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Why Quinton Jefferson could land more in free agency than many might expect

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Wild Card Round - Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks saw their season come to a close against the Green Bay Packers, and with the Super Bowl in the rear view mirror and the XFL getting things started, the offseason is really and truly here. That brings us to the part of the year where the news can be sparse at times, but then come in bunches, with several weeks in between significant events. With two more weeks until the 2020 NFL Combine arrives, the time to start evaluating what Seattle free agents could land on the open market has arrived.

The position groups with the biggest question marks for the Seahawks heading into the offseason are in the trenches on both sides of the ball. There has already been a significant amount of chatter regarding what big name free agents like Jadeveon Clowney, Jarran Reed and Germain Ifedi could command in the market, so the starting point today will actually be with one of the players with lesser name recognition, Quinton Jefferson.

Jefferson started the year off white hot, exploding out of the gate with a two-sack performance in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals in a game in which he finished with three quarterback hits and six tackles, two of which were for a loss. Between not getting to face the Bengals offensive line and injuries, his production dipped a little in the middle of the year, but once he fully recovered from a midseason oblique strain, he was back to roughing up quarterbacks down the stretch.

Over the final three games of the season, including the Week 17 loss to the NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers who would fail to hold a double digit lead in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, Jefferson recorded three sacks, three tackles for a loss and four quarterback hits. One might think that Jefferson was highly motivated on the brink of a payday in free agency at the end of the year, but it turns out he was rather disruptive most of the season, he simply failed to find his way into the box score as often during the middle of the season.

Specifically, Jefferson finished the 2019 campaign second among Seattle defensive linemen in pressures, hurries, quarterback hits and sacks.

Seahawks defensive line production in 2019 from Pro-Football-Reference.com

Player Age G QBKD Sk Prss Tackles
Player Age G QBKD Sk Prss Tackles
Jadeveon Clowney 26 13 10 3 30 31
Quinton Jefferson 26 14 7 3.5 16 26
Rasheem Green 22 16 1 4 15 27
Jarran Reed 27 10 5 2 13 27
Ezekiel Ansah 30 11 4 2.5 10 18
Branden Jackson 27 15 1 2 7 20
Shaquem Griffin 24 16 3 0 5 2
Al Woods 32 14 0 1 5 32
Poona Ford 24 15 2 0.5 4 32
Bryan Mone 24 4 0 0 1 4

Now, I’m certain there will be fans who will immediately jump into the comments to argue that Jefferson was the beneficiary of Clowney consistently being double teamed, allowing for QJeff to take advantage of one-on-one matchups he could win. However, let’s look at some numbers before anyone puts the cart in front of the horse. Specifically, let’s start with a tweet from PFF that shows the defensive tackles with the highest win rate against double teams in 2019.

There’s Jefferson at 17th in that list, coming in ahead of the much talked about DeForest Buckner of the 49ers. However, let’s not just look at PFF, let’s also take a look at where Jefferson falls in terms of ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate (PRWR) metric when double teamed.

From that chart it’s fairly easy to see that Jefferson isn’t double teamed as much as players like Aaron Donald or Calais Campbell, but when he is double teamed, he defeats the double team in 2.5 seconds or less about as often as Campbell, Maliek Collins and Denico Autry. In addition, he actually beats the double team more often than Cam Heyward, Vita Vea or even Ndamukong Suh. In addition, just for reference, looking at the x-axis it’s possible to see that QJeff was double teamed on just under 54% of snaps where he lined up as a defensive tackle. For comparison, here’s what the numbers look like for Clowney.

So, while Clowney recorded a higher percentage of wins when double teamed, he faced a double team half as often as Jefferson. The reason for that is that defensive tackles are far more likely to face a double team compared to a defensive end, and why playing tackle is so much more difficult than playing guard. In addition, when double teamed on the interior, defensive tackles will almost always be facing off against two offensive linemen, while ed rushers are more likely to be facing a second blocker who is a skill position player.

In any case, getting back to salary projections for Jefferson, a logical place to start is with what his production says his value is worth. OverTheCap.com has a valuation tool that evaluates a player’s performance and translates that performance into a projected valuation. As described on their site:

OTC’s player valuations are calculated using proprietary formulas to more accurately depict the value being provided by a player based on his on field performance relative to the current market for his position.

For Jefferson, OTC’s calculations put his 2019 production at a valuation of $6.36M.

With an independent, objective, third-party tool valuing Jefferson’s services at $6.36M for the 2019 season, that seems a very likely starting point for his agent to begin negotiations with any team on a free agent contract. However, that’s simply the starting point, and does not mean Jefferson will sign for a contract that averages $6.36M per year. In fact, his agent will likely ask for more.

Specifically, that $6.36M valuation is in part derived from the fact that the 2019 salary cap is $188.2M. Adjusting that valuation for the projected 2020 salary cap of $200M, we arrive at a projected valuation of $6,758,767. There’s obviously a high level of uncertainty regarding what the salary cap will be in 2021, but assuming it continues to rise at somewhere in the same six percent range, it’s possible to arrive at ballpark projections by assuming the cap will continue to increase by around $12M per season. Using that assumption yields the following projections going forward.

Quinton Jefferson future valuation projections

Season Projected Value
Season Projected Value
2019 $6,360,000
2020 $6,758,767
2021 $7,164,293
2022 $7,569,819
2023 $7,975,345
Total $29,468,225

Putting all of that together, Jefferson ends up with a projected valuation of just under $30M over the next four seasons, however, this is nowhere near the end of the story.

While fans complain about the rapidly rising cost of quarterback contracts in today’s NFL, this is actually a wider phenomenon than just at the quarterback position. Under the rookie wage scale and the CBA restrictions that limit younger players from renegotiating their contracts until entering the final year of the deal, the fact is that players on second contracts in general have seen their salaries increase disproportionately relative to the cap. In short, what happens is that on a 53 man roster teams will have roughly 70-80% of their players on minimum salary contracts that increase at 1.5% to 3% per season, while the cap has been steadily increasing at 5% to 7% over the past several seasons. These two factors combine to create an effect I call cap slippage, which disproportionately funnels the increasing cap space to players on their second contracts.

Adjusting the projections from the above table to account for this phenomenon, it yields the following projections.

Quinton Jefferson salary projections with cap slippage adjustment

Year With Cap Slippage Adjustment
Year With Cap Slippage Adjustment
2020 $6,927,736
2021 $7,526,986
2022 $8,151,867
2023 $8,803,289
Total $31,409,878

Taking adjustment into account moves things into the four-year, $32M range.

Again, that’s not the ending point, as that’s simply the starting point. If I were Jefferson’s agent, that’s the valuation point at which I would begin marketing my client to the general managers across the league in order to gauge interest. Once I’d circulated that number to all 32 teams and gotten a feel for where things stands, I’d then start the process of a bidding war amongst the teams that express interest.

Now, Jefferson certainly isn’t expected to be the prize free agent defensive lineman on the market, with guys like Clowney and Yannick Ngakoue grabbing that title. The fact that he’s in the second tier of players with production metrics that a GM can use to justify a pricey contract will help once front offices have had their expectations reset. There will most certainly be a bidding war for Clowney, and once a GM has missed out on Clowney after he signs for $23M or $24M somewhere, all of a sudden stepping up to $9M or $10M per year for Jefferson is easy.

That’s where I expect Jefferson to end up, likely somewhere in the $9M per year range. That said, for cap purposes, it’s likely to be a five year contract, which allows the signing team to pro rate any signing bonus over the full five years of the deal. Putting those two together, it lands Jefferson in the $44M-$46M range on a five year deal, though if teams get desperate we could easily see the average creep up to $10M.

That brings things full circle, and leads to the question of whether the Seahawks will be involved in bringing Jefferson back at those numbers, or if they would allow him to depart for greener pastures if things reach those levels. With the legal tampering period set to start just five weeks from Monday, the answer to that question is right around the corner.

Poll

How high should the Seahawks be willing to go in order to retain Quinton Jefferson?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Less then $5M per year
    (103 votes)
  • 48%
    $5M to $6.99M per year
    (423 votes)
  • 34%
    $7M to $8.99M per year
    (307 votes)
  • 5%
    $9M per year or more
    (47 votes)
880 votes total Vote Now