NFL Players Who Should Receive Contract Extensions Before 2021 Season

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJune 18, 2021

NFL Players Who Should Receive Contract Extensions Before 2021 Season

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Lurking behind the drama of the free-agent market and trade speculation before NFL training camps is the subject of extensions.

    One way for franchises to avoid the former is by doing the latter—extending key players before a standoff ensues.

    Giving out an early extension is a smart choice for star players who have proved themselves over multiple seasons, if not hinted at higher ceilings. Teams might hesitate to get a new contract done because of factors like injuries, regressions or cap space. But dragging feet could lead to drama, and some players' prices could rise.

    The following players are eligible for extensions this summer, and not getting a deal done could cause more harm than good.

Jessie Bates III, S, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Emilee Chinn/Associated Press

    Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III might not be a household name, but he'll trend in that direction once he becomes one of the NFL's highest-paid players at his position.

    The Bengals won't have much say in the matter if they want to keep their best player.

    Bates, a second-round pick in 2018, showed flashes over his first two seasons on bad units before breaking out last season with a 90.1 Pro Football Focus grade, picking off three passes with 87 solo tackles and allowing 19 catches on 35 targets—ranking as the highest-graded safety in the league. 

    He was trying to put out fires all over the field on a bad unit that will start three new corners in 2021. Per PFF's Ben Linsey, Bates forced 12 incompletions last year, three more than any other safety.

    As he heads into the last year of his deal, the rebuilding Bengals don't have much of an excuse not to extend him.

Jaire Alexander, CB, Green Bay Packers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    It's easy to overlook anything in Green Bay that isn't about Aaron Rodgers.

    But star corner Jaire Alexander shouldn't be overlooked, and the Packers shouldn't forget that one of the league's best players needs an extension.

    'The Packers exercised Alexander's fifth-year option, locking him in for 2022 at a $13.3 million cap hit. But in 2021, he'll play on a cap hit of $3.8 million, one of the bigger steals in the league.

    Alexander, the 18th pick in 2018, spread his wings last season, earning a 90.5 PFF grade while allowing 35 catches on 69 targets, finishing as the highest-graded corner at PFF. Zooming in only makes it more impressive: According to PFF's Sam Monson, he gave up just 353 yards and surrendered 20 or fewer yards in 11 games.

    Given the premium nature of what Alexander does and how well he does it, he's got every right to ask for an extension—and the Packers shouldn't blink at the request.

Jamal Adams, S, Seattle Seahawks

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    Jennifer Stewart/Associated Press

    Seattle Seahawks safety Jamal Adams needs an extension this offseason.

    According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Adams won't participate in minicamp. It's not clear whether that's due to the contract situation, but he is entering the final year of a deal with only a $9.9 million cap hit.

    Still 25 years old, he had a downswing last year with a 64.2 PFF grade, a drop from 87.9 the year prior. But he missed four games and said he needed offseason surgery on shoulder and finger issues.

    Regardless, Adams stuffed the stat sheet, registering 10 hurries, six quarterback knockdowns, 9.5 sacks, 26 pressures, 83 tackles, three passes defended and a forced fumble.

    As he gets healthier and more comfortable in Seattle, it's safe to think his play will remain steady. The Seahawks also need to consider their investment cost, as trading a pair of first-round picks only to let a star safety get away wouldn't make sense.

Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson could be the next big domino to fall at the most important position.

    The NFL's 2019 MVP will play on a cap hit of just $3 million in 2021 before his fifth-year option escalates his salary to $23 million in 2022. Given the value of the position and his abilities, one could argue both numbers are too low.

    Onlookers might think Baltimore has some hesitancy. Jackson regressed from 36 touchdown passes to 26 last season. But that feels like nitpicking—he completed 64.4 percent of his passes with only nine interceptions and again ran for 1,000-plus yards and seven touchdowns. Like last year, Ravens coaches have spent the offseason talking about retooling the passing game to take more shots downfield.

    It's on the Ravens to properly build around their franchise passer. He's the fastest quarterback to ever reach 30 victories, the first passer with multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons, the fastest to 5,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards and the only one with 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season.

    If a team can't build around that, it's on the franchise. And said franchise should want to lock him down before the price tag for quarterbacks gets even steeper.

T.J. Watt, Edge, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    An extension should be right around the corner for Pittsburgh Steelers pass-rusher T.J. Watt.

    Pittsburgh lost big names this offseason in pursuit of financial savings, headlined by former franchise-tag player Bud Dupree, presumably to keep space open for items like a Watt extension.

    The 26-year-old superstar has put up 49.5 sacks over 62 games, an incredible rate that topped out at 15 sacks over as many games last year. He added 26 quarterback knockdowns, 19 hurries and 61 pressures for a 91.6 PFF grade, finishing second among all edge-rushers in overall grade behind Chicago's Khalil Mack.

    Watt hasn't missed more than one game in a season since joining the Steelers in the first round of the 2017 draft. He doesn't have any negatives and will make just $10.1 million on his fifth-year option next season.

    Making Watt one of the NFL's highest-paid defenders seems like a formality.

Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Hesitancy by the Buffalo Bills with quarterback Josh Allen made some sense.

    Until last year.

    The 2018 draft's seventh pick silenced doubters, completing 69.2 percent of his passes after sitting below 60 percent in the previous two seasons. He blew away past bests, throwing for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns with 10 interceptions, eclipsing the 300-yard mark eight times. He retained the versatility that makes him so effective, rushing for 4.1 yards per carry on 102 attempts and scoring eight times.

    Allen's numbers felt like a video game escalation on his way to a 90.9 PFF grade (way up from his 64.2 the previous year), thanks in part to the Bills' exemplary building around their franchise passer with players like receiver Stefon Diggs.

    It doesn't hurt that year three seems to be the sweet spot for a pro passer's development. Statistical regression could happen in 2021, but likely not by much.

    Locking down Allen would also avoid a situation where he takes another leap and the price ticks north even more.