Multiple players who would have been highly sought after in free agency or franchise tag candidates get taken off the market each year with contract extensions. The most notable signing leading up to the regular season was by the 49ers.
Edge rusher Nick Bosa became the NFL's highest-paid non-quarterback with a five-year, $170 million extension, averaging $34 million per year. The deal also established new benchmarks for non-quarterbacks with $122.5 million in overall guarantees and $88 million fully guaranteed at signing.
Here are 15 players to keep an eye on this season during their contract year.
The Vikings are finally letting Cousins play out his contract after twice extending the fully guaranteed, three-year, $84 million deal (worth a maximum of $90 million through incentives) he signed in 2018 as an unrestricted free agent. Cousins has been one of the NFL's better quarterbacks statistically in his previous five seasons with the Vikings. He's thrown for 20,394 yards while completing 67.8% of his passes with 153 touchdowns and 50 interceptions for a 100.9 passer rating. Cousins ranks third in the NFL in completion percentage, fourth in touchdown passes, fifth in passing yards and sixth in passer rating and during his span (minimum of 1,100 pass attempts where applicable). He also has the league's seventh best interception percentage at 1.81% over the five seasons.
Cousins wasn't signed to compile statistics. The Vikings have made the playoffs just twice with Cousins and only have one playoff win. Missing the playoffs this season will likely be the end of Cousins' tenure in Minnesota.
Jones' 51-day holdout came to an end without a long-term deal before preparations for Kansas City's second game began. Instead, modifications were made to Jones' remaining 2023 contract year as $5.5 million of performance bonuses were added to his deal.
The Chiefs and Jones weren't in the same ballpark on a long-term signing although both sides felt he should be the NFL's second-highest-paid interior defensive lineman. Jones was reportedly seeking $30 million per year to put him in the same vicinity as Aaron Donald, who signed a three-year, $95 million contract, averaging $31,666,667 per year, with the Rams in 2022. The Chiefs were more comfortable paying Jones slightly more than Quinnen Williams, who is second in the interior defensive lineman salary hierarchy, received from the Jets in July. Williams signed a four-year, $96 million deal, averaging $24 million per year.
Jones reiterated his goal of spending his entire career with the Chiefs after ending his holdout. He's probably headed to free agency because using a franchise tag on him next offseason will be cost prohibitive. Jones' franchise tag projects to $32,169,912. It would easily be the largest for a non-quarterback in league history.
Taylor's relationship with the Colts deteriorating during the preseason led to him being granted a short window of permission to seek a trade. The Dolphins and the Packers were the most interested. Discussions never got serious as the Colts wanted wide receivers Jaylen Waddle and Christian Watson, respectively, from the Dolphins and Packers as a part of the return.
Taylor is eligible to come of the Physically Unable to Perform list in Week 5 at the beginning of October. He appears to have recovered from last season's right ankle injury, which required offseason surgery.
Whether Taylor and the Colts have mended fences or he is dealt before the Oct. 31 trade deadline remains to be seen. Without a new deal in place by early next March, Taylor will be a prime candidate for a franchise tag in 2024. The non-exclusive franchise tag for running backs next year projects to 4.653% of 2024 salary cap. Assuming the 2024 salary cap is set in the $245 million neighborhood, this number would be right around $11.4 million.
The Giants and Barkley couldn't get a deal done before the mid-July deadline for franchise players to sign multiyear contract years despite initially starting negotiations last November. The top of the running back market complicated matters. There were eight running backs making $12 million per year or more at the end of the 2022 season. Four such running backs (Christian McCaffrey-49ers, Alvin Kamara-Saints, Derrick Henry-Titans, Nick Chubb-Browns) remain.
The Giants added $909,000 of incentives (classified as not likely to be earned) to Barkley's $10.091 million franchise tender, so he can earn a maximum of $11 million this season. It was the first time since Edgerrin James with the Colts in 2005 that a franchise player got incentives in addition to his tag amount. The base value of a second Barkley franchise tag in 2024, at the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement mandated 20% raise, remains $12,109,200.
Signing DeAndre Hopkins to a two-year, $26 million deal at the start of training camp signified that the Titans believe they are AFC South title contenders and Tannehill was secure as quarterback (at least temporary). The Titans clearly have an eye toward the future at quarterback after moving up in the second round of this year's NFL Draft to take Will Levis with the 33rd overall pick and using a 2022 third-round pick on Malik Willis. Tannehill should be treating the 2023 season as an audition for a starting job with another team since he is in the final year of the four-year, $118 million contract he signed in 2020. Tannehill or the Titans faltering will likely result in Levis and/or Willis getting an opportunity at some point this season.
Evans set a deadline of the start of the regular season for a new contract from for the Buccaneers. He was reportedly seeking in the neighborhood of $25 million per year. This season is likely Evans' farewell with the Buccaneers since his contract demands weren't met. The 30-year-old has an NFL-record nine straight 1,000-receiving-yard seasons to start a career. He is well on his way to a 10th with 12 catches for 237 yards in the first two games this season.
The Raiders did something unprecedented to get Jacobs back in the fold after an agreement wasn't reached before the mid-July deadline for franchise players to sign long term. Jacobs is the first franchise player in NFL history to get a one-year deal with a base value more than his tender. During the latter part of August, the Raiders signed Jacobs to a one-year, $11.791 million contract, which is $1.7 million above his $10.091 million franchise tag. A second franchise designation in 2024, at a CBA-mandated 20% raise, will be $14,149,200.
Jacobs has admitted he is knocking the rust off after missing most of the preseason before signing. Rushing for 46 yards while averaging 1.6 yards per carry through two games is a far from his remarkable 2022 season in which he led the NFL in both rushing and yards from scrimmage (combined rushing and receiving yards) with 1,653 and 2,053 yards, respectively, to earn First Team All-Pro honors.
Burns has put contract-extension talks on hold to focus on the season. Getting a deal done with Burns was always going to be a difficult proposition after the Panthers reportedly turned down two first-round picks and a second-round pick from the Rams for him during the middle of last season. Burns was going to have a hard time reconciling the rejected trade value with offers in the same range as the $23.5 million per year Maxx Crosby received in 2022 from the Raiders on a four-year extension. He'll surely want to close the 21.4% gap between Bosa and the four-year, $112.011 million extension, averaging $28,002,750 per year, edge rusher T.J. Watt received from the Steelers as the start of the 2021 regular season was approaching.
Burns seems destined for a franchise tag in the offseason, which projects to 9.623% of the 2024 salary cap. It should be right around $22.7 million to keep Burns off the open market with next year's salary cap in the $245 million range.
Mayfield's path to being a starting a quarterback in 2023 was extremely limited after subpar play with the Panthers last season led to his Week 14 departure. The highlight of Mayfield's season was earning NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for Week 14 after leading the Rams on a 98-yard, game-winning drive against the Raiders with only 1:45 left on the clock two days after being claimed off waivers.
Mayfield signed a fully guaranteed, one-year, $4 million deal worth up to $8.5 million through incentives with the Buccaneers in March. He beat out Kyle Trask in a preseason competition to replace Tom Brady, who retired in early February, as starting quarterback. Mayfield is validating the decision thus far by completing 69.1% of his passes (47 of 68 attempts) for 490 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions in two games for the undefeated Buccaneers. By continuing a career revival, Mayfield will ensure that he's a starting quarterback in 2024.
Ridley didn't show any rust in his return from being suspended for the 2022 season under the NFL's gambling policy. He had his first 100-yard receiving game since Week 16 of the 2020 season.
Ridley is playing this year under his $11.116 million, fifth-year option from the 2022 season because his contract tolled during the suspension. He got a change of scenery during the middle of last season's hiatus as the Falcons dealt him to the Jaguars for a 2023 fifth-round pick and a conditional 2024 fourth-round pick. The 2024 pick can elevate to either a third-round pick based on Ridley's 2023 playtime or a second-round pick if he signs a new deal with the Jaguars.
Being Jacksonville's primary wide receiver over Christian Kirk will likely mean the Jaguars are going to have to pay Ridley more than Kirk in order to keep him in the fold. Kirk signed a four-year, $72 million contract, averaging $18 million per year and worth up to $84 million through incentives for a maximum value of $21 million per year, as an unrestricted free agent in 2022.
White has expressed regret for asking to be traded during the early part of the offseason because of the lack of a contract extension with the Buccaneers, who are off to a 2-0 start. He is scheduled to make $11.706 million this season on his fifth-year option.
White reportedly has his sights set on Roquan Smith's contract. The Ravens made Smith the NFL's first and only $20 million-per-year off-ball linebacker with a five-year, $100 million contract in January right before the playoffs started. Smith has off-ball linebacker records of $45 million fully guaranteed at signing and $60 million in overall guarantees.
White stated in the preseason that he wants to be known as a complete overall linebacker, not just a blitzing linebacker. He'll have to make the transformation to eclipse Smith's deal. One thing White doesn't have to worry about is the Buccaneers designating him as a franchise player. The last off-ball linebacker to get a franchise tag was David Harris by the Jets in 2011.
Young's career got off to fast start. He was named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year and earned Pro Bowl honors in 2020. Young wasn't nearly as effective in his second year before tearing the ACL and patellar tendon in his right knee nine games into season. He only had 1.5 sacks in 2021 when he got hurt. The 2020 second overall pick missed 22 games before returning to action in Week 16 of the 2022 season.
The Commanders were more comfortable with the prospect of Young becoming an unrestricted free agent next offseason than picking up his fully guaranteed, $17.452 million, fifth-year option for 2024. Should Young regain the form from his rookie season, the Commanders could be faced with a franchise tag decision between him and fellow defensive end Montez Sweat, who is also in his contract year. Young matched his 2021 sack total (1.5) in his 2023 season debut during Week 2's contest against the Broncos.
Offers the Bengals made to extend Higgins' contract were considered as "low." Higgins isn't interested in continuing to negotiate during the season. Higgins playing out his rookie contract isn't surprising. He's the No. 2 receiving option in Cincinnati behind Ja'Marr Chase but a No. 1 wide receiver on some other teams.
Higgins will be in high demand if he hits the open market next offseason. That's unlikely because a franchise designation is expected. The non-exclusive franchise tag for wide receivers next year projects to 8.543% of 2024 salary cap. Assuming the 2024 salary cap is set in the $245 million neighborhood, this number would be right around $21 million.
Wilkins is playing on a $10.753 million, fifth-year option after negotiations with the Dolphins couldn't produce a new deal. Three of Wilkins' fellow 2019 first-round pick interior defensive linemen (Dexter Lawrence-Giants, Jeffery Simmons-Titans and Quinnen Williams-Jets) signed four-year extensions between $22.5 million and $24 million per year. Wilkins surely feels his market is well-defined. The Dolphins could keep Wilkins out of free agency with a franchise tag. The defensive tackle number next year projects to 8.656% of the 2024 salary cap. Wilkins' franchise tag will be right around $21.25 million if the salary cap is approximately $245 million.
The 2020 sixth-round pick has settled in at right guard after spending time at left guard and right tackle earlier in his NFL career. It wouldn't be surprising for the four-year extension, averaging $17 million per year, Elgton Jenkins signed with the Packers late last season to be an important data point to him because of positional flexibility. Onwenu's best deal may come elsewhere as the Patriots have a history of letting offensive linemen leave in free agency instead of paying them big money, such as Trent Brown, Nate Solder and Joe Thuney.
Josh Allen (Edge)-Jaguars; Marquise Brown (WR)-Cardinals; Kamren Curl (S)-Commanders; Austin Ekeler (RB)-Chargers; Rashan Gary (Edge)-Packers; Derrick Henry (RB)-Titans; Danielle Hunter (Edge)-Vikings; Michael Pittman (WR)-Colts; Tony Pollard (RB)-Cowboys; L'Jarius Sneed (CB)-Chiefs; Tyron Smith (OT)-Cowboys; Montez Sweat (Edge)-Commanders; Michael Thomas (WR)-Saints; Leonard Williams (DT)-Giants; Antoine Winfield Jr. (S)-Buccaneers