The New York Jets got their offseason started by signing one of their top pending free agents before he could even hit the open market.
On Monday, the Jets signed right guard Brian Winters to a four-year deal that is reportedly worth $29 million. The third-round pick in the 2013 draft has made 41 starts in his four-year career, but has spent the past two seasons experiencing a career revitalization of sorts at right guard.
The question is, as it is with basically any signing these days, did the Jets overpay for a solid, but not other-worldly player?
It’s important to note that guard often isn’t a top priority for teams when it comes to long-term contracts. The highest-paid players at the position are Pittsburgh Steelers guard David DeCastro ($50 million total value) along with Chicago Bears blocker Kyle Long and Philadelphia Eagles lineman Brandon Brooks (both $40 million).
When looking at the highest-paid players in the league, DeCastro barely cracks the top 70 in terms of total contract value, while seven left tackles and two centers (one of them being Nick Mangold) are above him on the list.
Winters’ new deal makes him one of the highest-paid players at his position. His $29 million total salary ranks sixth behind DeCastro, Long, Brooks, J.R. Sweezy and Marshal Yanda. However, his average annual value of $7.25 million puts him in the top five among right guards in that category, as the chart below explains.
Winters is being paid as a top five player at his position, but there are valid questions as to whether he’s worth that type of money.
There is plenty of upside in Winters to get excited about. He’ll be 26 years old when the season starts and is viewed as an ascending player despite a rough start to his career. The Kent State product spent his first two years on the left side and made 18 starts before suffering a season-ending knee injury in 2014.
It appeared Winters’ career was heading into a downward spiral, but his third season actually saw a rebirth. The Jets signed James Carpenter to play left guard, but Winters was thrown into action at right guard after veteran Willie Colon was lost for the year with a knee injury. Winters wound up starting 10 games and retained the starting duties in training camp this past summer.
His first full year at right guard went fairly well. He graded out as a respectable player and was rated as the No. 32 guard in the NFL by Pro Football Focus with a 77.1 overall grade. Unfortunately, his season was cut off by a shoulder injury that will require surgery.
The Jets aren’t overly concerned about the injury, however, and expect Winters to be fully healthy for the start of the 2017 season. But, Winters’ injury history is worth mentioning when considering the long-term investment.
The way free agency plays out will also impact the general perception on Winters’ deal. Two of the guards on that list, Sweezy and Brooks, both earned their contracts last offseason. This year’s free agent class features Detroit’s Larry Warford, Cincinnati’s Kevin Zeitler, Dallas’ Ronald Leary and Green Bay’s TJ Lang.
Each of those four players will likely garner plenty of interest on the open market and all were rated as better players than Winters this season by PFF. Winters and Warford are both the same age, while Zeitler is only 26.
The surplus of solid talent at the position makes predicting the market difficult, but the Jets might have set the precedent for negotiations when free agency opens up in March. It’s safe to say that when the bidding wars begin, the Jets will wind up with a bargain at only $7.25 million annually. The timing and length of the contract also makes sense, as it could allow the Jets to double dip and get a few more years out of Winters in his prime as he hits his 30s on his next contract.
Winters will have to show more improvement on the field to merit his payday. But, it’s safe to say right now that the Jets probably got a good deal with their top unrestricted free agent.
All salary and contract information comes from OvertheCap.com.