Forget Geno Smith's contract for a minute: What do other top-of-market deals cost?
What do tackles, cornerbacks, running backs, and edge rushers cost these days? Seaside Joe 1370
Having spent enough time writing about Geno Smith this season—how he’s playing and how much he could cost—I wanted to try and fix my focus on some Seahawks who I tend to overlook despite being very important to the franchise. Players such as Charles Cross (who we never seem to talk about despite being the top pick), Abraham Lucas, Uchenna Nwosu, Kenneth Walker III, Boye Mafe, and Tariq Woolen.
Although, maybe Woolen doesn’t qualify as anonymous as the others, we’ve talked about him quite a lot.
There is such an emphasis (although another word for that could be “fear”) on Geno’s upcoming contract situation that I can’t help but feel we’ll end up forgetting that other players and positions do exist. It also has not been the long since Seattle signed a quarterback to a major market-setting contract (Russell Wilson, 2019) and in some cases at other positions, the Seahawks have rarely or never had such a player.
So we will be forgiven if we forgot or didn’t keep up with how costly a great left tackle or cornerback or edge rusher could be in the modern NFL. Not that modern NFL teams need market-setting players at every position. So I decided to project out a few other positions based on who the top-paid players are around the league. The Seahawks are very lucky to be in the position to say that MAYBE they’ll be forced to solve the problems of having a lot of players who they need to pay.
I know that many of you are superstitious when it comes to talking about the future of young players, to not get our hopes up until more time has passed. And I agree that it is not worth getting your hopes up…Seattle needs to first figure out if they’re going to win the next game, forget about worrying three years down the line.
So don’t think of this as me telling you that (PLAYER) is definitely going to become a top-five paid player at his position. That’s not the point of this exercise. If anything, the point of this exercise is that I have a newsletter to write about the Seahawks every single day of the year and today I decided I wanted to write about Charles Cross and the creative process/desire to do some contract research evolved from there.
Consider this a “General NFL knowledge day” that could end up impacting the Seahawks in the future, but is not guaranteed.
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The projections are for THE HIGHEST PAID PLAYER in the NFL at a given time, not an average of the highest-paid players.
APY - Annual Per Year
Left Tackle Contracts
2023 APY Projection - $24 million
Trent Williams signed a six-year, $138 million contract with the 49ers in 2021, making him the highest-paid left tackle in the NFL by most measurements. Williams got $45 million guaranteed, but Ronnie Stanley’s five-year, $99 million contract with the Ravens signed in 2020 pays him $70 million guaranteed, most at the position.
Up next for a contract is Kansas City’s Orlando Brown, a player who demanded to be traded from the Ravens because of Ronnie Stanley; right tackles do not make as much as left tackles. It’s a question that Seattle may need to address with their two tackles in the future, but not for at least a couple more seasons. Brown is playing on the franchise tag and reportedly turned down a six-year, $139 million offer from the Chiefs that would have topped Williams’ deal by a hair.
2025 APY Projection - $28 million?
The 2020 draft class featured five tackles picked in the top-18, including Andrew Thomas of the Giants, probably the highest-rated left tackle in the group so far. Teams could start negotiating with those players (Jedrick Willis, Tristan Wirfs are playing, but we’ve seen little or nothing from Mekhi Becton and Austin Jackson) and Thomas could top the market in a year or two. Laremy Tunsil is also up for a new deal.
By the time that Charles Cross or Abe Lucas are up for negotiation, who knows how valuable they’ll be considered by then. But it’s inevitable that if Aaron Donald is making $30 million per year as a defensive tackle, it is not long before left tackles are making that much and a little surprising we aren’t there already.
Right Tackle Contracts
2023 APY Projection - $19 million
Ryan Ramczyk of the Saints—a “one who got away” draft prospect who Seattle should have picked—signed a market-setting five-year, $96 million deal in 2021. Vikings right tackle Brian O’Neill got a little less on a five-year deal: $92.5 million.
But Tristan Wirfs is considered one of the best players in the NFL at any position, he just so happens to be entrenched on the right side. Will he make an Orlando Brown demand if the Bucs re-sign Donovan Smith? Smith has one year left on his current deal, Wirfs shouldn’t be making less than him. Or will Wirfs be satisfied like Lane Johnson or Ramczyk and accept a $20-$21 million APY on his first contract extension?
2025 APY Projection - $22 million
It’s too soon to talk about Abe Lucas and how valuable he will be as a tackle on either side of the offensive line. I certainly wouldn’t give him $20 million per season yet, right? Nearly everything has been very encouraging with Seattle’s two young tackles and it is not unprecedented for a team to keep both happy, such as Jason Peters and Lane Johnson once upon a time, if their development trends in a positive direction.
But the Titans did lose Jack Conklin after deciding to hitch their wagon to Taylor Lewan. Paying $40-$50 million in combined salary for two tackles would be quite the decision though.
Give someone the gift of daily Seahawks content for the Holidays:
2023 APY Projection - $22 million
Green Bay signed Jaire Alexander to a four-year, $84 million deal this offseason and his $21 million APY is tops among cornerbacks, followed by the $20.1 million of Denzel Ward and the $20 million of Jalen Ramsey.
The next up to set a new record for defensive backs will be Trevon Diggs of the Dallas Cowboys. Though Jeff Okudah was the third overall pick in 2020, Diggs (51st overall) is the breakout star, intercepting 17 passes in less than three years. Up for an extension next offseason, Diggs could easily convince Jerry Jones to pay him more than the current top contract, maybe settling in around five years and $110 million with $75 million guaranteed.
2025 APY Projection - $25 million
I don’t think we are far off from a four-year, $100 million deal for a cornerback. We just saw A.J. Brown get the contract as a wide receiver, it’s a little surprising that a position with more dearth of talent and that is meant to stop players like Brown hasn’t already caught up to that.
Should Tariq Woolen continue on his current path, anything is possible for him and his talent. I am not going to be shy about it anymore, I’m going to stick my foot in the ground on this one: Tariq Woolen is going down as the best player picked by the Seahawks in the 2022 draft class.
Not just the best value, being a fifth round pick. The best player!
Sorry for any superstitious people out there, but it needed to be said.
Running Back Contracts
2023 APY Projection - $13-$18 million
It is the weirdest position to follow for a lot of reasons, but trying to guess how teams will value running backs is the hardest part of that evaluation. Even though Christian McCaffrey tops the market at $16 million per season, followed by $15 million for Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliott, and then $12 million for Dalvin Cook and Derrick Henry, those deals were signed 2020 or earlier.
When Nick Chubb was extended in 2021, he only got $12.2 million per year. Once running back contracts spiked in 2020, teams got hesitant again following injuries and poor play for the likes of McCaffrey, Kamara, Elliott.
However, nobody can predict how much Saquon Barkley would get on the open free agent market in 2023. He could top the deal signed by Chubb and go four years, $52 million or something. But I could also see a team giving Barkley a three-year, $48 million deal because he’s Saquon Barkley and that adds excitement and intrigue to any offense.
Imagine the Bears, with all that money they have to spend (over $100 million for next season alone), deciding to pair Barkley with Justin Fields. They could pay Barkley $18 million per season just to flex and to keep other suitors at bay. And that’s just Barkley.
Josh Jacobs could get more.
2025 APY Projection - ???
I’ll stick with not knowing or pretending to know what’s going to happen at the running back position in a few years. With Ken Walker, what’s most important is “How’s he going to hold up and do next week?” not next year or the year after that. Too hard to say.
Edge Rusher Contracts
2023 APY Projection - $30 million
The top of the market is T.J. Watt’s four-year, $112 million deal signed in 2021, carrying a $28 million APY. Maxx Crosby signed a contract with the Raiders this year that pays him $23.5 million per year over four years. Bradley Chubb signed a five-year, $110 million deal with the Dolphins after being traded to Miami this season. Seattle has an edge rusher decision to make as soon as next offseason.
Uchenna Nwosu signed a two-year, $19 million deal and he’s all but guaranteed himself a place on the roster next year at $12.7 million. However, if the Seahawks want to keep Nwosu long-term then they need to sit back at the table with his agent in 2023. What’s he really worth though? Nwosu is not as good as Watt or Crosby. We could look instead to the five-year, $87 million deal signed by Harold Landry with the Titans this offseason, carrying a $17.5 million APY.
Is that still too much for Nwosu?
2025 APY Projection - $36 million
If you call Micah Parsons an “edge rusher” then again we are talking about Dallas with the highest-paid player in the near future. Parsons is only in his second season, but there’s little reason to expect him to slow down barring injury and when he comes up for negotiation in 2024, Jones will have to pay much more than the cost of Diggs.
Parsons is a perfect storm for a four-year, $140 million deal, if not more.
The odds are heavily stacked against Boye Mafe becoming a top of the market edge rusher. If he ends up as another Arik Armstead or Nwosu though, that’s very good for the second round.
How long will the incremental top-of-the market continue? They found a way to alter the formula with guaranteed money but the standard that requires a new contract to exceed the current highest isn't sustainable. Eventually they will have to introduce a max-contract concept like the NBA.
The rise of non-QB salaries has altered the rookie QB strategy because a top of market edge rusher or LT approaches the cost of a QB. If the salary cap increases enough then teams can maintain depth but if teams increasingly have to dedicate 40% of their cap to just five players (QB, LT, Edge, CB, WR) the quality of play will diminish. You also have to wonder what these salaries do to team chemistry.
Finally, when we moan about the Seahawks failure to sign a complimentary, high level LCB, we have to consider the implications of Woolen's extension in his fourth year. I guarantee the Seahawks already have Woolen, Cross and Lucas extensions penciled in and will make personel decisions accordingly.
Top of Market contracts are a necessity in some cases - so are rookie deals. Of the priority positions; QB, LT, WR (2x), Edge (2x), CB (2x), plus generational talents at any other position. Clearly, there are no teams that can have 8-10 Top of the Market contracts.
The best teams create a steady stream of approx. half of these premium positions on rookie deals. Trading out of some assets for worthy picks or simply letting some go to free agency, thus receiving some potential compensation from the league is what will need to be done.
As hard as it is to admit, keeping Russ on progressively larger contracts cost the team the ability to keep other stars. The Seahawks simply had to make room in their salary cap. I felt they kept the one player who cost the value of two to four star players. I said all along how mistaken I felt they were.
Having the right blend of rookie deals on these highest costing player positions is the way to thrive going forward. I suspect John Schneider will vividly remember how hand-cuffed this team was and will work to avoid a repeat.