There are contract disputes in the NFL every offseason. One of the most notable in 2021 is the standoff between Stephon Gilmore and the New England Patriots.
The veteran cornerback recently said he wants to be paid what he's worth, which he believes is in line with what the top five CBs in the game are being paid. That would be far more than his current price tag: $7 million in base salary. Gilmore's base ranks 24th in average salary per year among cornerbacks, per Over The Cap. However, his cap hit of $16.3 million in 2021 is the highest of any cornerback in the league (also the highest of any Patriots player). Though he's unhappy with his contract situation, he's said he's not looking to be traded out of New England.
Now, Gilmore is a two-time All-Pro and the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year. We all know he's a good player. I'm just not convinced that he's worth top-five money at this stage in his career, based on last year's production and what I see from him on film. I believe Gilmore, who'll turn 31 in September, is past his prime, and we almost never see a player -- especially a cornerback -- get back to lockdown form on the back nine of his career.
Even Hall of Famers like Brian Dawkins, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1996 right before I started working as a scout for the organization, eventually find themselves in a situation similar to the one Gilmore could be facing. Former Eagles president Joe Banner had a philosophy that led him to infrequently offer extensions to players who were 30 or older, and that unwritten rule was one of the reasons Dawkins went to Denver in 2009 and didn't finish his career out in Philly. That kind of thing still happens today (SEE: Patrick Peterson).
Another thing to monitor here is the potential fallout of a holdout. Of course, not having Gilmore on the field will hinder the Pats' defense but will it also be a distraction off the field? It could be -- like so many have been in the past -- and keep in mind that Gilmore will face significant fines if he does not report to training camp.
New England has a lot to consider when it comes to Gilmore. If I'm making the decision, I would not give him a new deal in 2021 -- especially with the recent emergence of J.C. Jackson -- and let him test the market as a free agent in 2022.
Now let's turn the page and look at other veteran players who should get a raise this season. Here are five players who deserve more money:
This situation is completely unique because of who Aaron Rodgers is. The 17th-year veteran is coming off the third MVP season of his career after leading the NFL in completion percentage (70.7), pass TDs (48) and passer rating (121.5). He led the Packers to a 13-3 record and second consecutive NFC Championship Game berth in 2020. Rodgers' dissatisfaction with his current contract isn't the only layer to his current holdout, as he's expressed his frustrations with how the organization is run. It would be unprecedented for the reigning MVP to not suit up for the same team the following year. Peyton Manning, for one, hopes this doesn't happen.
Rodgers' average annual salary is more than $11 million less than the league's highest-paid quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. To me, Green Bay's QB1 is the type of player you must keep happy. He elevates every player around him, and the Packers are a contender when he's healthy. Mahomes is the only other player I feel this strongly about. They're worth whatever you give them -- and probably more.
While we're talking about the Packers, let's turn to Rodgers' right-hand man. He's the best wideout in the league, yet his contract's average annual value of $14.5 ranks 18th among wide receivers, per Over The Cap. That's hard to fathom. The highest-paid receiver in average annual value, DeAndre Hopkins, nearly doubles Adams' figure.
Entering the final year of his current deal, Adams led the NFL in catches per game (8.2), receiving yards per game (98.1) and receiving TDs (18) last season. Adams is far and away Green Bay's best offensive weapon and routinely causes problems for opposing defenses even though they know he's going to get the ball. Sure, he's playing with a Hall of Fame quarterback in Rodgers, but Adams makes his QB better, too. It's time to take care of Adams.
Waller has been one of the NFL's best stories over the last few years. Having put in the work to overcome his struggles with addiction, Waller has developed into one of the premier tight ends in the NFL. The only players that I'd put above him at the position are George Kittle and Travis Kelce. Waller has out-performed his current contract, which he signed back in 2019. The average annual value of his contract is $7.45 million (10th among TEs, per Over The Cap). I think we can all agree that number doesn't match his production.
Looking at the carousel of Raiders pass catchers in recent years, Waller is the one player who consistently produces and serves as Derek Carr's safety net. Carr's biggest strength is getting the ball out quickly in the short- and immediate-range passing attack, and Waller provides him the reliable target he needs. Playmakers like Waller -- guys who demand attention from the defense and still make plays -- are the ones you want to pay.
The Vikings recently restructured Hunter's contract to put more cash in his pocket quicker than it otherwise would have arrived. With the restructure including a $18 million roster bonus due on the fifth day of the 2022 league year, the clock is ticking on the Vikings' decision to either keep Hunter on the roster for 2022 for $20 million, work out a new deal or release him.
This is a tough one. Hunter has been dominant when on the field, leading Minnesota with 14.5 sacks in both 2018 and 2019. In fact, he has the most career sacks (54.5) of any player from the 2015 draft class even after missing the entire 2020 season due to a neck injury that required surgery. He has more career QB takedowns than '15 draft classmates Frank Clark (49), Za'Darious Smith (44.5), Preston Smith (40.5) and Bud Dupree (39.5). However, on the pay scale, Hunter's $14.5 million average annual value is greater than just Preston Smith's from that group.
If Hunter returns to his usual form in 2021, there's no doubt he deserves an extension and the security that comes with a long-term deal. If he can't stay healthy, his leverage goes way down and I'd suspect the two parties to go their separate ways, but, as you can surmise from his inclusion on this list, I'm not expecting that outcome.
Chiefs GM Brett Veach has already expressed his interest in getting an extension done for Mathieu, who's been a staple in Steve Spagnuolo's defense since his arrival two seasons ago. Having worked with Spags during our time with the Giants, I know how important a versatile safety is to his system and Mathieu has certainly fit the bill. The 29-year-old has allowed a 66.0 passer rating in coverage since 2019 (lowest among safeties and fifth in the NFL, min. 100 targets, per Pro Football Focus), and he's been a first-team All-Pro in each of the last two seasons.
Mathieu is already one of the highest-paid safeties in average annual value, so this extension would be less about getting a "raise" and more about working out a long-term deal -- similar to what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Shaq Barrett accomplished with his deal this offseason. A new deal would be beneficial for both sides.
And in addition to Gilmore, here's one other player who shouldn't get a new deal from his current team ...
I'm tossing in one extra player here. However, it's one who SHOULD NOT get a raise this year.
A Pro Bowler the last three seasons, the former Jet has been a bright spot no matter the uniform he's wearing. That said, the bottom line is Adams' skill set didn't transform the Seahawks' defense last season, although it did improve in the second half of the season when Adams returned from a four-game absence. His best attribute is his pass-rushing skills, while he's limited in coverage. That's not ideal for a safety. The Seahawks have already given up too much for Adams, trading away a number of assets, including two first-round picks. I realize this might be a tough pill to swallow for the franchise, but instead of doubling down on the safety by paying him big money, Seattle should cut its losses by letting him finish out his current deal and hit free agency in 2022. Someone will pay him. It just shouldn't be the Seahawks.