The NFL and NFLPA reached an agreement in late July that removed some of the economic uncertainty for 2021 with the COVID-19 pandemic causing a loss of revenue this year. The 2021 salary cap will have a floor of $175 million, and the revenue loss will be spread out the next three years. If revenues are better than expected, the 2021 salary cap could be higher.
The Chargers promptly made defensive end Joey Bosa, who was in the final year of his rookie contract, the highest paid non-quarterback in NFL history once there was clarity about the 2021 salary cap. Bosa signed a five-year, $135 million contract extension averaging $27 million per year. The deal has $102 million in overall guarantees with $78 million fully guaranteed at signing, which are both the most ever in an NFL contract for a non-quarterback. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers are the only players who have more than Bosa's $78 million fully guaranteed in an existing contract with $94.5 million and $78.7 million, respectively.
The Chargers weren't going to let Bosa hit the open market if he played out his rookie contract, as he would have been designated as a franchise player in 2021. Getting Bosa's deal done allows the Chargers to use a franchise or transition tag on someone else next year. Tight end Hunter Henry, who is currently playing under a $10.607 million franchise tag, and wide receiver Keenan Allen are the most logical candidates.
Ideally, the Chargers will be able to sign one of the two long term before the 15 day franchise/transition player designation period ends early next March. As a franchise player, Henry is prohibited from signing a new deal until the regular season ends on January 3. By default, retaining Allen becomes the priority.
Allen, who set a career high with 104 receptions in 2019, felt disrespected by ranking 77th on the NFL Network's Top 100 players for 2020. The three-time Pro Bowler's bank account won't be disrespected should he sign a new deal. The contracts of the 10 highest-paid wide receivers average nearly $18 million per year with just over $49.25 million in guarantees where a little more than $32.5 million is fully guaranteed at signing. The average contract length is approximately four new years.
Several other NFL teams are in a similar predicament as the Chargers where signing at least one contract extension would be in the best interest of roster continuity, since a franchise or transition tag can only keep one player from hitting the open market next year and the 2021 salary cap is no longer an unknown variable. Here's a look the five most intriguing situations besides that of the Chargers.
The Buccaneers are in win-now mode with 43-year-old Tom Brady coming to Tampa on a fully-guaranteed two-year, $50 million deal (worth a maximum of $59 million through incentives) in this year's free agency. Just like the Chargers with Henry, extending the contract of edge rusher Shaquil Barrett, who led the NFL with 19.5 sacks in 2019, isn't an option right now since he was designated as franchise player.
Wide receiver Chris Godwin had a breakout 2019 season in which he caught 86 passes for 1,333 receiving yards with nine touchdowns despite missing the final two games with a hamstring injury. He was named to his first Pro Bowl and earned second team All-Pro honors. There isn't a deal to be made with Godwin if he doesn't easily surpass Mike Evans as Tampa Bay's highest-paid wide receiver. Evans signed a five-year extension in 2018 averaging $16.5 million per year with $55.008 million in guarantees.
Lavonte David, 30, may be the NFL's most underappreciated off-ball linebacker. He is in the final year of five-year, $50.25 million extension he signed in 2015. The going rate for a Pro Bowl-caliber three-down off-ball linebacker is $13 million to $15 million per year. Former Buccaneer Kwon Alexander signed a four-year deal with the 49ers in 2019 free agency averaging $13.5 million per year, although he had torn the ACL in his left knee during the middle of 2018 season.
The Saints have one of the most challenging salary cap situations for 2021 while linebacker Demario Davis, running back Alvin Kamara and safety Marcus Williams are in contract years. According to NFLPA data, there are $259.633 million of 2021 salary cap commitment under offseason cap accounting rules where only the top 51 cap numbers matter. The Saints currently have a little more than $7.8 million of cap space. Unused cap room can be carried over from one league year to the next under the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Kamara is the Saints' most interesting player in the final year of a contract. Conventional wisdom suggested that Mark Ingram's departure to the Ravens in free agency last offseason would lead to an increased workload for the supremely talented Kamara; however, the 2017 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year was slowed by knee and ankle problems. The Saints offense didn't really miss a beat with Latavius Murray shouldering the load in the two games Kamara missed last season. Kamara's 243 receptions in his three seasons are the second most ever for a running back through his first three NFL years behind only Christian McCaffrey's 303. His 4,476 yards from scrimmage since 2017 are the league's fifth most during this span.
Kamara is more concerned about being healthy than his contract. Coming off an injury-plagued season while heading into a contract year isn't an ideal circumstance for a big payday anyway. Nonetheless, it wouldn't be too surprising for Kamara to view the record-setting four-year extension McCaffrey signed in April with the Panthers averaging $16,015,053 per year as relevant to his own situation. The most recent development in the running back market place is the four-year, $50 million contract containing $25.5 million fully guaranteed franchise player Derrick Henry signed with the Titans in mid-July.
Davis, 31, has played his best football since signing a three-year, $24 million deal (worth up to $25.5 million with incentives) in 2018 to join the Saints. He was named first team All-Pro by the Associated Press last season. Davis' age could cut against him for his next contract.
Williams was one of the NFL's best ball hawks at safety last season; the 2017 second-round pick tied for fifth among NFL safeties with four interceptions. Williams' 13 passes defended were the second most for a safety. Since the beginning of 2019 free agency, five safeties have signed long-term deals in the $14 million per year neighborhood.
Green Bay Packers
Making sure defensive tackle Kenny Clark, who is playing under a $7.69 million fifth-year option, doesn't leave Green Bay has been on general manager Brian Gutekunst's to-do list for quite some time. Clark is a force against the run but can also put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. His 62 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, quarterback hurries and quarterback hits) were second among interior defensive linemen in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus. This should put Clark in line for a contract north of the $17 million per year with $42.5 million in guarantees Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett received on a four-year deal in 2019 as a franchise player.
David Bakhtiari is arguably the NFL's best pass-blocking offensive tackle. He'll certainly reap the benefit of Laremy Tunsil dramatically raising the salary bar for tackles in April with the three-year extension he received from the Texans averaging $22 million per year. Prior to Tunsil's deal, the four-year extension Lane Johnson signed with the Eagles during the middle of last season for $18 million per year set the tackle market.
The Rams handed cornerback Jalen Ramsey a tremendous amount of leverage when a new contract wasn't signed in conjunction with last year's midseason trade that sent a 2020 first-round pick, a 2021 first-round pick and a 2021 fourth-round pick to the Jaguars. Presumably, running back Todd Gurley was released and wide receiver Brandin Cooks was dealt to the Texans to accommodate a Ramsey contract that will surely make him the league's highest-paid cornerback, which is currently Darius Slay (Eagles) at $16,683,333 per year. Ramsey is giving his agent, David Mulugheta, wide latitude to do what he feels is best instead of providing input during the negotiating process. Given the dynamics, Ramsey could become the NFL's first $20 million per year defensive back.
Wide receiver Cooper Kupp bounced back last season from a torn left ACL in 2018. The 2017 third-round pick led the Rams with 94 receptions, 1,161 receiving yards and 10 touchdown catches, all career highs, in 2019. Kupp has expressed a desire to remain in Los Angeles. The Rams gave Cooks a five-year, $81 million extension (worth up to $84.5 million through salary escalators) with $50.459 million of guarantees in 2018, which will likely be an important data point for Kupp.
The Ravens can't touch edge rusher Matthew Judon's contract until early next January since he is playing under a $16.808 million franchise tag this season. Judon will be assured of free agency in 2021 if the Ravens don't extend tackle Ronnie Stanley's contract, as Stanley will be franchised.
The Texans didn't do the Ravens any favors with Laremy Tunsil's $22 million per year extension, which contains an offensive lineman record of $40 million fully guaranteed at signing. Tunsil having a higher-than-expected average yearly salary on a shorter-than-anticipated term likely complicates Stanley's negotiations.
Stanley, who is scheduled to make $12.866 million this season on a fifth-year option, was selected at sixth overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, seven picks before Tunsil. Both were named to the Pro Bowl for the first time last season, with Stanley also earning first-team All-Pro honors.
Outside of cornerback Marcus Peters, the Ravens aren't accustomed to doing high-end deals where players only give up three new years on extensions signed in the final year of rookie contracts or at their expiration. Unlike Tunsil, Peters had to sacrifice his average yearly salary to get the shorter term. It will be interesting to see how Stanley reaps the benefit of Tunsil dramatically resetting the offensive tackle market.