This NFL offseason has seen some eye-popping contracts get awarded to the league’s top players. Aaron Rodgers got $50 million per year. Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill reset the receiver market at more than $25 million per year. Aaron Donald became the first non-quarterback to get $30 million per year. The free agency splurging continued this past week when the Steelers gave safety Minkah Fitzpatrick a new deal worth a reported $36 million in guarantees.
But there are still several players around the league waiting — hoping — to get paid this offseason. Some of them skipped mandatory minicamp, subjecting themselves to about $90,000 in fines.
Let’s take a look at the top contract situations still to be resolved:
▪ Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Entering the final year of his rookie contract, for a guaranteed $23 million, Jackson reported to minicamp after skipping voluntary workouts this spring. A chasm has existed between the Ravens and Jackson for nearly two years on a new contract, and the sides hadn’t engaged in discussions for at least several months until recently, Jackson acknowledged.
It’s one of the more complicated negotiations in recent NFL memory. Jackson is a young, dynamic former MVP, yet there are legitimate questions about his pocket passing and whether his style hampers the Ravens when they have to play from behind. Also complicating negotiations is that Jackson doesn’t have an official agent.
Momentum does seem to be building for a deal to get done before the regular season, but Jackson didn’t commit to reporting to training camp on time in late July, which could subject him to fines of $50,000 per day. “We’re having a conversation about it,” he told Baltimore reporters.
▪ Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, wide receiver Marquise Brown, and center Rodney Hudson. The Cardinals have had a little contract-related turmoil this offseason, particularly with their franchise quarterback. Murray did report for minicamp, but he also skipped voluntary workouts and had his agent threaten a holdout. Murray is under contract for about $5 million this year and $29 million next year, but the Cardinals keep saying they are going to redo his deal. “It’ll be great for this organization when this is wrapped up,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said.
But the Cardinals also have contract issues with two other starters. Brown, acquired from the Ravens for a first-round pick before the draft, is under contract for $2.1 million this year and $13.4 million next year. But Kingsbury said “we’d love to get [a contract] done” and “Hollywood is a guy that we see as a long-term answer.” Hudson, their 12th-year center, was an unexcused absence from minicamp, ostensibly to renegotiate the two years and $20 million left on his deal.
▪ Raiders tight end Darren Waller. New general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels have taken care of a lot of players this offseason. Quarterback Derek Carr got a new deal. They traded for Adams and gave him a massive contract. They paid pass rusher Maxx Crosby and paid another one in Chandler Jones. They just got a new contract done for Hunter Renfrow.
Now it’s Waller’s turn after he has emerged as one of the most dangerous receiving tight ends in the league. He has two years and $14 million left on his deal but didn’t skip minicamp and isn’t worrying too much, at least publicly. “You’ve got to be locked in as a professional. So I try to be a professional every day,” he said.
▪ Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf, 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel, and Commanders wide receiver Terry McLaurin. Top receivers are getting crazy money. Adams got $28 million per year, Hill got $30 million (though some of it is funny money), Cooper Kupp got nearly $27 million per year, and A.J. Brown got $25 million per year from the Eagles. And the receivers from the 2019 draft class are eligible for new contracts now that they have completed three seasons. Brown already got his fat deal, though he didn’t get it from the Titans.
Now the other star receivers from the 2019 class are wondering when it’s their turn. All three players are in the final year of their contracts, with Metcalf and Samuel set to make just $3.986 million, and McLaurin just $2.79 million.
Metcalf and the Seahawks have expressed optimism over a new deal, but Metcalf noticeably skipped minicamp. “We’ll see what happens and hopefully we can work something out,” coach Pete Carroll said.
Samuel requested a trade earlier this offseason, but the 49ers have held firm, and Samuel showed up to minicamp. McLaurin skipped minicamp, but Commanders coach Ron Rivera said the team isn’t trading him and that “I believe we’re headed in the right direction.”
▪ Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown. The Chiefs gave Brown the franchise tag, guaranteeing him about $16.66 million this season. But Brown hasn’t signed his tag, meaning his absence from minicamp was unpunishable. The sides have until July 15 to reach a long-term deal, at which point Brown can only play under the franchise tag (unless the team rescinds it). Coach Andy Reid said, “I know both sides will handle it the right way and come to a spot that’s good for both Orlando and the team.”
▪ Free agent wide receiver Odell Beckham. He remains unsigned after tearing his ACL in the Rams’ Super Bowl win. Players from the Browns and Bengals have been wooing Beckham in recent weeks, but it would be surprising if Beckham didn’t return to Los Angeles, especially after Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff said he is “optimistic” a deal can be made. But Demoff acknowledged a lack of urgency since Beckham won’t likely be ready to play until the second half of the season. Beckham’s deal will almost certainly be loaded with incentives.
▪ Titans RB Derrick Henry, Titans defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons, Bills safety Jordan Poyer, Bears defensive end Robert Quinn. The Titans don’t have any holdouts to worry about. Henry, with two years and $25 million left on his deal, said he’s angling for a “promotion” but didn’t indicate any issues with the team. Same with Simmons, playing on his fifth-year option and reporting to minicamp. Poyer, a 2021 All-Pro, attended Bills minicamp but wants a new deal with one year and $5.6 million left on his contract. But the Bears have an issue with Quinn, under contract for about $13 million this season. Quinn, entering his 12th season, skipped minicamp and wants a new contract after setting the franchise record for sacks last year (18.5).
Ford’s injuries have taken toll
Dee Ford is still on the 49ers’ roster, but coach Kyle Shanahan said the Niners don’t plan on having him this year, because of a lingering back injury. Ford was expected to take a physical this past week at minicamp, and the team is ostensibly looking for ways to avoid paying him his $4.6 million injury guarantee.
That Ford may have played his last snap in the NFL marks a swift and unfortunate turnaround for the former star pass rusher. Ford, the Chiefs’ first-round pick in 2014, has seen his career go downhill because of injuries since committing an infamous blunder in the AFC Championship game. He lined up in the neutral zone, negating a Tom Brady interception and giving the Patriots life to pull off the overtime victory.
The Chiefs traded Ford to the 49ers for a second-round pick that offseason, then gave him a five-year, $85 million contract with $45 million guaranteed. But while Ford was mostly durable and productive with the Chiefs, his body fell apart with the 49ers, particularly his back.
Since the trade, Ford only played in 21 of a possible 55 games (including playoffs), with only two starts. The 49ers have paid him $42 million in the last three years, and have gotten just 10.5 sacks out of it. Ford played in just one game in 2020, and in just nine of 20 games in 2021. Now the 49ers may have to pay Ford a $4.6 million injury guarantee to go away.
The back injury isn’t related to his blunder in the AFC Championship game. But his career has unfortunately fallen apart since that infamous moment.
Practice rules being enforced
Even with strict rules regarding practices in the offseason and training camp, the NFL Players Association reviews the tape of every practice conducted by every team. The union monitors whether a practice is allowed to be in full pads, how much contact is allowed, and which drills are permissible in a given session.
The NFLPA has been busy this offseason, as four teams were recently punished for breaking practice rules. The Cowboys were punished for the second straight year for being too physical in organized team activities, which are non-contact. They will lose an OTA day in 2023, and coach Mike McCarthy was reportedly fined $100,000.
The Commanders will lose two OTA days in 2023 and coach Ron Rivera was fined $100,000 for excessive contact in practices. Texans coach Lovie Smith earned a $50,000 fine for conducting one-on-one drills for offensive and defensive linemen, which are prohibited. And the Bears canceled an OTA day earlier this month after it was determined they had been too physical in practice. Bears tight end Cole Kmet blamed the physicality on the players wanting to do too much to impress new coach Matt Eberflus. “You want to show out for a new staff,” Kmet said.
Commanders in Congress
The NFL’s investigation of the Commanders stunk from the start. The NFL didn’t order a written report from investigator Beth Wilkinson despite credible accusations of sexual assault and harassment by several current and former employees. Instead it buried the results, gave owner Daniel Snyder a slap on the wrist, and hoped that everyone would lose interest and move on.
But Congress decided to get involved, and now the heat is being turned up on commissioner Roger Goodell and Snyder. The House Committee on Oversight & Reform will hold a hearing on the this Wednesday, and Goodell is set to take questions, but will do so virtually. He will be asked not only about the lack of a written report and the lack of consequences for Snyder, but also about why owners aren’t being held to the same disciplinary standards as NFL players.
Snyder, though, is weaseling out of an appearance, with his attorney telling the committee that he has a “Commanders-related business conflict.” That’s rich, because Goodell insisted as recently as the owners’ meetings in late March that Snyder “has not been involved in day-to-day operations” with the Commanders as part of his punishment.
On Friday, six congressional representatives from the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area wrote a letter to the NFL, demanding the league produce a report from Wilkinson.
“Our constituents deserve to know the findings of the Wilkinson investigation, so that the Washington Commanders, including Mr. Snyder, can be properly held to account for the horrific behavior that occurred,” they wrote.
Days to remember
A few key dates for the upcoming season:
▪ July 15: Deadline for players to sign their franchise tag.
▪ Aug. 16, 23, 30: Roster cutdown to 85, 80, and 53 players.
▪ Sept. 4: Final official day of training camp.
▪ Sept. 5-10: First injury reports of the season.
▪ Nov. 1: Trade deadline at 4 p.m.
▪ Feb. 12: Super Bowl LVII in Arizona;
No controversy here
Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke deserves credit for one thing, having good self awareness.
Heinicke went 7-8 as a starter last year in his first season as a starter, and threw for 3,419 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. But the Commanders traded for Carson Wentz and are paying him $28.3 million this year, while Heinicke will make just $2.25 million. Heinicke was asked if he can compete for the starting job this year, and answered, “I don’t think that’s an option.”
“If you’re paying someone $30 million and you’re paying someone else $2 million, you’re paying this guy $30 million to play,” he said. “I hope he goes out there and succeeds. And again, my job is just to back him up. Hopefully, he’s on his deal, help him out in whatever way I can, and if for some reason he goes down, I’m ready to go play.”
But even if Heinicke is correct, he still shouldn’t allow that thinking to enter his mind. He should have just said, “I’m preparing every day as if I will be the starter.”
Tom Brady is back for a 23rd season, but he’s already thinking about retirement again. Brady will be a free agent after this season, which means he is truly free to pursue another quarterback job, re-sign with the Buccaneers, or fall back on his lucrative opportunity awaiting him with Fox Sports. “I had the appetite to compete, and it’s going to be gone soon,” Brady told “The Dan Patrick Show” this past week. “I mean, there’s no doubt about it and I’ve got to you know, just really appreciate the time I have left, because it’s not a lot.” … The NFL will hold two important diversity initiatives this coming week in the league’s offices in Los Angeles. In partnership with the Black College Football Hall of Fame, the NFL will hold the Ozzie Newsome General Manager Forum, as well as its fifth annual Quarterback Coaching Summit. These initiatives were developed to address two big problems with the NFL — a lack of diversity in front office positions, and a lack of diversity among quarterbacks coaches, the job that most often leads to coordinator and head coaching opportunities … Aaron Rodgers said recently that he “definitely” will end his career as a Packer. It shouldn’t be too shocking given the massive contract extension Rodgers signed this offseason. But GM Brian Gutekunst sure has done a nice job of repairing his relationship with his sometimes surly quarterback, who threatened to retire last year over his relationship with his GM … All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard had back surgery this month, which could affect his availability for early in training camp. He missed most of the offseason as he takes it easy on a bad ankle, but the back injury popped up sometime after the regular season, and now Leonard may not be ready at the start of the season. The Colts are trying to minimize it publicly, but they can’t be thrilled with the timetable … The most wince-inducing injury of the offseason goes to Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport, who had the top of his left finger amputated after developing an infection following surgery. He underwent three surgeries on his pinkie in 2021, and also had shoulder surgery this offseason. “After all this, I’m just happy to be alive,” he told reporters.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.