Which NFL players have helped themselves in their next contracts?

Micah Parsons is eligible for a contract extension after the season, and the Cowboys figure to make locking him up a priority. Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The NFL is experiencing a sack explosion in 2024, a theme that very much aligns with a loaded free agency class of defensive linemen and edge rushers.

Fifteen NFL teams have at least 12 sacks through four games, putting them on pace for 50-plus quarterback takedowns. The league never has produced more than four teams above the 50-sack threshold in a given year. Perhaps offensive lines will adjust and numbers will dwindle, but for now elite pass rushers are getting to the quarterback.

That includes several players who are set to hit free agency in March. The old adage in scouting circles is free agency means paying "B" players "A" dollars. But this year, "A" players will be available, assuming their teams don't keep them via the franchise tag or extensions. And many of them play the positions that come at a premium cost -- including defensive tackle, defensive end and outside linebacker.

And, yes, the skill positions are loaded, too. The trio of franchise-tagged running backs -- Saquon Barkley (Giants), Josh Jacobs (Raiders) and Tony Pollard (Cowboys) -- will be on the market. Receiver is a much stronger market than a year ago. At least eight safeties can come in and start at a high level.

After consulting with people around the league, we assess who's making money with their early season play, which sneaky good players will get paid, who's in line for big-money extensions and who needs to pick up the pace to ensure a stronger free agency.

Some names don't need to be listed and will still secure strong contracts. Cincinnati receiver Tee Higgins comes to mind. He's got 129 yards through four weeks, but many teams consider him a No. 1-type talent. Plus, Cincinnati's entire offensive operation has been a mess. Higgins will do very well.

But others have made a compelling case for teams to look deeper into their wallets over the next six months.

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Top performers among free agents-to-be
Unsung players getting paid
Not FAs, but will get big deals
More free agent QB stock
Need a better October

Top performers among free agents-to-be