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Which Players Entering Contract Years Are in For a Big Pay Day?

Players Entering Contract Years
Tom Rudawky is a former NFL scout for the New York Giants who previously worked in football operations for the Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings. He now writes for The 33rd Team among other publications.

Playing in a contract year is a situation that comes with great pressure for players of all levels. Ultimately, the top players will get paid handsomely by some team, one way or another. However, the tier of players most affected by the pressure of a contract year are the solid-yet-still-have-something-to-prove type players. A season full of production and good health in a contract year has the potential to exponentially increase the interest level that teams have the following year in free agency – and make that player millions more. Below are three players who are free agents in 2023 and have the potential to play themselves into a market-shaping, life-changing contract.

Rob Havenstein, Rams Right Tackle

Havenstein has long been a productive offensive tackle in the league. He’s the type of player you rarely hear anything about during Rams games – which for an offensive lineman, is a great thing. Havenstein’s MO is that he’s steady, reliable, and durable. After all, since being drafted in 2015, he’s started 99 regular season games of a possible 113. He’s started at least 13 games in all but one year and has started 15+ games in five seasons. His play has been something the Rams can rely on every Sunday – something that has had a positive impact on every player on the vaunted Rams offense.

In 2018, the Rams signed him to a 4-year, $32 million extension – which I believe was a very good deal for Los Angeles. Given how cap-strapped the Rams always are, extending Havenstein may not be something they can afford to do moving forward. However, for Havenstein himself, continuing to prove himself with another strong 2022 season should result in a $10-plus million-a year deal entering 2023. Finding quality offensive linemen is not an easy thing to do – and some teams would surely pay up for Havenstein’s steady services, given his track-record. While the Rams are looking to run it back in 2022, Havenstein is looking to get paid – something he is in great position to do.

Jonathan Jones, Patriots Star/Nickel

Heading into the 2021 season, on paper the Patriots had a top-tier cornerback group, with Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Jonathan Jones playing inside. Entering the 2022 season, Gilmore and Jackson are gone, and Jones, playing in a contract year, is all that remains from that trio. Jones has been one of the better slot corners in the game for a while now – he is a terrific athlete with fluid, quick-twitch movement skills and great closing speed. He is exactly what all teams covet in a STAR – a playmaking, athletic, feisty player that can be trusted inside on money downs.

Similar to Havenstein, I believe Jones to be a player that’s been underpaid for a little while now – his total cap hit to New England in 2022 is $7.7 million. After going on injured reserve in October last season, Jones needs to prove he’s fully healthy and can handle a strong workload yet again. If he shows that and continues to be the player he’s been – he’ll get paid. The only concern in free agency for Jones could be his age, at the start of the 2023 season (the first season after a hypothetical UFA deal is signed), he'd be 30. Typically paying cornerbacks on the wrong side of 30 isn’t a smart move, however I still think Jones could be due for a big two- or three-year payday, making north of $10 million a year. Having a top-notch slot corner allows a defensive coordinator great luxury to mix-and-match coverages in big situations, and all teams would welcome this. It’s why the long-underrated Jones enters the 2022 season with a big opportunity ahead of him.

Daniel Jones, Giants QB

The Giants have certainly found themselves in quite a conundrum when it comes to their 24-year old signal caller. But for Jones himself, the path ahead is black and white: With a strong 2022 campaign, he will find himself in position to get paid in a big way if he ends up hitting the open market. The demand for productive quarterbacks in this league has never been higher, thus explaining why Jones will accrue life-changing money if he shows up big this season.

Right now, the opinion on Jones across the league is wide-ranging. However, with a season where he both produces consistently AND stays healthy, that would greatly change how some teams view him, allowing his demand on the market to be at an all-time high. There are a lot of different ways this whole situation could play out, ranging to a long-term, $30 million-dollar-a-year extension with the Giants, to Jones collecting a fraction of that as a backup in the league moving forward. For Jones, given the demand for starting QBs across the league, his age, and overall pedigree, this season presents a massive opportunity to cash out in 2023.