When NFL stars reach the final season of their rookie contracts, many begin making significantly less money relative to their production. For a former top five draft pick like Jacksonville Jaguars’ Jalen Ramsey, the final year payout of his rookie contract is just shy of $4 million. That contract is likely to translate into a five year deal worth upwards of $70 million just like Xavier Rhodes, Patrick Peterson, and Trumaine Johnson signed for with their second major contract. While Ramsey could continue to play at a high level for one more season before cashing in on a lucrative contract next March, there is a looming concern that has plagued NFL star’s wallets for half of a century remains — injuries.
Last season, former Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas was approaching his final season under contract and intended on being rewarded with a large contract extension. Negotiations with Seattle resulted in a standstill as the Seahawks refused to pay, leading Thomas to hold out from training camp. After missing the entirety of summer training, Thomas reluctantly returned to his team to play under his undervalued contract, hoping to make it through the season and “secure the bag” in the next offseason. However, just four weeks into the season, Thomas broke his leg in a game against the Arizona Cardinals, prompting him to flip-off Pete Carroll from across the field.
The Earl Thomas situation from last season has been playing on repeat in Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, and Michael Thomas’ nightmares. All three top-tier players are approaching the end of their current contracts and are all due for bank-breaking money. This year, each player is set to make $5.6 million, $3.9 million, and $1.1 million respectively, representing fractions of their performance value.
Let’s break down how this may play out:
Since being drafted from University of Wisconsin at Madison in 2015, Gordon has sustained six different injuries, sidelining him for a total of 10 games. Gordon’s history of injuries is exactly why he wants to secure a new contract before taking the field in 2019. However, this is concurrently the same reason why the Los Angeles Chargers would be reluctant to send guaranteed money in his direction.
Earlier in July, Gordon approached Chargers officials and told them to “Pay me or trade me.” As of now, Gordon’s asking price is still not publicized, but the Chargers “are not willing to move off a certain number” in contract talks, per Josina Anderson. Gordon has threatened to extend his holdout into the regular season, but with over a month left before kickoff, there is plenty of time to strike a deal. At this point, the Chargers appear to hold the power during this contract dispute, but a reunion between Gordon and the Chargers would be mutually beneficial as Los Angeles is poised to compete for a championship in the next few years.
Prediction: Melvin Gordon’s holdout will last until late August where he will settle on a three-year extension worth $36 million with a team opt out on the final year.
Contract Comparison: Atlanta Falcons’ Devonta Freeman five years/$41,250,000 (2017)
Elliott has led the NFL in rushing during his three years in the league in spite of serving a hotly disputed six-game suspension in 2017. Although Elliott still has two years remaining on his rookie contract, he has produced enough in his first three seasons to demand a new one. It is outside the realm of possibility that Ezekiel Elliott won’t get paid in the NFL, but whether or not it will be by the Cowboys is the question. Of course Cowboy Nation wants to see No. 21 leading the league in rushing year after year in Dallas, but from a business standpoint, does it make sense for the front office?
Quarterback Dak Prescott and newly minted Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper, similarly to Elliott, are both still on their rookie contracts, meaning Dallas would have to sacrifice other areas of the team in the future, likely on defense, if they decide to retain all three players. Just four years ago, Dallas found themselves in a similar situation when Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant and Pro Bowl running back DeMarco Murray were set to become free agents. At that time, owner and general manager Jerry Jones opted to hold onto the receiver, letting Murray sign with the division rival Philadelphia Eagles. Elliott’s early holdout may force Jerry Jones to make decisions on the Cowboys’ future sooner than he had intended.
Prediction: The Cowboys will make Elliott the NFL’s highest paid running back per year and reevaluate both Prescott and Cooper’s contracts during the season… four years/$58 million.
Contract Comparison: New York Jets’ Le’Veon Bell four years/$52.5 million (2019)
Michael Thomas is yet another player who has dominated in his position since he stepped onto the field as a New Orleans Saint. In his three-year career, he has been the NFL’s leader in receptions. However, his value to the Saints extends further than how he ranks among other NFL stars. Last season Thomas accounted for over a third of all Saints receiving yards and posted nearly double the number of yards as his teammate who ranks No. 2 on that list. If you’re wondering who fills that No. 2 spot, it is Alvin Kamara… a RUNNING BACK.
Without the presence of Thomas out wide, quarterback Drew Brees is left throwing to his running backs, perhaps a tight end a few times per game, or maybe Sean Peyton will give Taysom Hill Z-duties, who knows? There is no replacing Thomas at this point in the Saints life cycle, while Brees has only a couple years left in him. Considering the amount of leverage on Thomas’ side as well as his pure talent and ability, it seems like a deal here would be a layup for both sides. And just this morning Thomas prevailed as the Saints inked the star receiver to a record five-year/$100 million deal that includes $61 million in guarantees.