What does Fred Warner’s contract mean for Bills LB Tremaine Edmunds?

07/22/2021
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Tremaine Edmunds is going to get paid. The question Buffalo Bills fans have been asking throughout the 2021 NFL offseason is just how much? On Wednesday, the San Francisco 49ers inked star middle linebacker, Fred Warner, to a new five-year, $95 million contract extension that includes $40.5 million in guarantees. Warner, who is widely considered the best linebacker in the NFL, sets the market at the position and creates some parameters from which the Bills front office and Edmunds’ agent can begin to work out a deal.

Buffalo exercised Edmunds’ fifth-year option during the offseason, locking the young linebacker in for the 2022 season at $12.716 million unless the two sides reach an agreement on a new deal.

Edmunds is a polarizing player among the Bills’ fanbase. Drafted in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft at just 20-years old, Edmunds has been a steady presence in the middle of Buffalo’s defense since day one, missing just two games since joining the team.  While not yet the elite gamechanger many hoped he’d immediately be, Edmunds has steadily improved in each of his three seasons and was named to the Pro Bowl in each of the last two years.

Following an impressive 2019 campaign that led many to project him as a breakout candidate the following year, Edmunds suffered a shoulder injury in Week 1 last year that caused him to miss the second game of the 2020 season. But instead of missing significant time, Edmunds fought through the pain to get back on the field and help the team for the remainder of the season. The injury clearly impacted his overall effectiveness and his play, particularly during the first half of the season, suffered as a result.

Bills LB Tremaine Edmunds poised to bounce back after down 2020 season

Edmunds finished the 2020 season as Pro Football Focus’ No. 44 ranked linebacker, finishing at No. 22 against the run. These poor grades were largely due to his play during the first half of the season while playing through injury. But as Edmunds got healthier as the season grew, his play improved simultaneously. From Weeks 8-17, Edmunds graded out as PFF’s No. 18 overall linebacker and No. 5 against the run.

Now, what does this all mean for Edmunds concerning his second contract that’s looming in the not-so-distant future? Let’s dive into the numbers to determine what kind of contract Edmunds can expect to receive given the money that Fred Warner was just rewarded with.

Both Warner and Edmunds entered the league in 2018, so watching and comparing their ascensions as players is fairly simple. Statistics certainly don’t tell the whole story, but Edmunds and Warner have produced at a very similar rate when looking at just the raw numbers, with the Bills linebacker having the slight edge.

In Edmunds’ first three years, he’s played 46 games, recording 355 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, three interceptions, 24 pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Warner has played 48 games in that same time frame, registering 367 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, four sacks, three interceptions, 21 pass breakups, and five forced fumbles. As a pass rusher, Edmunds has tallied 12 quarterback hits and 14 hurries, while Warner has 12 hits and 22 hurries.

Pass Coverage

When looking at their ability in pass coverage, it’s clear that Warner is the cream of the crop at the linebacker position. Warner graded out as PFF’s No. 1 coverage linebacker in 2020, while Edmunds finished at No. 133. Warner allowed 44 receptions on 61 targets (72.1-percent) for just 329 yards, 188 yards after the catch and two touchdowns. He forced four incompletions and opposing quarterbacks posted just an 81.9 passer rating when targeting him. Edmunds allowed 49 catches on 59 targets (78-percent) for 575 yards, 301 yards after the catch and four touchdowns. He forced just two incompletions and quarterbacks posted a 129.9 passer rating when targeting him.

Most of Edmunds’ struggles came in zone coverage, though.

In man coverage, Edmunds has consistently been one of the most reliable linebackers in the NFL through three seasons. Among the 40 linebackers targeted 20-plus times since 2018 in man coverage, Edmunds has the fourth-lowest target rate (7.2-percent) and the fifth-lowest yards-per-target allowed (3.7).

Run defense

Tremaine Edmunds was one of the NFL’s best run stoppers at the linebacker position in 2019. He made 51 tackles, 33 of which were “stops” at an average depth of 3.1 yards. In 2020, however, while dealing with the shoulder injury and the missing presence of Star Lotulelei, Edmunds struggled against the run. He made just 45 tackles, 21 of which were “stops” at an average depth of 4.7 yards.

In 2019, Fred Warner made 45 tackles, 24 stops at 4.3 yards. But in 2020, he drastically improved, tallying 46 tackles, 25 “stops” at 3.6 yards, but ramped things up in 2020, making 46 tackles and 25 stops at an average of 3.6 yards.

Due to the circumstances surrounding Edmunds’ poor 2020 campaign, Bills fans should expect their young linebacker to get back to level he was at in 2019, if not higher.

Projected contract

At five-years, $95 million with over $40 million in guarantees, Fred Warner is the NFL’s highest-paid linebacker. Adam Schefter reported that Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard is next in line for a deal that should be north of $19 million.

Edmunds isn’t as high profile as the two aforementioned players, nor does he quite match up with them statistically through their first three professional seasons. Warner and Leonard are established as two of the best young linebackers in the league, while Edmunds has some question marks surrounding him. Edmunds still has an extremely high ceiling, simply due to his age, skillset and the things he has already been able to do early in his career.

In a poll of NFL execs, coaches, and players, Edmunds cracked the top-10 list at the linebacker position, signaling that the league clearly thinks highly of Buffalo’s defensive anchor and team captain. With Edmunds under contract through 2022, he still has room to develop into that game-changing linebacker the team saw when they traded up to select him with the No. 16 pick in the 2018 NFL draft.

But right now, when factoring in all of the variables – age, talent, production, potential and salary cap inflation – Bills fans can expect Edmunds to slot somewhere in between Zach Cunningham’s four-year, $58 million ($14.5 million per year average) and C.J. Mosley’s five-year, $87.5 million ($17 million per year) contracts.

Now, things could change if Edmunds puts it all together in 2020 and establishes himself as a premier player at the position, but right now, he’s in that second to third tier of NFL linebackers and will certainly be paid as such.

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