NFL

Welcome to ‘Extension Season’

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In the mind of a general manager, the offseason is divided into four parts. Part I runs from the end of the Super Bowl to the start of free agency, when a GM works on re-signing his own players with expiring contracts. Part II consists of the first two weeks after free agency begins, when teams focus on signing outside free agents. Next, teams transition into Part III, which consists almost exclusively of draft work.

Now, we enter Part IV, which just happens to be the slowest time on the NFL calendar. Because of that, many general managers use the time to work on extensions for players entering contract years or who are otherwise unhappy with their deals.

Take, for example, Chargers safety Eric Weddle. The three-time Pro Bowler is entering the final year of a five-year contract he signed back in 2011, a deal that made him the league’s highest-paid safety at the time. He is upset the team has yet to approach him regarding an extension.

Weddle says he feels “highly disrespected” and will not report to the team until his contract situation is resolved.

Chargers GM Tom Telesco claims he hopes to extend Weddle. He says the fact that a new deal has not been explored yet is not about disrespect, but timing.

As Telesco explained it: “If you look at our calendar, in March there is a heavy focus on re-signing players on our team with expiring contracts, and then looking to sign players from other teams with expiring contracts. The focus in April is really the NFL Draft. Once you get into May, June and July before camp, that’s when you start looking into extending players. We have a number of players here we will be looking to talk to about extensions. [Weddle] would certainly be one of them.”

In addition to Weddle, the Chargers will also make another push to extend Philip Rivers, who has expressed a desire to play out the final year of his contract while the franchise’s future in San Diego remains in limbo. DE Corey Liuget is also a candidate for a new deal and, honestly, deserves to be taken care of before Weddle.

Telesco isn’t the only GM who feels the time is now for extending veterans, which is good news for the lengthy list of marquee players hoping to land new deals before training camps open in late July and early August.

No situation will be monitored more closely than Russell Wilson’s. Seattle’s ultra efficient signal-caller is entering the final year of a rookie contract that will pay him just $1.542 million. After leading the Seahawks to back-to-back Super Bowls, Wilson figures to land a contract worth over $100 million at some point between now and the start of training camp.

No deal is imminent, however, as the sides are reportedly still far apart.

“In fact, the Seahawks haven’t put $100 million on the table right now,” said ESPN 710’s Danny O’Neil, citing league sources. “The offer of a four-year extension is believed to be worth closer to $80 million.”

The Bengals already have their $100 million quarterback in Andy Dalton, but Cincinnati has plenty of work to do at the negotiating table, as well. The Bengals have an almost unbelievable list of players who are entering contract years, including their top three receivers, both starting offensive tackles and a half-dozen critical defenders. The offensive tackles will have to wait after the Bengals addressed that position in the first and second round of the draft, but the other positions need immediate attention. In particular, Cincinnati needs to lock up A.J. Green, who is the best receiver in the game right now.

The Chargers, Seahawks and Bengals aren’t the only teams bracing for delicate negotiations. Reigning receptions leader Antonio Brown did not show up for the first week of voluntary workouts in Pittsburgh, prompting speculation that he is in search of a new contract. Brown, who still has three years left on his current contract, has since reported; nonetheless, it’s a situation the Steelers will have to monitor closely.

Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick was also a no-show for the start of voluntary workouts. He is scheduled to make just $1.5 million this season; that contract will likely have to be addressed in the next couple months.

Also ready to saddle up to the negotiating table are the players who received franchise tags back in February. Stars like Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul will all try to work out long-term deals before July 15, which is the deadline for franchised players to sign long-term deals with their clubs.

Chiefs owner Clark Hunt spoke about Houston’s situation earlier this offseason, saying: “He knows, and his agent knows, how much we want him back. We just all have to be patient, and eventually, we’re going to get him signed to a long-term deal.”

One thing that has made life easier for GMs and veterans alike the the presence of the new CBA, which instituted a rookie wage scale that essentially eliminated rookie hold-outs. Because team negotiators no longer have to spend days upon days hammering out contracts for their draft picks, they have more time to negotiate with veterans.

Nonetheless, veterans are not going report to mini camps, OTAs or training camp unless they are comfortable with their contracts. That is especially true after what happened last week, when No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler (Jacksonville) and third-round pick Jeff Heuerman (Jacksonville) went down with season-ending ACL injuries. Those injuries — the second of which was a non-contact injury — serve as reminders that players are always a play away from losing any and all negotiating leverage.

At least when an injury takes down a player like Fowler, who is just 20 years old, he still figures to have a long and productive career. Should the same injury strike a player like Weddle, 30, it could mean he never sees another lucrative NFL contract.

That is why players like Weddle and Wilson — as well as all the franchisees — will dig in between now and training camp. That gives GMs like Telesco, John Schneider and everyone else in their position a little over two months to prevent these short-term holdouts form becoming long-term headaches.

Which player will get new deals between now and training camp? Join the discussion with Michael Lombardo during his weekly NFL Chat on Friday at 2pm EST. But you don’t have to wait until then … you can ask your question now


About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has spent more than 10 years as a team expert at Scout.com, primarily covering the Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers. He has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and other venues.