Extension Candidate

Extension Candidate: Nick Chubb

The past year and change reset the NFL’s running back market. After the previous wave of big-ticket contracts produced shaky outcomes — in the cases of Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley and David Johnson — a few teams still prioritized their high-end backs and went ahead with extensions.

The 2017 draft class was responsible for most of these accords. Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry are attached to high-value running back deals, but 2017 draftees Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon and Aaron Jones all signed for at least $12MM per year since March 2020. The 2018 draft class is now eligible for extensions, and another backfield mainstay is on track to join the 2017 contingent near the running back salary hierarchy.

Nick Chubb has become the centerpiece of a run-oriented Browns offense that rode its two-pronged ground attack to the playoffs. After playing an essential role in snapping the Browns’ postseason drought, Chubb joins Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward and guard Wyatt Teller as extension candidates for a rising Cleveland team. With Mayfield and Ward signed through 2022, Chubb may be the team’s top contract priority ahead of the 2021 season.

Negotiations have begun, and a deal being finalized before the start of the season — thus protecting Chubb from a value-changing injury in his contract year — is in play. The Georgia product has become the most reliable back from the 2018 class. While Saquon Barkley may have this group’s highest ceiling, he is coming off ACL and MCL tears. Like Barkley in 2019, Chubb suffered a high ankle sprain. But he returned after four missed games to clear 1,000 yards (1,067) in just 12 contests. The 25-year-old back rushed for a career-high 12 touchdowns and joined Mayfield in leading the Browns to their first divisional-round game since 1994.

The two-time Pro Bowler has proven to be an elite ball carrier, but unlike the 2017 backs given extensions at or north of the $12MM-per-year mark, Chubb is not a major passing-game factor. He has yet to top 300 receiving yards in a season, with the Browns slotting Kareem Hunt as their preferred outlet option among these two. Hunt’s presence complicates Cleveland’s setup here — but only to a point. The Browns signed the embattled ex-Chief to an extension, but the two-year, $13.25MM pact represents midlevel money. Hunt is signed through 2022, but his $6.25MM cap number is both manageable and non-guaranteed. This seemingly keeps a Chubb extension realistic.

Chubb is the leader of Cleveland’s historically talented backfield, outrushing Hunt 1,067-841 last season despite the latter receiving more carries (198-190) during the starter’s injury-shortened season. Although Hunt is a Cleveland-area native, a scenario in which he moves on for a higher-paying RB1 gig elsewhere by 2023 may be likely — unless he is willing to accept a discount to stay a backup.

Henry’s four-year, $50MM deal ($25.5MM guaranteed) profiles a likely Hunt starting point. The Titans also use a run-centric offense, and Henry does not factor into their passing attack much. Chubb (44 career catches at Georgia) has never played a major receiving role, which could keep him off the McCaffrey-Kamara tier (north of $15MM AAV). Then again, the salary cap is set to balloon to nearly $210MM in 2022, perhaps giving Chubb a ladder up to the CMC-Kamara level. Also working in Chubb’s favor: his 680 career carries through three seasons ranks 56th all time and 22nd among backs whose careers started in the 21st century. He should have enough tread on his tires to be productive for the next few seasons.

While the Browns will certainly need to be careful here, the Rams and Jets’ Gurley and Bell missteps are not exactly comparable. Gurley entered the NFL with a knee issue, while Bell had more than 1,200 carries at the time of his free agency pact. Elliott was at 1,003 touches through three years; Chubb exited Year 3 with 752. Hunt staying through 2022 would also stand to shield Chubb from a Bell- or Elliott-like workload.

Either way, it sounds like the Browns will become the rare team with two well-paid backs on their roster soon. A Chubb extension will help establish a Barkley floor as well, should the Giants standout return to full strength this season, while providing the Browns with their most stable long-term backfield situation in decades. Cleveland missed on Trent Richardson, though the franchise did collect a first-rounder for him, and let Isaiah Crowell walk after his rookie deal expired. Chubb certainly appears set for a different northeast Ohio path.

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Extension Candidate: Courtland Sutton

Having fully transitioned at wide receiver following the in-season trades of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos have assembled an interesting group of pass catchers. Denver’s quartet consists of a first-rounder (Jerry Jeudy), two second-rounders (Courtland Sutton, K.J. Hamler) and a contract-year UDFA (Tim Patrick) — all tied to rookie contracts or an RFA tender.

Joining Patrick in entering a contract year, Sutton is in line to be the first Broncos wideout to sign a lucrative extension since Sanders’ September 2016 re-up. A Sutton deal would top Thomas’ five-year, $70MM pact as the richest the Broncos have given a receiver. But a few factors complicate the 25-year-old playmaker’s status going into his fourth season, making him one of the more interesting 2021 extension candidates.

Sutton’s rookie-year form prompted the Broncos to trade Thomas, and the SMU product built on that in 2019. Despite Denver using three starting QBs in Sutton’s second year, the jump-ball standout served as the top weapon in an offense lacking other notable targets. The 6-foot-4 pass catcher’s 72-reception, 1,112-yard season — with an aging Joe Flacco, rookie Drew Lock and inexperienced backup Brandon Allen targeting him — garnered a Pro Bowl nod and opened the door to the prospect of an extension.

The Broncos then became the first team since the 2003 Cardinals to select receivers in the first and second rounds of a draft, but Sutton’s ACL tear — after just 31 snaps — changed the club’s plans to have the draftees develop in a Sutton-centered attack. Denver will now give its hopeful Sutton-Jeudy-Hamler trio, with Patrick mixing in, another try.

Since Sutton’s injury, the Broncos hired a new GM. But George Paton identified Sutton as a core player the Broncos want to keep around long-term. They have an opening for a veteran receiver contract, with Jeudy and Hamler not extension-eligible for a while and only one skill-position player — Melvin Gordon, whose roster spot may not be assured — making midlevel money. Sutton’s production with suboptimal quarterback play points to untapped potential for when/if the Broncos acquire a long-term passer.

Waiting makes some sense for both parties. Sutton is not expected to begin camp on the active/PUP list and will be on track to lead or co-lead Denver’s receiving corps this season. The Broncos making an offer before they determine Sutton’s fit alongside the younger receivers in Pat Shurmur‘s offense would be a bit of a gamble, but the team could also reap some value if Sutton wanted to lock in a slightly lower AAV now as protection against a sluggish season following ACL rehab. The Broncos certainly have the cap space to do a deal now or in the fall; their $28MM in room ranks behind only the Jaguars.

An in-season extension could be in play, too. That would make for an interesting middle ground — similar to Garett Bolles‘ November 2020 deal — and avoid a situation where this forces the Broncos to use their franchise tag for a third straight year. Of course, if Sutton proves willing to bet on himself going into a post-injury contract year, it would take a big offer to convince him to bypass a potential free agency bid or — in the more likely scenario — the leverage that comes with being tagged.

Sutton picking up where he left off would be a good problem for the Broncos, who have not featured this kind of depth at receiver since the mid-2010s. This has likely caught the attention of Aaron Rodgers, though that situation has produced little of consequence in months. A return to form would put Sutton on the radar to land a deal in the Kenny Golladay range — four years, $72MM — with perhaps some upside from this salary place, as the cap balloons over $200MM after 2021’s dip.

Sutton’s production alongside Jeudy will illustrate how the Broncos view him. With the fifth-year option allowing the Broncos to table Jeudy’s payday — if the impressive route runner proves worthy — until 2024, a window for a Sutton extension should be open. Given the Rodgers connection and the receiving corps’ new look since Sutton’s last full season, his contract status will be monitoring in the coming weeks and/or months.

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Extension Candidate: Wyatt Teller

Just before the start of the 2019 season, the Browns acquired guard Wyatt Teller from Buffalo. The Bills had selected Teller in the fifth round of the 2018 draft, but they deemed him expendable just a year later. Cleveland was in need of offensive line depth, so for the fairly modest price of a fifth- and sixth-round draft pick, the John Dorsey-led Browns acquired the Virginia Tech product, who in 2020 emerged from relative obscurity to become the best guard in the league per Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics. Dorsey might be gone, but he did leave the Browns with a few lovely parting gifts.

With three years of service time under his belt, Teller is now extension-eligible, and we recently heard that current GM Andrew Berry has a new contract for the 26-year-old on the agenda. Of course, long-term deals for quarterback Baker Mayfield, running back Nick Chubb, and cornerback Denzel Ward are also on the docket, so it’s uncertain when (or even if) a Teller deal might get done.

As with virtually all big-money contracts, as Teller’s promises to be, there are a couple of issues that need to be resolved. For one, Teller was not particularly impressive in 2019, his first year in Cleveland. To be fair, the offense as a whole underperformed under the stewardship of since-deposed head coach Freddie Kitchens, so Teller’s excellence in new HC Kevin Stefanski’s wide-zone scheme is probably a better indicator of how he will fare moving forward.

Another potential sticking point is the fact that, as good as he was in 2020, Teller missed five full contests and most of a sixth due to injury. Berry & Co. might want to see Teller sustain a certain level of performance for at least a full season’s worth of games before authorizing a massive extension (which is also rumored to be the front office’s mindset with respect to Mayfield). It is also fair to wonder whether the presence of center J.C. Tretter (PFF’s second-best pivot in 2020) to Teller’s left and right tackle Jack Conklin (PFF’s 10th-best tackle) to his right makes Teller look better than he actually is.

As of today, Spotrac estimates Teller’s market value to be roughly $12MM per year. That would position him as the fifth-highest-paid guard in football, behind Joe Thuney, Brandon Brooks, Zack Martin, and Andrew Norwell. For purposes of this exercise, we’re excluding Washington’s Brandon Scherff, who is presently attached to his second franchise tender and whose $18MM+ salary for 2021 might be a bit of an outlier. However, if Scherff and the WFT were to agree to an extension, it would almost certainly come with an AAV at least as high as Thuney’s $16MM, thereby making Teller’s estimated market value of $12MM/year the sixth-highest mark in the league.

In light of the above-referenced concerns, Berry could, with a straight face, offer a four-year deal to Teller worth around $48MM and including about $30MM in practical guarantees. But if Teller is anything like his quarterback, he will be willing to bet on himself and will demand something that puts him closer to the top of the guard market.

And it would not be surprising to see the Browns go there. After all, though Mayfield may be good enough to bring a championship to Cleveland with the right pieces around him, he does not appear to be the type of passer that can overcome the deficiencies of a weak O-line. Right now, the Browns have arguably the best offensive front in the league, and Berry would surely be loathe to let one of that unit’s best assets walk away. That is especially true when considering how a good line can make the two-headed rushing tandem of Chubb and Kareem Hunt even more imposing than it already is, and given that Teller is especially adept at run-blocking.

Just yesterday, Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com confirmed that the Browns will try to extend Teller, although she did not offer any indication that contract talks had advanced particularly far. With so many other high-profile talents in line for lucrative extensions, it’s hard to determine exactly how Berry is triaging the situation, but Teller is certainly a player that other clubs are hoping makes it to free agency in 2022. 

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Extension Candidate: Denzel Ward

The Browns returned to the playoffs in 2020 after a 17-year absence, and their top two picks of the 2018 draft — QB Baker Mayfield and CB Denzel Ward — played pivotal roles in the team’s success. Under the youthful leadership of general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland has the opportunity to be a competitive outfit for the foreseeable future.

But success in the draft and on the field generally leads to big-money extensions for a team’s homegrown talent, and the decision as to whether to authorize such extensions is not always a straightforward one. For instance, although Mayfield bounced back nicely from a disastrous 2019 campaign and posted a top-10 QBR of 72.2 last season, the Browns may make him prove himself again in 2021 before getting serious about extension talks.

Ward, meanwhile, has battled health issues since he entered the league. He has missed at least three games due to injury in each of his first three professional seasons — we’re not counting the games he missed last year due to COVID-19 — and when considering the price tag for top cornerbacks, even “minor” injuries become significant.

On the other hand, his performance between the lines has been everything the Browns could have hoped for when they made him the No. 4 overall pick in 2018. He earned Pro Bowl honors in his rookie season, and despite the missed time due to injury, he has tallied 40 passes defensed and seven interceptions — including one pick-six — in his young career.

Cleveland’s secondary as a whole was hit hard by injury (and the pandemic) last year. In addition to Ward’s ailments, rookie safety Grant Delpit and second-year CB Greedy Williams missed the entire season, and CB Kevin Johnson also missed time. That meant that DC Joe Woods was forced to run zone coverage schemes for the most part, and Ward’s skill-set is probably better-suited to man coverage.

Still, Ward finished as Pro Football Focus’ 23rd-best corner out of 121 qualifiers, and PFF gave him a strong coverage grade. The team added former Rams DBs John Johnson and Troy Hill in free agency this offseason, which should give Woods a little more flexibility and which should, in turn, have a positive trickle-down effect on Ward. But while Hill has experience playing on the boundaries, the Browns may prefer to deploy him in the slot, and it’s still unclear what the team has in Williams at this point. So other than Ward, there are no certainties in terms of outside-the-numbers CBs, and even if there were, it would be hard to imagine Berry & Co. letting a premium talent at a premium position get away.

Of course, a new contract will be costly. The $20MM average annual value that Jalen Ramsey recently pulled down from the Rams is the current pacesetter for the CB market, and while Ward might not be able to hit that number at this point, he certainly has an argument for at least an $18MM AAV. A five-year pact worth between $90MM-$95MM and around $40MM or so in full guarantees sounds about right if the two sides are to come to terms anytime soon.

For now, there have been no reports of extension talks. The Browns will certainly exercise Ward’s fifth-year option for 2022 — which checks in at a fully-guaranteed $13.294MM — and perhaps player and team will start to discuss a longer-term arrangement over the summer.

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Extension Candidate: Kenny Golladay

Top Lions wideout Kenny Golladay is due to make $2.133MM in 2020, the final season of his rookie contract. Considering his importance to the team, his overall abilities, and the fact that he is starting to look like one of the better receivers in the league, that represents a terrific value for Detroit.

It stands to reason that the Lions would like to extend Golladay before he is eligible to hit the open market next offseason, and both sides are interested in a new deal. But as of March 30, no contract talks had commenced, and it’s highly unlikely that anything will change in that regard until there is more clarity on future salary caps.

Indeed, big-money extensions have been rare in the current climate, and Golladay’s next contract will undoubtedly be a hefty one. Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com believes the Northern Illinois product will land a deal with an average annual value of at least $17MM (Twitter link), and a review of the receiver market shows that estimate might actually be on the low end. While Golladay may not be on the level of the Saints’ Mike Thomas, it can certainly be argued that he is at least as good as the Cowboys’ Amari Cooper, who just inked a five-year, $100MM contract ($60MM guaranteed) this offseason.

Golladay could stand to improve his consistency, as he put up a couple duds in 2019 even before QB Matthew Stafford was lost for the season. But when Stafford was under center last year, Golladay posted four 100-yard efforts, and he was a TD machine throughout the season, hitting paydirt 11 times. For what it’s worth, Golladay graded out as a top-10 receiver in terms of Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, and he also made the first Pro Bowl of his career.

In all, he tallied 1,190 yards to go along with those 11 TDs, both career-highs. And though his career catch rate is a little on the low side (57.6%), that often comes with the territory for a big-play threat. After all, Golladay posted a whopping 18.3 yards-per-reception last year, good for fourth in the league.

He has been on an upward trajectory over his first three professional seasons, and it would be fair to expect another step forward in 2020, assuming Stafford stays healthy. As soon as the team gets a better understanding of its future financial picture, it seems likely that it will start negotiations in earnest.

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Extension Candidate: Rams CB Jalen Ramsey

Just before last year’s trade deadline, the Rams swung a blockbuster deal to land Jalen Ramsey. Now, they have some more negotiating to do as Ramsey enters the final year of his contract.

[RELATED: Will The Cardinals Trade Reddick?]

Ramsey, 26 in October, is set to earn $13.7MM in 2020, a figure dictated by his fifth-year option. The expected market will dictate his rate on this go ’round, which means that he’s probably due for a raise. Before Ramsey arrived in Los Angeles, he had his sights set on a deal that would reset the market. Despite an iffy year, Ramsey still figures to play in that ballpark.

Between his three games with the Jaguars and nine games with the Rams, Ramsey recorded just 50 tackles and one interception. The former No. 5 overall pick did not play up to his usual standards, but the fact remains that Ramsey is one of the league’s most talented cornerbacks and any team would be happy to back up a Brinks truck for him.

Currently, Darius Slay stands as the league’s highest-paid cornerback on a per-year basis with an average annual salary of $16.7MM. Meanwhile, Byron Jones of the Dolphins leads corners in full guarantees ($46MM) and effective guarantees ($54.4MM). It’s safe to say that Ramsey’s reps will have all of those numbers handy when it comes time to talk.

The Rams, meanwhile, would be willing to toss figures around in that ballpark, though their lack of cap room makes it a bit tricky. It would be tough for the Rams to tamp down Ramsey’s 2020 hit while also giving him $17MM/year to top Slay. Meanwhile, there isn’t a lot of fat left to trim. They could carve out another $3.6MM for Ramsey by releasing Troy Hill, but that would also leave ~$900K in dead money and little room for extra improvements. A restructuring of Aaron Donald‘s deal could give them more dollars to work with – similar to what Jared Goff did recently – but that would also create a snowball effect on future cap years.

Ramsey promised the team that he wouldn’t hold out in 2020 if he didn’t have a new deal in place, though he won’t necessarily cooperate with the Rams if he’s franchise tagged for 2021. Without that safety net in place, the Rams will have to find middle ground with their star cornerback sooner rather than later.

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Extension Candidate: Keanu Neal

Falcons safety Keanu Neal has had a horrible run of injury luck. In 2018, he suffered a torn ACL in the regular season opener, and in 2019, he sustained a torn Achilles during the third game of the season. Both of those injuries were season-enders, so he has played just four games over the past two seasons.

Prior to that, however, he was establishing himself as one of the better young safeties in the game. He was selected by Atlanta with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2016 draft, and he racked up 106 tackles in 14 starts in his rookie campaign, which culminated in a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss to New England.

He built on that performance in 2017, starting all 16 games and piling up 116 tackles en route to a Pro Bowl nod. He moves with fluidity and has a nose for the football, as evidenced by his high tackle totals and the eight fumbles that he forced over his first two seasons in the league. That ability also helps him in coverage on the back end, though he has just one career interception to date.

The Falcons exercised the fifth-year option of his rookie contract last April, which suggested that they weren’t too concerned about the 2018 ACL tear. Of course, they didn’t bank on the 2019 Achilles tear, and Neal is presently slated to count for about $6.5MM against the 2020 cap thanks to the fifth-year option (the option was guaranteed for injury only at the time it was exercised but became fully-guaranteed when the 2020 league year opened earlier this month).

Though $6.5MM would ordinarily look like a relative bargain for someone with Neal’s abilities, the fact that he has been unable to stay on the field complicates matters a bit. That is especially true since the Falcons have limited salary cap space at the moment.

So on the one hand, it would make sense for Atlanta to let Neal simply play out his contract and revisit the situation prior to the opening of free agency next offseason (after all, although the team’s pass defense was one of the worst in the league from 2018-19, per DVOA, that unit didn’t grade out much higher even when Neal was in the lineup in 2016-17). But the top of the safety market now includes contracts with average annual values of over $14MM, and if Neal has a healthy, bounceback campaign, other clubs may pony up that type of cash to steal him away from the Falcons.

As such, the Falcons could explore an extension with Neal. Such a move would be risky given the health concerns — Neal also dealt with a knee injury not long before his rookie season — but it also has a couple of obvious benefits. One, it would help the Falcons’ immediate cap situation, and two, it could keep a talented young player under contract for several more seasons at a potentially discount rate.

From Neal’s perspective, an extension may represent an undersell if he does play up to his 2017 levels in 2020, but it would also provide him extra security in the event that he cannot recapture his prior form. As of yet, there have been no reports of negotiations between the two sides, but it would not be a surprise to hear of exploratory talks in the coming months.

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Extension Candidate: Shelby Harris

The Broncos have established some continuity on their defensive line over the past two seasons. Super Bowl-era holdover Derek Wolfe has anchored the unit for years, and Adam Gotsis enters his fourth season. Both Shelby Harris and Zach Kerr are back for third Denver slates. With the exception of Kerr, each enters a contract year.

Although Wolfe is this group’s biggest name, Harris presents the most interesting extension candidacy. The Broncos’ projected starting nose tackle has gone from Raiders afterthought to being out of football in 2016 to ending 2018 as one of the most effective defensive tackles in the game (on a per-play basis). Pro Football Focus graded Harris as its No. 9 interior defender last season, and the Broncos responded by applying a second-round tender ($3.095MM).

Set for his age-28 season, Harris is set to become a primary first-stringer for the first time in his career. The Broncos did not re-sign two-year nose starter Domata Peko. Harris registered 5.5 sacks in 2017 as well and will be in position to approach that total as a starter. His breakthrough 2018, which included a game-winning interception of Ben Roethlisberger, did come on only 391 snaps in 16 games. That total was the lowest of Denver’s five-man defensive line rotation last season, and the team may want to see how Harris performs with a bigger workload before making a long-term commitment. Another quality campaign will make Harris an intriguing commodity on the 2020 market, should he reach free agency.

The former 2014 seventh-round pick has expressed a desire for a Broncos extension, and it seems likely the team opts to retain at least one of its starting linemen beyond 2019. Only Kerr, defensive end Dre’Mont Jones and roster-bubble cog DeMarcus Walker are signed beyond this season, among the team’s notable D-linemen.

It might not cost the Broncos too much to retain Harris, with only one 3-4 defensive tackle (Chicago’s Eddie Goldman) making more than $5MM annually. However, 4-3 noses like Damon Harrison, Dontari Poe and Star Lotulelei earn between $9-$10MM annually, creating a more defined price range. While Harris sees time at defensive end as well, his primary role is inside. Of course, the one team that did recently see value in paying a 3-4 nose employed Vic Fangio as its defensive coordinator.

The new Broncos HC may hold this role in higher regard than many teams, and the franchise’s post-2019 defense does not have much in the way of front-seven salary obligations. Von Miller, whose cap number spikes to $25.6MM next year thanks to a past restructure, is the only front-seven player on the Broncos’ 2020 cap sheet at north of $7.5MM.

Playing in Fangio’s system, Harris could work his way toward Goldman’s $10.5MM-AAV number. Although the Broncos have been stingy at this position in the recent past, letting Terrance Knighton walk after his $2MM-per-year deal expired and declining Sylvester Williams‘ 2017 option, they will have some decisions to make about how they distribute their D-line money soon. These circumstances put Harris in a favorable spot entering his walk year.

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Extension Candidate: Bears G Cody Whitehair

The Bears are one of only a few NFL teams projected to bring back their entire starting offensive line in 2019, and with good reason: the unit was extremely effective at pass-blocking last season. Chicago’s front five gave up just 33 sacks (tied for eighth in the league), and ranked seventh in the NFL in adjusted sack rate.

Cody Whitehair has been a key factor in the Bear’s offensive line success over the past three seasons, but despite earning a Pro Bowl nod in 2018, he’ll be asked to change positions next year. Chicago plans to insert 2018 second-round pick James Daniels at center, meaning Whitehair will need to shift to left guard.

Whitehair has experience moving between positions. At Kansas State, the now-26-year-old spent his first two seasons at guard before moving to tackle for his junior and senior campaigns. In the NFL, Whitehair has mostly stuck at center, although he did line up at both guard positions for a bit in 2018. The results have mostly been spectacular, as Whitehair graded as a top-10 center last season while ranking top-six in pressures allowed (min. 50% playtime), per Pro Football Focus.

Now entering the final year of his rookie contract, Whitehair and his representation are now likely looking for an extension. Chicago’s front office, historically, has been more than willing to pay up for offensive line talent. Right guard Kyle Long inked a four-year, $40MM extension in 2016, left tackle Charles Leno received a four-year, $38MM deal in 2017, and right tackle Bobby Massie re-signed on a four-year, $32MM pact earlier this year.

But how will the Bears approach negotiations? Will they view (and pay) Whitehair as a center or a left guard? It’s a critical question, because there a pretty wide gap in top salaries between the two positions. The top of the left guard market reached $13.3MM per year when Andrew Norwell signed a massive contract with the Jaguars in 2017. The center market, however, only hit $11.125MM annually this past offseason thanks to Mitch Morse‘s deal with the Bills.

Whitehair could potentially bet on himself, hoping that he posts another stellar season before cashing in as a left guard — potentially at $14MM or more per year — in 2020. Chicago isn’t likely to use its franchise tag on a guard, especially given that franchise tenders for offensive linemen don’t differentiate between guard and tackle. Therefore, Whitehair really only has to worry about the prospect of an injury tanking his value.

Alternatively, Whitehair and the Bears could split the difference between guard and center salaries and agree to a deal in the $12MM/year range. He’d be making more than any center, but come out just shy of Norwell’s pact with Jacksonville. At present, it’s unclear if Whitehair is willing to trade some of his contractual upside for financial security, but it could be a deal that would satisfy both he and the Bears.

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Extension Candidate: Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue

Earlier this summer, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue skipped minicamp in an effort to push for a new contract. Jaguars football czar Tom Coughlin might not be wild about the tactic, but Ngakoue’s stand could very well pay off. 

Ngakoue is entering the final year of his rookie contract and there’s no denying that he is criminally underpaid, given his performance. For now, he’s slated to earn just $2.025MM in 2019 after racking up 29.5 sacks across three seasons.

In essence, both sides want the same thing. Ngakoue wants financial security and the Jaguars would, presumably, love to lock down the 24-year-old for years to come. However, the continued explosion of the edge rushing market makes this an extremely costly proposition for Jacksonville.

This offseason, Frank Clark inked a five-year, $105MM deal with the Chiefs after coming over from the Seahawks. And, just prior to that, Demarcus Lawrence signed a similar deal to stay with the Cowboys. Clark is 26, Lawrence is 27, and Ngakoue just turned 24 in March.

Much is made of the general lack of guarantees in NFL contracts, but top edge rushers continue to rake in guarantees that exceed other key defensive positions. Lawrence got a total guarantee of $65MM and Clark came close with $62.3MM, so there’s no real scenario in which Ngakoue would settle for less than the ~$60MM mark. Meanwhile, he’s likely looking at upwards of $21MM per season in terms of average annual value.

Still, with one year to go on his deal, Ngakoue doesn’t have much leverage. If he does not report to the Jags by August 5, he’ll lose one year of accrued service and push his potential entry into free agency back by one season.

If offered a deal that falls just shy of Clark or Lawrence’s, Ngakoue may very well “settle” and sign. If not, he’ll have to play out the final year of his rookie deal and aim for another gaudy sack total. It’s a risky proposition, but if Ngakoue can terrorize quarterbacks over another 16 game slate, he could be in position to become the highest-paid defensive player in the league.


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