mario Williams one because it is not a battle he can win, IMO, because like a WR and a RB a guy who sacks the QB makes noticeable contributions that a corner can not match unless he picks off 8 passes of which 4 or 5 go for scores. The PR move is look at Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson and state that if teams are paying WRís this much its only logical that a corner get paid the same to hold him in check.

From the Jets point of view a few things need to be noted. The constant in many of these cases is that the teams stink. The Cardinals are a bad football team and for all of that salary Fitzgerald gave them 798 yards because the QB situation is so bad. Calvin Johnson put up incredible numbers on a team that won 4 games and was force fed the ball to put up those statistics. The Lions won 4 games this year. Chris Johnson was in danger of being cut last season and will likely be cut sometime next week from a 6 win Titans team. The Raiders were a complete joke when Asomugha took up all that cap room. The lone exception is Peterson who deserves the MVP this year and carried a bad Vikings team into the playoffs. Peterson, in my analysis, contributed over 350 yards of offense over an average player. Would Revis do the same?

Based on Revisí asking price of $16 million a year he is looking to be paid at a rate that is 60% higher than the 5th highest player at the position. That is asking to ďbreak the systemĒ like Fitzgerald and Johnson were able to do. Complicating matters is that Revis is supposedly asking for $60 million in guarantees. While guarantees do not necessarily mean anything that number puts him in a different stratosphere than anyone else. Fitzgerald received $20 million in full guarantees and $45 million in virtual guarantees. Chris Johnson only received $13 million in full guarantees and maybe $21 million in virtual guarantees. Peterson had a full guarantee of about $24 million and a virtual guarantee around $37 million. Calvin Johnson received the best deal with $48.75 fully guaranteed upon signing.

If Revis is looking for $60 million in full guarantees or even virtual guarantees, which to me are skill guarantees, it is completely out of whack with what anyone received. If you go back to 2010 when Revis was in a bitter holdout with the Jets and there were plenty of stories written about the bad deals signed by other players on the Jets, even though they were signing deals in line with what other teams were doing, I can give you 3 guesses as to who was leaking the stories on those deals. At one point Revisí business manager took to Twitter to compare a certain players agent to Master P, who, for anyone who follows the business side of the NFL, was the biggest joke of an agent of all time. So when I hear $60 million I have to think $60 million firm, not injury only or of the rolling variety.

So that is really the story we have with Revis. The average markup for greatest at the spot would be $13.56 million with about $33.9 million guaranteed. Putting him in the reasonable range would be a contract around $14.5 million with $36 million guaranteed. Remember that this would not include the current year at $6 million so the real numbers would be 6 years $73.8-$78 million. Revis likely wants 6 years for 96 million and $60 million in firm guarantees. It completely blows up the positional value and ďbreaks the systemĒ. Thatís the real story that we should all be considering. Not the fact that he is home grown and we love to have his jersey on gameday. If he is worth ďbreaking the systemĒ we should join the ranks of the Cardinals, Titans, Vikings, and Raiders. If not we shouldnít hold it against him for trying to get it from another team nor against the Jets for not giving it to him. Thatís the decision that the Jets are facing. Completely disregard the rest of the league and go all in or make the tough decision to let a Hall of Fame talent go away in his prime and get whatever you can back from another club. It will be an interesting month to say the leastÖ.

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