The news of the morning on this Franchise Monday includes the Buffalo Bills' signing of wide receiver Stevie Johnson to a five-year deal and the Houston Texans' signing of running back Arian Foster to a five-year-deal. These are not NFC East signings, but they do lead one to wonder about the Philadelphia Eagles, who are dealing with high-profile upcoming free-agent situations with wide receiver DeSean Jackson and running back LeSean McCoy.
Let's do Jackson first, since his situation is more immediate. The Eagles have designated Jackson as their franchise player, which guarantees him $9.4 million this season if they don't work out a long-term deal. In spite of public proclamations to the contrary, which may very well be posturing, the Eagles don't seem to want to sign Jackson long-term and will entertain trade offers for him.
But Johnson's deal helps the Eagles' case. Johnson got $36.25 million, $19.5 million of which is guaranteed. The average annual value of his deal is $7.25 million, which is far less than Jackson's 2012 franchise number and likely less than Jackson wants to make on the free-agent market or from a team looking to trade for him. Jackson's agent surely will make the case that Jackson is a better player than Johnson, but it's worth asking the question of whether that is actually true.
Over the past two seasons, Johnson has caught 158 passes for 2,077 yards and 17 touchdowns. Jackson has caught 105 passes for 2,017 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jackson is the more dangerous home-run threat, but Johnson is by far the more productive receiver. You say Jackson helps in the return game? I say he's been a non-factor in that area since breaking the Giants' hearts in December of 2010. Each player has demonstrated some knucklehead behavior, but each is also merely 25 years old and capable of growing and maturing.
You can argue that they're similar. You can argue that Johnson's numbers are better. But you can't make a convincing argument that Jackson deserves to be paid a great deal more than Johnson is being paid. Because of that, the Johnson deal hurts Jackson's bargaining position. If Jackson's side sees that and drops its demands, that makes it more likely that Jackson stays in Philadelphia. If not, it makes it more likely that the Eagles look to trade him in the absence of a long-term deal. It's also possible he stays and plays under the franchise number this year, which isn't a terrible outcome for either side.
As for McCoy, for whom free agency looms next year, I think the Foster deal helps him. No, his numbers aren't as good as Foster's. Over the past two years, Foster has 605 carries for 2,840 yards and 26 touchdowns, plus 119 receptions for 1,221 yards and four touchdowns. Over the same period, McCoy has 480 carries fior 2,389 yards and 24 touchdowns, plus 126 receptions for 907 yards and five touchdowns. Foster is the more productive back. You can argue that's because of the way he's used relative to McCoy, and you could be right. But numbers are numbers.
The numbers on Foster's deal, however, are generous — $43.5 million over five years with $20.75 million guaranteed and $18 million due this year. The average annual value of $8.7 million is high for a guy who plays as grinding a position as running back, as is the guarantee. McCoy is going to cost the Eagles more to keep than they may have wanted to pay him, and they may even be more motivated to act sooner rather than later in case the market goes higher again in 2013.