We have already had several discussions here about how much it will cost to keep Jon Beason. There are those who believe that he will get a deal similar to other top middle/inside linebackers that have went through free agency in the past several years, approximately $5 million a season over a few years. People on the lower end think that factors such as his age, injury history, lack of great speed, and/or a limited market will reduce his price to that of a quality starter, approximately $3 million a year over a few years. I will look at current contract history at the position, and then focus most of my post on the market demand for middle/inside linebackers, the two items which I believe will play the major role in setting his price.
Beason is a seven-year veteran. He already had his first post-rookie contract. The big deals signed by his fellow linebackers such as Tulloch, Lofton, Laurinaitis, Ellerbe, Hawk, Posluszny, Ryans, and Derrick Johnson were all their first free agent contracts. Their teams were paying premiums for those first few years where the players were at their peak. Cushing, Lee, Bowman, Timmons, Washington, Willis, Jerod Mayo (originally inside) and David Harris did not even get that far, signing contract extensions before their rookie contracts expired. Hawk had to take a pay cut before his eighth season, and there are rumors that Ryans will have to take a pay cut before his ninth. There are only two middle/inside linebackers that averaged more than $4 million a season last year on their third or later contracts. One is London Fletcher, now a free agent, a proven rock of durability who made $5 million for the free-spending Dan Snyder. Never missed a game in 15 seasons. Only tackle total under 100 was the 90 he had as a rookie. The second example is D'Qwell Jackson, who played a one-year prove-it deal for the Browns after missing 26 straight games, and who is now on a contract averaging $7 million a year for a team closer to the cap floor than limit.
I have three players as good comparables for Beason. The first is Karlos Dansby, who as a nine-year veteran last year got cut off his big contract by Miami and signed a one-year contract with Arizona for $2.25 million. Dansby has been nothing short of excellent the past few years. AJ Hawk has one more year of experience than Beason. Only missed two games in his career. And last year, had to take a pay cut to less than $4 million a season over the remainder of his contract. Kevin Burnett, an eight-year veteran last year, took a two-year, $5.25 million contract from Oakland, moving to the outside in the process. He was cut from his previous big deal with Miami, and they went and spent big money to replace him and Dansby.
So now that we have identified the salary situations of comparable players, let us look at the job supply. Below is a list of the 32 teams and the players they have available to be given a reasonable shot at starting at MLB/ILB. To shorten the discussion, the following abbreviations are used to describe player status:
DRF - Drafted, expected to compete or being given a shot at a starting job
END - Player is last year of his multi-year free agent contract
MID - Player in the middle of a big contract, dead money implications to cut
NEW - Player signed new, big contract. Team liked him, too expensive to cut
UFA - Unrestricted free agent
NE - Mayo (NEW), Hightower (DRF), Spikes (UFA) - Too many middle guys already
NYJ - Davis (DRF), Harris (END) - Harris drops from $10 mil to $5 mil this year
BUF - Alonso (DRF) - New 4-3 coordinator
MIA - Ellerbe (NEW)
PIT - Timmons (MID), V. Williams (DRF) - Team cap problems
BAL - A. Brown (DRF), Bynes, McClain (END), D. Smith (UFA) - They have options
CIN - Burfict, Maualuga, Rey - They have options too
CLE - D. Jackson (NEW) - Another starter needed here
JAC - Posluszny (MID)
HOU - Cushing (NEW), Sharpton (UFA), Mays (UFA) - There may be a job opening here
IND - Freeman, Angerer (UFA), Sheppard
TEN - Fokou, McCarthy, Z. Brown (DRF), Z. Gooden (DRF) - Who is inside in new system?
KC - D. Johnson (MID), A. Jordan (UFA), N. Johnson (DRF)
DEN - Woodyard (UFA), Irving, Lenon (UFA)
OAK - Roach (NEW), Burnett (END)
SD - Te'o (DRF), Butler (UFA)
NYG - Beason (UFA)
WAS - Riley (UFA), Fletcher (UFA), K. Robinson (DRF) - Could lose both starters
DAL - Lee (NEW)
PHI - Kendricks (DRF), Ryans (MID) - Ryans has only 2 years left
CHI - Bostic (DRF)
DET - Tulloch (MID)
GB - Hawk, B. Jones
MIN - Mauti, Cole - Big hole at MLB right now
ATL - Dent (DRF), Worrilow
NO - Lofton (MID), Hawthorne (MID)
TB - Foster - It seems Foster may be destined for SAM
CAR - Kuechly (DRF)
SF - Willis (MD), Bowman (NEW) - Possible 1-year rental needed for Bowman's ACL
ARI - Washington (MID), Minter (DRF), Brinkley, Dansby (UFA)
STL - Laurinaitis (NEW)
SEA - Wagner (DRF)
Pittsburgh and Baltimore have the same situations. They have cap limitations. They have some options at ILB that may get sorted out in camp. Both are more likely to be drafting an ILB than signing one for substantial money. Cleveland is Cleveland. They could use a better ILB, and they have cap space. Tennessee is switching to a 3-4. They have three guys that should be playing WILL. They may look to make them into ILBs, but if not Dansby would make sense here with his old DC. Wesley Woodyard fell out of favor in Denver at the end of the season. Could Beason be reunited with his old coach? If Butler leaves in free agency, San Diego will need a replacement. A veteran may be desirable next to young Te'o. Indianapolis is in a similar situation with Angerer, but at least they have Sheppard as a possible replacement option. Houston and Kansas City are two teams that have some options at ILB, but no clear deserving second starter. Their second starters last year are free agents unlikely to command big contracts. Their first starters are excellent players, so they are more likely to consider lesser, complementary players. Kansas City used a 4th rounder on Nico Johnson last year, while Houston made no big moves again to replace Ryans.
Washington faces the possibility of no returning starters. They may be open to veterans and draft picks at ILB. Ryans and Beason are similar players, so there is no reason for Philadelphia to switch one for the other. Minnesota has lost their starting MIKEs the last two years. Can Mauti be a starter? This is one of the most likely teams to make a move. It is a team that profiles as a rebuilding organization with a lot of young players. There have been questions for awhile on whether Mason Foster could handle the MIKE role. He is still under contract, and has made some plays, but it is possible that a new MIKE is in the works for Tampa Bay and he gets moved to SAM. San Francisco has two expensive ILBs, but Bowman will miss a good chunk of the season. I'd expect a one-year rental, not what Beason wants. I think this is another possible location for Dansby if he is hoping for a ring.
I'm going to group these job openings into two categories. I count 11 possible job openings for quality free agents. The Giants, plus Cleveland, Houston, Washington x 2, Minnesota, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, Denver, and San Diego. There is a supply of 5 players for these jobs - Beason plus Angerer, Woodyard, Butler, and Riley. This would leave 6 teams without free agent solutions, putting them into the draft market along with possibly Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Of those 9 teams looking at draft solutions, I think there is a supply of 4 players that are expected to be future starters in the middle to fill those needs. In this group I would have Mosley, Skov, Smallwood, and Borland. (I would include Avery Williamson, but since many do not I am being conservative here). That leaves 5 teams with their needs unfulfilled. Some of those teams will likely try later-round draft choices or low-level free agents to fill those needs. In 2013, 5 teams went this route. If history repeats itself, the supply of interior LBs matches the demand. This is not great for Beason's big contract chances. Last year there were 6 interior LBs drafted in the first four rounds, 2 LBs who signed big deals with new teams (Ellerbe and Roach, both coming off draft contracts), and 2 LBs that renewed with their current teams for big money (Laurinaitis and Bowman). Dansby, Burnett, and Maualuga took smaller deals.
Of course, this also leaves the Giants in trouble if Beason does sign elsewhere. We could wind up in the scrub pile again, as we were last year with Connor and Herzlich. I think it is interesting to note that the heavy activity will be among 3-4 teams this year. Butler and Riley have only been 3-4 ILBs in the pros, Angerer is currently an ILB but has played both, and Beason and Woodyard are 4-3 guys. Of the draft picks, Mosley, Skov, and Borland all played in a 3-4, and the one MIKE Smallwood probably projects better to a 3-4 system. Of course, Mosely is widely seen as a better 4-3 fit. Among later picks, Bullough and Andrew Jackson also look like 3-4 ILB prospects. Of the teams looking for ILB help, most are 3-4 teams. Of the 13 teams in the interior LB market that I listed above, only 4 are 4-3 teams.
So what teams do I see providing the most competition for Beason's services? I think Washington, Indianapolis, and Denver are the teams to watch. Minnesota could be a potential option, but as a losing and rebuilding team I think it would take a lot to draw Beason there. The other three teams have recent winning records. Denver and Indianapolis are rumored to want to replace their incumbents. Woodyard is not seen as physical enough, so Beason would be a better fit, and he previously played for John Fox. Beason would be a good complement to Freeman for Indy and they have cap room. Finally, Washington needs to sign someone with experience for ILB. With Fletcher gone I think they will try to keep continuity with Riley. Keenan Robinson may be ready for the slot next to him. Monetarily they need to sign Orakpo this offseason. Out of all of these teams, I think Denver is the greatest threat.
But what money should be offered? I think I already showed at the top of the page that veteran ILBs and MLBs do not get big contracts, and their jobs are threatened when they are well paid. I cannot believe that Beason would be worth twice what Dansby got paid. I think that the best Beason can hope for is Hawk or Maualuga money, in the mid $3 millions. I think the Giants should offer $3 million for 2014 and be flexible up to $3.5. I also think, using the history of other contracts as examples, that his salary should decrease over time. This would actually benefit him, as there is less incentive to drop him. But I think dead money needs to be kept low. With a small MIKE class this year, it is likely we will not have his replacement ready anytime soon. So the way we intice Beason to sign with the Giants is by offering him more guaranteed money. I would offer him a 3 year, $8 million contract, split as $3 million, $2.5 million, $2.5 million, with the first two years guaranteed. If he declines or we have a replacement ready, he can be cut after 2015 with no dead money.