Contract Points: AFC North

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Contract Points: AFC North

Our inside look at contracts for NFL players and how they’ll impact your fantasy football teams are rolling on.

And as you’ll see here, some teams have made it very clear based on contract structure that they’ll be moving on from some veterans after this season or their roles will be decreasing in favor of recent draftees.

Let’s tackle the AFC North.

Baltimore Ravens

One look at veteran RB Mark Ingram’s contract tells you clearly where this situation is headed.

Ingram signed a three-year deal with the Ravens in 2019, but the structure was only for one season, meaning they could get out of it after 2019 without much dead money.

Ingram played well last year and obviously will remain with the team this season, but the Ravens selected J.K. Dobbins in the second round of this year’s draft. Everything here lines up for Dobbins to take over as the starter in 2021 at the latest. And even if the Ravens want Ingram back for 2021, he carries a base salary of $5 million, which is way too high for a player projected to be a backup. Ingram, by the way, turns 31 in December.

At wide receiver, veteran Willie Snead’s two-year deal expires after this season. And he’s pretty much a lock to be with the team this season because his $3.662 million salary is fully guaranteed. Unless Snead rebounds from last year’s disappointing performance, rookie Devin Duvernay could take over as the team’s slot WR in 2021.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have some contract issues coming up with some key players.

At running back, fourth-year pro Joe Mixon’s deal expires after this season and the vibe he was giving to the media earlier this year was that if he didn’t get it done by training camp, he might hold out.

However, players have less leverage now after the Collective Bargaining Agreement was redone earlier this year. If a player doesn’t show up to training camp on time, he’ll lose a year of service. So Mixon, if he holds out, would be a restricted free agent next year.

At wide receiver, veteran AJ Green was tagged as the team’s franchise player. If both sides can’t agree on a deal by July 15, he’ll play under the one-year tag at $18.171 million.

Green is an outstanding talent, but he has missed significant time over the past two seasons (23 games in total) and turns 32 in late July. I have to wonder if the team drafted Tee Higgins this year to eventually take over for Green, especially if they don’t get a long-term deal done by the franchise deadline.

Former first-round pick John Ross did not have his fifth-year option picked up by the team. However, should he play well this season and finally stay healthy, they would have until the start of free agency in mid March to extend his contract, or he would be able to sign with another team. Also of note at the position, Alex Erickson ’s three-year deal will expire after this season.

At tight end, the team can get out of starter CJ Uzomah’s contract after this season without much of an issue, as there’s no guaranteed money for 2021 (which is the final year of Uzomah’s three-year deal). Should Uzomah not rebound after last year’s disappointing season, 2019 second-rounder Drew Sample could take over.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns have an interesting situation on the horizon at running back and especially so at wide receiver.

Starting RB Nick Chubb enters this season on the third year of his four-year deal.

While Chubb is the clear starter, the coaches, from what I’m told, are intrigued with Kareem Hunt. Keep in mind the front office and coaches have no allegiance to either player, since both groups are new.

And while it’s true that Hunt has a significant off-the-field history and he’s on a one-year restricted free agent deal, he’s going to have a bigger role than most backup RBs, from what I’m hearing.

If things stay status quo and Hunt stays out of trouble this season, it will be interesting to see if the Browns decide to let Chubb enter 2021 on the final year of his rookie deal or whether they extend his deal.

At wide receiver, this situation comes down to money vs. production for Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr..

Landry is signed through 2022, but has no guaranteed money left in his deal after this season. His $13 million base salary for this season became fully guaranteed in March. But Landry carries a base salary of $12.5 million for 2021, which is the top salary for any NFL slot WR. His salary cap number of $14.8 million for that season is not sustainable unless he has a huge season in 2020. Keep in mind former GM John Dorsey was responsible for his contract.

Beckham has plenty of time left on his deal (he’s signed through 2023), but the team has a decision to make on his contract. His $14.5 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of free agency next March. They could walk away easily by cutting him (a trade is more likely if they wanted to move on from him), because the proration from his signing bonus stayed with the Giants at the time that he was acquired, so there’s no dead money for the Browns to deal with. His salary cap number, like Landry’s, is very high at $15.75 million for 2021.

So, it’s not out of the question that we could be looking at a totally revamped WR corps for the Browns in 2021 and beyond unless Landry and OBJ are highly productive this season.

Pittsburgh Steelers

If you’ve heard me with John Hansen recently on SiriusXM Fantasy Football, you probably heard us go through the challenges the Steelers have with their wide receiver depth chart.

JuJu Smith-Schuster’s rookie contract will expire after this season is over. Could the Steelers extend him before that? The challenge here is for the coaches to figure out how everyone fits in going forward.

James Washington is in season three of his four-year rookie deal and he has shown flashes of high play, but as you’re aware, 2019 third-rounder Diontae Johnson really came on while Smith-Schuster was limited by his lingering injury last season. And now the team has added second-round rookie Chase Claypool, who has the best size of the group.

While it may look like an WRBC for now, it could clear up after the season if the team doesn’t sign Smith-Schuster to an extension.

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