Insiders

NFL AM: Von Miller, Justin Tucker and Mo Wilkerson Ink Long Term Deals

on

The NFL’s franchise tender deadline has come and gone and for three players, the deadline made for a windfall in the salary department.

Denver’s Von Miller, Baltimore’s Justin Tucker and Muhammad Wilkerson of the New York Jets all signed long term deals with their respective teams on Friday afternoon to avoid playing out the 2016 season under the one-year franchise tag.

By the time Friday rolled around, Miller’s deal was the most obvious. After hammering out some late details with the Broncos, the reigning Super Bowl MVP put pen to paper on a six-year, $114.5 million contract that goes down as the biggest deal ever given to a defensive player.

Of that $114.5 million, $70 million in guaranteed which far surpasses the mark for a defensive player and puts Miller in elite territory only quarterbacks normally get to wade into. Miller has earned the distinction though. Over five years in the league he’s become one of its most dominant defensive players, compiling a whopping 60 sacks while serving as the backbone of the league’s No. 1 defense. And at just 27 years old, the Broncos believe the best may be yet to come for their All-Pro linebacker.

“Von’s earned this contract not only for what he’s done in the past but for what we believe he’ll do in the future,” Broncos Executive VP John Elway said in a statement. “Going forward, we expect great things from Von not only on the field but with the responsibility he has as a leader on the team. I’m proud of how we’ve handled this situation and give credit to everyone on our staff who helped get this done.”

The other two deals that came down on Friday were on a little more shaky ground than Miller’s. Hours before the deadline, it was reported that Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker had become disillusioned with negotiations and wasn’t likely to reach an agreement with the Ravens, but it appears that was just a posture play as, by 4 p.m., he’d signed a four-year, $16.8 million contract to continue on in Baltimore.

Tucker’s contract doesn’t make him the highest paid kicker in total value, a distinction that belongs to Dan Bailey of the Dallas Cowboys, who signed a seven-year, $22.5 million deal in 2014. It also doesn’t make him the highest paid kicker annually, as Stephen Gostkowski of the New England Patriots has him beat by a small margin in that department. But the $10.8 million guaranteed under Tucker’s deal is the most ever guaranteed to a kicker.

Over four years with the Ravens, Tucker has established himself as one of the league’s best kicker, though he connected on a career low 82.5 percent of his field goal attempts last season. However, that’s due in large part to the number of times Baltimore sends him out to try from beyond 50 yards, where he was 4-of-10 last season. No other kicker attempted that many tries from 50+ and Tucker was 29-of-30 inside 50 yards. In his career he’s missed just six of 118 tries from inside 50 yards. He’s also never missed an extra point. He’s become a valuable member of a Ravens special teams group that is annually considered among the league’s best. And it was a necessity for Baltimore to make sure they locked him in long term.

“Justin has become a cornerstone for our team, and we are happy to get this contract completed,” Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome said. “What is good for the Ravens right now is that we have our Pro Bowl special teams group – Sam [Koch], Morgan [Cox] and Justin – signed through the next three seasons.”

The last of the franchise tagged to sign on Friday was a surprising one, as Jets defensive tackle Muhammad Wiklkerson, once thought to be among the least likely tagged players to land a long-term deal, agreed to terms with New York on a five-year, $86 million contract. It was a stunning turn for a player and team that appeared to be miles apart on an agreement since Wilkerson began seeking a long-term extension well over a year ago.

One reason the deal was thought to be a long shot was that the Jets didn’t necessarily need Wilkerson to stick around long term. With Sheldon Richardson signed through 2017 and 2015 first round pick Leonard Williams in place, it was believed New York would have a hard time investing so much more money in their defensive line. But on Friday they ponied up, ensuring that for at least the next two seasons, there isn’t likely to be a better defensive line in football than that of the Jets.

In five seasons since being drafted No. 30 overall by New York in 2011, Wilkerson has consistently been one of the league’s most productive defensive players. He’s compiled 36.5 sacks, including a career best 12 last season and also proven to be one of the NFL’s best against the run. He’s also been incredibly durable, missing just three games despite playing one of the league’s most demanding positions. He earned his first Pro Bowl nod in 2015 and at age 26, he’s a player on the rise in the league. Now he’ll be paid like it.

“I give my all every Sunday on the field and play with so much love and passion for the game,”Wilkerson tweeted on Friday. “I’m thankful for everything that comes my way and proud to say I’m back on the green and white for a few more years.”

It’s a huge win for the Jets, too. They have arguably the league’s most talented defense and Wilkerson’s extension ensures that could be the case for several more years.

THOSE NOT EXTENDED

While a total of four of the eight franchise-tagged players signed long-term — including Buffalo’s Cordy Glenn, who signed an extension earlier in the offseason — four others will now have to play out the 2016 season under the tag and have a chance to become free agents again next offseason.

Leading that list is Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins and it’s of little surprise it’s come to this. The Redskins aren’t entirely sold on Cousins as their quarterback of the future after a strong 2015 campaign and they’re using the tag to make 2016 something of a “prove it” season for Cousins. In the meantime, the four-year veteran out of Michigan State will make a whopping $19.955 million in 2016 coming off a season in which he started twice as many games as he had for his entire career prior.

Also not receiving a contract extension was Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. After a few of Jeffery’s peers signed bigger long term deals than initially expected, the 2012 second round pick and the Bears spent the offseason far apart on the structure of a long-term deal. Hindering Jeffery’s case was the fact that he was coming off an injury-plagued 2015 season, during which he missed seven games. He was still highly productive when healthy, but Chicago clearly wants to see more before they commit big long term dollars to their lead wideout. Jeffery will earn $14.6 million in 2016.

Los Angeles Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson will likewise play out the coming season under the franchise tag after failing to come to terms with the team on a long-term deal. It’s a risky game for the Hollywood-bound Rams to play. They tagged Johnson instead of cornerback Janoris Jenkins this offseason and watched Jenkins walk to the Giants. They’ll retain Johnson, who is coming off a career-best seven interception season, on a one-year, $13.952 million deal, but if they don’t play their cards right with the star corner beyond 2016, they could be looking at losing two of the league’s top DBs in as many years.

Speaking of top DBs, the most shocking of the players not to come to an agreement on Friday was Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry. The former first round pick has been the backbone of the Chiefs defense for several years and the franchise supported him through a cancer diagnosis that put his career in jeopardy. He beat cancer and came back strong in 2015, but Kansas City was unwilling to meet his long-term demands and instead the 27-year-old will play the 2016 season on a one-year, $10.81 million deal.

SUSPENSIONS MOUNT

While the franchise deadline dominated the landscape on Friday, two more NFL players somewhat quietly got popped for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and one of the league’s biggest stars gave up the fight against his own suspension.

Buffalo Bills running back Karlos Williams and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aaron Lynch both received four game suspensions from the league on Friday for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. It’s bad news for both young players and their teams.

Williams emerged as a vital component to the Buffalo ground game last season either complementing or filling in for lead back LeSean McCoy. The fifth rounder out of Florida State rushed for 517 yards on just 93 carries, a whopping 5.6 yards per carry average and nine total touchdowns to tie for the team lead. As McCoy ages, it was though the team might transition more of the workload toward Williams, but this suspension plus his poor level of fitness entering OTAs last month may call his role into question.

“As an organization, we are disappointed that Karlos has put himself in this situation,” the Bills said in a statement. “Poor decisions such as this affect not only the individual, but the entire Bills organization. We will continue to work with Karlos through the various player programs we provide to assist him in making better decisions moving forward.”

Williams can participate in training camp with the Bills but cannot practice with the team in season. He will be eligible to return for the team’s October 2 game.

All the same is true of Lynch, who also emerged as an impact player last season, and on a 49ers defense that was in dire need of them. Lynch started 13 of 16 games for the Niners last season and compiled 6.5 sacks. For his career he has 12.5 sacks in just 16 starts. San Francisco was looking at Lynch to be a leader and difference-maker as an outside linebacker in their 4-3 defense under new coordinator Jim O’Neil in 2016. Instead, he’ll be sideline for a month, a significant setback for that Niners defense.

“While disappointed to hear the news regarding Aaron today, we support and respect the league’s decision,” the 49ers said in statement. “We are confident that he will learn from this matter and that he understands what is expected of him moving forward.”

Lastly, it truly appears the deflategate saga is over, and its end can be a footnote.

Tom Brady announced via his Facebook page on Friday that he will cease fighting the NFL mandated four-game suspension for his role in the alteration of game balls prior to the 2015 AFC Championship Game. After an appeal of his suspension was denied on Wednesday by the Second Circuit Court, Brady had the option to take his case to the United States Supreme Court. But he has instead chosen not to continue the legal process.

“I’m very grateful for the overwhelming support I’ve received from (team owner) Mr. (Robert) Kraft, the Kraft family, coach (Bill) Belichick, my coaches and teammates, the NFLPA, my agents, my loving family and most of all, our fans,” Brady wrote. “It has been a challenging 18 months and I have made the difficult decision to no longer proceed with the legal process. I’m going to work hard to be the best player I can be for the New England Patriots and I look forward to having the opportunity to return to the field this fall.”

Brady will be eligible to return October 9 when the Patriots head to Cleveland to take on the Browns. The poor poor Browns. May Brady have some mercy on them that day.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys