Training camp has finally begun for all 32 NFL teams, so that can only mean one thing: football is almost back! Although the football world is abuzz with excitement for the upcoming season, training camp tends to be utilized as a negotiating window for elite players that are anticipating big pay days. Last year, three major holdouts resulted in record-breaking contracts for Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack, along with Le’Veon Bell’s yearlong hiatus. A few big names like Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon are already expected to follow in Le’Veon’s footsteps, but who else is in line for a massive extension this time around?
Player Charts Glossary: NOW = 2018 performance; Potential = Highest potential going forward
There’s nothing that could be said that hasn’t already been said about Julio Jones. Since the Falcons made him the 6th overall pick in 2011, only Antonio Brown has more receptions or yards than Julio. Last year, he led the entire league in receiving yards and ranked 4th in receptions. Additionally, he ranked 1st in yards per route run with 2.93, the 5th-highest mark since 2014. Those ahead of him would be AJ Green in 2014, Julio in 2015, Julio in 2016, and Julio in 2017. Put simply, Julio Jones’ extended period of dominance warrants a contract that rivals that of the league’s best wideouts.
Potential Contract: 4 years, $80 million ($50 million guaranteed)
Actual Contract: 3 years, $66 million ($64 million guaranteed)
Ever since he entered the NFL in 2012, Wagner has exemplified excellence. The four-time All-Pro finished 2018 as PFF’s top-graded linebacker and missed just ONE single tackle last season. He has been the single most important force in the retooling of Seattle’s defense, and they’ll likely rely on him heavily for the foreseeable future. One interesting note to keep in mind is that Wagner will not be utilizing an agent and plans to represent himself in these negotiations.
UPDATE: Wagner officially signed an extension to stay with Seattle (7/26).
Potential Contract: 4 years, $72 million ($50 million guaranteed)
Actual Contract: 3 years, $54 million ($40.2 million guaranteed)
Finishing in the top-ten of nearly every relevant statistical category in 2018, there’s no question that Michael Thomas is one of the NFL’s premier offensive weapons. He earned the second-highest PFF grade among all wide receivers in 2018, trailing only DeAndre Hopkins. He will more than likely use Odell Beckham Jr.’s recent contract as a starting point, and the Saints would be wise to lock him up before the wide receiver market resets yet again.
Potential Contract: 5 years, $95 million ($65 million guaranteed)
Actual Contract: 5 years, $96.25 million ($61 million guaranteed)
By all measures, Chris Jones had a breakout year in 2018. He finished 3rd in the NFL in sacks (15.5), 5th in QB hits (29), 5th in tackles for loss (19), and earned the second-highest pass rush productivity grade (9.4), behind only Aaron Donald (11.5). Over the last three seasons, Jones has earned the 6th-highest overall PFF grade (90.8) and is tied for the 3rd-highest pass rushing grade (91.1).
At just 25 years old, he is the building block that the Kansas City defense needs now that longtime anchors Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, and Eric Berry are gone. With the Chiefs transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme, Jones should see a lot more time on the interior defensive line, where his rare combination of size and athleticism will allow him to wreak havoc up the middle of opposing offensive lines. The offseason acquisition of Frank Clark will take some of the attention away from Jones, who could be in for another monster season.
Potential Contract: 5 years, $95 million ($50 million guaranteed)
Ever since he left the Kansas City Chiefs to join their bitter rivals in 2015, Hudson has earned PFF’s top pass-blocking grade among all centers every single year. Hudson epitomizes excellence and consistency, he is the proverbial and literal anchor of Oakland’s once-vaunted offensive line. Without Hudson’s presence, Derek Carr likely would not have made it through the entire season in one piece. If the team does indeed see an improvement up front, it will be due in large part to Hudson’s ability to maintain a clean pocket for his quarterback to step into.
Potential Contract: 4 years, $45 million ($30 million guaranteed)
Actual Contract: 3 years, $33.75 million ($24.4 million guaranteed)
Despite recording only 9.5 sacks in 2018 (compared to 12.0 in 2017), Ngakoue continued his ascent into the upper-echelon of pass rushers by finishing 3rd in QB hits (33). He has played a large part in Sacksonville’s dominant defense over the last few years, as he is ranked 10th in sacks since entering the league in 2016 (29.5). Additionally, over the last two seasons, Ngakoue has earned the eighth-highest pass rushing grade among all edge rushers. Those ahead of him include the likes of DeMarcus Lawrence, Von Miller, Joey Bosa, and Khalil Mack, to name a few. Since the Jaguars lost Malik Jackson this offseason and Calais Campbell is nearing the end of his career, retooling behind a talent like Ngakoue seems to be the best course of action going forward.
Potential Contract: 4 years, $75 million ($40 million guaranteed)
Since his rookie year with the Chiefs in 2015, Peters leads the league with 22 interceptions, 6 more than any other player. He also has deflected the third-most passes over that time period as well. Although he struggled out of the gate in 2018, Peters recovered beautifully, earning the eighth-highest PFF coverage grade after the Rams’ bye week. The cornerback market will likely be reset this coming season by a potential Jalen Ramsey extension, but Peters’ will not be far behind.
UPDATE: The Rams have traded Peters to Baltimore in exchange for undisclosed draft compensation (10/15)
Potential Contract: 4 years, $65 million ($30 million guaranteed)
Much like the rest of the Washington Redskins’ offensive line the last two seasons, Scherff unfortunately fell victim to the injury bug in 2018. In the eight games he did play, however, Scherff earned the highest pass-blocking grade among all offensive guards, according to PFF. With Trent Williams’ future with the franchise up in the air, the time is now for the Redskins to secure Dwayne Haskins’ protection for the foreseeable future.
Potential Contract: 5 years, $70 million ($45 million guaranteed)
Amari Cooper suffered through a tumultuous start to the 2018 season that resulted in the Oakland Raiders trading him after two consecutive no-shows in weeks 5 and 6 (combined 1 reception for 10 yards). As soon as he arrived in Dallas mid-season, however, Cooper immediately hit the ground running. He quickly found a groove with Dak Prescott as he went on to lead the Cowboys in receiving yards and touchdowns for the season. The Cowboys would be wise to keep the young duo together, especially considering the price they paid for Cooper and the price they’re expected to pay Prescott.
Potential Contract: 5 years, $85 million ($55 million guaranteed)
Dak Prescott’s potential extension is probably the most difficult to gauge out of this group. Although Dallas has sustained success throughout his first three seasons (32-16 record as a starter), many would argue that their success hinges more on Ezekiel Elliott than Prescott. Quite frankly, those critics wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Elliott has sustained historic-level production throughout his first three seasons, whereas Prescott has hovered around the 10-15 range in most passing categories (which is not bad by any means).
As cliche as it sounds, quarterback is the most important position in football and good ones are hard to find, which leads to many teams overpaying once they do find one. Therefore, don’t be surprised if Jerry Jones hands Prescott a blank check that ultimately makes him the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL (for the time being).
Potential Contract: 5 years, $160 million ($110 million guaranteed)
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