When it comes to quarterback contracts, the player’s circumstances tend to have much more relevance to the final numbers than the broader market at the position. On Thursday, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr combined his status as a second-round pick entering the fourth and final year of his contract along with a clear message that he’s willing to do the franchise-tag dance into a long-term contract that nudges the bar a little higher than Colts quarterback Andrew Luck did a year ago.
As each franchise quarterback signs, attention turns to the next wave. Or two. Or three. Here’s a look at each of the foreseeable waves of major quarterback deals.
1. The Next Wave.
The twice-tagged Washington quarterback will either sign a long-term deal by July 17 or posture himself for one of several options in 2018: (1) a long-term contract with Washington signed after the season ends; (2) the transition tag of $28.7 million; (3) the franchise tag of $34.47 million; or (4) a shot at the open market, either with an offer sheet under the transition tag or as an unrestricted free agent.
His risks of letting it ride for a third straight year are simple and clear — serious injury or complete and total ineffectiveness. Either way, he will have made $44 million over two years, and at a minimum someone will pay him $5 million or so to serve as a backup in 2018, if for some reason he badly regresses this season.
What he’d make on the open market remains to be seen. The 49ers are believed to be interested, given the presence of former Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. But the Rams have hired the coordinator who helped Cousins throw for more than 4,900 yards in 2016. If head coach Sean McVay decides that he both wants Cousins and hopes to keep him from Shanahan, Cousins could be in position to sit back and allow the NFC West rivals to bid the package higher and higher.
Stafford has a $16.5 million salary in 2017, the last year of the extension he signed with two years left on his rookie deal. With a 2017 cap number of $22 million, his franchise tender for 2018 would be $26.4 million. For 2019, it would move to $31.68 million. That’s a bare minimum of $74.58 million to be paid out over the next three years, and thus the starting point for another extension.
Bottom line? He could (should) soon eclipse Carr as the highest paid player in NFL history.
A second-round pick from 2014 (like Carr), Garoppolo has been the subject of plenty of speculation regarding trades, franchise tags, and bridge deals aimed at paying him a lot of money to wait behind Tom Brady. For now, coach Bill Belichick merely wants to keep Garoppolo in place as insurance against a Brady injury. Come 2018, a decision will need to be made.
Some believe that Brady could retire after winning a sixth Super Bowl, especially since his wife seems to be steadily nudging him to walk off into the sunset. If that happens, the Patriots would then have a limited window for negotiating a long-term Garoppolo deal, with the franchise tag as the fallback against Garoppolo hitting the market.
The real question is whether the tag also would be the starting point on a long-term quarterback. For most quarterbacks, it is. But Garoppolo: (1) plays for the Patriots; and (2) is represented by Don Yee, the agent who has signed off on multiple below-market Tom Brady deals. Some think the Patriots will be able to get Garoppolo to take less than top dollar, like Brady has done. Others think Yee is determined to do with Garoppolo that which Brady refused to ever do.
If Brady refuses to retire after 2017 (and if the Patriots choose to keep him in place as a 41-year-old starter in 2018), they could tag and trade Garoppolo (see Matt Cassel), keep him under the tag for a year, sign Garoppolo to a short-term deal aimed at keeping him in place to take over for Brady, or let Garoppolo hit the open market and enhance their haul of compensatory draft picks in 2019.
Brees has one year left under contract, and a clause prohibiting the team from using the franchise tag to keep him in place the following year. Whether he stays or goes, Brees will count for a minimum of $18 million under the New Orleans salary cap next year.
He has said he won’t extend the deal, which means he’ll either sign with the Saints after the 2017 season ends and before the launch of free agency or he’ll become an unrestricted free agent, like he did more than 11 years ago.
So what is a 39-year-old franchise quarterback worth on the open market? We could find out within nine months.
Yes, Sam Bradford. The last No. 1 overall pick of the pre-rookie wage scale era, who made $78 million on his first six-year deal and enters the final season of the two-year, $36 million contract signed in Philadelphia last year. Now the starter in Minnesota, the Vikings can pay him a lot of money now or even more later, if forced to use the franchise tag to keep him in place.
The wildcard as to Bradford is Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings could end up choosing to keep him instead, if he recovers sufficiently from the devastating knee injury that compelled the Vikings to trade for Bradford last September.
Yes, A.J. McCarron. Other teams have been interested in trading for him, but the Bengals have wanted too much for the man who nearly helped Cincinnati nail down the No. 2 seed — and who did everything in his power to win a 2015 wild-card game against the Steelers — after Andy Dalton broke his thumb. Will someone break the bank for McCarron? He’s due to become an unrestricted free agent in March.
2. The Second Wave.
The Falcons quarterback has two years remaining on his current deal, with a 2018 cap number of $21.65 million. This means that he’d make $25.98 million, at a minimum, under the franchise tag in 2019. With $35 million in cash due to be paid out over the next two seasons, the Falcons could approach Ryan about trading it in for a long-term deal that puts north of Carr in annual average, or Ryan could wait for the market to keep going up — and in turn for his leverage to increase.
However it plays out, another major payday is coming for Ryan. There’s currently no reason to think Ryan will push it to the brink and force the Falcons to play the franchise-tag dance.
Winston won’t approach free agency or the franchise tag until after the 2019 season, but he’ll be eligible for a second contract after 2017 . Given that the Buccaneers have never (never) given a second contract to any quarterback the franchise drafted, they may want to make a statement by committing to Winston as early as possible — and possibly at a number far lower than it would be if he’s closer to the franchise tag.
Mariota, the second pick in the same year Winston was drafted No. 1 overall, also becomes eligible for a new deal after the 2017 season. The Titans will need to decide whether to move quickly or let it play out a bit, with Mariota under contract through 2019, once they pick up the fifth-year option. The decision could, in theory, hinge on how quickly the Buccaneers extend Winston, and vice-versa.
3. The Third Wave.
Some would say Rodgers should be in the first wave. But here’s the rub: He doesn’t seem to be inclined to complain about his current contract, even though he’s woefully underpaid. It’s the Jo(h)n Voight Phenomenon; Rodgers did a bad deal, committing himself for seven full seasons in 2013 without accounting for potential spikes in the salary cap. As a result, his aging $22 million-per-year contract doesn’t compare well to new Derek Carr’s $25 million annual deal.
In March, as rumors and reports grew that the Bears would be giving Mike Glennon $15 million or more per year in free agency, Rodgers said as to whether this would compel contract talks for him, “I think it has to.” In response to the PFT item on the issue, Rodgers downplayed the obvious implications of his words and brushed our interpretation off as “#fakenews.”
Interpretation of the reaction to the interpretation? He plans to keep driving the LeBaron once owned by Jon Voight the actor, resisting any and all suggestions that it was actually owned by John Voight the periodontist.
As Wilson entered the last year of his rookie deal in 2015, the Seahawks rewarded Wilson for a pair of Super Bowl appearances (and avoided the franchise-tag dilemma) with a four-year extension worth $21.9 million per year. Wisely, Wilson ensured that he’d get back to the market sooner than later, which likely puts him in line for another extension after the 2018 season, when once again approaches the final year of his current deal in 2019.
The fourth-round phenom becomes eligible for a new deal after the 2018 season, and 2019 will be the fourth and final year of his rookie deal. The Cowboys will need to decide whether to do a top-of-market deal before Prescott approaches the franchise tag, or risk inheriting a Kirk Cousins conundrum. How he plays, and what the team achieves, over the next two years will be critical to answering that question.