Several franchise quarterbacks who previously received big-money contracts are seeing those contracts pale in comparison to more recent contracts, thanks to the consistent growth of the salary cap. So when will a franchise quarterback (or any other player) manage to tie his compensation to the growth of the cap?
Already, the various baseline franchise tenders flow each year from the percentage of the cap that past tenders have consumed, guaranteeing that, as the cap grows, the tenders grow. So why can’t a player get similar protection in the third, fourth, fifth, or sixth years of his contract?
It’s a simple concept, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement permits it. A contract can be written to provide, for example, that a player’s salary in 2021 will be $24.1 million or 15.2 percent of the cap, whichever is greater.
Those numbers weren’t randomly selected; $24.1 million is what Jimmy Garoppolo will make in year four of his new contract, and his $27.5 million average represents 15.2 percent of the projected $180 million cap for 2018. If the cap grows to $200 million by 2021 (getting a Thursday night bump of either $100 million per year or $210 million per year, depending on which report is believed, will help), 15.2 percent of a $200 million cap would equate to $30.4 million.
It’s unknown whether Don Yee (real or fake) tried to get a term like that for Garoppolo. Others have. Eight years ago, agents Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod attempted to secure a cap percentage for cornerback Darrelle Revis from the Jets. Two years ago, quarterback Kirk Cousins tried to get the same protection from Washington.
As free agency approaches, Cousins may be in the best position of any player to finally pull it off. Assuming Washington isn’t dumb enough (that could be an ass-you-me proposition, given the team’s history) to tag Cousins again, Cousins should be able to dictate terms to interested teams. It only takes two to generate real leverage. Cousins may have four or more chasing him.
So the message from Cousins and agent Mike McCartney would be clear: Don’t submit an offer unless it ties every year after 2020 or 2021 to a percentage of the cap.
Of course, the rejoinder may be a two-word phrase ending in “you,” especially if the Management Council gets involved. Even though the NFL consists of 32 independently-owned franchises that, in theory, compete in every way possible, the Management Council routinely tells teams what they should or shouldn’t (or perhaps more accurately can or can’t) do when it comes to player contracts.
Of course, all it takes is one team to direct that two-word refrain to the Management Council, if that team is more insistent on getting Cousins than it is on staying in the good graces of those who pull the strings at 345 Park Avenue.
If, in the end, Cousins pulls it off, he could set the template for all of the other quarterbacks and high-value players who could have, and arguably should have, been insisting on this type of protection in the past. Which would make Cousins a trailblazer in two different ways, given that he already has demonstrated to all current and future players the value of going year-to-year under the franchise tag.