Agent's Take: Five QBs who could reap the benefits from Jimmy G's newfound riches
The 49ers making Garoppolo the NFL's highest-paid player may just be the tip of the iceberg in 2018
Five impressive starts after a midseason trade with the Patriots were all the 49ers needed to see to give quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a blockbuster five-year, $137.5 million contract. Garoppolo transformed a struggling offense in directing the 49ers to a season-ending five-game winning streak to give San Francisco a 6-10 record. He threw for 1,542 yards, third most in the NFL during that span, while completing 67.1 percent of his passes without a full grasp of head coach Kyle Shanahan's playbook.
Garoppolo raises the bar by a half-million per year in replacing Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford as the NFL's highest-paid player with a $27.5 million average yearly salary. Stafford remains the standard bearer in overall contract guarantees ($92 million), money fully guaranteed at signing ($60.5 million), signing bonus ($50 million) and three-year cash flow ($87 million).
Garoppolo's deal contains $74.1 million in overall guarantees and $48.7 million fully guaranteed at signing. Both are the third most in the NFL. His $86.4 million three-year cash flow is the second-best ever in an NFL contract.
Garoppolo's contract may just be the tip of iceberg in a quarterback market that could escalate to unprecedented heights at a rapid pace. It took five years for NFL salaries to go from $20 million per year in 2012 with Saints quarterback Drew Brees to $25 million per year when Raiders quarterback Derek Carr signed his five-year contract extension last summer. All established salary benchmarks are expected to fall by the wayside over the next few months.
Here's a look at the quarterbacks that should reap the benefit from Garoppolo's newfound riches in what could make 2018 the year of the quarterback.
The impending trade by the Redskins for Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, which can't be completed until the 2018 league year starts on March 14, means Cousins shouldn't be back in Washington for a seventh season. Cousins will be the litmus test for the value of a good available quarterback in his prime provided he hits the open market.
The money given to a largely unproven commodity like Garoppolo is justification for Cousins to insist on a contract averaging $30 million per year with $100 million in guarantees where at least $65 million of this $100 million is fully guaranteed at signing, since there are more NFL teams than quality quarterbacks. In Cousins' three seasons as a full-time starter, he has averaged nearly 4,400 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while completing 67 percent of his passes for a 97.5 passer rating. His completion percentage and passer rating rank third and sixth, respectively, in the NFL over the last three years. The Redskins had a 24-23-1 record with Cousins under center.
The Redskins are reportedly toying with the idea of putting a third franchise tag on Cousins for almost $34.5 million to try to recoup some of the compensation given up to obtain Smith, which is cornerback Kendall Fuller and a 2018 third-round pick. If Cousins leaves Washington in free agency, the Redskins are expected to receive a 2019 third-round compensatory pick.
Going the franchise-tag route is a risky proposition that could backfire on the Redskins. The NFLPA would likely file a grievance demanding that Cousins immediately become an unrestricted free agent due to the Redskins violating the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement by using the designation without a good faith intention to negotiate with Cousins or keep him for the 2018 season at the almost $34.5 million amount. As soon as Cousins is designated as a franchise player, his tender would count against Washington's salary cap with an unsuccessful NFLPA challenge. This cap room wouldn't be available for the Redskins to use on free agents while they restricted Cousins. By rule, a third franchise tag would operate like the exclusive one he received in 2017. He would be prevented from soliciting an offer sheet from other NFL teams.
Cousins couldn't be traded until he signed his tender, which would give him some control over the situation. He would effectively have a no-trade clause since his cooperation would be required in order to be dealt to another team. The prospect of a team giving up significant draft choice compensation or players is likely to be unappealing to Cousins. There also may not be much of demand to pay Cousins top dollar while giving up anything substantial to get him.
Brees reiterated his desire to finish his career in New Orleans after a stunning loss to the Vikings in the divisional playoffs. The one-year, $24.25 million extension that Brees, who recently turned 39, signed in 2016 was structured with 2018 through 2020 contract years that automatically void at 4 p.m. ET on March 14, the last day of the 2017 league year. The inclusion of the three fake years permitted the Saints to prorate Brees' $30 million signing bonus over five years, instead of just two years, for salary-cap purposes.
The Saints should have more of a sense of urgency than Brees for a new contract because of the voidable years. If these dummy years void, the Saints will have an $18 million cap charge during the 2018 league year relating to Brees' signing bonus regardless of where he plays next season. This voiding date eliminates the possibility of Brees being given a franchise tag, since it is after the designation period ends on March 6.
It may make sense for Brees and the Saints to do a short-term deal since Father Time is undefeated. 2018 and/or 2019 could be converted into real contract year(s) where the voiding is delayed until either the last day of the 2018 or 2019 league year in March 2019 or 2020. It also wouldn't be a surprise if the Saints added additional voiding dummy years so a signing bonus could be stretched out over a longer period of time, like in Brees' current contract.
The Saints shouldn't be overly concerned about committing to a second year because Brees has yet to showing many signs of slowing down. Although it's no longer necessary for the Saints to rely on Brees' passing for success after developing one of the NFL's most potent rushing attacks, he can still win games with his arm when necessary. Despite throwing for fewer yards (4,334) and touchdowns (23) than in any season since joining the Saints in 2006, Brees set an NFL record by completing 72 percent of his passes this season and was second in the league with a 103.9 passer rating.
There isn't anything in Brees' history to suggest that he would give the Saints a hometown discount. Garoppolo's $27.5 million average per year and $48.7 million fully guaranteed at signing could be important data points for Brees.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff announced shortly after being eliminated from the playoffs by the Super Bowl LII champion Eagles that Ryan's contract extension was an offseason priority. Ryan is scheduled to make $19.25 million in the final year of the five-year, $103.75 million extension he signed in 2013. Falcons owner Arthur Blank is employing an interesting negotiating tactic. He is trying to publicly guilt Ryan into taking less money by suggesting that a team-friendly deal which helps maximize Atlanta's chances to win a Super Bowl should be more important to the 2016 NFL MVP than keeping pace with changing market conditions.
Hometown discounts are a foreign concept to Tom Condon, Ryan's agent. Condon represents several prominent quarterbacks in addition to Ryan, including Sam Bradford, Brees, Eli Manning, Alex Smith and Stafford. He typically negotiates strong quarterback deals that can be characterized as having a player-friendly structure. If Cousins' deal re-sets the NFL pay scale as anticipated, Condon likely will view this contract as a starting point for discussions about Ryan. The Falcons signing their quarterback for less than Garoppolo money will require Ryan specifically instructing Condon to leave money on the table.
Rodgers received a five-year, $110 million extension in 2013 that made him the NFL's highest-paid player in 2013, when he had two years remaining on his contract. This deal wasn't surpassed until 2016 and is now outdated. The Packers adhering to this same timetable would put the 34 year old in line for a new contract before the 2018 season starts. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, there have been preliminary discussions about a new deal.
A broken collarbone limiting Rodgers to seven games in 2017 underscored his importance to Green Bay's success. The two-time league MVP's talent masks a lot of roster deficiencies. An eight-year playoff streak was snapped with the Packers going 7-9 in 2017. The last time Green Bay had missed the playoffs was in 2008, when Rodgers was a first-year starter.
The Packers shouldn't have an issue putting Rodgers at the top of the NFL's salary hierarchy again with a new deal. The salary cap was $123 million when Rodgers signed his current contract. The 2018 salary cap is expected to be in the $180 million neighborhood. A deal equivalent to Rodgers' existing one would average slightly over $32 million per year.
A lot has changed with Roethlisberger over the past year. He was contemplating retirement last offseason. He quickly made a commitment to playing the 2018 season after the Jaguars upset the Steelers in the divisional playoffs. Roethlisberger reportedly has been telling teammates privately that he plans on playing beyond his current contract, which expires after the 2019 season.
Steelers president Art Rooney II has raised the possibility of extending Roethlisberger's contract. The optimal timing would be before Roethlisberger's $5 million third-day-of-the-league-year roster bonus is due on March 16, so it and some of his base salary could be converted into signing bonus to lower his $23.2 million cap number, which is the NFL's eighth highest for 2018. The Steelers entered the offseason approximately $6 million over the $178.1 million high end of 2018 salary cap projections before restructuring the contracts of offensive guard David DeCastro and defensive end Stephon Tuitt.
The Steelers haven't hesitated to put Roethlisberger, who turns 36 in March, near the top among quarterbacks on his two veteran contracts. His current four-year extension, which averages $21.85 million, made him the NFL's second-highest paid player behind Rodgers when signed. Roethlisberger's deal had the NFL's best three-year cash flow of $65 million and set a new mark for overall contract guarantees at $64 million. The Steelers should be reluctant to add more than three new contract years for Roethlisberger since he would be 40 when the contract expired after the 2022 season. A 39-year-old Brees getting a deal with an average salary reflective of the top of the market would give Roethlisberger additional ammunition to maintain his place in the NFL's salary hierarchy.
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