The 2017 season is a lost cause for approximately a third of the league at this point. That means it’s a good time to start looking forward to what can be done to fix that during the offseason. The salary cap is once again expected to make a sizable leap in the upcoming league year, which means pay days will abound.
Here are the guys who made themselves the most money by exceeding expectations this season:
Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins
Cousins took a sizable risk by betting on himself and playing on a one-year franchise deal again. Losing your top two receivers (Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson) can spell doom for many quarterbacks, but it’s been business as usual for Cousins, even as his offensive line has been decimated by injuries.
The Washington signal-caller is grading as a top-10 quarterback (82.8), and soon he’ll have the long-term contract of one. Only this time, its value will be exponentially higher than anything he would have signed when he first became a free agent in 2016.
Case Keenum, QB, Minnesota Vikings
Keenum signed a one-year, $2 million deal in the offseason as a stopgap in case the worst happened to Sam Bradford before Teddy Bridgewater finally got healthy. Not much from Keenum’s past suggested he was worth anything more than that. Before 2017, he had a sub-60-percent career completion percentage with 38 Turnover Worthy Throws (TWTs) compared to only 35 Big Time Throws (BTTs). The ratio of BTTs to TWTs is over 2.0 for most elite quarterbacks, and anything under 1.0 is non-starter level. This season, he has 14 BTTs against nine TWTs and a completion percentage of 67.5. He looks like a completely different player — and one who looks like he deserves to be paid like a starter.
DeMarcus Lawrence, Edge, Dallas Cowboys
Lawrence is in the midst of the kind of career year that players dream about. Lawrence has flashed dominant edge talent at times in his career, but now it’s game in and game out. Lawrence’s 14 sacks are second-most in the NFL, but what’s as impressive is his pressure rate suggests it’s not a fluke. His 14.0 pass-rushing productivity is second only to Von Miller for full-time edge rushers.
There is zero chance Lawrence doesn’t at least get franchise tagged this offseason, especially considering the weak defensive line class hitting free agency. Dallas isn’t in great cap position for 2018, but it’s difficult to believe it would let the man who has 27 more pressures than anyone else on the team walk for a lone compensatory pick.
Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
Playing receiver for Aaron Rodgers ain’t a bad gig. With his pinpoint accuracy, one doesn’t need a ton of separation to put up some gaudy stats. That’s why the fact that Adams’s numbers haven’t dropped since Rodgers went down, but rather improved, is a boon for his free agent stock. With Rodgers at quarterback this season, Adams was averaging 1.24 yards per route. (He averaged 1.58 last season.) With Brett Hundley, that number has skyrocketed to 1.92. Maybe as importantly, the drop issues that plagued him early in his career have improved each of the past two seasons:
Junior Galette, Edge, Washington Redskins
Galette’s 2015 and 2016 seasons were lost after Achilles’ tears. With more question marks than game film, Galette limped back on the ultimate “prove it” deal: one year, $800,000.
Through 12 games, he has done just that. He has accumulated the 27th-highest pass-rushing grade of any edge defender, but in only 264 snaps. Now 29, it’s doubtful he ever gets back to the level of the contract that he once had on the table with New Orleans. With how he’s played this season, though, some pass rush-needy team will pay handsomely for his services.
Patrick Robinson, CB, Philadelphia Eagles
A first-round pick of the Saints in 2010, Robinson never lived up to his draft billing. After a rocky 2012 season when he allowed more than 1,000 yards in coverage, Robinson got pigeonholed as a slot-only defensive back – the kiss of death for any cornerback looking for a long-term deal. He then bounced from the Chargers in 2015 to the Colts last year and now the Eagles in 2017, when he’s finally looked like the cornerback the Saints thought they were getting out of Florida State. Robinson is on pace to set career bests for catch rate allowed (54.0) and passer rating against (66.3). He’s still manning the slot almost exclusively, although with the increase in three-receiver sets in recent years, the stigma around the position is softening. Robinson, 30, won’t break the bank, but he’ll comfortably surpass his current $775,000 deal.
Mike Renner is a writer for Pro Football Focus and a contributor to The Washington Post’s NFL coverage.
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