The most telling comment from Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow regarding his ongoing contract talks came late in his recent press conference with reporters.
“I’m pretty clear on what I want in the contract and what I think is best for myself and the team,” Burrow said. “And so we’re on the road to making that happen.”
I’m pretty clear on what I want in the contract.
That would be an unusual way to articulate simple monetary demands. What do I want in the contract? Money. Lots and lots of money.
I’ve got a bias on this one. I have believed for years that the best way to strike the balance between player-friendly and team-friendly on a long-term deal for a franchise quarterback or player of similar impact is to use a percentage of the salary cap as the compensation the player receives, especially in the outer reaches of the arrangement.
For the first two or three years, everyone knows where the market is and where it’s likely heading. If the Bengals want Burrow to sign a contract that keeps him in orange and black for the rest of the decade and beyond, Burrow would (or should) “want in the contract” terms that protect him against the ongoing growth of the salary cap, and the ongoing escalation of the market.
Three years ago, when Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes signed his 12-year deal, he drove the maximum APY from $35 million to $45 million. Today, that number has moved to $52 million. And Mahomes now has to wait and to hope that the Chiefs will see fit to tweak a contract that has more and more lesser players making more and more money than Mahomes.
Burrow would (or should) “want in the contract” protection against that. The logic is simple. If you want me to commit to this team for the next decade or longer, I need to know my pay will always be comparable to my peers.
One way to do that would be to tie his compensation in future years to the exclusive level of the franchise tag. A better way to do that would be to tie his compensation to the cap.
Burrow knows that the Bengals need money and cap space for other players. What’s more fair than having the Bengals know the specific cents on the dollar that will be devoted to Burrow, and in turn the specific cents on the dollar they will have for anyone/everyone else?
So if Burrow has an annual floor of 16 percent of the cap (the final number probably would have nearly as many decimal points as pi) in the out years of the deal, the Bengals would have between 83 and 84 percent remaining for the rest of the team. Or maybe Burrow’s number would start at 17 percent, point something something something. Or 18. That would be determined in the final stages of the negotiations.
Over the years, multiple players have tried to persuade teams to use the cap-percentage, which the CBA allows. Darrelle Revis and Kirk Cousins are two of which we know. There might have been others who made an initial effort before realizing it was a non-starter.
There’s a chance that the Management Council frowns upon cap percentage, since the Management Council typically frowns upon any new approaches that would tip the scales toward the players, by giving others a fresh device they could pursue in their own deals.
But we saw what happened with Deshaun Watson. They all banded together and shouted down his five-year, fully-guaranteed contract as an aberration, the product of a dysfunctional team caught in a fit of desperation. If Burrow gets a cap percentage in the out years of his deal, they can do the same thing to the Bengals, decrying them as stupid or reckless or foolish or out of touch or whatever.
Bengals owner Mike Brown doesn’t seem to care about such things. He’s the rare contrarian in Club Oligarch, the guy who routinely casts one of the only “no” votes and who would seem to have no qualms about doing a win-win deal that, in turn, might force other teams to lose their edge when it comes to franchise quarterback deals.
Currently, Burrow is the quarterback most likely to be the first one to get future protection based on cap percentage. He’s got the nonchalant, understated confidence to “make it pretty clear on what I want,” if that’s what he wants. And the Bengals are sufficiently determined to keep him for the rest of his career (they’ve already sold stadium naming rights to raise more money to pay him) that they’ll consider anything he asks for.