By all accounts, it was a brutal offseason for the NFL’s free agent safeties.
The only safeties to receive a contract longer than two years were Kurt Coleman with the Saints and Morgan Burnett with the Steelers. The only safeties to get more than $5 million annually were Coleman and Tyrann Mathieu, who signed a one-year deal with the Texans.
It also took months for certain players to find a landing spot, and often at a discounted rate.
Among those late signers was Mike Mitchell, who signed with the Colts on Tuesday, more than five weeks into the NFL season. As for why it took him so long to get a contract and why so few of his colleagues got paid, the 31-year-old had a rather interesting theory while talking to The Athletic’s Stephen Holder. And he’s reportedly not alone.
Mike Mitchell’s Eric Reid theory
From The Athletic:
“You know what happened,” Mitchell said. “I don’t need to say it. I know what you know.”
That was Mitchell’s way of acknowledging what multiple sources said throughout the offseason: That NFL teams took an intentionally cool approach toward free-agent safeties in 2018 to avoid the appearance of collusion against Eric Reid, the former 49ers standout who last week signed with the Panthers after his own protracted stay on the free-agent market.
So, basically, Mitchell and Holder’s sources think NFL teams decided it was in their best interest to avoid throwing any significant money at free agent safeties this offseason, as it sure wouldn’t look great for the league if a middling safety got significantly more money than Eric Reid, a 26-year-old Pro Bowler.
The reason why is Reid’s grievance filed against the NFL accusing the league of colluding against him for his support of Colin Kaepernick and on-field protests for social justice reform. That collusion claim would have been bolstered had Reid encountered a weak market while other safeties were signing large contracts.
A similar argument was made in the early days of Kaepernick’s free agency, when a conga line of mediocre quarterbacks were brought in as back-ups while Kaepernick, who also filed a grievance against the NFL, remained unsigned.
If that theory is true, it is a breathtaking example of how far the league is willing to go keep out certain players it finds problematic. Reid eventually signed a one-year contract worth up to $2 million with the Carolina Panthers last week.
Just how bad was the NFL’s safety market?
It was quite bad.
Maybe it was a down year for a non-premium position in today’ NFL, but it would have had to have been a particularly tough year. Going off Spotrac’s free agency lists, over the previous five years, an average of 7.8 players received contracts longer than two years and 3.8 got more than $5 million.
Compare that to two contracts longer than two years and two contracts with an AAV over $5 million last offseason, all while the league’s salary cap has continued to balloon in recent years.
Mitchell himself went from making $5 million per year last year with the Steelers to the veteran’s minimum this year, something he was eager to note.
“If you’re working a regular job and you’re making $100,000 and then, the very next year, they want you to do the exact same work for $20,000, you’d be a little perplexed about that situation,” Mitchell told The Athletic. “I don’t think it’s any different here.”
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