Some of the 2023 NFL offseason's biggest headlines have had to do with star quarterbacks netting monster deals, with the Eagles and Ravens locking up Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson, respectively. The summer could be buoyed by similar matters, with other QBs like Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert angling for their own extensions. It speaks to an annual reality for NFL front offices: Production demands compensation, even if certain positions as they once were.
So which players are ripe for pay raises, either now or down the road? Here's a look at some of the biggest bargains at select premium positions -- quarterback, wide receiver, left tackle, pass rusher and cornerback -- entering the 2023 campaign:
Note: AAV denotes average annual value, or average money earned per year.
- Top AAV at position: $52 million
Is it really possible for the man with the biggest contract in NFL history to be underpaid? If his name is Patrick Mahomes, then yes. At just 27, the Chiefs star is already a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame, with two Super Bowl titles, two NFL MVPs, an 11-3 playoff record and 192 touchdown passes in just five full years as a starter. Much like Tom Brady of yesteryear, anytime he's not far and away the highest-paid QB in the NFL, he qualifies as a bargain.
Technically, the former first-round pick is due just $4.4M in 2023, but he signed his one-year extension with $13.5M guaranteed after Aaron Rodgers' trade to the Jets. Obviously he's yet to prove himself as a full-timer, but he's still barely owed much more per year than this year's top rookies, like No. 1 pick Bryce Young. If his brief 2022 showings were any indication, his energetic arm should help bring the Packers offense back to life, and he'll be due an even bigger raise as an emergent 24-year-old QB1.
Three years into his NFL career, the LSU product has already established himself as the chief rival to the league's chief superstar in Patrick Mahomes. With two AFC title bids and arguably the cleanest feel for precision pocket-passing among his peers, Burrow is well on his way to a record extension that should position him atop the QB market for the foreseeable future.
Another young star who's long since outperformed his rookie deal, Herbert lacks the big-game resume of Burrow, but he's been almost equally as productive operating from the pocket, totaling 94 passing TDs to just 35 INTs -- the sixth-best TD:INT ratio in NFL history to this point -- as the face of the Chargers. It's a matter of when, not if, he'll cash in accordingly.
- Top AAV at position: $30 million
Going on 30, he may not be nearly as flashy as his younger, more explosive counterparts, but the longtime Buccaneers No. 1 has done nothing but produce as a steady downfield target, with nine straight 1,000-yard seasons. Even without a stable Tom Brady in 2022, he averaged nearly 15 yards per catch, proving he's got gas in the tank.
Even while missing five games due to injury in 2022, Joe Burrow's top target has racked up 2,500 yards and 22 TDs in his first two NFL seasons, confirming himself as one of the league's best home-run hitters out wide.
Waddle's video-game production through just two seasons (179 catches for 2,371 yards) is even more impressive considering he's played multiple roles -- high-volume, short-yardage target and deep-ball specialist -- amid QB shuffling. The kicker: He'll makes less on his entire rookie deal than teammate Tyreek Hill is owed per year.
If anyone has a case to become the NFL's highest-paid non-QB, it's probably "Jets," who's been a bona fide No. 1 since Day 1 but now deserves MVP consideration as the Vikings' offensive catalyst. Fresh off a 1,800-yard season with more room for growth, Jefferson is smooth and self-motivated, and his pocketbook should soon confirm him as a face of the league. For now, he technically earns less per year than teammates Jalen Reagor and Jordan Addison, who's yet to take an NFL snap.
- Top AAV at position: $25 million
The big-bodied Australian isn't a perfect blind-side blocker, but Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was ahead of the curve extending him, ensuring Jalen Hurts would have a massive, internally beloved bodyguard for the team's recent Super Bowl run. At just 26, with an unteachable frame and athleticism, he's still got room to grow.
The former top-five pick was a pleasant surprise in 2022, paving the way for rebound seasons from both Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley. At 24, he might be one of the most promising building blocks in New York under Brian Daboll and their upstart regime.
An injury cost him all but three games in 2022, raising fair concern about his condition upon return. But he was a legit Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate the year prior, helping Justin Herbert stay upright with elite pass protection. Provided he's back to form this season, he could be pivotal to aiding Herbert's next step as a franchise QB.
Like Andrew Thomas, the former first-rounder took a big leap in 2022, proving a reliable anchor for one of the NFL's more explosive offenses. His pass pro helped fuel the Kirk Cousins-Justin Jefferson connection that got Minnesota to a surprising 13 wins.
- Top AAV at position: $28 million
The Eagles gambled that Reddick would build on his double-digit sack marks with the Cardinals and Panthers, and he did a lot more than that, terrorizing QBs as a clutch Defensive Player of the Year candidate during a title bid. With 39.5 sacks and 60 QB hits the last three years, he might still be one of the most underrated stand-up edge rushers in the NFL.
Not dissimilar to Reddick in Philly, Hendrickson has more than lived up to the hype as an ascending free-agent acquisition, propelling Cincinnati's front with persistent QB pressure since leaving the Saints. His 22 sacks and 51 QB hits the last two years have played an underrated role in the Bengals' AFC contention, making him a relative steal for his price tag.
Even losing almost a full season due to injury, he's proven to be maybe the NFL's best, most relentless pass rusher this side of T.J. Watt, who happens to own the biggest contract of anyone at the position. Since returning from his 2020 ACL tear, the former first-rounder has totaled 34 sacks and 80 QB hits, all while on an affordable rookie deal.
In three years, the former third-rounder has gone from serviceable reserve to disruptive T.J. Watt sidekick, excelling while replacing the injured All-Pro in 2022, to the tune of 14.5 sacks. He may be best suited as a No. 2, but that still constitutes a new deal in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers value defensive difference-making more than most.
- Top AAV at position: $21 million
The shutdown youngster will have to wait to get paid, entering just his second NFL season, but after an unusually calm and collected debut for a stout Jets "D," he's already on his way to stardom. It took mere months for new teammate Aaron Rodgers to float him as the league's new top cover man, which is high praise considering Rodgers played alongside Jaire Alexander.
Entering his age-33 season, the longtime Cardinals star isn't necessarily a lockdown starter anymore, but his two-year Vikings run proved he's still got timely ball skills. Now alongside Minkah Fitzpatrick, he's primed to be a steal of a rental in Steel City.
Halfway through his rookie deal, Surtain is already in contention for best young corner in the game, rivaled only perhaps by the others on this list. Even as Denver has struggled to make serious noise, he's been a steady hand in their secondary.
If Gardner and Surtain are virtual locks to parlay early-career dominance into big deals, Diggs might enjoy the biggest financial leap, considering he's playing on a second-round salary. Though mercurial in coverage at times, he's been a true ball hawk, and turnovers pay. Seventeen picks and 49 pass deflections in just three years means this man stays around the rock.