Tennessee football: Former Vols racking up paydays in NFL Free Agency

TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 16: Offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James
TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 16: Offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James /

Tennessee football players are all over the free agent market in the NFL. Former Volunteers are signing big contracts in many places.

The highest paid players at two positions in the NFL are now former Tennessee football players, and they inked those deals this week. That’s just a part of the big contracts handed out to former Vols this week during NFL Free Agency.

It all started Monday afternoon. Justin Coleman, who won a Super Bowl for the New England Patriots and emerged as a valuable asset for the Seattle Seahawks, is just the latest former Patriot to ink a big payday from a franchise run by people who used to work with the Pats.

NFL.com report that the Detroit Lions signed Coleman to a four-year deal worth $36 million, making him the highest paid nickelback in the NFL. Given his proven value with Seattle and the position he plays, that’s a great deal for him. He gets to rejoin former New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who is now Detroit’s head coach.

Later that night, though, Ja’Wuan James hit it big. The Denver Broncos signed him away from the Miami Dolphins to a huge four-year deal worth $51 million, according to Ian Rapaport. That makes him the highest-paid right tackle in the NFL.

Now, James and Coleman elevating Tennessee football’s payday for players had to offset a bit of what happened. Landon Collins’s $84 million deal with the Washington Redskins allowed him to surpass Eric Berry for the highest-paid safety in the NFL. Still, it’s a two-for-one, and Berry remains second on that list.

On top of that, numerous other former Vols got solid paydays. This all should have been symbolized two weeks ago when Jason Witten came out of retirement. Rapaport said that he signed with the Dallas Cowboys for a contract worth up to $5 million and with a base value of $3.5 million this year.

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Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars released Malik Jackson less than a week ago, but he managed to get another big contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, who inked him to a three-year deal worth $30 million, Rapaport reported.

Basically, after being released, he barely lost anything. In fact, he extended what was a big payday from Jacksonville to begin with. As a guy who can play nose tackle or in the 4-3, he can definitely benefit with such an elite line overall, and he can help Derek Barnett shine.

Then there’s Ramon Foster. A 10-year veteran with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he’s always been a guy to go about his business and fly under the radar. But Tom Pelissero reports that he signed a two-year deal worth $8.25 million.

Considering the fact that Foster, who is 33, has been making a base salary worth less than $2 million his whole career,  this is a huge deal. He deserves this contract and can help be a staple of the franchise as it navigates through what might be a difficult year.

Finally, there’s Cordarrelle Patterson. This guy joined the list of former Vols to take home a Super Bowl Trophy after playing with the Patriots this past year, and it helped him ink a big contract from an NFC North team as well.

Pelissero tweeted that Patterson signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Chicago Bears Tuesday night. In case you’re wondering, he has never had a base salary over $3 million, and $5 million is the most he’s ever made in a year. So this is another great contract for him and another example of a former Vol earning the money.

Tennessee football may have had some issues in recent years, but they still put talent in the NFL. On top of that, two of the guys we mentioned, Coleman and Foster, were undrafted players. But Foster is a 10-plus year veteran, and Coleman is now the highest paid nickelback in the game.So even if the Vols underachieve in college, their players continue to overachieve in the pros.

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And don’t forget that Berry still has that big contract. Simply put, playing for the Vols can make you some money at the professional level, and it doesn’t matter who is coaching the program. After all, Phillip Fulmer, Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley and Butch Jones all coached and developed at least one of these guys.