In the NFL, not all guaranteed money is actually guaranteed. The MMQB's Albert Breer reports that only about 12 percent of the 200-plus contracts signed since the start of the tampering period have guarantees of $3 million or more beyond 2017.
So Chicago Bears fans fretting over Mike Glennon's contract, relax. Only $2.5 million is guaranteed after next season. It's really just a one-year gamble — albeit an expensive one, which is why Glennon got on this list. He grabbed a lot of cash up front, as did the rest of these guys.
See which 2017 free agents scored the most money guaranteed at signing — the real money in NFL free agency.
OT Kelvin Beachum, Jets: $12 million
New York has spent the offseason dumping high-priced veterans, but gave three years and $24 million to Beachum to upgrade the O-line.
The Jets can get out of it after just one year if Beachum proves to be a bum, but conversely, he can void the final year or two if he makes the Pro Bowl in 2017 or 2018.
SS Barry Church, Jaguars: $12 million
Jacksonville threw more money at its defensive problems in free agency, and a chunk of that went to Church, who signed a four-year, $26 million deal.
Less than half of that is guaranteed, so if Church isn't the stalwart that he was in Dallas, where he started each of his past 60 games, then the Jags can jettison him after two seasons.
And Church's money is chump change compared to the Jags' investment in Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye.
Getty ImagesTom Pennington
CB Logan Ryan, Titans: $12 million
New England is famous for letting guys walk when they want too much money. It did it to an All-Pro like Darrelle Revis in the past, so it was no surprise it didn't try to match the three-year, $30 million deal that Tennessee gave to its No. 2 cornerback.
While Ryan cashed in on his Super Bowl-winning season, the Titans made sure to structure the deal so they can get out of it after one year if Ryan doesn't prove to be a defensive catalyst.
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LT Matt Kalil, Panthers: $13 million
Carolina broke the bank to better protect Cam Newton, moving on from Michael Oher and Mike Remmers (who moved on to Minnesota to replace the guy who replaced him).
Kalil joins brother Ryan on the Panthers' O-line on a five-year, $55.5 million deal with $13M up front and another $18M in possible guarantees. So even if Kalil doesn't see half of that $55M — and good luck with that; Remmers was replaced a year after playing in the Super Bowl — the Panthers still have a sizable two-year investment in him.
USA TODAY SportsJeff Hanisch
LT Andrew Whitworth, Rams: $15 million
Whitworth scored a three-year, $33.75 million deal from LA, which was desperate to replace draft bust Greg Robinson, who moves over to right tackle. That may seem like a lot of money for a 35-year-old, but all the Rams really are on the hook for is 2017 — his $7.5M base salary and $5M signing bonus. His only guaranteed money beyond that is a 2018 roster bonus of $2.5M.
The Rams signed WR Robert Woods to a similar deal, with less than half that money up front. So if Woods isn't the receiver to help Jared Goff reach the next level, and Whitworth can't protect him, the Rams can cut bait on both after just one year.
LB Donta Hightower, Patriots: $17 million
New England shipped out two star linebackers in Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins before it decided to pay Hightower, who made two of the biggest plays in the Pats' past two Super Bowl victories (Matt Ryan strip sack and tackling Marshawn Lynch at the 1).
And while Hightower didn't get as much money by re-signing with the Pats as Jones and Collins did by re-signing with their new teams, he still got a good chunk of change with his four-year, $35.5M deal. And the Pats still can cut him loose after two seasons — which Bill Belichick won't hesitate to do if he feels Hightower isn't worth it.
WR Pierre Garcon, 49ers: $17 million
Garcon may not be considered an elite receiver at age 30, but he sold himself to San Francisco (perhaps in part with his solid Twitter campaign). The Niners, looking for a QB and a No. 1 receiver after a 2-14 season, signed him to a five-year, $47.5M deal.
While the Niners made a big commitment up front to a guy who's topped 1,000 yards only twice, they hold club options on the last three years of the deal. So if Garcon wants the rest of that money, he'll probably have to convince Kirk Cousins to join him next season.
RT Ricky Wagner, Lions: $17.5 million
Baltimore made a couple of big signings in free agency, but at the expense of bringing back Wagner, who heads to Detroit on a five-year, $47.5M deal.
The Lions have a lot invested in Wagner, a three-year starter who has yet to make a Pro Bowl. The way his contract is backloaded, it'll be three years and almost $30M before they can get out from under it. So they'd better hope coach Jim Caldwell can muster more success like they had for nine weeks last year and avoid the nosedive they took at the end.
Kim KlementKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
QB Mike Glennon, Bears: $18.5 million
As we mentioned earlier, Glennon is getting a good chunk of change up front, including $16M this year. That's a lot for a guy who's thrown just 11 passes in the past two seasons.
But if Glennon can't fix Chicago's QB quandary, the Bears will be in the same position they were this offseason, when they cut Jay Cutler at a cost of just $2M. So Glennon may never see the majority of that three-year, $45M deal.
Frank Mattia/Icon Sportswire
G Ron Leary, Broncos: $18.65 million
Leary is not a household name, but he's being paid like one thanks to playing on the most acclaimed offensive line in the NFL. The Broncos, who slipped from Super Bowl champion to not making the playoffs due in part to their struggles on the O-line, signed Leary to a four-year, $36M deal.
John Elway & Co. will soon see whether he's worth the money — especially if he ends up having to block for Tony Romo.
Tim HeitmanTim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
G T.J. Lang, Lions: $19 million
Detroit, which invested heavily in its O-line with Ricky Wagner, gave less to Lang overall (3 years, $28.5M) but more up front. Bottom line is a big investment in 2017, Matt Stafford and Caldwell, in pursuit of a first playoff win since 1991.
If you're not counting, that's six offensive linemen so far.
Just 25, Jefferson scored a four-year, $34M deal to give the Ravens a pair of standout safeties. And if he makes the Pro Bowl like Eric Weddle, he'll be $1M richer.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
WR DeSean Jackson, Buccaneers: $20 million
Tampa Bay is betting on Jackson being another deep threat for Jameis Winston to pair with Mike Evans, and gave him a three-year, $33.5M deal with a bunch of money up front.
That may seem like a lot for 2017 DeSean Jackson, but he led the league in yards per catch (17.9) last season, so he still can stretch the field, and he had his fifth 1,000-yard season.
Which 30-year-old, former Redskins receiver will reward his new team for showing him the money? Sorry, Pierre Garcon, we're going with the guy who's got a rising star at QB.
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G Kevin Zeitler, Browns: $23 million
Cleveland had a record amount of cap space in free agency — so much so that it took on Brock Osweiler's albatross of a contract — and threw a big chunk of it at Zeitler (5 years, $60M) to improve its line (and weaken the Bengals in the process).
The Browns have a huge investment in Zeitler and will be three years and almost $40M into it before they can move on from it. So they'd better get serious about finding a real franchise QB — because Osweiler ain't it.
DT Brandon Williams, Ravens: $24.5 million
In case you haven't noticed, almost no team thinks one of its own guys is worth this much money up front.
But Baltimore thinks that much of Williams and lavished a five-year, $52.5M deal on him. That's a huge commitment of at least three years and more than $30M for a three-year starter who has yet to make a Pro Bowl. If he does, he'll be $250K richer.
That's not much, but don't forget: $24.5M up front.
LT Russell Okung, Chargers: $25 million
Someone forgot to tell the Chargers that Okung didn't work out well in Denver last year. He got a four-year, $53M deal after being released.
Maybe that's because the Chargers didn't work out well last year, either. Or the year before. Now they've moved to LA, they need a flashy, fan favorite ... left tackle? If Okung can't protect Philip Rivers, the Bolts can move on from him in two years.
USA TODAY SportsRon Chenoy
CB A.J. Bouye, Jaguars: $26 million
If there's anyone we're glad to see hit the jackpot, it's Bouye, who went from undrafted to fourth cornerback on the Texans to shutdown corner to Jacksonville savior. Well, he may have to share that title with Jalen Ramsey and whomever the Jags draft this year, but they've spent a ton to fix their defense, and Bouye's five-year, $67.5M deal is a huge part.
Before you call the Jags crazy, just know that they can get out of this deal after two years. Before you call them sane, check out the bag of money they gave Calais Campbell.
Brian SpurlockBrian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
LT Riley Reiff, Vikings: $26.3 million
Minnesota lost Kalil to Carolina on a hefty deal, so naturally it replaced him on an even heftier one. And while Detroit spent liberally on its line, it wasn't going to spring for the $58.75M Reiff got in his five-year deal.
It's a little bit nuts for a four-year starter who has yet to make the Pro Bowl, but Minnesota jumped at the chance to raid a division rival, and if the deal doesn't work out the Vikes can be rid of it in two years.
And in case you weren't counting, that's nine offensive lineman so far. It pays to be a palooka.
DE Calais Campbell, Jaguars: $30 million
Did we say something about Jacksonville going all in on defense?
That's Campbell holding the proverbial bag, worth $60M over four years. In addition to the $67.5M for Bouye and $26M for Barry Church. There's no way they see all of that money. Campbell, with 56.5 career sacks, is the most accomplished of those three. He's also the most highly paid. Smart man to get half of it up front.
CB Stephon Gilmore, Patriots: $31 million
New England definitely picks its spots when it comes to spending: five years and $65M for Gilmore, a five-year starter in Buffalo coming off his first Pro Bowl season and a career-high five INTs. And he gives the Pats the flexibility to trade Malcolm Butler or let him go if a team makes a crazy offer to the restricted free agent. Or they can keep Butler and have arguably the best defensive backfield in the NFL.
Plus the Pats weakened a division rival in the process, and that always helps. And if he doesn't work out ... oh who are we kidding? How often does someone not work out in New England?