18 NFL Stars Who Deserve Huge Contract Extensions

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystJune 4, 2013

18 NFL Stars Who Deserve Huge Contract Extensions

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    There are NFL stars who are being grossly underpaid for the performances they are giving their respective teams. While this isn’t uncommon in professional sports, it doesn’t mean these players don’t deserve to be paid based on their performances.

    The NFL has rigged the system and teams will try to use it to their advantage while many of the stars don’t have a lot of power to increase their earning potential.

    The players most deserving of a huge contact extension often fall into a few categories. There are either young players who haven’t played enough years to renegotiate, star players in the final year of their contracts, a star player who has been given the franchise tag or, in some instances, a player who has a long-term contract, but is still underpaid.

    Salary figures used are from overthecap.com unless otherwise specified.

Colin Kaepernick

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    The best quarterbacks in the NFL now make upwards of $17 million per season, but Colin Kaepernick will make just $740,844 in 2013.

    Although the San Francisco 49ers would love to benefit from paying Kaepernick just $976,766 in 2014, it would likely cost more money because they would have to slap the franchise tag on him at the conclusion of the season.

    Kaepernick can’t renegotiate his contract until after the 2013 season, so it will be important for him to take advantage of being the full-time starter this year. Based on his seven starts in 2012, a full season in 2013 would project Kaepernick to accumulate over 3,500 passing yards, 500 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. That kind of production will not command elite money.

    However, if Kaepernick produces in the 2013 regular season like he did during the playoffs last season, he just might be the best quarterback in the league and would need to be paid like it. Kaepernick averaged 266 passing yards and 88 rushing yards in the playoffs with 2.3 touchdowns per game. Over an entire season, those averages would put Kaepernick over 4,000 passing yards, 1,400 rushing yards and 37 touchdowns.

    The range of possible outcomes is wide, but Kaepernick has already proven he deserves a big contract extension and we’ve learned not to bet against head coach Jim Harbaugh. At this point, the only question will be if Kaepernick deserves to be paid like the handful of top quarterbacks in the entire league. 

Matt Ryan

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    The Atlanta Falcons have not been able to win a Vince Lombardi Trophy under Matt Ryan, but they have won 72 percent of their regular-season games since he was drafted in 2008. Ryan is entering the final year of his contract, which makes him a prime candidate for a huge contract extension.

    The Falcons and Ryan have been talking about a contract extension since January, so it’s probably only a matter of time before Ryan is rewarded handsomely for his contributions to the team’s turnaround over the past five seasons.

    Dimitroff appeared on SiriusXM Radio on May 17 and told hosts Alex Marvez and James Miller that a deal would get done to keep Ryan as a Falcon. The only question is if Ryan’s deal compares to those given to Joe Flacco and Tony Romo this offseason.

    Ryan’s passing statistics are significantly better than Flacco and he’s five years younger than Romo, so you would think his agent is holding out for a deal that would place him among the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL.   

Demaryius Thomas

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    Peyton Manning’s arrival and ability to stay healthy for 16 games resulted in a career year for Demaryius Thomas in 2012 with the Broncos.

    There weren’t many receivers better than Thomas last season, even though there were other receivers in Denver like Eric Decker stealing his opportunities.

    Thomas ranked fourth in receiving yardage, sixth in receiving touchdowns and eighth in receptions in 2012, but he will make just $836,500 in base salary in 2013. While Thomas will make $3.3 million in 2014, the Broncos would be wise to give him a big contract extension before they have to use the franchise tag if they intend to keep him over the long haul.

    Even though Thomas deserves an extension, there is a possibility that he plays out his contract and is given the franchise tag in 2015. If Manning retires after the 2014 season, the Broncos could force Thomas to prove he can get the job done without a great quarterback or they could give Thomas the money the team saved from no longer having Manning’s contract.

A.J. Green

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    The NFL’s rookie wage scale prevents players from renegotiating their contracts until after their third year. The scale hurts young stars like A.J. Green whose rookie contracts are cheap compared to their veteran counterparts.

    Green is entering his third year, but will make just $2.1 million in base salary in 2013.  Green has already proven he can get the job done without an elite quarterback, so there is no reason for the Bengals to tiptoe around a big extension as soon as possible. Green is already a top-10 receiver and he’s also one of the youngest at just 24 years old.

    There’s significantly more risk involved if the Bengals try to drag out the process by making Green play the final year of his rookie contract. The franchise tag would have to be used to retain Green at that point, which should typically be used as a last resort for a player of Green’s stature. 

C.J. Spiller

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    As amazing as Adrian Peterson was in 2012 for the Vikings, C.J. Spiller was actually more productive for the Bills by nearly a full yard on a per touch basis. Both Peterson and Spiller averaged 6.0 yards per carry, but Spiller added 459 yards receiving to Peterson's 217. While Spiller didn’t get as many opportunities in 2012 as Peterson, he was every bit as dynamic.

    Despite being one of the best running backs in the league, Spiller makes an average of just $5.1 million per season to rank 13th as his position. Peterson is making $14.2 million per year on average while less-productive running backs like Chris Johnson, Jonathan Stewart and Darren McFadden are all making significantly more than Spiller.

    Unfortunately for Spiller, he’s under contract through 2015 and running backs aren’t getting the big-money contracts they did a few years ago. Spiller is going to have to prove his worth while carrying a heavier workload and by the time he’s a free agent, he’ll probably only have a couple of good years left.

    It would be tough to blame Spiller for holding out for a big contract extension in the next couple of years, especially if he continues to produce like he did in 2012, while being given additional opportunities. 

Jimmy Graham

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    Jimmy Graham is entering a contract year where he will make just $1.3 million in 2013, a steal for one of the best tight ends in the NFL.

    Forty-six tight ends make more than Graham on a per year basis, even though no tight end has more receiving yards over the last two years. Only Jason Witten has more receptions and only Rob Gronkowski has more touchdowns catches over the same two-year period.

    Graham has to be considered one of the three best receiving tight ends in the game. Graham also doesn’t come with Gronkowski’s injury concerns and he’s five years younger than Witten. Graham is a huge part of the Saints' offense and needs to be rewarded with a contract extension that fits his status.

    The top tight ends make around $7 million per year over the lives of their contracts, which will likely be a target for Graham’s agent. There is no reason Graham shouldn’t make more than Jared Cook, who just signed a deal that will pay him $35.1 million over five years, with $16 million guaranteed.

Ryan Clady

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    Since entering the league in 2008, Ryan Clady has played every game for the Denver Broncos.

    Not only has Clady played 80 games in a row, but he’s done so at a very high level. On a yearly basis, Clady has been of the best five left tackles in the league.

    With his rookie deal expiring at the conclusion of the 2012 season, the Broncos gave Clady the franchise tag while they continued to work toward a long-term contract. It’s probably only a matter of time before the Broncos and Clady come to an agreement.

    Once the ink is dry on Clady’s contract, he should become one of the top-paid left tackles in the NFL. The franchise tag guarantees Clady at least $9.8 million in 2013, but his agent is reportedly looking at Joe Thomas’ $92 million contract and hoping to match or exceed those numbers after rejecting a five-year, $50 million offer last summer, according Mike Klis of the Denver Post.  

    Clady deserves the big contract and the Broncos can’t afford to let anyone else protect Peyton Manning’s blind side. Either Clady’s contract extension will be quite lucrative or he’ll play 2013 under the franchise tag, which would be unfortunate for the Broncos. 

Jared Veldheer

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    The Raiders may not have a ton of talent, but keeping the talent they do have should obviously be a priority. Jared Veldheer has improved steadily since his rookie year and was one of the better left tackles in the game in 2012.

    Veldheer is in the final year of his rookie contract that will pay him just $1.3 million and would be one of the few good left tackles to hit the market next season. As evidenced by Jake Long’s contract, a thin market for left tackles can drive up their cost.

    Oakland’s salary cap issues will mean using the franchise tag if they can’t come to some agreement with Veldheer before the signing deadline next season. The Raiders will have a lot of money to spend in 2014, so a good chunk of it should end up in Veldheer’s pocket. 

Eugene Monroe

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    Eugene Monroe’s contract voids after the 2013 season and he will become a free agent if the Jaguars don’t give him a contract extension.

    With the drafting of Luke Joeckel in 2013, the Jaguars have an alternative at left tackle if they can’t come to an agreement with Monroe.

    That would probably be a mistake as Monroe has become one of the better left tackles in the game over the last two seasons after a bit of a rocky start to his career. If Monroe has another strong season, the Jaguars would be crazy not to give him a lucrative contract extension.

    It will certainly make it easier to break in a new quarterback in 2014 if the Jaguars have two bookend offensive tackles. If Jacksonville's  quarterback is going to have any success in 2013, having Monroe protect his blind side is a going to be a big part of it.

Muhammad Wilkerson

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    The New York Jets may be a disaster on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense has still been above average. A big reason that the Jets have been able to produce on defense stems from the play of defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.

    Wilkerson is versatile enough to play in any scheme, which makes him the ideal chess piece for a defensive coach. Wilkerson is a dominant run defender, but he’s not a bad pass-rusher and had five sacks in 2012.

    Wilkerson will make $1 million in base salary in 2013 and be eligible to renegotiate his contract after the season. Wilkerson has a modest pay increase in the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, so waiting to give him the franchise tag after the 2014 season will be costly since there is no differentiation between 3-4 and 4-3 defensive ends.

    The Jets would be smart to give Wilkerson a big extension after the season if he continues his strong play, as he is expected to do even with rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson in the fold. 

Corey Liuget

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    Like Wilkerson, Corey Liuget has become one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the league and will be a free agent after the 2014 season.

    The Chargers would likely want to avoid the franchise tag in Liuget’s case, which means putting him at risk to go elsewhere in 2014 or locking him up after the 2013 season.

    The 23-year-old Liuget is also still very young and isn’t drastically underpaid for an average 3-4 defensive end, but with a repeat performance of his seven-sack 2012 season, he will deserve a significant pay increase.

    A total of 17 other 3-4 defense ends make more than Liuget on an annual basis, even though only a handful are better. Liuget is deserving of a lucrative extension based on his play in 2012, but he’s still getting better and that could ultimately make him among the top-paid players at his position when the time comes for the Chargers to extend a contract offer.

Jason Pierre-Paul

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    Although his sack production was down a little bit in 2012, Jason Pierre-Paul is still one of the best 4-3 defensive ends in the NFL, but he isn’t paid anywhere near what he is worth. Pierre-Paul makes just $3.2 million as a per year average and will make just $1.5 million in 2013 if you don’t include his prorated bonus.

    Since Pierre-Paul is under the control of the Giants through the 2015 season, there’s very little chance for him to renegotiate his deal without holding out. In all likelihood, Pierre-Paul is going to remain severely underpaid for at least two more years.

    Pierre-Paul is a rare defensive end because he isn’t just a great pass-rusher or great run stopper, but he can do both. When Pierre-Paul finally does get an extension, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he becomes one of the top paid in the entire league.  

Henry Melton

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    Anytime a team gives a defensive tackle the franchise tag and therefore guarantees him $8.5 million, you can usually bet that they want to retain his services for more than one year.

    Henry Melton was one of Chicago’s best defensive players in 2012 and the two sides are still working toward a long-term deal, even though Melton is attending offseason workouts.

    ProFootballFocus (subscription required) ranked Melton as the seventh-best defensive tackle in 2012 and with the franchise tag will be paid appropriately, but only for one season. There’s reason for the Bears to believe in Melton’s long-term production because he has 13 sacks over the past two seasons, which is impressive for an interior player.

Geno Atkins

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    Geno Atkins might be the best defensive player in football, but he makes peanuts compared to other players at his position.

    The 2013 season is a contract year for Atkins and the Bengals will have to open the checkbook in a big way to retain him.

    Atkins will make just $1.5 million in the final year of his rookie contract and would surely be given the franchise tag if the two sides can’t hammer out an agreement before the start of free agency next year.

    Just how dominant is Atkins? He had only a half-sack less in 2012 than Melton has had total over the last two years. Melton is a great player in his own right, but he couldn’t even compare to Atkins.

    ProFootballFocus gave Atkins an unbelievable grade of 80.0, which is more than twice that of the grade that was given to the next-best defensive tackle (31.2). 

Justin Houston

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    It’s pretty amazing when a team can get 10 sacks out of a player that makes less than $1 million per season, but that’s what the Chiefs have in Justin Houston.

    Drafted in 2011 in the third round, Houston will not even be eligible to renegotiate his deal until after the 2013 season.

    Houston will make $580,000 in base salary in 2013 and $670,000 in 2014 not including a small prorated signing bonus. If Houston continues to put the heat on opposing quarterbacks, the Chiefs will have to shell out the big bucks to keep Houston, which will almost certainly spell the end for Tamba Hali in Kansas City.

    It makes sense for the Chiefs to squeeze cheap production out of Houston rather than extend his contract, even though he deserves to be paid like one of the top outside linebackers in the game. Houston ranks 36th in pay among 3-4 outside linebackers at the moment, which is absurdly low given his production.

    Houston should get his big contract extension, but he’ll probably have to wait for it. The Chiefs can be absolutely certain that Houston’s season was not a fluke and that he is a legitimate pass-rusher.  

Brian Cushing

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    Brian Cushing is the heart and soul of the Houston Texans’ defense, but the 2013 season is the final one on his rookie contract.

    When Cushing is healthy, he’s one of the best linebackers in football and deserves a long-term contract to reflect his dominance.

    When Cushing was healthy in 2011, only Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman were given better ProFootballFocus grades at inside linebacker. In addition, Only Daryl Smith had a better ProFootballFocus grade at outside linebacker during Cushing’s rookie season in 2009. Cushing is a linebacker that can do it all, which is a great luxury for a defensive coordinator.

    Considering that Bowman and Willis both play for the 49ers,  it’s not hard to make the case that Cushing is more singularly important to his team. The Texans were undefeated in the five games Cushing played in 2012, including a victory over the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning.

    Cushing’s best season was in 2011 when Houston went 10-3 before losing its final three games. The Texans were 1-6 when giving up more than 14 points that year. In other words, in their 10 wins, Cushing and the defense carried the Texans to victory.

Richard Sherman

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    Richard Sherman may be the best cornerback in the NFL, but like many others on this list he’s not even able to renegotiate his contract until after the 2013 season. Sherman will make just $555,000 in 2013 and $645,000 in 2014 if the Seahawks don’t give him an extension.

    The Seahawks get the benefit of a favorable contract for one or two more years, which will enable them to load up for a run at the Vince Lombardi Trophy. When the Seahawks do finally give Sherman an extension, it will be interesting if he demands to be paid as much, or more, than Darrelle Revis.

    Revis will make $16 million per year, which is $5.4 million more than the next-highest cornerback, but his deal includes no guaranteed money. Sherman’s future deal will almost certainly eclipse the $50 million deals given to Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan last year.

Jairus Byrd

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    Jairus Byrd, who is one of the best safeties in the league, was given the franchise tag by the Bills, which means a long-term contract is imminent.

    It seems to be easier for teams to figure out long-term contract for safeties than other positions, so this a deal that shouldn’t fall normally fall through the cracks.

    However, Byrd’s agent, Eugene Parker, is sure to bring up Dashon Goldson’s $41.2 million deal with the Buccaneers this offseason as a starting point in negotiations. ProFootballFocus graded Byrd as the second-best safety in 2012 while Goldson came in 20th. Byrd was also much better in 2011, according to ProFootballFocus.

    It’s possible that Byrd will hold out for a contract like that of Eric Weddle, which would pay him $40 million over five years, with nearly half of it guaranteed. Since the franchise tag would actually be cheaper on a per year average, the negotiations and structure could get tricky.