FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- March brings the start of free agency that much closer. Teams can negotiate with player agents for unrestricted free agents from other teams starting Monday, with free agency officially starting on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, teams can negotiate extensions with their own free agents at any point up until that time, which highlights the importance of understanding the financial market at various positions.
With this in mind, after looking closer at a potential market for left tackle Nate Solder, free-agent-to-be running back Dion Lewis, and starting cornerback and Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler, let's focus on receiver Danny Amendola.
Unique situation: Amendola has accepted pay cuts in each of the past three seasons with the New England Patriots. Most recently, in 2017, he had a maximum compensation of $1.7 million. Amendola significantly outperformed that contract, and while the Patriots generally don't pay for past performance as much as what is projected in the future, Amendola warrants serious consideration for some leeway in that area given what he has sacrificed for the club financially for three years. He is, in some respects, a special case. Amendola has expressed his desire to stay in New England, while acknowledging the business side of the game is a factor.
Market watch: Viewing Amendola as purely slot receiver, a player like the Dallas Cowboys wideout Cole Beasley could be in the conversation as a comparable player. Beasley signed a four-year, $13.6 million deal in 2015. Beasley is going to be 29 in April, so the age factor means it isn't an apples-to-apples situation with the 32-year-old Amendola. But with Amendola likely looking at a one-year deal, a pact that could total $3.4 million in maximum value (which is the per-year average of Beasley's deal) wouldn't be out of line with the current market. There really isn't another pure 30-year-old slot receiver in the NFL, in a similar system to the Patriots, that helps shape a clear-cut market for Amendola (49.9 percent of the offensive snaps in 2017). Washington's Jamison Crowder, who enters the final year of his rookie deal in 2018, is another shifty slot receiver (66 catches last season) and he's due to make $1.9 million in base salary this season. That number figures to grow in his second NFL contract.
Patriots' cost replacement analysis: As director of player personnel Nick Caserio recently explained at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, when it comes to a free agent, "There is a cost component that certainly comes into play relative to their role and relative to the replacement cost or replacement player behind them." In this case, there isn't a clear-cut proven replacement for Amendola, who seems to rise up when the stakes are highest. Brandin Cooks ($8.459 million cap charge), Julian Edelman ($4.16 million cap charge), Chris Hogan ($3.28 million cap charge), Kenny Britt ($1.95 million cap charge) and Phillip Dorsett ($1.54 million cap charge) are the top receivers under contract. Iowa's Riley McCarron spent last season on the practice squad and is a developmental slot receiver.
Final analysis: The easiest deals to strike are when both sides are motivated to get it done, and that's likely the case with the Patriots and Amendola. The team saw firsthand the value he has, particularly in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Amendola seems to appreciate playing in New England. That's a solid framework to strike a one-year deal that figures to have a maximum value floor of $1.8 million (a slight increase from last year) to a ceiling in the Beasley range (maximum value of $3.4 million).