Predicting the Next Wave of NFL Mega Contracts
NFL fans have become desensitized to massive, market-resetting contracts at this point.
In April, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks got a deal worth $157 million. The Philadelphia Eagles just followed suit with a $128 million extension for Carson Wentz, despite the fact he's missed eight games over the past two seasons.
And that's just the quarterbacks. Looking ahead, key offensive linemen, a superb shutdown corner and droves of offensive weapons—including at least one more passer—are set to receive massive contracts.
These players are franchise cornerstones bound to reset the market. While potential free agents like Philip Rivers and Drew Brees will get big money on short deals, the following stars are more in line with Wilson and Wentz in structure and eye-popping numbers.
While some of the massive contracts potentially capable of resetting the market seem like impossible-to-avoid scenarios for teams, others could hit delays via tags or simply take too long to arrive. These honorable mentions are going to make massive money eventually, but the "when" is harder to discern.
Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints: Thomas caught a record-breaking 125 passes last year with nine touchdowns, giving him 321 and 23 over three seasons, respectively. But his status as a second-round pick could mean the Saints opt for a fifth year via a tag—and he's probably not going to make more than another wideout on the list later.
Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks: The best linebacker in football, Wagner should see an average annual value (AAV) better than C.J. Mosley with the New York Jets ($17 million). But even that seems like nothing compared to, say, the $20-plus million AAV the top edge players make.
George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers: This one hinges on consistency. George Kittle looked like the best tight end last year, catching 88 passes for 1,377 yards and five scores. The San Francisco 49ers will want to see if he can keep it going, and if he does, he's looking at resetting the market at the position and breezing past the $10 million AAV Jimmy Graham got in Green Bay.
David Bakhtiari, OT, Green Bay Packers
It's so easy to forget about the offensive line.
Yet, for Green Bay Packers tackle David Bakhtiari, this offseason was a fun one. He watched the Oakland Raiders dole out an AAV of $16.5 million to Trent Brown, who was mostly unproven other than one solid year with elite coaching in New England.
Bakhtiari's current deal, which has an out after this season, averages just $12 million per year.
Bakhtiari is only 27 years old and tasked with protecting Aaron Rodgers, which he's done at an elite level for years. He'll now play a key role in making sure a new coaching staff's vision gets executed properly, so the Green Bay front office won't be afraid to open up the checkbooks and throw Taylor Lewan-esque guarantees ($50 million) at him.
Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jalen Ramsey is arguably the lone corner about to reset the entire market for the position.
The fifth pick in 2016 has been nothing short of elite for the duration of his career so far and hasn't missed a game in three years.
Understandably, Ramsey was caught on social media joking about how big his next deal will be. And why not? Washington is dishing out an AAV of $15 million on a fading Josh Norman right now, so a top-five talent playing like it and only going on 25 years old is bound to surpass that rather easily.
The Jacksonville Jaguars would be foolish not to cough it up at this point. They have some wiggle room in the form of a fifth year, but Ramsey is a franchise cornerstone, and the front office seems serious about playoff contention around Nick Foles.
If the Jaguars mess this up, the rest of the NFL won't have a problem entering a bidding war for a talent like Ramsey.
Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE, Houston Texans
The Houston Texans can only delay the inevitable for so long with Jadeveon Clowney.
And the inevitable is one of two things: making Clowney the league's highest-paid defensive player...or losing him.
Clowney, currently franchise tagged, is only 26 years old and one of three players with more than five sacks and 15 or more quarterback hits and tackles for loss in each of the last three seasons. Over that span, he's almost casually put up 24.5 sacks—with or without J.J. Watt soaking up the offensive line's attention.
Clowney gets a cool $15.97 million on the tag in 2019, yet it's small-time compared to the $23.5 million AAV Khalil Mack's sitting on with the Chicago Bears.
The Texans don't have a ton of leverage in this situation, so the impending extension or Clowney's eventual trip to market will move the needle for all defenders.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Ezekiel Elliott is the most important offensive player in Dallas. That said, the Cowboys have to grapple with the fact he plays a supposedly devalued position and that the wheels could fall off at any time.
The negotiations should be interesting.
Through three seasons spanning 40 games, Elliott has amassed 4,000-plus rushing yards with 28 touchdowns while averaging 4.7 yards per carry. In 2018, he took another step, posting career-highs in the passing game with 77 catches, 567 yards and three touchdowns.
Elliott, going on just 24 years old, has shown to be incredibly important to Dallas' attack, with his absences resulting in middling play from the unit. The Cowboys could still ride out a fifth year, but Elliott has plenty of leverage, especially with Todd Gurley's new deal dwarfing his rookie contract ($14.3 million AAV).
NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported the Cowboys could make Elliott the NFL's highest-paid back in history, so the numbers here could turn plenty of heads.
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Julio Jones shouldn't have any problems becoming the NFL's highest-paid wideout again.
Jones has simply done what Jones does for the Atlanta Falcons over the past few seasons, biding his time and watching as the recently traded Odell Beckham Jr. got an AAV of $18 million from the New York Giants, not to mention $65 million guaranteed.
Still only 30 years old, Jones should zip past those numbers. Jones' elite status means it was basically lost nationally that he quietly put up 1,677 yards and eight touchdowns last year on 113 catches. It is par for the course at this point, as he's now well past the 10,000-yard mark after entering the league in 2011 and boasts 1,400-plus yards in five consecutive seasons and has six-plus scores four times in that span.
One last massive contract should be a historic one here. Jones figures to net at least $20 million AAV, a bar it might take a while for other receivers to reach.
Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott is next up when it comes to quarterbacks.
Prescott is a household name, but he isn't necessarily valued like one compared to, say, a Russell Wilson. But the Cowboys aren't likely to care either way—Wilson's AAV of $35 million is probably going to serve as a nice baseline for extension talks.
Indeed, Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram recently reported the number on the table is somewhere in the range of $34 million per year.
Prescott, a fourth-round pick in 2016, has completed 66.1 percent of his passes with 10,876 yards and 67 touchdowns against 25 interceptions over three seasons without missing a game. While detractors might whisper about an Andy Dalton-type reliance on weapons around him, the numbers are the numbers, and Jerry Jones and Co. fancy themselves contenders with Prescott under center.
Considering Prescott doesn't have a fifth year the Cowboys can lean on, it wouldn't come as much of a surprise to see him squeak into the Wilson AAV bracket, if not surpass it.