Over the next few months, contract negotiations—or lack thereof—for Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, and Odell Beckham Jr. will take NFL offseason center stage. But as that trio of headline-hogging superstars threaten holdouts and seek long-term extensions with their respective teams worth a combined hundreds of millions of dollars, a handful of other big-name, über-talented playmakers are heading into the final year of their contracts and are looking to get paid the big bucks, too.
Some of those upcoming-contract-year players will be rewarded with big-money extensions before training camp kicks off, some will get deals during the season, and others still will be forced to play the year out, awaiting free agency or the franchise tag next spring.
That’s the Ringer’s Danny Kelly setting up his 13 “contract year all-stars” for the 2018 season, 13 significant talents playing for their financial futures.
After being traded to the Rams in April, Cooks is now with his third team—but there’s no denying that the speedy pass catcher has produced at elite levels on each of his first two stops:
Here is the list of players with 1,050 receiving yards and 7+ TDs in three of their first four seasons.
Randy Moss – 4
Odell Beckham Jr.
— Anthony Staggs (@PyroStag) May 14, 2018
The Rams are reportedly hoping to ink Cooks to a long-term deal, but that plan depends on just how much the former Patriots and Saints pass catcher is hoping to get. Say Cooks has his sights set on somewhere close to the record five-year, $82.5 million deal Mike Evans recently signed with the Buccaneers: Will Sean McVay and Les Snead be willing to fork out top dollar (and his approximate market value, per Spotrac) to a player who has yet to play a game in a Rams uniform? For a team that has yet to hand Donald an extension—and still has decisions to make over the next couple of years on upcoming free agents like Marcus Peters, Lamarcus Joyner, Todd Gurley, and Jared Goff—it makes for an interesting negotiation. For now, Cooks is set to play 2018 on a $8.5 million fifth-year option.
The Cooks situation is a fascinating one.
We know the Rams were interested in him as far back as last offseason and have been interested in getting an extension done before the season starts. But (a) they have so many competing deals to consider and (b) the Sammy Watkins conundrum.
Last year, the Rams traded a 2018 NFL Draft second-round pick and CB E.J. Gaines for Watkins and a 2018 sixth-round pick. While Watkins didn’t have eye-popping numbers, he did find the end zone frequently and was an integral part of the offensive turnaround under Head Coach Sean McVay. Nonetheless, the Rams weren’t willing to match the Kansas City Chiefs’ offer of three years, $48m with $30m guaranteed. Should Cooks’ production fall off from his previous three seasons, a very real possibility, would the Rams entertain doling out a similar contract to Cooks? He’s been the more productive of the two to this point in his career. Would the Rams even consider the deal Kelly touched on above akin to Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans who got a even consider the deal Kelly touched on above akin to Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans who got a five-year, $82.5m offer with $55m guaranteed? Obviously if Cooks has a monster season production-wise, that’s going to be the asking point. But is a monster season production-wise even possible with WR Robert Woods, WR Cooper Kupp and RB Todd Gurley looking for touches as well to say nothing of what might come out of the tight end position (looking at you, Gerald Everett)?
Yes, the Aaron Donald contract is soaking up the attention right now, and well it should. But the Cooks deal may be the more interesting one given the Rams’ history at the position and the totality of the work they have to do in re-signing their own over the next 11 months.