Julio Jones and the NFL Players Next in Line to Get the Bag
We're finally nearing the end of the NFL offseason. For fans, the wait for real, meaningful football action is nearly over. For many players, it's time to get paid—or at least to try getting paid.
Contract extensions are often given out just before the start of the regular season. When possible, franchises want to provide stable financial situations to players they know they want to keep in order to avoid potential in-season distractions.
The New England Patriots, for example, gave quarterback Tom Brady a new extension over the weekend. This both ensures Brady won't be answering questions about his status throughout the season and nets the Patriots an additional $5.5 million in cap space, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Sometimes, teams dish out extensions during training camp to get players to report. The New Orleans Saints recently did this with wideout Michael Thomas, putting an end to his holdout.
Running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon III are both currently holding out, trying to leverage new deals from the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers, respectively. Will they be among the next players to get that proverbial fat stack? Which other players could secure new deals?
Let's take a look.
Where the Market Stands
Before digging into which players appear likely to get new deals next, let's take a look at where the market currently stands for the league's premier positions.
These are the highest-paid players in terms of guaranteed money since that's what matters most in an NFL that so often sees careers and contracts cut short.
Quarterback: Carson Wentz, four years, $128 million ($107.97 million guaranteed) with the Philadelphia Eagles
Running Back: Todd Gurley, four years, $57.5 million ($45 million guaranteed) with the Los Angeles Rams
Wide Receiver: Odell Beckham Jr., five years, $90 million ($65 million guaranteed) with the Cleveland Browns
Tight End: Trey Burton, four years, $32 million ($22 million guaranteed) with the Chicago Bears
Offensive Tackle: Taylor Lewan, five years, $80 million ($50 million guaranteed) with the Tennessee Titans
Guard: Zack Martin, six years, $84 million ($40 million guaranteed) with the Dallas Cowboys
Defensive Tackle: Aaron Donald, six years, $135 million ($86.89 million guaranteed) with the Los Angeles Rams
Defensive End: Demarcus Lawrence, five years, $105 million ($65 million guaranteed) with the Dallas Cowboys
Linebacker: Khalil Mack, six years, $141 million ($90 million guaranteed) with the Chicago Bears
Cornerback: Josh Norman, five years, $75 million ($50 million guaranteed) with the Washington Redskins
Safety: Landon Collins, six years, $84 million ($44.5 million guaranteed) with the Washington Redskins
QB Dak Prescott and WR Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys
While Ezekiel Elliott is the one holding out for the Dallas Cowboys, quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper are the ones who need to be extended sooner. Both will be unrestricted free agents next offseason and will be able to take their talents elsewhere barring the franchise tag.
Unfortunately, Dallas cannot franchise both players.
The good news for Cowboys fans is that owner Jerry Jones does plan to extend Elliott, Prescott and Cooper. As he told Adam Maya of NFL.com, "Just know that like so many things, it'll happen."
For Prescott, the baseline for a deal is what Carson Wentz recently got from the Philadelphia Eagles: roughly $32 million per year in new money. But the Dallas quarterback may not get quite that much. Unlike Wentz, he hasn't put his team in position to make a Super Bowl run. Though Wentz missed the end of that 2017 run with a torn ACL, he gave the Eagles an MVP-caliber campaign.
For Cooper, the baseline is likely what Michael Thomas recently got from the New Orleans Saints: around $19 million per season in new money.
The challenge here is that the Cowboys cannot realistically afford to carry massive and simultaneous cap hits for Prescott, Cooper, Elliot and Demarcus Lawrence.
One possible solution is to stagger when the heavy cap hits come for each player. Dallas is projected to have around $22 million in cap space with its top players signed. It could clear up more space by backloading a deal for Cooper and reducing his fifth-year salary of nearly $14 million. This would likely require giving Cooper more guaranteed cash upfront and potentially dumping his contract down the road.
Dallas could then take a page out of the Minnesota Vikings' playbook and give Prescott a smaller deal with more guaranteed money—still matching the roughly $23.24 million Wentz will make per season over the next four years.
Prediction: Four years, $88 million ($75 million guaranteed) for Prescott; backloaded five years, $92 million ($66 million guaranteed) for Cooper
RB Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
While getting deals done for Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper is more important in some aspects, Ezekiel Elliott has two years remaining on his rookie deal and getting their star running back into the fold is critical for the Cowboys.
The entire offense is centered around Elliott, which is why the two-time rushing champion has far more leverage than Melvin Gordon III does with the Los Angeles Chargers.
However, given the impending deals for Prescott and Cooper—and considering the limited career span of running backs—a patchwork deal that gets Elliott into camp makes a lot more sense than a massive long-term commitment.
Elliott is projected to make roughly $17 million over the next two seasons, and only $4.1 million is guaranteed at this time. His 2020 salary will become guaranteed at the start of the next league year. A revised deal that includes a pay bump and more guaranteed money could and should be Dallas' approach.
If Elliott balks at that, the Cowboys should explore their trade options. They recently signed Alfred Morris as insurance and could get quite a bit in return for the reigning rushing champ.
However, it would make sense for Elliott to take a revised deal and continue playing where he's had success.
Prediction: Revised two years, $22 million ($20 million guaranteed)
Editor's Note: Josina Anderson reported after publish that Ezekiel Elliott will not play in 2019 without a new contract.
WR Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
Back in March, the Kansas City Chiefs and Tyreek Hill were discussing "a record-setting deal," according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. However, that was before the wide receiver was investigated for possible child abuse and audio was released of the player threatening ex-fiancee Crystal Espinal.
Authorities didn't convict Hill of a crime, and the NFL ultimately decided not to discipline him. However, the investigation—along with Hill's guilty plea of domestic assault and battery by strangulation against Espinal while in college, which has since been dismissed following the completion of his probation requirements—could affect how the Chiefs go about handling his next contract.
In short, Kansas City likely will want to protect itself against any future events that could prompt discipline from the league. And the Chiefs are discussing a new extension with Hill, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The wide receiver is an elite player, after all, and he will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason.
In terms of overall money, expect Kansas City to offer Hill something similar to the $19 million per season Michael Thomas is set to earn with the New Orleans Saints. However, most of the guarantees in his contract should be for injury only or kick in at the start of future league years.
This kind of deal would protect the Chiefs from paying out dead money if Hill faces league discipline in the future or if something prompts them to release him—as they did running back Kareem Hunt—within the next few years.
Prediction: Five years, $96 million ($20 million guaranteed for injury only)
WR Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons wideout Julio Jones is arguably the best receiver in the NFL right now. He's definitely one of the most accomplished, having racked up 698 receptions, 10,731 yards and 51 touchdowns in eight seasons.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff recently told NFL Network that he hopes to also make Jones the league's highest-paid receiver.
"We believe that he should be the highest-paid [receiver] in the league," Dimitroff said. "And I know he believes that. It's just how we're going to approach this and how we're going to get it done. I believe it's right around the corner, but I don't know when it is."
In terms of total money, the title of highest-paid receiver is held by Michael Thomas, whose five-year extension is worth just under $100 million. Odell Beckham Jr. is still the highest-paid in terms of guarantees.
If the Falcons are hoping to make Jones the highest-paid in terms of salary, it will require a new deal worth roughly $20 million per season. That's certainly feasible, though don't expect such a contract to extend the 30-year-old Jones through 2024 as Thomas' does.
Jones has two years remaining on his current contract and is scheduled to make $13.5 million in 2019. Don't be surprised if the Falcons rip that up and give him his $20-plus million per season before the start of Week 1.
Prediction: Four years, $81 million ($50 million guaranteed)
DT Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are transitioning to a 4-3 base defense this offseason, and defensive lineman Chris Jones is expected to be a major piece of the new-look unit moving forward. He is just 25 years old and is coming off an impressive 15.5-sack season. Over the past three years, he's totaled 24.0 sacks, 100 tackles and six forced fumbles.
The Chiefs would like to have the 2016 second-round pick extended before the end of the preseason.
"The Chiefs, according to a league source, want to see if they can reach an agreement with Jones by the middle of August, when camp ends," Nate Taylor of The Athletic wrote.
While Jones may not get Aaron Donald money, he should be eying the four-year, $68 million deal recently signed by Grady Jarrett that includes $42.5 million in guarantees. That should be the baseline, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him exceed it.
Kansas City needs to upgrade a defense that allowed 405.5 yards per game last season (second-most in the league), and it desperately needs to keep the few premier defenders it already has on the roster. Expect Jones to get his extension before Week 1.
Prediction: Four years, $70 million ($40 million guaranteed)
G Brandon Scherff and T Trent Williams, Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins may not want to give guard Brandon Scherff a pay raise until after the start of the regular season. He is coming off a torn pectoral, and it would make sense for Washington to see how the two-time Pro Bowler performs before handing him the bag.
However, the Redskins still may be prompted to give Scherff the deal he's looking for soon, even if, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the two sides were "far apart" in July's contract talks. Of course, the Redskins are now dealing with a holdout from offensive tackle Trent Williams.
While the Redskins probably don't want to trade Williams, a continued holdout could prompt the move.
"I do not have an understanding of what it would take to get [him] back," head coach Jay Gruden said, per Jelani Scott of NFL.com. "If I did, he'd be back here."
If Washington does trade Williams, the move would likely come with the understanding that his new team offers him a new deal—similar to the swap that landed Antonio Brown with the Oakland Raiders.
With or without a Williams trade, the tackle's situation could convince the Redskins to grant Scherff a new contract. Potentially losing both players would be tough, and Washington certainly doesn't want to risk going year-to-year with the franchise tag the way it did with former quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Matching Zack Martin's market-leading contract would only cost Washington $1.5 million per year more than it's currently paying Scherff on the fifth-year option.
Prediction: Six years, $85 million ($40 million guaranteed) for Scherff; revised three years, $45 million ($30 million guaranteed) for Williams.
All contract information via Spotrac.