Since reducing the share of overall revenues allocated to player costs in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement (CBA), NFL owners have handed out fewer and fewer market-busting contracts. It is now rare to see the game-changing contracts handed out in recent years to players such as wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, running backs Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson and -- sorry Redskin fans -- defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.
Halfway through 2013, beyond predictable extensions for Joe Flacco and Aaron Rodgers, very few contracts have caused ripples in the market. That inertia could change, though: These five contract situations ahead could raise the bar for their positions and, as the NFLPA hopes, all positions:
Ryan will soon follow Flacco and Rodgers as part of a new generation of young quarterbacks in their prime receiving elite contracts. And Ryan's agent, CAA's Tom Condon, knows his way around elite quarterback contracts as the author of last year's deals for A-listers Drew Brees and Peyton Manning.
The four deals mentioned above, although structured differently, have similar averages per year (APY) of roughly $20 million and guarantees in the $55-60 million range. It will be interesting to see if Ryan's deal mimics these numbers or sets new thresholds, even though he lacks the Super Bowl ring the others have.
Ryan has a piece of leverage that Flacco and Rodgers did not. As a top-five draft pick under the previous CBA, Ryan already has a bloated contract that the Falcons will be forced to top. From the players' side, those top rookie deals under the old CBA are the gift that keeps on giving.
It will be interesting to see if Condon pushes the envelope on the Ryan negotiation, especially on guaranteed money, as the total contract number is meaningless in the NFL unlike Major League Baseball or the NBA. The Ryan negotiation will set the stage for another Condon client, Matthew Stafford, perhaps the last player that can use the old CBA rookie contract bonanza as leverage for an even bigger reward.
Green and Jones have game-changing ability and are in prime position to secure peak earnings.
The top receiver duo of Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson set a market unto themselves, with a $15 million APY and $45-50 million guaranteed. The next echelon features recent deals for Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe and Percy Harvin in the range of $11 million APY and $26 million guaranteed.
While agents for receivers to this point have willingly accepted a market under that of "Fitz/Megatron", I would expect a more aggressive posture for Green and Jones. They are on track to exceed the Jackson/Bowe/Harvin level and bump up right against the Fitz/Megatron standard.
The Cardinals' rising superstar is not only the team's premier defensive player and return specialist but he recently added another role as a mentor/counselor/role model to friend and former LSU teammate Tyrann Mathieu. That's another value-add for his resume.
The cornerback market is muddled by the recent Darrelle Revis contract. Revis zoomed past the previous APY threshold of $11-12 million with an astounding $16 million average, yet the contract has no guarantees and no future risk for the Buccaneers.
An important note about Green, Peterson and Jones: Even if the Bengals, Cardinals and Falcons wanted to reward the trio -- the 4th, 5th and 6th picks of the 2011 draft -- they cannot. The new CBA requires three seasons of performance before a renegotiation. The ban on adjusting their contracts will end after the coming season.
One of the key reasons Peyton Manning chose the Broncos over multiple suitors last year was the presence of Clady. Now slapped with the franchise tag and nearing the July 15 deadline for a long-term deal, Clady does not appear close to an extension.
The left tackle market has stagnated some since Joe Thomas' 2011 extension with the Browns (an $11.5 million APY with roughly $40 million guaranteed.) That may be one reason the two sides are having trouble determining market value; time will tell if they are able to break the gridlock.
While both of these highly valuable defensive linemen are entering the last year of their contracts, this offseason's experience does not bode well for them, with Richard Seymour and John Abraham (among others) feeling a collective shrug from NFL teams as defensive ends on the wrong side of age 30.
More NFL teams are now negotiating contracts from the analytically based approach of paying premiums only for projected future performance, not past results. Translation: young and cheap beats old and expensive.
Despite being still-productive players at premium positions, it's unlikely Tuck and Allen are in line for high earnings. In fact, a reasonable question to ask is whether their production at this point of their career is helping to secure a valuable contract next year or, with teams fearing inevitable decline, is it hurting those chances by setting such a high standard?