Player dissatisfaction with existing contracts and frustration with the negotiation of new contracts regularly occurs every offseason. There are different ways to handle contract unhappiness. Some players attend offseason workouts as a gesture of good faith that there will be a positive result. Others express their displeasure by refusing to attend the offseason workout program, organized team activities and mandatory minicamp.
The three-day June minicamp camp is the only mandatory offseason activity. Players under contract who don’t attend this minicamp are subject to a $95,877 fine under the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement this year. It’s a $15,980 hit for the first day missed, $31,980 for a second missed day and $47,936 with a third missed day.
These penalties for missing mandatory minicamp don’t apply to unsigned restricted free agents, franchise and transition players. Their attendance isn’t required because of the absence of a signed contract. Players under contract are withholding services they are contractually obligated to perform while unsigned players have no such obligation.
Twelve of the 32 NFL teams (Colts, Buccaneers, 49ers, Giants, Lions, Packers, Patriots, Raiders, Rams Seahawks, Steelers and Vikings) are holding minicamp this week. Seventeen teams will have minicamp next week. The Dolphins had their minicamp last week. The Bengals and Eagles will not be holding a mandatory minicamp.
Here’s a look at the situations of nine notable players who are unhappy with their situations, who either want a new contract or a trade. Three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald was going to headline the list. He was threatening retirement until the Rams gave him an unprecedented three-year, $95 million contract, which added $40 million to his existing deal without getting any new contract years in return, on Monday. Donald becomes the first non-quarterback to break the $30 million-per-year barrier. He was also the first to crack the $20 million-per-year mark.
Murray has been pushing for a new deal practically ever since the Cardinals lost to the Rams in the wild card playoff round. Erik Burkhardt, Murray’s agent, released a statement in all capital letters in February essentially demanding a new contract. The Cardinals haven’t made an offer to Murray. Burkhardt recently pulled the offer he had made to the Cardinals.
When the offseason workout program started in mid-April, Murray was a no-show. This prompted some speculation that Murray could eventually be traded. Cardinals GM Steve Keim stating there’s “zero chance” of Murray being traded should end the rumors. The two-time Pro Bowler has skipped most of Arizona’s organized team activities. Keim sounded optimistic about getting an extension done during a recent appearance on the Pat McAfee Show.
Murray could be the beneficiary of the Cardinals not operating on his timetable for a new contract. Nobody envisioned quarterback Deshaun Watson getting a fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract in connection with his trade from the Browns to the Texans, especially considering the sexual assault and misconduct allegations he’s still facing. Watson had four years worth $136 million remaining on the four-year contract extension, averaging $39 million per year he signed in September 2020. Burkhardt pushing for a fully guaranteed contract comparable to Watson’s wouldn’t be a surprise.
A fully guaranteed contract could be problematic because of the NFL’s archaic funding rules and the Cardinals aren’t considered a cash-rich team. Teams are required to put into an escrow account the amount of any guarantees in a contract other than those just for injury, including ones in future contract years.
The Cardinals didn’t pay Murray’s signing bonus in a lump sum like 2019 second overall pick Nick Bosa got from the 49ers as $6,839,924 of Murray’s $23,589,924 signing bonus was deferred until March 1, 2020.
Mayfield, who is scheduled to play this season under a fully guaranteed $18.858 million fifth-year option, doesn’t want a new contract and the 2018 first overall pick has asked to be traded.
Mayfield seemingly became expendable after the Browns unexpectedly gave up 2022, 2023 and 2024 first-round picks, a 2022 fourth-round pick, a 2023 third-round pick and a 2024 fourth-round pick to the Texans for Watson and a 2024 sixth-round pick in March.
The biggest sticking point in a Mayfield trade has been the amount of his fifth-year option salary the Browns will need to eat in order to part ways with him. A trade to the Panthers during late April’s NFL Draft reportedly fell apart over this issue. According to the Charlotte Observer, the Panthers wanted the Browns to pay $13 million to $14 million, which would have been converted to signing bonus pre-trade, of the $18.858 million.
The 49ers excused quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who likely will be traded once he resumes throwing a football after undergoing right shoulder surgery in March, from this week’s minicamp. The Browns followed suit on Wednesday, excusing Mayfield from next week’s mandatory minicamp, CBS Sports NFL Insider Josina Anderson confirmed.
Samuel showed up for this week’s minicamp after missing all of San Francisco’s other offseason activities. He has not participated in practices.
Samuel requested a trade earlier in the offseason. His reasons for wanting out of San Francisco have never been revealed. There is speculation that Samuel doesn’t want to continue in the dual role as a wide receiver and running back he took on last season.
49ers general manager John Lynch rejected all overtures from other teams about Samuel prior to this year’s draft. Last week, Lynch said he would be a fool to trade Samuel, who earned All-Pro honors last season while emerging as one of the NFL’s most dangerous offensive weapons.
Samuel led the league with 18.2 yards per catch. He caught 77 passes for 1,405 yards with six touchdowns. Samuel was also a threat out of the backfield. He performed at a Pro Bowl level as a running back when the 49ers started utilizing him in that capacity because of injuries. Samuel rushed for 365 yards on 59 carries (6.2 yards per carry) and scored eight touchdowns on the ground. His 1,770 yards from scrimmage (combined rushing and receiving yards) were third in the NFL last season.
My experience as an agent was that money could cure most ills with clients. If that holds true for Samuel, the 49ers should be prepared to top the deal fellow 2019 second-round pick A.J. Brown signed when traded to the Eagles during the first round of the draft. The Eagles gave Brown a four-year, $100 million extension containing $57,220,471 of guarantees.
Metcalf skipped the first day of minicamp after attending portions of the optional offseason workouts although he was rehabbing from foot surgery. His minicamp absence is unexcused.
Metcalf should be wary about playing out his contract given Seattle’s quarterback situation. Either Drew Lock or Geno Smith will be replacing Russell Wilson, who was traded to the Broncos in March. The drop off at quarterback should be appreciable.
Brown’s deal could be of particular importance to Metcalf. They were teammates in college at Ole Miss, selected 13 picks apart in 2019’s second round. Metcalf is the more accomplished of the two. He set a Seahawks franchise record in 2020 with 1,303 receiving yards.
Schultz had been a participant in the Cowboys‘ offseason workouts until this week. Frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations for a new contract, Schultz isn’t attending the rest of OTAs. Whether he is willing to subject himself to the 95,877 fine for missing next week’s minicamp remains to be seen. Schultz quickly signed his $10.931 million tender after the Cowboys made him a franchise player in March.
The franchise tender creates more of a sense of urgency with his contract negotiations. The deadline for franchise players to sign long-term deals is July 15 at 4 p.m. ET.
The Cowboys can’t be happy about the latest data point in the tight end market. The Browns recently gave David Njoku, who was also franchised, a four-year, $54.75 million contract worth up to $56.75 million with incentives. The deal contains $28 million in guarantees, of which $17 million was fully guaranteed at signing.
Njoku’s $13,687,500 average per year should serve as a salary floor for Schultz especially since Njoku doesn’t measure up to him statistically. Schultz had a career year in 2021 with 78 catches, 808 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. He was more productive last season in 17 games than Njoku was over the last two seasons combined in the 29 games he played. Njoku caught 55 passes for 688 yards with six touchdowns. Schultz has 23 more receptions, 120 more receiving yards and two more touchdown catches than Njoku.
The last two times the Cowboys let someone play a season under a franchise tag, it cost them far more to eventually sign these players long term. The same dynamic would likely apply to Schultz with a productive 2022 season.
The Cowboys definitely wouldn’t have needed to sign defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence to a five-year, $105 million contract, averaging $21 million per year, if a deal had been done in 2018. At the July 15 long-term-deal deadline for franchise players, the $20 million-per-year non-quarterback didn’t exist.
Dak Prescott doesn’t sign a $40 million contract in March 2021 with an agreement reached in July 2020. There’s a good chance Prescott’s would deal would have been under the $35 million-per-year extension Wilson signed with the Seahawks in 2019. Watson didn’t get his $39 million-per-year extension from the Texans until right before the 2020 regular season started.
Bates reportedly has no intention of playing under his $12.911 million franchise tag. Sitting out the season if a long-term deal isn’t reached by July 15 would be surprising. The franchise tag is more than twice as much what Bates made from his four-year rookie contract that expired after the 2021 season. Bates’ career earnings to date from his NFL player contract are just over $6.225 million.
It is a rarity for franchise players to miss a season. Last time it happened before Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell in 2018 was with Chiefs defensive lineman Dan Williams in 1998.
The Bengals probably don’t want to pay Bates any more than the $14 million per year Marcus Williams, who was designated as a franchise player by the Saints in 2021, received from the Ravens on a five-year deal in free agency this year. Bates likely has his sights set on the top of the safety market. The Broncos made Justin Simmons, who was on his second straight franchise tag, the league’s highest-paid safety at $15.25 million per year in March 2021. That was before Jamal Adams reset the safety market with a four-year, $70 million extension, averaging $17.5 million per year and worth up to $72 million through incentives and salary escalators, from the Seahawks last August.
McLaurin hasn’t been around for any of Washington’s offseason activities. The 2019 third-round pick will be the beneficiary of the exploding wide receiver market should he get a long-term deal this year. When the offseason began, there were only four wide receivers with contracts averaging at least $20 million per year. There are now 10, with more on the way.
During McLaurin’s three seasons in Washington he has practically averaged 74 receptions, 1,030 receiving yards and five touchdown catches without quarterback stability. Offseason acquisition Carson Wentz should be the best quarterback McLaurin has had in Washington.
A franchise tag analysis could also enter the equation. The 2023 wide receiver number should be in the $20 million range. A second franchise tag in 2024 at a CBA mandated 20% raise would be around $24 million. The $22 million average of two projected franchise tags could be an important benchmark in McLaurin contract discussions.
Moore ended his offseason absence by showing up this week for the Colts’ minicamp. The 2021 Pro Bowler has two-years left on the four-year, $33.3 million extension worth up to $39.355 million through salary escalators he signed in 2019 to primarily be a slot cornerback. The other original ballot 2021 Pro Bowl cornerbacks on veteran deals have contracts averaging at least $16.5 million per year. This is almost double the base value of Moore’s extension, which is $8.325 million per year.
The Colts normally don’t address contracts with two years remaining. Retired quarterback Andrew Luck, offensive guard Quenton Nelson and offensive tackle Braden Smith didn’t sign deals until in a contract year. Nelson is the Colts’ top signing priority. The 2018 first-round pick and three-time All-Pro is scheduled to play the 2022 season on a $13.754 million fifth-year option.
The Bills are unsure whether Poyer will be at next week’s minicamp. He has skipped Buffalo’s offseason workouts thus far.
Poyer is entering the final year of a two-year, $19.25 million extension worth up to $20.75 million with incentives signed in March 2020. He recently switched agents to Drew Rosenhaus in a push for a new deal that would allow him to finish his career in Buffalo.
Poyer was named an All-Pro by the Associated Press and Pro Football Writers of America last year. The same cannot be said for the league’s three highest-paid safeties: Adams ($17.5 million per year), Harrison Smith ($16 million per year) and Simmons ($15.25 million per year).
At 31 years old, Poyer’s age would likely be held against him if he hit the open market next offseason. Three-time All-Pro Tyrann Mathieu, at age 30, had a softer than expected market in free agency this year. He didn’t sign a three-year, $27 million deal worth up to $33 million through incentives with the Saints until early May.
Poyer’s best deal will likely come from the Bills. The Vikings took care of a 32-year-old Smith last preseason with a four-year, $64 million extension. Trying to get similar money from the Bills would be an extremely ambitious undertaking by Poyer.