NFL

Titans, Browns, Chiefs make smart investments in essential players

By Sports Desk July 17, 2020

As the NFL's deadline for teams and franchise-tagged players to agree to long-term contract extensions came to pass, the biggest deal was the deal that didn't happen.

So while the soap opera between Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys gets to air another year after the two sides failed to work out a contract that would have put the talented quarterback among the NFL's highest-paid players, a few other teams were busy locking up vital players amid less fanfare.

Derrick Henry will still be pounding the rock for the Tennessee Titans for the foreseeable future, the Cleveland Browns made Myles Garrett the league's highest-paid defensive player and the Kansas City Chiefs will have defensive lineman Chris Jones on board for what should be an extended window for another Super Bowl run.

When breaking down those aforementioned agreements, it appears all three teams were able to get good value even in what's arguably been the most volatile offseason in league history.

Let's start with Henry. On the surface, the four-year, $50 million contract the Titans gave the 2019 NFL rushing champion looks rather risky considering the often short shelf life of running backs and how a similar pact the Los Angeles Rams constructed with Todd Gurley two summers ago spectacularly backfired.

But Tennessee wisely front-loaded the deal, with most of the $25.5 million in guarantees on the books for the first two seasons, and can cut bait without much penalty after 2021 in the event Henry begins to show a steep decline.

It's not hyperbole to suggest that Ryan Tannehill's breakthrough 2019 season was a direct result of the threat Henry presented to opposing defenses as a runner. By extending their most important player, the Titans have not only given their quarterback his best chance to succeed, they've increased their chances of again contending for an AFC title for at least the next two years.

Of course, the road to an AFC championship still figures to go through Kansas City following the reigning Super Bowl champions' massive recent spending spree that resulted in 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes landing a record 10-year extension worth up to $503 million and Jones agreeing to a four-year, $80 million deal.

The Chiefs will have some tough decisions to make to get under the salary cap once the big money in Mahomes' contract kicks in after this season, but they've rightfully identified Jones, whose 24.5 sacks over the last two seasons trails only Aaron Donald for the most among interior defensive linemen, as a player to keep.

And the 2019 Pro Bowler gets the benefits of some long-term security and the chance to reach free agency at the relatively young age of 30 - not to mention the opportunity to realistically add a few more rings to his collection.

Extending Garrett may not have been an urgent matter for the Browns, as the 2017 number one overall pick still had two seasons remaining on his rookie contract, but the five-year, $125 million extension was a shrewd, forward-thinking move by new general manager Andrew Berry.

Sure, $25 million a year for a non-quarterback is a lot of coin, but Cleveland has the most cap space in the league right now and with the way the pass-rusher market has been trending, that annual salary could be a relative bargain down the road if Garrett continues to produce double-digit sacks towards the latter end of the deal.

After years and years of bumbling leadership hires, the Browns just maybe have finally gotten it right this winter with the additions of two impressive young minds in Berry and new coach Kevin Stefanski.

It's still way too early to gauge the impact the coronavirus will ultimately have on the NFL's economic landscape in the coming years, but the Titans, Chiefs and Browns at least appear to have positioned themselves well for the potential pitfalls that may lie ahead.

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