CLEVELAND — Editor's note: the video in the player above is from Jan. 3, 2021.
During a Zoom call with reporters held one day after the Cleveland Browns' season-ending 22-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC divisional round, running back Nick Chubb was asked about the possibility of signing a long-term extension with the team this offseason.
True to form, Chubb stated that he hadn't given the subject much thought.
"I am just still thinking about yesterday and not really looking forward to that stuff right now," Chubb said. "Just continuing to work. It will pay off for me eventually and we will see."
But while the 2-time Pro Bowl selection may have downplayed the possibility of such deal, the reality remains that now that he's eligible for one, the speculation regarding a potential extension isn't going away anytime soon. Compared to Baker Mayfield's likely upcoming negotiations, a potential extension for Chubb could be made complicated based on a variety of factors including his position and status as a former second-round pick.
With that in mind, let's take a look at what a contract extension for Chubb might look like and the factors that could determine whether or not a deal gets done this offseason.
The online sports contract database Spotrac projects that a market value extension for Chubb would be a four-year deal worth $48,486,984 with an average annual salary of $12,121,746. Spotrac arrived at this figure running a statistical analysis of four players it considered comparable who have recently signed new deals: Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans, Joe Mixon of the Cincinnati Bengals, Melvin Gordon of the Denver Broncos and Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings.
It's worth noting that the projection doesn't factor in guaranteed money or bonuses, which are key figures when it comes to the structuring of NFL contracts.
While high-figure running back contracts are often the subject of skepticism from fans and NFL analysts alike, that hasn't stopped deals from getting done. The six largest running back deals were signed in Sept. 2019 or later, with five of them having been inked within the last year.
Spotrac's projection would make Chubb the seventh highest-paid running back in the league. That could be considered a bargain for a player who's been one of the best players at his position since entering the NFL in 2018.
The Hunt factor
While it would make sense on the surface for the Browns to lock up arguably their best offensive player to a long-term deal, it's also tough to imagine Cleveland's analytically-driven front office paying big money to a running back. Further complicating matters is that the Browns have already signed Kareem Hunt to a two-year, $12 million extension that will keep him under contract with Cleveland through 2022.
While it wouldn't cost much to move Hunt -- paying both running backs significant salaries seems highly unlikely with the other extensions the Browns have due -- Cleveland could opt to just go with the cheaper player. In this case, that would be Hunt, who is still considered to be one of the most talented running backs in the NFL.
Should the Browns fail to sign Chubb to an extension this offseason, that doesn't mean it will be the end of his time in Cleveland. Currently, the Georgia product remains under contract with the Browns through the 2021 season, when he'll be paid a $1.48 million base salary.
After that, even if the two sides still don't get a deal done, Cleveland could apply the franchise tag, which would keep Chubb under contract on a one-year deal in 2022. According to OverTheCap.com, running backs under the franchise tag in 2021 are projected to be paid $10,835,000 -- a figure that could decrease even further the following year.
While paying Chubb and Hunt a combined $16 million might not be ideal for an analytically-driven front office, it would also keep one of the Browns' biggest roster advantages intact for the next two seasons. After that, Cleveland could assess both Chubb and Hunt's futures with the teams and proceed accordingly.
While franchising Chubb might seem like the most sensible solution, history suggests it could also be a messy one. The Pittsburgh Steelers' franchising of Le'Veon Bell resulted in a year-long holdout and his departure from the team, while Melvin Gordon ended his holdout with the Los Angeles Chargers midway through the 2019 season before leaving as a free agent the following offseason.
So while Chubb might not be thinking about a potential contract extension, that won't stop others from doing so. At this point, the possibilities are practically endless and possess potential ramifications for the rest of the Browns' roster.