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NFL teams overpaying free agents is a rich offseason tradition

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Nick Foles is getting overpaid and it’s not at all surprising.

The Jacksonville Jaguars made a silly decision when they agreed to a four-year, $88 million deal with Nick Foles.

He’s not going to fix a Jaguars’ offense that has holes at every spot, he’s not much of an upgrade over Blake Bortles, and Jacksonville was reportedly bidding against itself for Foles. According to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, part of the reason the Jaguars gave Foles as much as they did was so his teammates in the locker room would respect him as the team leader.

There’s no doubt it, the Jaguars overpaid. But the numbers of the contract aren’t that laughable. Foles got a deal in the range that was to be expected from the start.

When he signs the deal — which is expected to happen Wednesday — Foles’ $22 million per year average will be the 11th-highest among quarterbacks. That’s above-average-starter money for a player who isn’t quite that, even if does have a Super Bowl MVP on his résumé.

But that’s just how free agency works. Foles and quarterbacks aren’t the only beneficiaries either. He was just one of several players to cash in big.

Bidding wars force overpaying

When a player is coveted by one team more than the other 31 teams, that player isn’t going to get an average amount. They’re going to get a lot.

According to Terez Paylor of Yahoo Sports, the Houston Texans offered Tyrann Mathieu a long-term deal that averaged over $9.5 million per year. By the time a bidding war between the Chiefs and Texans was over, Mathieu agreed to a contract worth an average of $14 million with Kansas City.

That’s pretty much how Monday and Tuesday — the two days of legal tampering — looked for most contracts. Aside from Foles and Mathieu, here were a few more gigantic deals agreed upon:

  • Landon Collins to Washington on a six-year, $84 million contract
  • Trey Flowers to the Lions on a five-year, $90 million contract
  • C.J. Mosley to the Jets on a five-year, $85 million contract
  • Za’Darius Smith to the Packers on a four-year, $66 million contract

It’s gobs of money that’ll make Mathieu and Collins the two highest-paid safeties in the league, Flowers the second-highest paid defensive end, and Mosley and Smith the third- and fourth-highest paid linebackers, respectively.

That’s extremely pricy, but it shouldn’t be surprising.

The spiking salary cap means huge contracts don’t matter much

The NFL set the salary cap for the 2019 season at $188.2 million — making seven straight years it rose by at least $10 million.

In 2013, the cap was set at $123 million. The over 50 percent increase in the last six years has given teams more than enough room to throw around money to lock down premium players.

According to The Ringer, only 13 NFL teams had more than $5 million in cap space during the 2014 season. In 2016, 23 teams had at least $5 million in room. Right now, there isn’t a team in the league that has less than $5 million in cap space, according to Over The Cap.

Every once in a while, a team has to do some wriggling to get out of cap trouble. For example, the Jaguars needed to part with Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, and Carlos Hyde to clear the space necessary to go after Foles.

Ultimately, the salary cap means few teams are actually out of the running for big free agents. That increased competition and increased money to spend means the contracts are only going to continue to get bigger.

So next year, when an average quarterback, at best, gets way too much money — like Foles did, or Case Keenum did in 2018, or Mike Glennon in 2017, and so on and so on — don’t be surprised. That’s just the way the system works.