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Nigel Bradham contract projection for NFL free agency 2015

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What might a new contract look like for Bills free agent linebacker Nigel Bradham after his disappointing 2015 campaign?

While other top Buffalo Bills unrestricted free agents Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito undoubtedly increased their value during the 2015 season, it is undisputed that Nigel Bradham hurt his.

Thought during the offseason to be heading into a monster contract year behind one of the league's best defensive line, Bradham, like, the defense on the whole was relatively disappointing (his missed tackle on Rashad Jennings leading to the game-sealing touchdown for the Giants sorely sticks out in my mind) during the first 11 games of the season before an ankle injury ended his campaign.

With that preface, Bradham still displayed flashes of the upside and game-changing ability he displayed in 2014, and will still only turn 27 years old in September. While he certainly didn't increase his value by gambling on himself in 2015, what might his contract look like as he either resigns with the Bills or enters free agency.

When looking for comparable players and contracts, an arguably dead-on comparison is 2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker free agent signee, Bruce Carter. Both Bradham and Carter were entering free agency prior to their age-27 season. The two players' production in the two years prior to free agency is almost identical (with one major exception) and both players are even listed at the same height (6'2") and within one pound of each other (Bradham at 241 and Carter at 240). While Carter had an impressive five interceptions in 2014 (Bradham had one in the two years combined, but he had two forced fumbles to none for Carter), Carter had 164 combined tackles to Bradham's 163, and Bradham had 3.5 sacks to Carter's 3.0. Although Bradham played three fewer games than Carter during this period (25 versus 28), Bradham actually participated in 135 more defensive snaps.

What did Carter receive in free agency? Carter's contract was a very reasonable four-year deal worth $17 million, with $4.25 million guaranteed. While their statistics may line up very closely, it is likely that Bradham's agent will argue that his client is simply a better player than Carter, and that the system, not the player, caused his 2015 struggles.

It seems to me that One Bills Drive should tread very carefully with Bradham in these negotiations. The market for non-edge rusher outside linebackers (or even inside linebackers) is relatively limited, and although he has shown flashes, Bradham's stats - especially behind the Bills' defensive line - do not seem to justify a contract significantly higher than what Carter received. Only five non-edge rusher outside linebackers are under contracts averaging more than $5 million annually:

Lavonte David, Tampa Bay: $10.05 million average per year (apy)
Thomas Davis, Carolina: $9 million apy
DeAndre Levy, Detroit: $8.25 million apy
Sean Lee, Dallas: $7 million apy
K.J. Wright, Seattle: $6.75 million apy

Needless to say, Bradham has not produced to a level of those players - and although he may have the upside to do so eventually, he presently does not deserve a contract at that tier.

Looking at inside linebackers (as Carter is now listed), there are more players who receive over $5 million annually but with the exception of maybe Cincinnati Bengals thumper Rey Maualuga (who makes exactly $5 million average on a contract he signed last offseason), Bradham is either less productive or has much less of a consistent track record to garner that type of money. Listed here are the inside linebackers that currently are on contracts averaging over $5 million apy (in descending order of contract average value): Clay Matthews, Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner, Lawrence Timmons, Navorro Bowman, Brian Cushing, Daryl Washington, Donald Butler, Mychal Kendricks, David Harris, Karlos Dansby, Curtis Lofton, Derrick Johnson, D'Qwell Jackson, Rey Maualuga, and Paul Poszluszny.

Taking Bradham's down 2015 season, his limited quality production and the market for outside linebackers that don't rush the passer, it can be strongly argued that Bradham's new contract should be just a slight increase on what Carter received last year. Even allowing for an uptick due to the increase in the salary cap and Bradham's still inarguable upside, I would project Bradham to receive a new contract from the Bills (to be slightly higher if he enters free agency) in the range of $4.5 to $4.75 million average per year. Run over the course of a four-year contract, the Bills should pay Bradham $18.5 million for four years, with $5 million fully guaranteed (Carter received $4.25 million, or 25%, Bradham would receive 29.72%) at signing and another $1.5 million guaranteed for injury at signing and fully guaranteed at the beginning of the 2017 league year.

Here is Bradham's contact projection, fully described.

Based on cash pay:

2016

2017

2018

2019

Age

27

28

29

30

Signing Bonus

$4 million

N/A

N/A

N/A

Salary

$1 million (fully gteed)

$3 million ($1.5 mil gteed)

$4 million

$5 million

Roster Bonus

N/A

$200k

$450k

$450k

Workout Bonus

$250k

$50k

$50k

$50k

Total Cash Pay

$5.25 million

$3.25 million

$4.5 million

$5.5 million

Based on salary cap hits:

2016

2017

2018

2019

Age

27

28

29

30

Prorated SB

$1 million

$1 million

$1 million

$1 million

Salary

$1 million

$3 million

$4 million

$5 million

Roster Bonus

N/A

$200k

$450k

$450k

Workout Bonus

$250k

$50k

$50k

$50k

Total Cap Hit

$2.25 million

$4.25 million

$5.5 million

$6.5 million