Tuesday was the deadline for NFL teams to exercise or decline 2024 fifth-year options for players who were chosen in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. While Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen, Saints guard Cesar Ruiz, and others saw their options turned down, other players had their options picked up, a sign that their respective clubs are interested in a contract extension.
Let’s run through all 12 players whose options were exercised in advance of today’s deadline and project what sort of deal they could sign this offseason or next.
Projecting Extensions for Every NFL Player Whose Fifth-Year Option Was Exercised
Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
Recent events in the quarterback contract landscape have to be making Joe Burrow see dollar signs. While new deals for Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson proved that NFL owners view Deshaun Watson’s fully guaranteed contract with the Browns as an anomaly brought on by virtually unforeseen circumstances, the Hurts and Jackson accords will set a floor for Burrow as he negotiates with Cincinnati.
Jackson slipped past Hurts with a $52 million average annual value (AAV), while he’ll reportedly receive $185 million guaranteed, the second-most in league history behind Watson. Details on Jackson’s full guarantees haven’t yet emerged, but they’ll likely match or exceed the $124 million Russell Wilson collected from the Broncos.
Burrow should blow by all those numbers. Cincinnati will likely want to get a deal done with Burrow before the Chargers extend Justin Herbert. But Burrow’s track record — which includes a Super Bowl appearance and two AFC title game trips over the past two seasons — will land him a better paycheck than Herbert.
Projection: Five years, $275 million ($55 million AAV)
Andrew Thomas, OT, New York Giants
Laremy Tunsil reset the left tackle market this offseason by landing $25 million per year from the Texans, and Andrew Thomas will be the beneficiary of that market movement. The top five highest-paid left tackles — Tunsil, Trent Williams, David Bakhtiari, Ronnie Stanley, and Jake Matthews — are all at least 29 years old. Thomas, meanwhile, is just 24.
The former No. 4 overall pick is a testament to development. In his rookie campaign, Thomas looked like a bust before progressing into one of the league’s best blindside protectors. The Giants, by most accounts, overpaid to keep quarterback Daniel Jones, so Thomas has every right to ask for a top positional salary. Things might get tight for New York as they simultaneously attempt to extend DT Dexter Lawrence, but Thomas is an obvious building block.
Projection: Four years, $105 million ($26.25 million AAV)
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins
While the Dolphins were the first team to exercise their fifth-year option on their 2020 first-round choice this offseason, they’ll likely wait a while to work out an extension with Tua Tagovailoa. Numerous 2022 concussions forced Tagovailoa to consider retirement this offseason, so Miami will probably want to get an extended look at a healthy Tua before considering a new contract.
Still, Tua was impressive when on the field last season, finishing the year third in QBR behind only Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen. If he stays healthy and thrives in 2023, Tua’s price will only increase. But given his health situation, Tagovailoa wouldn’t be able to match Jackson or Hurts if he signed an extension today.
Projection: Five years, $210 million ($42 million AAV)
Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers
By his standards, Herbert is coming off a down season. He posted career lows in touchdown rate (3.6%), yards per attempt (6.8), adjusted net yards per attempt (6.22), and QBR (58.2) while playing through a fracture to his rib cartilage suffered in mid-September.
Herbert is still viewed as arguably the most physically gifted quarterback in the NFL, and he’s set up for a rebound campaign now that the Chargers have replaced offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi with Kellen Moore. I don’t think Herbert will be able to top Burrow, but he should slot in between the Bengals signal-caller and Jackson/Hurts.
Projection: Five years, $265 million ($53 million AAV)
Derrick Brown, DT, Carolina Panthers
Although Derrick Brown isn’t a superstar, he’s fresh off his best season as a run defender and pass rusher. Now that the Panthers are shifting to a 3-4 front under new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Brown could have even more opportunities to rack up stats.
Brown is viewed as a leader in Carolina’s locker room and was the club’s nominee for last season’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award. He’s exactly the type of player and individual that Frank Reich will rely on as the Panthers rebuild their roster over the next few years. Brown won’t secure the same level of money as true pass-rushing tackles collect, but he should receive a solid payday, nonetheless.
Projection: Four years, $72 million ($18 million AAV)
Jedrick Wills Jr., OT, Cleveland Browns
Although Jedrick Wills Jr. hasn’t necessarily lived up to his draft billing as a former No. 10 overall pick, he’s probably still a top-half-of-the-league left tackle. But it’s not exactly promising that he hasn’t had an ascendance similar to Thomas with the Giants, especially given that Wills is working under Bill Callahan, one of the best offensive line coaches in the NFL.
Cleveland can afford to slow-play talks with Wills with the rest of their front five solidified on multi-year contracts. The Browns have him under contract for two more years, during which time they can attempt to upgrade Watson’s blindside. Even average left tackles tend to get paid near the top of the market, so Cleveland will have to decide if Wills is worth the price tag.
Projection: Four years, $80 million ($20 million AAV)
Tristan Wirfs, OT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers didn’t draft an offensive tackle in 2023, so Tristan Wirfs will move from right to left tackle to replace Donovan Smith. (Tampa Bay added North Dakota State’s Cody Mauch in the second round, but the Bucs said he’d play guard in the NFL after lining up at tackle in college.)
Wirfs, who earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2021 and second-team in 2022, is the best tackle from the 2020 class, and shifting to the left side will only assist his earning potential. The top 10 highest-paid left tackles earn an average of $19.5 million per season, while the top 10 RTs are at just $16.8 million.
Whether Wirfs gets paid like an LT despite not having yet played there is an open question, so we’ll place him between the top end of the RT market and the upper tier of the left tackle crop.
Projection: Five years, $120 million ($24 million AAV)
Jerry Jeudy, WR, Denver Broncos
I don’t expect the Broncos to extend Jerry Jeudy this offseason. Denver would have reportedly considered trading him had they received a first-round pick in exchange. Meanwhile, Sean Payton’s first draft choice as the Broncos’ head coach was receiver Marvin Mims, which might not bode well for Jeudy’s longevity in the Mile High City.
However, if Denver decides to give Jeudy a new contract in the coming months, he would come in ahead of teammate Courtland Sutton’s four-year, $60 million deal. After posting 972 receiving yards in just 15 games in a dreadful offense, Jeudy could match or exceed the pact Christian Kirk received from the Jaguars last year.
Projection: Four years, $74 million ($18.5 million AAV)
A.J. Terrell, CB, Atlanta Falcons
While the Falcons didn’t have the right to exercise newly-acquired cornerback Jeff Okudah’s fifth-year option because his contract was revised as part of his trade from the Lions, they did pick up fellow CB A.J. Terrell’s extra year. Atlanta has remade its defense this offseason by signing Jessie Bates, Calais Campbell, and David Onyemata, among others, but Terrell remains the best player on coordinator Ryan Nielsen’s unit.
Terrell ranked first among NFL corners in yards allowed per reception (6.9) as recently as 2021, when he gave up just 200 total yards on the season. As the only first-round CB in his draft class to have his option exercised, Terrell is positioned for a significant payday, and it shouldn’t be surprising if he becomes the league’s highest-paid corner.
Projection: Four years, $88 million ($22 million AAV)
CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys
CeeDee Lamb just keeps getting better. For the third year in a row, Lamb posted new career highs in receptions (107), yards (1,359), and touchdowns (seven). He’s developed into a true No. 1 receiver in the Cowboys’ offense, and he’s about to be paid like it.
The wide receiver market is complicated by Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams’ deals, both of which are worth more than $28.5 million — at least, on paper. Both of those contracts have bloated final years (or, in Adams’ case, two years) to artificially inflate the annual average value. In reality, Hill is earning more like $25 million per season, while Adams is around $22.5 million.
Lamb should be able to top both of those figures, and he can probably get ahead of Cooper Kupp at $26.7 million.
Projection: Four years, $108 million ($27 million AAV)
Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
I was tempted to just write “blank check” for Justin Jefferson. He’s the best receiver in football, and it’s not particularly close after he led the NFL in receptions (128) and yards (1,809) in 2022. He’s off to the best start of any wideout in league history, and his extension with the Vikings will reset the positional market.
While we noted that Hill and Adams aren’t really at $30 million per year, Jefferson could get there — and then some. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said that a Jefferson extension is a “high priority,” and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Minnesota get something done in the coming months before his price increases even further.
Projection: Five years, $157.5 million ($31.5 million AAV)
Brandon Aiyuk, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Given that the 49ers are already heavily invested in offensive playmakers like Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle, it wasn’t all that surprising that Brandon Aiyuk was mentioned in trade rumors this offseason. But if San Francisco decides to extend the former first-rounder, he could be looking for a solid deal.
I don’t think Aiyuk will usurp Samuel’s $23.85 million AAV. More likely, he’ll earn a deal similar to the pacts recently signed by Mike Williams and DJ Moore.
Projection: Three years, $62 million ($20.67 million AAV)