NFL teams have been proactive in discussing extensions with some of the best young stars in the league. With the salary cap increasing a ton in recent years, this makes sense.
Why not extend core players before market inflation takes hold even more? Years down the road, these deals will look like bargains.
From youngsters now eligible for extensions for the first time to other star players, we look at 10 figures in line for huge deals here over the next few months.
Michael Thomas, wide receiver, New Orleans Saints
Now eligible for an extension following a dominant third season in the NFL, we’re fully expecting the Saints to make Thomas one of the league’s highest-paid receivers at some point here soon. Still only 26 years old, Thomas has averaged 107 receptions for nearly 1,300 yards thus far in his career.
Some might conclude that Thomas is a product of the receiver-friendly Saints offense under Sean Payton. That’s fine. But his historical level of production lends credence to the idea that the Ohio State product will soon be a rich man. A deal surpassing the five-year, $90 million contract the New York Giants inked new Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to last year could be in the cards.
Carson Wentz, quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles
It’s all about market inflation and supply/demand. On the surface, one might think that the Eagles would play it slow with Wentz and a potential extension. Remember, he missed the end of the 2017 campaign to a torn ACL and was sidelined last season with a back injury.
Even then, general manager Howie Roseman and Co. are open to extending Wentz as he enters his fourth season in the NFL. As we saw with Kirk Cousins, among others last offseason, market demand will see a significant increase in pay for Wentz. He’s likely looking at $30-plus million annually on a long-term deal. It’s a risk the Eagles are apparently willing to take.
DeForest Buckner, defensive tackle, San Francisco 49ers
Look at what Aaron Donald has done for the Los Angeles Rams over the past two seasons as a barometer of the type of payday Buckner is slated to get from San Francisco. While not yet on par with the reigning NFL Defensive Player, Buckner is on the verge of becoming a dominating presence in the Bay Area.
Last season saw the 25-year-old defensive tackle record 20 quarterback hits and 12 sacks en route to earning his first-ever Pro Bowl appearance. He has yet to hit his prime. With Dee Ford aboard to help him, expect bigger things in 2019. In fact, San Francisco would be wise to throw $100 million in Buckner’s direction before that price tag gets a lot steeper.
Amari Cooper, wide receiver, Dallas Cowboys
One of many Cowboys players slated for extensions, we’re expecting this one to get done in relatively short order. Dallas didn’t exhaust a first-round pick in a trade with the Raiders to let Cooper’s situation extend into a contract year.
It’s also important to note that Cooper had himself one heck of a first half season in Big D — recording 53 receptions, 725 yards and six touchdowns in nine games. On the surface, Cooper getting something similar to the five-year, $90 million deal Beckham signed last year seems to make the most sense. In fact, he could surpass it. Market inflation and an increased salary cap might demand this.
Xavien Howard, cornerback, Miami Dolphins
There was some talk earlier in the offseason that Miami might look to trade Howard. With the team collecting future draft picks left and right, that might ultimately happen ahead of the 2019 NFL Draft in less than a month.
Whether the 25-year-old Howard is retained or traded is moot to the overall point here. Entering his contract year, the dude is going to get paid the big bucks at some point. Howard led the NFL with seven interceptions while yielding a 62.6 passer rating last season. Look for something north of the $15 million Redskins corner Josh Norman is earning on an annual basis.
Jared Goff, quarterback, Los Angeles Rams
It’s rather interesting that Rams head coach Sean McVay just recently noted there’s no extension for Goff on the horizon right now. After leading his team to the Super Bowl and eligible for an extension, one might think Los Angeles would want to lock its franchise quarterback up.
It only makes sense. The quarterback market continues to spiral out of control. Said market has been reset more than a half-dozen times over the past two years. Do these Rams want to wait until the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson become eligible for extensions to pay Goff? We think general manager Les Snead and Co. will come to their senses over the next couple months. If so, Goff is looking a deal surpassing $30 million annually.
Chris Jones, defensive tackle, Kansas City Chiefs
It looks like the Chiefs and their star defensive tackle have already opened up extension negotiations. That bodes well for Jones’ ability to cash in coming off a 2018 campaign that saw him record 29 quarterback hits and 15.5 sacks from the interior of the defensive line.
Along with DeForest Buckner, he’s one of the growing stars at defensive tackle around the NFL. Now eligible for an extension, the 25-year-old Jones should get paid big time. We’re looking at a five-year deal worth north of $100 million. That’s just how good this Pro Bowl snub is.
Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Dallas Cowboys
It’s already been noted that the Cowboys are looking to pay Elliott a contract similar to what Todd Gurley received from the Los Angeles Rams last year. Gurley’s deal calls for $57 million over four seasons with $45 million in total guarantees. Eligible for an extension, it’s not yet known whether Elliott will wait for a better deal.
Unlike Gurley, who struggled earlier in his career, Elliott’s first three seasons in the NFL rivals any running back in league history. The two-time Pro Bowler has recorded 5,247 total yards and 40 touchdowns in 40 games. There’s a decent chance Elliott will reset the running back market in a big way. Something to the tune of $65 million over four seasons could be in the cards. Signing shorter-term deal would also enable Elliott to hit the market when he’s still in his prime.
Jalen Ramsey, cornerback, Jacksonville Jaguars
Given the immature attitude he displayed last season, we’re not too sure Tom Coughlin and the Jaguars are jumping through hoops to offer Ramsey what would be a record-breaking deal for a cornerback. Coughlin is a no-nonsense type of guy. Ramsey plays it loose with that philosophy.
Even then, it’s hard to imagine Jacksonville wanting this situation to drag on. Either the team trades Ramsey or offers him an extension worth $80-$85 million over five seasons — surpassing Josh Norman’s deal with the Redskins. Ramsey, 24, has recorded 44 passes defended and nine interceptions in three seasons. The two-time Pro Bowler is certainly looking to get paid soon.
Marcus Peters, cornerback, Los Angeles Rams
Peters’ situation is a bit different than Ramey. Jettisoned from Kansas City in a surprise trade last season, the young cornerback had an uneventful first season with the Rams. While we didn’t see any of the issues he had with the Chiefs pop up, one of the game’s best ball hawks also struggled on the field.
Peters, 26, recorded career lows in passes defended (eight) and interceptions (three) en route to yielding a 70-plus completion percentage when targeted last season. Even then, the Rams have invested in Peters. He also has the track record to suggest a record-breaking deal. Entering his contract year, we’re expecting Peters to get paid before September comes calling.