In 2015, the Buccaneers and Titans made quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota the first and second overall picks, respectively, in the NFL draft. Both finished their four-year rookie deals, stayed for a fifth season under the team-held options, and exited as free agents.
In 2016, the Rams and Eagles made quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz the first and second overall picks, respectively, in the NFL draft. Both got second contracts at market value after their third NFL seasons. Both will be traded after their fifth NFL seasons.
Goff’s performance (especially in Super Bowl LIII) prompted many to suggest that the Rams should wait. If they had, they wouldn’t have had to throw a first-round pick into the one-and-a-three package for Matthew Stafford to get the Lions to take on Goff’s deal.
Wentz’s problems were less about his play and more about his injury history. After the 2018 season, many suggested that the Eagles should keep quarterback Nick Foles, the Super Bowl LII MVP. The Eagles let Foles go, and then signed Wentz to a massive contract.
The deterioration of Goff and Wentz after getting their second contracts should prompt other teams with first-round quarterbacks on rookie deals to reassess their plans for offering second contracts. Currently, 2018 first-rounders Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson seem poised to extend their stays with the Browns, Bills, and Ravens, respectively. Any of those three teams, if they do long-term deals now, could find themselves regretting it within two years.
The importance of prudence is balanced by the significance of urgency. The sooner a young quarterback gets his second contract, the cheaper it will be to re-sign him. Even if the quarterback market evolves, as it should, away from the next-guy-becomes-the-highest-paid model and toward a tiered system, quarterback dollars keep rising, not falling.
So if Mayfield, Allen, and/or Jackson don’t get second contracts this year and keep playing well, it will become more expensive to sign them in 2022 or 2023. (Indeed, the Cowboys bungled their relationship with quarterback Dak Prescott by not signing him to an extension the moment as he became eligible for a second deal.)
Each team has to make the decision regarding whether to extend now or later. And no one knows their quarterbacks better than their current teams. The Rams and Eagles have learned the hard way that a quarterback who performs well through three seasons isn’t guaranteed to continue to do so. With the benefit of 2019 and 2020, both teams surely wish they’d done what the Buccaneers and Titans did — let the five years play out, and then let the quarterbacks walk away as free agents.