Extension Candidate

Extension Candidate: Justin Herbert

Now that the league’s most controversial quarterback extension discussion has come to an end, it’s time to move on to what may be the second-most controversial. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has shown some impressive regular season success in Los Angeles, but without results in the postseason, does he deserve to earn what some of his colleagues are making?

The 2020 quarterback class recently became eligible to sign their second NFL contracts. Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, in a slightly different situation with no fifth-year option due to being drafted in the second round, broke the mold before heading into the final year of his rookie contract, signing an extension that gave him the highest annual average contract value in the NFL, a record that would be broken weeks later by Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

The Packers decided to get ahead of the pack, as well, signing inexperienced quarterback Jordan Love to an extension of his four-year rookie deal that will keep him under contract through this season and the next. Aside from that, the remaining first-round quarterbacks from the 2020 NFL Draft are playing it patient. The Bengals and quarterback Joe Burrow seem to be in a bit of a holding pattern, watching Herbert and the Chargers. The Dolphins also seem to be sitting pat on a new deal for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Injury issues, namely frequent concussions, have Miami playing it slow, as Tagovailoa’s future appears uncertain to say the least.

That brings us to Herbert. The 2020 class’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, Herbert has been a statistical phenom in Los Angeles. Through his first three seasons, Herbert has passed for 14,089 yards, more than any other player in NFL history through their first three years. He followed up his ORoY campaign with a Pro Bowl sophomore season. He averages just over 31 passing touchdowns per year to just over 11 interceptions. Despite throwing for the fewest touchdowns of his career last season, he finally saw his team’s success result in a postseason appearance. That paradox serves as a microcosm of the biggest issue currently surrounding his legacy: what good are statistics if they don’t lead to team success?

With Herbert behind center, the Chargers are 25-24. They have floated just above .500 since he took his place atop the depth chart. In his lone postseason contest, the Chargers’ defense consistently put Herbert and the offense in positions to succeed, leading to a 27-0 lead over Jacksonville to begin the game. As the Jaguars mounted their comeback, though, Herbert and the offense struggled generate much scoring as the team only managed three second-half points. That loss ultimately puts his record as a starter at 25-25, including the postseason.

The blame doesn’t fall solely on Herbert’s shoulders, of course. A middling-to-subpar defense in the past three years has made Herbert’s job that much harder. Injuries to leading offensive players like running back Austin Ekeler and wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams have put him in tough situations from time to time, as well. Still, quarterbacks like Jackson and Hurts have made winning without stats look easy, while Hurts and Burrow have found enough postseason success to each have a Super Bowl loss on their records. Herbert’s statistical success should well reward him and set him on track for a top contract, but his lack of winning success could lessen his price tag a bit.

Veteran general manager Tom Telesco has been here before with Philip Rivers. As a student of Bill Polian with the 2000’s Colts, Telesco had a front row seat to how Indianapolis paid Peyton Manning while still fielding a strong team around him. Seeing the success that that resulted in, Telesco will likely be aiming for a more team-friendly deal when trying to extend Herbert.

At least in our situation, I don’t think I need to have that talk with our quarterback. I think he’s fully aware, has really good self-awareness on how much money he is going to make, how it affects the team,” Telesco said. “But like most agents will tell you, like, it’s my job to figure out how to make sure that the player gets the value that he deserves and we build a team around him.”

With that in mind, what might a deal for Herbert look like? This is a tough one. As the price tag for quarterbacks continues to climb, Herbert is expected to make over $50MM per year. The statistical success backs that assertion, and the development of the deals of Hurts and Jackson make that harder to deny. Yes, Mahomes and Allen aimed for longer deals (slightly for Allen, extremely for Mahomes), that take a bit of burden off the team, but those deals came in 2020 for Mahomes and 2021 for Allen. It’s hard to imagine that both of those deals would still be under $50MM per year in 2023.

If Herbert and Telesco are on the same page about a team-friendly deal, it’s going to be based off of length. Herbert may end up looking at a six- to eight-year deal. With the added years to the contract, he may agree to take a bit less than the five-year deals Hurts and Jackson signed. I could see an eight-year, $400MM deal with a $50MM AAV or maybe a six-year, $306MM deal with a $51MM AAV. If the team waits longer to make the deal, they not only risk further inflation to contract prices, they also risk Herbert driving up the price tag with some postseason success.

Telesco has his work cut out for him. The team clearly wants to commit to Herbert long-term. With seven players all set to make over $10MM next year, the team’s payroll is getting top-heavy. He’ll have to work some Colts-Manning magic in order to give Herbert the long-term deal he deserves while not totally handicapping the team’s ability to stack top-end talent around him.

Extension Candidate: Kyle Dugger

The Patriots haven’t signed a first- or second-round pick to a rookie contract extension since Dont’a Hightower, who was a member of the 2012 draft class. Things may change in 2023, as the Patriots have a 2020 second-round pick who is worthy of a new deal. Kyle Dugger is currently eligible for an extension, and the safety can make a strong case for a new contract in New England.

The defensive back was a surprise pick out of Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, with the Patriots selecting him 37th-overall in 2020. Following an inconsistent rookie campaign that saw him in and out of the starting lineup, Dugger took it to another level over the past two seasons. Between 2021 and 2022, the safety has compiled 120 tackles, seven interceptions, and three defensive touchdowns. The 26-year-old earned his best Pro Football Focus grade in 2022, finishing 11th among 88 qualifying safeties.

The Patriots secondary will be lacking some leadership in 2023 following the retirement of Devin McCourty, and Bill Belichick and co. will surely want to maintain some continuity in their safeties room. Jabrill Peppers and Adrian Phillips provide some solid depth at the position, and the team has reportedly given cornerback Jalen Mills some reps at safety. The organization also used a third-round pick on Sacramento State defensive back Marte Mapu, perhaps some insurance in case the organization loses their starter next offseason.

However, none of those options offer as much upside as Dugger, and while the team doesn’t have a long track record of extending first- or second-round picks, the safety has easily outperformed most of the other players on that list. Of course, this is the Patriots, and we shouldn’t expect the front office to start negotiating against themselves.

Despite his impressive numbers over the past two seasons, Dugger hasn’t established himself among the top tier of safeties. A top-10 contract at the position would put him in line for an average annual value of $14MM. More likely, New England will be looking to get Dugger under contract for a discounted amount; considering his production and the current contracts at the position, a deal starting around $12MM per year could make some sense.

Fortunately for New England, Dugger’s contract status won’t be a distraction for the fourth-year player.

“That’s not on my mind,” Dugger said of his impending free agency (via Chad Graff of The Athletic). “That’s the business part. I’m on the field and trying to handle business on the field and let that be that. But I definitely enjoy playing with this organization.”

Dugger might not even be the only member of the Patriots 2020 draft class to earn an extension. Fellow second-round pick Josh Uche had a breakout season in 2022, finishing with 11.5 sacks and a top-20 edge rusher grade from PFF. The Patriots probably won’t overpay for one good season, and Uche is mostly a part-time player in their system. However, another 10-plus-sack season would put Uche in line for a massive payday next offseason. If the organization believes his 2022 season was for real, it may be in their best interest to extend the linebacker now.

Offensive lineman Michael Onwenu could be another interesting contender for an extension. The 2020 sixth-round pick earned PFWA All-Rookie Team honors as a rookie, struggled during his second season, and then earned a top-four PFF mark among all guards in 2022. The lineman’s inconsistency makes him a risky extension candidate, but New England could look to hedge their bets and sign him to an affordable deal while they have the chance. As Evan Lazar of the team’s website points out, the organization does have a recent history of trying to retain interior linemen, including Shaq Mason‘s extension and Joe Thuney‘s franchise tag.

Part of the reason for the team’s lack of success in a post-Tom Brady era (besides the quarterback’s obvious defection) was the team’s lack of draft hits. The fact that the Patriots have three worthy extension candidates from their 2020 draft class shows that the organization is starting to rebound in their prospect evaluations.

Extension Candidate: Kristian Fulton

Kristian Fulton has emerged as a key member of the Titans’ secondary, a unit which the team has made considerable investments in over the course of recent years. He is now approaching the final season of his rookie contract.

Fulton, a 2020 second-round pick, is “hoping for a new deal,” writes Joe Rexrode of The Athletic (subscription required). A long-term commitment from Tennessee would come as little surprise considering the level of play he has delivered when on the field during the past two seasons in particular, though the frequency with which that is not the case could be a concern.

As a rookie, Fulton logged a 49% snap share but his campaign was limited to just six games due to a knee injury. His availability was better the following season when he served as a full-time starter for all 13 of his appearances. During that span, he recorded a pair of interceptions and 14 pass deflections. His coverage statistics (51% completion percentage and 71.3 passer rating allowed) also pointed to a promising future and raised expectations for him heading into 2022.

In the build-up to that year, Tennessee had a number of options to choose from in terms of the starting CB spot opposite Fulton. The LSU product was once again counted on as an anchor of the secondary, though, starting all 11 games he played in. Fulton was again sidelined by injury, however, which contributed to a step back in his ball production (one interception, five pass breakups). In all, he has missed 20 games over the course of his career, a figure which will no doubt hurt his value on a new deal, particularly one signed before the onset of the coming season.

The Titans have a number of young corners on the books, including Fulton but also 2021 first-rounder Caleb Farley (who has only played 12 games to date), 2021 third-rounder Elijah Molden (who missed all but two contests last season) and 2022 second-round selection Roger McCreary. The latter enjoyed a highly productive rookie campaign in which he was a full-time starter and stayed on the field for all 17 games. Tennessee also brought in another first-team option during free agency by signing Sean Murphy-Bunting on a one-year deal.

Nevertheless, Fulton will be counted on as a key performer for at least one more season. A return to health in his case – and that of the Titans’ secondary as a whole – would go a long way in determining the team’s success on defense, a unit which will likely need to perform at a high level given the question marks surrounding their offense. A strong showing from Fulton would also boost his value heading into free agency next March, or Titans extension negotiations conducted before that point.

Tennessee is limited with respect to available funds at the moment, and much of their remaining cap space would be used up by any hypothetical deal for DeAndre Hopkins. Fulton’s 2023 cap hit is just under $1.7MM, so a new deal would not clear up any significant money for the remainder of the summer. However, the Titans are currently projected to have the fourth-most spending power in 2024, so they would certainly be able to absorb a significant raise for Fulton on a new contract if his desire for one were to be reciprocated.

Extension Candidate: Evan Engram

The least discussed of the four negotiations involving franchise-tagged players, Evan Engram‘s Jaguars situation still offers intrigue. The Jags have until July 17 to strike a deal with their starting tight end, or he will play a second straight season on a one-year contract — this one worth $11.35MM.

Jacksonville initially signed the former first-round pick on a higher-end “prove it” pact, giving the ex-Giant a one-year deal worth $9MM. After a rocky New York tenure, Engram showed value in Jacksonville by setting a Jags single-season tight end record with 766 receiving yards. Considering how difficult it has been for this franchise to find tight end production in recent years, Engram has a case to command a deal near the top tier at his position.

On the whole, the tight end position is undervalued. Travis Kelce has been the constant receiving presence during the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes era, and the future Hall of Famer helped power the team to another Super Bowl despite the trade of Tyreek Hill. George Kittle may be the league’s most complete tight end, and he has been vital to the Kyle Shanahan-era 49ers’ offensive success both aerially and on the ground. Neither star earns more than $15MM per year. Darren Waller‘s $17MM-per-year contract tops the tight end market, further complicating matters due to the new Giant’s recent injury trouble. Sixteen wideouts earn more than every tight end, contrasting one pass-catching position’s booming market and another’s stagnancy.

The tight end market being out of step with the position’s value may affect current and future negotiations, as Engram is coming off a better year compared to Waller. The Ole Miss alum teamed with fellow Jaguar newcomers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones to form a productive arsenal around the ascending Trevor Lawrence. In addition to his regular-season numbers, Engram totaled 12 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown in the playoffs.

The Jags chose an Engram tag over cuffing right tackle Jawaan Taylor, who made his way to the Chiefs on a $20MM-per-year accord. Engram’s tag cost the Jags barely $11MM. That amount becomes fully guaranteed once Engram signs his franchise tender; he joins Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs in not yet doing so.

Both Dawson Knox and David Njoku signed for at least $13MM last year. Given Engram’s first-year production in Jacksonville, it should be expected he is targeting a deal north of those authorized by the Bills and Browns. Considering Dallas Goedert and Mark Andrews are signed to $14.25MM- and $14MM-AAV contracts, it would seem Engram and the Jags could find common ground. A 2024 Engram tag would be worth $13.62MM, but neither Knox nor Njoku secured $20MM guaranteed. The second tag price is assuredly a major factor for Engram; only three veteran tight ends (Andrews, Kittle, Hunter Henry) commanded guarantees of at least $25MM.

Njoku benefited by signing a long-term deal weeks after being tagged, while fellow tag recipients Dalton Schultz and Mike Gesicki endured down seasons. This led to disappointing 2023 paydays. Engram will need to consider this as well, though he has both made more cash than the ex-Cowboys and Dolphins tight ends — due to his first-round contract and 2022 Jaguars deal — and holds a clear role in Doug Pederson‘s offense. Lawrence’s climb also stands to benefit his top tight end.

Engram has said he wants to stay in Jacksonville, while GM Trent Baalke expressed optimism for a long-term agreement as well. But the sides were not believed to be especially close on terms weeks after the tag emerged. Engram being set for his age-29 season also complicates contract talks, but a three- or four-year deal should still cover prime years for the veteran. The Jags whiffed on a big-ticket Julius Thomas signing in 2015 and were unable to generate much from their tight end spot between then and the Engram contract. The Jags did, however, let left tackle Cam Robinson play on the tag in 2021. And Engram’s age and inconsistent past are likely factors the team is considering while determining if an extension or a second rental year will transpire.

Last year provided a notable uptick for the 6-foot-3 pass catcher, who saw injuries and inconsistency plague him in New York. After a 722-yard rookie season, Engram picked up a Pro Bowl nod with a 654-yard 2020 slate. Engram was not particularly reliable during the other three years of his rookie deal. After a 2021 season in which the Giants bottomed out following a Daniel Jones neck injury, Big Blue’s new regime let the Jerry Reese-era draftee walk.

Lawrence will be tied to a rookie contract in 2023, but the former No. 1 overall pick becomes extension-eligible in January. The Jags also added Calvin Ridley‘s fifth-year option salary ($11.12MM) to their payroll. Extending Engram would give the team more 2023 cap room, but with neither he nor Ridley signed beyond 2023, big-picture decisions loom. Kirk’s $18MM-per-year deal runs through 2025; Jones’ $8MM-AAV accord goes through 2024. With this being the rare pass-catching corps without a rookie contract in the starting mix, how the Jaguars proceed with this position group will be worth following.

Potential complications here pale in comparison to what is happening leaguewide at running back. While that issue clouds the talks with the three tagged backs — Barkley, Jacobs, Tony Pollard — Engram should have a clearer path to securing an extension by next month’s deadline.

Extension Candidate: CeeDee Lamb

With each of year of his career, Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb has progressed towards to top echelon of NFL wideouts. After a third season that may have established him in that top group, Lamb has become a top extension priority for the Cowboys’ front office. What will it take to lock down the team’s top receiver long-term? And will Dallas be willing to spend it?

Coming out of Oklahoma as a consensus All-American, Lamb was selected 17th overall by the Cowboys. With a strong mentor in Amari Cooper, Lamb made an immediate impact as a rookie, finishing second on the team in receptions (74) and receiving yards (935) while matching Cooper and Michael Gallup for the team-lead in touchdown receptions with five. By Year 2, Lamb was ready to take the reins. With Gallup missing eight games due to injury, Lamb significantly stepped up his production even surpassing Cooper for the team-lead in receptions (79) and receiving yards (1,102) while bettering his own rookie receiving touchdown total by one.

Lamb’s continued progression made Dallas confident in his ability to function as the team’s top wideout, allowing them to trade away Cooper and his bulky contract. No problem for Lamb. He took over as WR1 and excelled. He used his new position as the lone man on top and delivered career-highs in receptions (107), receiving yards (1,359), and receiving touchdowns (9), leading Dallas in all three categories. Not only did he lead his team, but Lamb was also top-ten in the league in all three statistics.

Last season helped to break Lamb into the conversation for top-ten receivers. Not only did he post top-ten statistics, but the analysts over at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) also slotted him as the eighth-best receiver in the league. So, what exactly does his status as a top-ten wideout mean for a potential extension?

Currently, the top ten annual averages for wide receiver contracts in the NFL all exceed $20MM per year, the number the Cowboys granted to Cooper back in 2020. With the exception of Keenan Allen, who signed his deal in 2020, all of those top contracts were reached last year. This means that, while the numbers may inflate a bit in 2023, they shouldn’t be that far off from last year’s record-breaking deals. Those deals range from D.J. Moore‘s three-year, $61.88MM deal ($20.63MM average annual value) to Tyreek Hill‘s league-topping four-year, $120MM contract ($30MM AAV).

Lamb still trails a few of the top moneymakers at the position statistically. Hill, Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, and A.J. Brown were all able to outperform Lamb in some aspects. Others, like Cooper Kupp, D.K. Metcalf, and Deebo Samuel have had higher highs in their careers than Lamb but have lacked his consistency and progress. I’d estimate that Lamb should fetch more than Terry McLaurin‘s $22.79MM per year but likely less than Adams’s $28MM. He probably deserves to be in the range of Diggs, Metcalf, and Samuel, but the usual annual inflation should boost him up into the range of Brown and Kupp.

While most of the top contracts are three or four years in length, the Cowboys didn’t shy away from giving Cooper a five-year deal after his fifth season. They’re likely not going to want to let Lamb slip through their fingers and, with only three years of NFL play under his belt, they can stand to stack an extra year in the deal. I think the Cowboys could get away with offering a little less in AAV by going for a five-year deal, as well. A five-year, $125MM offer makes a lot of sense. It would give Lamb the second-largest receiver contract in the NFL, behind only Adams’s $140MM, but would only put him tied for fourth in AAV at $25MM per year.

One of the reasons that Lamb’s extension is a priority for Dallas has nothing to do with the Cowboys or Lamb. Lamb’s fellow 2020 draftee Justin Jefferson is likely also working towards an extension in Minnesota soon. Statistically, Jefferson’s worst season is comparable to Lamb’s best. Since entering the league, Jefferson has finished every season as a top-four wideout, according to PFF. Whenever Jefferson signs a new contract, he will likely set a new bar for receiver deals. That puts Dallas in a race against the clock. They would likely prefer to get a deal done with Lamb before Jefferson resets the market at a new higher rate.

There you have it. A Lamb extension has been on the team’s mind since at least March. They can lock down their star wideout with a top-five deal right now and make both parties happy. Their best chance, though, is to get that done before the Vikings extend Jefferson. If Jefferson is able to reset the market, holding on to Lamb may come at an even greater cost.

Extension Candidates: Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington

The Ravens have a strong three-man defensive line this year with Justin Madubuike, Michael Pierce, and Broderick Washington. Unfortunately for Baltimore, all three linemen are playing in contract years in 2023. In fact, the only defensive linemen under contract past this season are last year’s third-round pick Travis Jones, undrafted second-year player Rayshad Nichols, who signed a two-year reserve/futures deal, and undrafted rookie Trey Botts out of Colorado State-Pueblo. Unless Baltimore wants to start over from scratch next season with an inexperienced returning group, it will need to look into extending the stays of Madubuike, Pierce, and/or Washington.

Firstly, Pierce is not considered a favorite for a long-term extension. The former undrafted star is currently playing out his fourth NFL contract. The aging veteran is 30 heading into the 2023 season and has only played in 11 games in the past three years, including only three in his return to Baltimore in 2022. The Ravens may extend their old vet a friendly one-year deal to prolong his stay if he can prove healthy this season, but Pierce’s days of long-term contracts are likely in the rearview.

Madubuike and Washington were both drafted in 2020 by the Ravens. Both were Texas-natives with Madubuike coming out of Texas A&M in the third round and Washington coming out of Texas Tech in the fifth. As rookies, the two saw reserve time, filling in for a strong starting lineup that included Derek Wolfe, Calais Campbell, and Brandon Williams. The following year, a season-long injury to Wolfe and the departure of a few depth pieces cracked the door open for more playing time.

Madubuike was the first to step up and earn more defensive snaps. In his sophomore season, he joined the starting lineup for 11 games, even playing more defensive snaps than the veteran Williams. Madubuike improved on all of his rookie numbers, collecting more tackles, sacks, tackles for loss, quarterback hits, and even adding on two batted passes. Washington also found the field more often in his second year, and after not recording anything but two assisted tackles as a rookie, he, too, bettered every statistical category.

Last year saw a bit of a breakout year for both linemen. Madubuike spent the year as a full-time starter for the first time in his career, while Washington joined him for much of the year as the team’s de facto third lineman behind Madubuike and Campbell. Madubuike once again improved his numbers, recording career-highs in total tackles (42), sacks (5.5), tackles for loss (8), quarterback hits (9), and batted passes (3). Washington also notched new career-highs in total tackles (49), quarterback hits (4), and batted passes (6), while matching his previous highs in sacks (1.0) and tackles for loss (2). Washington also had his highest career grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), grading out as the league’s 31st-best interior defender, while Madubuike, despite the more explosive numbers, ranked at 54th.

Now, Madubuike will return to his role as a full-time starter in 2023. If he continues this trend of improving on his output each year, he could follow many former Ravens’ defensive linemen in pricing himself right out of Baltimore, especially as price tags on interior defenders have skyrocketed in recent years. With Ed Oliver‘s recent new deal, 11 defensive tackles are making $17MM per year or more. That’s a lot to ask of a Ravens team that has failed to see consistently strong returns on recent investments in the defensive line. Still, if they’d like to lock down Madubuike long-term, it’d likely be smart to do it before the guy they view as an ascending player does just that and forces them to allow him to test free agency.

Washington, on the other hand, is walking into his first season as a full-time starter. Despite being arguably more effective than Madubuike last season, his lack of starting experience combined with his smaller presence on the stat sheet make Washington much cheaper to extend. Make no mistake, Washington deserves to be paid for his toughness against the run, his disruption of passing lanes, and his ability to eat up space and open the field for his teammates to make plays, but a lineman with only two career sacks isn’t going to be able to demand a record deal.

Madubuike feels like the higher priority, for right now. That’s not to say that Washington isn’t just as important to the team’s future, it’s just that Madubuike seems to hold a much higher penalty if the Ravens fail to secure him before the end of the season. Baltimore could even potentially wait a beat on Washington to see how he performs in his first year as a full-time starter. Unless he sees quite an uptick in statistical output this season, the Ravens may not even face strong competition in bringing Washington back as an unrestricted free agent.

In terms of contract numbers, Madubuike could potentially push up close to the numbers of Oliver. Oliver had been a bit more consistent in his sack and disruption numbers at this point in his career, but if Madubuike continues to develop and improve, his best season could be better than Oliver’s best. If I had to venture a guess, I’d put a Madubuike extension in the range of $14MM-17MM per year for three or four years, perhaps a four-year, $60MM deal. As mentioned above, Washington’s deal should be a bit more reasonable. Again for three or four years, Washington may end up closer to the $7MM-10MM per year range. It wouldn’t be out of the question for him to end up with a four-year, $36MM or three-year, $30MM extension.

The Ravens are certainly in a position where they need to be thinking of their future at defensive line. Jones showed some promise as a rookie but expecting him to shoulder the load of leading the defensive line next year is asking a lot. They can also continue a short-term rental of Pierce, but cementing a future with Madubuike and Washington on the line could spell success and stability for the Ravens defense moving forward.

Extension Candidate: Josh Jacobs

Josh Jacobs was slapped with the franchise tag earlier this offseason, allowing both the player and team some extra time to negotiate a long-term pact. However, there hasn’t been any reported progress when it comes to an extension.

Part of that delay could be due to the Raiders’ reluctance to invest big money on a running back. Another reason for the lack of progress could be Jacobs’ determination to keep the running back market alive. The running back seemed to allude to his negotiation logic earlier this month, tweeting that “[s]ometimes it’s not about you. We gotta do it for the ones after us.” Jacobs added some fuel to the fire today when he tweeted “bad business,” an indication that he may not be pleased about the current status of his negotiations.

It’s not a new or shocking development that teams are unwilling to pay big money to running backs, and Jacobs is just the latest player to express frustration at the declining AAV at the position. Christian McCaffrey inked a record-breaking four-year, $64MM deal with the Panthers back in 2020, and his average annual value ($16MM) and guaranteed money ($36MM) still paces the position three years later.

Since then, Alvin Kamara secured the most guaranteed money at the position ($34MM), and the likes of Derrick Henry, Joe Mixon, Dalvin Cook, Aaron Jones, and Nick Chubb ended up signing extensions that landed between $12MM and $12.5MM per season. Only Miles Sanders and David Montgomery secured new contracts averaging $6MM or more this offseason, and rookie Bijan Robinson will head into the 2023 campaign with the third-most guaranteed money at his position ($21.9MM). We’ve seen other position groupings setting contract records, but the running back position appears to be heading backwards.

That brings us to Jacobs, who is set to play the 2023 season under the $10.1MM franchise tag. The two sides have until July 17 to negotiate a new deal, but it’s uncertain if they’ll agree to a new deal with less than a month remaining. Saquon Barkley is still awaiting a new deal with the Giants, an extension that would likely influence Jacobs’ next deal, putting the Raiders RB in a bit of a holding pattern.

It’s uncertain what kind of specific money Jacobs is seeking on his next deal. Based on the recent signings at the position, he’d be lucky to get an offer that approaches Henry’s four-year $50MM extension he signed with the Titans in 2020. If Jacobs does sign a new deal, he’ll likely settle into that sub-$12.5MM AAV, closer to the three-year, $36.6MM deal Chubb got from the Browns.

Jacobs made it known early on that he was going to skip the Raiders’ offseason program, but the July 17 deadline would seemingly prevent a training camp holdout. Jacobs has little incentive to sacrifice money and go the Le’Veon Bell route, and if he’s determined to make a statement, it seems increasingly likely that he’ll play the 2023 campaign under the franchise tag.

Extension Candidate: Quinnen Williams

A few of the contractual dominoes at the defensive tackle position have already fallen this offseason. Daron Payne, Jeffery Simmons and Dexter Lawrence agreed to terms on extensions, with two of those players — Payne and Lawrence — moving forward with teams that already had a big-ticket D-tackle contract on their books.

As the Commanders and Giants added monster Payne and Lawrence extensions, respectively, to payrolls that already included high-end deals for Jonathan Allen and Leonard Williams, the Jets have been in the on-deck circle for a bit now with Quinnen Williams. This negotiation — one already tabled by the team picking up Williams’ fifth-year option in May 2022 — has dragged for a bit.

Robert Saleh and GM Joe Douglas have expressed confidence about a Williams extension being finalized, even after the former No. 3 overall pick went through the standard operating procedure for disgruntled contract-year players. Despite Williams scrubbing his social media of Jets references, the sides are believed to have made some recent progress.

I speak for everyone — I probably speak for Quinnen — in that we all want get done sooner rather than later,” Saleh said, via ESPN’s Rich Cimini. “I’ll let the business guys handle all that stuff, but it’s going to get done. He’ll be here for camp. He’ll be ready to roll and once he is, I’m sure it’ll be the same guy who was here.”

The parameters for a Williams extension, as our Rory Parks noted recently, should be largely in place thanks to the three other D-tackle deals completed this offseason. Payne, Lawrence and Simmons all signed four-year contracts worth between $90MM and $94MM. A narrow gap between each’s fully guaranteed sum exists as well, with the three now joining Aaron Donald in the top four at this position for locked-in money. Ranging from $46MM to $47.8MM (Simmons, who topped Donald for the top spot here) in full guarantees, these contracts create a clear road map for the Jets and Williams.

Williams, 25, benefited from the Jets delaying talks until this year. The Mike Maccagnan-era draftee is coming off a dominant season and leads a suddenly relevant Jets defense — thanks to its dramatic 2022 improvement and its place on a now-Aaron Rodgers-led team — ahead of a key period in franchise history. The Alabama product posted 12 sacks, smashing his career-high mark, and trailed only Lawrence and Chris Jones among D-tackles in QB pressures (32). Williams’ 28 QB hits also doubled his previous career-best number. He and Sauce Gardner served as the driving forces for a Jets defense that rocketed from last (in both points and yards allowed) in 2021 to fourth in both categories last season.

Although Douglas is not responsible for all of the team’s recent history regarding first-rounders going one-and-done on contracts, the Jets have seen a high number of Round 1 draftees leave during or after a rookie deal. Leonard Williams, Sheldon Richardson and Jamal Adams left via trade; Douglas did pull the trigger on two of those moves (Williams, Adams). The Adams process became contentious, though the deal has worked out for New York. A few Jets first-round picks over the past decade and change have produced busts, but Muhammad Wilkerson — extended just before the 2016 franchise tag deadline — has been the only Jet first-rounder re-upped since 2007 top choice Darrelle Revis re-signed in September 2010. The Quinnen Williams situation gives the Jets a chance to make a key update here.

It seems Williams is holding out for more guaranteed money than Simmons received. The top Titans pass rusher has Williams beat in original-ballot Pro Bowl nods (2-1), but Williams holds the only first-team All-Pro nod among the young tackles who spent this offseason on the extension grid. (Simmons has earned second-team All-Pro acclaim in each of the past two seasons, however.) The Jets have the leverage of franchise-tagging Williams next year, but letting this situation drag into training camp would remind of the organization’s stalled pipeline regarding first-rounders and second contracts.

While Payne, Lawrence and Simmons have bridged the gap between Donald’s average annual value (a non-quarterback-high $31.7MM) and the field, a substantial gulf remains. The earlier batch of extensions suggests Williams will have trouble coming too close to the Rams icon. Jones represents a better bet of approach that place, as he is still just 28 and has become one of this era’s most dominant interior pass rushers. It could be possible Williams and Jones are seeing who will blink first, but we have not heard much on the Chiefs’ efforts with their four-time Pro Bowler.

Williams will be an essential piece for the Jets in their first Rodgers season, and seeing as Gardner is years away from an extension, the team has a clear window to lock down its top front-seven piece. Considering Williams’ value to the Jets at this pivotal point, he should be able to do very well. Should this deal be finalized before a third Jones-Chiefs agreement, the Kansas City star defender will assuredly use it to his advantage. It will be interesting to see how close the divide between Donald and the field is by Week 1, should these two contracts be completed by then.

Extension Candidate: Saquon Barkley

Through two games, Saquon Barkley is the NFL’s rushing leader. Barkley’s 236 yards are obviously a big reason why the Giants have jumped out to a 2-0 start. This marks a positive development for Barkley, who lingered as a low-key trade candidate this offseason.

The Joe SchoenBrian Daboll regime inherited Barkley, who had slid from one of the best running back prospects in modern NFL history to a player whose Giants future was in doubt because of injury trouble. Barkley’s resurgence may need to continue for a bit before the new Giants front office considers extension talks, but on a team that has seen a strange receiver situation cloud its long-term outlook at that position, Barkley could fit as a second-contract piece.

It sounds like the former No. 2 overall pick will be willing to negotiate in-season with the Giants. That was his stance last year, though the early-season ankle sprain he suffered made it three straight years of injury trouble and moved a possible extension well off the radar. Barkley, 25, is now playing on a $7.22MM fifth-year option. Despite Barkley’s injury history, he dropped an early indication he would be willing to play out that option year.

Any time an athlete bets on himself and goes out there and performs at a high level, you love to see that,” Barkley said, via Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. “Whether it’s football, whether it’s baseball, whether it’s basketball, I want all athletes to get what they deserve.”

Since the 2011 CBA introduced the fifth-year option, Barkley is just the second running back to play on it. Melvin Gordon played on the option in 2019, doing so after holding out to start that season. He left Los Angeles in free agency in 2020. With Barkley having shown a higher NFL ceiling — one sidetracked by injuries — this situation brings a bit more intrigue. The Giants have not seen one of their first-round picks play beyond five seasons with the team since 2010 first-rounder Jason Pierre-Paul.

Thanks largely to the 2017 draft class, first and second tiers have formed in the running back market. Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott and Alvin Kamara secured deals at or north of $15MM per year. McCaffrey’s $16MM-AAV Panthers pact — agreed to in March 2020 — still leads the way. From July 2020 to March 2021, the second tier emerged. Derrick Henry, Joe Mixon, Dalvin Cook and Aaron Jones signed deals worth between $12MM and $12.5MM per year. Nick Chubb, part of Barkley’s 2018 draft class, fell in line by signing a $12.2MM-per-year Browns extension in July 2021.

Seven members of the 2017 class, which also includes former UDFA Austin Ekeler, signed upper-echelon or midlevel second contracts with their respective teams. Chris Carson was the only one to do so after reaching free agency. Not all of these contracts have worked out. McCaffrey has battled injuries, and Carson suffered a career-ending neck injury. But most of the recent extension recipients remain on steady trajectories after being paid. This wave of payments cresting after the likes of Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley and David Johnson did not justify their contracts has made for an interesting stretch.

These $12MM-$16MM-per-year deals have created a roadmap for a Barkley re-up, though it remains to be seen if the Schoen-Daboll operation views him in that way or will be one to extend a running back. The Giants are not believed to have shopped Barkley, they took trade calls on him before the draft. Barkley’s skillset would make him a candidate for a McCaffrey- or Kamara-type contract. His injury history, and perhaps McCaffrey’s post-extension health issues, could nix that reality. The talented Giants back continuing this early pace and showing the kind of form he did as a rookie (NFL-high 2,028 scrimmage yards) and when healthy in 2019 — behind shaky offensive lines in each season — could change the equation.

The Giants entering discussions with Barkley this season could allow them to lock down their top playmaker and give the injury-prone back some security. Barkley’s 2019 high ankle sprain, 2020 ACL and MCL tears and his 2021 ankle issue threw his career off course, but the team is unlikely to have a big-ticket receiver contract or a franchise-quarterback deal on its 2023 books. Kenny Golladay, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard and perhaps Kadarius Toney, the way that partnership is going, have uncertain post-2022 futures in New York. Ditto Daniel Jones, who did not see his fifth-year option exercised. After entering this offseason in salary cap trouble, the Giants are projected to be in the top five in 2023 space.

If no Barkley extension occurs this year, he would be headed for free agency. A franchise tag, which CBS Sports’ Joel Corry projects to come in around $10.1MM, would then be an option for the Giants. The Steelers went to this well with Bell, twice; the second time caused quite the stir in 2018. The tag would, however, be a way for the Giants to extend this partnership without committing long-term to a player at such a volatile position. Barkley will have banked more than $38MM on his rookie contract, separating him from most modern backs. Through that lens, an extension would be less financially important for his future. Should Barkley be on a Pro Bowl pace by midseason, it would be interesting to see if he would entertain an extension in the $12MM-AAV range — especially with the cap rising again — or push this situation to the March 2023 tag deadline.

Barkley hitting free agency next year would, should he avoid a severe injury this season, place a top-tier running back in a crowded marketplace. Kareem Hunt, Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders, David Montgomery and Damien Harris are among the running backs on expiring contracts. We have a long way to go before the prospect of Barkley hitting the market emerges, but his nice start to a contract year opens the door to a few possible futures. Which one will end up transpiring?

Extension Candidate: Denzel Perryman

The Raiders have dedicated big contracts to a number of their star players over the past few years extending players like quarterback Derek Carr, defensive end Maxx Crosby, tackle Kolton Miller, wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, and tight end Darren Waller while signing free agents like wide receiver Davante Adams and defensive end Chandler Jones to large salaries, as well. Luckily for them, the next potential player up for a new deal plays at one of the league’s cheaper positions. 

Physically, Denzel Perryman is a near replica of fellow Miami Hurricane alumnus Ray Lewis. Both are undersized for the linebacker position, sitting at around 6-foot tall and 240 pounds. Perryman’s playing style is that of the prototypical, old-school linebacker. He’s a thumper that is always around the ball-carrier but can struggle in some coverage situations. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked him 16th among linebackers in run defense last year and 2nd in pass rush, but his lackluster coverage grades (41st) slot him as the 26th-ranked linebacker overall.

Perryman was a second-round pick for the Chargers back in 2015. He was expected to contribute right away, despite being limited throughout camp with a hamstring injury, but quickly pushed his way into the starting lineup by Week 6 of his rookie season when starter Manti Te’o suffered an injury. Perryman started alongside Donald Butler for two weeks before sustaining an injury himself. When Te’o and Perryman both returned from injury at the same time, then-San Diego defensive coordinator John Pagano named them both starters, demoting Butler to a backup role. He started the rest of the season for the Chargers and never really let go of that starting role.

After playing out his rookie contract, the Chargers extended Perryman on a two-year, $12MM deal. During the last year of his new contract, the Chargers decided to inject some youth into the linebacking corps, drafting Kenneth Murray in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. When Perryman’s contract expired, Los Angeles decided to let him walk in free agency. Perryman’s limited usage in his final two years with the Chargers hurt his value a bit and he signed a two-year, $6MM deal with the Panthers. A little more than two weeks before the season started, though, Carolina traded Perryman to the Raiders for the 2021 season.

2021 saw a complete resurgence for the ailing linebacker. While many assumed his best days were behind him and that he was doomed to serve as a depth piece or lower-tier starter for the remainder of his career, Perryman took in his new surroundings and opportunities and made out of them the best season of his seven-year career. Last year, Perryman finished the season at sixth in the league with 154 tackles, more than doubling his previous season-high of 73 set in his rookie season. After being packaged with a seventh-round pick to be exchanged for a sixth-round pick in the Carolina-Las Vegas deal, Perryman made the first Pro Bowl of his career.

After the Pro Bowl year, Perryman now appears to be a bit underpaid as he’s set to earn just over $3MM this year. The inside linebacker position tends to run cheaper than others on the defense. The top paid players at the position (Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard, $19.7MM annual average value, and Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley, $17MM AAV) have impressive annual salaries. Behind them, though, the top players in the game average anywhere from $8MM per year (Steelers linebacker Myles Jack) to $14.5MM per year (Titans linebacker Zach Cunningham). In terms of talent and ability, Perryman absolutely falls within this range, but there are a few other aspects to a new deal that may affect the final number.

The first factor in a new contract is age. Perryman is 29-years-old this season and, while he seems to be playing the best football of his career, approaching the 30-year mark is often a harbinger of decline in play. There are plenty of exceptions to the rule at the position, though. Bobby Wagner just signed a five-year, $50MM deal to join the Rams at 31 years old. Perryman’s older doppelganger, Lewis, played well into his 30s, collecting first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl accolades as late as 34 and 36 years old, respectively. So while his age may play a factor into the length of any new deal he receives, the fact that he is playing better than he ever has previously should help in making sure his age doesn’t diminish his value.

The second factor facing Perryman’s extension efforts is injury. Injuries have long plagued the veteran’s career. In his full seven years of play, Perryman has never once appeared in every game of the season. His healthiest season came last year when he started and played in 15 games. He missed two regular season games due to an ankle injury that, later, forced him to leave the Raiders’ playoff battle against the Bengals last year. Over the course of his career, Perryman has suffered an array of injuries ranging from his ankle to his shoulder including an LCL tear in his knee, hamstring sprains, and pectoral strains. The silver-lining here, similar to above, is that he displayed a durability last year unmatched by any previous season. If he is only getting healthier, then the amount he receives should not be adjusted too much. It should be expected, though, that his injury history may affect the guaranteed amount that receives.

An extension for Perryman likely keeps him under contract for another two or three years. If the team intends to reward Perryman for his Pro Bowl production last year, his AAV could get up to $10MM. It might be a bit more likely for his contract to end up around $8MM or $9MM per year. My guess is that, if the Raiders were to decide to extend him, it would be something like a three-year, $27MM deal with a guaranteed amount of $9MM.

The Raiders didn’t invest any draft picks this year in young linebackers and the linebackers they brought in through free agency, Jayon Brown, Kenny Young, and Micah Kiser, don’t seem to be any threat to steal Perryman’s playing time. It seems like an ideal time for both sides to come to an extended agreement, then. The Raiders can secure their leader at linebacker for the next few seasons and Perryman can cash in on his newly inflated value.