20 breakouts on 14 NFL playoff teams: Players getting big contracts

It's good business to break out in a contract year. It's even better business to break out for a team that goes on a long NFL playoff run. Ask the guys on the 2021 Rams. Defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day parlayed a great half-season to a new deal with the Chargers. Cornerback Darious Williams left for an expensive contract with the Jaguars. Veteran pass-rusher Von Miller turned a dominant postseason into a six-year, $120 million pact with the Bills. Wideout Odell Beckham Jr, cut by the Browns earlier in the season, was two quarters away from a significant new deal before tearing his ACL during Super Bowl LVI.

There are still three more rounds of the postseason ahead of us, but I wanted to take a look at the players who have improved their stock most dramatically in advance of a likely new deal this offseason. I'll exclusively be looking at players on the 14 playoff teams, including the ones that were eliminated during the wild-card round.

The players you see below generally are going to be pending free agents, young players on rookie deals who are about to become eligible for extensions and veterans entering the final year of their current deals. Not every one of them will land new deals before the 2023 season, but many should ink contracts, either with their existing team or a new one.

I'm leaving off some players whom you might figure as possible candidates. They include:

  • Players who were already playing at a superstar level. As an example, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow already was going to get paid top-tier quarterback money after what he did a year ago, and nothing changed this season. The same holds for Vikings wideout Justin Jefferson and Bengals safety Jessie Bates at their respective positions.

  • Players who aren't eligible for a new deal in 2023. Rookie 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy is on a dramatically different financial track than the league's other seventh-round picks from last April's draft, but even if he continues to amaze, the league's collective bargaining agreement prevents San Francisco from extending his contract until the end of the 2024 season.

  • Players who aren't about to get new contracts. Wideout Tyreek Hill had an incredible season after arriving in Miami, but he just signed a four-year, $120 million extension last spring. He's still a couple of years from realistically being in position to capitalize on a great season with a new deal.

  • Players who are dealing with injuries, putting their 2023 seasons in jeopardy. This fits for Bengals corner Chidobe Awuzie and Cowboys offensive tackle Terence Steele, but the most obvious example is Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, whose career season was interrupted by at least two concussions. It's unclear whether any of these guys will be ready for the start of next season, so while they all would have likely signed lucrative new deals if they had finished the season healthy, their future is up in the air.

Even with those constraints, there are still 20 players to break down, including how they excelled and what their market will look like this spring. Some proved themselves to be franchise cornerstones, while others might have priced themselves onto another roster. We'll group these players by team, hitting all 14 that made the playoffs. Let's start with one of the most fascinating performances of the season, from a player who is in the middle of his best stretch in the NFL:

Jump to a team's rep:

Daniel Jones, QB, Giants

Jones' impressive run over the last month of the season continued with an excellent performance against the Vikings during wild-card weekend. He has posted a league-best 77.8 QBR since Week 14, including a 96.8 QBR in the playoff-clinching win over the Colts in Week 17, which is the single-best game by a quarterback this season. QBR includes the value a player adds with his legs, and Jones has been a difference-maker as a scrambler.

While Jones always has been a capable runner, this unquestionably has been his best season as a passer. With new coach Brian Daboll reducing his downfield throwing responsibilities and building an offense that throws the shortest average pass of any team, his completion percentage has spiked from a career average of 62.8% before 2022 to 67.2% this season. His adjusted completion percentage, which doesn't include drops and spikes and adjusts for the depth of pass, ranks fifth in the league.