Despite CoVid-19 posing ramifications to next year’s salary cap, several positional groups have experienced strong growth over the last few months. In April, Laremy Tunsil signed a 3-year, $66M extension, eclipsing the highest paid OT, Lane Johnson, by 22%. In early July, Patrick Mahomes signed a 10-year extension worth over $450M. The deal established Mahomes as the highest paid NFL player in NFL history, a title previously held by Russell Wilson. A week later, the Chiefs extended franchise designated player, Chris Jones to a 4 year, $80M deal making him the 3rd highest paid interior defensive lineman, behind Aaron Donald and DeForest Buckner. Thereafter, Myles Garett became the highest paid Non-QB for 13 days, after which the Chargers announced an extension with Joey Bosa averaging $27M/year. In addition, in the last week, the Tight End market has skyrocketed, highlighted by George Kittle’s 5-year, $75M extension. With all the recent market growth, I thought it would be important to look at positional groups experiencing the strongest growth over the last year.
Over the last year, no positional group in the NFL has seen stronger growth than the Tight End market. Prior to last week, the Tight End market had been stagnant for years. From 2015-2019, the top 5 of the Tight End market had grown merely 6.91%, the lowest growth rate of all positional groups in that timespan (excluding STs). The gold standard in the TE market was set by Jimmy Graham when he signed a 4-year extension with the Saints in 2015, valued at $10M Avg./Year and 7.5% of the cap. While Graham signed another deal in 2018 with an Avg./Year of $10M, the deal was valued at 5.6% of the cap due to cap growth. During 2020 free agency, the title of highest paid Tight End on a multi-year deal was finally passed onto Austin Hooper after he signed a 4-year contract with the Browns averaging $10.5M/Year. From a dollar perspective, Hooper’s deal was seen as a market reset. However, his deal was valued at 5.3% of the cap, which still fell under Graham’s 7.5% cap figure. Last week, the TE market finally experienced a true reset after George Kittle signed an extension worth $15M/Year, valued at 7.6% of the cap. This marked a 42.85% growth from Hooper’s deal and also eclipsed the gold standard in the TE market, set by Jimmy Graham’s 2015 deal with the Saints.
The top of the OL market has grown 17.71% since last year, thanks to the 3- year, $66M extension that Laremy Tunsil signed with the Texans in April. The deal marked a 33.3% increase in the LT market and a 22% increase from the benchmarks Lane Johnson had set last year after signing an extension averaging $18M/year. In addition to resetting OL benchmarks by 22%, Tunsil’s extension length of 3 years is extremely favorable as he gets another opportunity to hit the open market after the 2023 season. Per the table below, Anthony Castonzo is the only other player with a shorter deal than Laremy Tunsil, when looking at the top of the market. However, Castonzo is also 32 years old, so a shorter-term deal at that age is expected.
The Edge Rusher market has exploded since 2015, with a growth rate of 60.79%. In 2015, Justin Houston set the benchmark at the position, with an Avg./Year of $16.833M. A year later, Von Miller signed an extension in 2016 worth $19.083M Avg./Year. Miller’s deal was then eclipsed in 2018 by Khalil Mack. Mack’s deal was the benchmark at the position until last month, after the Browns extended their former 2017 first overall pick to a 5 year, $125M extension with $100M in total guarantees. This marked a 6% growth at the top of the edge rush market. However, Garrett held the new title merely for two weeks, after the Chargers announced a 5-year, $135M extension with Joey Bosa. Bosa’s extension not only makes him the highest paid Non-QB in the NFL, but his deal is also the 2nd highest ever for pass rushers, in terms of cap adjusted inflation. Michael Strahan’s contract in 1999, which was valued at 17% of the cap, would equate to $33,789,858/Year while Bosa’s $27M extension is 13.62% of the cap. One of the most impressive parts of Bosa’s deal is that shortly after Garrett reset the market by 6%, Bosa was able to build off Garrett’s deal by 8%. Players like TJ Watt and Yannick Ngakoue will certainly reap the benefits of the strong deals and market growth from Garrett’s and Bosa’s deal.
In 2013, Aaron Rodgers was the highest paid QB, after he signed an extension worth $22M/year. Rodgers held the title from 2013-2016. However, since 2016, the top of the QB market has been a game of musical chairs, with a new highest paid QB every year. At the end of 2016, it was Andrew Luck who had an average of $24.594/Year. Luck leapfrogged Brees and Flacco, who had also signed extensions earlier that year valued at $24.250M and $22.133M, respectively. In 2017, Derek Carr became the first $25M+ player in NFL history. Two months later, the title for highest paid QB went to Matt Stafford after signing a deal worth $27M/year. In 2018 alone, a whopping 4 QBs held the title of highest paid QB which started with Jimmy Garroppolo and went through Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan, and ended with Aaron Rodgers after he signed a deal worth $33.5M/year. In April 2019, Russell Wilson became the highest paid QB at $35M. Then last month, Patrick Mahomes eclipsed Wilson’s annual salary by 28.57%, the greatest salary jump at the top of the QB market since at least 2015. This will likely keep Mahomes $45M Avg./Year as the benchmark for at least the next year. While Deshaun Watson is eligible for a new deal, it would be difficult for him to eclipse Mahomes’ deal given he signed his extension off a Super Bowl victory and MVP. However, I would still expect Watson to contribute to the growth of the QB market and his deal should come in around $40M Avg./Year.
The one position that continues to remain stagnant is the cornerback market. Since 2015, the top of the 5 of the cornerback market has only grown 12.91%. The next lowest is interior DL at 24.05%. While Darius Slay became the new highest paid CB earlier this year at $16.683M Avg./Year, the gold standard in the CB market is the Patrick Peterson deal from 2014, when he signed an extension worth $14.01M and 10.53% of the cap. The next recent CB to come close to Peterson’s 10.53% of cap was Josh Norman’s 2016 free agent deal with Washington, when he signed at 9.7% of the cap. Candidates who I’d expect to significantly move the needle in the CB market include Jalen Ramsey, Tre’Davious White, Marlon Humphrey, and Marshon Lattimore. Assuming at least one player signs this season between 9.7%-10.53% of the cap, the new benchmark in the CB market should be between $19.225M-$20.870M. With the amount of draft capital the Rams traded away for Jalen Ramsey last season, he carries the most leverage and very likely will sign at $20M+/year.