Now that Super Bowl LI is a thing of the past, it is time to focus on the upcoming 2017 season. Every NFL team will have some housekeeping to do in the upcoming months. A slew of players are slated to hit free agency, many of which will be looking to earn a huge payday.
There are some stars currently under contract who will get paid more for their hard work and results on the field. Sometimes, players choose loyalty to their teams over dollar signs. But this is not always the case. As things play out each spring, needy NFL teams offer lucrative contracts to lure in certain power players.
With that in mind, here are 10 NFL stars on course to land huge paydays in 2017.
1. Antonio Brown, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
Brown is one of the most gifted receivers in the league. From seasons 2013-16, Brown averaged 120.2 catches, 1,578.7 yards and 10.75 touchdowns per year. Considering his tremendous accomplishments, the 28 year-old receiver has been somewhat patient about earning a larger payday.
It would appear now that the three-time All-Pro shall not have to wait too much longer. Plans could be in the works for the Steelers to make Brown the highest paid wide receiver in the league. Brown’s salary was adjusted last year to boost him to $10.25 million. This was up from the meager $6.25 he would have earned.
He certainly plays at a high enough of level to get paid like the big boys at his position. Currently, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green is the highest paid, earning an annual salary of $15 million. Reports suggest this figure will be topped once a new deal for Brown is constructed.
If any player has waited too long to cash in on some major dough, it is Brown.
2. Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive end, New York Giants,
Pierre Paul suffered a career speedbump when he accidentally blew part of a few fingers off in a grisly 2015 Fourth of July fireworks accident. Unfortunately this threw a huge monkey wrench into his financial plans. Prior to the accident, JPP had been trying to negotiate very lucrative, long-term contract extension with the Giants.
Instead, JPP missed eight games and played under the franchise tag. Naturally, his numbers dipped playing with a partially disabled hand. Then in the 2016 season, Pierre-Paul signed a one-year prove-it deal for $10 million. Fortunately for the 28 year old defensive end, his performance improved dramatically. Last season, JPP registered seven sacks, 55 combined tackles and one fumble recovery returned for a touchdown.
It was enough of an up-year that Pierre-Paul should be on course to cash in big in 2017. The two-time Pro-Bowler has already stated he has nothing further to prove (more on that here).
He now has his eye on a deal similar to the five-year, $85 million deal the Giants signed fellow defensive end Olivier Vernon to in 2016.
3. Kenny Stills, wide receiver, Miami Dolphins
Stills isn’t quite up there with the aforementioned Brown, but he accomplished enough to earn a substantial paycheck. The 24-year-old receiver is just getting his career started after his trade to Miami last year.
Overall, Stills put up his best campaign to date, scoring a career-high nine touchdowns for the Dolphins. He also had 42 catches resulting in 726 yards. Stills has the knack for making the most of his touches. He has averaged a notable 16.7 yards per catch during his four NFL seasons.
After earning $1.671 million in 2016, Stills will command a sweet payday moving forward as a potential free agent. Reportedly, the Philadelphia Eagles are interested in the young pass-catcher. But Stills indicated recently that playing for an AFC or NFC West team would suit him best.
Either way, a bidding war is a good thing when it comes to Stills’ impending free-agent status.
4. Trumaine Johnson, cornerback, Los Angeles Rams
The Rams must decide whether they wish to negotiate a new deal with Johnson, franchise tag him for the second time or let him test free agency (more on that here.)
Johnson played 2016 under a $13.95 million franchise tender and has been highly productive for the Rams over his past two seasons. During that this stretch, Johnson snagged eight interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, two fumble recoveries and 128 combined tackles.
If the Rams don’t lock Johnson up with a new deal, it is possible other teams interested could reach out. For starters, the Cleveland Browns allowed a league-high 36 receiving touchdowns last year and would be ideal for Johnson.
Two obvious names for the #Browns to pursue in free agency: Rams CB Trumaine Johnson and Bengals OG Kevin Zeitler.
— Josh Edwards (@JEdwar247) February 7, 2017
5. Matt Ryan, quarterback, Atlanta Falcons
Ryan had a fabulous 2016 campaign and was crowned this year’s NFL MVP. He finished the season as the highest rated quarterback (117.1) and set career-highs in passing yards (4,944) and touchdowns (38).
Ryan’s journey unfortunately ended when the Falcons fell short against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. For all of his phenomenal accomplishments, the team indicated its willingness to make Ryan the highest paid quarterback in the league. After what we just witnessed, he is certainly deserving of a generous payday.
Ryan is currently engaged in a five-year contract that takes him through 2018. He is slated to earn $23.75 million in 2017. There is no better time like the present than for the Falcons to take care of their 31 year-old quarterback than this offseason.
6. Logan Ryan, cornerback, New England Patriots
This past season will be the last time Ryan earns pennies on the dollar compared to other corners in the league. Ryan was selected in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft and just completed his rookie contract. He made made a mere $1.661 million in 2016.
Now, he is a two-time Super Bowl champion and can command a higher salary moving forward.
Whether that is going to happen with his Patriots or another team will be discovered soon enough.
Ryan finished 2016 as 16th highest rated cornerback according to Pro Football Focus. During this past season, he started in 13 games and was responsible for 73 solo tackles, 19 assists, two interceptions, one touchdown and one fumble recovery.
The postseason saw Ryan snag one more interception, defend four passes, record a sack and 22 combined tackles.
It’s time for the Patriots or another club to show Ryan the money.
7. Terrelle Pryor, wide receiver, Cleveland Browns
This article is about stars and Pryor was definitely one of the brighter shining ones for Cleveland in 2016. It doesn’t matter that the Browns scoured up just one sad win, because Pryor gave it his all. In his debut as a receiver, Pryor managed 77 catches for a total of 1,007 yards and four touchdowns.
That’s not bad considering he had been used to playing from the opposite end of the ball since the start of his NFL career. Furthermore, Pryor had three different quarterbacks throwing to him all season long. That in itself stinks.
Pryor more than proved he can handle NFL life as a pass-catcher during the 2016 season. The 27 year-old quarterback-turned-receiver only earned 1.671 million. His accomplishments call for a big raise looking ahead. We aren’t talking Antonio Brown money, but Pryor stands to bank with either Cleveland or another club in 2017.
8. Eric Berry, safety, Kansas City Chiefs
Berry becomes an unrestricted free agent after a fantastic 2016 season playing under franchise tender. He earned $10.8 million and has already stated that he will not play under a franchise tag again in 2017. His hard stance will either force the Chiefs to lock him up to a mega, multi-year deal or force him into free agency.
The Chiefs could also play hardball as well and tag him, despite Berry’s wishes. Berry rightfully earned his salary in 2016 after recording four interceptions, two of which were returned for scores. During the process, he piled up 98 yards.
Eric Berry Returns a "Pick-2" Interception to Give Chiefs Lead Back, After Falcons Touchdown pic.twitter.com/ucMpPudz6i
— SportsCast (@SportsCast_THN) December 4, 2016
The three-time All-Pro also had nine defended passes, one forced fumble and a total of 77 tackles.
It was one of the most productive seasons of his seven-year career. At just 28, he is in the perfect place to negotiate for a high-paying, long-term contract. If the Chiefs don’t want to give him what he wants, another team surely will.
9. Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Washington Redskins
Cousins started for Washington in 2016 playing under a franchise tag that paid him $19.85 million. It was a huge salary bump from what he earned in 2015.
Now Washington must decide what to do with Cousins moving into 2017. The team could choose to tag him again, something that Cousins recently said he is willing to let happen (more on that here.)
Washington fell short of a playoff run which is something Cousins helped achieve in 2015. But, overall in 2016 he was darn good. Cousins passed for 4,917 yards, which was the third highest in the league. He also completed 67 percent of his passes. Unfortunately, his touchdown production dropped from 29 to 25 and his interceptions increased by one versus 2015.
Nevertheless, Cousins makes for a major upgrade at quarterback for several clubs playing with far inferior starters. Two teams in particular, the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers, have reportedly shown interest (more on that here.)
Being that Cousins is the most viable upcoming free agent quarterback among an otherwise depressing cast, he stands to cash in quite sweetly.
10. Calais Campbell, defensive end, Arizona Cardinals
Campbell just finished out a five-year contract that paid him $15.25 million in 2016. Even though he is 30 years old, the two-time Pro Bowler put up some incredible stats this past season. Starting in all 16 games, Campbell recorded one interception, two forced fumbles and managed three fumble recoveries in which one was returned for a touchdown.
He also had eight sacks and tallied 53 combined tackles and one safety. Campbell’s accomplishments were grand enough that he was rated the No. 2 defensive lineman by Pro Football Focus for 2016.
What this all equates to is a nice, fat paycheck for Campbell in 2017. If the Cardinals don’t want to re-sign Campbell, it is of public opinion that several other teams will reach out.
It should be an interesting next couple of months to see what moves and shakes for Campbell.