We've recently witnessed big names like Adrian Peterson, Michael Vick and Chris Johnson signing massive deals. As a result, the road is now paved for this next group of players that have matched them in performance, and will soon do so in salary.
Let's take a look at the NFL's next group of game-breakers turned bank-breakers:
Ten-year veterans aren't typically in line for a huge payday, but team leaders like Drew Brees are the obvious exceptions to that rule.
Brees entered the final year of his six-year, $60 million contract in 2011, and will likely see a new deal that will allow him to retire in a Saints' uniform.
Peyton Manning recently inked a five-year, $90 million deal and Michael Vick earned a six-year, $80 million contract. Expect Brees to warrant a similar type of deal.
Through three games, Welker is in line for a ridiculous 2,441 yards and 165 catches this season, both would smash the current NFL records.
Though it's an unlikely pace, Welker is still Tom Brady's most important receiver. Before next season, he will be paid like it.
Philadelphia Eagles's owner Jeffrey Lurie won this offseason's staring contest with DeSean Jackson, but at some point Jackson will have to be paid.
Historically speaking, the Eagles don't like to empty the team wallet for wide receivers. Terrell Owens was a rare exception, and it was an experiment that isn't likely to be repeated in the Philadelphia front office.
Jackson is making $565,000 this season, which is the last one of his rookie contract. The Eagles have room to pay Jackson despite having a star-studded roster.
But being able to pay receivers is nothing new in Philadelphia. The question is, "will they?"
Many questioned if Mario Williams could adjust from playing defensive end in a 4-3 to outside linebacker in a 3-4, but the former No. 1 draft pick silenced them quickly.
Williams is in the last of a six-year, $54 million contract. Though Williams' 295-pound frame does not fit the prototypical mold of a 3-4 outside linebacker, his results do. His two sacks and forced fumble in the young season show that he can be a disruptive force, regardless of where he lines up.
Keep an eye on how the rest of the season pans out, but it would be hard to imagine him not returning to the Texans as a very rich man.
Mike Wallace is one of the NFL's most-feared deep threats, but that's not all he is. Wallace broke out in 2010 and emerged as an every-down receiver that can be used not just as a downfield novelty in the Pittsburgh offense.
Early indications are that Wallace should exceed his magnificent 2010 campaign where he scored 10 touchdowns and averaged over 21 yards per catch.
If he does, Wallace could become one of the highest-paid receivers in the NFL.
There isn't a more important player on the Ravens offense than Ray Rice. Period.
Rice is coming off back-to-back seasons where he gained over 1,700 yards from scrimmage, and the Ravens would be hard-pressed to find someone who could replace that kind of output.
Rice has gradually, but justifiably, risen to the class of elite running backs in the NFL. Adrian Peterson is one of the few faces in that group, and recently inked a seven-year, $96 million contract, with $36 million guaranteed.
At just 24 years old, Rice would be well within reason to ask for a similar deal.
After racking up almost 200 tackles over the past two seasons, Curtis Lofton has established himself as the stabilizing force of an emerging Atlanta Falcons defense.
Lofton is set to make just over $600,000 in 2011, and if he proves he is healthy after having offseason knee surgery, he should be handsomely rewarded in his new deal.
Matt Forte is reaching the end of his rookie contract, and will make $600,000 in his final year in 2011.
Despite posting over 1,300 total yards in each of his first three seasons, Forte does not believe that the Chicago Bears are convinced that he is an elite running back, according to a report by CBSSports.com.
His rank is debatable, but what isn't is how Forte's on-field performance has exceeded his current contract status. A big change in Forte's paycheck is on the horizon, and perhaps a change of his uniform as well.
The Cleveland Browns have an interesting decision to make with Peyton Hillis once his contract concludes after 2011.
Over his last seven games, Hillis has averaged less than four yards per carry, leading head coach Pat Shurmur to increase Montario Hardesty's workload.
Even with Hardesty's increased workload, Hillis' role in the Cleveland offense is a significant one. A bruising, multidimensional threat out of the backfield poses a great threat toward any defense.
In an age where no team can have too many good running backs, Hillis should get what is due to him.
Steve Johnson was a diamond in the rough in 2008's draft, and the Buffalo Bills drafted him 224th overall. As a result, they signed him to a deal that would pay him just $1.68 million over four years.
Johnson worked his way up the depth chart and caught 82 passes, 10 of them for touchdowns, in 2010. In three games in 2011, Johnson has 20 receptions for 256 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bills are a young team on the rise, and Johnson is a massive reason for that. They should be "so serious" about giving Johnson a raise, or a different team undoubtedly will.