15 NFL free agents set for a big payday

Every year, there a number of players in contract years who make themselves a ton of money. Players like Josh Norman, Nick Foles and Olivier Vernon showed out in their final year before hitting free agency and cashed in. Raheem Mostert would have been a great candidate to be on this list, but he signed a nice deal just before the Super Bowl.

To be clear here, these are players who have yet to earn that big payday in the pro football. Obviously, Tom Brady, Phillip Rivers and Jadeveon Clowney will land huge contracts, but they have already raked in a ton of cash. With NFL free agency just three weeks away from opening, let’s take a look at players looking to earn a big pay raise.

Cowboys logoDak Prescott, QB, Cowboys
It has been a long time coming, but Dak Prescott is going to get a massive pay increase this offseason. The former 4th-round pick made just over $2 million in 2019. He could very well be in line to land a deal that pays him close to $40 million per season. Even if Dallas decides to use the franchise tag on him, he would likely earn over $25 million in 2020.

Chiefs LogoChris Jones, DL, Kansas City Chiefs
Meet the top defensive player not named Jadeveon Clowney in this free agent class. Jones has been nothing short of a game-wrecker in Kansas City and was an integral part of that defensive resurgence in 2019. There is some buzz about him being an option for the franchise tag. The Chiefs may also look to trade him after that, which they did last year with Dee Ford. He made roughly $1.3 million during his Super Bowl run. On the open market, he could command close to $20 million per year on his next deal.

Ravens logoMatt Judon, EDGE
There has already been some buzz about the Ravens franchise tagging Judon and looking to trade him. He has not been as prolific as Ngakoue, but he does have 29 sacks in four seasons. As a fifth-round pick, he made right around $2 million this year. The franchise tag would see him make around $16 million in 2020, but he could also sign a long-term deal for at least $14.5 million per year.

Buccaneers logoShaquille Barrett, EDGE, Buccaneers
Nobody made more money for themselves in 2019 than Barrett. The 27-year-old signed an incentive-laden deal with the Buccaneers, maxing out at $4 million. He went on to lead the NFL in sacks and now seems poised to land a contract somewhere in the range of $17 to $20 million per year. That type of leap is nothing short of incredible.

Titans logoDerrick Henry, RB, Titans
Heading into the season, I was very pessimistic about Henry’s chances of landing a long-term deal in Tennessee. After he led the NFL in rushing this season and almost carried the Titans to a Super Bowl. He made about $1.1 million this season. He will almost definitely 10 times that in 2020.

Saints logoTeddy Bridgewater, QB, Saints
Many thought Bridgewater would attempt to land a big payday in the 2019 offseason. Instead, he signed a one-year, $7.25-million deal to stay as Drew Brees’ backup. His 5-0 stint as the starter when Brees got hurt earned him a ton of money. Expect him to sign a deal north of $20 million per year in New Orleans or elsewhere.

Jaguars logoYannick Ngakoue, DE, Jaguars
If somehow Jacksonville lets Ngakoue walk, some team is going to hand him a monster deal in free agency. He has 38 career sacks in four seasons. As a former third-round pick, Ngakoue has well outplayed his contract. He made around $2 million in 2019. He should make upwards of $17 million per year going forward.

Chargers logoAustin Ekeler, RB, Chargers
As a former undrafted running back out of West Colorado State, Ekeler flew under the radar for a while. He is not a bellcow back, but came just shy of 1,000 yards receiving in 2019. He earned a meager $645 thousand this past season, but he should probably earn himself around 10 times that on average, in the $7 million range. At 24 years old, he is hitting free agent at a prime point for running backs.

Falcons logoAustin Hooper, TE, Falcons
He has flown under the radar a bit, but Hooper has turned into one of the top 10 tight ends in the NFL. As a 2016 3rd-round pick, he played at the final season of his rookie deal. The 25-year-old should have plenty of suitors and should more than quadruple the $2 million he made in 2019.

Vikings logoAnthony Harris, S, Vikings
People have started to learn his name, especially after he finished tied for the NFL lead in interceptions this season. As a former undrafted free agent in 2015, Harris is in line for a massive pay bump. He earned roughly $3 million this year on a one-year deal. The 28-year-old will likely land a deal four times that.

Panthers logoTre Boston, S, Panthers
Working as a mercenary the past three seasons, Boston is in line for a longer deal with some more financial guarantees. He has 11 interceptions in that time frame. He turns 28 this summer and should be looking to cash in after another good season. After earning $2.275 million last year, he should be looking into the $9 million per year range at least on his next deal.

Panthers logoJames Bradberry, CB, Panthers
Another member of the Panthers secondary in line for a big jump, Bradberry is one of the better cover corners in the NFL. Carolina will likely keep him in house and hand him a handsome raise. He made just under $1 million this season. He should be making upwards of $13 million per year by next season.

Texans logoD.J. Reader, DL, Texans
As a former 5th rounder, Reader has flown under the radar. He made just over $2 million in 2019 but he outplayed that paycheck by a wide margin. He won’t reset the market by any means as mostly a run stuffing option. I think we will likely see him land a deal worth around $10 or $11 million per year. He is due for a nice payday.

Lions LogoGraham Glasgow, G, Lions
Interior linemen don’t often move the needle, but finding a player capable of keeping your quarterback upright is invaluable. Glasgow has started 58 games out of a possible 64 over the past four seasons. He is 27 years old and should find himself making about $10 million per year after earning just $2 million in 2019.

NFL Draft Podcast – AFC Free Agency Primer and Draft Implications

After breaking down the NFC last week, it is time to discuss which AFC free agents will impact the 2020 NFL Draft. The Patriots await Tom Brady’s free agent decision while the rest of the division hopes to close the game and patch up their offensive lines. Tennessee’s incredible run came courtesy of a number of players that are not under contract for 2020. Houston, Indianapolis and Jacksonville all enter free agency with at least one major player it needs to bring back. The reigning Super Bowl champs have to figure out what they will do with Chris Jones. Meanwhile, Los Angeles might need to rebuild its whole offense. In the North, the Ravens have some difficult decisions to make regarding Matt Judon and Michael Pierce. The Browns, Bengals and Steelers all need reinforcements in the trenches. Catch up on all the major pending free agents ahead of the scouting combine! Listen to the latest episode now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
https://anchor.fm/theaftermath

NFL All-Non-Power 5 team

In honor of the NFL draft, which is all about finding value in the later rounds, I decided it is time to put together the team of non-power 5 players currently in the NFL. So that means any player who played college football outside the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12.

More often than not, these are the players that make the differences at the pro level for teams. It is easier to hit on players that went to big schools. The best franchises find those late-round gems to build out the roster and win championships on their contributions. So don’t despair if your favorite team drafted a player form a small school you have never heard of. This team would almost certainly win a Super Bowl if all these players were on the same roster. Here is the NFL All-Non-Power-Five:

Quarterback – Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
A proud alum of Miami Ohio, Roethlisberger is Hall of Fame bound. He’s still got it to after leading the league with an absurd 5,129 passing yards. He is a bit interception prone, but with the other notable options being the oft-injured Carson Wentz and inconsistent Joe Flacco, Roethlisberger is an obvious choice.

Aaron Jones
Jones racked up over 4,000 yards in his career at UTEP. (Wikimedia Commons)

Running back – Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
He didn’t lead the league in rushing or anything, but the former UTEP running back had a healthy 5.5 yards per carry and is criminally underused in Green Bay. Jones is a bruising runner who picked up just under 1,000 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns in only 12 games this season. At only 24, Jones has a ton of upside and will on get better with more touches.

Wide receiver – Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings
Forget small school, Thielen didn’t even play Division I college ball at Minnesota State. Yet, he caught 204 passes for 2,649 yards and 13 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Thielen is in the prime of his career at age 28 and as long as he continues to play at a Pro Bowl level, he will be on this list.

Wide receiver – Central Michigan, Oakland Raiders
It was tempting to go with Davante Adams here because Antonio Brown had a down year. However, a down year for Brown was still 100-plus catches, 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns. He is one of best receivers in NFL history and one of the best draft finds ever as a 6th round pick out of Central Michigan.

Tight end – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
It conveniently works out that the best tight end in the league went to Cincinnati. Travis Kelce dominated the league finishing top 10 in receiving yards and to go with 10 double-digit touchdowns. He is a solid blocker and an incredible receiver.

Offensive tackle – Terron Armstead, New Orleans Saints
Over the past few years, Armstead has turned into an elite pass blocker on one of the top offenses in the league. Pro Football Focus rated him the top offensive lineman in 2018. Teams pay a premier to find a true left tackle and Armstead fits the bill.

Offensive guard – Ali Marpet, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Over looked as a college prospect because of the competition he faced at Hobart, Marpet has become a top-tier offensive lineman. He is one of the cleanest blockers there is, committing just two penalties during the 2018 season. Marpet has versatility as well, having played at both guard positions and center in his four-year career.

Carson Wentz
Kelce was the leader of a Super Bowl winning line in 2017. (Wkimedia Commons)

Center – Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles
Turns out that one Kelce brother was not enough. The elder Kelce is arguably the best center in the NFL. He is just a year removed from a Super Bowl title in Philly protecting the former mayor of Philadelphia Nick Foles and a two-time All-Pro. Pro Football Focus rated him the best center in the league in his eighth season out of Cincinnati.

Offensive guard – Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns
Bitonio is one of the best guards in the league in his fifth year out of Nevada. He is an excellent blocker coming off a Pro Bowl season. Bitonio has started all 32 games over the past two seasons and committed just three penalties in that span.

Offensive tackle – Eric Fisher, Kansas City Chiefs
The former No. 1 overall pick has not lived up to the expectations that come with being the top pick. Fisher struggled as a left tackle when he first arrived out of Central Michigan. Six years into his career, he is finally hitting his stride as a quality right tackle. Fisher was a Pro Bowl selection in 2018 and finally seems to fulfilling his potential.

Defensive end – Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears
Mack is the poster child for small school players working out in the NFL. He has dominated the league since arriving from Buffalo in 2014. He has racked up double-digit sacks each of the last four seasons. Mack is a three-time All-Pro and possibly the best defensive player in the league.

Defensive tackle – Akiem Hicks, Chicago Bears
We have our first member of this team from Canada. Hicks went to school at Regina College north of the border and has turned into one of the most versatile defensive tackles in the league. He is a talented pass rusher, with 16 sacks over the past two seasons, rushing from the interior. Hicks has also proven himself as a run stopper as well.

Defensive end – Demarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys
You’ve probably been hearing about Demarcus Lawrence over the past few months. He finally landed himself a big-time contract extension. Rightfully so as the Boise State product has racked up 25 sacks and 29 tackles of loss over the past two season. Assuming Lawrence continues to produce even after being paid, he is capable of being one of the best defensive linemen in the league.

Outside linebacker – Marcus Davenport, New Orleans Saints
While Davenport is not technically an outside linebacker, he is an edge rusher. After just one season in the league as a raw defensive talent, the former UTSA standout should have a bright future. With 4.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hits as just a situational rusher in 2018. While far from proven, it is difficult to find a ton of defensive talent coming from smaller schools.

Inside linebacker – Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts
The reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year and 1st team All-Pro is a no-brainer on this list. Hailing from South Carolina State, Leonard took the league by storm in 2018, finishing as the NFL’s leading tackler. He is still improving in coverage, but his nose for finding the football makes him invaluable.

bobby_wagner_2015
Wagner accounted for nearly 450 tackles at Utah State. (Wikimedia Commons)

Inside linebacker – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks
Wagner is the best all-around linebacker in the NFL (except for maybe Luke Keuchley). The former Utah State standout racked up the fourth most tackles in 2018 while also adding 11 pass breakups, second most by a linebacker. He is reliable and possesses a lot of the intangibles teams look for in a middle linebacker.

Outside linebacker – Matt Judon, Baltimore Ravens
This might not be a name casual fans are overly familiar with. Judon is a product of Grand Valley State and a situational rusher for the Ravens. He has piled up 15 sacks and 39 quarterback hits over the past two seasons and could be in line for increased playing time with some of Baltimore’s offseason departures.

Cornerback – Byron Jones, Dallas Cowboys
Jones took some time to figure out his best role in the NFL, but after putting up insane combine numbers, it was just a matter of time before technique caught up to athleticism. The former UConn star is a lockdown corner in Dallas. He length and speed make him a great cover corner.

Safety – Damontae Kazee, Atlanta Falcons
Kazee came out of nowhere to lead the league in interceptions this year with 7. Thrown into the fray because of injuries, the former San Diego State standout thrived with more playing time. He has shown some versatility as well at nickle corner.

Safety – Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans
Byard often flies under the radar, but he a stud in Tennessee. One of the better tackling safeties in the league, he has transformed himself into a top safety in the NFL. At just 25 years old, the Middle Tennessee State product has a lot of football left in him.

Cornerback – Bryce Callahan, Denver Broncos
Yet another Bears defensive player joins this team. Bryce Callahan was in a contract year and played like a true shutdown corner in the process. He turned that into a nice contract with the Broncos. Coming from Rice, Callahan had to forge his path into the league and seems to be entering the prime of his career.

Kicker – Aldrick Rosas, New York Giants
Named a Pro Bowler and second team All-Pro, Rosas burst onto the scene in 2018. The former Southern Oregon kicker was probably the most reliable player on the Giants this season not named Saquon Barkley. He made all but one extra point attempt and Rosas made 32 of 33 field goals on the season.

Punter – Brett Kern, Tennessee Titans
Kern just missed out on making it on an All-Pro team this season. He has been a consistent punter since arriving in the league in 2012 from Toledo. Kern’s accuracy is a useful tool for Mike Vrabel’s defense.

Kick returner – Andre Roberts, Buffalo Bills
Roberts earned his way to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro team in 2018 with the Jets. He led the league in punt return average and brought back two kicks for scores. The veteran out of The Citadel showed his explosiveness and aided Sam Darnold with improved field position during his rookie year.