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Eric Weddle and Antonio Brown are Reportedly Unhappy with their Contracts

Voluntary off-season workouts for teams started this week, and many notable players around the league have been absent. Two All-Pro players skipped workouts due to their current contract situations. San Diego Chargers safety, Eric Weddle, is entering the final year of his contract, and is eager to sign an extension. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, believes he deserves a new contract that better reflects his value.

Eric Weddle said he feels highly disrespected by the Chargers. The veteran safety has played 99 percent of the defensive snaps the past four seasons, yet the Chargers have refused to discuss a new contract. After the 2011 lockout, Weddle resigned with the Chargers, agreeing to a 5-year, $40 million contract with $19 million fully guaranteed. The contract made Weddle the 2nd highest paid veteran safety, behind Troy Polamalu.

According to reports, Weddle is seeking an extension that compensates him in the range of the 3-4 highest paid safeties in the league. Excluding Eric Berry’s rookie contract, Weddle is currently the 5th highest paid safety in the NFL. It seems likely, that Weddle is pursuing an extension that pays him a higher average salary than Jairus Byrd at $8.75 million, but would settle for surpassing Dashon Goldson’s $8.25 million average.

Prior to signing his current contract, Weddle had yet to make a Pro Bowl. Since 2011, Weddle has made the Pro Bowl in three of the last four seasons, and has been the team’s most consistent defensive player. The Chargers, however, have been reluctant to discuss a new contract. Weddle will be 31 years old by next off-season, and the Chargers may decide to rebuild if they can’t convince Philip Rivers to remain with the team long-term. Weddle is scheduled to make $7.5 million this season, and it’s doubtful that he agrees to an extension with the Chargers anytime soon.

Antonio Brown on the other hand, has three years remaining on his contract. He is being paid just $6 million this season, and his $8.392 million average salary is 11th amongst wide receivers. After leading the league in receptions and receiving yards last season, it’s obvious that the Steelers are paying Brown at a bargain.

The Steelers are paying Brown an average salary of $7.65 million over the next three seasons. There is great risk for Brown to play out the rest of his contract since he is being severely undervalued, and there is no guaranteed salary remaining. All of his guaranteed salary was paid upfront, in the form of an $8.5 million signing bonus. Brown also isn’t eligible for free agency for another three seasons, and will be 30 years old as well.

When Brown signed his extension in the 2012 off-season, he had only recorded one 1000-yard season, and was the team’s second option at wide out behind Mike Wallace. He has posted career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns the past two seasons, and will only be 27 years old by the start of the season. It’s clear that Brown needs to capitalize on his recent production, and be compensated at a higher salary. The Steelers however, most likely will object to any contract demands, since he is entering the 3rd season of a 5-year extension. Despite having considerably more leverage, it will be interesting to see if the Steelers reward their star young player.

Four Pro Bowl Wide Receivers Entering Final Year of Rookie Deal

This off-season, three Pro Bowl wide receivers’ rookie contracts expired. None of them however, made it to free agency. Dez Bryant and Demarius Thomas were franchised, and Randall Cobb resigned with the Green Bay Packers prior to free agency. Jeremy Maclin was the best wide receiver to hit the open market, and he signed a 5-year, $55 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. In addition to Bryant and Thomas, four more Pro Bowl wide receivers’ contracts will be expiring after this season. A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Alshon Jeffery, and T.Y. Hilton are entering the final year of their rookie contracts.

A.J. Green and Julio Jones are playing out the 5th year option picked up by their clubs last off-season. As former top ten draft picks, Green and Jones’ salaries in 2015 are equivalent to the 2014 transition tag at wide receiver, which is $10.176 million. Alshon Jeffery and T.Y. Hilton on the other hand, were 2nd and 3rd round draft picks in 2012, and are being paid much less this season. Jeffery is making just over $1 million, while Hilton is being paid $1.542 million.

It’s unlikely that Green, Jones, Jeffery, or Hilton hit the open market in free agency next year. They are all Pro Bowl wide receivers, and will each be 27 years old or younger by March 2016. Their teams however, may not be inclined to extend them right now. They control their rights for the next three seasons, as the Collective Bargaining Agreement allows teams to franchise tag a player a maximum three consecutive seasons. Rather them signing them to a lucrative extension, they can evaluate them on a year-to-year basis.

It seems unlikely that Green and Jones each get extended before Dez Bryant and Demarius Thomas. Bryant and Thomas have more leverage considering their clubs control their rights for two seasons compared to three, and are playing at a higher salary this season, which is fully guaranteed. They all deserve to be compensated like a top five receiver, and would most likely use Calvin Johnson’s contract as a benchmark. Johnson is the NFL’s highest paid wide receiver at an average salary of $16.207 million. Mike Wallace, Vincent Jackson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Jeremy Maclin are paid 2nd-5th at the position. Their combined average salaries are roughly $11.27 million, which is considerably less than Megatron.

Calvin Johnson is paid considerably more than any other WR because at the time of his extension, nobody at the position was comparable in talent. Green, Jones, Bryant, and Thomas, have each narrowed the gap, and are all considerably more talented players than the rest of the top five highest paid at WR. They deserve to be compensated more closely to Johnson than Wallace, but their teams have been hesitant to extend them to such a lucrative contract just yet. However, one can make the argument that it would be a financially wise decision for those teams to resign their star wide outs before the salary cap continues to increase.

Jeffery and Hilton may show more eagerness to sign extensions this off-season because they are being paid at such low salaries compared to their value. Their 2015 cap numbers are very low however, with Jeffery’s being $1.447 million, and Hilton at $1.673 million. Over the next three seasons, the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts would be paying their star WRs less money when factoring in their low 2015 salaries and franchise tags in 2016 and 2017, compared to a contract extension. One incentive the Bears and Colts have in signing Jeffery and Hilton to contract extensions would be if they took less salary than the franchise tag estimate at WR in 2016. The same argument can be made for Green and Jones as well, but there is less risk for both of them to play out their contracts since they are each making over $10 million this year.

Miami Dolphins sign Mike Pouncey to a 5-Year Contract Extension

This week, Mike Pouncey officially agreed to terms with the Miami Dolphins on a 4-year contract extension. Under his extension, Pouncey is averaging $8.95 million per year in new salary. He has surpassed the Oakland Raiders’ newly signed center, Rodney Hudson, by $50,000 as the highest paid at the position.

Pouncey’s extension is guaranteed for $22 million, with half being fully guaranteed at signing. His guarantee is third amongst centers, behind Ryan Kalil on the Carolina Panthers and Alex Mack on the Cleveland Browns. Kalil and Mack however, signed their extensions after being designated with the franchise and transition tags. Mack signed an offer sheet with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who fully guaranteed the first two years of the contract, in an attempt to prevent the Browns from matching the offer.

Pouncey was entering the final year of his contract after the Dolphins exercised his 5th year option for 2015 at a salary of $7.438 million; the average salary of players ranked 3rd-25th at his position. His extension gives him a pay raise of $3.562 this season, and guaranteed money through 2017. The Dolphins meanwhile, lowered Pouncey’s cap number this season, and have their best offensive lineman under contract through 2020.

The Dolphins’ offensive lineman has been their Achilles’ heel the past couple seasons. No quarterback has been sacked more than Ryan Tannehill the past two seasons. He has been sacked a combined 104 times, which has been largely due to poor blocking and injuries on the offensive line. The Dolphins however, have shown a commitment towards better protecting their franchise QB. In addition to extending Pouncey, they signed left tackle Brandon Albert to a $47 million contract last off-season, and drafted right tackle Ja’Wuan James in the 1st round in the 2014 Draft. Now, it’s time to reward the franchise’s best quarterback since Dan Marino with a new contract.

Three of the Most Team Friendly Contracts in the NFL

It’s really difficult for teams and players to predict the future of the NFL market. While the salary cap has increased by $10 million in 2014 and 2015, free agency has remained unpredictable.

Players commonly opt for extensions rather than playing out their contracts, and becoming free agents. Signing an extension minimizes the future risk of injury at the expense of giving up the opportunity to sign with the highest bidder in free agency. It’s hard to knock a player for giving up such leverage, given the high risk of injury of playing professional football. However, some players will later find themselves undervalued at their position. In some occasions, players sign long-term deals as an unrestricted free agent and outplay their contracts.

Sometimes, a player may also give up money on the open market, and give his team a “hometown discount.” This usually occurs when such player is on a competitive team, and his main priority is to win a Super Bowl. Here are some NFL veterans who may be underpaid compared to other players at their position. This excludes players on rookie contracts.

Jordy Nelson. Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers – $9.762 million per year

After signing a 3-year contract extension in 2011, Jordy Nelson became the Green Bay Packers’ most productive receiver, and Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target. By 2014, the Packers were paying Nelson at a bargain, given his production and talent. Nelson was only slated to earn a maximum of $3.5 million, and his cap hit was just $4.375 million. With only one-year remaining on his contract, and no remaining guaranteed salary, Nelson was committed to signing a new contract that better reflected his value.

While the Packers had plenty of leverage in negotiating a new contract with Nelson, they were determined to resolve his contract situation because Randall Cobb’s deal was coming to a conclusion as well. In July 2014, the Packers and Nelson agreed to a 4-year, $39.05 million extension. In the 2014 season, Nelson posted career highs in receptions, and yards, while making his first Pro Bowl.

Had Nelson been a free agent this off-season, he would have been the best available wide receiver. He probably would have received a contract greater than Jeremy Maclin, who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs for 5-years, $55 million. Nelson is even being paid less than his teammate Randall Cobb, who is the team’s number two wide out.

Nelson’s contract is one of the biggest bargains in the NFL. Seven wide receivers are higher paid, and Julio Jones and AJ Green will inevitably sign greater contracts as well. Nelson however, wisely took a discount to gain long-term security, remain on a perennial contender, and continue catching passes from the 2014 MVP.

Evan Mathis. Offensive Guard, Philadelphia Eagles – $5.13 million per year

Evan Mathis is currently on the trade block right now, and has been unhappy with his contract for a long time. A 2-time Pro Bowler and former 1st Team All-Pro, Mathis is under contract for just $5.5 million this season. The Eagles haven’t expressed interest in renegotiating his contract, and have him under contract through 2016.

Right now, 14 offensive guards average a higher salary per year than Mathis. Prior to signing with the Eagles as an unrestricted free agent in 2011, Mathis was a bit of a journeyman. Mathis won the starting job as left guard for the Eagles in 2011, and resigned with the team in the following off-season. Pro Football Focus rated Mathis as the NFL’s best guard in 2011-2013, and the 2nd best in 2014 after missing 7 games due to injury.

Mathis’ biggest issue right now is his age. By the time he is a free agent in 2017, Mathis will be 35 years old. This is why Mathis and his representatives are pushing hard for a new contract now. The Eagles hold all the leverage however, having him under contract for two more seasons at a steal. Mathis’ best bet for a new contract is to be traded, and sign an extension with his new team. While the Eagles are the NFL’s most unpredictable team, it’s unlikely they release such a valuable member of their offensive line.

Chris Harris. Cornerback, Denver Broncos – $8.28 million per year

Chris Harris enjoyed a breakout season last year for the Denver Broncos. Harris was the highest ranked CB on Pro Football Focus, and helped solidify the Broncos as a top 10-pass defense last season. In December last season; the Broncos rewarded Harris with a 5-year extension, with $41.4 million in new salary. Harris’s contract is guaranteed for $24 million, but only his $10 million signing bonus is fully guaranteed.

Harris signed his extension two days prior to Week 15 of the regular season. Had he played out the final three weeks of the regular season and the playoffs without an extension, Harris could have been the second best free agent CB on the market, behind Darrelle Revis. Harris would have held significantly more leverage in negotiating a contract with the Broncos, since he would have had plenty of other bidders. After seeing Byron Maxwell sign a 6-year, $63 million contract as a free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles, Harris may regret signing an extension in December.

Even if Harris waited until the off-season to resign with the Broncos, he would have had more of an upper hand in negotiations. Kareem Jackson and Brandon Flowers each surpassed Harris’s extension by resigning with their teams prior to the start of free agency. Their teams didn’t want to lose them on the open market, and the clock was ticking. Jackson signed a 4-year, $34 million contract, and $16 million fully guaranteed. Flowers signed for 4-years, $36.4 million, with $18 million fully guaranteed.

Players From 2012 NFL Draft Who Should Be Extended

Under the NFL’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, drafted players are eligible for contract extensions following their 3rd accrued season. Teams still control the rights of former 1st round picks for 2 additional seasons, as they have the choice to pick up a 5th year team option. For players picked 1-10, their option year is equivalent to the transition tag for their position. Players picked 11-32 receive the average salary of players ranked 3rd-25th at their position.

Players drafted outside of the 1st round have one year remaining on their contracts once they are eligible for extensions. These players may be more eager to sign extensions as well, since by their 4th year, the talented mid-round draft picks are very undervalued. This is why half of the players from the 2011 draft class who were extended last off-season were drafted in rounds 2-7.

Last off-season, the 2011 draft class was the first under the new CBA to be eligible for new deals. While extensions were expected, only eight players received new contracts, two of them franchise quarterbacks. Only Patrick Peterson, Tyron Smith, JJ Watt, Robert Quinn, Colin Kaepernick, Andy Dalton, Richard Sherman, and Jason Kelce were extended.

Many of the talented players from the 2011 draft are entering the final year of their contract without an extension. These players include Pro Bowlers Cam Newton, Von Miller, AJ Green, Marcell Dareus, and Julio Jones. It’s highly unlikely however, that any of their teams allow them to hit the open market in 2016.

The 2012 draft wasn’t as talented as 2011, but is still filled with plenty of talent. Two of the best players, Andrew Luck and Luke Kuehcly, however, may not be extended this off-season. The Indianapolis Colts still control the rights to Luck for two more seasons, and are in no hurry to make their franchise QB one of the richest in the NFL. The Colts have even gone on record saying they are in no rush on a new contract. The Carolina Panthers still haven’t agreed to a new contract with Cam Newton yet as he enters the final year of his contract. It’s likely that the Colts and Luck’s representatives are waiting to see how Newton’s negotiations pan out. It also remains unlikely that the Panthers extend Kuechly before Newton. They have Kuechly under contract for an additional season, and will prioritize the QB position before ILB.

Besides Luck and Kuechly, there are plenty of players deserving of new contracts this off-season. However, some players may be out of luck. Nobody at their position from the 2011 class signed an extension, or their team has other priorities. Their teams may also decide to be patient, and withhold from extending them. Here are three Pro Bowl caliber players who are deserving of new contracts, and could likely be rewarded.

1. Lavonte David. Outside Linebacker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Since he was drafted by Tampa Bay in the 2nd round in 2012, Lavonte David has been one of the most underrated defensive players in the NFL. He was First-Team All Pro in 2013 despite not making the Pro Bowl, and has made at least 139 tackles each season.

David has fallen under the radar due to the recent poor performance of the Buccaneers. They haven’t made the playoffs since he was drafted by the team, but David was been one of few bright spots. David is scheduled to earn just $863,418 this season, at a cap number of $1,404,642.

Despite being big spenders in free agency the past couple seasons, the Buccaneers have plenty of salary cap flexibility moving forward. They also have their best players on long-term contracts or in the middle of their rookie deals. It seems very likely the Buccaneers will draft Jameis Winston 1st overall, giving them the luxury of a franchise QB in the first-year of his rookie deal. All these factors make it likely that the Buccaneers lock up their star young linebacker.

2. Alfred Morris. Running Back, Washington Redskins

This off-season has proved that teams still value the running back position. Running backs were compensated higher than expected in free agency, and Alfred Morris should cash in.

If Morris were a free agent, he would have been the 2nd highest valued running back to DeMarco Murray. Running backs Frank Gore, Mark Ingram, CJ Spiller, and Shane Vereen are all averaging at least $4 million per year in their new contracts. Gore will be 32 years old at the start of the season, Ingram and Spiller haven’t consistently stayed healthy, and Vereen hasn’t been an every down back. Morris is just 26 years old, and has been a workhorse back for the Redskins since his rookie season.

In a free agency filled with talent, the Redskins decided not to overspend like they usually do. They were conservative, which is smart considering how little their previous free agency splashes paid off. Morris has far exceeded the expectations of his draft selection in the 6th round three years ago, and should be rewarded with a new contract. Signing Morris to an extension would allow the Redskins to use the franchise tag on Ryan Kerrigan next-offseason, if they wish. Franchising Morris wouldn’t be as beneficial because they could re-sign him to a smaller salary, since pass rushers are more valued.

3. Russell Wilson. Quarterback, Seattle Seahawks

It will be very interesting to see how negotiations play out between Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks this off-season. Wilson has obviously outplayed his draft selection, and will be rewarded by the Seahawks eventually. These negotiations will be tricky however, since Wilson deserves to be paid like an upper echelon quarterback, but the Seahawks want to maintain flexibility to keep their core.

There have been talks about Wilson considering a discount. Rumors have also stated that there is the possibility of a fully guaranteed contract. A contract fully guaranteed would most likely be in exchange for Wilson accepting a lower signing bonus or average per year salary to minimize his cap hits.

It seems unlikely that the Seahawks would let Wilson play out the final year of his contract without an extension. It wouldn’t be fair to Wilson after they extended Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Richard Sherman. The Seahawks need to address Wilson’s contract situation quickly. Then, they can move on to inside linebacker Bobby Wagner’s contract. Extending Wilson now will certainly be cheaper then at the conclusion at his contract, and there is no chance the Seahawks let him come close to the open market.