With an offseason like no other thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the one-year deal has become the boilerplate contract for players of all sizes, all positions, and all skill levels, and some teams are taking full advantage…
This offseason was bound to blow up in more ways than one, with COVID-19 causing the NFL to lose an estimated $4 billion thanks to the limited fans in the stands and other shortcomings created by a worldwide pandemic, but with the craziness that came from the disease, there also came the collective decision to hand out as many one-year deals as possible.
In fact, there are already 182 separate one-year deals that have been struck since the beginning of free agency almost three weeks ago (according to NFL), that is almost 60 more than were given out all of last season and there is good reason for that spike in signings.
The one-year deal has always been a major factor in contract relations between teams and players, making for a great incentive for the player to show why they’re worth investing in, but for the most part, a one-year deal is given because it has low-risk and can yield the highest rewards in some cases.
One-year deals can be good and bad for the teams especially because it is impossible to spread a signing bonus out with a solo-season deal, meaning more of a cap hit for the organizations, but the deals are normally a “sink or swim” moment for the players signing them.
Some of the signings this offseason have been phenomenal for teams that are just one solid year or athlete away from reaching a Championship game or at least becoming more contentious than they were last season (perhaps a team like Baltimore or Indianapolis?), but for others, the one-year deal may end up leaving a sour taste in the GM’s mouths and a hole in their wallets.
So far some of the best one-year deals this offseason are:
EDGE Haason Reddick to Carolina for one-year, $8 million
Reddick has been nothing but spectacular in Arizona over the past four years, collecting 20 sacks and 15 pass deflections since he entered the league in 2017. He switched from linebacker to full-time edge rusher last season and, in doing so, had a career year with 12.5 sacks (4th in the NFL), 15 tackles for loss (3rd in NFL), and six forced fumbles (2nd in NFL).
He’s also only in his fifth year in the NFL and obviously is approaching his prime, bringing plenty of talent and strength to a Carolina defense that was 23rd in sacks (29) and 31st in opponents 3rd down percentage (49.2%) last season (according to Lineups).
In short, Carolina got a serious bargain in someone that is obviously talented at the EDGE position and is young enough that the Panthers and Head Coach Matt Rhule can build around him for a few more years if he shows out on his solo-season deal like he’s poised to.
EDGE Takkarist McKinley & DT Malik Jackson to Browns
Both McKinley and Jackson signed their own respective one-year deals, Mckinley for up to $6 mil and Jackson for $4.5 mil, which shows that Cleveland is trying to get back to the defense they had in 2018 when they forced 31 turnovers (2nd in the NFL).
Combining these two players with the likes of Myles Garrett, who had 12 sacks last season, could be lethal mainly because Jackson has shown he can be reliable–playing in 14 or more games in all but one season–and because McKinley is also only in his fifth NFL season with plenty in the tank.
McKinley obviously didn’t have the greatest of starts in Atlanta, although his rookie year he did have six sacks and two forced fumbles, but his shoulder injury from 2019 and his two failed physicals in the past year from a groin injury would be my main thing to worry about, not his talent level or determination to get to the QB.
G Kyle Long to the Chiefs, one-year deal worth up to $5 million
This deal stuck out amongst the best during the early days of this free agency period because Long was retired and not a name on many people’s shortlists when looking at the guard position before March. Overall, the Chiefs needed that hole fixed and Long was one of the most proven and well-rested guards available.
The one-year contract allows the Chiefs to test the waters of this recently retired Chicago Bear who graded around 76-80 on PFF’s pass-blocking scale during his best seasons, allowing just 10 total pressures in 2018, but his hip injury that sidelined him and caused him to retire is something to be wary about.
No matter how Long’s season goes the pickup was necessary due to the Chiefs’ pathetic offensive line play in the Super Bowl as well as the release of seasoned veterans Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz on the line and for the cheap cost of $1.1 million guaranteed during a cash-strapped offseason this deal was a no brainer.
Now onto some of the worst one-year deals so far this offseason, and for clarification “worst” simply means the deal has more downsides than upsides which could be due to the money guaranteed and taken from the salary cap or because the player doesn’t exactly fit the system they’re going to.
DL Solomon Thomas to Las Vegas, one year, $3.25 million (up to $5 mil)
Thomas was picked #3 overall just four seasons ago by San Francisco and has not lived up to expectations, he has only recorded a meager six sacks in his four seasons and hasn’t seemed to play well at either the inside or the outside of the line.
Thomas has also never had more than 30 QB pressures in a season according to PFF so his ceiling does not seem to be high enough to warrant such a possibly sizeable contract, but the Raiders will likely be okay because they only gave Thomas $2.74 million guaranteed and have enough depth to keep him in rotation, not in a starting role.
Gruden and Gus Bradley will have to find the right moments for Thomas to truly produce at the level he did at Stanford but the likelihood of Thomas coming off a serious knee injury, which took the final 14 games of his season last year, is not very high.
LB Jarrad Davis to New York Jets, one year, $5.5 million (all guaranteed)
This deal was well-handled by Davis’ agent because, although Davis was selected by Detroit with the 21st overall pick in 2017, he has not performed at the level of a first-round (or even a second-round) pick since he entered the league.
His PFF grades have dropped every season and other than 2018 when he recorded 6 sacks–in his only season where he played all 16 games–he has yet to record more than two sacks per season.
To sum up, Davis is still an experiment that needs the right situation to succeed, and the fact that New York gave Davis his entire contract in guaranteed money leads me to believe that the Jets will continue to be the Jets of the past, spending money frivolously with very little return.
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, one year, $8 million
Smith-Schuster was offered more money by Baltimore and Kansas City but chose to stay in Pittsburgh for one more season to show he’s not just one of the most followed Tik-Tok stars but that he’s a serious athlete who will be worth much more next offseason.
JuJu’s production dipped two seasons ago due to a left knee injury but he saw more targets (128), more yards (831), and a higher snap count (84%) last season than he has since his sole Pro Bowl year (’18). Even though he did have a career-high nine TDs last season, his yards/reception plummeted from an average of 13.9 over his first three seasons to 8.6.
It’s clear that many well-established receivers didn’t choose to play in KC because they may see fewer snaps or fewer catches due to the fact Tyreek Hill is WR1 and Travis Kelce is basically a solid WR2 as well as a tight end, but with the offensive structures that both Kansas City and Baltimore have in place JuJu would be dumb to think an aging “Big Ben” Roethlisberger is going to make him look better than Mahomes in his prime or Lamar Jackson a year removed from his MVP season.
He obviously believes that Pittsburgh is going to be more than what they were last season, which started out 11-0 and finished with a massive blowout from Cleveland in Wild Card Weekend, but will he produce more than he would as a Chief or Raven?