ESPN is reporting that the Oakland Raiders have re-signed Tommy Kelly to a 7-year $50.5 million dollar contract. John Clayton of ESPN wrote that it will make Kelly the highest paid defensive tackle in the NFL, but the thing is Kelly isn’t going to primarily play in the spot vacated by Warren Sapp. Instead of Clayton’s comparison to the Detroit Lion’s Cory Redding, I think Kelly will eventually play a role more similar to the New York Giant’s Justin Tuck.
(Defensive tackles make on average, 2 million less than defensive ends. Signing Kelly to terms similar to the highest paid DT’s and not DE’s is just a smart move by the Raiders. So saying that the Kelly signing makes him the highest paid DT in football would be a slight over-statement.)
Kelly was doing such a good job moving from defensive tackle to defensive end from one play to the next before getting injured Week 8. Tuck showed the whole country how good he is at moving around from interior line positions to create disruption and mismatches. I think Kelly has all the skills to do the same. The only problem is that Kelly suffered a severe season ending injury at the worst time. Kelly just turned 27 and is enter his prime years, but a torn ACL could cut the better part of his next 2 seasons, and after signing a huge contract this off-season, he could receive loads of scrutiny that could kill any confidence that he needs to get completely healthy.
I think the Raiders should have signed him to a 1-year contract, and if his recovery slowly progressed (like it just might), then they could do it all over again. They could sign Kelly to another 1-year contract, and if he progressed greatly in his second season since the surgery (like he should), then the Raiders could sign him to a big 5-year contract.
It’s still hard to say though, because the 7-year contract that Kelly just signed could start with a couple real cap-friendly seasons for him to prove he’s worth the entire thing. And the Raiders showed the free-agent Kelly they have faith with nearly $19 million in guarantees. Kelly is so talented that the risk of a $19 million dollar cap-hit over 7 years is worth taking. But my feelings are contingent upon this contract being soft during the first few years. Guy’s on ESPN want to laugh at this contract, but if the first couple seasons pay Kelly close to the the veteran’s minimum, and he doesn’t recover from this injury, then all the Raiders have to do is cut him; they’ll owe him nothing from his remaining yearly salary.
Even with all that said, I don’t think Justin Tuck’s worth the contract Kelly signed, so no matter what Kelly’s contract looks like, he was probably still overpaid. But who knows, Kelly could end up being a perennial Pro Bowler 4 years from now with a contract that makes him look underpaid (yearly cap-inflation).
I’ve got a lot more coming this late afternoon, but I gotta get to some other responsibilities. I had to write this during my lunch break, so I’ll probably be adding more to this article once I have more time to think/write. Free-agency begins at 8pm (PST), so I’ll post what I think that means for the Raiders, and my final assessment of the NFL Combine before then.