It's August. NFL players have reported to camp -- some more reluctantly than others. And this year, many high-profile guys want more.
Yes, the opening of 2016 training camp across the NFL landscape has featured an omnipresent storyline: cold, hard cash. Notable names wanting new money.
Here's our take on the quest for the almighty dollar -- who should cash in, who will cash in and when.
Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Brown's in the penultimate season of a six-year, $43.04 million contract. Pittsburgh gave him a new deal then -- in July of 2012 -- because he earned it, as an ascending wideout fresh off his first 1,000-yard campaign. And now that he's become a true NFL superstar and Steelers team leader, Pittsburgh will do it again. And soon.
Brown isn't a diva receiver. He's grinded too hard for that. (Dude's work ethic is second to none.) And he wants to win -- badly. Considering all of the distractions in Pittsburgh (see: Bell, L. and Bryant, M.), the Steelers can't afford to have Brown thinking about anything other than catching the football from Ben Roethlisberger. He's generally pretty good at that. Brown has 265 receptions over the past two seasons -- that's the highest total by a player in consecutive seasons in NFL history. Brown followed up a 1,698-yard 2014 campaign with 1,834 yards this past season.
Brown is under contract for this season (at $6.25 million) and next ($8.71 million). The Steelers would be smart to reward him with big money now, before he logs another 130-catch, 1,800-yard campaign in another double-digit-win season for Pittsburgh. It's very important to take care of your own, especially given the recent tumult with the knuckleheads. Brown cares about the Steelers and their fans. Bryant and Bell haven't prioritized football.
Personally, I'd pay him before this season starts. Who care about establishing a precedent? Who cares about other players potentially wanting new deals? Tell them there's only one Antonio Brown.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
Gronk's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, met with the Patriots last week to talk about his star client, according to NFL Media's Mike Garafolo. Gronkowski is playing under the eight-year, $55.23 million contract he signed in June of 2012. This March, the Pats picked up Gronk's $10 million option -- an action which keeps the tight end locked into a team-friendly salary through 2019. Shortly thereafter, Gronkowski tweeted his thoughts on the matter:
Hey, when you're right, you're right.
I recently ranked the 6-foot-6, 265-pound force of nature as the second-most indispensable offensive player (not including quarterbacks) in the league. He's as big a reason as any why I firmly believe New England will go 2-2 or 3-1 withoutTom Brady and 13-3 overall. The Patriots know it, too. Gronk is an unstoppable beast. Rosenhaus knows the art of executing a deal and knows that Gronk doesn't want to go anywhere. I think this should -- and will -- happen before this season begins.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
The Texans' star receiver is in the fourth year of his rookie deal. And he's clearly outperformed his paycheck. This season, Hopkins is set to earn just under $1.5 million (including his roster bonus). That's chump change for a receiver who basically was the offense for a division champ in 2015. The Texans circled through the bottom of the barrel with four different starting quarterbacks last season. And yet, Hopkins recorded 111 catches for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns. In my opinion, the three best receivers in the NFL last season were Julio Jones, Brown and Hopkins. Can't imagine the Texans think much differently.
I thought Hopkins' "holdout" -- if you call it that -- was brilliant. He made news on Saturday by not reporting to camp ... but by Sunday, he was back in uniform, practicing with his teammates. Essentially, Hopkins got everyone's attention, then decided to shut up, show up and play ball. It's all rather savvy. And talking to the press after Monday's practice, Hopkins said all the right things about winning, love of the game and love of his teammates.
"I play football for a living," Hopkins said. "That's my job, that's what I love doing. I love coming out here and being with my teammates. I've just got to keep working. I know it will come. I'm not rushing it. I know it'll happen one day."
The Texans brass wasn't going to re-do his contract based upon a holdout. Hopkins clearly knows that, too. That's not the kind of action that gets Bob McNair, Rick Smith and Bill O'Brien to respond. They will respond to his play. J.J. Watt got a new deal with time left on his rookie contract. Hopkins will, too. They won't mess around and have him play in 2017 under the $7.9 million club option. It doesn't benefit them. Hopkins makes more money on the market every game he plays.
I think Houston will take care of Hopkins during the season or shortly after it and treat him like the star he is.
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills
Going to stay consistent here. I've applauded the Bills for not giving Taylor a new deal this offseason. They shouldn't do it now.
Taylor was pretty good last year, but he's hardly a sure thing. Does anyone really think he's entrenched as the Bills' franchise signal caller? Didn't think so. And with Rex Ryan on the hot seat -- and quite possibly done if (when) the Bills miss the playoffs -- why would you sign your quarterback to a long-term deal if you don't know who the coach is going to be?
Michael Bennett, DL, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks' versatile 30-year-old reluctantly reported to camp, shortly after expressing displeasure (for the second straight offseason) with his current contract situation to The Huffington Post: "If you don't think I'm valuable, then just get rid of me." He wants to be paid like a top-five defensive end. Well, I'd like Jennifer Aniston to return my calls. Neither is happening.
Bennett is in Year 3 of a four-year, $32 million deal. He turns 31 in November and has one 10-sack season on his résumé. Granted, Bennett does a whole lot for Seattle beyond just hunting the quarterback, but let's be honest: Big sack totals get the big bucks.
Bennett's one of the quirkier personalities in the league, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. But enough funny business on the contract front: Just play ball.
Joey Bosa, DE, San Diego Chargers
Salaries are now slotted for rookies. There is no excuse for missing valuable time at training camp. I don't want to hear about "offset language." I don't want to hear about the schedule of guaranteed-money payment. This is counterproductive to Bosa's career and the Chargers' season. San Diego head coach Mike McCoy, who enters this season on the hottest of hot seats, clearly isn't happy. And I don't blame him.
Not to mention, I hated this draft pick in the first place, given the Bolts' glaring need at offensive tackle.
A bad situation is now worse. And unacceptable. San Diego should not cave. Bosa needs to get a clue -- and get on the field -- before his 2016 season is offset.