Estimating the Value of Santonio Holmes
As it becomes clearer and clearer that unrestricted free agency will basically return to the old CBA rules I’ll turn my attention over to the Jets other star WR Santonio Holmes. Holmes was a big offseason addition by the Jets in 2010 and had some big moments with the team where his late game heroics helped the Jets win a few games they probably should have lost. Head coach Rex Ryan clearly loves him and the Jets were caught on camera last training camp stating that he was the best player on the field. The question is how much of that love will translate into the money that Holmes is going to want to get.
We will start to define Holmes’ value by trying to find some comparables with Holmes at the time of their contracts. I found it very difficult to find a large sample of good comparisons to Holmes because his age combined with his statistics is somewhat unique. Over the past 3 years Holmes yearly output average, when adjusted for 16 games, is:
69 Receptions, 1047 yards, 15.1 YPR, 6 TDs
Those type of numbers are in line with a number of veterans such as Anquan Boldin, Hines Ward, and Derrick Mason at the time of their contract signings, but those players are a poor gauge for how much a young player in his prime is worth. Other similar players like Marques Colston or Dwayne Bowe have yet to enter the market and will likely see their deals based on what a player like Holmes receives. Here is the best grouping I could come up with that performed similar to Holmes at the time they signed their new contracts.
Three Year Statistical Averages
|Name||Games Per Year||Rec. Per Game||Yards Per Game||TD Per Game||% Targets Caught|
It should be noted that two of the players, Greg Jennings and Roddy White, have their stats significantly skewed due to the season stats that were three years prior to a contract signing.
There is one area where Holmes stands out and two areas where he is lacking. Considering Holmes has played on the Jets and Steelers, two teams built around running the football, the fact that he has the second most receptions per game during a three year period is impressive. The other names all come from pass first teams, especially Wayne whose stats are so much higher because of the Colt offense he played on. It gives the impression that he can be more than a one trick pony running the sidelines the way Evans was.
The two worries would be touchdowns scored and percentage of targets caught. Holmes has yet to have that breakout season as a scoring threat. Back in 2007 he did haul in 8 scores in only 13 games, but after that went for 5, 5, and 6. Other than Roy Williams, none of the others did so little leading up to a new contract. The other slight worry is percentage of targets caught, where he ranks dead last. That could indicate that he is not getting the separation some others get or perhaps a lack of concentration, something that the Jets fans saw a few times last year with some terrible drops. He has improved the last two seasons, but needs to be better to justify the big contract.
Lets take a look at the following contracts:
Wide Receiver Contracts
|Name||Age||Years|| Avg. Per Year
As we look at where he will rank in this group there are a few things to consider. He is not going to show the steady improvement that White and Jennings showed leading up to their deal. Jennings grew from 45 to 71 to 81 YPG. White went from 32 to 76 to 86. Holmes has gone 54 to 78 to 62. That is much more in line with the others on the list, including Wayne who went 52 to 76 to 66, almost identical numbers to Holmes.
Holmes also has yet to claim that number one status outright. In Pittsburgh he was always on even footing with Hines Ward, who put up similar stats and was the end zone target of the team. On the Jets he and Edwards were looked at as equals. The only others to not be the clearcut number 1 at the time of the signing were Wayne and Williams, though Williams was a 1 a one point in Detroit and I think the majority opinion was Wayne was a 1 that happened to be on a team with a Hall of Famer in Marvin Harrison.
Is there a fear factor involved with signing Holmes? Holmes’ max value came off his 2009 season with the Steelers. Since then he has been suspended for 4 games due to a drug policy violation and saw his numbers fall with his new team. The falling numbers is a big reason why so many players who get traded demand new contracts when they are traded for, but Holmes was not in a position to do that last season. Another drug offense and he will be gone for a year. So he is not in the strongest of bargaining positions when it comes to guarantees.
If I had to guess, Holmes’ team is going to try to look at the contracts given to Miles Austin and Williams by the Dallas Cowboys as a starting point in negotiations. Both were terrible contracts given by an owner who fell in love with short term production he saw on the field and dreams of using the uncapped year to his advantage. Williams is a total bust and Austin’s stats fell off his career year.
I think when you look at the numbers, Holmes does not have the upside of Jennings or White but is the better player than Evans. Jennings and White were both extensions of existing contracts and may have made slightly more money if the threat of free agency was more real. Holmes is more valuable than Evans. All things considered I think the best comparison is Wayne in terms of statistical production and potential upside.
The best way I can think of to adjust Wayne’s contract to todays money is to look at the growth of the franchise tag from 2006 to either 2007 or 2008, which is when the wide receiver market was set by Steve Smith and Larry Fitzgerald respectively. That would put the Wayne contract in the $8.4 million range, which falls nicely in between Evans deal and the White contract.
So I think these are the baseline numbers for Holmes. At the low end would be $8.3 million per year and the highest end would be $8.8 million. The next questions comes in terms of years and guarantees. White signed for more years and a bit less money per year than Jennings and in return got a larger guarantee and virtual guarantee on his contract. Holmes is the same age White was and two years older than Jennings at the time of signing, which probably indicates Holmes will look for the added years and larger guarantee than the second shot at free agency that Jennings will get.
So we are probably looking at a 5 year contract with a guarantee somewhere in the range of $18 million and cash payouts of $28.5-30 million in the first three years of the deal. The total value of the contact will be around $42.25 million. Because of the drug issue this will probably be a more complex contract than some of the other deals the Jets have signed. It will probably preclude the Jets from using option bonuses or straightforward roster bonuses in the deal. Most likely the Jets will need to pay larger salaries or signing bonus money up front so that they can get the money back in the event of a violation and then use a second prorated bonus in year 3 after Holmes proves he can “stay clean”.
One thing that I had not realized before looking closer at the situation is why the Jets had not chosen to franchise Holmes. I always thought it made the most sense to franchise him rather than LB David Harris because the Jets barely got a look at Holmes last season and it would be beneficial for them to see more of him before making a commitment. However the franchise tag for WR’s went crazy because of the uncapped year and the Austin contract in particular, making it a poorer option.
Secondly after looking at the market the Jets are in a position of strength. Holmes isn’t coming off a career year and he has a potential suspension looming at all times. There are not really many contracts for Holmes to point to as starting points in 2011. Most of the under contract comparables are older players who don’t get much money because they are considered to be on their last legs. There is no Nnamdi Asomugha out was the case for the Darrelle Revis negotiation. After this season, however, there are a number of potential players to hit the market who may reset the middle upper tier of the market and push Holmes’ value much higher. It makes all the sense in the world to lock Holmes up now rather than waiting for another year and seeing the market grow.
A big question among Jets fans has been can the team afford both Holmes and Edwards, also a free agent. It’s really become a hot topic, but I think part of the panic comes from the fact that we, as fans, really overrate our favorite players. When we looked at Edwards back in February, it was very clear that, while Edwards may have the pedigree of a 1 because of his size and former draft status, his statistical production is nowhere near that of a number 1. Holmes is a very good player, but is not going to be earning $10 million per year like the elite receivers.
Its certainly possible to tie both up. If the Jets did a pure 5 year contract Holmes would likely have to carry a $5-6 million cap hit in the first two years of the deal and then be about $10 million per year thereafter. If the team threw a bogus year on the end of the contract you might be able to get things a bit lower. Edwards can probably get as low as 4 million in the first year of a straight contract and probably peak at $7.5 million in cap commitments. Considering a player like Jerricho Cotchery is going to cost between 3.3 and 3.8 million a year in cap space its really a small amount extra to keep Edwards and Holmes in Jets green. If the alternative plan to Holmes/Edwards is Holmes/Cotchery you are essentially talking about nothing worse than an extra $3.5 million in the worst of years for Edwards and in many years it’s a push. My own opinion is that Edwards brings much more to a teams offense than Cotchery because of his size and ability to stretch the field, a trait that players don’t usually lose as they get older.
However, signing Edwards and Holmes would not allow the Jets to sign a name third target and it would definitely signal the end of Cotchery’s stay with the team in 2012. The Jets third target for the foreseeable future would be the low level draft selections or fading veterans willing to play the slot for a chance to hang on. That is the real price of keeping Holmes.