The 2011 collective bargaining agreement fundamentally changed how draft picks are paid. A rookie wage scale drastically reducing salaries for early first-round picks was implemented. It remains in existence.
All contracts for draft choices are four years in length under the rookie wage scale. Four-year deals in the first round before the rookie wage scale were virtually nonexistent. Most first rounders got five-year deals, except quarterbacks selected early in the draft, such as Matthew Stafford in 2009 and Sam Bradford in 2010, who signed six-year contracts.
Teams have an option for a fifth year with first-round picks that must be exercised after the third year of the rookie contract. The period for exercising fifth-year options begins after a player's third NFL regular season ends. These options must be picked up prior to May 3. Options for 19 players selected in the 2019 first round were picked up this year.
The timing for when draft picks could sign contract extensions also changed. Draft pick contracts can't be renegotiated until the conclusion of a player's third NFL regular season. This means 2019 draftees became eligible to sign extensions after the 2021 regular season ended on Jan. 9.
First-round pick contract extension timing
2022 is a not contract year for 2019 first round picks if the option for a fifth year is exercised. Rookie contracts for first-round picks expire after the 2023 season in these cases. Because of this, only a few first-round picks sign extensions before the start of or early in their fourth NFL season.
Since 2011 first-round picks initially became eligible for new deals in 2014, just 25 first rounders have signed extensions within this timeframe. The 25 players are listed in the charts below.
2011 NFL Draft
2012 NFL Draft
2013 NFL Draft
2014 NFL Draft: None
2015 NFL Draft
2016 NFL Draft
2017 NFL Draft
2018 NFL Draft
During the first eight times first-round picks have been eligible for extensions (2014 through 2021), an average of 3.125 players per year received new deals after three years. 2018 12th overall pick Vita Vea isn't included. The Buccaneers defensive tackle didn't sign a new deal until a day before the 2021 regular season ended.
Surprisingly, none of the 2014 first-round picks signed extensions in 2017 despite containing NFL Defensive Player of Year award winners defensive tackle Aaron Donald and edge rusher Khalil Mack. Donald held out from the Rams for most of the preseason trying to get a new deal before returning to play under the fourth year of his rookie contract.
The high water mark for early first-round extensions was in 2020. Six 2017 first-round picks with options exercised didn't play the fourth season under their rookie contracts because extensions were signed. Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles, whose fifth-year option was declined, has been excluded. His deal came 10 games into Denver's 2020 regular season.
Only 14 NFL teams have done an early first-round pick extension since 2014. The teams that don't fit the criteria are the Bengals, Broncos, Buccaneers, Chargers, Colts, Commanders, Falcons, 49ers, Giants, Jaguars, Jets, Packers Patriots, Saints, Seahawks, Steelers, Titans and Vikings.
Surprisingly, the Rams lead the way with four extensions given their recent philosophy of "F** Them Picks." This number isn't going to change anytime soon. The Rams haven't had a first-round pick since Jared Goff in 2016 and don't have another one until 2024.
The extensions have skewed toward offensive players by slightly more than a two-to-one margin. Only eight of the extensions have gone to defensive players while 17 have been to those on the offensive side of the ball.
An emerging trend is to extend the contracts of quarterbacks early. Overall, six quarterbacks have gotten early extensions. Five of the new deals for passers have been in the past three eligible draft classes (2016 through 2018).
2019 first-round early extension candidates
Nobody from the 2019 first round has signed an extension so far this offseason. Based on history, three of these first rounders should get new deals before the regular season starts in September. The season opener for most NFL teams is on Sunday, Sept. 11. The most logical candidates to get early extensions are below.
First Pick: Kyler Murray, QB, Cardinals
Murray has been pushing for a new deal practically ever since the Cardinals lost to the Rams in the wild-card round. Erik Burkhardt, Murray's agent, released a statement in all capital letters during February essentially demanding a new contract. The Cardinals haven't made an offer to Murray. Burkhardt recently pulled the offer he had made to the Cardinals.
When the offseason workout program started in mid-April, Murray was a no show. This prompted some speculation that Murray could eventually be traded. Cardinals GM Steve Keim stating there's "zero chance" of a Murray being traded should end the rumors. The two-time Pro Bowler is also skipping organized team activities that started for the Cardinals this week.
Murray could be the beneficiary of the Cardinals not operating on his timetable for a new contract. Nobody envisioned quarterback Deshaun Watson getting a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract in connection with his trade from the Texans to the Browns, especially considering the sexual assault and misconduct allegations he's still facing. Watson had four years worth $136 million remaining on the four-year contract extension averaging $39 million per year he signed in September 2020. Burkhardt initially pushing for a fully guaranteed contract comparable to Watson's wouldn't be a surprise.
A fully guaranteed contract could be problematic because of the NFL's archaic funding rules and the Cardinals aren't considered a cash rich team. Teams are required to put into an escrow account the amount of any guarantees in a contract other than those just for injury, including ones in future contract years.
The Cardinals didn't pay Murray's signing bonus in a lump like 2019 second overall pick Nick Bosa got from the 49ers. $6,839,924 of Murray's $23,589,924 signing bonus was deferred until March 1, 2020.
Second Pick: Nick Bosa, DE, 49ers
Bosa didn't show any ill effects from the left ACL tear he suffered in San Francisco's second game during the 2020 season. 2019's NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year was fourth in the NFL with 15.5 sacks last season.
Bosa was named a starter for the NFC in the Pro Bowl for the second time in his three NFL seasons. He also earned All-NFL/All-Pro honors from the Pro Football Writers of America and the Sporting News.
49ers general manager John Lynch called Bosa a foundational piece shortly after the 49ers lost the NFC Championship Game to the Rams. Negotiations are expected to take place at some point this offseason. The 49ers are proactive in signing core players to extensions.
It's hard to imagine a Bosa deal that doesn't top the four-year, $112.011 million extension averaging $28,002,750 per year Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt signed at the start of the 2021 regular season. The deal currently makes Watt the NFL's highest-paid defensive player.
Eighth Pick: T.J. Hockenson, TE, Lions
Hockenson earned Pro Bowl honors in 2020. His 2021 season was cut short after 12 games because of a thumb injury that required surgery.
A Hockenson extension is a possibility. The Lions made 2018 first-round pick Frank Ragnow the league's highest-paid center last May after his third NFL season.
Hockenson's deal shouldn't be hard to do because the tight-end market is well defined. Any extension will surely be more than the $12.5 million per year Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith got from the Patriots in 2021 free agency. Hockenson's ceiling is likely the $14.25 million per year the Eagles gave Dallas Goedert during the middle of last season.
The Browns are very close on a long-term deal with David Njoku, who was designated as a franchise player in March, according to Cleveland.com and the Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot. The deal is expected to be in the $13 million to $14 million per year range. Njoku's deal will help further define Hockenson's market.
16th Pick: Brian Burns, DE, Panthers
Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said the team hoped to extend Burns' contract beyond 2023 when his $16.012 million fifth-year option was picked up in late April. Burns earned his first Pro Bowl berth in 2021 after his second consecutive season with nine sacks. Burns surely took note of the four-year, $94 million extension averaging $23.5 million per year 2019 fourth round pick Maxx Crosby signed with the Raiders in March.