Extension Candidate

Extension Candidate: Melvin Gordon

Chargers running back Melvin Gordon said at the end of January that he would wait until Le’Veon Bell signed a new contract before engaging in extension talks with the Bolts. He later walked back those comments and said he would be open to negotiating an extension with the Chargers immediately, but regardless, Bell has finally landed his much-ballyhooed deal and Gordon and LA now have another benchmark to consider in their own negotiations.

GM Tom Telesco has said that he is open to considering an extension for Gordon — who is entering the final year of his rookie deal — this offseason, per Jeff Miller of the Los Angeles Times. However, Telesco indicated he didn’t have a timetable for a new deal, and given that there have not been any public reports concerning an extension, it may not happen until the summer at this point.

Gordon’s injury history is a complicating factor, but his talent is undeniable. The 2015 first-round pick does not have eye-popping YPC numbers in his career (he has averaged 4.0 yards per carry over his four professional seasons), but he did manage 5.1 yards per tote in 2018. He is also a major weapon as a receiver, compiling over 400 receiving yards in each of the past three seasons. He has 28 rushing touchdowns and 10 receiving scores in his career, and he was a key part of the Chargers’ return to the postseason last year.

But he did miss four games down the stretch in 2018, and he had December IR trips in 2015 and 2016. He did manage a full 16-game slate in 2017, and Telesco said he does not have “too many concerns” about Gordon’s durability, though that may not be entirely true.

In any event, Gordon stands to cash in and will surely be paid at the high end of the running back market. Todd Gurley is currently the pacesetter with an average annual value of $14.375MM and $45MM in guarantees, while Bell just landed a $13.125MM/year pact. The Cardinals’ David Johnson is now working under a $13MM/year deal and stands to earn $32MM in guarantees.

Gordon is due a modest $5.61MM this year under his fifth-year option, and if he does not get the long-term deal he’s looking for, he could force the issue by holding out. But it sounds as though both sides are willing to continue their relationship for the foreseeable future, and as Miller observes, Gordon is a popular figure in the Chargers’ locker room, so team brass will want to be careful about how it handles negotiations with him.

The guess here is that Gordon gets his extension sometime before the start of the regular season and lands a four-year deal worth about $14MM per year and with $35MM or so in guarantees.

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Extension Candidate: Michael Thomas

Saints star receiver Michael Thomas has been sensational since New Orleans selected him in the second round of the 2016 draft. Yes, he has benefited from having a Hall of Fame quarterback throwing him the football, but his hands, route-running, and athleticism suggest that he would excel in almost any offensive attack.

Through the first three years of his career, Thomas is averaging a whopping 107 receptions per season to go along with 1,262 yards and nearly eight touchdowns. His yardage and reception totals have improved each year, and he finished the 2018 campaign with 125 catches (on 147 targets) for 1,405 yards and nine scores. The advanced metrics value his work as well, as Pro Football Focus rated him as the No. 2 receiver in the league last season, and among receivers with at least 50 targets, he ranked third in the league in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, which is Football Outsiders’ receiving metric.

And, now that he has completed the third year of his rookie contract, he is eligible for a long-term extension. He is due a comically low $1.148MM salary on the final year of his rookie pact in 2019, but both player and team would like to get a new contract hammered out this offseason. To that end, Thomas recently signed with agent Andrew Kessler of Athletes First after cutting ties with David Mulugheta in November.

Thomas and Mulugheta reportedly had a “difference of opinions,” and Thomas has now changed agents twice in his three professional seasons. It is unclear what exactly Thomas and Mulugheta did not see eye-to-eye on, but Thomas is set to cash in with his new representation.

The former Buckeye turns 26 next month, and he may reset the top of the receiver market. Presently, Odell Beckham Jr. is the top earner among wide receivers, as his recent extension is worth $90MM overall, has an $18MM average annual value, and includes $40.959MM in total guarantees. Antonio Brown ranks second in AAV with a $17MM/year mark (though he wants to redo his deal), and Mike Evans‘s contract has the second-highest total value ($82.5MM).

There was some chatter that OBJ could be the first receiver to hit the $100MM mark, and he may have gotten there if not for some injury and off-field issues. Thomas, who does not have any notable health or character red flags, could be the guy. It would not be surprising to see him land a five-year, $100MM pact with a $40MM+ guarantee.

Of course, the Saints (as always) do not have much cap space, so they will need to be careful about how they structure Thomas’ extension, assuming the two sides are able to come together on a deal. The guess here is that New Orleans will not risk letting Thomas get away and will hand him a record-setting accord before they even have to think about tagging him.

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Extension Candidate: Brandin Cooks

Immediately after shipping a first- and sixth-round pick to the Patriots in exchange for wide receiver Brandin Cooks earlier this year, the Rams expressed interest in extending Cooks’ contract. And that makes sense, as Los Angeles presumably did not give up that type of draft capital with the intention of getting just one year of service from Cooks, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

But, as a young and accomplished wideout in today’s market, Cooks will not come cheap. After the trade to LA was consummated, our Zach Links suggested that the Oregon State product could land a contract approaching Mike Evans‘ recent mega-deal with the Buccaneers, a five-year, $82.5MM pact with up to $55MM in guarantees. While Cooks will almost certainly not get that type of money in an extension with the Rams, he may not be too far away.

Indeed, just last week we learned that Vikings wideout Stefon Diggs could command a deal worth at least $60MM over a four-year term, and he has not had a single 1,000-yard season yet. Cooks, meanwhile, is just a couple of months older than Diggs, and he has topped the 1,000-yard barrier in each of the past three seasons. In his only season in New England, he had 65 grabs for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns, and he averaged 81 catches for 1,156 yards and eight scores during his final two years with the Saints.

Of course, Cooks has had the benefit of playing for two future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks in Drew Brees and Tom Brady, but there is no denying his ability. And while many perceive him to be primarily a deep threat, his new head coach, Sean McVay, believes Cooks is a well-rounded receiver. Last month, McVay said of Cooks, “he’s a guy — if you just look at, really, his career — he is a really fast player, but he can do everything. He plays big for a smaller-stature guy. But he’s strong. He can win short, he can win intermediate, he can go down the field. So I think you’re really not limited in any way that you can utilize him. And there’s a reason why he’s had over 1,000 yards and [at least] seven touchdowns each of the last three years. And he’s a special player for sure.”

If the Rams and Cooks are able to come to terms in the next couple of months, it would not be surprising to see Cooks bring home something in the neighborhood of Jarvis Landry‘s new contract with the Browns, which pays him over $15MM per year with $34MM in guaranteed money. Landry and Cooks are quite different in terms of style of play, but in terms of age and track record, they’re pretty similar. Because of his big-play ability, Cooks would probably seek a little more than Landry, which could make him a top-five receiver by AAV.

Since it was reported that the Rams were interested in extending Cooks, there has been no further news on that front, presumably because LA still wants to lock up Aaron Donald before addressing Cooks’ contract situation. If and when the Donald matter gets resolved, though, Cooks could be the next domino to fall. He will lead a strong receiving corps on a team that features a great deal of talent on both sides of the ball and that could be a legitimate title contender.

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Extension Candidate: Bradley Roby

After spending the better part of Champ Bailey‘s 10-year run in Denver trying to find a quality complementary cornerback, the Broncos landed two during a 2014 offseason in which they cut Bailey. And for the past four years, no team could match the Broncos’ cornerback trio of Chris Harris, Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby.

This coming season will feature a different Denver secondary, however. The Broncos traded Talib to the Rams and signed Tramaine Brock to likely slide in as their new No. 3 corner. With Harris a proven starter, eyes will shift to Roby as he becomes a full-time first-unit player for the first time.

He’s entering a pivotal year for his future with Talib out of the picture. Likewise, the Broncos will see how their pass defense changes without Talib and will be eyeing Roby’s viability as a long-term cog. No extension talks have been known to have taken place this offseason. Roby’s salary spikes to $8.53MM on the fifth-year option, which is part of the reason the Broncos traded Talib and his $12MM cap number.

Denver’s right cornerback the past four years in sub-packages, Roby has both been a key presence on one of the best pass defenses in modern NFL history and enjoyed the odd distinction (for a former first-round pick) of being the third-best corner on his own team throughout that span. However, Roby’s held his own while teams largely tried to avoid Harris and Talib. In 674 snaps, Roby graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 25 corner last season.

The Broncos are still relying on their Super Bowl 50 core, but they don’t have much of a future nucleus in place just yet. Despite having an integral role on the 2014 and ’15 Broncos teams that made the playoffs, Roby at 26 would fit the profile as a player to build around going forward.

On one hand, it would make sense for the Broncos to initiate talks with Roby now to see if they can get him locked down on the kind of team-friendly deal Harris signed in late 2014. After all, he held the same role for four seasons to give the team a solid glimpse of his capabilities. But given the kind of corner contracts handed out the past few years, it would also be logical for Roby to bet on himself and hope he can firmly place his price into the eight-figure-per-year range with a strong season as a starter.

The Logan Ryan/Dre Kirkpatrick/Jimmy Smith tier ($10MM-$11MM AAV) would be well within range for Roby if he thrives as a starter, with a possibility of a climb to a slightly higher perch — on a 2019 cap that can be expected to approach $190MM — likely in play as well.

While a Roby deal would keep part of the Broncos’ corner cast together, the team would also would seemingly have to address Harris. The All-Pro corner has played on an incredibly favorable deal for the Broncos the past three seasons and would be entering a contract year in 2019. The 29-year-old former UDFA proved to be the Broncos’ most consistent defensive back when he, Talib and Roby played together. And if Roby receives an extension, Harris would figure to justifiably ask for more on his next deal — if it comes from the Broncos. Denver also drafted third-round CBs the past two years in Brendan Langley and Isaac Yiadom. This route would provide an alternative to a future with two high-level cornerback contracts on the books, but Langley struggled in limited time as a rookie and Yiadom has yet to play a snap.

Also complicating a Roby re-up are the walk-year statuses of Matt Paradis and Shaquil Barrett — PFF’s top two overall RFAs from this past offer sheet window — along with the Broncos’ projected $9MM of 2019 cap space. Of course, some of their veterans’ contracts become easier to shed after this season, opening up flexibility in the event the Broncos believe they can retain Barrett and Paradis. Considering Miller and Bradley Chubb are signed long-term, that might not be feasible if Barrett has a strong contract year.

Of course, with corners and edge rushers being Denver’s calling card post-Peyton Manning, ensuring two quality outside cover men are still on the roster after this season could be a high priority for a team looking to maximize an older nucleus’ primes.

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Extension Candidate: Carlos Dunlap

Earlier this year, defensive end Carlos Dunlap opted to skip the Bengals’ organized team activities. The decision to work out on his own in Florida cost him $300K in bonuses, but it may have helped him ramp up pressure on the team as he pushes for a new deal. For his part, Dunlap claims his decision was made for football reasons

[RELATED:Tyler Kroft Seeking Contract Extension]

“All the comments and everything talking about the reasons for me not being here obviously hit home a little bit because they painted me to be a selfish guy, which was not my objective,” Dunlap said. “My goal was to make sure I was in the best shape for when football starts so that I can be there for my team for the long haul.”

Either way, it’s clear that Dunlap wants to stay with the Bengals beyond 2018 on a new and improved deal. The Bengals also want to keep him for the long haul, but only at the right price.

Dunlap is entering the final year of the six-year, $40MM extension he signed in 2013. The 29-year-old will earn a base salary of $7MM, which is well below his true value.

Extending Dunlap is a pricey proposition and the decision is complicated by the club’s other extension candidates. Fellow defensive lineman Geno Atkins is entering the final year of his contract and a new pact may call for upwards of $12MM per year. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard is coming off of a career year and the Bengals would like to keep him, despite the presence of Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson III. There’s also a trio of tight ends to consider in Tyler Kroft, Tyler Eifert, and C.J. Uzomah, and the team may want to leave some money in the coffers to re-sign defensive end Michael Johnson after the 2018 season.

The Bengals have also invested heavily in defensive ends in recent drafts by adding Carl LawsonJordan Willis, and Sam Hubbard. In theory, they can part with Dunlap if the price gets too high if they are confident in their your DE group.

Still, Dunlap has been tremendous in Cincinnati, particularly in the second half of games. The advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus have routinely rated him as a top-30 edge defender over the past seven seasons and he has been equally strong against the pass and the run. Even if the youngsters could do an admirably job in his stead, losing Dunlap would hurt the team’s front seven.

Dunlap is well aware of the riches that could await him in free agency as the edge defender market continues to rise sharply. In theory, Dunlap could parlay a big 2018 season into a $15MM/year deal, but he would be taking a risk if he cannot turn in another quality season for the Bengals. A new deal would give him financial security and, depending on the length of the deal, give him an opportunity to retire with the only club he’s ever known.

There are a lot of mouths to feed in Cincinnati, but Johnson’s expiring $6.1MM contract should provide the team enough room to get a deal done. If Dunlap is willing to sacrifice some upside in order to remain with the Bengals, the two sides could find a midpoint with a four-year extension in the range of $50MM. Alternatively, a shorter extension could make sense for the two sides. An additional three years added to Dunlap’s contract would allow him to hit the open market again at the age of 32 and give the Bengals some wiggle room should they look to hang on to their trio of younger defensive ends.

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Extension Candidate: Stefon Diggs

Back in May, we learned that the Vikings hoped to extend the contracts of a few of their key young players: Anthony BarrStefon Diggs, and Danielle Hunter Hunter just signed a lucrative long-term deal at the end of June, which allows the team to turn its attention to Barr and Diggs. We have already examined Barr as an extension candidate, so now let’s take a deeper look into Diggs’ case for a new contract.

Earlier this decade, Diggs was one of the most sought-after high school recruits, a consensus five-star prospect who landed scholarship offers from blue-blood programs like USC, Ohio State, and Auburn. But Diggs, a Maryland native, spurned those offers and opted to play for his hometown school, which delighted Terrapins fans but which may have had a negative impact on his earning power during the early stages of his professional career. Although Diggs flashed his breathtaking talent at Maryland, he was held back to some degree by poor quarterback play and by injuries. so when he elected to forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft in 2015, he slipped to the fifth round, where the Vikings finally scooped him up (Diggs’ smallish stature also didn’t help his cause).

It would be hard for Diggs to complain too much, though, as he has established himself as one of the best young wideouts in the league during his first three years in Minnesota, and he will head into his platform year with the prospect of catching passes from the best quarterback he has ever played with, Kirk Cousins. If all goes according to plan, Diggs could be one of the hottest commodities on the open market next offseason, and the Vikings would like to lock him up before that happens.

As usual, there are some issues for both sides to think about when negotiating Diggs’ big payday. Diggs has yet to top 1,000 yards in a season, and his professional career, much like his collegiate one, has been hampered by injuries. Though Diggs has not yet missed significant time as a pro, he has dealt with groin issues in each of the last two seasons, and he said he was “never the same” in 2017 after suffering a groin injury in Week 4. His knee and hip have also given him problems.

On the other hand, the receiver market has been booming, and Joel Corry of CBS Sports believes that Davante Adams‘ four-year, $58.5MM extension with the Packers would be a realistic foundation for contract discussions (after all, Adams has not yet cracked the 1,000-yard mark either, and he only recently became Green Bay’s No. 1 receiving option). Alternatively, now that the Vikings have Hunter under contract for the foreseeable future, Diggs could be hit with the franchise tag next offseason, though the $17MM projected tag number for receivers may be unpalatable for Minnesota, regardless of how good Diggs is in 2018.

Corry suggests that, in light of the massive contracts that relatively unaccomplished receivers are pulling down, Diggs may be inclined to test the open market even if he ultimately wants to remain with the Vikings. The guess here, though, is that the two sides will reach an accord before Diggs officially hits free agency. Minnesota has a track record of extending its key players during contract years, and the chance to lock in a boatload of guaranteed money may be too enticing for Diggs to pass up, as he has played the first few years of his career on a bargain fifth-round rookie deal. He will likely not reset the receiver market even if he becomes a free agent, and Minnesota will certainly pay him like a top-10 player at his position. A four-year pact in the neighborhood of $60MM, with $20MM or so in guarantees, seems like a good bet.

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Extension Candidate: Brandon Graham

Last year, the Eagles tacked some incentives onto Brandon Graham‘s deal amidst rumblings that he was considering a holdout. Graham is once again pushing for an extension as he nears his walk year, but this time around, it’ll take more than an extra $1.5MM in performance bonuses to satisfy him. 

Graham is among the best 4-3 defensive ends in the game today, but his current salary does not reflect his performance. His average of $6.5MM/year on his current contract ranks 20th among 4-3 DEs, despite the fact that he graded out as the eighth-best overall edge defender in the league last year.

The veteran is coming off of a career-high 9.5 sacks and even iced the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory with his late-game strip sack of Tom Brady. Even though he celebrated his 30th birthday in April, he has plenty of juice as he sits across from GM Howie Roseman at the table.

Recently, Joel Corry of CBSSports.com predicted that Graham would not accept anything less than Everson Griffen‘s four-year, $58MM extension with the Vikings, which includes $18.8MM in full guarantees. Graham is 30, but Griffen is a few months older than him and is arguably the lesser player of the two, despite his 13 sacks in 2017.

The Eagles want to keep Graham in the fold, but their tight cap situation may limit how far they can go. A creative workaround for both sides may be to give Graham an even greater guarantee percentage than Griffen. After the Vikings gave Griffen a healthy 32.4% fully guaranteed at signing, the Eagles may be willing to push that number closer to 40% in order to shave some dollars off of the overall total. It wouldn’t be completely unprecedented – the Giants guaranteed $40MM of Olivier Vernon‘s $85MM free agent deal in 2016, which accounts for 47% of his deal.

Graham’s age and recent offseason ankle surgery may give the Eagles some pause about a hefty guarantee, but the former first round pick has not missed significant time since the 2011 season. There are worse bets to make, and a fat guarantee could give the Eagles the flexibility they’ll need to retain players like running back Jay Ajayi, cornerback Ronald Darby, and wide receiver Nelson Agholor down the line.

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Extension Candidate: Geno Atkins

This offseason, we have (rightfully) heard a great deal about potential extensions for star defenders Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, and Jadeveon Clowney. That discussion has overshadowed Geno Atkins, to some extent, as he pushes for a new deal.

The defensive tackle inked a five-year, $53.3MM extension with the Bengals back in 2013, which has him in place through the 2018 season. The deal has proved to be a winner for both sides. For the Bengals, the deal allowed them to keep a top performer under contract at roughly $10.6MM per year while the market advanced at a sharp rate. Atkins, meanwhile, made more cash than he could ever hope to spend and is now primed to do it all over again at the age of 30.

When Atkins’ deal began in 2014, he was the NFL’s third-highest paid 4-3 defensive tackle with a $9MM cap number. Today, his $9.5MM cap figure for 2018 places him seventh in the same category. After finishing the year as Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 ranked interior defender – behind only Donald – something has to change.

Like Donald, Atkins is a stout run defender with the ability to also disrupt opposing quarterbacks from the interior. Atkins has notched at least nine sacks in each of the last three seasons, and, save for the 2013 season cut short by an ACL tear, he has never missed a game. Donald is still three years younger and in a class of his own, but Atkins has been far more dominant than many outside of Cincinnati realize.

If Donald signs first, Atkins’ camp will have a favorable comp to work off of, even though his deal will be worth less. The Bengals aren’t technically on the clock here, but they may want to get a deal done sooner rather than later.

A new deal for Atkins will definitely cost eight figures per year, but it remains to be seen how far the Bengals will go. With a fluid cap situation both this year and next, you can expect the Bengals to lock up Atkins on a multi-year deal worth around $12MM per season.

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Extension Candidate: Jadeveon Clowney

Despite an injury-riddled rookie season, Texans edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney has blossomed into one of the league’s best defensive players. Now coming off of his second-straight Pro Bowl selection and his first full season, Clowney is pushing for a lucrative new deal to put him near the top of the market at his position. 

[RELATED: Who Will End Offseason As NFL’s Highest-Paid Defender?]

Thanks to the fifth-year option, the Texans have Clowney under contract for 2018 at a salary of $12.3MM. After that, Clowney will be eligible to hit the open market, unless the Texans use the franchise tag or iron out an extension with him.

The projected franchise tag amount often provides a framework for deals, but it’s a bit more complicated than that in Clowney’s case. In 2016, Clowney saw a great deal of time at defensive end in the Texans’ 3-4 scheme. Last year, he saw more time at linebacker than defensive end. It remains to be seen how Clowney’s position will be defined for purposes of the tag. If he’s classified a linebacker, then the tag will be worth around $16.3MM in 2019. If he’s considered a defensive end, then the Texans will be looking at the prospect of at least $18MM for the one-year placeholder.

The Texans and Clowney have not made significant strides on an extension just yet, and that could have something to do with Clowney’s slower-than-expected recovery from a recent knee procedure. The pending extensions for Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald may also hold things up. We could see a three-way game of chicken here as each player would probably like to use one of the other deals as a framework for talks. Then again, Clowney is not quite as accomplished as Mack and Donald, so his agents might not be wary about being the first to the trough.

So, what sort of deal would make sense for both sides? The Texans showed a willingness to back up the Brinks truck in 2014 when they gave J.J. Watt a six-year, $100MM deal, but his injury issues are a reminder of the risks that come with big-money deals.

Clowney’s camp will certainly use Watt’s deal as a reference point, but they could use Olivier Vernon‘s five-year, $85MM free agent deal with the Giants as their real blueprint. Clowney just turned 25 in February, so a shorter deal would allow him to hit the open market near the age of 30, giving him an opportunity to cash in all over again. Copying Vernon’s deal to the letter would give Clowney $17MM/year on average with a whopping $40MM fully guaranteed at signing. An equivalent deal adjusted for cap increases, meanwhile, would give him nearly $19.5MM per season, which may be too rich for the Texans’ blood. For reference, the AAV on that deal would top Von Miller‘s six-year, $114.6MM contract, which presently stands as the league’s richest deal for a defensive player.

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Extension Candidate: David Johnson

If it wasn’t previously clear, David Johnson‘s importance to the Cardinals was emphasized after he was lost to a season-ending injury back in September. The team’s offense ultimately finished with 86.6 rushing yards per game, the third-worst mark in the league, and their 3.4 yards per carry was the second-lowest average in the NFL. However, while Johnson is undoubtedly a huge part of the Cardinals’ offense, the front office may be hesitant to pay the former third-rounder top dollar.

The 26-year-old is set to earn $1.8MM in the final year of his rookie contract in 2018. While previous contract negotiations had been described as productive, Johnson surprisingly sat out the team’s mandatory minicamp last month. This may simply be an attempt by Johnson’s camp to lock up a long-term deal as soon as possible. After all, the running back is coming off a campaign that saw him appear in only a single game, and another injury could cost him some big money. Either way, Johnson’s June hold out was partly semantics; if the running back fails to report to the team by August 7th, it would delay his free agency by an entire year.

However, while negotiations may not necessarily be hostile, there’s clearly a discrepancy between the team’s offer and Johnson’s asking price (if there wasn’t, the two sides would have presumably come to an agreement by now). Joel Corry of CBSSports.com suggests that Johnson’s camp may be waiting until there’s clarity on Le’Veon Bell‘s deal with the Steelers. Previous reports indicated that Pittsburgh had offered a five-year, $60MM deal to their star running back, but Bell was seeking a contract that would equal the $17MM average annual value of teammate Antonio Brown‘s deal. If Bell gets his way (or if he does significantly better than the $60MM offer), Corry believes that “could be a game changer for Johnson.”

As things stand right now, the Cardinals seem to be in the driver’s seat thanks to the modest running back contracts that have recently been handed out. As Corry points out, the average salary of the five highest-paid running backs is south of $11MM per season. The agent also notes that Falcons running back Devonta Freeman‘s $8.25MM average salary is the current benchmark for the position. The Cardinals also have the ability to capitalize on the franchise tag, which would pay Johnson $11.9MM in 2019.

After finishing with 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns during the 2016 season, Johnson proved that he was a foundational piece for the Cardinals. However, while both sides would presumably like to agree on a long-term contract, there’s also incentive for both sides to wait. Therefore, we shouldn’t be all that surprised if the organization and Johnson engage in a staring match for the foreseeable future.

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