Free agency is a domino effect. Deals get done from the top down. And it appears the dominoes are already set in motion.
The first deal went to Richard Sherman, still just 29 years old, the 3-time All Pro is arguably the best cornerback of his generation. He signed a 3-year deal with the 49ers that averaged $13 million per season. A deal that was made official early Sunday.
Not long after the Sherman deal became official, the next deal was made. It was the Chargers locking up 2-time Pro Bowler Casey Hayward to a 3-year, $36 million deal according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
The #Chargers are signing standout CB Casey Hayward to a 3-year extension, source said, worth $36M. He gets $20M fully guaranteed at signing. ... LA taking care of its own well-deserved former free agent signing.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 11, 2018
The guaranteed money for Hayward was considerably more than with Sherman because of the questions about the Achilles rupture Sherman suffered midway through last season. But the per season money tells the story of his value should he be able to return to full strength.
Despite this year’s free agent class being rife with cornerback talent, none of them are on the same level as Sherman and Hayward. Among the top names out there, only Malcolm Butler has a Pro Bowl to his name (2015) and he was benched for the Super Bowl. And only Trumaine Johnson has ever had as many interceptions in a season as the seven Hayward had in 2016.
What this suggests in the first cornerback to agree to a deal in free agency can expect a deal below $12 million per season. That would still be top ten among cornerback contracts. It would also be only a couple million more than the Raiders gave Sean Smith when they signed him in 2016, and would cost the team only about $3 million more against the cap to replace Smith. With what figures to be around $15 million in cap space, the Raiders can absolutely afford that.