Predicting the Next Wave of NFL Megacontracts

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonContributor IJune 14, 2022

Predicting the Next Wave of NFL Megacontracts

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    As NFL players look ahead to the summer, some of them will probably be keeping tabs on their phones as agents work on new contracts or extensions.

    Thus far, wide receivers have garnered most of the headlines this offseason. The Jacksonville Jaguars opened the floodgates when they signed Christian Kirk to a four-year, $72 million deal. Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, A.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs and Cooper Kupp have since signed contracts worth at least $24 million annually, and two more receivers could do the same in the coming weeks.

    As usual, high-end quarterbacks will command top dollar, and two of them may soon join a group of seven signal-callers who make an average of at least $40 million per year.

    In addition to an edge-rusher who's eligible for an extension, we could see three players at non-premium positions bank big-money salaries as well.

    Ahead, we'll highlight eight players who can command megadeals, which we define as contracts that rank within the top three in average annual value (AAV) and guaranteed money at a position. We'll also project the full terms of their potential extensions.

Nick Bosa, Edge, San Francisco 49ers

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    The San Francisco 49ers' contract rift with wide receiver Deebo Samuel has sort of overshadowed the fact that they can also sign Nick Bosa to a massive extension in the near future.

    As the No. 2 pick from the 2019 draft, Bosa still has two years left on his rookie deal, including his fifth-year option. However, the 49ers should pay him now, because the price will only increase over time.

    Bosa hasn't skipped offseason practices and isn't consumed with thoughts about his contract situation.

    "I'm sure I'll be notified," Bosa said about a potential new deal via ESPN's Nick Wagoner. "I've just been focusing on getting better. I'll let my agent worry about that."

    Following his most productive year with 5.5 sacks, 49 pressures (third-most in the NFL) and a league-leading 21 tackles for loss, Bosa can command more than his brother Joey, whose contract leads all edge-rushers in guaranteed money ($102 million) and ranks second at the position in annual salary ($27 million).

    The elder Bosa missed 13 games through his first three seasons, but that didn't stop the Los Angeles Chargers from signing him to a five-year, $135 million extension. The younger Bosa missed 14 games in 2020 because of a torn ACL, but he's earned the right to command a megadeal with 24.5 sacks, 99 pressures and 37 tackles for loss through 35 games.

    Assuming the 49ers trade or cut quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, they'll clear $25.6 million off the books. And if they move him, Bosa's extension may come days later.

    Projected Contract: Five years, $150 million ($105 million guaranteed)

Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Under former general manager Kevin Colbert, the Pittsburgh Steelers came to terms with defensive end Cameron Heyward and edge-rusher T.J. Watt on big-money extensions over the past two years. The former inked a new four-year deal worth $65.6 million in 2020, and the latter signed a four-year, $112 million deal last offseason.

    Minkah Fitzpatrick should be next in line.

    Even though Omar Khan has taken over for Colbert, the Steelers have set an organizational precedent for their high-level defensive playmakers.

    During a radio segment with Andrew Fillipponi and Chris Mueller on 93.7 The Fan, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin didn't seem concerned about Fitzpatrick's inactivity through mandatory minicamp or his contract situation.

    "I have zero concerns about Minkah Fitzpatrick," Austin said via Jordan Puente of Steelers Depot. "He's a unicorn. He is always in great shape. He loves football. He's got all the stuff he wants. So, I have zero worries about it, and that stuff will take care of itself."

    Since Pittsburgh acquired Fitzpatrick from the Miami Dolphins in September 2019, he's recorded 203 tackles (144 solo), 27 pass breakups and 11 interceptions (two pick-sixes) while allowing just five touchdowns in coverage through 46 games.

    Fitzpatrick's agent should aim to top Jamal Adams, who signed a four-year, $70 million extension ($38 million guaranteed) with the Seattle Seahawks last offseason. Fitzpatrick is a far better cover defender than Adams, who has just four interceptions in his career and isn't an impact playmaker in deep coverage.

    The Steelers will need to dig deep in their pocketbook, but they would get their money's worth from the two-time All-Pro safety.

    Projected Contract: Four years, $74 million ($40 million guaranteed)

Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens

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    Despite coming off a down year in which he threw for just 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 12 games, Lamar Jackson can command a contract that's comparable to what the Cleveland Browns paid quarterback Deshaun Watson this offseason.

    While Watson at that time faced 22 civil lawsuits (a total now at 24) from women who accused him of sexual assault and misconduct, the Browns acquired him from the Houston Texans and signed him to a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million deal.

    Though Watson has three Pro Bowls on his resume, Jackson has two Pro Bowls, an All-Pro season and won league MVP in 2019. As the primary signal-caller and a big part of the Baltimore Ravens' ground attack (615 carries for 3,673 yards and 21 touchdowns), he's the heart, soul and backbone of that offense. Furthermore, the club has gone 37-12 with him under center.

    With his production and no legal issues away from the field, Jackson can slot above Watson at $47-48 million annually. He probably won't surpass four-time league MVP and Super Bowl champion Aaron Rodgers on the average annual value pay scale ($50.3 million), but the 25-year-old could easily leapfrog the Green Bay Packers quarterback in contract guarantees ($101.4 million).

    Projected Contract: Five years, $235 million ($160 million guaranteed)

Derwin James, S, Los Angeles Chargers

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    Derwin James isn't likely to play out the final year of his rookie deal. Through 36 games, he has served as an elite-level chess piece who can make an impact on three levels of the defense, logging 257 tackles (173 solo), 14 for loss, 19 pass breakups, five interceptions and 5.5 sacks.

    James is so important the Los Angeles Chargers defense that head coach Brandon Staley talked about him like he was a quarterback, per Doug Kyed of Pro Football Focus.

    "Derwin means so much to us and a lot of people talk about arming quarterbacks but we wanted to arm Derwin with some weapons that would really bring out the best in him. I think that when you have Khalil up front and Derwin James in your secondary, that’s a good place to start. And then we were able to get JC, and now you feel like you're a lot closer to what you want to be. Then Joey Bosa, we all know Joey's one of the top players in the game and for him to team up with Khalil, man, what could that look like?"

    ESPN's Jeremy Fowler thinks the Chargers will "definitely" come to terms with James on a new deal this offseason, which sounds like a fair assumption considering they have $14.6 million in cap space and quarterback Justin Herbert on his rookie deal.

    Though James has missed 29 career games because of injuries, including the entire 2020 season, the two-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro will probably become one of the league's two highest-paid safeties whether he signs an extension before or after Minkah Fitzpatrick.

    Projected Contract: Four years, $72 million ($39 million guaranteed)

DK Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks

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    DK Metcalf didn't attend mandatory minicamp practices last week. According to Pro Football Talk's Josh Alper, the star wide receiver's absence was unexcused. By now, we're all aware the Seattle Seahawks playmaker wants a new deal.

    The Seahawks may use the start of training camp as a soft deadline to extend Metcalf. Head coach Pete Carroll spoke to the media about the receiver's contract situation and made it clear the team intends to rework his deal.

    "These are crucial weeks to get something done," Carroll said.

    The Seahawks will have to pay a premium for Metcalf, who has racked up 216 catches for 3,170 yards and 29 touchdowns through 49 games. He's outpaced fellow Ole Miss product A.J. Brown (185 receptions for 2,995 yards and 24 touchdowns in 43 outings), who signed a four-year, $100 million extension ($56.5 million guaranteed) after the Tennessee Titans traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Assuming Metcalf tops Brown's contract in average annual salary, he could push to surpass DeAndre Hopkins in AAV ($27.3 million) as well and command top-three money in guarantees (about $70 million) among wideouts. As a reliable and explosive playmaker, he's a unique talent. The 24-year-old has yet to miss a game and averaged at least 15.5 yards per catch in two of his three seasons.

    Projected Contract: Four years, $110 million ($70.5 million guaranteed)

Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals

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    Kyler Murray's agent, Erik Burkhardt, made it known that his client wants a new deal. Though the quarterback skipped some organized team activities, he made his first offseason appearance at the Arizona Cardinals' training facility a couple weeks ago, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    Cardinals general manager Steve Keim went on The Pat McAfee Show and expressed confidence the team could extend Murray in the coming weeks.

    "We know that he's under contract for another year, and also the fifth-year option, and he is our future," Keim said. "We feel that way strongly, and I feel like we'll be able to get something done this summer."

    Murray won 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year, earned a Pro Bowl nod each of the past two seasons, and most importantly, the Cardinals have increased their win total every year with him under center. He could slide right above Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who has just one Pro Bowl season, on the average annual value pay scale with a deal that pays north of $44 million per year.

    Don't be surprised if Murray's new contract surpasses Patrick Mahomes' $45 million annual salary, too.

    If Murray tops Allen in guaranteed money ($150 million), he would probably surpass Aaron Rodgers' $150.7 million total as well, which would move him into second behind Deshaun Watson's fully guaranteed $230 million deal.

    Projected Contract: Five years, $232 million ($160 million guaranteed)

Quenton Nelson, G, Indianapolis Colts

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    Back in January, general manager Chris Ballard said it plain and simple while expressing his intention to retain Quenton Nelson for the long-term future.

    “Quenton's a Colt," Ballard said.

    Five months later, the Colts are reportedly prepared to pay top dollar to extend Nelson but still may exercise some patience, per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.

    "The Colts would like to prioritize re-signing Nelson but know this will be costly," Fowler wrote. "That's why this deal could take time."

    Fowler believes Nelson can command approximately $20 million annually on his new deal, which sounds appropriate for a player who's earned All-Pro honors in three of his first four seasons and Pro Bowl nods each year.

    Nelson will undoubtedly top the highest-paid guard on the market, five-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro Brandon Scherff, who signed a three-year, $49.5 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars in March.

    While Scherff has impressive accolades, he's missed 14 games since 2019. Nelson has missed four outings in his career (all last year). The latter's exceptional play and durability will pay off.

    Projected Contract: Five years, $95 million ($50 million guaranteed)

Deebo Samuel, WR, San Francisco 49ers

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    Deebo Samuel has a more complicated situation than DK Metcalf because of his massive-but-harder-to-quantify value to the San Francisco 49ers offense.

    Last year, Samuel called himself a "wide back," which is a wide receiver who also has running back duties. He racked up 1,770 scrimmage yards (1,405 receiving and 365 rushing) through the 2021 campaign. The dynamic playmaker actually scored more touchdowns on the ground (eight) than he did as a pass-catcher (six).

    However, Samuel may want to cut down on his touches as a ball-carrier, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. Ironically, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler thinks the wideout's unique playmaking ability can drive up his demand for guaranteed money.

    "Samuel's agent, Tory Dandy, just did A.J. Brown's four-year, $100 million deal with Philadelphia, which included $57 million in guarantees. That can serve as a model of sorts for San Francisco and Samuel, who can argue he needs slightly more guarantees due to his ability to impact the game both as a wide receiver and running back."

    If Dandy uses Brown's contract as the floor for negotiations with the 49ers, Samuel could move into the top three (depending on when or if Metcalf signs a new deal) in average annual salary (north of $27.3 million). If he's fine with limited work as a ball-carrier, expect him to command about $70 million in guarantees.

    Projected Contract: Four years, $110.5 million ($70 million guaranteed)

    Player contract and team salary cap details are provided by Over the Cap.

    Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.

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