When the New England Patriots let cornerback Darrelle Revis walk in free agency, the front office justified it by noting the promising young talent on the roster that would soon be due for contract extensions.
"Next year we have three very good young defensive players coming up," owner Robert Kraft said with regards to the Revis negotiations. "And we have to factor that."
Those three players are edge defender Chandler Jones and linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins. All three players are under the Patriots control for two more seasons, although Collins cannot negotiate an extension until after the 2015 season.
The first two players were selected in the first round of the 2012 draft in hopes that they would change the face of the Patriots defense and help them win a Super Bowl. They have accomplished their mission. When it comes to deciding which players will be in New England for the long haul, it's clear that Bill Belichick and company would like all of them to stay, and with the salary cap increasing every season, keeping all three might not be out of the question.
But if the team is forced to allow the players to hit the market, it's unlikely that they would be able to retain Chandler Jones.
I'm going to venture that a top LB will be easier to retain than a top DE. pic.twitter.com/pglcTaV6ts— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) June 9th, 2015
Hightower and Collins have locked themselves in as top ten linebackers in the entire league, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them continue their development as consensus top five players for the 2015 season. Jones hasn't had that same trajectory, with injuries and overuse derailing his momentum. Still, when he's on the field, Jones flashes elite playing ability and can single-handedly disrupt entire offenses with his play.
While Jones has a much harder claim to a top ten ranking in his positional group, he also belongs to a group that earns a much greater contract. According to the numbers, those salary values for edge defenders will only continue to grow, while it appears inside linebackers are seeing a decline.
Players like Corey Liuget, Cameron Jordan, and Muhammad Wilkerson are more 3-4 defensive ends, but each are earning and signing contracts beyond the $10 million per season price range. Jones' camp will absolutely use these increasing rates as leverage.
When it comes time to decide which players are going to remain with the Patriots, it seems the linebackers will be signed for contracts of lower annual value.