It’s contract extension season!
For the past few years, Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn has made it a habit to sign his own players on expiring contracts to an extension in the final weeks of August or early September. Last year, the Lions signed Damon Harrison Sr. to a one-year extension on August 21 (whoops). The year before that, Quandre Diggs signed a three-year extension on September 3 (whoops). The season prior to that, Matthew Stafford signed his mega-deal on August 28 (no whoops).
This year, at least two Detroit Lions players look to be seeking a contract extension: left tackle Taylor Decker and wide receiver Kenny Golladay. With both players entering the final year of their rookie deals, both are potentially set up for a life-changing pay raise.
But with COVID-19 potentially having massive impacts on the salary cap in 2021 and beyond, it could complicate things.
So to get a better understanding of what we should expect from potential extensions, I chatted with NFL cap analyst Brad Spielberger (@PFF_Brad), who contributes to both PFF and Over The Cap. Last year, he provided some great insight into the contract situations of Harrison and Darius Slay, so we wanted to check in with him again this year.
Here is our interview.
Brad: “The $15 million average per year is about where I had a potential extension for Decker pegged coming into this offseason, though circumstances may have changed a bit after Laremy Tunsil’s monster deal. Of course, Decker doesn’t have nearly the same leverage as did Tunsil after getting traded to Houston from Miami for multiple first round picks. Nevertheless, one thing Decker and Tunsil do share is elite draft status. Tunsil was selected No. 13 overall in 2016 by the Miami Dolphins, and three picks later the Lions grabbed Decker. Dion Dawkins, on the other hand, was a late second rounder in 2017, therefore the Bills didn’t have the fifth-year option at their disposal for 2021.
Dawkins and Decker in my opinion are in the same tier at left tackle (Top ~12-16 range in the NFL), and at just 26 years old their futures could be very bright. However, given Decker was the No. 16 overall pick and has a $10.35M fully guaranteed fifth-year option for 2020 already on the books, I expect his deal to slightly surpass that of Dawkins.
I think five-year, $80 million with around $35-$40 million guaranteed at signing is a fair deal for both parties.”
2. We’ve seen a few contracts signed since it was clear the salary cap was going to decrease in 2021. How has that impacted the structure of deals?
Brad: “The main impact has been early-year cash flows, which is of course understandable given the circumstances the league is facing. The gaudy total contract numbers we see in the headlines have persisted, but even more so than ever before, the devil is in the details. It’s not that guarantees have decreased either, so players will still eventually see the money, but many agreed to be patient about when payday comes in exchange for locking up their future earnings and putting that aspect of football behind them so they can focus on the field.”
3. Do you believe uncertainty around the salary cap will result in fewer extensions signed this year?
Brad: “I think it will gut the intermediate and lower end veteran market more than severely impact the top players. I also think free agents will have a harder time securing a good deal than those players already with a club, as teams may have earmarked some funds for an extension in the past. A handful of teams at this point have demonstrated a willingness to get their superstars paid long term without any sort of discount, but the same cannot really be said for street free agents. I expect that trend to continue.”
4. Where do you view Kenny Golladay’s value? Is this a scenario like a top-10 quarterback where you just have to pay him as a top-5 WRs, even though his play may not be there yet?
Brad: “Kenny Golladay is a clear cut WR1 and a top 10-15 wide receiver in the entire NFL. I was extremely impressed with his production last season given the QB carousel that Detroit had to endure. We like to talk about how some receivers are “matchup-proof” and whoever is defending them doesn’t matter because they will still produce. Well, Kenny Golladay showed he was “QB-proof” last season, which I would argue is even more valuable. Golladay also excels in areas that just simply cannot be taught, most notably his uncanny ability to go up and get it.
While he may have some things to iron out to add more polish to his game, he’s shown enough to be confidently considered among the top wideouts in the game. I like the way you phrased the question because that is more or less how the cookie crumbles. You can nitpick his game all you want and argue he’s not in the top-5, but the average per year of his extension will place him in the top 5 at wide receiver (greater than $18 million per year).”
5. Looking at the Lions’ salary cap situation, do you believe they can extend both players (and maybe Matt Prater, too) and still be in good shape for the 2021 cap decrease?
Brad: “The Lions land right in the middle of the pack when projecting 2021 salary cap space according to Over The Cap research. Obviously a lot can and will happen from now until then, but Detroit is not in nearly as precarious a situation as teams like the Eagles and Saints find themselves in. I don’t think the Lions have a choice but to extend both players and go from there. At the end of the day, you have to retain your best offensive players if you can and surround your QB with guys like Taylor Decker and Kenny Golladay.
As for Matt Prater, I know he can kick the living blank out of the ball and has been reliable for the Lions for years, but a pricey kicker may potentially be a luxury they can no longer afford going forward. I’m not saying it would be impossible or even improbable that it happens, but I’m not so sure giving new money to a 36-year-old kicker is the best allocation of resources in a cap-strapped season.”