Predicting the Next Wave of NFL Megacontracts at Every Position
This offseason, we saw a number of players receive contracts of immense financial value, but there are another set who are on the cusp of reaching that massive payday. It's time to predict the next wave of NFL massive contracts at every position.
All the players on the list are young, ascending talent who have not yet received a big-money second contract. Most are either entering the penultimate or final year of their original rookie pact, meaning the teams have a strong impetus to get a deal done in the near future.
And while some might not be lavished with greenbacks until next offseason, make no mistake about it: They will get paid and paid handsomely.
Here are the next wave of NFL megacontracts at every position.
QB: Indianapolis' Andrew Luck & Seattle's Russell Wilson
And while Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals and Alex Smith of the Kansas City Chiefs are both candidates for long-term extensions, neither man has played well enough to merit a "mega" contract.
That leaves Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts) and Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) as the two likeliest candidates to cash in, with ESPN's Adam Schefter speculating that each man could end up earning "in between $24 and $25 million per year."
It makes all the sense in the world. Both Luck and Wilson have dazzled in their first two seasons and already rank among the best quarterbacks in the league. Luck will turn 25 this season, while Wilson will turn 26.
Both men are extremely deserving of the deals and will be stellar signal-callers for years to come.
RB: Buffalo's C.J. Spiller
Running back was the hardest position to single out a player that could soon be the recipient of a mega contract, simply because not many receive them in this day and age. It's a subject that NFL.com's Chris Wesseling tackled in this column.
But out of all the running backs in the league, the one that could potentially receive one soon is C.J. Spiller of the Buffalo Bills, and it's because his contract is up after the 2014 season.
Spiller has shown flashes of brilliance in his four years in Western New York, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He dominated in 2012, averaging 6.0 yard per carry, but a nagging ankle injury sapped his speed and playmaking ability last season, as he only gained 933 yards on the ground.
But Spiller's ankle is doing better, as he told Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com:
I don’t feel nothing (wrong with my ankle), I feel great. This is the best I’ve felt since 2012 when I had that great year. The ankle feels wonderful. I just have to keep doing what I need to do to stay healthy this whole season and try to go out there and make plays.
If Spiller can regain his fantastic form of 2012, he will be in for a massive payday heading into 2015.
WR: Dallas' Dez Bryant
Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant has been downright cosmic in his four seasons in Big D, hauling in 293 passes for 4,104 yards and 40 touchdown receptions.
And because of that dominance, Bryant is in line for an enormous contract.
Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told Jon Machota of the The Dallas Morning News that "it's a real possibility" Bryant could receive a big-money extension either this offseason or during the 2014 campaign, so the wheels are clearly in motion.
With Bryant entering the final year of his rookie deal, the Cowboys will surely try and lock up his services. It's unfathomable to think that owner and general manager Jerry Jones would let Bryant, one of his best-ever draft picks, walk away for nothing.
Expect a deal to get done to keep Bryant in Dallas for the long haul.
TE: New Orleans' Jimmy Graham
This is the biggest no-brainer on the list. The next tight end to receive a megacontract will be Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints.
Graham has been nothing short of magnificent in his four seasons in the Bayou and hauled in an outrageous 16 touchdown receptions last season. But he's currently embroiled in a contract dispute with the Saints, who designated Graham as their franchise player. Graham has yet to sign the tender, and is thus not currently under contract.
Graham's camp has argued that he deserves to be paid like a wide receiver, not a tight end; the franchise tag number for tight ends ($7.035 million) isn't nearly as profitable as that for a receiver ($12.3 million).
The only problem with that argument is that Graham is a tight end, not a receiver, but that's neither here nor there.
The bottom line is that Graham is going to be paid an exorbitant amount of money, and deservedly so. It still remains to be seen if that megacontract will come this offseason or next.
OT: Dallas' Tyron Smith
Receiver Dez Bryant isn't the only Dallas Cowboy set to break the bank, as offensive tackle Tyron Smith will soon be the recipient of a massive payday.
Earlier this offseason, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones confirmed the team wants to keep Smith, the ninth overall pick of the 2011 draft, around for the long-term. After exercising Smith's fifth-year option that will keep him under contract through 2015, Jones told Brandon George of The Dallas Morning News, "The option is just part of it. We want to sign (Smith long term). I think he wants to be here, and we want to get a deal done with him.”
Smith has been nothing short of spectacular for the Cowboys, and he finished 2013 as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) fifth-ranked tackle. And he's only 23 years old.
Expect Smith to earn a megadeal from the Cowboys at some point in the next calendar year.
OG: San Francisco's Mike Iupati
San Francisco 49ers guard Mike Iupati has been exceptional since entering the league in 2010, garnering Pro Bowl berths in each of the last two seasons.
And while there's no doubt that he's in line for a megacontract, the question is which team will give it to him.
The 49ers recently bestowed quarterback Colin Kaepernick with a huge contract and have amassed quality players along the offensive line, including center Marcus Martin (second round) and guard Brandon Thomas (third round) in last month's draft. The team could be leveraging against potentially losing Iupati, who will likely become the highest-paid guard in the league.
For more on Iupati's situation in the Bay Area, check out this piece from Bleacher Report's Tyson Langland.
One way or the other, Iupati will get paid. His future plans will be a fascinating topic next offseason.
Center: Miami's Mike Pouncey
On Thursday, Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey watched as his twin brother, Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, signed a five-year, $44 million deal, per Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio.
But Pouncey (Mike, that is) will soon be receiving his own massive payday.
Pouncey is actively in search of a new contract with the belief that he's outplayed his rookie deal, as reported by Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald. As Salguero notes, Pouncey is right, as he's been fantastic since joining the Dolphins in 2011.
While it's true that Pouncey has been a knucklehead at times during his tenure in Miami (including being named in the Wells Report as one of the primary culprits in the Bullygate scandal), there's no denying his on-field impact.
It won't happen until next year, but if Pouncey continues to dominate on the field and gets his head straight off of it, he'll be a definite candidate for a long-term, big-money deal.
Defensive Line: Houston's J.J. Watt & St. Louis' Robert Quinn
The two men listed here are arguably the best defensive linemen in the NFL. And both men will be very, very rich in the not-so-distant future.
J.J. Watt was the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year and has garnered 36.5 sacks in three seasons in Houston. He's proven to be one of the most disruptive defensive players of the last 15 years, swatting down passes and bringing down opposing quarterbacks and rushers with aplomb.
It's possible that Watt could break the bank as far as defensive players are concerned and potentially receive quarterback-type money. If there was a defender who deserved it, it would be Watt. While the team picked up his fifth-year option through the 2016 season, expect a deal to get done before the 2015 season kicks off.
Robert Quinn is no slouch himself, as he's the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, coming off a season in which he amassed 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles.
And his contract also expires at the end of the 2015 season, meaning he'll be ripe for a gargantuan deal next offseason.
The Rams picked up Quinn's fifth-year option, but it's extremely unlikely they'll risk losing him in free agency. Quinn has shown the ability to be a dominant pass-rusher, and players of that ilk don't come cheap.
It would be a major upset if Quinn isn't lavished with greenbacks at the conclusion of the 2014 season.
Linebacker: Washington's Brian Orakpo
Washington Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo will earn $11.455 million this season after signing being designated the team's franchise player, but a long-term, megabucks contract could soon be in the offering.
Orakpo accumulated 10 sacks last season, and has proven that when healthy, he is a difference-maker at the linebacker position and one of the best young pass-rushers in the league.
And he definitely yearns for a long-term deal, having told Jason Reid of The Washington Post, "I feel like it’s my time. I deserve it. We’ll see what happens.”
Orakpo has promised not to hold out while he searches for a new deal, which has earned plaudits from his teammates. But there's no question that a massive payday is in his future, and the Redskins would be wise to lock him up next offseason, provided he can stay healthy and continues to ascend into rarefied air.
Cornerback: Arizona's Patrick Peterson
Next up for a megacontract at the position is Arizona's Patrick Peterson.
In his three years in the desert, Peterson has established himself as one of the finest corners in the league, and also capable of contributing on special teams. And after watching Sherman and Haden get rewarded with huge contracts, Peterson wants one, too.
NFL Media's Ian Rapoport recently reported (h/t Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com) that the "groundwork has been laid" for a potential deal between the Cardinals and Peterson.
While he waits for the deal to be consummated, Peterson participated in the team's veteran minicamp this past week, so a holdout is not in the cards (pun not intended).
Expect a deal to be executed at some point this offseason, and for Peterson to break the bank and potentially be made the highest-paid cornerback in the league.
Safety: New England's Devin McCourty
When the New England Patriots drafted Devin McCourty in the first round of the 2010 draft, the expectation was that he'd perform at a top level at the cornerback position.
But that didn't happen, and the team transitioned him to safety, and he's come on so strong in that role that the Patriots will soon be lavishing him with a new contract.
NFL Media's Albert Breer recently reported that the Patriots have "reached out to start contract talks" with McCourty, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal.
McCourty finished 2013 as Pro Football Focus' top-ranked safety (subscription required). And he'll soon receive pay commensurate to his on-field performance.