Notable NFL Players Who Could Sign Extensions Before the 2021 NFL Draft
Before the 2021 NFL draft, some teams will lock top players into long-term deals.
During an offseason with a depressed salary cap, we'll likely see more teams wait until the summer to hand out new money, especially in situations with high-value players or veterans who have the franchise tag.
For example, coming off a stellar 2020 season, Josh Allen should command a massive extension, though Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane will wait until after the draft to talk about a new deal with his star quarterback.
Chicago Bears wideout Allen Robinson II told NFL reporter Josina Anderson he hasn't had talks with the team about a new contract since September.
On the flip side, some teams have the cap space and the urgency to strike a deal within the next month.
We've highlighted seven players who could reap the rewards of their production before the upcoming draft, signing top-dollar salaries relative to their positions. Each selection includes a rumor or buzz about active negotiations or the possibility of a new deal in the near future.
QB Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
In 2018, the Baltimore Ravens moved up to select Lamar Jackson with the 32nd overall pick, and the trade changed the trajectory of the franchise.
Midway through the 2018 campaign, Jackson took over for Joe Flacco, who struggled through his age-33 term. With the former under center, the Ravens won six of their last seven contests and clinched a playoff berth at 10-6.
The following year, Jackson won league MVP and became the first player to run for 1,000-plus yards and throw for 30-plus touchdowns in a season. He holds the rushing record (1,206 yards) for quarterbacks in a campaign.
This past season, Jackson won his first playoff game, beating the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Wild Card Round. He has earned a lucrative extension while accomplishing new feats every year.
In February, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reported the Ravens and Jackson hadn't come close in contract negotiations, though general manager Eric DeCosta spoke with hope and urgency on the matter earlier this month.
"We're confident and committed to get a long-term deal done, and hopefully we can get that done at some point in the near future," DeCosta said to reporters. "It may take a little time, but we're willing to try."
DeCosta said the Ravens hadn't started the negotiating process, but they're not a cap-strapped team, which gives Jackson's reps and the front office a chance to close a deal sooner rather than later.
LB Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts
Darius Leonard separated himself from his peers with an All-Pro rookie season in 2018. One year from removed South Carolina State, he became one of the Indianapolis Colts' top defensive playmakers, logging a team-leading 163 tackles, 12 for loss, seven sacks, four forced fumbles, eight pass breakups and two interceptions.
In all three of his seasons, Leonard has achieved a Pro Bowl or All-Pro nod. He is the only player to record at least seven interceptions and 12 sacks in his first two campaigns (h/t Locked On Colts Podcast).
Leonard stands out because of his rare blend of pass-rushing and coverage skills. Typically, defenders excel in one area with average results in the other. The three-year pro fulfills both responsibilities at a high level.
During a March 18 press conference, Colts owner Jim Irsay implied the team will extend key players. Leonard undoubtedly belongs in that conversation.
S Marcus Maye, New York Jets
This past season, Marcus Maye had his best showing in a contract year, logging 88 tackles, four for loss, two sacks, 11 pass breakups and two interceptions. The Jets franchise-tagged him to keep their top safety off the market.
Maye's agent, Erik Burkhardt, took to Twitter to express his displeasure with the Jets in a response to their projected cap space before free agency. Perhaps general manager Joe Douglas needed a nudge toward negotiations.
Speaking with reporters early in March, Douglas answered questions about Burkhardt's tweet and Maye's status with the team:
"We have had productive conversations with his reps. ... Marcus is a valuable member of this organization. Someone that started his career here, has been a pro's pro, [he's] smart. He's been reliable and he's provided outstanding leadership. Our plan hasn't changed. We're in the process of having Marcus here long-term."
Last year, Jamal Adams' contractual issues with the Jets went public before the team traded him to the Seahawks. He awaits a new deal without a timetable. This time, Maye's situation has become the topic of discussion, but Gang Green doesn't have another high-end safety on the roster.
Ashtyn Davis has only played 10 games, logging 36 tackles, one for loss and a pass breakup. The Jets have signed Lamarcus Joyner, who played slot cornerback for the Las Vegas Raiders over the last two seasons.
Maye has some leverage. The Jets hold $26.6 million in cap space, so they don't face a financial obstacle that prevents them from paying their top safety north of $12 million annually.
OT Kolton Miller, Las Vegas Raiders
Going into the 2020 campaign, Raiders coaches believed Miller would be a Pro Bowl-caliber player, per The Athletic's Vic Tafur. He didn't earn the nod, but the talented left tackle played well enough to be considered for an extension.
"The sense is Kolton Miller is a high priority to be extended soon," the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Vincent Bonsignore tweeted March 16. In any event, Las Vegas isn't at risk of losing him, as it has a club option to keep him through 2022.
This offseason, the Raiders dismantled their offensive line, trading center Rodney Hudson, guard Gabe Jackson and tackle Trent Brown. As the best starter across the front line at a premium position, Miller stands in line for a big payday in the coming weeks.
OG Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts
Quenton Nelson changed the attitude of the Indianapolis Colts offensive line. Prior to Nelson's arrival in 2018, the unit struggled to protect now-retired quarterback Andrew Luck, who suffered multiple injuries during his tenure.
Luck only took 18 sacks in the season that he played with Nelson before retirement. The 2018 first-rounder has allowed three sacks in his career, per Pro Football Focus. He's a three-time Pro Bowler and became the first guard to win Offensive Rookie of the Month, an impressive accomplishment for someone who doesn't rack up yards or score touchdowns.
Nelson is largely responsible for limiting interior pocket pressure and opening running lanes for a ground attack that ranked seventh and 11th, respectively, over the last two seasons.
Along with linebacker Darius Leonard, Nelson will likely soon sign an extension as one of Indianapolis' cornerstone players. Technically, there's no rush because the Colts can exercise his fifth-year option for the 2022 season, but there's nothing stopping them from getting it done now.
Assuming negotiations between the team and Nelson's reps progress smoothly, he should top Kansas City Chiefs guard Joe Thuney's five-year, $80 million contract.
OG Brandon Scherff, Washington Football Team
Despite Brandon Scherff's injuries in recent seasons, he's one of the league's best guards. He has four Pro Bowls and an All-Pro campaign on his resume.
The Washington Football Team franchise-tagged the 29-year-old in consecutive terms, which increased his tender amount to $18 million this offseason. The club has until the July 15 deadline to extend him, but he may not have to wait that long.
Per Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post, the Football Team started long-term negotiations with Scherff's reps in February before using the franchise tag.
"According to people familiar with the situation, Washington could use a franchise tag on Scherff again, but the organization appears more interested in signing him to a long-term deal, with talks expected to start in the coming days," Jhabvala wrote.
Based on Jhabvala's report, Washington seems eager to hammer out a new deal with its star guard. Like Quenton Nelson, Scherff should surpass guard Thuney's five-year, $80 million pact with the Chiefs.
OLB T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
T.J. Watt has become the most dominant Pittsburgh Steelers defensive player, raising the bar every year. He's increased his sack total each season and led the league with 15 in 2020.
Watt sets the edge and stops the run in the backfield as well, having logged 59 tackles for loss for his career. Aaron Donald narrowly beat him for the Defensive Player of the Year honor this past season.
Although Watt missed out on the prestigious award, the two-time All-Pro will sign a massive extension in the near future.
In a chat with Steelers fans, team owner Art Rooney II spoke about the importance of extending Watt's contract, which is set to expire after the 2021 season.
"We're certainly going to try," Rooney said. "We certainly look at T.J. as a key player in the future. I can assure you we'll do everything we can to keep T.J. on our roster beyond this year. That's the goal."
The Steelers can extend Watt and structure his contract with the new money set to kick in next year when they have a lot of cap-space flexibility.
Watt's representatives will likely take aim at Los Angeles Chargers edge-rusher Joey Bosa's five-year, $135 million extension as the floor for their negotiations.
Player contracts and team salary-cap totals courtesy of Over the Cap.