5 NFL players who will earn big money in contract years

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) /
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Sheldon Rankins, New Orleans Saints
Sheldon Rankins, New Orleans Saints. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

Poised to make big money for the first time ever, here are five NFL players who will have monster seasons in their crucial contract years in this fall.

While making it to the NFL is a huge accomplishment in its own right, to have staying power in this league is even better. Though most professional careers last around three years, some guys have the luxury of playing well on their rookie deals, setting themselves and their families up for life with a big pay day on that contract. This is when generational wealth occurs.

Not since Sam Bradford went No. 1 overall to the then-St. Louis Rams a decade ago have first-round picks got heaping sums of money before even playing a snap. Sure, first-round picks become millionaires overnight, but it’s not on the level that alienates them from the seasoned veterans making up their locker room. As for day-two and day-three picks, they’re still waiting.

So what we’re going to do today is look at five players who haven’t made big money before, but are in great positions to earn massive second contracts in the league. This list will exclude players who have been previously franchise tagged or who have made more than $5 million in average annual salary.

Here are five players who will be entering a new tax bracket by the time 2021 rolls around.

DT. New Orleans Saints. Sheldon Rankins. 5. player. 15. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis

Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins was the former No. 12 overall pick by the New Orleans Saints in the 2016 NFL Draft out of the University of Louisville. Though he did sign a four-year deal worth $12.8 million and netted a $7.5 million signing bonus, he has averaged only $3.2 million in annual salary. The Saints exercised his fifth-year option at $7.6 million, but he’s poised for more cash.

Though he only had two sacks in 10 games for the Saints last fall, he is only two years removed from his best year as a professional. Rankins played in and started all 16 games for the 2018 Saints where he registered a career-high eight sacks. Not bad for an interior defensive linemen. While has shown he can be a good player, he may play himself out of New Orleans in 2021.

Is he worth the franchise tag? Potentially, but he might prove too pricey entering his age-27 season in 2021 if he recreates his 2018 campaign in 2020. The idea in his value skyrocketing is pretty simple really. Rankins will play on a Super Bowl-contending team. Should the Saints reach the conference title bout or Super Bowl LV in Tampa, another franchise will want to sign him.

While the Saints might have the cap flexibility to keep him around long-term if they want, a lot of this would hinge on Drew Brees retiring after this season and New Orleans entering the rookie quarterback market. In short, Rankins is the type of player a team can pay a premium on as a free agent if they have a star quarterback thriving on a rookie deal. It might be the Saints or it may not.