7 Players Not in NFL Free Agency Who Will Sign Contract Extensions

Alex BallentineMarch 14, 2023

7 Players Not in NFL Free Agency Who Will Sign Contract Extensions

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    GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 12: Jalen Hurts #1 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates against the Kansas City Chiefs after Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium on February 12, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. The Chiefs defeated the Eagles 38-35. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    While fans are busy keeping up with all of the latest signings during the chaotic legal tampering period, front offices around the league are accounting for even more players than the ones available in free agency.

    The best franchises ensure their core players never even come close to free agency. Identifying elite talent and keeping them under contract throughout their prime is key to good team building.

    Generally, it pays to get things done early too. The market for players rarely goes down so what is seen as an astronomically high number today is likely to be commonplace within a year or two.

    For instance, Patrick Mahomes' 10-year, $450 million contract with an average annual value of $45 million was huge when it was signed in 2020. Now he's behind Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray and Deshaun Watson in terms of average money, per Spotrac.

    So while free agency is grabbing all the headlines right now, some teams are preparing to get a new deal done with their most important players. These players who are set to become free agents in 2024 should be getting paid now by their current teams.

Edge Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers

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    SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 22: Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts as he takes the field prior to an NFL divisional round playoff football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys at Levi's Stadium on January 22, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
    Michael Owens/Getty Images

    Most of the massive extensions coming down the pike are quarterbacks. Nick Bosa is the exception as he could reset the market for defensive players if and when he re-up with the San Francisco 49ers.

    It's best for both parties that the deal gets done before the 2023 season starts.

    From the Niner perspective, it's about setting the market before any other defensive superstars get their money. It will be a common theme on this list that it's best practice to sign elite players as soon as possible.

    Every time a superstar hits the market a new market-setting deal is in play. With the rising salary cap and a competitive market, the cost of re-signing a player like Bosa gets more expensive each passing year.

    For Bosa, signing an extension now means capitalizing on two phenomenal seasons protecting him from any dip in production or injury. Bosa missed all but two games of the 2020 season with a torn ACL.

    He's proven to still be elite recovering from the injury and delivering 34 sacks over the last two seasons. Sacks can be a fickle stat. So striking while the iron is hot will maintain leverage for him.

    After watching the team reportedly ink Javon Hargrave to a four-year, $84 million contract, per Adam Schefter of ESPN, Bosa should be waiting for the Niners to back up the Brinks truck to his house.

QB Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

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    KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 29: Joe Burrow #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs prior to the AFC Championship NFL football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cincinnati Bengals at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on January 29, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
    Michael Owens/Getty Images

    The Cincinnati Bengals should have their eye on the Lamar Jackson situation in Baltimore. Their AFC North brethren's struggle to come to terms with Jackson could have a direct impact on the way this extension comes to fruition.

    Re-signing Burrow is a no-brainer. The 26-year-old has taken the Bengals to the Super Bowl and AFC Championship Games in back-to-back seasons. He is the driving force on a team that should continue to compete for championships.

    The only question is how much money the Bengals are going to give him and if they can come to an agreement on how much will be guaranteed. That's where Jackson's situation in Baltimore comes into play.

    Jackson has reportedly tried to top the five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract that Deshaun Watson got from the Cleveland Browns last offseason. The team reportedly doesn't want to guarantee the entire contract, per Jeremy Fowler and Jamison Hensley of ESPN.

    The Ravens ended up having to use the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson, which would be a nightmare situation for the Bengals.

    They should be in a hurry to show their loyalty to their quarterback. However, as Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic outlined, the CBA states that guaranteed cash must go into escrow, meaning that Bengals ownership would have to come up with that money up front. If they wait until April, they would have until March 31, 2024 to come up with the money.

    There may be some bartering back and forth on the amount of guaranteed money, but the Bengals will ultimately want to sign this and reset the market before Jackson comes to terms with another team or the Chargers re-sign Justin Herbert.

QB Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 14: Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) throws a pass during the game between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Jacksonville Jaguars on January 14, 2023 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fl. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    In January, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said he had not yet contacted Justin Herbert's camp about an extension, per Daniel Popper of The Athletic.

    Chances are they've had a chance to talk by now—such a discussion is certainly in the best interests of both parties. Herbert joins Joe Burrow as quarterbacks who could reset the market and likely get a contract worth an average of $50 million per year.

    Although there's some direct competition with the Bengals and Burrow, the Chargers would be wise to get Herbert to commit long-term. Herbert still has his fifth-year option that will take his contract through 2024, but it's best to get out ahead of these things in the quarterback market.

    The Chargers have not won a playoff game with Herbert at the helm, but that can hardly be considered his fault. He was 11th in QBR this season and has over 14,000 passing yards and 94 touchdowns in his first three years.

    The team has stalled on contract negotiations with running back Austin Ekeler, per Adam Schefter of ESPN. The 27-year-old is reportedly seeking a trade as he enters the final year of his contract.

    The silver lining there is the Chargers could be playing hardball, because they know they have to maintain flexibility with Herbert's extension looming.

QB Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles

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    GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 12: Jalen Hurts #1 of the Philadelphia Eagles scrambles against the Kansas City Chiefs after Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium on February 12, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. The Chiefs defeated the Eagles 38-35. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    Any Philadelphia Eagles fan dealing with the sadness of losing the likes of T.J. Edwards and Javon Hargrave in free agency should remember this: The Eagles have found their quarterback.

    Teams can wander in the desert for years trying to find a quarterback who can take them to the Super Bowl. The Eagles have found that guy in Jalen Hurts, and now it's time to make him an Eagle for a long time.

    General manager Howie Roseman has already admitted as much, even if it was in the roundabout GM-speak you can expect publicly.

    "Obviously we want to keep our best players here for the long-term, and he's certainly one of our best players," Roseman said, per EJ Smith of the Philadelphia Inquirer. "We'll keep all the contract talks internal, but we definitely want to keep Jalen Hurts here long-term."

    A Hurts extension isn't going to impact the team's free-agent pursuits right now. New money would likely begin in 2024 when his current contract expires.

    Right now, Spotrac projects a market value of $44.2 million annually on a six-year, $265.4 million contract. That market doesn't reflect a new contract for Joe Burrow or Justin Herbert.

    The Eagles would be wise to get a contract done for even slightly more than that before Burrow or Herbert potentially set a new high bar.

LB Myles Jack, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - AUGUST 20: Myles Jack #51 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts after a tackle during the first half of a preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on August 20, 2022 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)
    Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Steelers will have to engage in some cap management as the offseason goes along. The team reportedly came to an agreement with Patrick Peterson on the first day of the legal tampering period.

    Though terms for the deal haven't come out yet, it's safe to say that signing will eat into the $11.1 million the team has in cap space, per Spotrac.

    Deciding what they are going to do with Myles Jack will be one order of business that could save money. Jack signed a two-year, $16 million pact in free agency last season, and the deal was fairly backloaded. He accounted for a $4.8 million cap hit in 2022 but is now scheduled to account for an $11.3 million cap hit this season.

    The team can cut bait entirely and save $8 million against the cap. The problem is that would create another hole on a defense that is going to need to replace some key players already. Devin Bush and Robert Spillane are both free agents as well.

    Jack was not the impact signing the Steelers hoped last season. He had 104 combined tackles but just three for loss and three pass deflections. He gave up a passer rating of 107.4 in coverage.

    Those aren't great numbers but he's a serviceable starter, which might be enough to keep him around. The Steelers should go to the negotiating table and look to push some of his 2023 money into future years and give him the security of another year or two added to his contract.

DT Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs

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    GLENDALE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 12: Chris Jones #95 of the Kansas City Chiefs looks on against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter in Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium on February 12, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The Kansas City Chiefs are already making significant moves this offseason. They watched Andrew Wylie reportedly agree to a deal with the Washington Commanders only to respond by signing Jawaan Taylor to a reported four-year, $80 million contract.

    It's a huge move for a team that has proven it will expend resources to protect Patrick Mahomes. But with Orlando Brown Jr. still unsigned, it begs the question as to what other moves Kansas City has up its sleeves.

    The Chiefs will likely need to clear more cap space. They already cut Frank Clark to that end, but they have $15.1 million in space, according to Spotrac, though that doesn't include Taylor's contract.

    Signing Chris Jones to a contract extension would not only keep him off the market when he's set to be a free agent next offseason, but it would also clear space for the team to make more moves.

    Jones' contract stipulates a $28.3 million cap hit this season, but an extension could reduce him to a minimal salary and mostly pay him in a bonus that would be spread out through the contract.

    General manager Brett Veach can be a huge offseason winner by simply extending Jones and using some of the money freed up to secure another starting tackle to pair with Taylor.

    That's bad news for the rest of the league.

WR Michael Pittman, Indianapolis Colts

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    INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - OCTOBER 16:  Michael Pittman Jr. #11 of the Indianapolis Colts against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 16, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    After watching Derek Carr go to the Saints and Jimmy Garoppolo reunite with Josh McDaniels in Las Vegas, it sure looks like the Indianapolis Colts are headed toward acquiring a quarterback in the first round of the draft.

    After trying several veteran options since Andrew Luck's retirement in 2019, now certainly feels like the right time to start fresh.

    The Colts hired a good offensive mind in Shane Steichen to be their head coach. Now they need to make sure the prospective rookie quarterback has good weapons around him.

    Indianapolis can do just that by extending Michael Pittman Jr. as soon as possible.

    Last year's hot wide receiver market, which included massive contracts for Tyreek Hill, A.J. Brown, Davante Adams and Christian Kirk, combined with a lack of quality receiving options should give the Colts motivation to get to the negotiating table.

    The number the Colts would arrive at right now might seem big. Spotrac projects a four-year, $73.7 million for Pittman. However, a deal worth less than $20 million per year seems more realistic given last year's market spike.

    But consider if Pittman were to hit the market this year as a 25-year-old receiver with 2,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns over the past two seasons.

    Pittman would be wise to cash in now in case things go south with a rookie quarterback potentially throwing to him next season.