Let me start out by saying that if Dwight Freeney was on my team, I would do anything to keep him there -- we now know that means $72 million over six years. More specifically, it means $30 million guaranteed (41 percent of the deal). Freeney played through injuries last year, his sack production was down and he didn't get his annual trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. But he is a special player, and outside of running back Edgerrin James the Colts take care of special players.
Michael Strahan may not have started the tidal wave, but he was a big part of it.
I remember like it was yesterday when Michael Strahan got a mega-deal from the New York Giants for being an elite pass rusher. A number of general managers around the league feared the deal would change the cost of securing pass-rushing defensive ends forever. I reminded them that the late, great Reggie White changed the landscape first when he signed the deal to become a Green Bay Packer. NFL people were floored when the four-year, $16 million deal was inked by White. Then came Strahan and then came Mario Williams in the 2006 draft. The Texans said they would rather pay the pass rusher than Reggie Bush. NFL teams continue to show their love affair with the guys who can get to the QB.
Well, where does the league go from the latest spike in the pass rusher contract? Keep in mind the number one thing Freeney has done over the past five seasons is get to the quarterback: 56 1/2 times to be exact (or a little over 11 per season). Sure he forces fumbles and plays the run, but the sacks are what got him paid. There will now be other defensive players around the league now ready to work off this deal, and the ripple effects of the Freeney contract according to two GMs will be a deal in the near future worth in excess of $80 million over a six-year period for a DE, a number of guys closing in on free agency readjusting their asking price upwards by more than a few million and a group of pass rushers who will look at deals they did within the last 36 months and feel frustrated. As one GM said, "The Freeney deal is a nightmare for anyone with a quality defensive end looking for a new contract."
Carolina never wants to part ways with Julius Peppers, but in the same five-year period as Freeney he has 53 1/2 sacks, 26 passes defended, three interceptions and 203 tackles. He might have jumped at a deal a month ago that looked like Freeney's, but he could now break the bank. Make some more cap room and call a Wells Fargo truck for Peppers.
Shawne Merriman just finished his second season in the NFL under his rookie contract, but he also has 27 sacks in two seasons and is on pace to look even better than Freeney. Do the Chargers wait much longer? The price is sure to go up even higher in two more years.
Down in New Orleans, Will Smith saw his teammate Charles Grant get paid, and after the Freeney deal, his expectations went up. He's on pace for 45 sacks in five years but he will get paid long before that, and the question for the Saints is if they can afford Will Smith after the Freeney deal was completed. The Saints could have fit two Charles Grant deals under the cap, but a Freeney and a Grant deal is a challenge.
If Dwight Freeney was playing for the Baltimore Ravens in 2006, he would have placed fifth on the team in sacks. Trevor Pryce, Terrell Suggs, Adalius Thomas and Bart Scott all had more. Thomas got paid by the Patriots in what looks like a good deal right now, and Suggs is due a new contract. Suggs has 40 sacks in four years and is on pace for production just short of Freeney's five-year average. By time the Ravens get to him, his demands are going to be very close to the Freeney deal.
I know Jason Taylor is older than Freeney, but his last five seasons have produced 66 1/2 sacks, or 10 more than Freeney, and he lost his partner Adewale Ogunleye a few years ago to the Bears. Derrick Burgess out in Oakland has to wonder if his 27 sacks in the last two seasons mean the Raiders should revisit his contract.
The list could go on with young players like DeMarcus Ware starting to show the pass rush skills every team craves and even a player like Aaron Kampman, with 29 sacks in his last five seasons, probably woke up after reading about Freeney's new deal and had to say, "I'm worth at least half of that," which by the way, would be $36 million over six years with $15 million guaranteed.
One really smart personnel director said to me, "We're getting like baseball where a .500 pitcher is a multi-millionaire." Where's it going to stop? It's not going to stop until some team passes on paying its best pass rusher and the team wins a Super Bowl without him. For now, I can see at least six quality pass rushers figuring to make a lot more money today than they thought they would a week ago.