Extension Roundup: NFL Deals That Got Done Before Kickoff

A few last-minute deals got done before kickoff. What do they mean for their teams?

The offseason officially ended on Thursday night when real football kicked off in New England, but before the season started, a few last-minute contract extensions were given out.

The positions rewarded ranged from the lines to quarterback, and all the deals placed these players among the tops of the market. That's the deal in this current iteration of the NFL: if you're an above average player, you're likely getting paid like one of the top guys.

Loss aversion is playing a role in all of these contracts because fewer top level talent is hitting the market, leaving teams to put an emphasis on keeping their own. Before we get too far into the new football season, let's take a quick run down of what was reportedly agreed to on Thursday.

Marcell Dareus, Defensive Tackle, Buffalo Bills

The biggest contract given out on Thursday -- which included a quarterback -- went to Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. The contract is worth a reported total of $95 million over six years with $60 million guaranteed. That’s just under $5 million less than the total amount given to J.J. Watt last September and eclipses Watt’s guarantees by over $8 million.

Dareus is a benefactor of both timing and situation. With NFL revenues booming, the salary cap has been on a steady rise, and we’ve seen that impact many of the deals given out this offseason. It’s made contracts given out just last year, like Watt’s, look like relative bargains. Over the past two seasons, the cap has jumped $10 million each year, which could drive the cap north of $160 million by next season, making these big contracts much easier for these teams to hand out.

Dareus is also in a great situation on a team that knows its defense is its strength and isn’t committed to big money at the starting quarterback position. The Bills had the second best defense in the league last season by our Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP, for those of you who are new to numberFire, measures the value of each play on the field based on how an average team would be expected to score in each scenario using historical data. You can read more about it in our glossary. Dareus's 10 sacks in the interior of that defense were a big reason for that defensive ranking.

Current starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor counts less than $1 million against Buffalo’s cap this season and will make only $1.3 million in 2016. Even if Taylor isn’t the answer, the Bills would be likely to draft a quarterback, giving them a cost-controlled rookie contract. Without above-average quarterbacks available for trade or hitting free agency, Buffalo is at the least two to three years away from owing a quarterback any type of big money, which will allow the Bills to lock up other key players on their defense.

Luke Kuechly, Middle Linebacker, Carolina Panthers

Middle linebacker has become the running back of the defense. Many teams aren’t investing heavily in the position, but the ones that have an got a good one are willing to pay a premium. Before this offseason, no inside linebacker was making at least $10 million per year as an average annual value, the only position outside the offensive line to stay under that line.

Now, there are two.

Seattle gave Bobby Wagner a four-year, $43 million deal earlier in the offseason with $21.9 million guaranteed, which became the biggest contract ever given out to an inside linebacker. Wagner held that title for just over a month.

Carolina gave Luke Kuechly a reported five-year deal worth $62 million, which would make his average salary $12.4 million through 2019. Kuechly has been a tackling machine since coming into the league and was a big part of a Carolina defense that ranked 10th in Adjusted Defensive NEP last season. However many of those tackles came in clean up duty behind a defensive line that couldn’t stop the run, as the Panthers ranked 19th against the run by Adjusted NEP in 2014. Still, a majority of the inside linebackers in the league wouldn’t have the range to clean up everything the Panthers defensive line let through last year.

Anthony Castonzo, Offensive Tackle, Indianapolis Colts

Anthony Castonzo has started to blossom into the rock on the left side of the offensive line the Colts were hoping for when they took him with the 22nd pick in the first round of the 2011 Draft. With the way other Colts investments have turned out on the offensive line -- like Donald Thomas and Gosder Cherilus -- Castonzo looks like a superstar by comparison.

Castonzo was the only offensive lineman for the Colts last season to play more than 90 percent of the team’s offensive snaps -- he was on the field for all 1,115 of them, including the playoffs. Sometimes continuity is the most you can ask for in an offensive line, but add in that Castonzo didn’t allow a sack after Week 12, and his performance was a factor in helping Andrew Luck have his lowest sack rate (4.2 percent) in his three year career.

Castonzo’s deal, though, pays him an average of $10.5 million over across four years, which makes him the fourth highest paid tackle in the league. His play might not be at that level yet, but he’s currently the best thing the Colts have protecting their franchise quarterback.

Now maybe they can work more on fixing that run game that ranked 27th by Adjusted NEP last season.

Eli Manning, Quarterback, New York Giants

Then the final quarterback card fell into place.

After an offseason that saw his classmates Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers receive extensions, Eli Manning has found a new contract of his own. Manning and the Giants are reportedly finalizing the details of a four-year, $84 million extension. In average salary, his $21 million per year falls between the deals given to Roethlisberger ($21.85 million) and Rivers ($20.81 million). By guaranteed money, the $65 million is the same as Rivers and more than double the $31 million given to Roethlisberger.

In terms of NEP Manning has been between those two quarterbacks, depending on the year and the metric. Manning’s been nowhere near the other two in terms of efficiency, but his ability to stay on the field -- he hasn’t missed a game since taking over as the starter in his rookie year -- is something he holds over the other two. Out of the three, the three worst seasons by Passing NEP have been played by Manning, but he had a bounceback last season in the first year under offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, putting up the fourth best season of his career by Passing NEP.

Eli might not have the peak of the other two quarterbacks, but he has the ability to rip off streaks that make him look like one of the best quarterbacks in football. On the plus side, in this new offense, he probably won’t have any valleys like 2013 either. For the next four years, that’s a gamble the Giants are going to be willing to take.