Four months ago, when Deshaun Watson signed the most amazing contract in NFL history, a fully guaranteed $230 million deal, the payroll implications across the league were clear. He had the ability to completely remake the roof and floor for the money of a 10-caliber NFL quarterback.
A message was left reverberating in the front offices and property suites.
Now we wait.
For what exactly?
Well, for Thursday, when it’s else Shoe has fallen to the top 10 quarterback deal this off-season, with the Arizona Cardinals essentially laying the groundwork where negotiations now begin, and Murray signing a five-year, $230.5 million extension that includes $160 million in guarantees.
Taken together, the deals carry a host of implications for NFL franchises going forward, as they struggle to deal with where their quarterback will fit into the spectrum, and whether they can swing the salary toward Murray rather than Watson.
Other winners: Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Russell Wilson
As good as this was a good day for Murray, it was a better day for several other QBs, including Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, Cincinnati’s Joe Borough and Los Angeles’ Justin Herbert. And depending on how the 2022 season kicks off, you might be able to throw Denver’s Russell Wilson there as well, albeit with a future extension that’s likely shorter than the others.
They will each open contract extension talks off next season, and other than Herbert, every other midfielder on that roster has achieved more than Murray. Jackson has been the league’s best player and helped the Ravens post-season twice in four years. Burrow hit his groove in 2021 and led the Bengals to their first Super Bowl appearance since the 1988 season. Wilson is already a talented Hall of Fame with a chance to end his career with a boom for the Broncos franchise who will be aggressive in trying to keep the Super Bowl window open. And although Herbert never made the playoffs in his first two seasons in the NFL, he played in one of the most played quarterbacks in the history of the league.
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None of that means Murray didn’t get the money he deserved. Although struggling at times, particularly in a poor playoff performance, Murray is a cornerstone of a franchise that is getting better every season he’s been starting. Although nagging injuries have affected his performance, he has been solid enough to play in all but three matches over the past three seasons.
At his best, Murray has shown his ability to take on matches and raise the bar for the teams around him. That’s something the superstar gets a massive stretch, especially when he’s a binding element between the quarterback/coach/general manager being signed now through at least the 2027 season.
In fact, the Cardinal had no choice but to pay Murray or risk an ugly showdown that could have ended with a full restart of the franchise by the time it was over. That’s how Arizona ended up paying what is arguably the second or third biggest quarterback deal in NFL history, trailing only Watson’s massive contract and Aaron Rodgers three-year extension that would pay him a guaranteed total of at least $150.8 million.
That’s not to say the Cardinals didn’t score at least a modest win for themselves and the rest of the league because they avoided securing the entire deal. Had that happened, deals could have been completely guaranteed with the rubber stamp as the new standard for all big-caliber quarterbacks. Instead, the Cardinal secured just 70 percent of Murray’s injury deal, putting Watson’s contract in the remote category alongside Rodgers’ latest extension and the $84 million fully guaranteed $84 million deal Kirk signed in 2018.
Rodgers had maximum leverage over the Packers and needed to extend it to loosen the salary cap. Cousins made his historic bargain by playing himself through two franchises before hitting a wide open free agency. And Watson forced himself into an unprecedented deal that made the top-five quarterback available at the age of 26, which has never happened in league history.
It was those special football circumstances that put these players in a position to make the highest bucks, while Murray’s influence was a standard threat to be tolerated in a new deal.
This does not mean that his numbers will not create additional chaos in the system.
Will the trend be $30 million per season for the average QB?
In fact, if Jackson, Borough, Herbert and Wilson live up to expectations in 2022, they will all earn spans beyond Murray in guaranteed money and average annual salary. It’s possible that as the 2023 season kicks off, Patrick Mahomes of Kansas City and Josh Allen of Buffalo could be the eighth and ninth highest-grossing quarterback by annual value. And with deals locking them in until 2028 (Allen) and 2032 (Mahomes).
As one general manager said on Thursday:[Mahomes and Allen] It might hardly be in the top 10 in a year, but I’ll take a look at the next 10 how much $40-45 million of those are [in average salary]? Maybe three or four? Then the midfield quarterback costs 30-35 million dollars? If that’s where you’re headed, I think more teams will just look at investing in the draft pick at the start. A middle-class quarterback will become an interesting number in a few years. Teams don’t even want to pay Jimmy Garoppolo [$24 million] Which is better than a few current beginners. Now the curve says that’s going to be $30 million? There will be problems with that.”
Of course, this only addresses the average salary aspect, which is not nearly as important as the guarantees. And if trends continue, Jackson, Borough and Herbert’s next offseason should top Murray’s $160 million. The question is where this trio will fall between $160 million for Murray and $230 million for Watson, and whether team owners will claim they are cash-strapped not to pay collateral, which are historically placed in escrow for every dollar guaranteed after the first year. of the year. deals.
The entire guarantee rule remains an afternoon point for players and the NFL Players Association, since it was created decades ago when there was a legitimate chance that franchisees might default on guaranteed money. Now that the difference is worth billions, this is no longer possible. But the club’s owners continued to rely on the fundraising tactic as a negotiating tactic to keep the secured funds in check.
Already, there have been suggestions that the Cardinals used the funding rule to prevent Murray’s every paycheck, thus dropping the Watson deal as a standard and refraining from making it an expectation that all top ten quarterbacks would close out fully guaranteed contracts.
This may sound messy, complicated, and superficial. This is because it is. But this is the area where first-class money enters. You will likely get more of that outside next season.