Patrick Mahomes recently signed the most lucrative contract in NFL history. Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the reigning Super Bowl MVP agreed to a 10-year deal worth up to $503 million with the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s the largest contract in North American sports history.
Mahomes’ record-shattering deal comes months after Christian McCaffrey completely reset the running back market. McCaffrey signed a four-year, $64 million contract with the Carolina Panthers, setting an NFL record for annual salary by a running back. So many players reaching record deals got me thinking about who the next players in line for massive contracts are.
There are multiple ways to measure the size of an NFL contract. You can look at the guaranteed money or the total value of the deal. However, this article examines record-breaking deals based on their annual salaries. For instance, Mahomes receives $45 million in annual salary from his extension, which breaks Russell Wilson’s record of $35 million.
I’ve limited the article to one player per position, but you’ll see plenty of players on their rookie deals who could demand record-setting money in a few years.
7. Darius Leonard, OLB
The Indianapolis Colts selected Leonard in the second-round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Two years into his career, Leonard is already receiving comparisons to all-time greats like Patrick Willis.
Per 1070 The Fan’s Kevin Bowen, Leonard is the third player to reach 200 or more tackles in his first 20 games, joining Luke Kuechly and Willis. Tackles became an official stat in 2001.
Leonard won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2018 and earned a First-Team All-Pro selection. He missed three games in 2019 but still earned a Second-Team All-Pro bid. Leonard amassed 284 tackles, 12 sacks, six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and seven interceptions in his first two seasons. He’s a stat stuffer of unparalleled production in the NFL today.
The only thing that could stop Leonard from shattering the $23.5 million annual salary record held by Khalil Mack is the NFL’s bias for pass-rushing specialists. The Colts play a 4-3 defense, which utilizes Leonard heavily against the run and passing game. However, he’s not a pure pass rusher like Mack or Von Miller.
If the bias for pass-rushing linebackers keeps Leonard from setting the record, keep an eye on T.J. Watt. Watt earned a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2019 and has 27.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Two years remain on his rookie deal.
Leonard currently makes $1,811,951 annually, which ranks 41st among outside linebackers. His rookie deal ends after the 2021 season.
6. Jalen Ramsey, CB
Ramsey has his eyes set on a record-smashing extension as he enters the fifth and final year of his rookie deal. A first-round pick from 2016, Ramsey earned a First-Team All-Pro bid in 2017 and made each of the last three Pro Bowls.
The cornerback market received several boosts over the past year. Last May, Xavien Howard signed a record deal worth $15.05 million annually. However, two cornerbacks broke that record this offseason. First, Byron Jones signed a five-year, $82.5 million ($16.5 million annually) contract with the Miami Dolphins. Then, Darius Slay set a new mark with a three-year, $50.05 million extension. That’s North of $16.683 million annually.
Lost in the shift were James Bradberry and Trae Waynes signing deals worth at least $14 million annually. If those two signed contracts worth that much money, Ramsey should receive an extension somewhere in the $17-19 million a year range.
Baltimore’s Marlon Humphrey and Buffalo’s Tre’Davious White could also demand huge pay raises soon. Humphrey currently makes the 50th most in terms of annual salary among cornerbacks. White ranks 55th in annual salary. Both young players see their rookie deals end after the 2021 season.
5. Jamal Adams, S
In June, Adams informed the New York Jets that he wants to be traded because of the lack of progress on a contract extension. As tensions rise in New York, Adams continues hunting for a contract extension to make himself the highest-paid safety in NFL history.
Eddie Jackson currently holds the most profitable contract by a safety, making $14.6 million a year. In contrast, Adams makes under $6 million annually on his current contract. Despite Adams and Jackson belonging to the same draft class, Jackson is making significantly more than Adams.
Adams did everything for the Jets last season. He recorded 75 tackles, 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, an interception, and two defensive touchdowns. He’s a safety with linebacker level production.
Two years remain on Adams’ contract, but he’s already fighting for an extension. If the Jets want him on board for the long haul, they’d better get a deal done.
Up to three years remain on the rookie deals for Minkah Fitzpatrick and Derwin James. However, the two All-Pros could also vie for record-setting contracts.
4. Myles Garrett, DE
Demarcus Lawrence holds the current record for average salary by a defensive end at $21 million. Garrett could easily ask for that amount when his rookie deal expires after the 2021 season. Many defensive ends enter the NFL Draft with the “generational pass rusher” label, but Garrett possesses the talent to fulfill that hype.
In his last 26 games, Garrett produced 73 tackles, 23.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, and 47 quarterback hits. If not for losing his temper against Mason Rudolph last year, Garrett might’ve received some votes for the Defensive Player of the Year award.
Garrett remains a controversial figure for some of his unnecessary hits and actions on the football field, but he possesses top-three defensive end potential. If Garrett stays out of trouble for the next two years, he should get a record-setting contract.
Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa, and Yannick Ngakoue all could set records during their careers as well. Jacksonville hit Ngakoue with the franchise tag in March. The older Bosa is entering his rookie deal’s final year while Nick still has up to four years remaining.
3. Ronnie Stanley, LT
Laremy Tunsil set the new left tackle market when he signed a three-year extension worth $22 million annually. No other left tackle makes more than $17 million in salary a year. However, Tunsil only made the first Pro Bowl of his career this past season, and he’s never been an All-Pro.
In contrast, Stanley, who went seven spots ahead of Tunsil in the 2016 NFL Draft, earned a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2019. As the better player on the better team, it’s only natural for Stanley to expect more money than Tunsil got.
Stanley is entering the final year of his rookie deal. After the Notre Dame product’s All-Pro performance, the Baltimore Ravens want to get a deal done as soon as possible.
2. Quenton Nelson, LG
The Colts hit a home run when they selected Nelson with the sixth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. In two seasons, Nelson hasn’t missed a game, and the Associated Press selected him as a First-Team All-Pro twice. Along with Zack Martin, Nelson makes up an elite two-man tier atop the league’s hierarchy of guards.
In November, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Brandon Brooks to a four-year deal worth $14.0875 million annually. The deal made Brooks the highest-paid guard, but Brandon Scherff recently surpassed him by signing a franchise tag worth $15.03 million in 2020. Joe Thuney also surpassed Brooks, signing a franchise tag worth $14.781 million.
Either Scherff or Thuney could set the record when they sign long-term deals next year, but Nelson is in line to crush their contracts. Up to three years remain on Nelson’s rookie deal.
1. George Kittle, TE
Hunter Henry and Austin Hooper are the only tight ends working on deals worth more than $10 million per year. Henry is making the most money in 2020, earning $10.607 million on a franchise tag. However, Hooper’s deal is much larger. While he only makes $10.5 million annually, his contract runs for four years.
Kittle is in another atmosphere than Henry and Hooper. He’s produced 173 receptions, 2,430 receiving yards, and ten receiving touchdowns over the past two seasons. Kittle also earned a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2019 and is widely regarded as one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL. He deserves the McCaffrey treatment; a deal that totally resets the market for his position.
As a fifth-round pick from 2017, Kittle is in the final year of his rookie deal. He’s also making less than $2.5 million this year. The superstar’s agent, Jack Bechta, recently told NFL Network’s Mike Silver, “I don’t care about the tight end market, I’m getting paid to do a George Kittle deal.”
The Athletic’s Matt Barrows claims Kittle could make $13 million per year on a new contract, but that might not be enough. According to CBS Sports’ Jeff Kerr, “Kittle is looking for a deal beyond that number, a contract that sets his pay rate among the top left tackles and wide receivers.”
A “George Kittle deal” could cost an NFL team in the range of $16 million annually. Now that’s the way to reset the tight end market.