Will Cousins deal bring veteran guaranteed contracts into focus for NFL?

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Kirk Cousins (and Trumaine Johnson) have shown high-end players a path to free agency despite being on the wrong end of the franchise tag. The next question becomes whether Cousins will be blazing a new trail regarding fully-guaranteed contracts.

It’s not a new question, and Cousins isn’t the first player to parlay free agency into three fully-guaranteed years. Ndamukong Suh did it in 2015, with three fully-guaranteed years on the six-year deal that was scrapped by Miami just as the fourth year was due to become fully guaranteed, too. Jay Cutler secured a similar term in 2014 with the Bears, getting three fully-guaranteed years at $54 million at a time when his contract in Chicago had expired.

The significance of the Cousins deal comes from the absence of non-guaranteed years on the back end, which allow the team to both spread the cap hit into more than three years and permit the team to keep the player around at a time when salary figures that looked good when the contract was signed suddenly become not so impressive in relation to the growth of the salary cap and increases to the market at the player’s position.

Cousins had tried while negotiating with Washington to tie compensation in the out years of a long-term deal to a percentage of the cap, in order to keep the contract from becoming as obsolete as Aaron Rodgers‘ contract now is. Cornerback Darrelle Revis, who signed in 2015 a deal that carried full guarantees into the third year of the contract (but didn’t fully guarantee all of his 2017 salary), also tried to do that in 2010 during his holdout with the Jets.

With teams still not willing to give players cap-percentage protection, and with the funding rule (which is codified in the Collective Bargaining Agreement at Article 26, Section 9) making teams unwilling to put significant salaries to be paid in the fourth, fifth, or sixth year into escrow, the ideal combination for Cousins became a short-term, fully-guaranteed deal.

That’s what Cousins will get, and it will put him back on the open market at the age of 32. Even if the contract allows the Vikings to tag Cousins, the Drew Brees grievance from 2012 means that Cousins would be eligible for a 44-percent bump over his 2020 cap year (since Cousins has been tagged twice before), making the franchise tag likely too expensive.

The next question becomes whether other players (specifically quarterbacks) could be able to turn remaining contractual years into short-term, fully-guaranteed contracts, and whether their teams would provide full guarantees for four, five, or six seasons.

The first test case will be Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He has two years left under his current contract. This, in theory, puts the Packers four years away from the point at which they’d be faced with the 44-percent conundrum, which placed Cousins on the open market. Will the Packers rip up the last two years of his deal and fully guarantee three, four, five, six seasons to Rodgers? Will they give him a three-year, fully-guaranteed contract to replace his remaining two years, resulting in a huge raise for Rodgers and only one more year of certainty for the Packers?

It remains to be seen what the Packers will do (the compromise could be three fully-guaranteed years plus two or three non-guaranteed seasons on the back end), but it’s important to remember the difference between the extension of a contract with one or more years remaining on it and the negotiation of a contract from scratch on the open market. Cousins, who was unrestricted, got three years, fully guaranteed. It will be harder for players with one or more years left on their current deals to get the same deal.

However it plays out, fully-guaranteed contracts are neither required nor permitted by the current labor deal. Players can negotiate guarantees, and teams can agree to them. Universal use would result in teams being forced to keep (or at least to pay) players who no longer deserve the money, reducing the money that would be available under the salary cap.

Meanwhile, don’t forget (as some apparently have) that roughly 20 four-year, fully-guaranteed contracts already are given to players every year. That’s the norm for the incoming rookies taken at the top of the draft, with the unearned windfall they used to receive prior to 2011 now replaced by guaranteed cash flow for their first four NFL seasons.

23 responses to “Will Cousins deal bring veteran guaranteed contracts into focus for NFL?

  1. This article answers its own question early on. In hindsight do those deals for Suh and Cutler look like good ideas? If Cousins is anything less than great people will instantly be talking about how the Vikings got fleeced on this deal. The fully guaranteed deal will remain very much the exception reserved for rare cases where a team is really desperate to get the deal done.

  2. For keeping elite QBs wouldn’t it be the way to go? Lower yearly cap hit for fully guaranteed contracts. I’m sure I’m missing something because it makes sense to me.

  3. Sick of hearing about Cousins…….the Vikings absolutely over paid for a slightly above average QB.

  4. Other than for elite QBs the answer is no.

    NFL players can decline quickly. If a player wants a fully guaranteed contract, the team will offer less money. What team will fully guarantee a 26/27 year old linebackers contract? IF a player wants a shorter contract, thats fully guaranteed, then they can negotiate that.

    The NFL cap is a hard cap. If a team is stuck paying a dud for several years, then there are many lesser players who get nothing more than the vets minimum.

    Is that good? That deserving players don”t get paid and unproductive ones do get paid?

  5. So, the answer to the question posed here is to use Suh, Cutler, and Revis as examples of guaranteed contracts and you think those might be what makes guaranteed contracts more appealing moving forward?

    I don’t think you understand the issues involved with what guaranteeing a contract means if you’re using quite possibly the 3 worst cases of what tying up money in guaranteed contracts does.

  6. For a select number of players it’s great for the team. Shorter contracts because they don’t have to worry about paying upfront money that needs to be amortized. For some reason the experts fail to realize that. Now, the Vikings are stuck with Cousins for three years. What has he done lately? 0 Tds 3 ints in his last game. Vince Young is calling the Vikings dream team, everyone knows how that turned out.

  7. “With teams still not willing to give players cap-percentage protection,…”
    Protection from what exactly? From their own feelings if somebody makes more than they do in a couple years? That is a stupid reason to guarantee a contract. NFL players more often than not actually regress in performance after receiving their first big contract. There are very few people in the history of the league that were worth fully guaranteed long-term contracts. Florio is only concerned with somebody forcing the mean rich business owners to pay the little guy more money than he deserves. There is absolutely no thought or effort beyond that and no understanding of unintended consequences. You can’t have a big signing bonus AND a fully guaranteed high paying contract. It simply won’t work on a large scale. If Cousins gets that from the Vikings it will be only because the Vikings are desperate and stupid.

  8. I really hope fully guaranteed contracts do not become a regular thing in the NFL. My job isn’t guaranteed tomorrow if I don’t perform, neither should NFL contracts be.

  9. mogogo1 says:
    March 15, 2018 at 12:59 pm
    This article answers its own question early on. In hindsight do those deals for Suh and Cutler look like good ideas? If Cousins is anything less than great people will instantly be talking about how the Vikings got fleeced on this deal.
    You have just described bad free agency. See Michael Johnson and the Bucs, for instance.

    I feel like this is more on NFL Front Offices and how they manage their cap space. These last few years have had 2 and a bit more (based on $ value) guaranteed and the back end of the deals are all voidable years to carry cap hits. These players are getting bulk money in year 1 and 2 any way and the signing bonuses in year 1 are included in the avg. per year which is used to determine salary rankings for players.


  10. I don’t think it is going to be veterans that make the push toward guaranteed contracts. It’ll be young stars ending their rookie deals that will have the leverage to get fully guaranteed contracts.

    Take a Carson Wentz for example. If the Eagles stay good with him in the near future when it comes to contract time he will be able to say I want X fully guaranteed. If the Eagles go, ‘Ya know you blew your knee out right?’ and risk him hitting free agency, you really don’t think a QB starved team wouldn’t give him what he wants???

  11. Football hurts to play and is inherently dangerous. If you guarantee someone tens of millions, some percentage of such players will decide that the risk to their health is not worth going as hard as they were earlier — and won’t.

  12. You know, for every Trumaine Johnson there is an Anthony Spencer who bet on himself and then got hurt and never saw his big FA deal. Going year to year pays more money precisely because it is MUCH riskier for the player. Considering that we’re talking about life-changing sums of cash, the wiser course of action is to usual trade some of that money to make sure you get around half of it no matter what.

  13. Remember the Pierce Holt contract? 1993, 3 years, $7.5m, full guaranteed. And he was injured and ineffective most of the last two (and retired after his contract was done). Teams have always been able to do guaranteed deals, they’ve been reluctant to.

    Going year to year will guarantee a player the most possible salary each year. But they take all the risk of injury (and suspension, age, etc). You may see more players willing to take that gamble, especially at cb, wr and qb.

    Washington made the mistake. They needed to extend Cousins, so he replaced the last year of his rookie deal, giving him more money then and reducing his risk. Once a player is tagged, they don’t have much incentive to sign a long term deal.

  14. This will be looked back at as a game changing contract in player negotiations with teams. How can it not? Every player will point to this and say “if they can do it for him, you can do it for me.”

  15. snowlock2013 says:
    March 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    The Vikings really need to draft a QB this year, maybe round 2. Because this mercenary isn’t going to stick around.

    Mercenary? Cousins has had plenty of chances to leave the Redskins after their lowball, binding, and insidious contract offers (especially the 2017 one). You are a hater which means you are unintelligent and cannot support your hatred with facts. Just remember this team, the Redskins, cannot win more games than it loses on a regular basis and for the last five years has had defenses that are worse than average; and Cousins is the ONLY Redskins QB in the past twenty years to post back to back winning seasons while being saddled with worse than average defenses; when he puts up more than 30 points, the defense allowed more. Last year alone if one receiver had caught a well thrown and placed ball in the endzone against the Chiefs and if the officials had not erred (they admitted their mistake after the game) against the Saints in which Cousins was driving the team, the Redskins would have won two games and had a winning season despite all the injuries, a horrific offensive line, and a defense where even their prima donna corner could not cover a blade of grass.

    You haters are simply the dumbest on the planet and proof that God has a sense of humor and that miracles exist (breathing and living at the same time seems implausible for Cousins haters).

  16. Of the past seven different QBs to win the Superbowl… Peyton Manning had the highest cap hit at $18 million… think about that GMs…let that sink in…then ask yourself why you’d bother to pay any QB who’s only in it for the cash…

  17. There are two kinds of people that ask for and give these kinds of contracts….
    Player insures he can be the laziest man on the team.
    Team, Desperate enough to take the chance.

  18. snowlock2013 says:
    March 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    You haters are simply the dumbest on the planet and proof that God has a sense of humor and that miracles exist (breathing and living at the same time seems implausible for Cousins haters).



    Sure hope your wishful thinking pans out for you.

    Remember, sanity is nothing more than what the majority think to be sane. If everyone thinks he’s overpaid, he’s overpaid.

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