Which NFL Players Could Be Extension Candidates This Offseason?
NFL free agency starts on March 10th, which makes the NFL Combine a perfect place for teams to meet and discuss numbers before players are allowed to hit the open market. Many will focus on those who will be free agents this coming offseason, but there are some discussions about players still under contract to work out extensions.
Teams are beginning to be more proactive by signing potential star players to extensions with a year left on their deals to eliminate the possibility of those players hitting the open market. More often we’ll see the deals Seattle has given out to key players like Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman than what’s happening with players like Justin Huston in Kansas City and Dez Bryant in Dallas.
Below is a potential list of extension candidates heading for this offseason. All contract data comes from Spotrac.com
Quarterback Class of 2004
Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers have sustained successful careers throughout their second contracts. Since coming into the league, Manning and Roethlisberger have each won two Super Bowls, while Rivers has statistically been the best of the three. Using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Rivers owns four of the top five best seasons of this group by Passing NEP, and the top four seasons by Passing NEP per drop back.
In 2016, Rivers will have a cap hit of $16.66 million, Roethlisberger will be $18.35 million and Manning leads the group with a cap hit of $19.75 million. None of San Diego, Pittsburgh or New York believes it's time to move on from their current starter, and no quarterback has significantly dropped off in his play. After all, each of the three quarterbacks ranked in the top 12 in Passing NEP in 2014.
A contract extension for these quarterbacks could lessen the cap hit for the 2015 season while keeping them under contract for the final seasons of their careers.
Quarterback Class of 2012
Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill are the three potential extensions from this group. Robert Griffin III is slated to be Washington’s starter for 2015, but it’s safe to assume there’s no rush to lock something in long-term.
Luck ranked seventh in Passing NEP in 2014, while Wilson ranked 15th followed by Tannehill at 16th. Wilson, however, was worth .03 more Passing NEP per drop back than Tannehill, in addition to ranking as the top player overall in Rush NEP -- when you factor in rushing, Wilson was a top-10 quarterback last year.
There’s less rush to get something done with Luck and Tannehill since they have fifth-year team options as first-round picks. Option or not, Luck is going to get paid -- probably among the top quarterbacks in the league. There’s less urgency for Tannehill, though there have reportedly been internal discussions in Miami about a seven-year, $105 million deal. Wilson will likely be the first to sign a second deal since his contract actually expires after the 2015 season.
Cam Newton will be playing 2015 on the fifth-year option in his rookie deal. We took a deep look into what Newton could receive in a new contract before Carolina’s Divisional Round game against the Seahawks, which you can find here.
Muhammad Wilkerson's 2015 season will also be on that fifth-year team option. After a base salary of $1.21 in 2014, Wilkerson will make $6.96 million in 2015, and that might not be a big enough raise. He only totaled 6 sacks after a 10.5 sack season, but he’s been one of the better all-around defensive linemen since entering the league in 2011. A Wilkerson extension could save the Jets some money in the future in the event of a career year in 2015. Under the direction of Todd Bowles, who kept the Arizona Cardinals ranked seventh in Adjusted NEP on defensive despite being without numerous starters in 2014, that’s a very real possibility.
After two seasons ranking in the top-30 of Reception NEP as a deep threat, T.Y. Hilton had a breakout year in 2014. As the clear number-one receiver for the Colts with a limited Reggie Wayne, Hilton finished 11th in Reception NEP in 2014. Heading into the final year of his rookie deal, Hilton has outperformed his contract. He’ll only be a cap hit of $796,850 for Indianapolis in 2015.
With core pieces in place the offensive skill positions, Hilton could be the first one locked up to keep the band together.
Alshon Jeffery is in the same boat as Hilton, but might be the one driving it.
Chicago has a lot to fix on the defensive side of the ball. After a season ranking 28th in Adjusted Defensive NEP, that won’t come as a surprise. The Bears also declined on offense in 2014, 20th in Adjusted NEP compared to 9th in 2013, but Chicago’s key players are still on the offensive side of the ball. While the new Chicago regime figures out what to do with the contracts of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, the next contract for Jeffery should be among the top priorities.
In 2014, Jeffery ranked 12th in Reception NEP, though that drops to 19th for Reception NEP per target for receivers with at least 100 targets. He was a high-volume option in the Bears offense as the sixth-most targeted receiver in the NFL. In 2013, his second season in the league, he ranked ninth in Reception NEP. Jeffrey just turned 25 on February 14, which would allow a four-year extension to keep him through his prime. Jeffery will only be a cap hit of $1.4 million in the final season of his rookie contract.