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Monday, March 17, 2014
Is one-year gamble worth the risk?

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

Not satisfied with a long-term offer that averaged $8 million a year, defensive tackle B.J. Raji accepted a one-year, $4 million deal to stay with the Green Bay Packers. After two off seasons, former New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks accepted a one-year, $3.5 million deal that could go to $5.5 million based on incentives with the Indianapolis Colts.

Do one-year gambles in free agency work?

Well, it's a 50-50 shot. Defensive lineman Michael Bennett had a torn labrum that might have needed surgery heading into the 2013 free-agency season. He accepted a one-year, $4.8 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks and parlayed that into a 2014 free-agent deal that guarantees him $16 million over the next two years.

Former Carolina Panthers safety Mike Mitchell turned last year's one-year, $1 million contract into a five-year, $25 million deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cornerback Brent Grimes took a one-year, $5.5 million contract from the Miami Dolphins and ended up getting $32 million for four years.

Sometimes, they don't work.

Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie took a one-year, $5 million flyer to be with the Denver Broncos last year. The gamble worked to a degree. The Broncos offered him a six-year, $54 million contract, but he turned it down. Instead, they gave big money to cornerback Aqib Talib, who signed for $9.8 million a year after doing a one-year, $5 million gamble with the New England Patriots in 2013.

The lesson learned is that rolling the dice for a big contract can work, but you have to be careful not to overreach. Missing the mark could cost a player millions.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is looking to cash in after showcasing himself on a one-year deal in Denver.

Rodgers-Cromartie visited the Giants over the weekend and still hopes to land a big deal.

The $10 million cap increase this year has allowed more players to get deals surpassing $6 million a year than in 2012 or 2013. Upcoming projected cap increases could open up more opportunities for players to land big bucks.

Getting those big contracts is one thing; keeping them is another. Darrelle Revis got $16 million a year from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013, but he didn't get any future guarantees. The Bucs cut him, but he did OK with a $12 million deal for 2014 in New England.

Others aren't as fortunate. Former San Diego Chargers cornerback Derek Cox thought he had four-year, $20 million security in San Diego. After one year, he was cut and had to take the NFL minimum with the Minnesota Vikings.

Patrick Chung and Isaac Sopoaga are looking for work after each signing three-year deals in 2013 for more than $3 million a year.

Nicks made a good decision going to the Colts. Andrew Luck can help him get the catches to be in position for a long-term contract next year. We'll see how Raji does. Regardless, going short term can create long-term problems for security and money.

From the inbox

Q: Now that Justin Tuck has gone to Oakland in free agency, what do you think the chances are that the Giants may be in contact with the Rams for a trade if Houston decides to pass on Jadeveon Clowney? The Giants have always loved the idea of being extremely deep at the outside pass-rushing position, and this was one of the main reasons they won their recent Super Bowls. Do you see the Rams tempted by the idea of only dropping back to the 12th pick, giving them back-to-back selections in addition to a later-round pick from the Giants or future picks as well?

Aiden in Niskayuna, N.Y.

A: There is no chance the Giants can move up that far to be in a position to get the No. 2 pick. First of all, this is one of the best drafts in more than a decade. The Rams would be crazy to move back to No. 12. Plus, the Giants would have to give up too many draft choices to move up to that spot. Trading up overall will be more expensive than usual because of the quality of the players. Look at the 2011 draft, from which 12 of the top 16 choices already have made trips to the Pro Bowl. Drafting in the top seven this year gives a team a potential top-of-the-position player for the next four to eight years. If the Rams trade back, they aren't going to trade too far back.

Q: Longtime Steelers fan here. I am hoping you can shed some light on a question that I haven't been able to find an answer to anywhere. Is it at all possible for the Steelers to use some the approximately $8 million they will get in cap space on June 1 for the release of LaMarr Woodley now? For example, could they sign a player to a minimum contract now and have it written into the contract that on June 1 it would automatically be bumped up to four years for $20 million. Or, conversely, can they put themselves over the cap with the knowledge that they will be back under when June 1 comes?

Thomas in Bellevue, Pa.

A: The Steelers must wait until June 1 to use any of the space gained from cutting Woodley. Regardless, they have plenty of room now to sign smaller deals. They can also rework contracts if they want to get more immediate cap room. They have had the room to pay $5 million a year for safety Mike Mitchell and $2 million a year for nose tackle Cam Thomas. They will be looking to sign an inexpensive wide receiver as soon as they find one they like.

Q: Is the NFL becoming a four-team league? Free agency has seen an arms race develop between the Broncos and the Patriots in the AFC. We've already witnessed the arms race in the NFC West with the Seahawks and 49ers. Panthers, Colts and even Cardinals fans will argue their team can challenge the "big four," but I cannot see anyone displacing any of these teams in the conference championship games this season, regardless of what else happens going forward in free agency and the draft. Just my opinion, but I don't think any other teams are close.

Tom in Boston

A: Don't count out New Orleans. Still, New England and Denver have stepped up. They were the best teams in the AFC last year, and now they are even better with what they did the first week of free agency. It's an interesting dynamic, though. San Francisco and Seattle have young quarterbacks who aren't paid much. They have the flexibility to add an extra few players. The Patriots and Broncos each have a high-paid quarterback who is toward the end of his career, and they are going for it. It should make for a fun season.

Q: What drives the quarterback market? How is it that teams allow QBs to eat up 18-30 percent of a team's cap space. I know they are important, but I think their cap numbers need to be skewed down. I see why QBs are so hated by others. They eat up so much money in the cap. It will get to the point where a team will only have a three- to six-year window per QB to win. After that, they will look to the rookies to come in at a 300 percent lower price until all the high-priced QBs are cut and forced to take smaller contracts closer to $10 million-$15 million a year.

Matthew in Richmond, Va.

A: Quarterbacks eat up that much cap room because they are the most important players on any team. Great quarterbacks make bad teams good and can take a good team to the Super Bowl. Why should they take less pay? Top baseball players are making $20 million. That's where the quarterback numbers are heading. Football is the most popular sport. The cap is going to go up in future years because of the popularity of the league. Teams just have to figure out the cap because they know what top quarterbacks cost.

Q: I am about as die-hard a Texans/NFL fan as they come. But so far I feel the Texans are getting worse by not trying to re-sign Wade Smith and Antonio Smith. I fear that if we don't do something positive with that No. 1 pick now, we will become like the Bills or something. What do you think?

Thomas in Los Angeles

A: The Texans are more talented than last year's record showed. They had a nice little run for the previous few years, but they need to retool some areas. Matt Schaub played himself out of the starting job, so a new quarterback is needed. I think they will take Clowney with the first pick and then get a quarterback in the second round. They have a good general manager in Rick Smith. He'll make good moves. Just be patient.

Q: With the Eagles taking a "take care of your own" strategy, how do the free agents come into play with a team like that? Will they be looking for players that have good heads on their shoulders who are smart and will jell within the locker room over an outstanding player that is a hot head? The team did much better last year with lesser-known players then they did with the big-priced superstars.

Alex in Athens, Ohio

A: I like what the Eagles are doing. They have taken care of their own, but they also are grabbing good opportunities. Darren Sproles became available, and they jumped on that opportunity. They needed a safety, so they signed a good one (Malcolm Jenkins). They have more than $19 million of cap room and will see if there are more players out there to upgrade their roster. They sit No. 1 in the NFC East, and they've already become a better team on paper.