With the NFL Scouting Combine set to begin in Indianapolis this weekend, the current focus around the league is finding the next NFL stars. That attention will quickly shift to securing the league's current stars, especially with the start of free agency now less than a month away. In most cases, contract talks are in the preliminary stages, if they've even started at all. Some teams will talk with agents at the combine while others may have to wait until it's closer to free agency.
Here's the latest on a few soon-to-be free agents and some other young stars potentially in line for a contract extension.
No progress yet for Saints, Jimmy Graham
Graham may be the top free agent on the market this offseason, if he gets there. The Saints will try to keep the 27-year-old in New Orleans, but the two sides have yet to make any progress on an extension, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. The window to apply the franchise tag opened on Monday. Graham is a likely candidate to receive the tag if the two sides don't work out a deal by March 3. If that's the case, Rapoport said Graham is expected to file a grievance to be tagged as a wide receiver, not a tight end. Official franchise tag amounts have yet to be released, but the difference between the tight end tag and the wide receiver tag is expected to be close to $5 million.
Cam Newton won't hold out, extension talks could begin soon
With a year left on his rookie deal and a team option for 2015, the Panthers have time to negotiate an extension with Cam Newton. Newton said he's hopeful he'll sign a long-term deal to remain with the Panthers. Working out an extension is one of the Panthers' top offseason priorities, according to Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer. Negotiations could begin as soon as this week at the Scouting Combine, according to Jones.
If the two sides don't reach a deal this offseason, it isn't likely to impact Newton's status heading into next season. Newton was a guest on the Dan Patrick Show on Monday and said he would "absolutely not" hold out of training camp if he doesn't have a long-term deal by then.
Ravens begin negotiations with Dennis Pitta, Eugene Monroe
While the Ravens have several key pending free agents, tight end Dennis Pitta and left tackle Eugene Monroe appear to be the top priorities. Baltimore has begun negotiations with both players, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, although the discussions remain in the preliminary stages.
According to Wilson, the Ravens and Pitta are "far apart" on contract numbers. Pitta has proven to be a valuable target for Joe Flacco, but is coming off a serious hip injury. He could be a candidate for the franchise tag, although according to Wilson, Pitta is likely to challenge the tight end designation. Like Graham, Pitta lined up split out wide on the majority of his snaps and would challenge to receive the wide receiver franchise designation.
Baltimore traded fourth and fifth-round picks to Jacksonville for Monroe. He played extremely well after joining the Ravens and is now a priority to re-sign. According to Wilson, Baltimore envisions Monroe as a long-term starter at left tackle.
Alex Mack was once thought to be on his way out of Cleveland. A change in the front office has altered that and the Browns now plan to attempt to re-sign the Pro Bowl center, according to Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland. Mack never missed a start in five seasons with Cleveland. He consistently graded out among the top centers in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, and could be in line for a record-setting deal. Applying the franchise tag to Mack would cost Cleveland roughly $11 million. While the Browns might shy away from paying a center the average salary of the top five offensive linemen, Cleveland could attempt to sign him to a more affordable long-term deal.
According to Rapoport, negotiations have yet to begin, but the Browns will reach out to Mack's representatives soon.