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2024 NFL Free Agency: Players Making Money This Season

Winning is usually the No. 1 priority in the NFL, but getting paid well is a close second. A strong season can lead to that (next) big contract. Here are a few whose 2023 performance might lead to big(ger) bucks.

Players Making Money This Season

Rashan Gary, Green Bay Packers

Rashan Gary is proving he is a premier pass rusher this season. It is also a contract year for the former 12th overall pick out of Michigan. Last season, Gary suffered an ACL injury that unequivocally stalled any extension negotiation. The Packers exercised their fifth-year option on Gary this April, and since then, Gary has the second-highest pass-rush win rate (30.8 percent) among all players with at least 75 pass-rush snaps behind only Myles Garrett.

Gary ranks 10th in the NFL with 4.5 sacks despite playing fewer snaps than anyone in the top 25, according to TruMedia. Further, 3.5 of Gary’s sacks have come on third down, second to only Matthew Judon. From a pressure perspective, only the Jets’ Bryce Huff (31.3 percent) has a higher pressure rate among players with at least 75 pass-rush snaps.

Last season, the Green Bay Packers were an elite defense before an injury kept Gary out of the last eight games. The Packers allowed the sixth-fewest yards per game (309.1) and first down conversions per game at 18.3. The Packers allowed a third-down conversion at the second-lowest rate (32.7 percent); only the Tennessee Titans allowed a lower clip. In Gary’s absence, they ranked 31st behind only the Chicago Bears in yards per play allowed (6.0) and tied for 28th in yards per rush allowed (5.0).

Gary is on pace for 15 sacks, and his presence in the Green Bay defense elevates the entire unit. While it is unlikely he will reach the heights of reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Nick Bosa, and his record-setting contract, Gary has been more productive this year than other top-paid rushers such as Maxx Crosby and Bradley Chubb were in their contract seasons.

Crosby notched 12.5 sacks, while Chubb collected eight. Gary's asking price is likely somewhere in the middle – between Bosa’s $34 million per year and Crosby/Chubb’s $24.563 million combined average annual value inflated to the 2023 salary cap, which puts Gary in the ballpark of $26 million and $28 million per season. That is all to say Gary is on his way to a well-deserved extension or free-agent signing.

Calvin Ridley, Jacksonville Jaguars

Before Week 1 of this season, Calvin Ridley had not played football since October 24th, 2021. Nearly two years after his last game, Ridley posted 101 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets against the Indianapolis Colts. Although Ridley failed to surpass 40 yards in the next three games, he did score once. This past week, vs. the Buffalo Bills, Ridley went for another 122 yards on eight targets.

After Week 5, Ridley is tied with Justin Jefferson with 0.41 EPA per target among receivers with at least 20 receptions. Ridley has demonstrated he can be the primary option in a pass offense.

As Ridley and Trevor Lawrence establish rapport, we will likely see more of the 2020 version of Ridley, who caught 90 balls for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns. Ridley is on pace for 1,132 yards and seven touchdowns despite the three slow games from Weeks 2-4.

It is reasonable to expect that Ridley’s value is akin to Deebo Samuel's and Terry McLaurin’s extensions in 2022. Samuel amassed more than 1,700 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns, while McLaurin caught 77 passes for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns. Each received extensions from $25 million to $26 million inflated against the salary cap.

While Ridley compares much more favorably to McLaurin, remember Samuel rushed 59 times for 365 yards and eight touchdowns in San Francisco’s juggernaut offense. Nonetheless, if Ridley can keep pace or improve, the Jacksonville Jaguars will likely reward him with an extension in that neighborhood. 

 Josh Allen, Jacksonville Jaguars

Josh Allen is one of the most underrated defensive players in the NFL. Allen is tied for the second-most sacks in the NFL (six) with Khalil Mack, Trey Hendrickson and Danielle Hunter. All three of them are in the top 15 highest-paid edge rushers.

Since the beginning of last season, only Alex Highsmith (seven) has forced more fumbles than Allen (five). After topping seven sacks in the previous two seasons, Allen is on pace to get 20.

Allen is demonstrating he is a dominant pass rusher and is a defensive cornerstone. Although Allen's underlying metrics are not as strong as Gary’s, Allen has received a double-team block on about one-third of his pass rush attempts (32.8 percent), one of the highest marks in the league. 

Nonetheless, if Allen can stay on this pace, he could have a lucrative offseason that puts him in the upper echelon of pass rushers. If Allen eclipses 15 sacks, he will have accomplished something the sixth- and seventh-highest-paid edge rushers (Crosby and Chubb) have not. Allen’s contract could easily clear $20 million.

Jaylon Johnson, Chicago Bears

Jaylon Johnson has missed the past two games due to an injury, but Johnson allowed a completion percentage of 42.9 percent (tied-sixth) during the first three games of the year. Johnson added three stops (a solo tackle resulting in a short gain short of the first-down marker) and three forced incompletions – both figures ranked in the top 20 cornerbacks after Week 3.

This is a continuation of 2022, where he finished within a percentage point of Tariq Woolen, Xavien Howard and Denzel Ward in forced-incompletion percent (16.0 percent) to rank 16th among cornerbacks with at least 40 targets in coverage.

Meanwhile, Johnson has been playing in a defense that has not produced pressure against opposing quarterbacks. The Chicago Bears’ sack leader in 2022 was safety Jaquan Brisker with four (tied with Roquan Smith, who the Bears traded at the deadline). Johnson is firmly a CB1, which yields favorable paydays.

Johnson compares favorably with cornerbacks such as Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean. All three have staggering similar statistics across their career. Since Johnson was drafted, he has been targeted in coverage 14.5 percent of the time, which is lower than Davis (17.2 percent) but higher than Dean (13.8 percent).

Johnson has allowed more touchdowns (12) than Dean (13), but fewer than Davis (10). Since the beginning of 2022, Johnson has allowed just one score. Moreover, he has faced fewer dropped or off-target passes than both players by a wide margin. Johnson has faced 43 instances, whereas Davis and Dean have faced 59 and 51, respectively.

Johnson has just one interception in his career, but he still makes a play on the ball 16.8 percent of the time (roughly four percent more than Dean and within 0.4 percent of Dean). Johnson’s value is from $13 million to $15 million per season, represented by Dean and Davis’ annual average value of $13 million and $14.833 million, respectively. 

Grant Delpit, Cleveland Browns

Grant Delpit, a 2020 second-round pick from LSU, is one of the 2023 season’s most improved players. Although marred by injuries during the first two seasons of his career, he found his groove in his fourth year after playing an entire season last year.

This season, Delpit has allowed the seventh-lowest passer rating when targeted (64.2) and has allowed just one play of 15+ yards (tied-third). When Delpit is on the field, the defense registers a successful play 67.5 percent of the time and has allowed just two first-down receptions – first among safeties with at least 10 targets.

Further, Delpit has played spectacular run defense. Delpit has logged six stops and is displaying his versatility and excellence this season. 

Jalen Thompson of the Arizona Cardinals and Justin Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs provide fantastic precedent for a player like Delpit.

Delpit will be paid less than contemporaries including Minkah Fitzpatrick, Jamal Adams, Justin Simmons, Derwin James, Budda Baker, Jessie Bates and Harrison Smith. All five have reached multiple Pro Bowls, a First-Team All-Pro or both. Delpit is not there yet; other safeties like Marcus Williams or Quandre Diggs have significantly better ball production.

That leaves Thompson and Reid. They have allowed similar completion percentages, all above 68 percent but not above 78 percent. Delpit has one interception this season; Reid and Thompson intercepted two and three in their contract years, respectively.

Delpit has allowed a lower passer rating than Reid and Thompson (111.2; 84.3). Delpit will be an interesting story to follow, and if he continues to play like this, he could break the $10 million threshold as Thompson and Reid did in 2022.