Agent's Take: 10 NFL players who are upping their price in a contract year

In any major pro sport, contract-year performance often makes the difference between getting paid and getting lost. Just ask Doug Martin and Michael Crabtree.

Martin took advantage when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers declined to pick up his 2016 fifth-year option for $5.621 million. He was second in the NFL last season with 1,402 rushing yards and was rewarded with the best running back contract in free agency. Martin re-signed with Tampa Bay for $35.75 million (worth up to $42,937,500 with salary escalators and incentives) over five years, with $15 million fully guaranteed.

Crabtree started on the other side of free agency. He took a one-year, $3.2 million deal (worth a maximum of $5 million through incentives) from the Oakland Raiders because of a tepid free-agent market after taking a back seat to then 34-year-old Anquan Boldin among San Francisco 49ers wide receivers in 2014. Drafted 10th overall in 2009, he bounced back in 2015 -- developing an instant rapport with quarterback Derek Carr. Crabtree signed a four-year, $34 million contract extension containing $16.5 million in guarantees late last season.

With the NFL season at its midpoint, here are 10 players who are helping their stock in a contract year. For five players who are hurting their stock, click here. A key 2016 metric or statistic, contract benchmark and probability of hitting this financial target ranging from one dollar sign to four dollar signs is listed for each player.

Stock Up

Key metric: Led Patriots with 2 INTs before trade to Browns
Financial benchmark: Luke Kuechly ($12,359,059 avg/$34,363,324 in guarantees)
Probability: $$$

The Patriots raised eyebrows by trading Collins, arguably their best defensive player, for a conditional 2017 compensatory third-round pick that could decrease to a 2018 fourth-rounder under certain conditions. Collins' "freelancing" on defense, contract demands and coach Bill Belichick's comfort with rookie sixth-round pick Elandon Roberts led to the 2015 All-Pro's departure.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Collins initially asked for Von Miller money ($19 million per year and $70 million in guarantees). That's a ridiculous demand, as Kuechly sets the market for linebackers who aren't considered pass rushers. However, surpassing Kuechly isn't out of the question for Collins in Cleveland, because the Browns may move quickly to strike a deal with the only elite talent on the roster besides perennial All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas. The Browns are leading the NFL in salary cap room with approximately $50 million and have $102.1 million of 2017 cap commitments with 47 players under contract.

Using a franchise tag on Collins next offseason is realistic because of the abundance of cap room, even though it would be a windfall for him. The 2017 linebacker franchise tag projects to slightly less than $14.7 million assuming a $168 million salary cap next season.


Key Metric: 2 sacks
Financial Benchmark: Fletcher Cox ($17.1M avg/$63.299M in guarantees)
Probability: $

Short is not performing at the same level he did during his 2015 breakout campaign, when he tied for the league lead among interior D-linemen with 11 sacks. It probably won't matter because players in their prime who pressure quarterbacks make premium cash.

Short is a prime franchise-tag candidate in 2017 because of general manager Dave Gettleman's policy against negotiating extensions during the season. Gettleman was uncomfortable paying the going rate for pass-rushing interior defensive lineman, established by Cox and Muhammad Wilkerson ($17.2 million per year), when extension talks stalled.

The defensive tackle franchise number is expected to drop slightly from $13.615 million to approximately $13.475 million if the salary cap increases to the $168 million neighborhood next season. Though unlikely, Short would be ecstatic if Gettleman doesn't apply the tag because the 2013 second-round pick would have plenty of suitors.


Key metric: 38 QB pressures
Financial benchmark: Olivier Vernon ($17M avg/$52.5M in guarantees)
Probability: $$$

Jones instantly became Arizona's best edge rusher after an offseason trade from New England for a 2016 second-round pick and Jonathan Cooper, the guard drafted seventh overall by the Cardinals in 2013. Jones is demonstrating his pass rushing ability is transferrable to a different defensive scheme. His 38 quarterback pressures tie him for third in the league with Rams DT Aaron Donald, according to Pro Football Focus.

chandler-jones.jpg
Chandler Jones is in line for a big pay day. USATSI

By capitalizing on his fresh start in the desert, Jones is putting himself in a position to be among the league's highest-paid defensive players because accomplished edge rushers in their mid-to-late 20s are extremely valuable.


Key metric: 33 Tackles
Financial benchmark: Bobby Wagner ($10.75M avg/$21,977,427 in guarantees)
Probability: $$$

He may be the beneficiary of the Collins trade because it could give him more leverage and increase the Pats' urgency to retain him. He is essentially everything Jerod Mayo was for New England before injuries sapped his effectiveness and he retired last offseason. Mayo got a five-year, $48.5 million extension (including $27 million in guarantees) toward the end of the 2011 season, when the salary cap was $120.375 million. The Patriots likely will have to do better than that for Hightower because it is essentially a five-year-old deal.

An equivalent contract to Mayo's in a 2016 salary cap environment averages approximately $12.5 million per year with close to $35 million in guarantees. A deal should be able to be struck between the two data points considering Collins turned down $11 million per year, according to the Boston Globe's Ben Volin. A lucrative new contract for Collins in Cleveland will be particularly relevant to Hightower's camp.

Key metrics: Leads team in receptions (41), receiving Yards (532)
Financial benchmark: Allen Hurns ($10,012,500 avg/$18M in guarantees)
Probability: $$

The onetime Ohio State quarterback is just scratching the surface of his talent while transitioning to wide receiver. Louis Riddick, former director of pro personnel for the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins and now an ESPN analyst, recently referred to Pryor as a young Brandon Marshall with more speed.

Pryor has emerged as Cleveland's best receiving option because of rookie (and No. 15 overall pick) Corey Coleman's broken hand and after Josh Gordon finally wore out his welcome. The 6-foot-4, 223-pound speedster is on pace to surpass 1,000 receiving yards on more than 80 catches. Although Pryor is Cleveland's most productive wide receiver, he may not yet be viewed as No. 1 WR material around the NFL.

Terrelle Pryor is a freak at his new position. USATSI

The Browns reportedly started preliminary contract extension talks last month with Drew Rosenhaus, Pryor's agent. The deal Rosenhaus negotiated for Hurns, which helps set the market for No. 2 WRs, is bound to come up in these discussions.


Key metrics: Second on team in receptions (31), receiving yards (402)
Financial benchmark: Zach Ertz ($8.5M avg/$21M in guarantees)
Probability: $$$

Bennett helped keep the Pats afloat as a key passing-game cog while Tom Brady served his four-game Deflategage suspension and Rob Gronkowski was recovering from a hamstring injury. His production has slipped with a healthy Gronkowski. Bennett, acquired from the Chicago Bears along with a 2016 sixth-round pick for a 2016 fourth-rounder, could have a short stay in New England since money likely will be his top priority and Gronkowski has expressed displeasure with his own deal. New England isn't opposed to having two high-priced tight ends, as was the case in 2012 when Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were the league's two highest-paid at the position in average salary.

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Zach Brown WAS • ILB • 53

Key metric: 87 tackles
Financial benchmark: Danny Trevathan ($7M avg/$15.5M in guarantees)
Probability: $$$

He wasn't expected to make much impact when he signed to a one-year, $1.25 million deal, but the former Tennessee Titan is taking advantage of the rookie second-rounder Reggie Ragland's ACL tear. Brown has been a play-making machine. His 87 tackles lead the NFL, and his three sacks are tops among inside linebackers. Brown's performance creates an interesting dilemma for the Bills given high expectations for Ragland.

Key metric: Leads team in receiving yards (535)
Financial benchmark: Tavon Austin ($10,555,501 avg/$28.5M in guarantees)
Probability $

Britt is having a career year -- he's on pace to become the Rams' first 1,000 WR since Torry Holt in '07 -- despite catching passes from inconsistent Case Keenum. Giving 2013 first-rounder Tavon Austin an extension in August could complicate re-signing Britt for the Rams. He would be justified in insisting the club make him its highest-paid wideout because he is outperforming Austin.

Kenny Britt has been the Rams' best WR in 2016. USATSI

It's hard to envision the Rams having two $10 million-per-year wideouts when running back Todd Gurley is the focal point on offense. Britt should fare much better in the open market than he did in 2015 when he signed a two-year, $9.15 million deal (worth a maximum of $13.95 million through incentives and salary escalators) to stay with the Rams.

Key metric: Top-ranked CB by Pro Football Focus
Financial benchmark: David Amerson ($8.25M avg/$17M in guarantees)
Probability: $$$$

He has quietly developed into one of the league's better corners. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 54.3 percent of passes when targeting him for a 66.0 passer rating, according to Pro Football Focus. Retaining Bouye could put 32-year-old Johnathan Joseph's roster spot in jeopardy next season because of the Houston's depth at the position.

Key metric: 5.5 sacks
Financial benchmark: Bruce Irvin ($9.25M avg/$19M in guarantees)
Probability: $$$$

His emergence allowed the Packers to limit 36-year-old Julius Peppers to a spot duty to keep him fresher later in the season. When Green Bay wants to retain a player, he typically doesn't make it out of town. The three-year deal Peppers signed in 2014 (averaging $8,666,667) should serve as Perry's salary floor to stay. The extension Clay Matthews signed in 2013 at $13.2 million per year, which made him the league's highest-paid linebacker at the time, is probably Perry's ceiling with Green Bay.

Former Sports Agent

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Before his tenure at Premier, Joel worked... Full Bio

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