With three players signing $70+ million dollar contracts just last week, it should come as no surprise that NFL contracts keep getting bigger (and bigger…and bigger). As the juggernaut that is the National Football League keeps growing in popularity (both at home in America and abroad), fans are finding that owners have plenty of cash to throw around for the athletes who compete weekly to provide quality entertainment. With that in mind, we here at Goliath have assembled a list of 10 players eligible for free agency after the upcoming 2015-2016 NFL season who should (catastrophe aside) be due for major paydays heading into free agency.
10. Marshal Yanda – OG, Baltimore Ravens
While offensive line may not be the sexiest position in the NFL, it’s certainly one of the most important. In recent years, NFL owners have begun to pay attention to that, handing out massive contracts to unheralded tackles and guards in an effort to protect their star quarterbacks and running backs. It’s in this new financial climate that Marshal Yanda, one of the best guards in the NFL, is entering free agency. With as consistent a track record as any lineman in the league, Yanda will be looking for a deal similar to the one handed to former San Francisco 49er Mike Iupati, who received a five year/$40 million contract this off-season.
9. Eli Manning – QB, New York Giants
If offensive line is the least appreciated position in the NFL, then quarterback is undoubtedly the most appreciated (perhaps even to a fault). It’s at the quarterback position that marginally effective players are often overpaid, and that may turn out to be the case with one Eli Manning, younger brother of Peyton and currently the quarterback for the New York Giants. Coming into the final year of an already behemoth contract, Eli is set to become a free agent at the beginning of next year and will most certainly not hurt for suiters should the Giants choose not to re-sign him. But why wouldn’t they? They’ve won two Super Bowls during his time under center, despite his willingness to turn the ball over in the regular season. Eli is a classic example of a player who may be overpaid due to his position, but with a dearth of talent at the QB position, a team could do alot worse under center. Eli will be looking for over $100 million for approximately six years.
8. Bobby Wagner – LB, Seattle Seahawks
Bobby Wagner isn’t a household name, but as one of the best linebackers in the NFL he damn well should be. A force to be reckoned with in every aspect of his game, Wagner excels against both the run and the pass and it’s this versatility which should garner him a monster contract come next off-season. While he does not rush the passer in the same way most highly paid linebackers do, Wagner makes a living running sideline to sideline, covering running backs, tight ends and slot receivers with an almost unfair effectiveness. Reminiscent of a young Derrick Brooks, Wagner should receive a five year contract somewhere in the range of $45 million, similar to the one signed by Lawrence Timmons of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
7. Marcell Dareus – DL, Buffalo Bills
Marcell Dareus is the kind of player you love/loathe as a general manager. On the field, he’s been incredibly dominant, racking up almost 30 sacks in four seasons from an interior line position, while being an absolute rock in the run game. That said, he’s been a headache off the field, with multiple arrests stemming from drug possession and reckless driving (unrelated instances, thankfully). So what do you do with a player like Dareus, who represents a massive investment with a history of getting himself into trouble? You pay the man and hope for the best, like most NFL clubs choose to do. The former top five overall pick should command a contract somewhere in the vicinity of the $100 million dollar contract recently signed by Chiefs stalwart Justin Houston, although it’s a good bet Dareus will receive less guaranteed money and more incentives (so as to keep him on the straight and narrow come football season).
6. T.Y. Hilton – WR, Indianapolis Colts
‘Tis the season to be an NFL receiver; just this past week, both Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant of the Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys, respectively, signed identical five year/$70 million dollar contracts. While speedster T.Y. Hilton isn’t quite as dominant as those two receivers, he’s not all that far off and he should receive a similar payday once next year’s off-season rolls around. A lightning fast player who has gotten better every year he’s been in the NFL, Hilton certainly benefits from having one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL throwing him passes (Andrew Luck is, for lack of a better term, too good), but is also capable of making space of his own merit, as there’s not a defensive back in the league who can keep up with him. While some may be thrown off by the “one-trick pony” label, savvy owners will watch Hilton’s development this season to see if he’s capable of running a full route tree and maintaining his durability over the course of a 16 game season. If he’s all good to go, Hilton should be a very wealthy man come next March.
5. A.J. Green – WR, Cincinnati Bengals
If there’s any player on this list destined to stay with his current team, it’d be A.J. Green. The definition of consistent, Green has been a slam dunk since being drafted by the Bengals fourth overall in 2011. A humble player who simply goes to work each and every week, Green is believed to have a great relationship with the Bengals ownership and should sign a deal comparable or slightly better than the five year/$70 million deals signed by Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant. In the conversation as one of the best wide receivers in the entire NFL, Green is worth each and every penny as the man who makes Andy Dalton look like a competent QB on Sundays (seriously, Andy, how hard is it to just throw it to A.J.?). Look for Green to have himself another consistent season and find his way into some serious cash come 2016.
4. Philip Rivers – QB, San Diego Chargers
There’s been an awful lot of talk about the San Diego Chargers moving to the great city of Los Angeles within the next few seasons; with that talk has come chatter about a potential trade of Philip Rivers, the stalwart quarterback currently residing under center for the San Diego franchise. While it’d be strange to trade a player in the middle of such a terrific stretch (Rivers has been magnificent for the Bolts over the past few seasons, throwing 30+ touchdowns in three of the past five seasons), Rivers has been vocal in denouncing a potential move for the franchise, repeatedly stating an unwillingness to play anywhere that isn’t San Diego. While it seems highly unlikely the Chargers let him walk in free agency next year (a trade seems more likely), Rivers will be looking at a contract similar to the ones handed out to big name quarterbacks recently, most likely in the range of five years and $100 million dollars. Certainly not chump change.
3. Muhammad Wilkerson – DL, New York Jets
Were it not for the perpetual dominance that is J.J. Watt, Muhammad Wilkerson would undoubtedly be wearing the crown given to the best defensive lineman in football. An immovable force who happens to have excellent character and leadership qualities, Wilkerson has been the heart and soul of the Jets defence for the past several seasons, racking up sacks and tackles for loss in equal measure. He’s a player whose dominance cannot always be seen on a stats sheet, as his presence on the field opens up alleys for pass rushers and linebackers to do what they do with increased effectiveness. Early rumors out of Jets camp have Wilkerson seeking “Watt money,” which would mean a deal in the range of six years and $100 million dollars, with almost $50 million of that guaranteed. Big players cost big money, and Wilkerson is as big as they come.
2. Julio Jones – WR, Atlanta Falcons
So let’s get this straight, Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant just got paid, and T.Y. Hilton and A.J. Green are about to score some serious cash. Is there any money left for the other wide receivers out there? The Atlanta Falcons better hope so, as the contract of one Julio Jones, physical specimen and pass catcher extraordinaire, is about to run out after the coming season. As dominant a receiver as there is in the NFL, Jones’ career has been derailed by injuries the last two seasons, but rest assured he’s as good as they get, so long as he’s on the field on Sunday. While he may receive less guaranteed money than some of the more consistent receivers, he’ll most likely be given the opportunity to make that money back in health-related or performance-related bonuses. If he’s healthy, we’d bet on him surpassing all expectations and making sure his bank account looks mighty fine next off-season.
1. Von Miller – LB, Denver Broncos
If he goes out and has another stellar season, Von Miller is going to be paid more than anyone else on this list. In fact, come this time next year, Von Miller may get paid more than anyone else in the NFL. An absolute terror with no weaknesses in his game, Von Miller is right up there with J.J. Watt, Ndamokung Suh and Darrelle Revis as the best defensive players in the NFL. The difference between Miller and those three, however, is that Miller is still waiting on his first mega-contract (by comparison, Revis and Suh have both signed two since being drafted). With an astounding 49 sacks in just three and a half seasons, Miller is prime for a payday, the likes of which has been very rare in the NFL. Here’s hoping he can find someplace safe to invest it all.