It’s looking more and more likely that the NFL will be without a preseason in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While this season — and preseason — promises to be unlike any other in NFL history, there are some things that will never change.
There’s always the player who is entering the season in “the best shape of his life” or the recovering injured star who is eternally “ahead of schedule” from offseason surgery.
One preseason trope that will never be canceled is players demanding new contracts.
Nearly every player in the league would welcome a new deal with open arms, sure, but only a select few actually deserve a big-money contract extension.
Below, we’ve ranked the 10 players who deserve to secure the bag right now… even if there isn’t football in 2020.
10. Jalen Ramsey
There’s no denying Ramsey’s talent on the field, but he deserves some credit for his savviness off of it.
After the Rams traded multiple first-round picks for the former Florida State corner, the team failed to come to terms on a contract extension with its new acquisition. That gives Ramsey the upper hand because he can extract even more money out of the franchise. And Los Angeles simply can’t lose Ramsey after giving up so much draft capital.
The Rams have the option to franchise tag Ramsey in 2021, but that’ll just give the defensive back even more leverage as long as he stays healthy.
There’s little doubt that Ramsey will become the highest-paid defensive back when he inevitably inks his new pact.
9. Dalvin Cook
Giving running backs a second contract hasn’t paid off for NFL teams recently.
So why does Cook deserve a new deal?
He’s the “the instrumental ingredient that makes the Minnesota Vikings’ offense sizzle,” says Akopyan. And Cook doesn’t sound like he’s being greedy either, as he’ll settle for top-five running back money rather than aiming to be the highest-paid back in the league.
The Vikings currently have $12.2 million in cap space in 2020 and more than $30 million in 2021. Cook, who’s a bargain at just $1.3 million this season, should be able to come to terms with the Vikings, or else it’ll be Alexander Mattison’s time to shine in Minnesota in the near future.
8. Alvin Kamara
Like with Cook, paying Kamara comes with a lot of the same risks that we mentioned above, but the Saints’ offense just isn’t the same without the former Tennessee back.
The Saints might be weary of paying Kamara because of his injury plagued 2019 campaign. The Saints surely saw that Kamara wasn’t the same player due to leg injuries, but the franchise is also squarely in win-now mode. That could lead the Saints to pay Kamara, if they can find the cap space.
The Saints currently have less than $9 million available in 2020, and New Orleans could be in quite a bind in 2021 as they’re expected to be more than $30 million over the cap.
7. Jamal Adams
Since Adam Gase took over as the Jets head coach, the relationship between the franchise and Adams has quickly deteriorated. To be fair, that can probably be said about a lot of players on the Jets these days.
But Adams is one of the best young safeties in the NFL, and he wants to be paid like one. The problem is that the former LSU star still has two years left on his rookie deal and the Jets don’t seem willing to meet his contract demands.
That has led to a lot of drama for the J-E-T-S. In fact, Adams’ contract negotiations have gone so poorly that he’s demanded a trade.
While it’s rare for a player to receive a contract extension just three years into a rookie contract, Adams has clearly outperformed his deal. Adams is also the best player on the team, and when he’s unhappy, the entire locker room is going to follow suit.
There’s an easy solution: Pay Adams.
6. Myles Garrett
The last time we saw Myles Garrett on the football field, he nearly put a helmet-sized indent into Mason Rudolph’s head. And when the former No. 1 pick returns to the gridiron, he could be the NFL’s next $100 million man.
Life in the NFL sure is funny, isn’t it?
Garrett was on pace for a career year after tallying 10 sacks in as many games last season, and he’s only going to get better.
With more than $37 million in cap space, the Browns have plenty of room to pay Garrett what he wants, but the team will have to start looking toward the future as some of their young stars will need extensions as well.
Could Garrett become the highest-paid defensive player in the league when he signs his new deal? We’re not betting against it.
UPDATE: The Browns signed Garrett to a five-year, $125 million extension, according to NFL Media.
5. Chris Jones
While many rightfully talk about Aaron Donald as the best interior pass rusher in the league, don’t sleep on Jones, or he’ll completely blow up your offense. Just ask the 49ers.
The Chiefs probably don’t win Super Bowl LIV without Jones’ dominant performance — especially in the fourth quarter.
The Chiefs, with slightly more than $6 million in cap space in 2020, will need to clear out a lot of room for a guy who might make an appearance later on this list. The Chiefs are also paying star pass-rusher Frank Clark nearly $20 million and it’ll be hard for Kansas City to afford him, Jones and Patrick Mahomes on market-setting deals.
The Chiefs will undoubtedly exhaust their options before making a decision on what to do with Jones, but don’t be surprised if the franchise copies the 49ers’ playbook and trades the star interior defender for a high draft pick and cap relief.
While that’s bad news for the Chiefs, it’s good news for the rest of the league.
UPDATE: The Chiefs have agreed to a four-year, $85 million extension with Jones, per ESPN.
4. George Kittle
The best tight end in the league — and arguably the best non-quarterback in the NFL — is one of the biggest bargains in the game. Kittle, a fifth-rounder in 2017, has a cap hit of just $2.2 million in 2020.
PFF's Player of the Year in 2019, Kittle is not just a force in the passing game — he set the record for receiving yards by a tight end in 2018 — but he’s also one of the best blockers in the league.
Like Cook with the Vikings, Kittle is what makes the 49ers offense click. In the two games without him in 2019, the 49ers struggled in the air and on the ground.
However, the tight end market will probably stop that from happening.
Expect Kittle to sign a deal in the $13 to $15 million per year range, which would make him a steal, just like he was in 2017.
UPDATE: The 49ers signed Kittle to a five-year, $75 million extension that includes $40 million guaranteed, per Pardon My Take.
3. Dak Prescott
Thanks to being franchise tagged by the Cowboys, Prescott is already one of the highest-paid NFL players in 2020. But that’s not enough for the former fourth-rounder.
Prescott has been steadfast in wanting to be paid like the elite quarterback that he is. And his patience looks like it’ll pay off.
Prescott saw Jared Goff and Carson Wentz score lucrative long-term deals, but the Cowboys quarterback bet on himself. He knew he could play out his contract with the Cowboys, get franchise tagged like Kirk Cousins did with Washington and then potentially hit the free-agent market. Or that players like Mahomes and Deshaun Watson would sign even bigger deals with the new TV contracts on the horizon.
Either way, it means a lot more money for Prescott, especially if he plays like an MVP this season on one of the premier offenses in the league.
2. Deshaun Watson
It’s a good time to be a young quarterback in the NFL. With every new quarterback contract signed, Watson’s eyes get a little bigger.
The Texans, who dragged their feet in the Laremy Tunsil extension talks, should learn from their mistakes and ink Watson before other quarterbacks reset the market. If Prescott and/or Mahomes secures a new deal, then the price tag for Watson will skyrocket. (Update: The Chiefs did sign Mahomes).
The former Clemson passer is scheduled to earn just $4.4 million in 2020. There will be a lot of zeros added to that when Watson finally re-ups with Houston.
1. Patrick Mahomes
There’s no doubt that the reigning Super Bowl MVP — and the best quarterback in the league — deserves a contract extension. The only question is, how much will he cost the Chiefs?
Mahomes, who has a cap hit of just $5.3 million in 2020, has an interesting dilemma on his hands. Any deal he signs will be the most lucrative extension in NFL history, but does he wait for the league to sign new TV deals that could make the NFL salary cap explode? Or will Mahomes — with the uncertainty due to coronavirus — take a more team-friendly deal?
That’s all up to Mahomes.
If he — and his agent — want to get creative, they could agree to a contract that ties a certain percentage of the salary cap to his deal, meaning if the salary cap, say, doubled because of the new TV pacts, then the Chiefs QB’s contract would rise along with it.
UPDATE: The Chiefs heard us and signed Mahomes to a 10-year contract extension worth up to $503 million, per ESPN.
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