Bills have made an initial offer to Evans (Photo Source)
After a season in which his statistical production dropped by a significant margin, Bills WR Lee Evans may still be experiencing a rather large pay raise over the next few months. Evans on Monday confirmed that he has received a contract offer from the Bills, indicating that both sides are interested in preserving a relationship entering its fifth season.
The big question, at this point, is this: exactly how much is Evans worth? Evans is not an elite NFL receiver - as evidenced by his meager 55 receptions in 16 healthy games last season - yet he'll likely ask to be paid like one. Blessed with excellent talent, the Bills may be taking a bit of a risk throwing large dollar amounts at a player who has had productive seasons, but probably isn't worth the money he'll ask for.
What exactly will he ask for? As is the trend in the NFL, Evans' negotiating camp will likely base their salary demands (not unreasonably) off of the five major free agent deals signed by wide receivers this past March. The market was set at that point, and here's how those five players made out:
Jerry Porter (JAX): Porter is the bare minimum deal at this point, and if the Bills made the initial offer in the Evans negotiations, it was probably in the ballpark of the 6 year, $30 million deal (with $10 million guaranteed) that Porter signed with Jacksonville in March. Porter was signed to be the Jaguars' #1 receiver in a similar market size, and $5 million per year with $10 million guaranteed is a pretty modest fee to pay for that service. Expect Evans' deal to be larger; this deal is worth noting, however, because again, it sets the base line.
Randy Moss (NE): After being courted heavily by the Eagles, Moss re-signed in New England for a pretty modest contract: 3 years, $27 million, $15 million guaranteed. Evans won't be signing a deal this short - the Bills certainly wouldn't allow that - but the $15 million guaranteed is important to note for comparison purposes to the next two deals.
Bernard Berrian (MIN): This deal is the one most commonly associated to the Evans talks, as Evans and Berrian are very similar players (though Evans is the clear superior, at least talent and consistency-wise). Berrian inked a 6-year, $43.4 million deal with $16 million guaranteed in Minnesota this past March. Expect Evans to eventually on similar numbers across the board, but don't expect him to overlook the next two deals, either. If the Bills are starting off with Porter offers, Evans will talk them up with the Javon Walker and Larry Fitzgerald deals.
Javon Walker (OAK): Proving that he's no longer mentally fit to run an NFL franchise, Raiders owner Al Davis handed the very fragile Walker a 6-year, $55 million deal with $16 million guaranteed (and which will pay Walker $27 million in salaries over the first three years of the deal). Wow. Evans won't get a salary that high, but the guaranteed money is similar to the Berrian and Moss deals, and the front-loaded deal is something you can expect to see with Evans' deal as well.
Larry Fitzgerald (ARI): Like Moss, Fitzgerald signed a shorter deal (4 years), but he ultimately got the best payout - $40 million, with 75% of that ($30 million) guaranteed. That's ludicrous pay. The Evans camp will likely have that $30 million figure in mind when making initial demands in the guaranteed department; they won't get it from Buffalo, but the demand will be there nonetheless.
So what does this all mean? The market is set. Those five deals averaged $8 million per year in salary and a shade under $4 million per year in guarantees (thanks, Arizona). That's the market based on this year's deals. What will the Bills do? Well, they've shown a tendency to offer a bit more guaranteed if it means saving a bit on salary - they're essentially taking the hit early and mortgaging dollars now for future production. They used this tactic in signing Derrick Dockery last off-season, and it was also present in the re-structure of Marcus Stroud's contract when he was traded in March.
Using the $16 million guaranteed figure prevalent in three of the deals (Berrian, Walker, Moss), expect the Bills to offer a bit more - say, $19 million guaranteed over a six-year deal - if it means less annual salary than the $8 million average outlined above. If we're talking a five-year deal for Evans, I expect it to be for about $38 million with $15.5 million guaranteed. If it's a six-year deal, I expect it to be in the area of $44 million with $19 million guaranteed.
I'd sign Lee Evans for 6 years, $44 million with $19 million guaranteed in a heartbeat - but that's the maximum deal in my book; anything beyond that deal, and I'd be calling off negotiations until the end of the regular season. It'd be easier to slap Evans with the franchise tag at that point. But next off-season, that deal will look like peanuts - and it will look like Styrofoam peanuts in two years. But that's just me. What do y'all think - too rich? Too cheap for what Evans will actually ask for? Discuss.