2021 draft is done. But, in case you hadn’t noticed, the business of the NFL is a year-round endeavor.
Sure, the next few months should be relatively quiet — though the regular-season schedule is on the way, teams are in the midst of offseason programs … and it appears a lot more drama has yet to unfold as it pertains to QB Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
But there are also financial matters to address as players recover from 2020 and ready for 2021. Detroit Lions C Frank Ragnow just became the most recent 2018 first-rounder to cash in with a second contract, his four-year, $54 million extension making the Pro Bowler the league’s top-paid pivot.
Here are 21 more players deserving of extensions or entirely new deals in the near future:
POWER RANKINGS:Draft, drama around Packers QB Aaron Rodgers cause shakeup
MORE:32 things we learned from the 2021 NFL draft
GRADES:Bears, Jets among best team classes in 2021 while Raiders among worst
Bears WR Allen Robinson: Ten players league-wide were hit with the franchise tag in March, but only three — Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, Broncos FS Justin Simmons and Giants DL Leonard Williams — have signed extensions since. The other seven have until July 15 to reach a multi-year deal; otherwise, they’ll play on the tag in 2021. Robinson, who has 200 catches over the past two seasons — in a limited offense, to be kind — is arguably the best of the bunch and should be even more valuable to Chicago given the arrival of first-round QB Justin Fields. Given the Bears’ current cap crunch, they’d be wise to reinvest in Robinson and reap the resulting breathing room by not getting boxed into his fully guaranteed $17.9 million tag.
2019 MVP and only quarterback in league history to rush for 1,000 yards twice, he’s certainly earned a significant raise — the final pick of Round 1 in 2018, he’ll only make $1.8 million in 2021. But perhaps a bit of an interesting calculus for Baltimore here given the perceived risk of investing massive money into a QB with Jackson’s hellbent style of play.
Browns QB Baker Mayfield: He doesn’t deserve to reset the QB wage scale, nor should he be compensated at the level Allen and Jackson likely will be. But Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in 2018, has generally been effective and efficient in two of his three NFL seasons and seems to fit quite well in Cleveland’s new construct. But will he potentially be willing to take less to allow the wealth to be spread around what’s become one of the league’s strongest rosters? The top pick of the 2018 draft, Mayfield is due $5.1 million this year, but that will be more than triple in 2022.
trade Julio Jones — though that could make it easier to pay Ridley, scheduled to make just shy of $2 million this year.
Packers WR Davante Adams: Probably the best receiver in the NFL in 2020 after scoring 18 TDs and averaging 98.1 receiving yards per game, he’s under contract for one more season at $13.2 million. Adams’ current deal, which averages $14.5 million annually, has him outside the 15 best-compensated players at his position, the likes of Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Jarvis Landry ahead of him. Of course, given Green Bay has virtually no cap room and Adams is surely monitoring the whims of his good friend Rodgers, a lot to consider here for all parties.
QB Patrick Mahomes’ new bodyguard from the Ravens because he didn’t want to play right tackle any longer. If Brown, a third-round pick with Andrews in 2018, adjusts well to his new role on a pass-oriented team, good chance the $3.4 million he’s set to earn during the final year of his rookie deal goes up dramatically, whether the Chiefs or another team antes up.
Browns RB Nick Chubb: A Pro Bowler the past two seasons, hard to argue he’s not one of the league’s top five backs … even if he’s got $3.4 million coming to him in the final year of his rookie contract — or about half what backfield mate Kareem Hunt will average over the next two years.
Colts LB Darius Leonard: A two-time All-Pro drafted 30 spots after Nelson, Leonard deserves a deal that makes him the league’s richest off-ball linebacker. He’s on course to get $3.4 million in his walk year.
Chiefs S Tyrann Mathieu: An All-Pro during both his seasons in Kansas City, he deserves a ton of credit for stabilizing a defense that wasn’t Super Bowl-caliber prior to his arrival. The Badger has $14.8 million coming in the final year of his contract, but GM Brett Veach has already indicated an extension is on the radar.
Saints RT Ryan Ramczyk: Arguably the best right tackle in the NFL, he’s scheduled to make $11 million in his walk year, roughly half what top left tackles earn. Philadelphia’s Lane Johnson averages $18 million annually, best among right tackles — though New Orleans’ currently maxed-out cap won’t make it easy to get Ramczyk to that level.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers: He hasn’t publicly addressed reports stating he wants to break with the organization. However after receiving a $6.8 million roster bonus in March, Rodgers’ contractual guarantees have been exhausted on an extension set to run through 2023. He is scheduled to take home another $67 million over that stretch, but his overall pact has fallen off the pace at a time when he’s coming off his third MVP performance. Guaranteeing more money or, perhaps better, lengthening his deal and infusing cash that would get Rodgers’ compensation in the $40 million average annual range enjoyed only by Mahomes and Prescott — Rodgers’ extension averages $33.5 million per year, ranking fifth among QBs (tied with Jared Goff) — might help smooth over issues that have left his return to Green Bay in doubt.
49ers LB Fred Warner: He emerged as the top-rated off-ball linebacker in 2020, per PFF — just in time to cash in. Like Leonard, Warner is scheduled to make $3.4 million with free agency currently on the other side of the 2021 season.
Steelers OLB T.J. Watt: Now the preeminent defender of the Watt family, he’s totaled 42½ sacks, 16 forced fumbles, 49 tackles for loss and 98 quarterback hits since 2018. Pittsburgh may be careening toward a reboot, but hard to see the franchise rebuilding without its best player. Watt will make $10.1 million in the final year of his contract, basically half of what fellow OLBs Khalil Mack and Miller average.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.