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.