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Projecting extensions for franchise-tagged players: Defense

The franchise and transition tags might keep free agents from hitting the open market -- but they don't mean the end of negotiations, as tagged players can continue to work out long-term extensions with their teams up until the July 15 deadline (transition players have until July 22 to sign an offer sheet with another team). Anthony Holzman-Escareno projects what multi-year contracts could look like for the tagged players below:

Chris Jones, DT, Kansas City Chiefs: Five years, $101.25 million

A 2016 second-round pick, Jones has developed into arguably the most disruptive interior presence in the NFL this side of Aaron Donald. Over the last two seasons, Donald is the only interior defensive lineman with more sacks and QB hits than Jones. Jones set an NFL record with a sack in 11 straight games in 2018 and has 24.5 sacks in his last 25 regular season games. Next Gen Stats credits Jones with 80 QB pressures since 2018, top five among defensive tackles.

However, the 2020 Pro Bowler made his biggest impact on the sport's brightest stage, despite barely registering in the box score. His dearth of counting stats (no sacks, one tackle) in Super Bowl LIV masked how unsettling his presence was for 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Jones deflected three passes and pressured Garoppolo on Kendall Fuller's second-quarter interception en route to the Chiefs' first Super Bowl championship in 50 years.

Jones, who held out of offseason workouts last summer in the hopes of getting a new deal, has expressed his desire to remain in Kansas City, but he also admitted having "a mix of emotions" about the franchise tag. Jones should rightfully be asking to be made one of the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL. I could see him joining the $20 million club, which, in terms of defensive players, only currently includes Donald, Khalil Mack, DeMarcus Lawrence and fellow Chief Frank Clark. Is the Kansas City front office -- which has also surely been preparing for quarterback Patrick Mahomes' imminent record-breaking extension -- willing to house two $20 million defensive linemen? Unless Jones decides to take less to stay with the reigning Super Bowl champions, the team is going to bring the Brink's truck.

PROJECTED CONTRACT DETAILS
Average per year: $20.25 million
Full guarantees: $40 million
Total guarantees: $56 million

Here's how Jones stacks up against comparable players:

Leonard Williams, DT, New York Giants: Three years, $42 million

Once considered one of the most promising young stars in the NFL, Williams has struggled to maintain the form he displayed in his first two NFL seasons. The sixth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft has plenty of talent, and at 25 (he'll turn 26 in June), age and pedigree are what earned Williams the franchise tag this offseason.

The Jets traded Williams to the Giants midway through the 2019 campaign, which he finished with a career-low 0.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hits, though the latter figure was tied for fourth-most among interior defensive linemen. Williams has 101 career quarterback hits, trailing only Aaron Donald (160) since 2015.

Giants general manager Dave Gettleman loves -- emphasis necessary -- defensive linemen, and while Williams might have to play out the season on the tag, it's possible that the team could get him to agree to a reasonable short-term extension, given his career trajectory.

PROJECTED CONTRACT DETAILS
Average per year: $14 million
Full guarantees: $23 million
Total guarantees: $26 million

Here's how Williams stacks up against comparable players:

Yannick Ngakoue, Edge, Jacksonville Jaguars: Five years, $105 million

Ngakoue made it overtly clear he does not want to be in Duval County on a long-term contract, but he couldn't control Jacksonville's decision to apply the franchise tag to him. This could buy the Jaguars time to soothe and rebuild bridges with their budding star of a pass rusher, who is one of the last holdovers from a pass defense that paced the NFL in 2017.

A third-round pick in 2016, Ngakoue is just one of seven players to record eight-plus sacks in each of his first four NFL seasons, joining Reggie White, Derrick Thomas, DeMarcus Ware, Dwight Freeney, Terrell Suggs and Aaron Donald. And it's about more than just sacks. Since 2017, Ngakoue has 10 QB pressures that caused a turnover, tied for the most in NFL. Ngakoue's 211 career QB pressures put him in elite company, per Next Gen Stats; the only players with as many or more pressures since 2016 also have the three largest total contracts among defensive players: Aaron Donald (267 pressures, $135.0 million), Von Miller (235 pressures, $114.1 million) and Khalil Mack (211 pressures, $141 million).

Ngakoue, like Chris Jones, should earn $20 million-plus annually on a new deal. Given his desire to leave Jacksonville, it remains to be seen if that contract will come with the Jaguars or another franchise, via trade this offseason or free agency in 2021. Either way, a young pass rusher entering his prime will always be a sought-after commodity in the NFL.

PROJECTED CONTRACT DETAILS
Average per year: $21.1 million
Full guarantees: $50 million
Total guarantees: $65 million

Here's how Ngakoue stacks up against comparable players:

Shaquil Barrett, Edge, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Four years, $70 million

Prior to joining the Buccaneers, Barrett spent five seasons with the Broncos learning behind future Hall of Famers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, then made his own name in Tampa. He is an ideal player to spend a season on the franchise tag. In his first season as a full-time starter, Barrett led the NFL with 19.5 sacks and 37 quarterback hits -- more than he had in his previous four seasons combined in each category (14.0 sacks, 35 QB hits). His 2019 effort was only the fourth 18-sack, 35-QB-hit season in the last 15 years, with each of the previous three players to hit that mark winning the Defensive Player of the Year award (Aaron Donald in 2018 and J.J. Watt in 2012 and '14).

The former undrafted free agent finished in the top three in forced fumbles (six), QB pressures (68) and tackles for loss (19, behind only Donald). Next Gen Stats credits Barrett with a 3.8 percent sack rate, the highest among all players with 300-plus pass rushes last season. His six turnovers caused by pressure tied for the league lead with Bud Dupree. Barrett finished as PFF's eighth-highest graded pass rusher (among those with a minimum of 100 snaps).

Setting career highs in basically every major category for his position, the 2020 Pro Bowler could choose to bet on himself and play out the franchise tag. Putting up another season in line with 2019 would give Barrett plenty of leverage heading into 2021. However, there is certainly a lucrative pay day to be had this offseason if he wishes, given Bruce Arians' apparent interest in keep Barrett around.

PROJECTED CONTRACT DETAILS
Average per year: $17.5 million
Full guarantees: $28 million
Total guarantees: $40 million

Here's how Barrett stacks up against comparable players:

Bud Dupree, Edge, Pittsburgh Steelers: Four years, $68.8 million

The Steelers' defense almost carried a team quarterbacked by Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges to the playoffs last season. The unit led the NFL in sacks (54) and takeaways (38), pushed by an array of Pro Bowlers and All-Pros. Though Dupree wasn't adorned with any accolades, his impact was felt nonetheless.

A three-down player with a penchant for run defense and plus ability as a pass rusher, Dupree hadn't recorded more than 6.0 sacks in any of his first four seasons. But then, in 2019, like the other pass rushers receiving the tag this offseason, Dupree had a breakout campaign, setting career bests in tackles (68), sacks (11.5), QB hits (17), tackles for loss (16) and forced fumbles (four). The pressure Dupree caused led directly to six turnovers last season, tied with NFL sack leader and fellow franchise player Shaquil Barrett for the most in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats.

The question here becomes one of cap management. The Steelers' defense is loaded with potential top-of-the-market players who will soon be eligible for new contracts, including T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick. However, they would surely like to retain Dupree -- although if he's after guaranteed money, he's not likely to get it from a Steelers franchise notoriously stingy with guarantees outside Year 1.

PROJECTED CONTRACT DETAILS
Average per year: $17.2 million
Full guarantees: $18 million
Total guarantees: $18 million

Here's how Dupree stacks up against comparable players:

Matthew Judon, Edge, Baltimore Ravens: Four years, $68 million

In his first full offseason as general manager, Eric DeCosta allowed the Ravens' 2018 sack leader, Za'Darius Smith, to test free agency, and the edge rusher cashed in, inking a four-year, $66 million contract with the Packers. Smith went on to finish top-six in sacks, QB hits and tackles for loss for Green Bay in 2019. Finding himself in a similar situation this offseason, DeCosta chose to apply the franchise tag to Judon to keep him from walking out the door.

The Ravens finished with just 37 sacks last season (21st in the NFL), but Judon emerged as the team's best pass rusher. The four-year veteran led the AFC North champions while setting career highs in sacks (9.5), tackles for loss (14) and forced fumbles (4), en route to his first career Pro Bowl selection. He'll only benefit from the additions of Calais Campbell and Michael Brockers on the defensive interior.

Don't be fooled into thinking Judon's career-high marks in 2019 suggest he's merely a one-year wonder; on the contrary, the edge rusher has been more than steady since entering the league. He's one of 10 players to record seven-plus sacks and 10-plus tackles for loss in each of the last three seasons. The others on that list include world beaters (Aaron Donald and Von Miller), sack leaders (Chandler Jones), All-Pros (Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt and Cameron Jordan) and Pro Bowlers (Frank Clark, Danielle Hunter, and Yannick Ngakoue).

Judon has been floated as a potential tag-and-trade candidate, but moving on from him would leave Baltimore with a gaping hole off the edge in 2020.

PROJECTED CONTRACT DETAILS
Average per year: $17 million
Full guarantees: $30 million
Total guarantees: $30 million

Here's how Judon stacks up against comparable players:

Justin Simmons, S, Denver Broncos: Four years, $59 million

Simmons has developed from a special-teams stalwart to one of the NFL's best young safeties, and his enduring presence in the Broncos' defense can't be overstated. He's played 2,024 consecutive snaps, according to Next Gen Stats, which is the second-longest active streak in the NFL behind Malcolm Jenkins.

Proving to be a plus against the run and in coverage, Simmons ranked top-five among safeties in both categories and finished 2019 as PFF's highest-graded player at the position (min. 50 snaps). In fact, among all players with at least 100 defensive snaps in 2019, just three players had a higher overall grade than Simmons: Aaron Donald, Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt.

Simmons set career highs in interceptions (4) and passes defensed (15) in 2019. He, Kevin Byard and Darius Leonard are the only players with 150-plus tackles and 7-plus interceptions over the last two seasons. The Boston College product's versatility shows most in man coverage, where only he (3.5) and Devin McCourty (3.4) allowed fewer than 4.0 yards per coverage route among all safeties with 15 or more such targets, according to PFF.

After proving that he's a top-tier player at the position, Simmons is prime to potentially reset an already robust safety market in terms of his annual average salary.

PROJECTED CONTRACT DETAILS
Average per year: $14.75 million
Full guarantees: $27 million
Total guarantees: $38 million

Here's how Simmons stacks up against comparable players:

Anthony Harris, S, Minnesota Vikings: Five years, $67.5 million

Over the last two seasons, only three players have a higher defensive grade from PFF than Vikings safety Anthony Harris, and all of them have earned All-Pro honors: Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox and Calais Campbell. Harris is not only PFF's highest-graded safety, but he also has the highest coverage grade among all players over that span (min. 50 snaps).

Of all safeties to be targeted 30-plus times, Harris has allowed the second-lowest passer rating in coverage (52.5) in the NFL. The player directly below him in third place? Teammate and fellow safety Harrison Smith.

Quietly, the five-year veteran has transformed into one of the NFL's best players on the backend, setting career-highs in tackles, interceptions and passes defensed. Harris' six picks tied for the league lead (led the NFL with seven interceptions when including playoffs), but he's far too versatile to be labeled a coverage guy. Since going undrafted in 2015, Harris is the only safety to miss less than 5 percent of his tackle attempts, according to PFF (min. 150 attempts).

If he signs an extension this offseason -- with Minnesota or a team that trades for him -- Harris will likely be paid near the top of the safety market. If he re-ups with the Vikings, though, he may have to take a little less to stay on a defense with four players already making more than $10 million per season.

PROJECTED CONTRACT DETAILS
Average per year: $13.5 million
Full guarantees: $21 million
Total guarantees: $37 million

Here's how Harris stacks up against comparable players:

Follow Anthony Holzman-Escareno on Twitter @FrontOfficeNFL.

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