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Grading the big contract extensions of the 2016 NFL offseason

The Philadelphia Eagles shelled out a lot of money, but were largely prudent in their efforts to stay ahead of the market.

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James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL offseason can get contentious for players who don't get the contract extension they believe they deserve. Sometimes, it leads to high-profile holdouts and public complaints. For others, the offseason can mean a pay day and good vibes heading into the next season.

That's what it certainly means for Andrew Luck, who signed the richest contract in league history. The Indianapolis Colts inked Luck to a six-year, $140 million deal with $87 million guaranteed, which is quite a way to thank him for standing behind a horrendous offensive line and getting pulverized for the first four years of his career. Despite Luck's disappointing 2015 campaign, he probably feels quite good heading into training camp.

Von Miller, meanwhile, looks to be far from a contract agreement with the Denver Broncos, and has even taken to cropping John Elway out of his Instagram to show his discontent with negotiations. But his teammate, linebacker Brandon Marshall, has nothing but good things to say about the Broncos after receiving a four-year extension worth $32 million.

"For them to see me as an integral part of this team and of the defense, that's huge," Marshall said. "It speaks volumes. It means a lot to me that they believe in me because there are so many people that didn't."

That vote of confidence for the most important players on the roster can be important and eliminate potential drama in the offseason that comes with a player skipping camp practices. But there's always the danger of sinking money into a player who won't live up to the paychecks.

Michael Bennett has spent much of the last couple years hoping for a new contract with the Seattle Seahawks. It hasn't seemed to negatively impact his play on the field, but he doesn't much care to see other players get big extensions in the offseason.

"I pay more attention to things like Donald Trump and stuff like that, political campaigns going on right now, different things going on in the world," Bennett said. "Too much beef — people eating too much beef — stuff like that. I don't really pay attention to too many contracts. It'll make your stomach hurt. It's like seeing your favorite girlfriend get married to someone else."

But unlike Bennett, we do pay attention to contracts. And give our best try at grading the biggest deals given during the 2016 offseason:

Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts

Contract details: six years, $140 million
Guaranteed money: $87 million

Even if Luck didn't sign a contract extension, he was going to get a pay raise this season. His fifth-year option tender was worth $16.2 million, which is roughly $13 million more than his base salary in 2015. The Colts were ready to allocate a significant percentage of their payroll to Luck anyway, so they decided to go for the jugular.

Luck's $87 million blows away the guaranteed money Cam Newton and Russell Wilson, his two top contemporaries, received in their second deals. (Newton got $60 million from Carolina and Wilson raked in $61.5 million from Seattle.) Both deals were signed prior to last year, where Newton captured the MVP award and Wilson posted the most profile prolific passing numbers of his career.

Though Luck missed nine games in 2015 with a lacerated kidney and only completed 55.3 percent of his passes, the 2012 No. 1 overall pick led the league in touchdown passes two years ago. Luck's recent struggles would appear to be more of an indictment on the Colts' porous offensive line than any sudden decline in his abilities.

The Colts spent an enormous amount of money here, obviously, but they didn't have a choice. If they didn't give Luck this record-setting deal, another team probably would've in free agency next spring. Now the question is whether they can actually build an offensive line and formidable defense, which they've largely failed to do since Luck came aboard.

Grade: A-

Brandon Marshall, LB, Denver Broncos

Contract details: four years, $32 million
Guaranteed money: $15 million

On a team that featured defensive stars like Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib, as well as rising impact players like Derek Wolfe, it was almost easy to forget about Marshall in the middle. But he has been very good for two years -- in fact, he's a top-five linebacker in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

Still just 26 years old, it's hard to find any reason why locking up Marshall through the 2020 season is a bad move for Denver. In the next five seasons with the Broncos, Marshall is due to make more than $34 million, and while the details of how that money is spread hasn't yet been released, it looks like a steal for Denver.

As the salary cap rises, prices for top players will continue to go up, but the Broncos have a great, young linebacker at an average of just under $7 million per year until he's 31. It's an unequivocally good deal for the Broncos.

Grade: A

Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers

Contract details: four years, $45 million
Guaranteed money: $20 million

In addition to the $45 million that Allen is set to receive before the end of the 2020 season, there is an additional $4 million in incentives available if he reaches some milestones. All he needs is to be a productive receiver for a winning team in San Diego and he'll maximize the full $49 million of the deal.

But even if he doesn't, it's a pricey and risky deal for a player who hasn't stayed healthy throughout his football career. Allen tore his PCL in college, which contributed to his fall to the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Then he suffered a sprained ankle and broken collarbone in 2014 and a kidney laceration in 2015.

On the field, he's been excellent. Allen racked up 67 receptions for 725 yards and four touchdowns in only eight games in 2015, which is well worth the average of just over $11 million that he's due to receive. But the risk of injury is one of the biggest dangers of paying any player, let alone making that player one of the top 10 highest-paid at his position.

Grade: B-

Allen Hurns, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

Contract details: four years, $40 million
Guaranteed money: $20 million

Hurns, 24, is already in the record books just two years after joining the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent. He collected 1,031 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns last season, becoming the youngest undrafted player in history to reach the 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown plateau.

Alongside Allen Robinson, Hurns is a part of one of the most promising young receiving tandems in the NFL. Quarterback Blake Bortles threw for 35 touchdowns last season -- tied for second in the league -- with Robinson and Hurns snatching 24 of them.

Hurns' $10 million per year salary ties him with Randall Cobb as the 10th-highest paid receiver in football, but the Jaguars still had almost $50 million in cap space before they signed the deal. There are worse ways to spend excess cash than locking up a talented young receiver who's seemingly meshed with his young quarterback.

Grade: A-

Fletcher Cox, DT, Philadelphia Eagles

Contract details: six years, $103 million
Guaranteed money:$63 million

The Eagles have given Cox the most guaranteed money to a non-quarterback in NFL history, but that shouldn't last for long with Broncos linebacker Von Miller set to sign a new deal soon. In order to understand Cox's contract, it's necessary to put it into context with the open market.

Cox, 25, is a rising star on the defensive side of the ball. He recorded a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2015, which earned him his first Pro Bowl appearance. He also led the Eagles with 24 tackles for a loss or no gain last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Nine-figure contracts are now the going rate for top defensive linemen. J.J. Watt inked a $100 million extension with $51 million guaranteed two years ago and the Dolphins signed Ndamukong Suh to a $114 million deal with more than $59 million guaranteed last spring. Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who was Pro Football Focus' highest-graded player in the league in 2015, will likely break both of those contracts once his rookie contract expires.

With the direction the market is going, it's smart for the Eagles to lock up Cox before he reaches free agency. He'll receive $55 million in guaranteed money by March 2017, guaranteeing that he'll collect most of his money while he's still in the prime of his career.

Plus, if Carson Wentz wins the starting quarterback job, the Eagles will be able to allocate resources elsewhere while he plays out his rookie deal. As long as Wentz emerges, Cox's deal shouldn't handicap the Eagles financially.

Grade: A-

Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

Contract details: three years, $15.5 million
Guaranteed money: $5 million

Bernard's contract extension with the Bengals may be more about circumstance than anything else. Bernard's number of carries has decreased every season of his career, falling from 170 during his rookie campaign to 154 last season. But with the unreliable Jeremy Hill behind him at running back -- remember, Hill's fumble in the waning moments of the Wild Card round played the biggest role in costing the Bengals that game -- Cincinnati had little choice but to re-up Bernard.

One area where Bernard could have a greater effect on the Bengals is the passing game. He caught 51 passes last season, and that number is likely to increase with the free agent departures of wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones.

Grade: B

Harrison Smith, S, Minnesota Vikings

Contract details: five years, $51.25 million
Guaranteed: $15 million

After being named as a first-team All-Pro for two consecutive seasons, Smith has established himself as one of the best safeties in the NFL. He's now the highest-paid safety in the league, too, and is a building block for the Vikings going forward.

Over the last two years, the Vikings have inked tight end Kyle Rudolph, wide receiver Jarius Wright, guard Brandon Fusco and kicker Blair Walsh to new deals. They're signing up the young core that led them to a surprising NFC North crown last season, which means it was necessary to lock down Smith for the next several years.

Smith, 27, was exemplary in all facets of the game in 2015. Despite missing three games, he was tied for fifth in sacks and second in QB hits among safeties last year while also coming down with two interceptions. The Vikings payed a lot to keep Smith, but he's worth it.

Grade: A

Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens

Contract details: three years, $66.4 million
Guaranteed money: $44 million

Flacco has earned gobs of money since winning the Super Bowl in 2013. His four-year earnings is now at $106 million and he is currently the highest-paid player in the league, surpassing Aaron Rodgers and his $22.1 million yearly salary.

It's too bad his performance hasn't been nearly as impressive as his paycheck.

Though Flacco still had two years remaining on his previous megadeal in 2013, the Ravens signed this extension in order to trim down his cap hit this season from $28 million to $22.5 million. But then his cap hit jumps back up to north of $24 million in 2017 and 2018. Given the astronomical dead money charges on Flacco -- $47.3 million in 2017 -- he's locked in to be the Ravens' starting quarterback until at least 2019, when his dead money charge falls to $16 million.

Given their lack of salary cap space, the Ravens had little choice but to restructure Flacco's deal this offseason. But this is a big price to pay for a quarterback who's posted an average passer rating of 82 since Baltimore captured the Lombardi Trophy three seasons ago.

Grade: C

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots*

Contract details: two years, $41 million
Guaranteed money: $28 million

Brady is going to take a financial hit if he's suspended for the first four games of the season, but the Patriots have found a way to lessen the potential blow. Brady's new base salaries for 2016 and 2017 are $1 million, with the bulk of his earnings being spread out over a $28 million signing bonus. Under Brady's previous deal, he was due to make base salaries of $9 million and $10 million over the next two years.

Players only forfeit their base salary when suspended, meaning Brady will lose less than $250,000 if he's out of action for the first quarter of the season. It's a brilliant way for the Patriots and Brady to skirt around the NFL.

Given that Brady, 38, has played arguably the best football of his career over the last couple of years, the Patriots were more than willing to extend him through 2019. Since there's no more guaranteed money past 2017, the team will be back in the driver's seat once Brady reaches his 40s.

*for DeflateGate salary manipulation

Grade: A

Five more Eagles extensions

Zach Ertz, TE: five years, $42.5 million with $20 million guaranteed
Brent Celek, TE: three years, $13 million with $6 million guaranteed
Lane Johnson, OT: five years, $63 million with $35.5 million guaranteed
Vinny Curry, DE: five years, $47.2 million with $23 million guaranteed
Malcolm Jenkins, S: four years, $35 million with $21 guaranteed

The Eagles are paying Ertz like he's one of the top tight ends in the league, which makes their decision to invest significant money in Celek a bit curious. Though the Eagles lowered Celek's 2016 cap number with this extension, he was no longer due any guaranteed money under his old deal.

Ertz, 25, has recorded 169 catches for 2,024 yards and nine touchdowns in his three-year career. Those are solid numbers, but the Eagles are expecting an uptick in Ertz's performance in order for this deal to be worth it.

On the offensive line, it's clear the Eagles view Johnson as their left tackle of the future once the 34-year-old Jason Peters moves on. Johnson is overpaid at the moment -- the 2013 No. 4 overall pick still struggles in pass protection at times -- but it was smart for the Eagles to sign him before the two tackles selected ahead of him in the draft, Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel, agree to new contracts. The Eagles are setting the market rather than following it.

Much like Johnson, Curry's new extension seems to be predicated on him slotting into a new role, as well. Though he's been a reserve defensive lineman for the last three seasons, he's still managed to rack up 16.5 sacks over that time. With new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz set to move to a 4-3, Curry could see a lot more action at defensive end.

As a first-time Pro Bowler, Jenkins seems to be a player on the rise, as well. He's led the team in tackles over the last two seasons and forced more turnovers than any Eagles defender in 2015. Pro Football Focus says the Eagles' safety duo of Jenkins and Walter Thurmond was one of the best in the league last year, and although Thurmond has retired, this contract extension will keep Jenkins in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future.

Grade: B+

Panthers, OL, Michael Oher and Ryan Kalil

Oher: three years, $21.6 million with $9.5 million guaranteed
Kalil: two years, $16.75 million with $13 million guaranteed

When the Panthers failed to re-sign cornerback Josh Norman earlier this offseason, there were questions about how they planned to spend their excess cash. General manager Dave Gettleman has answered those concerns by re-signing six of his own players.

Kalil and Oher were due to be free agents at the end of the season, but now they'll be in Carolina for the foreseeable future. Kalil, 31, is a two-time All-Pro and has started 115 of 118 games over the last nine years. The veteran center is arguably the most valuable member of that line, and it's wise for the Panthers to ensure he'll be under their control as he reaches his mid-30s.

The decision to re-sign Oher is a little more questionable, given his inconsistent play since he entered the league as a first-round pick in 2009. But the deal is market value, so the Panthers didn't overpay.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Panthers had the No. 2 ranked O-line in 2015. It makes sense why Carolina has decided to keep it together.

Grade: B+

Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks

Contract details: four years, $46 million
Guaranteed money: $24.25 million

Even on a team with as much time in the spotlight as the Seattle Seahawks, the numbers posted by Doug Baldwin seemed to fly under the radar a bit in 2015. The fifth-year wide receiver posted career highs in every major category, racking up 1,069 yards and an NFL-leading 14 touchdowns.

His ascension to one of the NFL's elite receivers took time, but he certainly appears to have reached the pinnacle and $11.5 million per year isn't a bad price to pay.

The concern is that Baldwin will turn 28 in September and he has just one 1,000-yard season in his career. He has slowly improved in each season, which indicates a sudden drop-off is unlikely, but committing so much money to a player with just one year performing at that value is a risky proposition, regardless.

The Seahawks might've been able to save a little if the deal was reached earlier, but instead the team had to pay Baldwin just a bit more than Allen Hurns and Keenan Allen. Is Baldwin the most valuable of the three receivers? There's certainly an argument.

Baldwin is a hugely important part of the Seahawks' offense, especially with Marshawn Lynch's retirement and Jimmy Graham's injuries, so locking him up is a good move. The only thing that would've made it better is getting it done before Hurns and Allen pushed the price tag up.

Grade: B+