Last week, I broke down the key offensive players still seeking contracts after the Josh Allen deal.
Now, here is a look at Jamal Adams’ recent extension with the Seahawks, along with the next wave of star defensive players that will be looking for new contracts in the near future.
This is another example of a player having tremendous leverage because a team traded two first-round picks to acquire him but did not have him under contract beyond 2021. In the end, they settled on a four-year extension worth $38 million in guarantees, averaging $17.5 million annually, making him the new highest-paid safety over Justin Simmons. He did his deal last and waited a whole season after he was traded, and this becomes one of the advantages of waiting.
I was actually not totally surprised by the number; a guy like that, in his contract situation, was going to be the new highest-paid player at his position. It is also important to note this is a very scheme-specific signing. On almost any other team, I would have concerns about his ability to adequately cover in the back end, but with this team he is really a “jack of all trades.” He is stout against the run and they use him as a pass rusher as much as anything, so it is not a typical safety analysis. He added 9.5 sacks last year, and you could make the case he is one of the hardest guys to block in the league because you never know where he is or where he is coming from. The fact that Adams plays all three levels makes him totally unpredictable and hard to game plan against.
I suspect he could sign and become the new highest-paid guy at his position, although Watt is playing for a team that is usually reluctant to do that. The counter to that is most players do like to stay in Pittsburgh because of how established that culture is, so he may be susceptible to taking a slight discount. Coming off three seasons of 13-plus sacks, he is still going to get a huge deal, even if it does not broach $27 million annually, which is where we are currently at with Joey Bosa.
He is entering his fifth season, on the team option, so I am surprised they have not gotten a deal done yet. It is still probable to occur before the start of the regular season, but I think Pittsburgh has given him tremendous leverage by announcing to the world that they are all-in on this year. He is a really good player and a really important player on that team, so why would he not hold out until he gets a really good deal? He knows he has a lot of leverage based on a quarterback that is going to play one more year, with a team that is taking one more run at a Super Bowl. Watts sitting out would totally derail that, and by waiting this long, Pittsburgh has awarded him that bargaining chip.
Bosa is a little different, only entering his third season, coming off a knee injury that derailed his 2020 season. He also missed some time at Ohio State, so I am holding my breath a bit on his health. The contrary to that is he is an outstanding player and every bit as good as his brother. In his rookie season, he finished with 9 sacks, adding four more during their postseason run to the Super Bowl. His 2020 season ended after only 68 snaps and no sacks. If he returns to his 2019 form this season, he could become the new highest-paid defensive player in the NFL, surpassing his brother.
He is likely to receive a substantial contract soon either way, but 2021 is a big season for him, along with his team. I think people have kind of forgotten how good San Francisco could be. Last year, everything went wrong for them, but if they can remain healthy, I think they could be Super Bowl contenders again. They will be interesting to watch all year, especially as they battle internally between Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance.
James is as good as any safety in the league when healthy, but he has been really hampered with injuries. He missed a full season at Florida State with a meniscus tear and has only played in five games over the past two seasons with knee and foot injuries. When he was healthy during his rookie season, he was on the field for nearly every snap, compiling over 100 tackles along with 3 interceptions and 3 sacks.
James has to be able to show he can stay on the field this season. The Chargers already guaranteed his fifth-year option for 2022, but if is unable to stay healthy these next two seasons, I would have serious doubts about giving him a long-term extension.
Ward is a real dilemma from the team side. He is a talented player, but he is under-sized, he has struggled some to stay on the field, and I do not think he has played up to being the fourth overall pick. He is going to want to be paid like a top corner in the league, and I am not sure his play has warranted that. Cleveland is a very analytics-driven team, so this will be tough for them. A lot of the models will suggest being very disciplined with paying guys unless they are a clear difference-making talent, or you will be able to find comparable production for cheaper.
For me, I think he is a clear tier below Jalen Ramsey and Marlon Humprhrey, but he is going to expect to be paid in that $18-$20 million range. Putting that much money into a guy with injury concerns is a massive risk, so I would not be surprised if they try to delay his extension for as long as possible. He is under contract through 2022, with a fifth-year option just north of $13 million before they can start giving him franchise tags. Given his history and what I suspect he is demanding contractually, I think this is a much more appropriate path for Cleveland to try to pursue.
Jack Wolov contributed to this story