There has never been a better time to be eligible for a new contract in the NFL. The 2022 offseason alone has produced record-setting contracts for quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson), wide receivers (Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams), cornerbacks (Jaire Alexander and Denzel Ward) and, recently, safeties (Minkah Fitzpatrick). Aaron Donald also became the first defensive player in NFL history to shatter the $30 million per year mark — and he did it without adding any new years to his contract.
With training camp set to start in a little over a month, there will be more big-money deals coming in, from franchise-tagged players to recent first-round picks and everyone in between.
Let’s take a look at some names to keep an eye on in the coming weeks and months.
The Kyler Murray situation created some drama in February and March, but that's cooled off in recent months. Cardinals general manager Steve Keim has been consistent in his expectation that something gets done, and the hope from both sides is that they reach an agreement before training camp.
Murray’s contract, if finalized, will come in north of $40 million annually, but the one thing everyone is keeping an eye on is the guarantees. After Deshaun Watson landed a fully guaranteed five-year contract with the Cleveland Browns, the question around league circles was if the next quarterback contract will treat the Watson deal as an outlier or the new standard. That remains to be seen.
EDGE Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have been budgeting for this extension over the past couple of years, knowing it’s going to be quite expensive. Returning from an ACL injury last season, Bosa recorded 15.5 sacks with a superb 90.0 PFF pass-rushing grade. Contract talks are in the early stages, but it’s safe to assume Bosa will aim to become the second defensive player to enter the $30 million per year club on a new deal (joining Aaron Donald).
The Lions have employed a very smart roster-building approach ever since general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell came aboard. They’ve been building through the draft and rewarding their own (Frank Ragnow, Romeo Okwara) as they try to build a winner. Hockenson’s best days are ahead of him, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the two sides look to strike a deal before the season. 2021 marked his second straight campaign with 60-plus catches, and he ranked second among tight ends in contested catch rate (78.6%).
Titans general manager Jon Robinson said at the NFL combine that Simmons is one of the players they want to keep around for a long time, and that comes as no surprise. The former first-round pick is coming off of a career year with 8.5 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, 12 tackles for loss, six passes defended and 62 total quarterback pressures. He’s one of just seven interior defensive linemen with 100-plus quarterback pressures over the past two seasons.
Simmons might not be a household name just yet for the average NFL fan, but don’t be surprised if he is rewarded with a mega contract.
Metcalf has not publicly complained about his contract situation, but he made a statement by skipping mandatory minicamp last week. Teams called Seattle about potential trades early in the offseason when it seemed like the team was taking a step back, but the Seahawks elected to decline each time. Ultimately, Metcalf just wants to get paid, and he would prefer for it to happen in Seattle.
This situation is fairly simple: The contract framework is there for the Seahawks. Metcalf has the same agent as A.J. Brown, who signed a four-year, $100 million extension with $57 million guaranteed after getting traded to Philadelphia during the 2022 NFL Draft. Seattle is either open to doing that type of contract or they’re not. If things aren’t figured out by training camp, this situation bears watching.
McLaurin has played with eight different quarterbacks in three years and been a class player throughout, never showing signs of frustration. He's averaged more than 1,000 yards per year through his first three NFL seasons while recording the ninth-lowest drop rate (2.8%) and the third-most contested catches (34) since 2020. It should feel like a no-brainer for this situation to be figured out, but that just hasn’t been the case.
McLaurin skipped mandatory minicamp, and while discussions have been ongoing, the two sides appear far apart as of last week. Washington has gone down this road in the past, allowing Kirk Cousins to play out his rookie contract and then slapping two franchise tags on him. It was a similar situation with Brandon Scherff, who played out five years and then two more on franchise tags. McLaurin likely doesn’t want this to go there, and head coach Ron Rivera has been adamant that something will be figured out.
If nothing gets done in the coming weeks, McLaurin is a “hold-in” candidate for training camp, which is the last thing the team wants with a new quarterback under center.
Samuel’s trade request is still out there, but the 49ers have been clear that he’s not going anywhere. He reported to minicamp and appeared to be in good spirits, and the team is hopeful to find a resolution and make sure everyone is happy as the Trey Lance era commences.
Up In The Air
This situation has probably been the least talked about of all the receivers. Just like Metcalf, Samuel and McLaurin, Johnson is also entering the final year of his rookie contract. He is coming off a Pro Bowl season with 107 receptions, 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns — culminating in a career-high 74.2 PFF grade.
The Steelers just got done with Minkah Fitzpatrick, so Johnson would logically be the next man up for a long-term deal. But talks are in the early stages, and it’s fair to wonder if Pittsburgh will load up the Brinks truck for a wide receiver considering where the market is and their consistent draft success at the position. Reminder: Pittsburgh just used a second-round pick on George Pickens and a fourth-round pick on Calvin Austin III.
While Kyler Murray has been pushing to get his deal done, the opposite is true for Lamar Jackson. The 25-year-old signal-caller has been extension-eligible for over a year, but he's been in no rush to get to the negotiating table. This entire situation is probably the biggest mystery in league circles. Jackson has been doing all of this without a certified NFLPA agent — and every agent I’ve spoken to would not have let him step foot on the field last season without a new deal. But waiting is not looking like a terrible move, as the market has climbed to new levels over the past year with new deals for Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and Matthew Stafford — and Murray set to come in next.
Jackson is coming off a down year by his standards and missed the past five games of the 2021 season due to a nagging ankle injury. If he opts to play this year without a new deal, he's set to make $23 million fully guaranteed on his fifth-year option. Assuming he gets through the year with no real issues, he’d be in line to get franchise-tagged for the 2023 campaign while new quarterback contracts for Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert take the market even deeper. He’s just risking potential injury and all the security that comes with a mega quarterback contract.
The Bates-Bengals contract saga has been going on for over a year now, and things have only gotten tougher for Cincinnati. USA Today reported earlier this offseason that Bates has no plans to play under the franchise tag. Since Bates became extension-eligible last year, the safety market has been reset three separate times, most recently by Minkah Fitzpatrick (four years, $72.98 million).
The Bengals did use three 2022 draft picks on defensive backs, selecting Daxton Hill and Cam Taylor-Britt in the first two rounds and safety Tycen Anderson at No. 166 overall. But ultimately, Bates is one of the most valuable members of a team that just made the Super Bowl. Quarterback Joe Burrow recently talked about the importance of Bates to the team on and off the field. Both sides have until July 15 to find some common ground — or else the reigning AFC champs will potentially have to deal with an unhappy team leader going into the season.
If or when Quenton Nelson gets a new deal, he will blow the doors off the guard market. He has a real argument to aim for $20 million per year on a new deal despite the highest-paid guard currently being at $16.5 million annually (Brandon Scherff).
Nelson is a three-time first-team All-Pro and has missed just four games in four seasons. Colts general manager Chris Ballard has been conservative with the team’s spending over the past couple of years, knowing he had some big deals on the way — including Darius Leonard, Braden Smith and Nyheim Hines all last year with Nelson on the horizon. Expect the numbers to be massive for a player who's allowed all of four sacks across nearly 2,400 career pass-blocking snaps.
The concern with Derwin James has never been the play, but rather his availability. He made the All-Pro first team in his rookie year in 2018, but injuries held him to five games in 2019 and kept him out for all of 2020. He returned to All-Pro form last season with 118 tackles, two interceptions, two sacks and three forced fumbles. James is a key piece for Brandon Staley’s defense, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the two sides attempt to reach a long-term deal before the 2022 season.
All franchise-tagged players have until July 15 at 4 p.m. EST to finalize a long-term deal. If no deal is reached, they’ll have to play on a one-year, fully guaranteed franchise tag (once signed).
Brown just recently hired an agent, and the hope is that will jumpstart extension talks. Brown told NFL Network earlier this month that he’s “very confident” a deal will get done.
“Especially simply based off the things that have come into effect within our division, the type of defensive ends that have been brought in, the type of players and all of that type of stuff,” Brown said. “It’s not the year to go into the season with a backup left tackle.”
That last part sounds like a threat to miss games if no deal is reached. Brown is yet to sign his franchise tag tender, but all parties involved believe something will get done. His four-year 80.2 pass-blocking grade is a top-20 mark among all tackles.
The Cowboys have historically gone down to the wire with their first-time franchise-tagged players, striking a deal at the buzzer twice (Dez Bryant in 2015 and Ken Hamlin in 2008) and getting no deal done several times despite ongoing discussions (Dak Prescott in 2020, Demarcus Lawrence in 2018 and Anthony Spencer in 2012). Talks with Dalton Schultz have been on and off, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if this goes to the very end, as well.
Schultz’s numbers were up there with some of the best tight ends last season, ranking third in catches (78), sixth in yards (808) and fifth in touchdowns (8). He also finished top six in both drop rate (3.4%) and contested catch rate (63.2%). If the two sides can’t come to an agreement, Schultz will make $10.931 million under the franchise tag.
Also keep an eye on: TE Mike Gesicki
The Raiders have been throwing money all over the place this offseason, but there’s one more name who’s very deserving: Darren Waller. You could make a serious argument that Waller has been the most underpaid player in the league, making $14 million over the past two years combined. He switched his agent last year, and his camp has had discussions with the Raiders regarding a potential new deal that will put him up there with the rest of the elite tight ends.
Poyer, 31, is another player who made an agent switch as he looks for a new contract. He signed an extension in 2020, but his annual average salary of $9.75 million ranks 13th in the NFL. He’s about $1 million shy of being doubled by Minkah Fitzpatrick’s new yearly average in Pittsburgh.
Poyer has been in Buffalo ever since general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott arrived and has emerged as a team leader who is coming off an All-Pro season. Buffalo did not address safety in the draft, which makes you think they’ll look to at the very least tweak Poyer’s contract to keep him happy.