Two talented pass rushers cashed in just before the July deadline for teams to sign franchise players to long-term deals. While it was certainly a big day for Von Miller and Muhammad Wilkerson, plenty of others with negotiations on the horizon will reap the benefits of what happened on Friday.
The six-year, $114.5 million contract Miller signed with the Broncos makes him the NFL's highest-paid non-quarterback at $19,083,333 per year. The Super Bowl 50 MVP's $70 million in overall guarantees establishes a new benchmark for non-quarterbacks and is the second most in the NFL behind Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck's $87 million in guarantees. With $42 million fully guaranteed at signing, Miller ranks third among non-quarterbacks in this metric.
Wilkerson's five-year, $86 million contract came as a surprise to many since he and the Jets reportedly had never been close to a deal despite negotiations starting over two years ago. His contract contains $53.5 million in overall guarantees, of which $36.75 million is fully guaranteed at signing. At $17.2 million per year, Wilkerson becomes the NFL's highest-paid defensive end and third-highest-paid non-quarterback.
Miller and Wilkerson's contracts reinforce the well-established practice that players with the ability to consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks regardless of position are paid a premium. Their deals will become relevant data points for several players that should receive new deals over the next couple of years.
Here's a look at the best candidates to benefit from the new market.
Mack quickly became a dominant run defender as a rookie in 2014. He made tremendous strides as a pass rusher during his sophomore campaign in 2015 while continuing to be outstanding against the run. 2014's fifth-overall pick was second in the NFL last season with 15 sacks. Mack also became the first player in NFL history to earn first team All-Pro honors at two different positions during the same season (defensive end and outside linebacker).
The 2014 draft class becomes eligible to sign extensions at the conclusion of the 2016 regular season on New Year's Day. Since first-round picks are subject to a fifth-year option, which the Raiders will surely exercise, Mack won't be in his contract year until 2018. The option year won't preclude a new deal next offseason because the Raiders have been proactive in extending the contracts of core players well in advance of free agency. Quarterback Derek Carr, a second-round pick in 2014, will likely be a higher signing priority since 2017 is Carr's contract year.
Miller's deal will likely serve as a salary floor for Mack, who appears to be just scratching the surface of his talent. It wouldn't be a surprise if Mack became the NFL's first $20 million-per-year non-quarterback with at least $75 million in guarantees whether he signs a new deal in 2017 or 2018.
Donald drew comparisons to Hall of Famer John Randle prior to the 2014 NFL Draft because of his ability to make explosive plays as an undersized interior defensive lineman. He hasn't done anything to dispel this notion in his two NFL seasons after being selected 13th overall in 2014.
Donald won the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2014. He was a consensus first-team All-Pro in 2015. Donald took the top spot in Pro Football Focus' list of the top 101 players for the 2015 season. His 20 sacks over the last two seasons are most in the NFL for interior defensive lineman during this span.
Donald should get a new contract in 2017 before the middle of September if the Rams adhere to the same timetable they did for 2011 14th-overall pick Robert Quinn. The defensive end signed a four-year contract extension averaging $14,253,724 per year with $41,171,774 in guarantees one game into the 2014 season. The deal made Quinn, who had an NFC-leading 19 sacks in 2013, the NFL's third-highest-paid defensive player.
Donald should become the NFL's highest-paid interior defensive lineman even if he doesn't beat Miller in most important contract metrics. Ndamukong Suh holds that distinction with the six-year, $114.375 million contract he received from the Miami Dolphins in 2015, which averages $19,062,500 per year.
Unlike the Raiders, the Rams won't have to contend with a high-priced quarterback anytime soon. 2016 first-overall pick Jared Goff's four-year deal is worth $27,937,672, with a peak salary cap number of approximately $8.9 million in 2019.
Conventional wisdom suggested Short, whose 11 sacks in 2015 tied him for the NFL lead among interior defensive linemen, would quickly become the beneficiary of the Panthers rescinding cornerback Josh Norman's $13.952 million franchise tag in late April. It hasn't been the case; general manager Dave Gettleman has developed a reputation as a hard-line negotiator.
Gettleman didn't like where the market was headed for proven pass rushers before Wilkerson and Miller's contracts. Wilkerson's deal likely confirms to Joel Segal, Short's agent, that the range of $17 million per year is appropriate. It is in line with Fletcher Cox's recent six-year, $102.6 million extension (averages $17.1 million per year) with the Philadelphia Eagles containing $63.299 million in guarantees, of which $36.299 million is fully guaranteed at signing.
Gettleman has a policy against negotiating extensions during the season, which means Short could be headed for a franchise tag in 2017. 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 year. That won't prevent Segal from driving an even harder bargain than he is now, provided Short's 2016 season is comparable to 2015.
One thing the Panthers don't have to worry about is Short holding out. A year of service towards free agency isn't earned when a player under contract doesn't report to his team at least 30 days prior to NFL's first regular season game (August 9 this year).
Missing this deadline and playing out his rookie deal would make Short a restricted free agent in 2017. The Panthers would likely give him a first-round restricted free agent tender, which will be between $3.817 million and $3.999 million next year. Getting the year of service isn't a concern for holdouts with four or more years of service. These players already have enough service time to qualify for unrestricted free agency.
Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets
The 2013 Defensive Rookie of Year will probably look at Wilkerson's deal as his salary floor since he has more upside than Wilkerson. He is arguably the better player but has well-documented off-the-field baggage.
Richardson will be serving a one-game suspension to start the season for a personal conduct policy violation in connection with high-speed racing and resisting arrest charges in Missouri last offseason. He was also suspended for the first four games in 2015 under the substance abuse policy because of repeated marijuana usage.
The Jets, who exercised their 2017 fifth-year option with Richardson at $8.069 million in the spring, are taking a wait-and-see approach. The continued progress of Leonard Williams, the sixth-overall pick in 2015's draft, could lead to the Jets shopping Richardson next offseason.
It's conceivable that Jets could pay both if the team is convinced Richardson's issues are behind him. Richardson's big payday with the Jets coming at Wilkerson's expense in 2018 after receiving a franchise tag seems more plausible, since Wilkerson's $16.75 million 2018 base salary doesn't become fully guaranteed until the third day of the 2018 league year (mid-March).
Signability and a synthetic marijuana incident late last season contributed to the New England Patriots dealing Jones to the Cardinals in March for a 2016 second-round pick (61st overall) and guard Jonathan Cooper, the seventh-overall pick in the 2013 draft. Jones, who was fifth in the NFL in 2015 with 12.5 sacks, instantly became Arizona's best edge rusher.
Jones could be a prime candidate for Arizona's franchise tag to prevent him from becoming a one-year rental since several key players, including defensive end Calais Campbell, defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, are in contract years. Jones could be in a position to surpass Wilkerson's deal if he can capitalize on his fresh start in the desert given how valuable accomplished edge rushers in their mid-to-late 20s are.
The Lions picked up the $12.734 million fifth-year option in 2017 for Ansah after his breakout 2015 season, in which he was third in the NFL with 14.5 sacks. An extension reportedly isn't in the works for Ansah right now, which seems to be fine with him. 2017 could be a different story, because quarterback Matthew Stafford will also be in his contract year.
Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin believes 20 sacks is a realistic possibility for Ansah this season. Reaching or coming close to that number could make Miller's deal relevant when contract talks eventually start.