I put up a poll yesterday asking which players were providing 'the most bang for the buck' this year. I'd like to elaborate more on my selections, and perhaps throw in a few more names out there. My graph below shows salary figures for 2007 and 2008 (where applicable), as well as what their cap hit will be in each year. For those not familiar with the salary cap, basically for this conversation, all you need to know is that signing bonuses are pro-rated throughout the life of the contract. So if Player X signs a 5-year, $20 million deal with a $10 million signing bonus as well, $10/5 years = $2 million per year+$4 million per year (assuming each year of the contract paid the same) So, $6 million would be that player's cap hit for the next 5 years, even though the salary is only $4 million annually.
Ok, where to start with these numbers. Let me first get this negative thought out of the way: this probably will be Davenport's last year as a Steeler. He's quite affordable this year, and I agree with the Diary by 40s that he's been a valuable commodity this year at that price. Next year though, he'll cost nearly twice as much to keep around, yet if we trade him or cut him this offseason, we'd only be dinged a mere $200,000 or so. At age 28, he's not getting any younger or quicker. He's still got some football left in him, but I wouldn't be surprised if we went in another direction next year.
What about Nate Washington? He's been pretty productive for us at that price. I didn't include Cedrick Wilson's salary info in my chart, but he's pretty damn expensive, and will be even more so next year: $2.58 million. Wilson brings a little different set of skills to the table than Nate, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Wilson gone and Washington resigned. I know the Rooneys like to get their extensions done in the summer before the season, but Washington didn't show enough last year to merit an extension. He has played fairly well this year, so some extra scratch from the Steelers coffers may be in the cards. Some may wonder why we would cut a proven commodity like Davenport or Wilson when they're not all that expensive, especially when you consider the escalating salary cap figures - should bump up to nearly $110 million next year. Well, basically we still have to lock up Big Ben for the future, and it ain't going to be cheap. $500 thou here, $1 million there...it all adds up and we'll need every last dollar if we want Ben and Harrison in Steelers uniforms in the future.
Now, onto my original intention. Who's been the best 'value' on our team this year? Let's start with...
Wow, just reviewed this guy's stats: outrageous. 69 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 4 passes defended, 1 INT, 7 force fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries. His 8.5 sacks are good for 10th best in the league, and his 7 FF are tops in the NFL.
Julian Peterson is a good selection to compare Harrison with. Peterson, also an OLB, has 8 sacks, 55 tackles, 1 INT, and 4 FF. Guess how much the Seahawks' Pro-Bowler costs though? About $10 million this year, and potentially as much as $23 million in the third year of the 7-year $54 million dollar mega-deal.
Harrison will get paid handsomely someday, probably by somebody else. For now at least, we have his services locked up in 2008 for a ridiculously cheap price, and the same goes for 2009, where he's on the books for a mere $1.4 mil. This future Pro-Bowler may very well be the biggest bargain in the entire National Football League.
Santonio has no doubt been a huge reason why our offense is vastly improved from a year ago. No need to rehash what he's done for us or what he's capable of doing in the future. Many of you voted Santonio as the most productive player for the price this year, and a plenty reasonable argument can be made on his behalf. My feeling though is that top-30 picks, at least those not playing QB, should perform at a high-level by their 2nd year. Don't get me wrong, Holmes has been even better than I anticipated, but when you get a big signing bonus for being a top-tier 1st round pick (the only WR in fact taken in the first round), there's certain expectations that are attached, at least in my mind. Great organizations like the Steelers rely so, so heavily on draft picks panning out. Rookie contracts may be getting a bit out of hand, but there's no denying they are relatively tiny compared to what players earn in their second and third contracts.
Smith didn't muster nearly the same support as Holmes and Harrison, but I felt compelled to mention that here's a guy that was selected in the third round last year that has been forced into a starting role on the NFL's #1 ranked defense. In the two games that Troy P. has missed due to injury, the Steelers have given up a grand total of 0 points. Smith still has plenty to learn, but at less than $400 grand this year, I'd say he's been more than earning his keep, and with Clark out for the year, Smith will continue to have opportunities to set himself up for a bigger pay-check in the future.