The start of the NFL season is quickly approaching.
As the preseason draws closer and excitement for the new campaign builds, NFL franchises are still hard at work building their rosters for the upcoming campaign. Most agents agree to shut down contract extension negotiations when the preseason wraps up. As it currently stands, there’s a significant list of talent on track to become unrestricted free agents in 2022.
Most NFL players are just battling for a roster or starting spot, sure, but these five superstars have already demonstrated that they’re worthy of a long-term investment. They also happen to be entering a contract season, making now a perfect time for their respective teams to hammer out a deal.
Getting a deal done now can help save the team money long-term if the player is set to take on a bigger role. It also gives clarity for their cap sheet in regards to future planning. For the player, a competitive offer locks in guaranteed money over the course of two-or-three years as a trade-off for taking a little less than what they could possibly get on the open market.
Some of these players are obvious, while others may not be. We’ll make the case for their extensions and what the total deal could look like, based on what comparable talent has earned in recent years.
Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
Projected deal: 5-years, $118 million
The best receiver in the league deserves to be paid like it. Still just 28, Davante Adams is on the cusp of his last big payday. Regardless of whether it's with Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have to figure out their cap situation to extend Adams.
Getting an extension done will help the organization plan for everyone else moving forward. The Packers are projected to be over the cap by over $33 million next year. Extending Adams can slightly lower their burden.
Adams will continue to dominate regardless of his QB. And even as he ages, his route-running and short-area mastery are too good to simply fall off. He's put up over 1,374 receiving yards twice in his career and is already sitting at 62 career touchdowns.
A perfect fit with head coach Matt LaFleur, Adams is the now and future in Green Bay for the next handful of seasons. The team would be devastated to lose both Rodgers and Adams in a one-year span. They should avoid both outcomes at all costs.
Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts
Projected deal: 5-years, $100 million
The Colts told everyone who would hear them that this offseason was all about finding a QB and then extending in-house talent. They traded for Carson Wentz and then proceeded to sit out the offseason. Now it's time to pay Darius Leonard and make good on the promise.
The Colts' defensive leader has been an excellent piece overall even if his impact has declined since his breakout rookie campaign. He's amassed 416 tackles, seven interceptions and 15 sacks in three seasons. Few linebackers are ever this productive by the time they're 25.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard will have to break the linebacker market to get this deal done. But getting ahead of the Fred Warner extension in San Francisco is key. Warner is just as deserving as Leonard and can be viewed as an alternate to this nomination as an extension priority.
Failing to extend the former second-round pick sends a terrible message to a locker room full of talent that's been developed in-house. Quenton Nelson, Braden Smith, and many others would love to see the organization reward a key starter with a solid deal.
T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
Projected deal: 5-years, $139 million
The recent string of new edge contracts will push the position into the $30 million-a-year club soon. T.J. Watt may be the first to break the threshold, but he'd be a couple million over Joey Bosa's $27.5 million average.
Watt has been a monstrous presence since being drafted late in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Turning 27 this year, the athletic presence has hit 13 or more sacks in three straight seasons. He's already notched 49.5 QB takedowns in four seasons, along with 25 pass deflections and 17 forced fumbles. He's also missed just two games in his career.
He's an incredibly safe player to extend and will embody the next generation of Steelers as Ben Roethlisberger retires following the season. Losing him would be devastating for a franchise that's struggled to pay their stars top-of-the-market money. It'd be stunning to see Watt play on his franchise tag in 2021 without a new extension in place.
Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints
Projected deal: 4-years, $72 million
Sources told Lines that the Saints had at least two offers on the table for Lattimore prior to the 2021 NFL Draft that included a second-round selection.
Lattimore's individual coverage numbers aren't the best and have declined since he was a rookie. Some of that features noise outside of his control; the NFC South has been deep with great playmakers and quality QB play. Even above-average corners will lose fairly often when this happens.
The 25-year-old is still a stud, though. A tough-nosed run defender with a knack for finding the ball, offenses stopped attacking him as much in 2020. He's a solid technician with great athleticism and ball skills.
That blend is worth a lot of money as a solid No. 1 corner in their prime. The corner free-agent class is weak outside of him, and therefore he'll cash in handsomely. New Orleans should get deals done with both Williams and Lattimore while they can in order to keep the secondary as a major strength of the roster.
Jessie Bates, Cincinnati Bengals
Projected deal: 5-years, $70 million
Don't sleep on this defensive playmaker in Cincinnati. The Bengals may have lost William Jackson III but they can't afford to see Jessie Bates walk out on them next year. The 24-year-old is a dynamic presence in the Bengals' secondary.
Extending him now might save some money. He doesn't have the national profile of similarly-talented safeties because the Bengals have stunk. However, that'll change with Joe Burrow's return and more focus on Zac Taylor's job status.
A rare safety with three-consecutive 100-tackle seasons, and adding three interceptions per year and 31 total passes deflected, Bates is as well-rounded and impactful as anyone in the league at the position. The Bengals may get him for less than what more ballyhooed safety Jamal Adams wants but they better hurry up and get it done.
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