Agent's Take: More QB dominoes set to fall after Derek Carr signs record contract
Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins and others have new deals on the horizon
Derek Carr became five weeks ahead of his self-imposed deadline to break off contract talks and play out his rookie contract once training camp starts, which begins July 28 for veteran Raiders. He supplants Andrew Luck, who signed a five-year, $122.97 million contract extension averaging $24.594 million per year with the Colts last June, as the league's highest-paid player. Carr's five-year, $125.025 million extension with $70.2 million in guarantees averages $25.005 million per year while $40 million is fully guaranteed at signing.
The Raiders deviated from their typical "pay as you go" contract structure with Carr where a player's cash and salary cap numbers are the same in each contract year because salary guarantees and a roster bonus payable a few days after signing are a substitute for a signing bonus. Carr's deal contains a $12.5 million signing bonus. His extension uses slightly over $14 million of existing salary cap space, leaving Oakland approximately $18.8 million under the cap this year.
Carr advances the ball in terms of average yearly salary and with just over $85.5 million in the first three new years of a contract. The remaining $977,519 from Carr's rookie deal is subtracted from his $86.5 million four-year cash flow to arrive at this number. Luck is still the NFL's gold standard with $87 million in overall contract guarantees and leads quarterbacks with $47 million fully guaranteed at signing. Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has the most money fully at guaranteed at signing with $59.955 million.
It is generally accepted that the top contracts are negotiated to be surpassed, so Carr's reign as the NFL's highest-paid player will be short-lived. Here's a look at the quarterbacks most likely to top Carr's new deal in the next couple of years.
The Redskins designated Kirk Cousins as a franchise player for a second straight year at $23,943,600, a 20 percent increase over last year's amount as mandated by the collective bargaining agreement. Franchise players have until 4 p.m. ET on July 17 to reach an agreement on a long-term deal. After this deadline passes, the Redskins are prohibited from signing Cousins to a multiyear contact until the end of the 2017 regular season on Dec. 31.
Carr's deal probably only provides confirmation for Mike McCartney, Cousins' agent, that seeking top dollar for his client is appropriate. Washington's use of franchise tags is more important to negotiations. Redskins president Bruce Allen recently indicated that designating Cousins as a franchise player in 2018 at almost $34.5 million was a possibility, although it seems implausible because of the cost. Using a transition tag for $28.73 million instead, which would only give the Redskins a right to match an offer sheet instead of two first-round picks as compensation on an unmatched offer sheet, is more likely.
Allen putting another designation in play for next year gives McCartney justification to insist upon as much $58 million fully guaranteed at signing, which approximates the value of second and third franchise tags, on a long-term deal averaging in excess of $26 million with more overall guarantees than in Luck's contract. Cousins would make $78.375 million by playing under three franchise tags.
Cousins is in an enviable position. It's conceivable that he could do significantly better than this if he hit the open market in 2018, because there are more NFL teams than good quarterbacks.
Negotiations for Matthew Stafford's new contract have already started, and Carr's contract is the salary floor for any Stafford extension.
Stafford was already dealing from a position of strength after proving in 2016 he could thrive without six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who retired prematurely after the 2015 season, before Lions president Rod Wood inexplicably stated last week he was willing to do "whatever it takes" to keep him in Detroit. Wood's declaration was music to Tom Condon's ears.
Condon, who represents Stafford, usually drives a hard bargain when negotiating for his quarterback clients, which include Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Matt Ryan. He has enough leverage to push for a contract in line with the average of using franchise tags on Stafford in 2018 and '19, which would be $29 million per year. It will be $26.4 million (120 percent of Stafford's $22 million 2017 salary cap number) to use a franchise tag, whether the exclusive or non-exclusive version, on him in 2018. A second franchise tag in 2019, another 20 percent raise, would cost the Lions $31.68 million. It remains to be seen whether Stafford and Condon are willing to fully exploit their leverage.
Drew Brees signed a one-year extension for $24.25 million early in the 2016 season to lower his league-high $30 million salary cap number and prevent him from hitting the open market in 2017. The 38-year-old is content to play out his contract even though his preference is to finish his career in New Orleans.
Brees isn't showing signs of slowing down. The Saints quarterback led the NFL with 5,028 passing yards in 2016. He completed 70 percent of the passes to rank second in completion percentage. He was also third with 37 touchdown passes and fifth with a 101.7 passer rating.
Brees' contract was structured with 2018 through '20 contract years that automatically void March 14, 2018, the last day of the 2017 league year. If an extension isn't worked out between the end of the season and this date, the Saints will have an $18 million salary cap charge in 2018 regardless of where Brees plays next year because of the proration from the $30 million signing bonus he received with the 2016 extension.
As long as Brees can continue to keep Father Time at bay, it might make sense to continue going year-to-year, where 2018 is converted into a real contract with a slight raise to put him ahead of Carr's average, and the voiding of the 2019 and '20 contract years is delayed until the last day of the 2018 league year in March 2019.
The Packers gave Aaron Rodgers a five-year, $110 million extension that made him the NFL's highest-paid player in 2013 when he had two years remaining on his contract. The contract is becoming outdated. Rodgers suggested it might be time for the Packers to address his contract after Mike Glennon, an unproven commodity who has thrown 11 passes over the past two seasons, signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Bears during free agency in March. The Packers adhering to this same timetable would put Rodgers in line for a new deal after the 2017 season when he is 34 years old.
Tom Brady has the hardware from his five Super Bowl victories, but Rodgers is arguably the NFL's best quarterback right now. The Packers shouldn't have an issue putting him back at the top of the NFL's salary hierarchy on his next contract, presumably in 2018 when the salary cap should be approaching $180 million. Carr's average of slightly more than $28.5 million over the first three years of his new contract might be the only part of his deal that has some relevance for Rodgers.
The salary cap was $123 million when Rodgers signed his current deal, which contained $54 million in guarantees, of which $44.5 million was fully guaranteed at signing. Assuming a $180 million salary cap next year, a deal equivalent to Rodgers' existing one would average slightly over $32 million per year and contain almost $80 million in guarantees, where $65 million is fully guaranteed at signing.
NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported during last season's playoffs that the Falcons would explore extending reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan's contract during the offseason. Giving Ryan a new deal with two years left on his existing five-year, $103.75 million extension doesn't seem to be a priority.
The Falcons should be willing to make Ryan the NFL's highest-paid player on his next contract even if Rodgers has gotten another deal. Ryan's current contract put him only behind Rodgers when he signed in 2013, and that was before leading the Falcons to a Super Bowl appearance or winning league MVP honors.
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