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2016 Free Agency: Patriots LBs Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins Watch New Contracts Set Market

The Kansas City Chiefs have signed linebacker Derrick Johnson to a 3-year, $21 million deal per ESPN's Ed Werder. The Bears have signed former Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan to a 4-year, $24.5 million deal per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

$7 million per season for Johnson. That's the floor. That's below the floor. That's the groundwork for the New England Patriots contract extension negotiations with linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins.

Panthers superstar linebacker Luke Kuechly signed a contract in 2015 valued at $12.36 million per year. Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner signed one in 2015, too, for $10.75 million per year. Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David signed a contract of his own in 2015 for $10.05 million per year.

That's the ceiling. Those players are in a class above Hightower and Collins and the fact that their contracts were signed so recently should help the discussion.

Between $7 million and $10 million per year. Here's a list of stand-up linebackers receiving more than $6.00 million per season.

Player Team Year Signed Length Guaranteed Value Average Per Year
Luke Kuechly Panthers 2015 5 $  34,363,324.00 $  61,801,656 $          12,360,331
Bobby Wagner Seahawks 2015 4 $  21,977,427.00 $  43,000,000 $          10,750,000
Lavonte David Buccaneers 2015 5 $  25,556,418.00 $  50,250,000 $          10,050,000
Lawrence Timmons Steelers 2011 5 $  11,000,000.00 $  47,795,750 $            9,559,150
Navorro Bowman 49ers 2012 5 $  16,670,000.00 $  45,250,000 $            9,050,000
Thomas Davis Panthers 2015 2 $  10,000,000.00 $  18,000,000 $            9,000,000
Brian Cushing Texans 2014 6 $  21,000,000.00 $  52,500,000 $            8,750,000
DeAndre Levy Lions 2015 4 $  20,000,000.00 $  33,758,730 $            8,439,683
Daryl Washington Cardinals 2012 4 $    5,000,000.00 $  32,000,000 $            8,000,000
Mychal Kendricks Eagles 2015 4 $  16,096,060.00 $  29,000,000 $            7,250,000
David Harris Jets 2015 3 $  15,000,000.00 $  21,500,000 $            7,166,667
Derrick Johnson Chiefs 2016 3 $    9,000,000.00 $  21,000,000 $            7,000,000
Sean Lee Cowboys 2014 6 $  16,130,000.00 $  42,000,000 $            7,000,000
K.J. Wright Seahawks 2015 4 $    8,750,000.00 $  27,000,000 $            6,750,000
Danny Trevathan Bears 2016 4 $  12,000,000.00 $  24,500,000 $            6,125,000

Both Hightower and Collins likely fall around that Bowman-Cushing-Levy group of players and could be in line for roughly $9 million per season. A possible deal for both would be a 5-year extension that averaged out to $10 million per year in new money, but factoring in the existing 2016 contract values would reduce the average per year and could also help save the team some cap space for the rest of the season.

Alternatively, Mike notes that players have bee eschewing total money in favor of guaranteed money. The top seven most guaranteed money per year were all executed in 2015, with K.J. Wright the only exception (and he is the only linebacker of the group below $7 million per year).

The two most important deals prior to this free agent deal are the deals signed by Bobby Wagner and Luke Kuechly. Wagner is a comparable player to both Hightower and Collins in the negotiations, and Wagner got 51% of his contract guaranteed while Kuechly got just above 55%. There's a big drop off after those two, and the number drops into the 30% range. I don't think either player will be able to push $10 million+ APY while getting a contract with 50% guarantees.

Another factor in the guaranteed percent will also come down to the length of the contract. A 3-year contract will have a higher chunk of the contract guaranteed than a 5-year deal. Using Bobby Wagner as a guide once again, I believe Hightower on a 4-year deal will have about 45-50% of the contract guaranteed, so the number I'll use is $20M.

Dont'a Hightower: 4 years, $42M, $20M guaranteed. The details of the contract include a $10 million signing bonus, guaranteed $4 million salary in 2016, guaranteed $6 million salary in 2017, $8 million salary in 2018, $10 million salary in 2019. That leaves about $4 million left, with $2 million of it divided up for being on the 46-man game day roster, which is roughly about $31,250 per game over that 4 year span. The remaining $2 million will be split into $500k bonuses for making the Pro Bowl, All-Pro, or Winning the Super Bowl. That will reduce Hightower's 2016 cap hit down to a maximum of $7 million. This is essentially a 2/$20 million contract at the minimum.

Jamie Collins: 5 years, $41M, $22M guaranteed. The reason the APY looks low is because I'm not altering his 2016 salary one bit. In new money, this is 4/$39.7 million so that means he falls just below the $10M APY number in terms of new money. The contract includes a $14 million signing bonus, a guaranteed salary of $2.5 million in 2017, a guaranteed salary of $5.5 million in 2018, $7.5 million salary in 2019, and $9.5 million salary in 2020. The remaining $2 million will be split with $250K bonuses for Pro Bowl, All-Pro, or Super Bowl in 2017-2020 in addition to $15,625 game-day bonuses for games Collins is active. For 2016, his cap hit will jump from $1.2 million to about $4 million. This is a 3/$23 million contract at the minimum.

I'm not sure this will be what the Patriots and the two linebackers will ultimately agree to, but I figured I would try to put my hand into speculating a potential contract. These two moves will ultimately put a combined cap hit of about $2M, so that would roughly give the Patriots $15M in space to work for the rest of the 2016 offseason. I'm not sure what the workout bonus and other kind of roster bonuses could be, but you can include them into the salary numbers of both of the players.