Which NFL Players Are Headed for Mega Paydays in 2020?

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 15, 2020

Which NFL Players Are Headed for Mega Paydays in 2020?

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    NFL mega paydays have become a year-round thing just like the draft process.

    Thank the combination of free agency and extensions. An offseason ago in free agency, four players checked in above the $80 million mark on their new deals (Trey Flowers, Nick Foles, C.J. Mosley, Landon Collins). And over the course of the year, Russell Wilson ($140 million), Michael Thomas ($96 million) and Ezekiel Elliott ($90 million) put ink to paper on big extensions.

    This year's free-agent pool and extension forecast promise another escalation of numbers across the notable positions, ranging from quarterbacks to big-play artists and pass-rushers, premium chips that typically make more than other positions.

    The following players, based on production, upside, age and more, are first in line for massive new deals in 2020.

          

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Get ready for the first $200 million extension in NFL history.

    And why not? Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes does the near-magical on the football field. After throwing for 5,000-plus yards with 50 scores in his first season as a starter a year ago, he hit 4,000-plus with 26 scores and just five picks over 14 games while leading the Chiefs back to the AFC title game this year.

    Mahomes is a true definition of a "generational" player, no matter how much the draft process overuses the term. Look no further than the playoffs this year. He put up 321 yards and five scores in an epic comeback win over Houston on the same weekend MVP favorite Lamar Jackson saw his Baltimore Ravens get eliminated.

    There's no adapting to Mahomes, and he's only 24. The luxury of building a roster around a rookie contract at quarterback is about to go emphatically out the window, but the Chiefs would make an all-timer of a mistake in not extending him.

    Projected Contract: Five years, $200 million

Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    Deshaun Watson might've fallen victim to Mahomes and the Chiefs in the divisional round, but he figures to flirt with the $200 million mark too.

    Watson put on some heroics of his own during the playoffs in an overtime triumph over the Buffalo Bills, completing 80 percent of his passes with 247 yards and a score. He's a career 66.8 passer with nearly 10,000 yards and 71 touchdowns over just 38 games, never mind the 1,233 rushing yards with 14 more scores.

    At worst, Watson figures to land in the Russell Wilson range because top-five passers who fit today's game don't come around often. It's a little concerning that the Texans, who've had a hard time properly building around him (125 sacks), will have less cap space to work with. Like the Chiefs, though, what can the Texans do?

    The 24-year-old has established himself as one of the game's best, and the idea that production will equate to title contention will see him paid as such.

    Projected Contract: Five years, $180 million

Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Dak Prescott's negotiation with the Dallas Cowboys figures to be a little more contentious than those set to happen in Houston and Kansas City.

    According to NFL Network's Jane Slater (h/t NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman), Prescott's camp wants his new deal to check in at about $40 million per year.

    Fair or not, that's the market for franchise passers after Wilson reset the landscape. Some might view Prescott as reliant on the talent around him, but that doesn't change the fact that he's 26 with a career 65.8 competition percentage alongside 15,778 yards and 97 touchdowns against just 36 interceptions.

    Dallas might not want to pay Prescott similarly to Watson or Mahomes, especially after doling out big money on extensions for DeMarcus Lawrence ($105 million), Jaylon Smith ($68.4 million) and Ezekiel Elliott ($90 million). Guys like Amari Cooper also need new deals.

    But again, that's the cost for steady play under center instead of rotating in veteran journeymen while taking risks on rookies.

    Projected Contract: Five years, $180 million

George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    George Kittle is doing his best to fill the Rob Gronkowski void.

    The San Francisco 49ers' star tight end broke onto the scene in 2018 despite mostly having C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens under center, recording 1,300-plus yards and five scores on 15.6 yards per carry.

    Kittle's numbers regressed in 2019 as Jimmy Garoppolo spread the ball around, but 1,053 yards and five scores on a 12.4 average over 14 games isn't anything to turn the nose up at. A whopping 602 of those yards came after the catch, and he improved his drop percentage to just 1.9. A 95.0 grade at Pro Football Focus stresses his prowess in all areas.

    Game-changing tight ends are few and far between. Kittle is too instrumental to what the 49ers do offensively for the front office to balk at his demands, which will surely be to make him the highest-paid tight end in the league.

    Projected Contract: Five years, $65 million

Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE, Seattle Seahawks

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Ever since Houston shipped Jadeveon Clowney to Seattle, it has been clear the star edge defender would be on the forefront of market-altering deals in 2020.

    Clowney is set to hit free agency, and one look at his play in 2019—especially in the playoffs—reaffirms the idea.

    While the Texans might've had reservations about throwing a big contract at him (partially because of Watson's upcoming payday), the Seahawks shouldn't have any. Despite his new surroundings, Clowney put up plenty of numbers over just 13 games, recording an 87.3 grade at Pro Football Focus with 17 hurries, 10 quarterback knockdowns, three sacks and 30 pressures.

    He hasn't put up mind-boggling pressure numbers, which could be part of the reason he hasn't signed a long-term extension yet. But he'll be just 27 next season and is one of the NFL's most well-rounded, impactful edge presences—if not in Seattle, then somewhere else.

    Projected Contract: Five years, $105 million

Chris Jones, DL, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs' Chris Jones is quietly one of the league's better all-around defenders, and he'll end up being paid as such, either by his current team or someone else.

    Slated to be a free agent, Jones spent a portion of the 2019 offseason holding out for a big-money extension. He's outplayed expectations since the team drafted him in the second round in 2016 out of Mississippi State.

    The Chiefs' inability to reach an extension last summer could cost them more in the long run. While Jones' sacks dropped from 15.5 to 9.0 this year, he missed three games and saw his duties expand after injuries to others on the line. He still put up seven hurries, 11 quarterback knockdowns and 27 pressures, not to mention an 84.9 grade at PFF.

    Jones remains an integral part of the defensive overhaul in Kansas City. If the front office chooses to direct its cash elsewhere and let him walk, the budding superstar will be one of free agency's highest-paid players.

    Projected Contract: Five years, $85 million

Joey Bosa, EDGE, Los Angeles Chargers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Ever since the Chargers made Joey Bosa the third overall pick in 2016, it's been obvious they would have to pay dearly to keep him in town.

    Heading into his option year and fifth season, Bosa is one of the NFL's premier defenders despite missing 13 games. Even so, he's a 40-sack player over 51 games coming off a 16-game season. If L.A. doesn't pony up, rest assured most other teams will.

    At full go in 2019, Bosa put up 11.5 sacks, one off a career high, alongside 25 hurries, 16 quarterback knockdowns and 54 pressures. It doesn't hurt to point out the 89.6 PFF grade.

    Put it another way: Last April, DeMarcus Lawrence got his big payday in Dallas on 34 sacks over 64 games. Bosa has 40 in 51. He's on his own level in many respects, which means he'll likely surge past most defensive ends in contractual value.

    Projected Contract: Five years, $110 million

Jalen Ramsey, CB, Los Angeles Rams

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Jalen Ramsey, finally free of the Jacksonville Jaguars, is set to reset the cornerback market.

    Still just 25 years old, Ramsey didn't have many problems making his transition to the Los Angeles Rams. Over nine games in his new surroundings, he allowed 29 completions on 43 targets with no touchdowns, retaining his status as a lockdown player.

    Corners who can chase opposing No. 1s and hold up this well aren't easy to find. The trade return Jacksonville received (two first-round picks, three total) says it all when it comes to his value.

    Luckily for Ramsey and his reps, the Rams haven't been shy in resetting the market, like they did with Aaron Donald. If not them, another team will do it after the 2020 season.

    Projected Contract: Five years, $85 million

          

    Free-agent data and contract info courtesy of Spotrac.