Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell made history in 2018 when he skipped the entire season due to a contract dispute. Bell, who signed with the New York Jets in the offseason, now makes it possible for players to go through with the threat of skipping a season. What Bell did opens the door for future stars hoping to score a big contract. Here's a look at which players might be next on the list of contract standoffs.
With Bell and Pro Bowl WR Antonio Brown gone, the next Steelers star has emerged - WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. Opposite Brown last year, Smith-Schuster actually led the Steelers in receptions and receiving yards. A second-round pick, the former USC star is not eligible for performance bonuses and will make a salary of just $850,000 this coming season. He will make just over $1 million 2020 after which he will be eligible for free agency. Until then, Smith-Schuster might be the best bargain in all of football.
A BETTER BARGAIN
Saints RB Alvin Kamara might be an even better bargain than Smith-Schuster, though the former third-round pick makes more than his Steeler counterpart. Kamara is set to make $977,500 this season and just over $2 million in 2020. It's a nice payday, but it's nowhere near the likes of Todd Gurley, Bell, and Ezekiel Elliott. Only Gurley, Elliott, and Julio Jones have more yards from scrimmage over the past two seasons than Kamara. Now that's a deal, and after the 2020 season Kamara will be looking to get paid.
SAINTS PART II
While Kamara must wait until 2020, teammate Michael Thomas could be in Bell's shoes after the 2019 season. No player in the history of the NFL has caught more passes in their first three seasons than Thomas. Only four receivers - Brown, Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, and Mike Evans - have more catches than Thomas over the past three seasons. The average salary of those four? Over $16 million per season. Thomas will make $1.15 million this season, but because he was not a first-round pick (he was a second-rounder) the Saints do not have a fifth-year option meaning this is the last year of Thomas's rookie deal.
Chargers RB Melvin Gordon has averaged over 1,450 yards and 13 touchdowns per season for the last three years. His salary has averaged $2.67 million and Gordon will play this year on a fifth-year option worth $5.6 million, much less than he could have received had he been a free agent. A number of third- through seventh-round draft picks could be in for big paydays or contract standoffs. San Francisco TE George Kittle, Chicago RB Tarik Cohen, and Bears safety Eddie Jackson are all vastly underpaid.