Denver linebacker Brandon Marshall earned a new contract last week that will pay him $20 million guaranteed. He was a key component to the defense that led the Broncos to their Super Bowl 50 title last season, but he was probably the seventh most important member of that unit behind the likes of Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson.
Given the Patriots situation at linebacker, it's worth asking if Marshall's four-year deal, worth $8 million in average annual value, might impact the deals that linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins can expect in the near future.
Let's first take a look at what Marshall has shown on the field to earn what the Broncos gave him.
Selected in the fifth round of the 2012 draft by the Jaguars, it wasn't until 2014 that Marshall caught on as a regular with Denver. He played in 883 snaps that season, starting in 13 regular-season games. He made 94 tackles and recorded two sacks.
Last year, Marshall followed up his breakout year with another productive campaign. He was durable, starting in all 16 regular-season games and all three postseason games on the way to a Super Bowl title. He made 95 tackles and recorded two sacks, upping his number of quarterback hurries from seven the year before to 12.
Over the course of his two seasons, the athletic 6-foot-1, 242-pounder has been a solid all-around 'backer -- Pro Football Focus had him graded as one of the top 10 off-the-ball linebackers in the league over the course of the last two seasons -- but he's been more effective against the run than he has been as a pass-rusher or a coverage linebacker.
While both Hightower and Collins missed time last season, both players continued to prove in 2015 that they are among the most versatile players at their position. Both are very effective as rushers, both have been highly productive against the run, and both are capable in coverage. Hightower and Collins can also be used in a variety of spots in New England's front-seven, manning the edge, or playing up on the line from time to time in order to shoot a gap, whereas Marshall's size limits his positional versatility.
In 2015, Collins graded out as the No. 5 linebacker in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. In 2014, he was No. 6. Hightower checked in at No. 10 and No. 5, respectively, in those years. Since his rookie season in 2012, Hightower has never graded below No. 24 on PFF.
Compared to Marshall -- who, like both Hightower and Collins, is 26 years old -- the two Patriots linebackers can easily be considered the more valuable players.
Marshall seems to have been compensated fairly given his production. He's been top-10 player at his position over the last two seasons, and now he's paid like it. But Collins and Hightower should be considered closer to top-five level talents at that spot -- and perhaps higher than that when healthy.
Marshall's deal might be viewed as an absolute baseline for what Hightower and Collins could earn, but his deal probably won't impact what the pair of Patriots eventually rake in. He's simply not in their class, and Marshall's deal doesn't shift the landscape of the overall linebacker market to have an effect on players set to receive new deals.
Better contract comparisons for Collins and Hightower might be the five-year $25 million guaranteed that Bucs linebacker Lavonte David was handed before last season, or the four-year deal with about $22 million guaranteed given to Seattle's Bobby Wagner last summer.
Even then, Collins and Hightower could exceed the guarantees forked over in both of those deals -- particularly if they make it to unrestricted free-agency.
If the Patriots would like to reach extensions with both players before that happens, retaining the duo that is in many ways the centerpiece of their defense, they'll likely have to be comfortable starting at the $20 million guaranteed Marshall received and work their way up from there.