Extension Candidate

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.

Extension Candidate: Rashad Fenton

The Chiefs made some outside moves to address their secondary this offseason, but they may not want to overlook the players they have in the building. An underrated move the Chiefs should be looking at this summer is an early extension of cornerback Rashad Fenton

Kansas City was forced to make some moves after losing cornerbacks Mike Hughes and Charvarius Ward in free agency. The Chiefs used three of their draft picks this year on cornerbacks, including a first-round pick on the University of Washington’s Trent McDuffie, and even traded away a 2023 seventh-round pick for former-Texans cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr. McDuffie is slotted to start opposite third-year cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, who started all 15 games he appeared in last season. Fenton is likely the third cornerback on the depth chart with DeAndre Baker, who was drafted 171 picks before Fenton in the 2019 NFL Draft, slotting in at fourth.

Even though Fenton isn’t expected to start on a weekly basis for Kansas City next season, there is a good amount of evidence to suggest that extending him before his contract year would be extremely beneficial for the Chiefs. Not only has Fenton shouldered more and more responsibility with playing time over each of his three seasons, earning more starts and defensive snaps each year, but he’s also moved around the field over the years.

As a rookie, Fenton played mostly in the slot, earning one pick and four passes defensed, as well as a forced fumble and a quarterback hit. In his second season, Fenton split his time between the slot and the outside while making three starts. He totaled one interception, seven passes defensed, and added a tackle for loss, as well. Last season, he played 80% of his snaps on the outside during his eight starts, according to Pro Football Focus, leading to seven more passes defensed, one forced fumble, and a career-high 49 total tackles.

Not only has he displayed the ability to handle the increased responsibility of playing time, but his movement around the secondary provides an extremely valuable versatility, showing he can play in any cornerback role that he’s asked to play in. Another factor that could benefit Kansas City is Fenton’s draft position in the sixth round. According to a data study done by Zach Drapkin at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), late-round draft picks are historically underpaid on their second contracts. Not that the Chiefs would intentionally short their players, but utilizing precedent could help the Chiefs extend Fenton at a bargain-price.

When trying to gauge the range of what an extension might look like for Fenton, there are a few examples that we can look at. Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox has been an intermittent starter in Philadelphia over the years in the slot and recently signed a three-year, $22.5MM contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $7.5MM. Patriots nickel cornerback Jonathan Jones signed a three-year, $21MM contract in 2019. Neither Maddox nor Jones were drafted highly with Maddox being a fourth-round pick and Jones signing with New England as an undrafted free agent, initially.

Another fourth-round pick that recently signed a new extension was Bills cornerback Taron Johnson, who signed a three-year, $24MM deal last October. I like this comparison because, like Fenton, Johnson’s role on the field increased incrementally each year until last year he served as a full-time starter. It wouldn’t be the Chiefs’ ideal scenario, but, if McDuffie isn’t quite ready to start Week 1 for whatever reason, I believe they’d be fully confident in trotting Fenton out there to start opposite Sneed.

Essentially, most of the deals on these later-round draft picks are for three years and they’ve risen over the last few years from an AAV of $7MM to $8MM per year. Based on the constant inflation of NFL salaries and depending on how much loyalty the Chiefs want to show Fenton, I would predict that an extension for Fenton might have an AAV of anywhere from $8MM-$9MM. A three-year, $26MM contract would be a more-than-generous offer that would still land Kansas City an affordable, dependable, and versatile young cornerback. With Sneed and McDuffie on rookie deals, this would extend the time frame of having the three young cornerbacks on relatively affordable contracts at least through the 2023 season.

Extension Candidate: Marquise Brown

The Cardinals are interested in an extension for draft-day trade acquisition Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, and while Brown himself is presumably willing to talk contract, it is unclear where negotiations stand at this point, or if they have even commenced. Brown is scheduled to earn a $2.1MM salary in 2022 (the final year of his rookie deal), and a fully-guaranteed $13.4MM in 2023 under the fifth-year option of the rookie contract.

The 2019 draft class of wide receivers, which includes the likes of Deebo SamuelA.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, Diontae Johnson, and Terry McLaurin, has been a key source of material at PFR in recent months, as those players became extension-eligible for the first time this offseason and either have contributed, or soon will contribute, to the booming receiver market. A.J. Brown landed a $25MM/year contract from the Eagles upon being traded to Philadelphia from the Titans, and McLaurin just agreed to a $23.3MM/year deal with the Commanders. As Joel Corry of CBS Sports recently tweeted, four wide receivers enjoyed $20MM+ AAVs when the offseason began, and there are now 12 receivers who are sitting at or above that threshold (despite the release of Julio Jones). Samuel and Metcalf seem poised to join the club at some point in the near future.

Marquise Brown, the No. 25 overall pick of the Ravens in the 2019 draft, has not yet produced at the same level as his above-mentioned contemporaries, but that can be at least partially explained by the fact that his three years in Baltimore were spent in a run-centric offense focused upon the dual-threat capabilities of quarterback Lamar Jackson. The passing scheme of offensive coordinator Greg Roman — who has served as OC since Brown’s rookie year — has been heavily criticized for being too simplistic and predictable, and Brown’s trade request was largely a function of that system.

It was just … my happiness,” Brown said when asked about his desire for a trade. “I talked to Lamar about it after my second year. And then after my third year, leading up to the end of the season, you know, [Jackson] wasn’t playing. I let him know again, like, ‘Yeah, bro, I can’t do it.’

You know, it’s not really on Lamar, like I love Lamar. It was just, you know, it’s just the system just wasn’t for me personally. You know, I love all my teammates. I love the guys. It was just something I had to think about for myself.”

Brown’s diminutive stature (5-9, 170) will likely prevent him from ever becoming a true “alpha” receiver, but he possesses elite speed and is a solid enough route runner. In head coach Kliff Kingsbury‘s offense, he will have a chance to shine, although it will be interesting to see if the absence of DeAndre Hopkins for the first six games of the 2022 season will allow him to earn a larger target share and thrive, or if it will make his life more difficult since opposing defenses will not have to key in on Hopkins.

At present, Spotrac estimates Brown’s market value to be a little over $17MM per season, suggesting that he could reasonably expect a four-year, ~$68MM deal if he were a free agent right now. Again, there is no way of knowing what Brown’s camp is targeting at this point, though it could be that the Oklahoma product is content to prove that he is worthy of a larger contract by living up to his potential in Kingsbury’s aerial attack.

Brown managed to crack the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in 2021, though it required 146 targets to get there, and his 11.1 yards-per-reception rate — which was the lowest mark of his career — belies his abilities as a deep threat. It stands to reason that the Cardinals, who gave up the No. 23 overall pick of this year’s draft to acquire Brown and the No. 100 overall pick, would want to extend Hollywood before he can truly break out, but Brown himself might hold off unless Arizona is willing to bet on his upside by making him yet another $20MM man.

Extension Candidate: Tremaine Edmunds

While the Bills quickly extended Josh Allen for more than $250MM last offseason, another first-round pick from that 2018 draft class remains unsigned. Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is heading into the final year of his five-year rookie pact, but there hasn’t been much reported progress regarding an extension.

Following a 100-plus-tackle season as a rookie and Pro Bowl nods in both 2019 and 2020, Edmunds seemed to be setting himself up for a sizable deal. The linebacker was still productive in 2021, but he finished with a career-low 108 tackles and only one QB hit. Pro Football Focus wasn’t particularly fond of his performance this past season, ranking him 61st among 87 eligible linebackers (although, for what it’s worth, the site has never been a fan of Edmunds).

2022 will ultimately be a key year when it comes to Edmunds’ earning potential. The 24-year-old was graded as one of the league’s better run-stopping linebackers, but he was among the worst in coverage, so an improvement in that area could good a long way in Edmunds securing a hefty contract. The linebacker’s coaches have also been focused on improving the player’s big-play ability; through 61 career games, Edmunds has four interceptions (half coming in his rookie season), two forced fumbles (both coming in his rookie year), and 5.5 sacks (including zero in 2021).

“I think – and he knows this – you want more splash plays,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier recently told Katherine Fitzgerald of The Buffalo News. “You want those big plays in ball games. That play he made against the Texans, the interception he came up with, that was a huge play in that ballgame. It really helped propel us along the way to a really good performance. And more plays like that.”

So what could Edmunds expect for his next contract? Two linebackers selected in the second round of the 2018 draft inked massive extensions with their teams. Darius Leonard got five years, $99.25MM ($52.5MM) from the Colts, but he’s firmly established himself as one of the top players at the position. Harold Landry signed a five-year, $87.5MM ($52.5MM guaranteed) deal with the Titans, but Edmunds hasn’t come close to matching Landry’s pass-rushing prowess. Either the player’s camp or the Bills could be waiting to see how negotiations unfold for Bradley Chubb and/or Roquan Smith; both linebackers were off the board before Edmunds in 2018.

If the LB franchise tag remains around $18MM next offseason, then that could be a logical route if the two sides don’t seem destined for an extension. The player is also set to make a bit less than $13MM in 2022. An extension worth $15MM per year seems to make sense from a financial standpoint, but it’d be a bit surprising if either side was willing to compromise on that number right now…the Bills could be eyeing a discount with the risk of paying $18MM in 2023, while Edmunds may not be willing to settle for a, say, four-year deal worth $60MM when he has the potential to make much more following a strong 2022 campaign.

Fortunately, while Edmunds may have to wait until the end of the season to sign his next deal, his head seems to be in the right place.

“Obviously, you think about it a little bit, but I can’t control that,” Edmunds said in early June (via Fitzgerald). “All I can control is how I come out each and every day, and just work. All that kind of stuff, you kind of just put it on the top shelf and do the stuff that you’ve been doing this whole time.”


Extension Candidate: Rashan Gary

After being one of the more hotly-debated draft picks in the 2019 draft, Rashan Gary is eligible for his second NFL contract. Considering the progress he has made in each of his three seasons with the Packers, he could be in line for a more substantial raise than many would have thought when he entered the league.

The 24-year-old spent three years at Michigan, after being one of the top recruits in the country. That led to significant expectations, but Gary didn’t put up the production many other top edge rushers were able to in his draft class in particular. His sophomore season was his best, as he totalled 58 tackles, including 11.5 for a loss, and 5.5 sacks. Overall, he recorded less than 10 sacks during his time in Ann Arbor.

That represented a major red flag for many in the build-up to the draft. PFF rated him much lower than many of the other pass rushers in the class, including his Michigan teammate Chase Winovich. Still, Gary represented a rare combination of size (six-foot-five, 280 pounds) and athleticism which kept him on the first-round radar. It didn’t come as a shock, therefore, when the Packers drafted him with the No. 12 pick. 

That made Gary the fourth edge rusher taken off the board, taken behind the likes of Nick Bosa and Josh Allen. He heard his name called earlier than other, more accomplished college sack artists like Brian Burns and Montez Sweat, however, meaning that he was once again entering the next chapter of his football career with significant expectations. The early portion of his NFL tenure didn’t put concerns about his high draft stock at ease.

As a rookie, Gary appeared in all 16 contests, but he didn’t register any starts. Seeing the field for just one-fourth of the team’s defensive snaps, he totalled 21 tackles and a pair of sacks. He saw a larger workload the following season, and responded with a step forward in production, with five sacks. Likewise, his PFF grade rose incrementally, leading to optimism for the 2021 campaign.

With Za’Darius Smith sidelined for all but one game due to injury, Gary took on a full-time starting role this past year. He thrived in it, posting 9.5 sacks and 28 QB hits en route to a top-five edge rush PFF grade of 89. It presented an interesting dichotomy with Winovich, who, after a promising start to his career in New England, failed to record a sack in 2021 and has since been traded to the Browns.

The aforementioned Smith left in free agency this offseason, as Green Bay turned its attention to extending fellow veteran Preston Smith. He and Gary are in line to start once again in 2022, meaning the latter will have the opportunity to repeat his performance from last season. Knowing that, it came as little surprise when the Packers exercised Gary’s fifth-year option, keeping him under contract for the next two campaigns. He will have a cap hit of just over $5MM in 2022, a figure which will jump to $10.9MM the following year.

If he is able to continue his career ascension, Gary will represent one of the better values at the edge rusher position in the league at that cost, as 17 players at that spot currently average at least $15MM per season. Given his relatively late blooming, however, it would be understandable for the Packers to wait at least one more year to begin serious extension talks. The team’s overall financial situation in the near future will also, of course, be an important factor in this situation.

The Packers have more cap space than most teams at this point with respect to 2022, after trading away Davante Adams and restructuring a number of large contracts. However, the outlook is more murky beyond this coming season. Gary will need a new contract no later than 2024, by which point Aaron Jones, David Bakhtiari and Kenny Clark will each be entering the final (non-void) year of their respective deals. How the team handles those pacts will no doubt affect their ability to extend Gary at a significant rate.

Gary is aware of the importance of this season as it relates to his next contract. When speaking on the matter however, he said, via Sports Illustrated’s Bill Huber, “When it comes to money, that’s something I don’t worry about. I’m here to play football and I’m here to be the best player I can for this team.” 

Still, he called a lucrative extension a “dream… But I’ve got to keep my head down and work and not look too far ahead or all this talk is just talk.”

Extension Candidate: Jeffery Simmons

It’s no secret that Jeffery Simmons is interested in a new contract. The fourth-year defensive tackle staged a “hold-in” at the Titans’ mandatory minicamp this month. A “hold-in” is where a player attends the required sessions without competing in any of the drills. It’s meant to act as a hold-out without triggering any of the fines that would come along with not attending the required sessions.

Now both Simmons and the Titans’ coaches deny that the “hold-in” has anything to do with any contract issues. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel attributed his lack of participation to “the plan laid out by the team” in order for him to be ready for training camp, according to Terry McCormick of TitansInsider.com. Regardless, Simmons and Tennessee are going through the process of determining what the future holds for their union and it will likely require some negotiation.

Tennessee drafted Simmons out of Mississippi State with their first pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. Simmons had a slow start at the pro-level. A torn ACL suffered during draft prep kept him on the reserve/non-football injury list until mid-October of his rookie season. He promptly recorded a sack in his NFL debut, but only finished the season with 2.0 sacks, 4.0 tackles for loss, and 2 quarterback hits.

In his sophomore season, Simmons claimed his role as a full-time starter in the middle of the line, thanks in part to the departure of veteran Jurrell Casey to Denver. In his first full NFL season, Simmons showed improvement in his ability to apply pressure in the backfield with 14 quarterback hits, but struggled to convert those into strong finishes, only totaling 3.0 sacks and 3.0 tackles for loss by the end of the year. He did display a talent for batting balls at the line, a highly sought after trait for defensive linemen, recording 5 passes defensed in his second season.

2021 saw a breakout year for Simmons. Starting all 17 games of the newly-elongated season, Simmons recorded career-highs in sacks (8.5), total tackles (54), tackles for loss (12.0), quarterback hits (16), and passes defensed (6). Simmons was named a Pro Bowler and a second-team All-Pro.

While this was clearly a great season for Simmons, the best of his career, he still has a ways to go to reach the heights of the best athletic defensive tackles in the league. His pass rushing numbers are nowhere near those of the highest paid players at his position such as Aaron Donald, DeForest Buckner, or Chris Jones. Due to the room he still has to grow, it’s hard to imagine a long-term deal for Simmons reaching the heights of $20MM+ like the players listed above.

When looking at what a long-term deal for Simmons might look like, better comparisons would be players like Javon Hargrave, Cameron Heyward, and Jonathan Allen.

Hargrave had been drafted by Washington two years before Simmons entered the league. Hargrave ended up signing an three-year extension with an average annual value (AAV) of $13MM at around the same point in his career that Simmons is in now. While Hargrave’s best season wasn’t quite what Simmons’ is, Hargrave had put together two consecutively strong seasons that led to a bit of a shorter extension but still rewarded his talent.

Heyward had a few more impressive seasons than Simmons when he signed his four-year deal with an AAV of $16.4MM. The reason why Heyward is still comparable despite his superior output is that he was 31-years-old when he signed his contract. His advanced age likely caused a slight drop in his overall value.

Allen may be the best comparison for Simmons’ current situation. 11 months ago, Allen signed a four-year extension with an AAV of $18MM. Allen was 26-years-old when he signed the deal and had two strong seasons with very similar statistics to Simmons’ best year.

With the combination of Simmons’ production and the fact that he’ll turn only 25 next month, an attempt can be made to try and estimate what an extension for him at this point might look like. Considering that the Titans would probably like to hold on to Simmons and that NFL salaries are constantly inflating, a reasonable extension would look something like a four-year, $76MM contract. More generally, expect a three- or four-year deal with an AAV of $18-19.5MM.

Now a new deal is not immediately necessary. Simmons is heading into his fourth year in the league and, as he was a first-round pick, the Titans had a fifth-year option on his rookie-contract which they exercised back in April. Still, the Titans would like to secure Simmons long-term and Simmons would like to cash in on his best season to date, as he’s only set to make $2.2MM on his base salary this year.

Simmons doesn’t have an agent, but instead refers to a “team” meant to deal with his contract. “I’m not talking to (the Titans) about my contract. I have a team in place that, if it is my contract, they’re going to talk to whoever upstairs,” Simmons told McCormick about the negotiation situation. While his contract “team” handles his potential extension, Simmons will be focused on his on-the-field team.

“My job is to be a leader, be a player and not just on the field but in the weight room, the locker room, or whatever it may be,” Simmons pronounced. “I’m on the plan and I’m sticking with it, and I’ll see you guys in camp.”

Extension Candidate: David Montgomery

In recent years, a select number of running backs have received sizeable second contracts. Given his performances early in his career, and his importance to the Bears’ offense, David Montgomery could be the next in line for a new deal.

The 25-year-old had a productive college career at Iowa State. In his final two years in particular, he took on a heavy workload, ranking second and first in the Big 12 in carries in 2017 and 2018, respectively. He put up similar numbers across his sophomore and junior campaigns, totalling 2,362 rushing yards, an additional 453 yards through the air and 24 touchdowns.

That production made him one of the highest-rated backs in the 2019 draft class. He was firmly on Chicago’s radar, and the Bears traded up to N0. 73 to select him. As a result of the Khalil Mack trade, Montgomery represented the team’s top pick that year, something which heightened expectations as he entered the league. During that offseason, the Bears traded away Jordan Howard and signed Mike Davis, teaming the veteran with Tarik Cohen

Montgomery spent his rookie season splitting snaps with latter in particular. He was still able to start eight games and total over 1,000 scrimmage yards, however. That made it an easy transition for him to take over as a workhorse back in 2020, when Cohen began experiencing the injury troubles which limited him to three games that year, and cost him the entire 2021 campaign. Montgomery had the best season of his career to date, ranking fifth in the NFL with 1,070 rushing yards.

Having demonstrated his abilities both on the ground and in the passing game, expectations were once again high for the five-foot-eleven, 224-pounder heading into 2021. The Bears’ offense still featured Allen Robinson and was in line for a significant change at quarterback, with the team having drafted Justin Fields. Those two never generated the chemistry many were expecting, though, leaving Montgomery as the team’s top offensive weapon once again. He was limited to 13 games due to a knee injury, but still managed to record 1,150 scrimmage yards and score seven touchdowns.

In part because of Montgomery’s production on one hand, and the decided lack of consistently effective players around him on the other, he has accounted for nearly one-quarter of the Bears’ offense during his career. That figure ranks seventh in the league across that span, leaving him (especially in the absence of Robinson, who signed with the Rams in free agency) as the undisputed focal point of Chicago’s attack.

How much the team’s front office – now led by general manager Ryan Poles – is willing to pay him, knowing that fact, becomes a central question. In the absence of an extension being signed this summer, much will depend, of course, on his level of play in 2022 under new head coach Matt Eberflus. Fields is now the unquestioned starter, and is understandably expected to take a significant step forward. As for the backfield, Montgomery will be supported by 2021 sixth-rounder Khalil Herbert (who impressed in his rookie season) and, in all likelihood, Trestan Ebnerwhom the team drafted this April.

From a financial standpoint, the running back position has seen a notable upward trend in recent years. A total of eight backs are now under contract for at least $12MM per season, from 2016 draftees Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry to, most recently, Nick Chubb. Given his production, Montgomery may be the likeliest candidate for an extension amongst members of the 2019 class (the other most notable ones being Josh Jacobs, who had his fifth-year option declined by the Raiders, and Miles Sanders, who hasn’t been given as large of a workload by the Eagles).

On the final year of his rookie contract, Montgomery will earn a base salary of $2.8MM, while carrying a slightly higher cap hit. The rebuilding Bears rank third in the league in cap space right now, and first in projected space for 2023, so affording even an above-market extension likely wouldn’t be problematic. As detailed by ESPN’s Courtney Cronin, Montgomery isn’t focusing on his financial future heading into his contract year, however.

“At the end of the day, whether I’m going into my second year or my first year, I’ve still got to play football,” he said. “I could really care less about contracts, the contract terms and things, but I’m excited to be here for another year and play with my guys too.”

Extension Candidate: T.J. Hockenson

Tight ends have been in plenty of headlines this offseason, as the position continues its recent upward financial trend. Aside from the players who were franchise tagged recently, one of the top candidates for a long-term deal is T.J. Hockenson.

The soon-to-be 25-year-old made a name for himself at Iowa, a college which has become a TE factory in recent years. He put up a modest 24 receptions during his first season there, facing stiff competition for targets in the form of Noah Fant. Still, he averaged over 13 yards per catch, a figure which – like all others – he was able to improve upon the following year.

In 2018, Hockenson turned 49 receptions into 760 yards and six touchdowns. Other than the touchdown total, his statistics outshone those of Fant; he also showcased the blocking ability which made him the most well-rounded TE in the 2019 draft class. To little surprise, he was given the Mackey Award at the end of the campaign.

Widely considered a lock to be a top-10 pick, the 6-foot-5, 248-pounder ended up going eighth overall to the  Lions. That made him the teams’ intended replacement for Eric Ebron, who had departed one year earlier after four seasons with the team. Hockenson showed promise as a rookie, dropping only two passes on 59 targets. His season came to a premature end, though, due to an ankle injury. Given the potential he flashed, and the central role he began to assume in the team’s offense, expectations were high for his second campaign.

2020 didn’t disappoint. Playing a full season, Hockenson was one of only five tight ends to receive 100 targets, putting up 67 catches (which ranked fourth at the position) for 723 yards (third) and six scores (tied for fifth). His performance backed up his draft pedigree and earned him his lone Pro Bowl nod to date.

Injuries became an issue once again last year, however. Hockenson found himself on season-ending IR in December, this time due to thumb surgery. By that point, he had still posted 583 yards and four touchdowns, cementing his status as Jared Goff’s favorite target. He also registered a career-high 84% snap share, setting up to be a pillar of the team’s offense for at least the next two seasons.

To no surprise, the Lions picked up Hockenson’s fifth-year option in April. That will give him a 2023 salary of $9.39MM, a sizable raise from the earnings of his rookie pact. He is now eligible for further long-term security, though, which should see him join the $10MM-per-year club at the position. Currently, 10 tight ends are at or above that mark (the total rises to 11 if one adds Taysom Hill, whose quarterbacking days with the Saints are believed to be over), including franchise tag recipients Mike Gesicki and Dalton Schultz.

The other TE to be tagged this offseason was David Njoku, whom the Browns have subsequently signed to a four-year, $54.75MM pact. That deal will no doubt loom large in future negotiations, including those between the Lions and Hockenson. Regardless of its weight, though, a sizable new contract could be coming soon for the latter.

Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reports that “many around the NFL” believe an extension will get done this summer. There is less urgency due to the option, but Hockenson has expressed a willingness to stay in Detroit long-term, saying “I want to [win] here so bad.” Doing so may become more likely, given the ascendancy of receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown late last season, coupled with the additions of former Pro Bowler DJ Chark in free agency and first-rounder Jameson Williams in the draft. Those three may eat into Hockenson’s target share, but they should help boost the team’s overall passing game.

A lucrative deal for Hockenson would mark the second straight offseason in which Detroit locked up one of its best young players. The team signed center Frank Ragnow to a record-setting deal last May, showing general manager Brad Holmes‘ willingness to make long-term commitments as early as possible. That eagerness seems to be reciprocated by Hockenson himself.

“I don’t really know much, [and] I don’t really care to know much” with respect to contract talks, he said. “When that time comes to sign a piece of paper, I’ll do that.”

Extension Candidate: Jordan Poyer

Heading into a contract year, Bills safety Jordan Poyer is set to represent a cap hit of $10.78MM on Buffalo’s books for the 2022 NFL season. This provides a rare situation in the NFL where it becomes beneficial for both parties to negotiate towards an extension. At 31-years-old, Poyer can likely find more money and a better fit in Buffalo than he could in free agency and a new contract would give the Bills an opportunity to soften Poyer’s cap hit. 

Poyer entered the league as a seventh-round pick for the Eagles in 2013. After being a healthy-scratch in Weeks 5 & 6 for Philadelphia, Poyer was waived, getting claimed off waivers by the Browns two days later. Poyer spent the next three seasons in Cleveland as a backup safety and backup punt returner. He earned four starts in 2015 when starting free safety Tashaun Gipson suffered an ankle injury. When Gipson left in free agency the next offseason, Poyer was named the Browns’ starting free safety going into the 2016 NFL season. After six starts, Poyer was hit by Antonio Andrews with an illegal blindside block while Poyer was covering a punt. Poyer was rushed to the hospital with a lacerated kidney and a possible concussion. He would miss the remainder of the season on injured reserve.

After his recovery, Poyer signed a four-year, $13MM deal with the Bills as a free agent. Bills head coach Sean McDermott named Poyer the starting strong safety alongside fellow-newcomer to Buffalo Micah Hyde, who had just signed as a free agent after four years in Green Bay. This would mark the beginning of a five-year, ongoing stretch as one of the league’s most consistent and effective safety duos.

Poyer and Hyde immediately made their presence known in Buffalo as both recorded five interceptions each in their first year as Bills. Over the last five seasons, Poyer has missed only two games while tallying 18 interceptions and 36 passes defensed. Despite outpacing Hyde for interceptions during their time in Buffalo, Poyer has also played with more versatility with time as a box safety. Poyer has forced six fumbles, recovering six, as well. He’s also added 10.0 sacks and 29.0 tackles for loss in his past five seasons, proving to be a true Swiss army knife in the Bills’ secondary.

Before his initial contract expired, Poyer signed his current two-year, $19.5MM extension, keeping him on the roster through 2022. Before the 2021 season, though, Buffalo and Poyer agreed to rework his contract, converting $5.2MM of his base salary into a signing bonus. The moved saved the Bills $2.6MM in cap space for 2021, but elevated Poyer’s 2022 cap hit from $7.7MM to his current $10.78MM number.

Being one of the older safeties in the NFL, Poyer is likely looking at a two- or three-year extension. Three years would be a very generous offer from the Bills based on knowing Poyer fits in their locker room and crediting him for having one of his best statistical seasons at 30-years-old. A two-year deal is much more likely.

Looking into value, the better safeties in the league are making anywhere from $13MM per year to $16MM per year. Taking his age and past deals into account, I imagine the Bills might offer Poyer something in the range of $12MM-$13.5MM in average annual value. My best guess would have Poyer signing a two-year, $25MM deal that gives him a good amount of guaranteed money.

The Bills have a good thing going with Poyer and Hyde manning centerfield. They haven’t been drafting to replace the duo and have no reason to until their play begins to decline. Vic Carucci of WGRZ in Buffalo thinks that training camp is the perfect time to extend their safety, saying Poyer is “far too valuable to leave him with any feelings of uncertainty about his future in Buffalo.”