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Did offseason signings impact Dion Dawkins’s contract projection?

Dawkins has one year left on his contract

Buffalo Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins is set to hit free agency following the 2020 NFL season. Some expected the team to lock up the offensive lineman this offseason in order to avoid bringing it down to the wire a few months from now.

Now that the NFL offseason has taken place and some left tackles have signed massive new deals, it’s time to reset the market on Dawkins. What is he worth and will he be able to get that in a year with a projected salary cap shortfall related to COVID-19?

In March, we projected a three-year, $44 million extension for Dawkins. That would have made him the third-highest-paid left tackle in the league at the time, but now it would make him fifth. Two offseason contracts have begun to reset the market.

The largest of those was handed out by the Houston Texans, who gave Laremy Tunsil a three-year, $66 million contract that’s way out of whack with the rest of the league. An average of $22 million per season is $5.5 million PER YEAR higher than any other offensive lineman. Houston was in a tough spot, having traded significant draft picks to obtain Tunsil. They needed to close the deal and overpaid for it in the long run.

This contract won’t directly play into the conversation for Dawkins. Tunsil is a former high first-round pick and made the Pro Bowl in 2019. He also had a crazy amount of leverage after what the Texans sent to the Miami Dolphins just to get him on the roster. What it does is move the rankings, shifting everyone else down.

The other contract to sneak into the top four was Anthony Castonzo with the Indianapolis Colts. He signed a two-year, $33 million deal this offseason. The $16.5 million average is the second-highest in the league for the nine-year veteran who has never made a Pro Bowl but has always been solid.

Andrew Whitworth signed for three years and $30 million this offseason but is in his late 30s and on the down-slope of his career, despite missing just three games total in the last seven years. We are excluding his contract because of those mitigating factors.

In March, we discussed four contracts as laying the ground work for Dawkins. Let’s add in the Castonzo contract to the list:

Anthony Castonzo (Indianapolis Colts)
Two years, $33 million ($17 million guaranteed, $16.5 AAV)

Taylor Lewan (Tennessee Titans)
Five years, $80 million ($16 million AAV)

D.J. Humphries (Arizona Cardinals)
Three years, $43.75 million ($29 million guaranteed. $14.58 AAV)

Jake Matthews (Atlanta Falcons)
Five years, $72.5 million ($14.5 million AAV)

Donovan Smith (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Three years, $41.25 million ($27 million guaranteed, $13.75 AAV)

The Castonzo deal may push the annual average value of the Dawkins’s contract up a little, but shouldn’t blow the doors off. With the being said, we are going to slightly modify our contract projection for Dion Dawkins now that the 2020 offseason is over.

Three-year extension
$48 million
($28.685 million guaranteed)

This ties Dawkins with Lewan as the third-highest average salary in the NFL among left tackles. You’ll remember we made him the third-highest-paid in March, as well. That’s really the aiming point here and how the Tunsil and Castonzo contracts with their higher AAVs help Dawkins move up.

The Bills have the benefit of an extra year at his rookie salary, though. Buffalo gets their left tackle for four more years and pays him under $50 million in those four seasons. So that’s the win for Buffalo.

With this contract projection, I’d expect the Bills to do a restructure a year from now if Dawkins plays well again in 2020. Turning the 2021 roster bonus and part of the guaranteed salary into a signing bonus to lower the cap hit in 2021, when the cap is artificially depressed, would make a ton of sense.

2020

Pro-rated rookie signing bonus: $295,589
New signing bonus pro-ration: $2.5 million
Workout bonus: $50,000
Roster bonus: $6.7 million (guaranteed)
Base salary: $985,441 (now guaranteed)

Cap hit: $10,531,030

2021

Signing bonus: $2.5 million
Roster bonus: $2 million (guaranteed)
Workout bonus: $100,000
Salary: $9 million (guaranteed)

Cap hit: $13.6 million

2022

Signing bonus: $2.5 million
Roster bonus: $1 million
Workout bonus: $100,000
Salary: $9 million

Cap hit: $12.6 million
Dead cap if cut: $5 million
Cap savings if cut: $7.6 million

2023

Signing bonus: $2.5 million
Roster bonus: $1 million
Workout bonus: $100,000
Salary: $9 million

Cap hit: $12.6 million
Dead cap if cut: $2.5 million
Cap savings if cut: $10.1 million

Dawkins would still hit free agency again before he turned 30 and would be able to cash in again, so the three-year extension makes sense for him. Even if he takes a discount on this contract — say two years and $28 million, all of it guaranteed — he can get to a great place in free agency after the COVID suppression is largely over and done with. It’s still unclear how COVID is going to impact the contract markets for good-to-great players. We haven’t really seen yet as teams take a wait-and-see approach on all but the low-end and elite-end of the contract spectrum.