The absolute last thing an NFL team wants at this time of year is a serious injury to a starter.
Cue Marqise Lee and the Jacksonville Jaguars nodding in unison.
However, there's another potential problem that's almost as bad. As a matter of fact, sometimes it can even be worse. At best, a contract dispute that involves a star player is a distraction that begs question after question from the media and hangs over the team like a cloud.
At worst, the dispute becomes so acrimonious that said star player holds out—and in addition to the endless questions and distractions, teams get a Pro Bowl-sized hole in the lineup.
The New York Giants endured the former but dodged the latter this year with wide receiver Odell Beckham. Now, with the beginning of the regular season just over a week away, Beckham and the Giants are squared away. As ESPN reported, the Giants and the three-time Pro Bowler have agreed to terms on a five-year extension worth a maximum of $95 million that makes OBJ the highest-paid receiver in NFL history.
However, Beckham wasn't the only superstar angling for a monster payday. The last two Defensive Players of the Year and one of the NFL's top offensive stars still haven't even reported to their teams.
Here's a look at the latest on the NFL's biggest unresolved contract kerfuffles.
Aaron Donald, DL, Los Angeles Rams
Before Beckham's deal snuck across the finish line ahead of him, it appeared that Aaron Donald's second consecutive preseason holdout was going to be the first of these situations to be resolved. Per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the Rams and Donald are closing in on a contract agreement that will make the 2017 DPOY the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history.
According to a source, Florio reports that Donald's megadeal will be in the ballpark of $22 million per year, with as much as $80 million guaranteed.
"We're working to come to a solution that gets Aaron Donald here as soon as possible and keeps Aaron Donald here for a long time," Rams general manager Les Snead said.
Now, with a whopper of a contract like this, there are no doubt a legion of details to be worked out. Many I's to dot and T's to cross—expensive ones. And the deal isn't done until the ink's dry and Donald has reported to the team.
But this impasse looks to be headed down the home stretch, and a loaded Rams team with one goal this season (Atlanta and Super Bowl LIII) should have its best defensive player and a singularly disruptive force back soon.
Odds a Deal Gets Done: 95 percent
Khalil Mack, DL, Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders are probably hoping that Aaron Donald's deal hits a late snag. Once Donald signs on the dotted line, a baseline will be set for the contract for the man who won the DPOY award the year before.
And in Khalil Mack's case, the Raiders have given almost no sign they are ready to pony up that kind of cheese for an edge-rusher—even one as good as Mack.
As Anthony Galaviz reported for the Fresno Bee, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden made it no secret that he'd like Mack on the field in Week 1 against the aforementioned Rams.
"His playmaking, leadership and his presence … great players like Mack have all those things going for them," Gruden said. "They make people around them better, and they make offenses account for you."
However, Gruden also allowed that there's no deadline for a deal with Mack and that the whole situation has stolen a bit of the thunder from his return to coaching.
"I don't want to put any timetable on it," Gruden said. "This is obviously a long process that's been grueling for both parties and fans and me personally. We're just hoping we can get him in here."
Per Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller, there's been more than a little talk of potential trades involving Mack. Such a trade would carry an absolutely gonzo price tag ("Probably a 1 and a 2," according to one AFC executive), but right now a sign-and-trade appears more likely than the Raiders are to suddenly change course and pony up $20 million a season. Both sides are dug in. Neither's budging publicly even a little.
Pick up the phone, Cleveland.
Odds a Deal Gets Done: 20 percent (in Oakland), 35 percent (another team)
Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
There's one more NFL superstar who has yet to report to his team as Week 1 rapidly approaches. Like Aaron Donald, it's the second straight year that Le'Veon Bell of the Steelers has sat out training camp and the preseason in hopes of securing a long-term contract.
But unlike Donald, there's been nothing to indicate Bell's situation will play out any differently than it did in 2017.
The general belief all along has been that just like last year, Bell will report to the Steelers and sign his franchise tender just before the season begins. However, center Maurkice Pouncey revealed to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com that if anyone's sure when Bell will report, they aren't talking.
"I wish I knew," Pouncey said. "He's kind of kept to himself about it."
It's possible (in that all things are possible) that Bell is planning to take a stand. To risk almost a million dollars per game in salary and hefty fines to draw a line in the sand and demand long-term security from the team. It would be a seismic blow to the Steelers and the NFL's biggest story as the season opens.
It would also be a complete surprise. Nothing to date has indicated it's a realistic possibility.
And since it isn't, neither is that long-term deal.
Just as Bell has offered no indication he'd be willing to hold out into the season, the Steelers have similarly shown no desire to seriously consider a long-term contract that would pay Bell what he seeks—or close to it.
Earlier this year, the Steelers reportedly offered Bell a five-year, $70 million pact that was light on guarantees, according to Terez Paylor of Yahoo Sports. That was before the Rams handed Todd Gurley $45 million in guaranteed money in a deal that reset the running back market.
Pittsburgh tagged Bell last year, rode him into the ground to the tune of 406 total touches and then promptly tagged him again.
If Bell finally does get the long-term contract he seeks in 2019, it likely won't be in Pittsburgh.
Odds a Deal Gets Done: 10 percent
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Not that long ago, there was just as much drama surrounding Atlanta's Julio Jones as there was Odell Beckham. Jones was a no-show for offseason workouts, deleted all the Falcons photos from his Instagram account and threatened to sit out training camp.
It worked…sort of. As Chris Wesseling reported for NFL.com, Jones didn't get the new contract he wanted. But with three years left on the five-year, $71.25 million deal he signed in 2015, the Falcons did agree to restructure it in a way that will put more cash in Jones' pocket this year.
At the time, it was enough to get Jones onto the field. But in the wake of Beckham's new contract (and how it reset the WR market), you can bet both the rent and the kids' lunch money that Jones is going to want a new contract after the season.
Don't do that. Really. But you could.
Atlanta might be able to save a few bucks by redoing Jones' deal now—again. It would certainly earn goodwill with the veteran receiver. But it would also set a dangerous precedent for the organization, as Jones' 30th birthday looms on Super Bowl Sunday.
It's far more likely that the status quo will hold in 2018. What happens after will largely depend on what kind of season Jones and the Falcons have.
Think zeros. Lots and lots of zeros.
Odds a Deal Gets Done: 10 percent (2018), 90 percent (2019)
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Editor's Note: Rodgers has reportedly agreed to a 4-year extension with the Packers worth $134 million today, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.
Want to see a facial expression that falls somewhere between "abject terror" and "just ate 13 Doritos Locos tacos"? Mention a future without Aaron Rodgers to a Green Bay fan after the dumpster fire that was the Brett Hundley "era."
Luckily for the good folks of Titletown, the odds that I'll be the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns in 2019 are slightly better than Rodgers playing for a team that doesn't sport a yellow hat with the seventh letter of the alphabet on it.
According to ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky, Rodgers has made it clear he doesn't know when an extension will get done for a contract that expires after the 2019 season and said during an interview on ESPN Radio's Wilde and Tausch that he isn't interested in taking any kind of hard-line stance:
"I'm not trying to screw them, you know. This is a partnership. That's the only way this is going to work, and the best way things work in this situation is that we're in this thing together. And if they make that financial commitment, that's what they're saying, and also there's an expectation that you're going to play well. And then that's my side of the bargain."
A new contract for Rodgers is going to be a knee-knocker—it will blow past the $30 million a season that Matt Ryan just got from the Falcons as certain as the sun rises in the east.
It's even more certain the Packers will find a way to pay the two-time MVP before his contract year begins next fall.
Odds a Deal Gets Done: 60 percent (2018), 160 percent (2019)
There are other big names entering contract years whose futures will be hot topics of conversation as the year wears on.
Dallas Cowboys edge-rusher Demarcus Lawrence will play under the franchise tag in 2018. Now that Beckham's locked up, the Giants can turn their attention to safety Landon Collins, whose rookie deal runs out after this season. If Arizona Cardinals tailback David Johnson returns to his 2016 form, the Redbirds are going to be hard-pressed not to break out the checkbook.
But like Beckham, the quintet of players listed here is on a whole different level. The franchise-defining level, both on the field and in the media.
The sooner their contract situations are resolved, the better—for all involved.