NFL News & Analysis

Projecting end-of-season extensions for 2022 NFL free agents

Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (17) reacts after the Packers beat the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

There are some final orders of business to wrap up before the turn of the New Year and NFL teams dive into Mock Draft Simulator season. Clubs would love nothing more than to avoid letting some of the best 2022 NFL free agents hit the open market, instead inking extensions before the 2021 campaign comes to a close.

Every year before the NFL playoffs kick off, a handful of big deals trickle in as the league’s top talent sign early contract extensions. The 2020 season featured Green Bay Packers tackle David Bakhtiari, Denver Broncos tackle Garett Bolles, Indianapolis Colts interior defender Grover Stewart, New York Giants safety Logan Ryan and Washington Football Team center Chase Roullier all signing and sticking around for the long-term.

The following is a list of players who could be the next to forego NFL free agency and sign long-term deals, along with contract projections.

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*All stats shown in tables are for the two seasons prior to each player signing his next contract.

Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams

Player Explosive Receptions Yards per route run Catchable catch % Receiving grade Contract
Julio Jones 92 3.00 87% 92.5 3/$66M
DeAndre Hopkins 67 2.26 92.8% 92.5 2/$54.5M
Davante Adams 62 2.86 94.4% 93.6 ?

The Packers have shown a willingness to extend players toward the end of the regular season, most recently making David Bakhtiari the highest-paid tackle in the NFL last November. Talks are likely well underway between the Packers and Adams’ camp — the main issue to sort out is likely by what measure Adams will become the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL.

Contract Projection: Four years, $93 million ($23.25M per year), $52 million total guaranteed

New Orleans Saints OT Terron Armstead

Player Pressure % Allowed + / – graded
run block %
Pass Block Grade Pass Block w/o screens Contract
Trent Williams 4.9% 16.6% / 13% 84.9 82.5 6/$138M
David Bakhtiari 4.6% 9.9% / 9.1% 91.5 90.4 4/$92M
Terron Armstead 3.4% 11.6% / 11.8% 90.0 87.9 ?

The Saints already extended quarterback Taysom Hill earlier this season, helping to clear up their 2022 salary cap in the process. An Armstead extension would accomplish the same goal, as he’s currently set to count about $13 million against the Saints in 2022 without even being on the roster. With a new deal, the Saints could clear another $5 million or more.

Contract Projection: Three years, $61.5 million ($20.5M per year), $45 million total guaranteed

San Francisco 49ers OG Laken Tomlinson

Players Pressure % Allowed + / – graded
run block %
Pass Block Grade Pass Block w/o screens Contract
Ereck Flowers 7% 15% / 13.9% 66 62.5 3/$30M
Rodger Saffold 4.1% 14.6% / 11.4% 73.5 70.1 4/$44M
Laken Tomlinson 5.2% 18% /12.5% 66.9 63 ?

The 49ers were probably preparing to extend Mike McGlinchey following the 2021 season, but a torn quadriceps suffered in Week 9 could shelf those talks for another season. The 2018 top-10 draft pick has the fifth-year option remaining on his current contract, and head coach Kyle Shanahan discussed how the 2020 campaign was a “setback” for McGlinchey after two solid seasons to begin his career. Odds are the 49ers want to see a bit more before committing huge dollars to their young right tackle.

Dec 19, 2021; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers guard Laken Tomlinson (75) during warmups before the start of the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Levi's Stadium. Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

This may open the door for left guard Laken Tomlinson to stick around if San Francisco has enough cash after a potential Nick Bosa mega-extension. Tomlinson plays next to left tackle Trent Williams, whom the 49ers made the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL last offseason despite turning 33 years old. Tomlinson could similarly argue he has shown no signs of slowing down entering his age 30 season in 2022.

Contract Projection: Three years, $27 million ($9M per year), $16.5 million total guaranteed

Chicago Bears OG James Daniels

Player Pressure % Allowed + / – graded
run block %
Pass Block Grade Pass Block w/o screens Contract
Shaq Mason 4.3% 12.8% / 8.9% 73.3 70.3 5/$45M
Graham Glasgow 4% 13.2% / 12% 73.1 70.1 4/$44M
James Daniels 5.4% 14.8% / 14.2% 66.9 64.1 ?

Daniels played the majority of his snaps at left guard in 2018 and earned a 69.8 pass-block grade. In 2019, Daniels played almost equal snaps at center and left guard, earning a 67.0 pass-block grade as a center and 73.9 as a left guard. After injuries knocked him out for most of the 2020 season, Daniels now has a 68.1 pass-block grade as a full-time right guard.

Sometimes things don't have to be too complicated: Daniels is going to provide a team with above average play at all three interior spots, and he will still be 24 years old in Week 1 of 2022. The 2018 second-rounder will likely be younger than a handful of players in the 2022 Draft, and he is still brimming with potential.

Contract Projection: Five years, $50 million ($10M per year), $24 million total guaranteed

Miami Dolphins EDGE Emmanuel Ogbah

Player Pressure % Pass Rush Win % TFL + NG QB Hits Contract
Shaq Lawson 13.2% 12.5% 18 21 3/$30M
Matthew Judon 14.8% 12.3% 10 40 4/$54.5M
Emmanuel Ogbah 13% 13.4% 7 25 ?

Ogbah made the most of his two-year, $15 million deal he signed with the Dolphins before the 2020 season, flashing the pass rush arsenal that got him drafted No. 33 overall in 2016. Ogbah’s 122 total quarterback pressures since 2020 rank sixth among edge defenders, with four of the five players ahead of him earning at least $17 million per year.

Ogbah doesn’t win as consistently as the top edge defenders, but his pass-rush grade has improved in four straight seasons, and his 19 sacks since 2020 match his total output over the first four years of his career with games left to play in 2021.

Contract Projection: Three years, $42 million ($14M per year), $30 million total guaranteed

Dallas Cowboys EDGE Randy Gregory

Player Pressure % Pass Rush Win % TFL + NG QB Hits Contract
Carl Lawson 14.7% 17.5% 4 40 3/$45M
John Franklin-Myers 14.8% 16.5% 3 11 4/$55M
Randy Gregory 15% 16.4% 7 18 ?

The key question here may be whether the Cowboys can convince Gregory to stay — perhaps at a slightly discounted rate — after they stuck by him through some challenging times. Edge defender Demarcus Lawrence is already the fifth-highest paid edge rusher in the NFL, and the Cowboys used the No. 12 and 84 overall picks in the 2021 draft on former Penn State phenom Micah Parsons and Iowa product Chauncey Golston.

Sep 9, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory (94) reacts after recovering the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Since compensatory picks were created in 1994, the Dallas Cowboys have earned the second-most of any club, trailing only the Baltimore Ravens. Dallas was the only club with four compensatory picks in the 2021 Draft. Long story short, the Cowboys are comfortable letting talented players depart in free agency and building through the draft. Gregory’s value has never been higher than it is right now.

Contract Projection: Two years, $25 million ($12.5M per year), $15 million total guaranteed

Cleveland Browns CB Denzel Ward

Player Yards / coverage snap Press coverage Grade Explosive Play % Allowed Forced Incompletion % Contract
Marlon Humphrey 1.04 69.5 2.1% 14.9% 5/$97.5M
Marshon Lattimore 1.2 60.2 2.5% 13.5% 5/$97M
Denzel Ward 0.9 66.0 1.8% 13.3% ?

Marshon Lattimore’s extension shortly before the 2021 season was great news for Ward, and not just because the two players were teammates at Ohio State in 2015 and 2016 before Lattimore was drafted No. 11 overall in 2017 and Ward subsequently went No. 4 overall in 2018.

Lattimore, like Ward, has had some issues with week-to-week consistency from both a health and performance perspective. However, the two young stars are the rare breed of outside cornerback who are true lockdown players, playing roughly 60% of their snaps in press coverage looks out wide. There are some abilities and skill sets that simply cannot be taught, and excelling as a man cover cornerback on the outside is one of them. For this reason, when a team finds such a player, it tends to pay top dollar at the position. 

Contract Projection: Five years, $105 million ($21M per year), $72.5 million total guaranteed

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Kansas City Chiefs S Tyrann Mathieu

Player Defensive Stops Coverage Grade Forced Incompletion % QB Pressures Contract
Logan Ryan 57 61.0 12.3% 20 3/$30M
Jordan Poyer 53 76.7 2.0% 11 2/$19.5M
Tyrann Mathieu 37 74.0 4.5% 17 ?

Two contract extensions signed before the 2021 season will make every safety negotiation this upcoming offseason a battle between player and club: Seattle Seahawks safety Jamal Adams inking a four-year, $70 million deal and Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith following that with a four-year, $64 million pact.

The trend with safety compensation had not been overwhelmingly positive for a few offseasons before these players broke through, and the question is how much this new landscape will impact the situation overall. Mathieu is no ordinary safety, either, with experience as a slot cornerback and plenty of snaps down in the box as well as in the deep third of the field.

Mathieu is the vocal leader on a Chiefs defense that has allowed the fourth-lowest expected points per opponent dropback since Week 8, but it's also had the seventh-best quarterback pressure percentage over the same span. Kansas City has shown with its huge investments in edge defender Frank Clark and interior defender Chris Jones that it prioritizes building through the front seven. The question remaining is whether the Chiefs still value Mathieu’s contributions as highly as they did back in 2019.

Contract Projection: Three years, $46.125 million ($15.375M per year), $30 million total guaranteed
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