Players with the most riding on a contract year in 2023, including Chase Young and Marquise Brown

2M7RTYE Washington Commanders defensive end Chase Young (99) takes to the field before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

• Devin White controls his fate: The talented former top-five pick will be playing for a new contract this year, whether that be in Tampa Bay or elsewhere.

• Chase Young has a big-money contract waiting: If he can stay healthy and keep up his already great level of play, a long-term deal is in the cards.

• A new front office in Arizona puts the onus on Marquise Brown: The regime that traded for Brown is out, and so he'll have to impress Monti Ossenfort and company to stick with the Cardinals.

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With the Hall of Fame Game in the books, the 2023 NFL preseason has officially begun. A full slate of actions kicks off with a Thursday night doubleheader, then rolls through Friday, Saturday and Sunday. While there is certainly still time for extensions to get done, we have a slightly better idea of which players may be set to enter pivotal contract years in 2023.

We highlighted a few other names in a similar vein here but wanted to greatly expand on this list below. If a player is not listed, it’s likely for one of two main reasons: we still think they may sign an 11th-hour extension before Week 1 kicks off, or we have a pretty good idea of what tier of player they are to this point and their performance in 2023 may not sway that evaluation too drastically in either direction. There is also the more simple rationale that we can’t discuss everyone.

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EDGE Josh Allen, Jacksonville Jaguars

From the outside looking in, Allen figured to be a prime extension candidate this offseason after putting up 68 quarterback pressures and a 14.8% pressure rate — a top-20 mark at the position — in 2022. The 2019 top-10 pick earned career-high pass-rush and run-defense grades in his fourth NFL season while also logging a career-high 895 snaps. While Allen finished with only seven sacks and has failed to reach double digits after securing 10.5 in his rookie season, his 17 quarterback hits were tied for the fifth most. The underlying metrics suggest positive sack regression is on the way, especially as 2022 No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker continues to develop and starts to command more attention from opposing offensive lines.

Allen was one of just eight edge defenders in 2022 to earn grades above 75.0 as a run defender and pass rusher, with that list including the game's top players at the position — Nick Bosa, Maxx Crosby and Von Miller, among others. The jump in run defense was particularly notable, as it was a weakness of his game through three seasons, with his nine tackles for loss or no gain against the run in 2022 a top-10 mark at the position.

Nevertheless, the Jaguars appear comfortable letting things play out in 2023, with the franchise tag always an option. If Allen can match his 2022 campaign, perhaps with more sacks, he could be in line for a major new deal.

EDGE Chase Young, Washington Commanders

We’ve discussed Young ad nauseam this offseason, but any list of this nature that didn’t include the former No. 2 overall pick would be incomplete. There is arguably no player with as much riding on the 2023 season. Young’s range of outcomes after the year span from a one-year, prove-it deal to a major contract that reflects his trajectory from his rookie season.

With the important caveat of a ton of missed time, Young has never earned a PFF grade below 75.0 for a season. If he can stay healthy and produce in a loaded Commanders defense in 2023, and if Washington perhaps cannot keep him around because of commitments to other defensive linemen, it will be truly fascinating to see his market develop. It is very rare for a player of Young’s caliber and draft prestige to reach unrestricted free agency, and several teams may be comfortable enough with his medical situation to enter a bidding war for his services.

EDGE Marcus Davenport, Minnesota Vikings

Now that Vikings teammate Danielle Hunter is back in the fold — a player who has an argument to be on this list, though he’s made a good chunk of change thus far in his career — Davenport could once again benefit from the presence of an elite edge defender and finally have the big year he’s been seeking since he was drafted. Since Davenport entered the league in 2018, his 17.8% pass-rush win rate and 13.9% pressure percentage are both top-20 marks among edge defenders, as is his 82.1 run-defense grade. The only problem is he’s yet to register 550 snaps in a season.

If the former top-15 pick maintains that efficiency and stays on the field for 700-plus snaps in 2023, he could turn a one-year, $13 million flier into a multi-year deal worth a whole lot more.

EDGE Josh Uche, New England Patriots

Uche has yet to play 800 total snaps in his NFL career through three seasons but still managed to repeatedly turn heads on his 373 reps from 2022, with 285 of those being pass-rush reps.

Starting in Week 5 when Uche began to consistently work into the rotation, he put up 10 sacks — the second most in the NFL — while missing two games down the stretch. Uche's 26.9% pass-rush win rate over the span was good for third in the NFL among edge defenders, and his 23.5% quarterback pressure rate ranked first. He was obviously deployed in very favorable pass-rush situations, but that doesn’t mean his job was easy.

Can Uche become a full-time player, and does it really matter that he has only one trick if that trick is so effective?

EDGE Bryce Huff, New York Jets

If we lower minimum snap requirements for 2022 data down to just 150 pass-rush reps, Huff’s pass-rush productivity was downright silly. The undrafted free agent in 2020 recorded a 25.6% pass-rush win rate, a full 3 percentage points higher than the next-best player, none other than Cleveland Browns superstar Myles Garrett. Huff’s 21.9% pressure rate was also more than a full percentage point higher than the next closest edge rusher.

Huff is looking to answer effectively the exact same question we asked of Uche above. Can he become a reliable early-down presence on the edge against the run, or does it not mean all that much given how explosive he is getting after the quarterback in obvious passing situations? The major difference between Huff’s opportunity in 2023 and his AFC East counterpart is that Huff is a member of arguably the deepest edge rusher rotation in the entire NFL, so it’s going to be hard to earn a ton more reps.

DI Justin Madubuike, Baltimore Ravens

With the departure of veteran stalwarts on the interior, Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams, over the past few years, Madubuike’s role and importance have continued to grow on this young Ravens defensive line. Madubuike’s snap count took a jump in 2022 and his pass-rush productivity skyrocketed.

The 2020 third-rounder finished with a career-best 32 quarterback pressures in 2022, more than double his previous high mark, and his 24 defensive stops were also a personal best. Madubuike has shown flashes here and there of being a force on the interior, but another year with a larger workload and improved consistency could push his market much higher.

LB Devin White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

White requested a trade at the beginning of the offseason but has apparently gotten to a good place with the Buccaneers organization heading into 2023. Frankly, Tampa Bay has two players way ahead of White in the extension pecking order — tackle Tristan Wirfs and safety Antoine Winfield Jr.

While the Buccaneers have obviously undergone a retooling this offseason, their defense is still loaded with talent, and the return of edge defender Shaquil Barrett from injury along with the introduction of first-round interior defender Calijah Kancey could make the defensive line ahead of White even better. While White hasn’t earned a run-defense or coverage grade in the 50s since his rookie season, he effectively puts up solid pass-rush numbers each season as a blitzer. White’s 88 quarterback pressures over the past three seasons are 30 clear of the next-highest off-ball linebacker, and his 14 sacks are second to only Jerome Baker of the Miami Dolphins.

In ESPN reporter Jeremy Fowler's annual polling of NFL executives and scouts around the league, White managed a top-five ranking among off-ball linebackers heading into 2023. His draft status as a former top-five pick is doing a ton of heavy lifting here, but he does have rare physical gifts, and teams are never afraid to invest in that talent coming off a standout season. White still controls his fate, and while the Buccaneers may not want to make him one of the highest-paid players at his position this offseason, another team may next offseason.

S Jeremy Chinn, Carolina Panthers

The Panthers are likely working on a monster extension for edge defender Brian Burns as we write this, breakout linebacker Frankie Luvu is set to enter a contract year after signing a two-year contract last offseason and immediately outperforming the deal, and interior defender Derrick Brown will be entering his fifth-year option season in 2024. Can Chinn play his way into a second contract with the team that drafted him in the second round in 2020?

The versatile safety was deployed primarily as a nickel in 2022, with his 284 snaps as a slot cornerback a career high and the largest share of any alignment on the year, but the arrival of new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero figures to get him moving all over the formation — and perhaps more in his natural safety role, utilizing his elite athleticism at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds.

After a very strong 2021 campaign in which he earned a 74.3 coverage grade and racked up a position-high 41 defensive stops, Chinn earned career-low grades in 2022 and missed a chunk of games for the first time in his career. The 2023 season could see him push to join the top of the safety market in Carolina or elsewhere, or perhaps join the always-lengthy list of above-average starters available in free agency.

WR Marquise Brown, Arizona Cardinals

When a player gets traded for premium draft capital, they gain a lot of leverage in extension talks with the new front office, as the general manager has already invested a great deal in the player to that point. One way to quickly erode that leverage? For that general manager to be fired, and now the player and his representation are no longer negotiating with a front office that carries the same sunk-cost feelings toward the player. This is exactly what transpired here with Brown in Arizona, as Steve Keim was the one who sent the Baltimore Ravens a first-round pick for Brown and a third-round pick, but Keim is no longer running the show.

This isn’t to suggest extending Brown shouldn’t be a priority for Monti Ossenfort and company, but the new regime in Arizona gets to operate from a clean slate and it’s not their concern what was given up to acquire Brown’s services in the first place. That said, Brown was very productive in 2022 when healthy, ranking in the top 15 among wide receivers in targets, receptions and contested catches over the weeks he played. Once his college teammate Kyler Murray returns, and with DeAndre Hopkins no longer in the fold, Brown could perhaps finally prove he has No. 1 wide receiver ability and win over another regime in Arizona to the tune of a major extension.

OT Jonah Williams, Cincinnati Bengals

Williams requested a trade after the Bengals signed free agent Orlando Brown Jr. to play left tackle, but he has reportedly rescinded the request and is preparing for a pivotal 2023 season. Sticking it out with Cincinnati despite the move over to right tackle is probably smart for a few reasons.

First, and most importantly, 2022 starting right tackle La’el Collins is recovering from an injury and the starting right tackle job could be Williams’ for the taking. Second, the market gap between left and right tackles is not all that vast anymore. Last, but not least, why not work to put good play on tape at a position you played in college, stay healthy and protect one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL in a contract year? It’s not easy to slide over, but if Williams pulls it off, his market should be just fine come next March.

Williams is coming off his worst NFL season by many measures, as he gave up 12 sacks to tie for the league lead and earned a career-low 49.9 run-blocking grade. However, he has been solid over his rookie contract, and a big 2023 could make him the top free agent tackle at just 26 years old despite five years of NFL experience, which can always drum up a market in free agency.

WR D.J. Chark, Carolina Panthers

The Panthers used their second-round pick in 2023 to pair new franchise quarterback Bryce Young with his No. 1 wide receiver of the future in Jonathan Mingo, a pick they made sure to retain in the blockbuster trade with the Chicago Bears to go up to No. 1 overall. However, D.J. Chark may serve as Young’s top option during Mingo’s rookie season as he develops. And if so, Chark could have a huge year in store for his financial future in 2024 and beyond. The buzz so far from training camp certainly suggests Chark has been a favorite target of Young’s in the early going.

After playing on a one-year, $10 million flier with the Detroit Lions in 2022, Chark signed a one-year deal for half of that in Carolina. Over Chark’s last six weeks in Detroit at full health, he put up strong numbers:

  • 73.8 receiving grade
  • 388 receiving yds (17th)
  • 10 explosive receptions (12th)
  • 18.5 yards per route (fifth)

Chark will still be just 27 years old after the 2023 campaign and has shown difference-making ability with his 4.34-second 40-yard-dash speed when healthy. We’ve seen countless times how many pending free agent wide receivers don’t actually hit the open market, and he could end up breaking the bank if he’s Young’s go-to guy in 2023.


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