The National Football League is a bona fide billion-dollar business. For example, this offseason each of the league’s 32 teams received $226.4 million — for the 2014 fiscal year alone — as a part of the NFL’s national revenue sharing program. That’s what having television deals worth more than $6 billion can do for you; a sum that would be much smaller if the NFL wasn’t far and away the most popular professional sports league in America. And the NFL wouldn’t be nearly as popular without their players.
Every year we see a handful of players cash-in with massive contracts from their current teams or on the free agency market. This past offseason, players such as Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, and Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston (pictured above) all landed $100 million contracts. They were joined by another handful of players who all signed contracts that will pay them an average of $10 million or more per season for the foreseeable future. This process is going to repeat itself over the next year or so. That said, here is a look at seven players who are on the verge of landing massive paydays in the near future.
1. Von Miller, outside linebacker, Denver Broncos
Miller is set to be an unrestricted free agent following the 2015 season. However, the chances of him actually hitting the free agency market are slim to none. If long-term contract talks stall between Miller and the Broncos, the 26-year-old outside linebacker will surely receive the franchise tag, which is expected to be $13.8 million for Miller’s position group. In reality, $13.8 million for a player as game-changing as Miller would be a bargain for the Broncos, but slapping the franchise tag on Miller will likely result in a lengthy holdout — as they learned with Demaryius Thomas this offseason. When it comes to long-term contract extensions, Miller will likely be seeking — and rightfully so — something similar to the six-year, $101 million contract that Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston signed this offseason. At one point in time, it looked as though Miller’s off-the-field transgressions were going to keep him from landing a mega-deal. Now that he has been officially released from the NFL’s drug and alcohol program there is very little risk for the Broncos in locking up the three-time All-Pro pass rusher. Expect to see Miller land a five- or six-year contract extension that pays him an average of $17-$18 million per year with close to $60 million in guaranteed money.
2. Muhammad Wilkerson, defensive end, New York Jets
Like Miller, Wilkerson is set to be an unrestricted free agent following the 2015 season, and again, we would be shocked if he actually hits the free agency market next offseason. At this point, the Jets can’t afford to lose Wilkerson’s consistent production, especially with fellow defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson’s off-field issues keeping him out of the game. We are fully expecting the Jets to use their 2016 franchise tag — estimated to be valued at close to $15 million — on Wilkerson as they continue to work towards a long-term contract extension for the 25-year-old defensive end. If the two sides are able to reach an agreement on an extension, it will likely be in the five-year, $65 million range.
3. Andrew Luck, quarterback, Indianapolis Colts
Luck is on track to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2016 season, but we are expecting him to sign a long-term extension well before that happens. The 26-year-old quarterback is set to make a guaranteed $16.155 million in 2016, and believe it or not, that is actually a small number compared to what the average yearly value of his next contract is going to be. We are fully expecting Luck to land a record-breaking contract that will pay him an average of nearly $25 million per year.
4. Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver, Chicago Bears
Jeffery, who will be an unrestricted free agent following the 2015 season, has to be ecstatic with the recent contract extensions signed by wide receivers such as Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, and Randall Cobb. Jeffery is one of the more dynamic wide receivers in the league, but his history of injuries makes signing him to a massive contract more of a risk than it would be for any of the aforementioned players. If he hits the unrestricted free agency market, 25-year-old Jeffery will likely land a contract that pays him an average of $12-$13 million over five years.
5. Marshal Yanda, offensive guard, Baltimore Ravens
Yanda is set to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2015 season. The 31-year-old is no longer a spring chicken, but his age doesn’t change the fact that he is arguably still the best offensive guard in the league. Knowing his value to the Baltimore offense, we doubt the Ravens will let him test the market. All said, we are expecting Yanda to land a four- or five-year contract that pays him an average of $8 million per season.
6. Russell Okung, offensive tackle, Seattle Seahawks
Okung, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent following the 2015 season, may be the first big-name player that the Seahawks have to let walk in free agency. After shelling out big money for Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner, and likely Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett in the very near future, the Seahawks will have a hard time finding the money to keep Okung in Seattle. A player such as Okung will likely land a contract that pays him an average of $10-$12 million over five years, which is something the Seahawks will not be able to match.
7. Harrison Smith, safety, Minnesota Vikings
Smith has quietly emerged as one of the top three safeties in the league. He will not be an unrestricted free agent until the end of the 2016 season, but we are guessing that the Vikings will reward him with a hefty contract extension well before that happens. We are expecting Smith to land a five- or six-year contract extension that pays him an average of $9-$10 million per year.