It has never been a better time to be a top-tier player in the NFL. The money coming in hot and fast each month is finally starting to resemble the NBA max-contract model.

The past three months have produced two new QB cash kings in Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers ($50 million per year) and Cleveland's Deshaun Watson (a fully guaranteed, $230 million deal). Top pass-catchers pushed the receiver market to $25-plus million. And just this week, Jaire Alexander brought the cornerback market into a new threshold at $84 million over four years with the Packers, less than a month after Denzel Ward hit the $20 million mark with the Browns.

No wonder league owners wanted a separate salary cap for big-money players back in the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. The players didn't go for it. And now those owners will have star players occupying a bigger percentage of their salary cap each year -- though the projected cap boom coming as soon as 2023 will help soften the blow.

More deals will come over the next three months, from former first-round picks to franchise-tagged players and midrounders emerging as superstars. At least 20 teams have a potential extension or long-term deal to address with a key soon-to-be-free-agent before the 2022 season kicks off. Let's dig into that landscape, with Intel on players around the league looking for new contracts.

 

THE 2018 FIRST-ROUND PICKS (2023 free agents)

Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens

Jackson and the Ravens have been at a standstill for quite some time. Baltimore is prepared to do a deal, but Jackson hasn't forced the issue -- and has even dodged it, like an open-field tackler. He's either incredibly patient, or he wants to get to free agency.

And you have to give Jackson credit here: He has made himself millions by waiting. The market has gone up exponentially since last summer, with four passers (Watson, Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen) all above $43 million per year. As a former MVP with 105 total touchdowns and an astounding 37-12 record as a starter, Jackson can justify at least asking for something in the ballpark of Watson's five-year, $230 million deal.

The flip side is Jackson isn't coming off a great year -- his 50.7 QBR was well below what he put up in the previous two seasons -- and was sidelined for five games, fueling the conversation about whether his dual-threat style of play will affect long-term durability. One league exec said the Ravens would be foolish not to at least consider paying Jackson on a year-to-year basis, going from the fifth-year option of $23 million for next season to two franchise tags.

 

Quenton Nelson, G, Indianapolis Colts

The Colts would like to prioritize re-signing Nelson but know this will be costly. That's why this deal could take time. The guard market is very reasonable, with Jacksonville's Brandon Scherff being the highest-paid at $16.5 million per year. But that might be part of the problem. Nelson, 26, is widely considered the NFL's best guard by a wide margin and could want closer to $20 million annually. I have heard the same sentiment from several veteran agents: Nelson will break the bank. While Nelson -- who has a career pass block win rate of 94.7% -- doesn't play left tackle, this might be a left tackle conversation based on money.

Luckily for Nelson and the Colts, Indianapolis budgets for in-house talent and doesn't spend big in free agency. The Colts still have $14.4 million in 2022 cap space, and that's with Nelson's $13.76 million cap hit off the fifth-year option included -- which can be reduced on a new deal.