- Zach Cunningham- ILB, Houston Texans
- Selected 57th overall out of Vanderbilt.
- Started 43 out of 46 games, averaged 80% of the team’s defensive snaps throughout 3 years (88% in ’19).
Houston’s offseason had social media buzzing, and if things go south, they will be in the market for a new HC and GM. Having done a lot of film work on Cunningham, this guy is a stud, and certainly worthy of a 2nd contract from Houston, but he may fall victim to the league’s de-valuing of the ILB position. Deshaun Watson will be owed $17.5M in 2021 with the 5th year option for 1st round picks, and Will Fuller is also due for an extension after 2020. Two guys that could easily eat up anywhere from 27-30M of your cap for 2021, not to mention what Watson will get when they go to work on an extension. All of these I believe are working against Cunningham and then you have Bernardrick McKinney who is already a very talented ILB who received his extension, so I doubt Houston is willing to pay 2 Inside Linebackers. Cunningham has played many meaningful snaps at ILB and WLB, so the position and scheme versatility for him is huge, and will certainly be a guy that can tie together a defensive unit.
- Dalvin Tomlinson- DL, New York Giants
- Selected 55th overall out of Alabama,
- Started all 48 games he’s been eligible for, playing no more than 57% of the team’s defensive snaps.
Giants fans know how good Dalvin can be, and this feels a lot like Linval Joseph 2.0 after the Giants lost him in Free Agency to Minnesota without any real push to keep him, especially when he had been part of a nasty front 4 who won a Super Bowl. Dalvin played a 3-4 in college, then made a seamless switch to 4-3 playing alongside Snacks Harrison, before switching back to a 3-4 and never missing a beat. Also, going off history, the Giants just have an inability to retain draft picks or draft well after the 2nd round for that matter. The last Giants draft pick, taken after the 2nd round to receive a 2nd contract, was Long Snapper Zak DeOssie who was selected as a LB in the 4th round of the 2007 draft. That’s the kind of incompetence we’re talking about when it comes to this front office’s ability to find and keep homegrown talent. Dalvin was tied for 3rd in the league in Run-Stuffs with 19 despite playing no more than 57% of the team’s snaps. However, the Giants for some reason have seemed to favor Leonard Williams despite his lack of production, and after selecting Dexter Lawrence in the 1st round in 2019, I’m not quite sure how they value the position. The organization has always drafted DL well, but why restart just because you’re good at it? I expect the Giants to make a push to keep Tomlinson, but he ultimately leaves for more money and stability throughout the organization.
- Budda Baker- FS, Arizona Cardinals
- 36th overall out of Washington
- 2x Pro Bowler. led the NFL in solo tackles in 2019, 4th in combined tackles, and has also led his entire draft class in tackles since entering the league. Started 36 out of potential 46 games (7 as a rookie) having only missed 2 games due to injury. Snap counts, as a rookie went from 48% to 84% in year 2, to playing 99% of the team’s snaps in 2019 while being an active Special Teams player. Has tallied 3.5 career sacks, without forcing 1 fumble or intercepting 1 pass.
When Baker was coming out of Washington, one of his biggest pro comps were Tyrann Mathieu with his ability to play in the box, play in the slot, cover TE’s and make good decisions with his ability to mentally process what’s going on behind the LOS and get himself involved in run defense. Given his stat line, Baker appears to play more of a LB role, and that makes things difficult come contract time. We know a team loves a guy that can give up his body like that, then turn around and use it against him during negotiations. Fellow FS, Eddie Jackson, reset the market this offseason with his deal from Chicago, and although it was well deserved, Baker may feel like that’s his number also, especially if he backs up 2019 with another trip to the Pro Bowl. But Eddie Jackson’s number dramatically affect a game much more than Baker’s do, and the fact that he can play the Center Field role and intercept anything deep, Baker cannot say the same. Arizona also has some big names coming due looking for money, and sacrificing talent and depth on the LOS positions may not be the best move, as well as them working on giving DeAndre Hopkins an extension.
- Dan Feeney- G, Los Angeles Chargers
- Selected 71st overall out of Indiana
- After playing 9 games in his rookie year, Feeney has played in all 36 games over the last 2 years, playing 100% of the snaps in 2018, and 98% in 2019.
Feeney was part of a Chargers draft class that also featured Forrest Lamp. Both were regarded as 2 very good prospects coming into the draft, however Feeney has proved to be more durable, and offer the versatility to play multiple positions on the OL. I’ll start by saying I think the Chargers keep him; he’s too good and too valuable to Justin Herbert, but the Chargers’ cap situation in 2021 is very interesting, and with a history of being very frugal, it’ll be a situation that could surprise some people. For starters, I don’t know if Anthony Lynn is still the guy coaching in 2021, but with names like Keenan Allen, Joey Bosa, Hunter Henry, Mike Pouncey, and Melvin Ingram all inline for a new deal, does Feeney get lost in the shuffle? Sure what he offers is big, but you also managed to find that talent in the 3rd round. Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry, and Ingram shouldn’t break the bank if kept, but those 3 combined with what Joey Bosa deserves could leave Feeney looking for more money in a new place.
- Joe Mixon- RB, Cincinnati Bengals
- Selected 48th out of Oklahoma
- Has more career rushing yards than McCaffrey, Fournette, Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara. 21 career TD’s, 0 fumbles since his rookie year (515 carries).
There are rumors that Cincinnati is currently working on an extension for Mixon, but the Christian McCaffrey deal could put the two sides far apart when it comes time to negotiate. Putting a RB on this list is difficult because they’re at the mercy of the OL more than most positions. However, Cincinnati struggles just about everywhere, so the fact that Mixon has had success is a shocker. He’s taken a beating for sure over his 3 years, including receptions, he’s had over 800 touches. But he does possess the Le’Veon Bell quality where he does a great job of avoiding the big hit, making defenders miss just enough to preserve his body. An impressive feat considering where he’s playing, the physicality of the division, and the fact that Cincy has been in the league’s basement for so long. I’m not entirely sure where to side on this one; I think Mixon gets his money somewhere, and there is a trend in the league where RB’s are beginning to get paid, and one that’s been healthy and productive in a bad situation like Mixon could afford to take a chance on the open market. He won’t get CMC money, but he could get the equivalent to what Cincinnati would offer but to a better situation.
- Chris Godwin- WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Selected 84th out of Penn State.
- Over 1,300 yards on 86 catches in 2019 under Bruce Arians and as a first-year starter in Bruce Arians’ offense. 2019; 95ypg, 71% catch percentage, 11yd/target.
Chris Godwin isn’t a secret anymore. He broke out in 2019, and at one point early in the season, had been the league’s best WR in fantasy football. He’s absolutely deserving of a 2nd contract from Tampa, but Tampa is in an interesting spot with where they’re going if things go well or don’t go well. So many times we see a team poised to win big like Tampa is, then years later we hear a former GM or owner say something like, “…well we did what we could to assemble a championship team then figured we would just go from there”. Either way, Tampa will be forced with a tough decision after this year, and that’s without considering who might bid against them for Godwin. If they win big, Godwin could look to go elsewhere and be a clear #1, if things go poorly, and Godwin takes a step back and Brady is more comfortable throwing to much bigger targets, he could look to leave for the same reasons. Nonetheless, I believe Tampa works real hard to get a deal done, but we are seeing a trend of these receivers being more expendable, teams willing to move on, and Godwin could be a name in the future that falls victim to that.
- Tarik Cohen- RB, Chicago Bears
- Selected 119th out of North Carolina A&T
- More receiving yards than rushing yards. 14 total TD’s (9 Rec.) and 13 career fumbles. Took a step back in yards from scrimmage in 2019; after posting over 1,100 yards in 2018, managed to post less than 700 in 2019.
As we saw in 2018, if used properly, Tarik Cohen can be an absolute game wrecker. You don’t want to see him in space, you can’t cover him with a LB, Safety, etc. and he might as well be a poor man’s Tyreek Hill when you can get him going effectively. With a cap hit of $2.2M in 2020, Cohen’s production doesn’t indicate he’s resetting any markets, but still he’s a guy with a skill set you don’t find very often, and is a niche player that provides a unique, dynamic impact to a team’s offense that can be utilized for all 32 teams.
- Damontae Kazee- CB, Atlanta Falcons
- Selected 149th out of San Diego State
- 120 career solo tackles with 10 INT’s switching to Safety. In 2018, allowed just above 53% completion percentage with 7 INT’s and in 2019, his performance took a step back allowing 65% completion percentage with 3 INT’s, but only gave up 1 receiving TD.
As of now, the Falcons’ cap situation is brutal to begin 2020, and even worse in 2021. As it sits, the Falcons barely have more than just $1M in cap space, and headed into 2021, are dealing with 59K in cap space. Atlanta poured money into their pass rush this offseason, took a CB with their first pick, and Kazee might be the odd man out when it’s time to negotiate a new deal, even though you’re dealing with a team with older veterans who need to win now and are competing against the teams in their division who continue to improve. He made a seamless switch to Safety from playing CB, and that alone is worth extra come contract time.
- Jayon Brown- ILB, Tennessee Titans
- Selected 155th out of UCLA
- Ranked 4th in his draft class in solo tackles. Has played 81% and 75% of the team’s snaps over the last 2 seasons.
Brown began his career by primarily being a coverage LB, posting solid numbers according to PFF pertaining to his ability to his coverage ability, and ability to rush the QB. In year 2 and 3, Brown cemented himself as a full-time starter with the ability to be a force in the run game as well. At just 226lbs, Brown isn’t the prototypical ILB size, but he plays with good awareness, instincts and technique to remain active if he isn’t the one making the stops. Watching film, part of what Brown does that’s so selfless and hard to do, is that he’s the one absorbing and initiating contact on interior OL who get to the 2nd level. Often times giving up at least 90-110lbs, Brown does a great job turning OL into the running lane just enough to slow down the ball carrier, and gives his teammates easy opportunities for stops. As I mentioned before about Zach Cunningham, although these 2 are very worthy of an extension, the lack of importance placed on the 3-4 ILB in today’s NFL could be the biggest reason why we see them hit the open market. Again in 2021, Tennessee will be faced with having to pay more impactful players, and Brown might just be the odd man out. Just this past Spring, we saw Blake Martinez and Joe Shobert, 2 ILB’s who can do everything the position asks of them, having played at least 99% of the team’s snaps, take money elsewhere without any real push from the teams who drafted them.
- Marcus Williams-S, New Orleans Saints
- Selected 42nd overall out of Utah
- 148 career tackles, 10 INT’s, 70 career targets with 41 completions allowing 881 yards (21.5 yards per completion). Has started all but 2 career games, and hasn’t played fewer than 89% of the team’s defensive snaps.
Marcus Williams might be good enough to receive Eddie Jackson money, and potentially reset the market for FS’s. This is another position that appears to be hit or miss when it comes to retention, as this position depends on the team’s pass rush. The biggest threat to Williams’ tenure in NO, is the fact there are so many other players ahead of him that will need extensions. Not only do you have to worry about Alvin Kamara, you’ve got Larry Warford, Sheldon Rankins, and the situation at QB. Safeties just don’t seem to stick around much these days; they command a good amount of money, and it seems as if every team that does give a Safety a big extension, is pressed up against the cap within the first couple years. Eric Berry, Kevin Byard and Eddie Jackson are all deserving, but the cap situation for those teams after making those signings has always been shaky. Even Denver Bronco Justin Simmons, who played 100% of the snaps, couldn’t get an extension and was given the franchise tag. Look for Williams to be elsewhere in 2021.
- Marlon Mack
- Curtis Samuel
- Larry Ogunjobi
- James Conner