I don’t know what the weather is like where you’re reading this today, but if you live anywhere close to where I do in Connecticut, it’s almost certainly raining, as it does every day now.
There are positives and negatives to suddenly living in higher-tax Seattle. On the down side, I’m not sure I know where my golf clubs are anymore. On the plus side, I’ve run the sprinkler only one time so far this calendar year and the lawn still looks fantastic.
When every day feels the same, it can feel as if time isn’t moving. In reality it is, and we’re about five weeks until the start of NFL training camps. This is a slow period for much of the league but a busy one for accountants and salary cap managers whose teams want to get players signed to contract extensions before camp starts.
With that in mind, I thought we’d take a look at a few of the players who are in line to get big contract extensions before camp — or at least before the regular season.
We’re going to do these four as a group, because one of them will come out of this the highest-paid wide receiver in the league and it’s possible they’ll end up as the top four. Jones has two years and about $21 million left on his current deal, but the Falcons got him to camp last year by promising they’d extend him this year. Thomas, who has caught more passes in his first three NFL seasons than anyone ever has, is slated to earn just $1.148 million in this, the final year of his rookie contract. Green has one year left at about $12.2 million, and Cooper is scheduled to earn $13.924 million on his fifth-year rookie contract option.
Green is the oldest of the group (he turns 31 on July 31) and has missed 13 games due to injury over the past three seasons. This, plus his team’s well-known frugality, probably lands him at the back end of this group, though if the rest of them push $20 million a year there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to surpass Odell Beckham Jr.’s $18 million average on a shorter-term deal.
Jones is the most accomplished of the group. With two years left on his deal, the Falcons could conceivably give him $20 million a year in new money and still save some face with other teams. Let’s say Jones gets a four-year, $80 million extension. He and agent Jimmy Sexton will have set a record, but the team can lump the new deal in with the current deal and say Jones is only making $16.83 million a year over the next six. Win-win.
Thomas is only 26, and his production so far makes as strong a case as anyone to be the highest paid at his position. He could be hurt by the fact that his starting point in negotiations (that sub-$2 million 2019 salary) is so much lower than everyone else on this list, but that shouldn’t matter, especially if he’s willing to wait out the Jones deal. Many people around the league think one of the reasons these deals aren’t done yet is that each guy is waiting for one of the others to do his deal first, so he can top it.
Which brings me to Cooper, who’s both the youngest of the group (just turned 25 on Monday) and has the highest current 2019 salary. Cooper hasn’t produced the way the other three have, but do not rule out the possibility that he ends up making more than all of them. The Cowboys know that if they let him play out this year on the option and franchise him next year, they’d be paying him more than $31 million guaranteed over two seasons. That’s the starting point if you’re Joel Segal, his agent, and Segal is not to be underestimated. A year ago, most people would have predicted that Aaron Donald would be the highest-paid defensive player once his extension was signed. But Khalil Mack waited out the Donald situation, got himself traded to the Chicago Bears and signed a deal bigger than Donald’s. Want to guess who Mack’s agent is?
Other WR extensions: Don’t be surprised to see Green’s Cincinnati teammate, Tyler Boyd, sign a deal similar to the one the New York Giants gave Sterling Shepard. … The Tyreek Hill situation in Kansas City remains up in the air, but he has only one year left on his deal. Once the league decides on discipline for Hill, the two sides likely will discuss an extension. … Contract-year players such as Denver’s Emmanuel Sanders, Philadelphia’s Nelson Agholor and the New York Jets‘ Robby Anderson likely have to wait, but you never know.
A former fourth-round pick, Prescott is set to earn $2.025 million in this, the final year of his rookie contract. You don’t have to follow the league closely to know that number is a tad low for a starting quarterback. Prescott needs a correction, and he and agent Todd France have watched Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Wentz sign deals for $35 million, $34 million and $32 million a year, respectively, this offseason.
Wilson and Roethlisberger have Hall of Fame-caliber resumes and Super Bowl titles, so Wentz’s deal is the one that really helps Prescott. The Cowboys’ 25-year-old signal-caller has won more games (33-23) and more division titles (2-1) than Wentz since the two entered the league in 2016 and has played in three more playoff games. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Prescott is the better player (he might be, he might not be, time will tell), but he absolutely has a case for making more than Wentz. The Cowboys’ front office was studying Wentz’s deal last week to see how it pertains to Prescott’s situation, and you better believe that’s the one the two sides will be working off of.
Can you name me a quarterback who has twice as many Super Bowl rings as Roethlisberger and Wilson combined? Oh wait. I just did. Brady has one year left on his contract at $15 million. He has rarely insisted on being the highest-paid quarterback in the league, but it sure would be hard to argue that he shouldn’t be. Expect a lucrative extension for one or two years, even if it doesn’t top Wilson and Roethlisberger.
Other QB extensions: Drew Brees and Philip Rivers are in contract years and should get extended. (Eli Manning might not be so lucky.) … The Tampa Bay Buccaneers should make this a prove-it year for Jameis Winston, but there are people in the league who believe Tampa Bay might extend him this offseason. … And man, am I fascinated with the case of Indianapolis Colts backup QB Jacoby Brissett, who has one year left at $2.025 million and has a lot more leverage than most backups do.
Mike Tannenbaum explores the possibilities of the Dallas Cowboys signing Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Ezekiel Elliott before the start of the season.
Based on conversations I’ve had with several people connected to this situation, I do not think Elliott gets an extension this offseason, or even next offseason. As vital a player as he is, the Cowboys don’t feel the same urgency with this deal that they do with Prescott, Cooper or even cornerback Byron Jones. They’ve picked up the 2020 option on Elliott for $9.099 million, and because running back numbers always stay low relative to other positions, they feel good about their ability to use the franchise tag on him in 2021 if need be. They have sensible-cost control over Elliott for at least three years. At his current pace, three years equates to about 1,000 touches. Would you be in a hurry to extend a running back — one of the most physically vulnerable positions in the league — if you knew you had another 1,000 touches coming at a reasonable price?
Gordon is in his fifth-year option season, but his number is only $5.605 million because the system hates running backs. The Chargers have said they want to do a deal with Gordon, but can they justify putting him in Todd Gurley territory, or even Le’Veon Bell territory?
This team has a sticky Trent Williams situation to figure out, but Scherff is an important piece of its offensive line and is heading into a $12.525 million, fifth-year option season. Zack Martin‘s $14 million a year and $32 million in guarantees top the guard market — not too far from where Scherff already is.
Other OL extensions: Williams, as mentioned, though he has two years left on his deal and there are other factors at play. … Colts tackle Anthony Castonzo, Saints guard Andrus Peat, Patriots guard Joe Thuney, Cowboys guard/tackle La’el Collins and Oakland Raiders center Rodney Hudson all enter the final years of their respective deals, and the trend in recent seasons is for teams to try to keep valuable offensive linemen off the market.
The Texans’ franchise player, set to earn $15.967 million on a franchise tag he has so far refused to sign, has until July 15 to work out an extension with the team or will have a decision to make: Play out the year on the tag and hit free agency? Sit out a year a la Le’Veon Bell? So far, the Texans have not shown a willingness to give Clowney his deal or trade him to a team that will. This is a situation to watch closely over the next three weeks.
He sat out mandatory minicamp (incurring about $88,000 in fines) because he wants a new deal. With 29.5 sacks in three years, you can see why he thinks $2.025 million isn’t enough for 2019. But because he’s under contract, Ngakoue has to report to training camp no later than Aug. 5 or lose an accrued year of service, pushing his eventual free agency back. They could come to some kind of an agreement by then, but since he has little leverage, Ngakoue isn’t likely to set any records. If he has the stomach for it, he might be better off betting on himself, playing out the year, and hitting the market in March as a top edge-rusher who could command $18 million a year or more.
Other edge-rusher extensions: Baltimore’s Matthew Judon is also living that $2.025 million life and should be in line for more. … Atlanta’s Vic Beasley Jr. led the league in sacks in 2016 but only has 10 since. He’s slated to earn $12.81 million on his fifth-year option this year, and the team could maybe knock that cap number down with an extension.
Jarrett is the Falcons’ franchise player, but he has been with the team all offseason without an extension in place. If no deal is done by July 15, he’d get $15.209 million this year, which would make him the sixth-highest-paid interior defensive lineman in the league. The two sides have been working on a deal and could get one in place by the deadline.
Same position as Ngakoue (above) in that he has to be in camp by Aug. 5 or lose a year toward free agency. As a second-round pick who wasn’t eligible for performance-based fourth-year escalators, Jones is making only $1.2 million this year after recording 15.5 sacks in 2018. This one is tricky, especially given the massive scheme change going on with Kansas City’s defense right now.
Other defensive line extensions: Seattle would like to extend Jarran Reed, another underpaid 2016 second-rounder. … Former first-rounder Leonard Williams has one year left with the Jets at $14.2 million. … It wouldn’t be nuts for the Green Bay Packers do get something done with veteran Mike Daniels ($8.5 million this year) or the Los Angeles Rams with Michael Brockers ($10.25 million).
There has been an exodus of championship leadership from the Seattle defense the past couple of years but Wagner remains, turning 29 next week and with one year and $11.5 million left on his deal. Recent history (see: Thomas, Earl) doesn’t offer much hope that the Seahawks will extend Wagner if they haven’t already, but it’s not off the table. C.J. Mosley‘s $17 million-a-year free-agent deal with the Jets in March likely reset Wagner’s expectations, though, which could make him too pricey for the Seahawks to keep around.
Another guy who fell into that second-round trap and is earning less than $1.1 million this year. Second-round contracts don’t carry fifth-year team options, so they come up for extensions sooner. But the low fourth-year salary sets a low negotiating floor and complicates things — as does the fact that the Falcons are working on deals with Julio Jones and Jarrett at the same time.
Other linebacker extensions: The Patriots likely will work to keep Kyle Van Noy around for a while, assuming he’s willing to take a Patriots-style, below-market deal. … Myles Jack is one of several Jaguars defensive stars who will need a new deal in the coming year or two. … The Rams are happy with Cory Littleton, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them work something out with him.
With 12 interceptions over the past two seasons and one of those $2.025 million salaries for 2019, Byard is in line for a payday. Would he be willing to play out the season and hit a market in which three safeties scored deals in the $14-million-a-year range this past March? Will the Titans offer him enough to convince him not to?
Peters will earn $9.069 million in his fifth-year option season and the Rams have yet to extend him beyond this year. This is curious, since the Rams almost always seem to extend guys early, and it makes you wonder if he’s actually in their long-term plans.
After Prescott and Cooper are taken care of, Jones is the next in line for a deal in Dallas. He’s in his fifth-year option season as well, but his number is only $6.266 million because of an NFL accounting rule that bases your fifth-year option price on the position you played in your third season. Jones was a safety for the Cowboys in 2017, so he’s stuck on the safety number even though he’s now playing corner. Tough break. Will the Cowboys help him make it up on a new deal?
Other defensive back extensions: Cleveland’s Damarious Randall is in the opposition situation from Jones. He’s a safety now, but in his third year he was a cornerback with the Packers. So he’s playing on a fifth-year option number of $9.069 million. … Cincinnati would be wise to lock up former first-round corner William Jackson this offseason. … Corner Trae Waynes could be in line for an extension if he fits into the Minnesota Vikings‘ complicated cap plans. … Is safety Karl Joseph part of the Raiders’ Las Vegas future?