Second-to-seventh-draft picks are more likely to receive a contract extension after three seasons in the NFL than first-round picks. Year four is not a contract year for first-round players, as is the case with other draft options, because teams have the option of a year five with a first-round pick.
As a consequence, only a couple of players selected in the first round sign new contracts each year before the start of their fourth season. This is true for the first round of 2018. Bills quarterback Josh Allen, Raiders left tackle Colton Miller and Lions center Frank Ragnoe were the only ones to sign an extension after three seasons of play.
Most renewals for first-round picks happen as season five approaches. The option year is the contract year for first round players.
The 2018 first round draft signings have already resumed this year. The Packers and Browns have added Jare Alexander and Denzel Ward to the elusive $20 million-a-year cornerback club with their respective four- and five-year extensions. The Steelers recently made Minka Fitzpatrick the highest paid defenseman in the league.
There will be more 2018 first round picks to sign new contracts before the regular season starts in September. The season opener for most NFL teams will be September 11th. Below are the most logical candidates.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens: 32nd pick
Jackson took part in the mandatory mini-camp last week after missing Baltimore’s other off-season workouts. He is one of the few NFL players to have worked his entire career without an agent. Jackson indicated that he spoke with Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta about his contract during the mini-camp. Whether Jackson had substantive contract discussions is unknown. He hasn’t removed abstaining from training camp from the agenda, which many suspect is just a negotiating ploy.
Jackson would have every right to insist on a fully guaranteed contract, comparable to Deshawn Watson’s. The Browns gave Watson a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract in connection with his move from the Browns to the Texans. The deal shocked the NFL community due to allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct that Watson still faces, and he has four years worth of $136 million left on a four-year extension, averaging $39 million a year, which he signed in September. 2020.
Jackson is more perfect than Watson. He set a new single-season quarterback rushing record with 1,206 ground yards and led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes in 2019, when he was the league’s MVP. Watson has never been an All-Pro, let alone an NFL MVP. There are also no concerns about Jackson’s off-field behavior.
Jackson is the greatest double-threat quarterback in NFL history. He was the first player to have at least 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in the same season that he won MVP.
Franchise Fair in 2023 is a certainty if Jackson plays his $23.016 million fifth-year option this season. The exclusive franchise designation is most likely due to the fact that Jackson will be prohibited from requesting an offer sheet from other teams.
The non-exclusive version would allow Jackson to negotiate with other NFL teams. The Ravens will be vulnerable to an offer sheet from a team in need of quarterbacks, with an abundance of salary caps that can be difficult to match. If the offer list does not match, the two first round picks are compensation from the signing team.
Jackson’s first two picks will be considered good value compared to trade compensation for top-tier quarterbacks this offseason. The Texans traded Watson and a 2024 sixth-round pick for a 2022, 2023, and 2024 first-round pick, a 2022 fourth-round pick, a 2023 third-round pick, and a 2024 fourth-round pick. Broncos acquired Russell Wilson and a multi-player 2022 fourth-round pick from the Seahawks (tight Noah Fant, defenseman Shelby Harris and quarterback Drew Lock), 2022 and 2023 first-round picks, 2022 and 2023 second-round picks years and a fifth-round pick in 2022.
Going from year to year playing a franchise might be more appealing to Jackson than it was to the Ravens. The exclusive 2023 quarterback franchise number will be the average of the five highest quarterback salaries in 2023 (salary figures with some minor adjustments) at the end of next year’s limited free agent signing period on April 21. It currently stands at $45.648 million. This number is subject to change based on new quarterback deals, contract restructuring, pay cuts, and/or layoffs.
The franchise’s second 2024 tag in the NFL Collective Agreement called for a 20% increase over Jackson’s projected 2023 exclusive number to be just over $54.775 million. Baltimore appointing Jackson as a franchise player in 2025 for the third year in a row would be prohibitively expensive. The franchise’s third and final tag, with a 44% increase from the 2024 figure, will be just under $79 million.
Jackson will be able to test the open market in 2025, earning just over $100 million from the two franchise tags. If it comes to this point, Jackson’s hopes of playing his entire career in Baltimore may be gone.
Quenton Nelson, G, Colts: No. 6 choice
Nelson’s streak of three consecutive All-Pro selections was cut short in 2021 when he suffered back problems and an ankle injury. He won the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons in the NFL.
Nelson is not focused on his contract. He will likely become the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL at some point before the start of the regular season, making his $13.754 million fifth-year option moot. That honor goes to Brandon Scherff, who signed a three-year, $49.5 million contract, averaging $16.5 million annually and worth up to $52.5 million through incentives, with Jaguar as free agents this year.
Nelson is likely setting himself much higher goals than Scherff’s deal. He is clearly Indianapolis’ best hitter, if not the team’s best non-quarterback. To become the Colts’ highest-paid non-quarterback, Nelson would have to sign a contract worth more than $19.7 million a year, which linebacker Darius Leonard, also a three-time All-Pro, received last preseason. Leonard signed a five-year, $98.5 million extension with $52.5 million in guarantees, of which $33 million was fully guaranteed at signing.
Derwin James, C, Chargers: 17th pick
The Chargers and James have reportedly entered preliminary talks on a long-term deal. James should be pleased with the latest developments in the security market. Fitzpatrick’s four-year renewal from the Steelers averages $18.247 million per year and contains $36 million with a full guarantee.
James has longevity issues that Fitzpatrick doesn’t have. James hasn’t missed a hit in 2021 after suffering five games in the previous two seasons due to injuries. He regained the form that made him a professional bowler and an All-Pro as a rookie.
James is currently recovering from off-season surgery on his left shoulder. It is expected that he will be ready for the start of the training camp. If no agreement is reached, James will play his $9.052 million fifth-year option.
Roquan Smith, LB, Bears: 8th pick
New general manager Ryan Poles publicly announced his intention to sign Smith to an extension. The deal with Leonard is certainly an important data point for Smith. He and Leonard are the only two players to have at least 500 tackles, 10 sacks and 5 interceptions since 2018. Smith also leads no-ball linebackers over the last two seasons with 30 tackles per loss.
Playing this season at a $9.735 million option salary likely means Smith will move to free agency in 2023. The off-the-ball linebacker has not been named by a franchise player since David Harris at the Jets in 2011.
Daron Payne, DT, Commanders: 13th pick
There were reports that Payne, who is due to play on an $8.529 million fifth-year option, was missing several days of organized team events due to his contract. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin is Washington’s top priority. In 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, the Commanders used first-round picks for linebackers. All four players will not receive an extension from the Commanders. Payne’s fate at Washington could have been sealed when fellow inside back Jonathan Allen, a 2017 first-round pick, signed a four-year extension, averaging $18 million a year, at the start of training camp last year.