This NFL offseason has been filled with record-breaking contracts on both sides of the ball. It started with Jimmy Garoppolo landing an absurd deal in San Francisco and continued with Matt Ryan replacing him as the game’s highest-paid quarterback. In between, Kirk Cousins received the first fully guaranteed multi-year deal in league history.
On the defensive side of the ball, Trumaine Johnson, Danielle Hunter, Xavier Rhodes and Malcolm Butler all earned lucrative long-term deals.
In no way does this mean the NFL’s offseason of spending is over. There are multiple stars in line for big extensions before the 2018 season begins. That includes all-time great quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers as well as multiple young defenders. It’s in this that we look at 12 stars set for huge extensions before Week 1.
David Johnson, running back, Arizona Cardinals
Despite missing all but one game to injury last season, there have been rumblings out of the desert that this dynamic running back will be extended prior to the start of the 2018 season. And for good reason. With Carson Palmer in retirement and Larry Fitzgerald set to join him there soon, Johnson is now the face of the Cardinals’ franchise.
A third-round pick out of Northern Iowa back in 2015, Johnson gained 2,118 total yards and 20 touchdowns from scrimmage as a sophomore, leading NFL running backs in each category. He’s still only 26 years old and has yet to hit his prime. Being a multi-dimensional threat out of the backfield (80 receptions in 2016), his value to the Cardinals is absolutely huge.
Looking at the current market for running backs, something north of the five-year, $41.25 million deal Devonta Freeman signed with the Atlanta Falcons last offseason seems to make the most sense here.
Marcus Peters, cornerback, Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles didn’t yield a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft and a second rounder next year to the Chiefs for Peters to be a one-year rental. That’s not how it works. As the top ball hawk in the NFL since entering the league back in 2015, Peters will get paid here soon. Here’s a guy that has forced an average of seven turnovers over the course of his three seasons in the league.
Certainly, the Rams have a whole plethora of contracts to worry about. We’ll focus on the others a tad later. But when you can lock up a shutdown cornerback to a long-term deal before he enters his age-25 season, it’s something you simply have to do.
The cornerback market is somewhat wonky in that Trumaine Johnson and Xavier Rhodes have earned huge paydays recently. Johnson benefited from being a free agent in an offseason that saw plenty of teams with a ton of cash to spend. This is something the Rams don’t want to be forced to deal with moving forward.
Julio Jones, wide receiver, Atlanta Falcons
At this point, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that Jones won’t report to training camp unless he receives a raise from the $10.5 million base salary he’s set to make next season. And while most of the focus at wide receiver has been on Odell Beckham’s contract situation, we fully expect this to be resolved first.
Jones, 29, has put up an average of 103 receptions for 1,579 yards over the past four seasons. He’s more consistent than OBJ and has not been anywhere near the enigmatic locker room presence as his counterpart in New Jersey.
Given that Jones is in the midst of his prime, any new deal won’t add a full five years on to his new contract. Instead, an extension would simply provide the star receiver a raise over the final three years of his current deal while adding a couple more years to the mix. He’s certainly in line to top the $16.5 million Mike Evans received annually on his new deal with Tampa Bay. That’s for sure.
Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers
From talking about retirement to looking for an extension. This is the 180 we have seen Big Ben do during the offseason, and it’s going to lead to a massive payday for the future Hall of Famer at some point soon. Even after adding Mason Rudolph in April’s draft, Pittsburgh is committed to Roethlisberger long term. Coming off an age-35 season that saw him put up nearly 4,300 yards with 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, this makes sense from a Steelers perspective.
The only question here is what a new deal might look like. Big Ben’s average annual salary of $21.85 million makes him the 11th highest-paid quarterback in the league. It also runs through the 2019 season. It’s in this that we wouldn’t be shocked to see Pittsburgh hand the Super Bowl winner a reworked deal that pays him $30-plus million annually through the 2021 or 2022 campaign.
Leonard Williams, defensive tackle, New York Jets
Now that the Jets have washed themselves of Sheldon Richardson and Mo Wilkerson completely, Williams becomes the face of this team’s defense. As much as this bodes well for the Jets moving forward, it also provides Williams with some solid negotiating power.
Having already picked up the $14.2 million option on Williams’ rookie deal for the 2019 season, that seems to be the baseline average annual salary he’ll receive on a long-term extension. It’s pretty much similar to the deals we’ve seen from the likes of Malik Jackson and Gerald McCoy recently.
Sure the Jets might push back against the idea of handing a player with 12 career sacks under his belt this type of money. That makes sense. But Williams’ importance to the team is much more widespread than simple sack numbers. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams is second behind Aaron Donald among NFL defensive tackles in combined sacks and hits over the past two seasons. His presence is real, one that the Jets need to make sure continues over the long haul.
Earl Thomas, safety, Seattle Seahawks
Does Kam Chancellor’s unofficial retirement change anything on this front? We’re not too sure. What we do know is that Thomas will not report to training camp unless he receives a new deal. Thomas, 29, has one year remaining on the four-year, $40 million extension he signed with Seattle back in 2014. The market has reset itself multiple times since he signed that new deal. Now, in the back end of his prime, Thomas wants long-term security.
And who can blame him? The six-time Pro Bowler has been a generational talent in Seattle’s secondary. Without any true shutdown corners in front of him, his value to the team has increased even more.
In no way does this mean Thomas will be extended. Instead, there’s a decent chance Thomas is in fact traded prior to the start of the season, at which point his new team would give him the contract Seattle has pushed back against handing the All-Pro safety.
Aaron Rodgers, quarterback, Green Bay Packers
Packers president Mark Murphy just recently indicated that a Rodgers extension is likely coming soon. Given that the former league MVP and Super Bowl champ ranks outside of the top-five quarterbacks in average annual salary, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Now that Jimmy Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan have received lucrative long-term deals this offseason, Rodgers is next in line. It just remains to be seen what said deal would look like.
He’s certainly going to set a new market, receiving a deal that surpasses the $30 million Ryan is receiving annually. But at 34 years old and with two more years remaining on his current deal, said contract will likely only add a few more years to the mix. Even then, something to the tune of five years and $170 million with $100-plus million guaranteed makes the most sense here.
Todd Gurley, running back, Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles should jump on making Gurley the highest-paid running back in NFL history. The more this team holds off on doing just that, the more lucrative Gurley’s initial veteran contract will be. That’s only magnified with David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell set for huge paydays here soon.
Gurley, 23, is coming off a 2017 campaign in which he earned NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors en route to leading the Rams to a surprising division title. All said, he gained 2,093 total yards and 19 touchdowns. He still has not hit his prime and is among the most valuable players in the game.
Holding off on extending Gurley could put the Rams in a similar situation as we’re seeing with Bell and the Steelers. Does GM Les Snead want to be forced to use the franchise tag on a running back when said tag completely shatters an otherwise cold running back market? We’re not too sure about that.
Vic Beasley, EDGE, Atlanta Falcons
This is certainly an interesting situation to look at. Atlanta now boasts the highest-paid quarterback and running back in the NFL after extending Matt Ryan and Devonta Freeman, respectively. It’s also going to be forced to hand Julio Jones the richest contract for a wide receiver in league history. How much cash is that going to leave the likes of Jake Matthews and Vic Beasley, both of whom are set for extensions?
It’s not a great problem to have in an NFL where a hard cap is the name of the game. Having put up 20.5 sacks over the past two seasons, the 25-year-old Beasley already saw the $14.2 million option picked up on his rookie deal for the 2019 campaign. Much like what we mentioned with Leonard Williams before, that has to be the bare minimum Beasley will receive on a long-term extension. Hopefully, from a Falcons perspective, it’s done sooner rather than later. If not, the price will just go up from there.
Stefon Diggs, wide receiver, Minnesota Vikings
Having seen the Vikings extend numerous defensive players, it’s now time the team looks at its offense. It started with the extension Adam Thielen signed last offseason, but certainly need to include Diggs at some point soon.
Here’s the issue. As a fifth-round pick back in 2015, Minnesota doesn’t hold a fifth-year option on Diggs’ rookie contract. This means he’ll hit free agency next March should the two sides not come to terms on a long-term deal.
Set to earn a base of just $1.9 million this coming season, Diggs is also among the most underpaid players in the game. Here’s a guy that’s recorded 148 catches with a 70-plus reception percentage over the past two seasons. He deserves to get paid the big bucks. And if the Vikings are not willing to do that before Week 1, Diggs’ price tag is only going to increase.
Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Los Angeles Rams
At this point, it’s pretty darn ridiculous that Los Angeles has not backed up the Brinks truck for the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Donald knows this full well. And that’s why he’s likely going to be a training camp holdout for a second consecutive year. His frustration was brought to an entirely new level when the Rams handed fellow defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh a one-year, $14 million contract back in March.
It really should be a simple resolution. Make Donald the highest-paid defensive player in league history, surpassing the five-year, $85 million deal Olivier Vernon is currently playing under with the Giants. In fact, Donald should earn $100-plus million in total contract value on his new deal.
What the heck is the hold up here? It’s not like we’re talking about a 27-year-old interior lineman that’s averaging 10 sacks per season in his career. It’s time for the Rams to bite the bullet and stop looking foolish.
Tom Brady, quarterback, New England Patriots
Brady has in the past taken far less than market value to help his Patriots build a consistent Super Bowl contender. It’s one of the least talked about aspects of a Hall of Fame career for the five-time champion. But the time surely has come for Brady to think about himself above all else. New England lost multiple key contributors to its AFC winning 2017 squad, refusing to use the money Brady saved it to retain top-end talent.
The quarterback himself was a no-show for the vast majority of New England’s offseason program, a clear indication that he’s not a happy camper. Brady’s average annual salary of $20.5 million ranks 15th among quarterbacks, behind the likes of Eli Manning, Joe Flacco and Alex Smith. That’s just not right.
Even entering his age-41 season, Brady has proven he has more than enough left in the tank to play a few more years. It’s in this that the Patriots need to extend Brady through the 2020 season on a fully guaranteed contract. It’s not like they have Jimmy Garoppolo as a backup option.