DALLAS (AP) — Bruce Irvin’s first payday in free agency wasn’t anywhere near what Oakland will have to offer to keep pass-rushing teammate and two-time All-Pro Khalil Mack.
The former first-round pick by Seattle qualifies as a high-value contributor just the same for a franchise that made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.
Forget for a moment Irvin’s seven sacks , one off the career high from his rookie season after the Seahawks drafted him 15th overall in 2012. Consider the intangibles from a player who illustrates what a relatively low-cost deal can mean in free agency.
“From the moment that Bruce arrived, he and Khalil had a natural competition or natural kind of bond where they were two alpha males,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. “They were going to push each other really hard every day and compete every day.”
Irvin signed a $37 million, four-year contract with $14.5 million guaranteed after the Seahawks decided against giving him the fifth year on his rookie deal.
While quarterback Derek Carr and Mack got most of the headlines — and Carr’s broken leg late in the regular season dominated the talk before and after a wild-card loss to Houston — the 29-year-old Irvin positioned himself to become quite a bargain if he finishes his current deal.
“I know I’m very capable of doing a lot of stuff,” said Irvin, who has 29 sacks in five seasons. “If they need me to spy, I’ll spy. If they need me to rush, I’ll rush. Any way I can help I’ll do it.”
Here’s a look at other high-value free agents from last year as teams start wrapping up what they hope will be similar bargains in 2017 as free agency opens Thursday:
LOW-COST NO. 1: Receiver Rishard Matthews led Tennessee with 945 yards receiving and nine touchdowns, and the 27-year-old tied Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker for the team lead with 65 catches. That career season came after signing a $15 million, three-year deal. Matthews was a seventh-round pick by Miami in 2012 and was coming off career highs of 43 catches for 662 yards and four TDs in 2015.
Titans general manager Jon Robinson said the key to finding bargains often starts with a receiver’s film. “Maybe he’s getting open a lot, but the quarterback’s not getting the ball to him. Maybe the quarterback just doesn’t have time to get the ball there for whatever reason,” Robinson said.
THE PEDIGREE RULE: Defensive end Chris Long had seven solid seasons with St. Louis as the second overall pick in 2008. But injuries kept him from being the star his dad, Hall of Famer Howie Long, was while winning a Super Bowl at the same position with Oakland. Long has his ring now as a steady influence with the New England defense on a $2.4 million, one-year contract.
“Any player that’s been through ups and downs, and everybody in this league has — injuries, whatever,” said Long, who turns 32 later this month. “Things can change quickly, and luckily I never gave up on it.”
ANOTHER HOUSTON FIND: Lamar Miller landed with the Texans after the Miami Dolphins decided to make Jay Ajayi their lead running back. And Houston promptly had its fourth different rushing leader in four seasons, in part because franchise leader Arian Foster missed significant parts of two of those years with injuries and wasn’t brought back in 2016.
In the first year of a $26 million, four-year deal with $14 million guaranteed, Miller fell 26 yards short of his career high of 1,099 yards. The 25-year-old helped the Texans overcome the struggles of high-priced free agent quarterback Brock Osweiler and reach the playoffs for the fourth time in six seasons.
ALL-PRO PAYOFF: Defensive tackles usually don’t get the big money, so Damon Harrison’s $46.2 million, five-year contract with the New York Giants ranks in the top 10 at his position heading into free agency this year. The 343-pounder, who is known to teammates as “Snacks” and is getting $24 million guaranteed, had career highs with 55 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks to help New York’s defense improve from 30th to second overall.
Harrison, an undrafted free agent who played mostly nose tackle in four seasons with the New York Jets, was an All-Pro for the first time. And the 28-year-old has started all 16 games the past four seasons.
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