Estimating the Value of Braylon Edwards
Time to look at WR Braylon Edwards and what the Jets will potentially value him at. Barring a complete caving in by the union there is 0 percent chance that Edwards will somehow still be a restricted free agent. He is going to get a chance to play the market whenever the new league year begins and most likely, for veterans, the salary scales will remain the same. There is of course the possibility that the Jets could use the franchise or transition tag on Edwards to help limit his movement in 2011.
Edwards is going to be a player that is somewhat hard to measure on the open market. He has incredible measurables, which usually means there is going to be a team in the open market that values the player higher than most other teams would. Edwards is 6 foot 3 inches with long arms to go up and catch a football. His long strides make him one of the top deep route runners in the NFL. He is also a former top 5 draft pick, so you know there are still people working in the league that still see all that incredible potential in him just waiting to bust out.
The tricky part in measuring Edwards is measuring potential vs. actual performance. Edwards has only had one season in his career where he has gone over 1,000 yards, and that was way back in 2007. Edwards will be 28 when he signs his new deal so he is still young enough to improve, but at the same time you have to question just how much improvement there can be after six NFL seasons. He showed great improvement with his ball catching in 2010, which works in his favor to convince a team that he can be that player he was in 2007 if given the opportunity.
Statistically it would seem as if Edwards has settled into his role in the NFL. Taking out those four games with the Browns in 2009, when he was no longer a fit in the offense and had a head coach looking to see him leave the team, we can use his last three years as a player to see his average stat line over 16 games:
52 Receptions, 843 Yards, 16.2 YPR, 5 Tds
Those numbers are dragged down slightly by the 2009 season where he had to adjust to the Jets, but even if you take that year out completely he only jumps to 54 for 889. So realistically Edwards should be judged as a player that is going to be in the low 50's in receptions for somewhere in the mid to high 800's in terms of yardage. He will make big catches when he does catch the ball as evidenced by his high YPR, but he is not a big red zone threat despite his size.
Where are those stats going to rank him? Probably around 35 in receptions and touchdowns, 20-25 in yards, and top 10 in YPR. Edwards has also improved a lot in his yards after catch, which would place him somewhere in the top 15 of receivers who are important parts of an offense. Those rankings more or less eliminate the thought of the Jets giving Edwards “number 1” wide receiver money or of the team using the Franchise tag on Edwards.
So how to best value Edwards? We need to find a few comparable players and see where they ranked when they signed their contracts with the teams. To compare the players I am going to present their 3 year averages prior to the new contract. In the case of players signed in the middle of the season if the player signed prior to week 8 I did not use the current season in the calculation, but if they signed after week 8 I used the full season of the new contract in the calculation. For example for a player signed in 2010 in week 4 his three year average will be the 2007, 2008, and 2009 season, but for a player signed in week 10 I would use 2008, 2009, and 2010.
Three Year Statistical Averages
|Name||Games Per Year||Rec. Per Game||Yards Per Game||TD Per Game||% Targets Caught|
So where does Braylon objectively rank? He clearly is very durable and is only 1 of 4 listed to not miss a game over a 3 year stretch, which is impressive. In terms of receptions he ranks low, but that is not that surprising considering he is one of just a few deep ball threats on the list. When you look at the other players who are all over 15 YPR, all are under 4 RPG. The two areas where Edwards is hurt are his touchdowns and percentage of passes that he catches. At his size he should be able to score more, but he is middle of the pack. He is the best of the speed threats, besides Evans, which would indicate that he is a bit more than a one trick pony like a Bernard Berrian.
The low percentage of balls caught that are thrown his way is somewhat alarming, but he did raise that number this season to 52.4% which is not terrible. One thing that has to be taken into consideration is the QB that is playing the game and, for the most part, Edwards has not had good QB' s to work with. Larry Fitzgerald, arguably the best in the game today, dropped from around 63% to 52% due to the retirement of Kurt Warner. Calvin Johnson was only around 50% in his first three years with Detroit before they actually found decent QB play in 2010 which saw him rise to 56%. The other Jet receivers caught 54.7, 54.4, and 47.7% of their targets, so 52.4% should not be too much of a concern.
Based on pure production his closest group would probably be Kevin Walter, Deion Branch, and Nate Burleson. Walter and Burleson were more or less considered better than average number 2' s with no upside as a 1 when they signed their contracts, while the Seahawks believed Branch could be a 1. Would people believe Edwards could be a 1 as they did Branch? That is probably unlikely, but he certainly shows flashes and all it takes is one team to believe in him.
One of the problems in a team valuing Edwards as a 1 is the fact that Edwards only hit that level once in his career and it was years ago. When a team looks at a player like Berrian as a number 1, one of the reasons is the progression he had shown. Berrian is a bust for the Vikings, but prior to that contract he went from 13 to 51 to 71 receptions. The thought was that he was going to continue to grow and the next year would be an 85 reception per year player. Edwards went 55, 47 (if we extrapolate his 12 games as a Jets into 16 games), and 53. There is no growth. It is very consistent.
There are the players like Roy Williams, who is a monumental failure with Dallas, as evidence of a player getting a huge contract off a not so great season, but in Williams' case Dallas made the poor assumption that he was having a hard time adjusting to Dallas and was unhappy in Detroit playing second fiddle to Calvin Johnson. His numbers the previous two years in Detroit were off the charts, however, and has he been healthy it was already proven that he was an 80 catch a year player. Edwards has never had a stretch like Williams did in the first 4 years of his career, which is why Williams earned his money and why Dallas completely overlooked how poor he played that season both in Detroit and Dallas.
Here are the contracts of the players listed above and the age they were during the first season of their new contract.
Wide Receiver Contracts
|Name||Age||Years|| Avg. Per Year
The average age of the players was 27.6 years old and the average contract was 5 years for $29.3 million, $11.2 million of which was guaranteed. So that is probably going to be the ballpark for Edwards. You can immediately eliminate a few contracts from the group. As discussed the track record that Williams had is not there. Evans was the better player and looked to be more of the focal point of his teams offense. On the low end, he is clearly better than Bess and Washington and is much younger than Ward. He is also more durable than Burleson.
So that leaves us with Walter, Branch and Berrian as the primary contracts that may be the best basis for Edwards. Walter is the low of the group, but is also the one player that is going to be looked at with zero upside. Berrian looked like a high upside player at the time he left Chicago, which is not the upside that Edwards has, so a 7 million per year deal should also be out of reach. Edwards has what I believe would be considered limited upside. Between the size, downfield ability, and improved attitude with the Jets, he is the type of player that is going to be considered able to potentially produce a 1,000 yard type season on occasion and look like a number 1, but it probably wont be on a consistent basis.
The Jets are not going to value Edwards the way the Seahawks valued Branch. Seattle believed that by giving Branch a more expanded role than he had with the Patriots that his numbers would balloon in their offense. New England had no intentions of doing that with Branch and it is doubtful the Jets will do the same with Edwards. Branch was coming off his best season and the year before was named the Super Bowl MVP, neither of which apply to Edwards, so the high value for Edwards should be slightly lower than the high for Branch. The wide receiver market has not really grown much since Branch was signed so even adjusting for inflation over time might only mean that at most Branch in 2011 dollars would be $7 million per year rather than $6.5 million.
Most likely Edwards will get a 6 year contract unless the salary cap rules change regarding signing bonus prorations. The Jets seem to have made it known that they will let him test the market and determine the value he has on the open market before coming back to the Jets with a counter proposal. Likely that means they feel Edwards side is going to look for potential number one money despite the fact that the stats say he is more of a high end two. You would have to imagine that his high end value is something like 6 years for $41 million with maybe $13 million or so guaranteed
Is there one team willing to go that high? If there is it will likely mean the end of Edwards' stay in New York. The Jets seem to primarily use Edwards as a deep ball threat whose job is to stretch the field on every play and help clear out the safety. With Terrell Owens and Plaxico Burress both on the market the Jets can find someone for less money that can probably do the same job in the receiving game that Edwards does.
The Jets probably value Edwards at somewhat close to the number he made this season, $6.1 million. That number is more in line with his production and the role he plays in the offense. At those figures it is unlikely the Jets would consider using the Transition tag and being in a position where they may have to pay more than $8 million for him in 2011. They would probably sign off on a contract that is 6 years for $36.5 million and a $13-14 million guarantee. The contract would probably be close to a 50/50 frontend/backend split with around $20 million in cash coming in the first three years. If the cap reverts back to normal the Jets current cap situation would probably have them offering a low first year number with a large bonus coming in the second year of the contract.
Personally I think the Jets/Edwards marriage is good for both sides. Like a Hines Ward type Edwards does a lot of little things that do not show up in the stat sheets, which can not be said for most of these others on the list. He has really grown with the team into somewhat of a leader and you never once heard him complain that the lack of looks his way were affecting his earning potential. In a position filled with whiners and divas, he has been a breath of fresh air since arriving in New York. Neither Burress or Owens are going to do the dirty work he does and Owens certainly is not going to keep his mouth shut if the ball does not come his way.
If Edwards re-signs with the Jets he also will not have the weight of the world thrown on his shoulders. He can be a complementary piece on a good football team and let the game come to him. If he gets that deal close to $7 million a year he is going to be expected to be a great player right from the start and if he does not do it will probably have a similar situation to the one he had in Cleveland. In New York he has the right QB situation. He isn't stuck with a journeyman or a guy whose job is hanging by a thread. He has a QB who is about to come into his own and grow with Edwards. It gives Braylon an excellent chance to see those numbers improve and get that Hines Ward type deal when he hits his early 30s.
As a fan of the team I want Edwards to stay in New York. I like everything he brings to the team and believe they can do more with him. The one potential landing spot that scares me is St. Louis. They have a super fast surface to play on and the QB situation is very similar to that of the Jets. They are also in desperate need of a receiver to help Sam Bradford and might be willing to overpay for Edwards to feel a drastic need. It is a good fit. I could also see Baltimore being a player as they were very disappointed with how their passing game worked out and could use Edwards as a complement to Anquan Boldin.
If it comes to a difference of $1 million a year in contract value there are ways the Jets could potentially make up the money. They could offer a more frontloaded contract, with the big dollars in year 2 and 3, to make the virtual guarantee close to the higher offer. The Jets are often against putting performance incentives in their contract. With the exception of the old veteran types or the low level players you wont see much in the way of individuals incentives for a player. The Jets pay nicely for offseason participation and believe that the team attitude makes it unnecessary for monetary incentives meant to play better.
But in this case it might be the time to place incentives in the deal based on tiers of reception totals and yardage totals. It can bridge the gap between what the Jets feel Edwards is worth and what Edwards would be worth to a team that is willing to pay him based on the potential of being a 1. For this to possibly work the Jets would need to be proactive with Edwards rather than reactive, which seems to be the route the Jets want to go. Once Edwards has a deal on the table for 7 million you can not expect him to sign a deal where he needs to hit incentives to match that number. That is the danger in waiting if the team really does want him here for the next few years. It is a good marriage between both sides, but it may take some out of the box thinking by the team for it to continue.