Considering that a main topic of discussion in recent weeks has been the true value of NFL player contracts when compared to those of their NBA counterparts, it’s time to start looking ahead at which players will be cashing in the next time football’s free agency comes around.
Of course, whatever happens during the 2017 season will have a solid impact on the market and player values, but based on roster makeup, salary-cap situations, and team needs – and assuming none of their performances drop off a cliff – here are 10 players whose bank accounts will receive a significant boost in the coming year.
WR Quincy Enunwa, Jets – RFA
The former sixth-round pick is expected to be the Jets’ top receiver this season and will see a ton of targets. Enunwa’s 2018 original-round tender would only cost the Jets $525,000, but any team looking for a quality young pass-catcher would gladly give the 25-year-old an offer sheet. The Jets will either need to offer a much higher tender or spend big on a new deal to keep Enunwa on their depleted roster – or else be forced to watch as he cashes in with a new club.
CB Malcolm Butler, Patriots – UFA
The Patriots won’t have nearly the same amount of cap space to spend on Butler as they did when they acquired Stephon Gilmore this offseason and will also have other needs to fill in March. Butler has established himself as a Pro Bowl cornerback in his first three seasons and will be able to negotiate a considerably more lucrative deal on the open market than what New England can offer.
WR Davante Adams, Packers – UFA
Jordy Nelson turned 32 this spring, Randall Cobb’s cap hit will be over $12.6 million in the coming two seasons, and Aaron Rodgers still needs solid targets to hit for the next seven years or so. At age 24 – and with a 12-touchdown season in his pocket – Adams is a prime candidate to join the ranks of the league’s highest-paid receivers.
DE Ezekiel Ansah, Lions – UFA
Truth be told, Ansah hasn’t been nearly as effective as he was when playing beside Ndamukong Suh on the Lions’ line, but Detroit doesn’t have many other options outside their 2013 first-rounder. Under GM Bob Quinn, an emphasis has been placed on being strong at the line of scrimmage, and it would be virtually impossible to replace Ansah’s presence through free agency.
OL La’el Collins, Cowboys – RFA
The Cowboys established a dominant, winning presence in 2016 by destroying defenses at the line of scrimmage, and they need to keep the offensive line intact to stick with their successful strategy. Collins has been on a cheap contract after going undrafted due to an ill-timed legal investigation in 2015, but he will be looking to earn his full worth in 2018 as a versatile member of Dallas’ stout blocking unit.
C Corey Linsley, Packers – UFA
As T.J. Lang bolted from Green Bay in favor of the division-rival Lions, Linsley becomes one of the more established players on the interior of the Packers’ offensive line. With Lang’s departure reportedly upsetting members of the Packers’ coaching staff, the front office won’t be keen on letting Linsley slip away so easily.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Patriots – UFA
It’s no secret that the Patriots and Garoppolo are going to be put in an awkward situation when his current contract ends next March, but if Tom Brady’s current backup can endure that, he’ll eventually get paid handsomely. Garoppolo would likely garner a similar contract to the one Brock Osweiler got in 2016 on the open market. The Patriots could slap the franchise tag on Garoppolo (which would be upward of $22 million) pay him market value, or let him go find that contract elsewhere. Whatever happens, Jimmy G is getting paid.
LB Shaquil Barrett, Broncos – RFA
Part of the Broncos’ ability to establish an elite pass-rush has been due to the solid rotation they can put forth with Von Miller, Shane Ray, (previously) DeMarcus Ware, and Barrett. With Ware now retired, it will be very important to keep Miller, Ray, and Barrett together. However, If Denver believes someone else can replace Barrett’s production, some other team will gladly give the pending restricted free agent chance.
DE DeMarcus Lawrence, Cowboys – UFA
Similar to Ansah, Lawrence has the Cowboys in a bit of a bind as their only proven pass-rusher, though he will need to return to his 2015 form after suspension and injury derailed his 2016 season to some degree. If rookie Taco Charlton impresses in his first season, Lawrence’s contract may take a hit, but the Cowboys are very thin at pass-rusher and can’t afford to lose anyone on the edge.
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