With NFL free agency in the books, contract drama season is now in session. Jalen Hurts became the NFL’s highest-paid player on Monday by agreeing to a five-year, $255 million extension with the Philadelphia Eagles, and he’s hardly the only player who will land a new deal this offseason.
Let’s run through which players will be in search of new deals in the coming weeks and months, beginning with the franchise tag recipients.
NFL Contracts 2023: Who’s in Line for Extensions?
We’ve already touched on how Hurts’ new deal will affect negotiations for Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, and Justin Herbert as they seek new contracts, so we’ll stick with non-quarterbacks here.
Saquon Barkley, RB | New York Giants
While Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard has already signed his franchise tender, Saquon Barkley has declined to do so and is not in attendance for the start of the New York Giants’ offseason workout program, which began on Monday.
The Giants don’t seem to have a sense of urgency around a Barkley deal. Although New York may have increased its offer from the $12.5 million per year range it had on the table in November, general manager Joe Schoen said at the Scouting Combine that the Giants didn’t have “an outstanding offer” to Barkley.
Meanwhile, ESPN’s Jordan Raanan indicated last week that Big Blue is not “overly motivated” to get an extension done with Barkley.
That’s not inherently surprising. Barkley plays a non-premium position, and injuries sapped much of his production in 2020 and 2021. If Barkley is asking to be paid at the top of the running back market — $16 million annually — it makes sense that the Giants aren’t willing to go there.
Because he hasn’t signed his franchise tag, Barkley can sit out of team activities without the threat of a fine. But there’s almost no chance he sits out regular-season games and sacrifices the $10.1 million he’ll be in 2023. The most likely outcome involves Barkley playing out next season on the tag before finding a new home in 2024.
Josh Jacobs, RB | Las Vegas Raiders
Much of the thinking surrounding Barkley can also be applied to Josh Jacobs, who is set to earn that same $10.1 million salary next season after being franchise-tagged by the Las Vegas Raiders.
Jacobs is fresh off the best season of his career, in which he led the NFL in rushing yardage and first downs, but this is the life for NFL running backs. With so much of an RB’s value tied to offensive line play or other situational factors, it doesn’t make sense for teams to pay exorbitant salaries at the position.
In fact, the Raiders hadn’t even engaged in extension negotiations with Jacobs as of the end of March, according to Vic Tafur of The Athletic. Jacobs hasn’t signed his franchise tag, so he can’t participate in Las Vegas’ offseason program unless he signs a waiver (which he has no reason to do). The Raiders and Jacobs have until July 15 to work out a long-term extension.
Evan Engram, TE | Jacksonville Jaguars
Thus far, Washington Commanders defensive tackle Daron Payne is the only franchise-tagged player to agree to a new deal with his club. Like Barkley and Jacobs, Evan Engram has not signed his franchise tender and is not reporting to his team’s offseason activities.
The tight end franchise tag is worth just $11.345 million, the lowest in the league except for running backs and specialists. Engram’s $11.345 million salary would rank just ninth at the position.
While the Jacksonville Jaguars benefitted from Engram posting a career year (73-766-4) in 2022, there’s little reason for them to rush into an extension. Engram will be 29 years old before the 2023 campaign gets underway. Given the addition of Calvin Ridley, Engram could become less of a focal point of the Jaguars’ offense next season.
Add in simple regression to the mean, and the franchise tag remains the best option for Jacksonville. Engram may not like it, but he won’t turn down the money coming to him.
The Defensive Tackle Market
The DT market looked prime to take a jump this offseason, and recent extensions have moved the needle. No one is touching Aaron Donald’s $31.7 million annual salary, but Payne reached $22.5 million before Jeffery Simmons usurped him with a $23.5 million mark.
Chris Jones is entering the final season of his contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, and his $20 million salary now appears outdated. While he’s already 28 and is looking for his third NFL contract, Javon Hargrave just received four years and $84 million from the San Francisco 49ers at age 30. There’s no reason Jones can’t break the bank and reach at least $24 million.
Meanwhile, younger defensive tackles like the New York Jets’ Quinnen Williams, the New York Giants’ Dexter Lawrence, and the Miami Dolphins’ Christian Wilkins could be searching for as much as $25 million annually. All three members of that trifecta have youth, production, and draft pedigree on their side.
Will Nick Bosa Become the NFL’s Highest-Paid Defender?
While there’s a noteworthy crop of defensive tackles waiting on extensions, the 49ers will need to work on a deal for defensive end Nick Bosa, who has a case to become the NFL’s highest-paid defender after winning Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2022.
There’s almost no question that the 25-year-old Bosa will surpass T.J. Watt’s $28 million salary, but can he top Donald’s $31.7 million? That deal is viewed as an outlier in league circles, but Bosa has the production to back him up if he asks for that much money. At the very least, $30 million per year should be within his sights.
Bosa’s deal could inform the negotiations for a bevy of other edge rushers entering the final year of their rookie contracts, including Brian Burns, Rashan Gary, Montez Sweat, and Josh Allen.
Danielle Hunter, Dalvin Cook, and Za’Darius Smith | Minnesota Vikings
Justin Jefferson is now eligible for a contract extension, but the Minnesota Vikings may be forced to deal with even more pressing financial issues first.
Edge rusher Danielle Hunter is not attending offseason workouts as he searches for a new contract. Hunter was reportedly on the trade block last year before the Vikings retained him and lowered his cap charge by converting his roster bonus into a signing bonus. After posting 10.5 sacks and 34 pressure a season ago, the 28-year-old Hunter wants an extension and a raise over the $5.5 million in cash he’s due to collect in 2023.
Fellow pass rusher Za’Darius Smith requested his release in March, but the Vikings reportedly have no intention of cutting him. Under contract through 2024, Smith could be a viable trade asset after putting up 10 sacks, and general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah recently said that conversations with Smith are “ongoing.”
Meanwhile, Dalvin Cook could also potentially be on the trade block. The Miami Dolphins reportedly inquired about Cook, due a $10.4 million base salary in 2023, earlier this year. The Vikings re-signed fellow RB Alexander Mattison offseason, but Adofo-Mensah suggested both players could remain on Minnesota’s roster. The Vikings would clear $9 million in cap space by designating Cook a post-June 1 release.
Minnesota is currently in the worst salary cap situation in the NFL, with less than $1.5 million available in reserves. With that in mind, it’s beyond likely that something happens with one of the Vikings’ veterans.
Tee Higgins, Joe Mixon, and Jonah Williams | Cincinnati Bengals
While a Burrow extension will be the centerpiece of the Bengals’ offseason, Tee Higgins is scheduled to reach free agency first. Because he was a second-round pick, Cincinnati doesn’t have a fifth-year option for Higgins, but they could use the threat of a 2024 franchise tag as leverage in negotiations.
Can the Bengals figure out a way to pay two receivers — Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase — $25+ million annually while Burrow earns more than $50 million per season?
Meanwhile, running back Joe Mixon’s status in Cincinnati is extremely murky after prosecutors refiled aggravated menacing charges against him earlier this month. With Mixon due to collect more than $10 million in cash next season, the Bengals are expected to ask him to accept a pay cut, as Paul Dehner of The Athletic recently reported.
Cincinnati also has to recalibrate its right tackle situation. Jonah Williams, whom the Bengals have asked to move to the right side following their signing of Orlando Brown Jr., has requested a trade, but Cincinnati hasn’t found a team willing to meet its asking price.
La’el Collins, who made 15 starts in 2022 before tearing his ACL, is a candidate for release, as the Bengals could save more than $6 million in cap space by parting ways. There’s no sense of urgency for any of these potential moves, but if Cincinnati lands a new RT in Round 1, both Williams and Collins could be on the move.