Projecting Which NFL Players Will Earn Extensions During 2014 Season
Free agency is long gone in the NFL, the feeding frenzy from March quieted to a nibble here and there.
But there is a host of players set to become free agents in 2015. Some of those players will sign extensions with their current teams, however, and a handful could come in the middle of the season.
Midseason contract extensions are relatively rare, though, and there have been some disastrous ones in recent years. Remember Ryan Fitzpatrick with the Buffalo Bills and Donovan McNabb with Washington?
Hence, predicting them can get a bit tricky. But we shall try.
Here are five players who may earn contract extensions during the 2014 season.
Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Contract negotiations have been ongoing between quarterback Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Smith spearheaded a surprising turnaround after the San Francisco 49ers traded him for a pair of second-round picks. He proved his doubters wrong, throwing for 3,313 yards, 23 touchdowns and just seven interceptions while leading the Chiefs to an improbable 9-0 start and a postseason berth. He also was fourth in the league at his position with 431 rushing yards.
Had his defense not disintegrated against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, Smith might have made another unexpected playoff run. Alas, a 38-10 lead was not enough.
The 30-year-old—yes, he is younger than Brandon Weeden—is due $7.5 million this year, the final one of his contract. He has improved his game over the years, but he is certainly limited.
Specifically, Smith is vertically challenged. That is to say, he doesn’t have a rocket for an arm—he has a career average of 6.5 yards per attempt, which happens to be what he averaged last season.
Still, he is 30-9 as a starter over the past three seasons, and wins are the name of the game despite the fact football is a team sport.
It all boils down to whether the Chiefs want to go back to the uncertainty they had at quarterback before Smith arrived. That should mean a new deal sometime in the next few months.
Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco 49ers
He might be long in the tooth, but running back Frank Gore has been valuable to the San Francisco 49ers in his relative old age.
Gore rushed for 1,126 yards and nine touchdowns last season at 30 years of age, though he averaged a career low 4.1 yards per carry. The 49ers have been preparing for life after Gore by spending high draft picks on running backs for the past three seasons, none of which has grabbed the bull by the horns.
Part of the reason for lackluster search results has been Gore’s health and success, both of which are sure to melt away as time passes. But the lifetime 49er might have one last contract in store.
Of course, it would be unwise for the 49ers to commit any significant money to an aging running back with all that young talent behind him, but Gore has defied the odds throughout his career after tearing two ACLs in college.
A modest two-year extension with an easy out for the 49ers could be in store for Gore.
Devin McCourty, FS, New England Patriots
The New England Patriots have done a nice job of locking up talent midseason in recent years. Despite it being a relatively rare occurrence around the league, the Patriots have extended the likes of linebackers Jerod Mayo and Rob Ninkovich during campaigns.
This year, Devin McCourty could be that man.
McCourty got off to a rough start with the Patriots, an inconsistent cornerback who was part of a problematic secondary. The Patriots moved him to free safety two seasons ago, however, and he has become one of the best in the league.
He was rated as such by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) last season thanks to strong coverage skills. He ranked sixth in cover snaps per target and 10th per reception—in other words, he wasn’t targeted very often. All in all, he allowed 18 receptions in 585 snaps in coverage.
All that to say the Patriots surely value his contribution to a defense that is primed for a huge season. An extension is coming; the question is how soon.
Brian Hoyer, QB, Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns are planning to start the season with quarterback Brian Hoyer under center. Whether he finishes there is another matter—rookie Johnny Manziel is sure to be breathing down his neck, after all.
For now, though, Hoyer wields a modicum of leverage in contract negotiations. The Browns want to sign him to an extension soon, but that is a bit problematic given he can probably demand more than they want to give him.
The former New England trade chip did a nice job for the Browns in the three games he started before tearing his ACL. While that is the extent of his starting experience, his veteran status gives him an edge over his rookie peer.
Even if Manziel overtakes him sooner than later, the Browns are going to want a quality backup. That should hold especially true for a backup to a diminutive quarterback with a penchant for running.
Hoyer is due $1 million this season, far less than even a good backup is fetching these days, let alone a starter. The tough part is determining value for a new deal, which is why he has yet to be inked to an extension.
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
If they truly believe he is their franchise quarterback for years to come, the Cincinnati Bengals had better get Andy Dalton locked up to a long-term deal soon.
That’s because the Bengals don’t want to be caught with their pants down like their division rivals—the Baltimore Ravens—when Joe Flacco stormed through the 2013 postseason en route to a Super Bowl title.
Baltimore had little choice but to give in to Flacco’s massive salary demands despite average play for the vast majority of his career.
Dalton is looking for similar money—$18 to $20 million per year, according to ESPN.com’s Coley Harvey—on the wings of his outstanding regular-season record.
The two have had similar starts to their respective careers, only Flacco didn’t have an All-Pro receiver like A.J. Green to make him look good in Baltimore. He did make the playoffs early and often, and he had some success before his Super Bowl triumph.
Dalton has had no such success, playing miserably in his three early postseason exits. That is likely the biggest obstacle for him getting to those gaudy numbers he seeks. But he could well catch lightning in a bottle like his division foe did a couple of seasons ago.
Green is doing his part by lobbying for the Bengals to give his quarterback an extension. Per Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports, Green thinks Dalton will get a new deal done before the season starts.
Negotiations could easily bleed into the regular season at the current pace, however, perhaps with each side hoping a few games will give them a little more leverage.