Breaking Down Harold Landry’s Contract

On the evening of March 8th, it was announced that the Tennessee Titans and their homegrown pass rusher, Harold Landry, have agreed to a 5-year, $87.5m contract, with $52.5m guaranteed. I am going to break down several aspects of what this signing means, but before I do check out the myriad of Landry based content that Broadway Sports has to offer:

Where else can you find all of that in the offseason? Now with the shameless self-promotion out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of this signing.

The Numbers

On Saturday, March 12th, the full details of Harold Landry’s contract came out. Here is what was initially reported:

In my free agency guide, which you can click the link above, I talked about the anatomy of a tweet. This one was definitely a little tricky because the guaranteed money listing isn’t necessarily the case!

He has up to $52.5m guaranteed. Of that number, he actually only has $35.2m fully guaranteed. The leftover $17.25m only becomes fully guaranteed if he is still with the team on the 5th day of the league year in 2023. Of course he will be, unless something crazy happens, but those distinctions will matter when tweets happen this week.

With that roster kicker this ends up making it a deal with a three year out. You can get out of the deal after 2024 with a $7.6m dead cap. This is how the deal looks after March 22nd, 2023:

$35.2m fully guaranteed now, but on 3/22/23 you add $17.25m in fully guaranteed money

The Tennessee Titans transactions from the week are all caught up now and according to OverTheCap.com, the Titan are currently $859,967 over the salary cap. By Wednesday, March 16th 3:00p CST, the Titans have to be under the cap. They have many avenues left to explore to not only getting under the cap but getting enough money to fill roster spots that Jim Wyatt is saying they’re looking at via free agency.

How it Stacks Up

While the contract itself isn’t too terrible in the big scheme of things, it does make him the 10th highest paid edge rusher in football based on his average salary of $17.5m. His $52.5m in guaranteed money ranks him 8th currently among EDGE defenders.

Much like the Tannehill contract when it was initially signed, there is a good chance other EDGE free agents when they are signed will push Landry down the rankings a little bit. I bet Hasaan Reddick’s agent is definitely going to try and use Landry’s template as the floor for a new deal with his client. Especially since Landry and Reddick are both represented by CAA Sports.

Here is his current ranking in cap hits each year among EDGE rushers for the length of his contract:

  • 2022: $5.05m (54th)
  • 2023: $18.8m (14th)
  • 2024: $21.05m (7th)
  • 2025: $21.3m (5th)
  • 2026: $21.3m (3rd)

Overpay?

This is the big question surrounding this contract. Mike Herndon and myself talked about it on the podcast, but I lean yes, it is a slight overpay. I am going to talk about what I mean by that.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to slightly overpay for certain players. I do think you need to slightly overpay for premium positions like elite WRs, QBs, and EDGE rushers. I also think that if you’re going to overpay someone in those positions, overpay someone you’re familiar with, especially if you drafted them.

What you’re truly paying for is hope. The hope that Landry defies what his career tells us so far, and he becomes an elite pass rusher in the league that doesn’t require assistance from this around him. You hope that because he is still very young, he develops more pass rush moves as the years go on.

However, as I said while it’s not a bad thing, it is an overpay and it could lead to it being a bad thing. If it does turn out bad, at least the Titans can get out of it after the third year. So why is it an overpay? Let’s talk about the reasons people think it isn’t.

Durability

Should availability be a variable used by a team when thinking of contract negotiations? I definitely think the player’s side of thing would use it, but as a general manager, I would remark back that it’s such an unstable metric.

All it takes is one injury to derail a player’s career. Nashville has seen it first hand with numerous players most recently with Jayon Brown, but also Marcus Mariota. I think if availability is the first thing that comes to mind with Landry and not his pure talent that says a lot, but that’s just me.

Landry has been on the field for 64 of 65 regular season games. He has played 82.5% of defensive snaps at that time, with the last two seasons being above 90%.

However, what are you getting for that? Let’s check the stats according to pfref.com

  • 2018: 26 total pressures (4.5 sacks) (60% of snaps)
  • 2019: 32 total pressures (9 sacks) (86% of snaps)
  • 2020: 34 total pressures (5.5 sacks) (94% of snaps)
  • 2021: 43 total pressures (12 sacks) (90% of snaps)

Is it really a smart tactic to overpay a player at his position to be out there as a warm body for the majority of his snaps? That’s the question you have to ask yourself from the team’s point of view.

Versatility

This is the one that cracks me up the most. I know the word is not being used in this context by most, but calling a one move pass rusher versatile, is just funny. Mike Herndon explained that he uses versatility in the sense that he can be lined up all over the formation, which is a plus advantage for the defense.

While I do agree with that, but then what does he do with that versatility? Well not much to be honest. You line him up in the slot? Ok well here are his coverage numbers since coming to the league:

  • Interceptions: 2
  • Passes Defended: 8
  • Completion %: 86.05%
  • Yards/Cmp: 12.125
  • Yards/Tgt: 10.9
  • Passer Rating Allowed: 90.88

That is four years of data to show that maybe using him in coverage isn’t the greatest thing in the world, and look the numbers would be high for most outside linebackers, but if you’re going to talk versatility we have to show what he does while being used in the ways the Titans use him.

Okay, obviously the team is paying him for the main jobs a pass rusher is known for: rushing the passer and stopping the run. Here is how Landry ranks in the last two seasons in certain advanced metrics:

Harold Landry Numbers from 2020-2021. Originally tweeted by Eric Eager 📊🏈 (@PFF_Eric) on March 9, 2022.

Sure, Landry’s sack % is up there, not elite, but high enough, but look at the second category Clean Up/Pursuit Pressure %. This lines up with what James, NoFlagsFilm, talked about in dissecting every sack of Landry’s in 2021:

  • Unblocked sacks (6)
  • Cleanup/coverage/pursuit sacks (6)
  • High quality (4)

These aren’t elite, can’t live without numbers from a pass rushing perspective. These numbers are very easily replaceable, and it’s been proven now throughout Landry’s career, he is not capable of being the 1A pass rusher.

A 1A, elite pass rusher doesn’t rely on everyone around him to get his pressures and sacks. Landry its the opposite, he needs Dupree on the field. He needed Cameron Wake on the field. When he doesn’t have someone opposite of him you get a 5.5 sack kind of year. That’s the player this team just paid.

Heading to the less sexy aspect of any defenders job, defending the run. I talked about this in the S.W.O.T. analysis on Monday, but people keep claiming he’s a great run defender, well he’s not that either. You can look at the advanced metrics up top in the picture from PFF and see that, but I also broke down raw stats:

  • 2018: 185 rush defensive snaps (72nd), 9 stops (t-72nd), 5.1 stop % (64th)
  • 2019: 393 rush defensive snaps (1st), 23 stops (t-21st), 6.1 stop % (t-52nd)
  • 2020: 410 rush defensive snaps (2nd), 25 stops (6th), 6.3 stop % (t-52nd)
  • 2021: 325 rush defensive snaps (15th), 17 stops (t-21st), 5.4 stop % (t-71st)

Continuity

The last thing people talk about is the continuity of bringing the entire front seven back for at least one more year and duplicating the success the defense had in 2021. That is way easier said than done. Defensive success has a high rate of variance year over year. It’s extremely volatile.

However, as we established above, Landry is very good in the unstable metrics, so what if those metrics regress. To me, you could’ve gotten the same production from various other players, or a combination of other players that result in less money being spent overall.

Obviously the cap hit being so small in year one helps ease that concern, but you’re locked in to a guy who relies on volatile production yearly. It took four years for him to get a double digit sack year, and it took the team spending on two big free agents for him to get that, because he can’t do it himself.

Overpay Conclusion

Seems like a good time to remind you of what I said earlier: It’s not necessarily a bad thing to slightly overpay for certain players. I do think you need to slightly overpay for premium positions like elite WRs, QBs, and EDGE rushers. I also think that if you’re going to overpay someone in those positions, overpay someone you’re familiar with, especially if you drafted them.

However, regardless of if you consider an overpay bad or not, it is an overpay. What this all boils down to, for me at least, is that you’re paying a guy top-10 money but he is an average to below average player depending on the category you’re going by.

You’re basically paying a jack of all trades, but a master of none. Seems like an overpay to me.

Looking Ahead

So what future ramifications lie in front of the defense as it forges ahead to try and get a Super Bowl. Well in the immediate future they are locked into one hell of a starting line-up to start the season:

But what about beyond 2022? That’s the big question, keeping both Dupree and Landry in 2023 costs the Titans a cap hit of $39m. That is a lot of money tied into one position. In fact those two players alone would have the Titans ranked 7th in the NFL at money spent on that position. Just them two!

Then you have Denico Autry who is another year older costing the team an additional $9.25m in cap hit, but also an easy out for 2023. Dupree also has an easy out for 2023 as well, so how do you allocate resources when you have this much tied up in three players?

The biggest thing being talked about is that Dupree could very well be gone in 2023. It’s factually established that Dupree is a force multiplier when he’s on the field dating back to his Pittsburgh Steelers days. It’s also established that Landry’s success is intrinsically tied to the level of play of whoever is opposite of him.

Peeking ahead very early at 2023 free agent class for EDGE defenders is gross. I may have a better understanding as to why they went ahead and kept Landry around. There is only one player, Yannick Ngakoue, that is a viable option to replace Dupree. Other than that, there is not anyone on Dupree’s level that is currently set to be a free agent, unless a team decides not to exercise a 5th year option on their players this year and let them walk.

One possibility for the Dupree problem to be solved is that Rashad Weaver takes a massive leap in 2022 and becomes a force for this defense, easing the pain of letting Dupree walk, and then you can turn around and draft an EDGE rusher in 2023.

Maybe the team drafts from this deep EDGE class in 2022, and let him develop behind Dupree and Landry, and he can step in for Dupree. The problem is can that guy or Weaver help Landry still maintain a level of production.

If I were to throw out a *way* too early prediction, I would say Dupree’s contract becomes reworked and he sticks around for a few more years. Which is good for this defense considering that the cap will go up, and Simmons will be on such an unbelievably cheap deal in 2023 due to the 5th year option.

Conclusion

Looking ahead at the free agent class for EDGE rushers, it makes a ton of sense as to why the Titans decided to slightly overpay for Harold Landry. It’s not a bad thing, the first year cap hit for 2022 is super manageable and there is an easy out if Landry’s production see a drop-off.

Regardless, this contract screams that the team believes that the best years of Landry’s career lie ahead. Being able to keep the defense that generated a historic nine sacks in a playoff game for at least one more year, is an added bonus.

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