A flurry of signings took place as the start of the regular season was approaching. Multiple players who would have been highly sought after in free agency or franchise tag candidates were taken off the market.
Some of the more notable signings of players heading into a contract year since the start of training camp include edge rusher Joey Bosa and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Bosa signed a signed a five-year, $135 million contract extension making him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history at $27 million per year. The deal has $102 million in overall guarantees where $78 million was fully guaranteed at signing, which are both the most ever in an NFL contract for a non-quarterback.
Ramsey became the NFL's first $20 million per year defensive back. He signed a five-year, $100 million extension worth up to $105 million through salary escalators. Ramsey also set records for cornerbacks with $43.703 million fully guaranteed at signing and $71.203 million in total guarantees.
The NFL and NFLPA set a 2021 salary cap floor of $175 million because of the COVID-19 pandemic causing a loss of revenue this year. The revenue loss will be spread out the next three years. If revenues are better than expected, the 2021 salary cap could be higher, but will likely remain below the current level of $198.2 million. The top contract year players escaping serious injury and poor performance in the final year of their deals probably won't be affected by the lower salary cap. These types of players found riches during free agency in 2012 and 2013 when there was minimal growth in the salary cap.
Here are 15 players to keep an eye on during their contract year.
The Cowboys have consistently dropped the ball in negotiations with Prescott. Had signing Prescott as quickly as possible been the top priority right after the 2018 season, when he was heading into the final year of his rookie deal, a contract in the $30 million per year neighborhood was conceivable. At that time, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was the NFL's second highest paid player at $30 million per year.
By waiting, Prescott has the Cowboys between a rock and a hard place. Dallas probably can't sign Prescott long term for less than $40 million per year because of Deshaun Watson's deal and the franchise tag dynamics. Watson recently signed a four year, $156 million extension averaging $39 million per year. Putting a second franchise tag on Prescott in 2021 for a 20 percent raise, mandated by the NFL collective bargaining agreement, will be $37,690,800. Prescott can afford to play hardball with Dallas after making $31.409 million this season because he would become an unrestricted free agent in 2022 or receive a third franchise tag at a 44 percent increase over the 2021 figure for $54,274,752.
The Patriots may have the NFL's biggest bargain signing this year as Newton tries to resurrect his career after being plagued by foot and shoulder injuries over the last two seasons. Newton signed a one-year deal with a base value of $1.75 million, which is worth up to $7.5 million through incentives. In order to get the entire $7.5 million, Newton will have stay healthy, win the Super Bowl and earn All-Pro honors. The 2015 NFL MVP isn't concerned about his contract. The money will take care of itself if Newton continues his hot start to this season. The Patriots retained the ability to designate Newton as franchise or transition player with his paltry one-year deal. The 2021 non-exclusive quarterback franchise tag could be in the $25 million neighborhood with a steep drop in the salary cap.