NFL News & Analysis

NFL contract extension frenzy: Reacting to Justin Herbert, Trevon Diggs and more

2MAFB43 New York Giants offensive tackle Andrew Thomas looks to block against the Carolina Panthers during an NFL football game at Met Life Stadium, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022 in East Rutherford, NJ. (Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini)

• Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert: One of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, Herbert takes the baton from Lamar Jackson as the highest-paid player in NFL history.

• Dallas Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs: Diggs’ approach to coverage makes sense for this defense, where he can turn a game around in one play even if it comes with some allowed receptions from time to time.

• New York Giants OT Andrew Thomas: Thomas led all tackles in PFF wins above replacement in 2022 and was one of just three tackles to earn 80.0-plus grades as a pass protector and run blocker.

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

Training camp highlight videos are flooding social media, optimism springs eternal for 32 fan bases and football is back. The beginning of meaningful practices where teams can develop chemistry and get better each day has served as an unofficial deadline for big-money contract extensions, and this year is no different. Many more deals are on the horizon, but we’re taking a quick pause to break down a few of the blockbusters that have already become official.

Editor's Note: For Cole Kmet's extension analysis, click here

QB Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers

Contract: Five years, $262.5 million ($52.5 million per year), $218.7 million total guaranteed

One of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, Herbert takes the baton from Lamar Jackson as the highest-paid player in NFL history just a few months after Jackson took that baton from Jalen Hurts. We’ll see how long Herbert holds that distinction with Joe Burrow’s contract expected soon, but he nonetheless has earned every single penny of this monster extension.

Herbert’s 1.6% turnover-worthy play rate since 2021 is the lowest mark in the NFL, and while much has been made of the Joe Lombardi offense that often asked him to throw the ball short, his elite arm talent is on full display plenty, as well. Over the past two seasons, Herbert’s 55 completions on balls thrown 20-plus yards downfield ranks seventh, his 1,836 yards on such throws ranks sixth and his 16 touchdowns ranks tied for fourth. 

No matter the scenario, Herbert has ice in his veins, with his 80.4 passing grade on third- or fourth-and-7 or more ranking first among quarterbacks with at least 100 such attempts since 2020, a list of 33 total players. It will be a ton of fun to see him in a far more explosive Kellen Moore offense in 2023 and beyond, with first-round wide receiver Quentin Johnston also entering the picture.

Key Contract Takeaways

The NFL teams have seemingly won two key battles: First, the idea that a quarterback is going to secure a fully guaranteed contract like Deshaun Watson with the Cleveland Browns is but a distant memory. Second, after years of the standard quarterback extension landing at four years, five years seems to be something of a minimum for the top gunslingers resetting the market. Herbert joined Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson in signing five-year deals this offseason, and it may prove tough for the next top signal-callers to go shorter than that. With the quarterback market rising every offseason, the longer the deal, the better for teams. 

From Herbert’s perspective, his $100 million in new money through the first new year of his contract is a staggering figure, a full $20 million above the previous record set by Lamar Jackson.

OT Tytus Howard, Houston Texans

Contract: Three years, $56 million ($18.67 million per year), $36.5 million guaranteed

Howard has lined up all over the offensive line, but when finally given an extended run at his natural tackle spot, he has earned a 70.2 pass-blocking grade dating back to Week 12 of 2021. Houston clearly saw his progression and continued confidence as a bookend on the right side, and now he can settle in and continue to improve for the next four seasons.

A top tackle tandem for rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, who struggled against pressure throughout his college career at Ohio State, could go a very long way in bringing him along as the franchise signal-caller. Houston did not mess around in bolstering the protection in front of Stroud, with extensions this offseason for Howard, left tackle Laremy Tunsil and right guard Shaq Mason after acquiring him in a trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Altogether, the trio will earn over $55 million annually over the next three seasons.

Key Contract Takeaways

Howard and his representatives’ ability to leverage the two Laremy Tunsil extensions in Houston proved to be key, as this three-year deal enables him to get back to the market at 30 years old. The three-year term looked even better after just a few hours when the Andrew Thomas extension became official (more on that below). Considering the shorter term and Howard’s up-and-down play at times during his rookie contract, becoming one of the five highest-paid right tackles in the NFL was a major win. 

OT Andrew Thomas, New York Giants

Contract: Five years, $117.5 million ($23.5 million per year), $67 million fully guaranteed at signing

Just a week removed from a negotiation that went down to the wire between the Giants and running back Saquon Barkley, the team agreed to terms on a major five-year extension with blue-chip left tackle Andrew Thomas. Thomas, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, took a quantum leap in 2022 and played like one of the league's best tackles week in and week out. 

Not only did Thomas lead all tackles in PFF wins above replacement in 2022, but he was also one of just three tackles to earn 80.0-plus grades as a pass protector and run blocker, joining the great Trent Williams and rising star Christian Darrisaw. Thomas’ 3.6% pressure rate allowed ranked 10th among tackles on the year, and he earned a negative run-blocking grade on just 5.3% of his run-blocking snaps, the second-lowest rate at the position. 

It is not very common to see a non-quarterback first-round pick receive an extension after three seasons, because teams have the fifth-year option at their disposal and maintain two years of contract control. The Giants were very smart to be proactive and get this deal done as soon as possible. Locking in a blue-chip left tackle for seven years total is the best kind of business you can do in this league.

Key Contract Takeaways

In a league with shorter and shorter contracts, the Giants getting Thomas inked to a five-year extension that keeps him under contract for seven years in total was a smashing success. Thomas received an incremental raise over the David Bakhtiari and Trent Williams extensions signed in 2020 and 2021, respectively, with his $23.5 million-per-year average narrowly exceeding the $23 million and $23.01 million figures for Bakhtiari and Williams. This was exceptional work by Joe Schoen and the New York Giants brass.

It will be interesting to see how this deal affects the other first-round tackles in the 2020 draft class, including Tampa Bay Buccaneers phenom Tristan Wirfs and Minnesota Vikings stud Christian Darrisaw, particularly with respect to the five-year term. 

CB Trevon Diggs, Dallas Cowboys

Contract: Five years, $97 million ($19.4 million per year), $42.3 million total guaranteed

With a handful of massive extensions on the horizon for Dallas in the near future, including wide receiver CeeDee Lamb and edge defender Micah Parsons, the Cowboys were smart to take care of 2020 second-rounder Trevon Diggs with a team-friendly, five-year extension as early as possible and ahead of any other young cornerbacks eligible to get a deal done soon.

Since 2020, Diggs’ 37 forced incompletions ranks sixth among cornerbacks, as he’s routinely making plays all over the field even when he’s not turning the ball over. While he likely won’t replicate his 11-interception season from 2021 ever again — Diggs was the first player in 40 years with 11 picks in a season — odds are he’s going to continue nabbing a few takeaways each year, especially in the short term with the presence of Stephon Gilmore on the other side of the defense putting fear in opposing quarterbacks.

With the benefit of the turnovers and risky play comes the downside, as seen with his explosive plays allowed. Diggs’ 2.9% explosive play allowed rate over the past two seasons was the 13th-highest mark among cornerbacks. The below chart from PFF's Timo Riske captures the good and bad better than any words could.

All of that said, it makes sense to have a ballhawk cornerback who takes chances while playing behind one of the most tenacious and deep defensive lines across the NFL. The current NFL is all about explosive plays, where teams have come to understand the challenge of matriculating the ball down the field and stringing together 10-plus-play drives. Eventually, an offense will make a mistake or fail to get a first down, so they’ve shifted to trying to break off shot plays. In a similar vein, Diggs’ approach to coverage makes sense for this defense, where he can turn a game around in one play even if it comes with some allowed receptions from time to time. 

Key Contract Takeaways

Nearly every top contract among cornerbacks was at five years, and then Green Bay Packers star Jaire Alexander broke through and not only reset the market at $21 million per year but also secured a four-year extension. Diggs’ deal goes back to five years and has very weak early-year cash flows and guarantees.

Diggs will make $55.5 million through the third new year of the contract (2026), which ranks seventh among cornerbacks and trails the Miami DolphinsXavien Howard and Buffalo BillsTre’Davious White. In terms of guarantees, Diggs’ $33.3 million fully guaranteed at signing figure ranks 10th and his $42.3 million total guarantee ranks sixth, the latter of which is nearly $13 million less than the fifth-highest mark. In effect, this can be viewed as a two-year extension through 2025.

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