- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 31, 2017

Terrelle Pryor sat at his locker in Redskins Park and went over the pros and cons of playing in the NFL on a one-year contract. The wide receiver is in this particular locker room because of a one-year, $6 million deal he signed in March.

Pryor, who spent last year with the Cleveland Browns before entering free agency in the offseason, said he passed on deals that ranged from $40 million to $50 million over four to five years.

For Pryor, who caught 77 passes for 1,007 yards last season, locking himself into a multi-year deal at only $10 million per seemed shortsighted.

“At the end of the day, no matter who it is, you deserve what you deserve,” Pryor said. “If you’re not doing good, you’re going to get [cut] anyway. So what’s the difference?”

Pryor, like a lot of NFL players, is dealing with the harsh reality of life in a “what-have-you-done-lately” league.

Unlike in the NBA or MLB, in the NFL, franchises are loathe to hand out guaranteed long-term deals. The Redskins are no exception.

According to Spotrac.com, Washington has 18 players — headlined by quarterback Kirk Cousins — who will be unrestricted free agents by season’s end. Only six teams in the league will have more.

Why does this matter? Think back to the summer when the contract carousel between Cousins and the team unfolded and the Redskins released a public statement saying Cousins turned down $53 million guaranteed for a long-term extension.

In a July radio interview with 106.7 The Fan, Cousins said he needed more time to process the direction the Redskins are headed before committing long term.

“It’s helpful to see how a year goes and helpful to see how the roster is going to change,” Cousins said.

Cousins, in other words, is no longer auditioning for the Redskins. This season, the Redskins are auditioning for the seven-year veteran quarterback.

Rent-a-team

Offering players one-year “prove-it” deals is nothing new in the NFL — they are the majority of the contracts signed by free agents throughout the league, according to Spotrac.com, a website that tracks and analyzes professional sports contracts.

This year, of the contracts detailed on Spotrac, 64.6 percent of the unrestricted free agents who ended up signing a deal with a new team agreed to a one-year contract — and that doesn’t include multi-year contracts that teams can treat, essentially, like one-year deals. Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger, for example, is signed to a 3-year, 13.5 million deal, but it will result in only $2.5 million in dead money if the team cuts him after this season.

In Washington, 44 percent (4-of-9) of the Redskins’ free agent class agreed to one-year deals — including Pryor, Brian Quick and linebackers Zach Brown and Chris Carter.

While the Redskins’ rank near the bottom of the league in signing players to one-year contracts this offseason, they rank near the top of the league with 18 players set for unrestricted free agency in 2018.

The Indianapolis Colts and the Minnesota Vikings are tied with Washington in that category. However, six teams rank ahead of them: Chicago (26 scheduled UFAs), Arizona (23), Detroit (21) Seattle (21), the New York Giants (20) and Buffalo (19).

Of that group, the majority already have at least another year committed to their starting quarterback— including the Lions, who signed Matthew Stafford to a five-year, $135 million deal last week. That deal, which made him the highest paid player in the NFL, reset the quarterback market.

In Cousins‘ case, the franchise tag admittedly made negotiations trickier.

But during his radio interview, Cousins specifically named Pryor, running back Chris Thompson, linebacker Will Compton, center Spencer Long and cornerback Bashaud Breeland as guys “I’m counting on” that are also entering in the final year of their contract.

“We all understand that what we do on the field and what we do together as a team will ultimately decide what happens in that area,” Thompson said.

Thompson will become an unrestricted free agent for the first time. The 26-year-old said he isn’t worried about a new deal now, but did discuss his options with his agent in the offseason. He signed a one-year tender with the Redskins in April.

“The same group of guys we have this year, we know they won’t be the same next year,” Thompson said. “So it’s more of having a focus of what we’re doing this year and trying to make some great things happen now.”

Salary cap space, as well as the willingness to spend it, will also play a factor in the Redskins’ future. OvertheCap.com projects the Redskins to have $59.3 million in cap room for 2018 — the third highest in the league.

The Redskins have never been shy about opening the checkbook.

Since 2012, the Redskins have finished in the top 10 three times in total money and guaranteed money spent across the league. They’ve averaged spending $71.5 million in total contracts per offseason in that span, $32.7 million of that guaranteed.

Taking a gamble

Pryor wasn’t the only receiver to set eyes on restoring their value in the NFC East. Alshon Jeffery signed a one-year, $9.5 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Jeffery, who had a Pro Bowl season in 2013, posted two 1,000-plus yard seasons in his second and third years, but injuries and a four-game PED suspension over the next two seasons led to debate over his value.

Like Pryor, Jeffery was seeking top money but decided to take a prove-it deal.

“I think some guys have baggage,” Pryor said. “Alshon a great talent, but I guess they had questions or other teams may have had questions, and it wasn’t a contract he was looking for. I’m sure he wants to go out and prove it. I’m sure he will. He’s a great talent.”

Baggage? It begs the question: did Pryor think teams viewed him the same way? After all, Pryor is a former quarterback-turned-receiver who only made the switch two years ago.

“Yeah,” Pryor said. “I just think, there’s my yards after catch, I’ve got to get better at that. And if you watch the film, it was tough because every single time I caught the ball, a lot of times, guys were right around me because I’m sure I was one of the red dots on the team. When teams are game planning, they’re really paying attention to me.”

Pryor only managed 189 yards after the catch — an average of 2.5 yards per reception.

Pryor wants to be paid like a top receiver, where the top deals have ranged from $13-17 million per year for players like Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and A.J. Green. If that means waiting a year, Pryor is willing to gamble on himself. He said he wanted to go it somewhere he felt gave him the best chance to succeed. He wanted to play with Cousins.

“I feel that I had a decent season last year, [but] I could be even more dominant,” Pryor said. “I think I have a lot to prove.”

He isn’t alone. Breeland, for example, has seen his relationship with the Redskins’ fan base deteriorate after an inconsistent 2016 season as the starting cornerback opposite Josh Norman. Even among the coaching staff, Breeland has caused frustration. Coach Jay Gruden kicked him out of practicing in Richmond for jamming Pryor during a walk-through.

“If I wasn’t doing what I be doing in my first couple years, I wouldn’t be here to talk to you about a contract,” Breeland said in Richmond. “So it’s no pressure. It’s all love and fun. I’m just going out here to be the best player I can be. For whatever play they pay me that I am, they play me for the player I am.”

Compton, meanwhile, said he doesn’t think about his contract situation because of his path in the NFL as an undrafted free agent.

“Shoot, I’m somebody that can be gone in a year, based on how I came to the league, so I never thought about a three or four year deal or anything like that,” Compton said. “It’s always year-to-year. … If you get too involved in that, that stuff can be out of your control, and that can be detrimental.”

For the Redskins, that might ring truer this year.

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