Four years ago, Kirk Cousins did the unexpected: He signed a fully guaranteed, three-year, $84 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings. It was unprecedented at the time and many pondered whether or not Cousins’ deal would usher in a new age of mega quarterback contracts forever.
Through Russell Wilson’s extension on Thursday, it doesn’t appear so.
Twenty-three other multi-year quarterback deals worth at least $50 million were signed since Cousins inked his contract in 2018. And up until this past offseason, only Cousins’ 2020 extension with the Vikings was fully guaranteed.
Deshaun Watson re-opened the floodgates this past March with a five-year, $230 million deal he signed after being traded to the Cleveland Browns. The question then became, would teams change their minds about giving quarterbacks 100 percent of their contracts?
Ever since, there’s been evidence to the contrary. A day after Watson signed his mega-deal on March 18, the Los Angeles Rams signed Matthew Stafford to a four-year, $160 million contract with $130 million guaranteed. That’s a lot of money, but not on the same level as Watson. Derek Carr then inked a three-year, $121.5 million extension a month later with the Las Vegas Raiders with $65.27 million guaranteed — about 53.73 percent.
Even Kyler Murray, whose deal with the Arizona Cardinals was slightly higher than Watson’s at $230.5 million, only earned $189.5 million guaranteed. And finally, the Denver Broncos signed Russell Wilson, who they traded for this offseason, to a huge five-year, $245 million extension … with $165 million guaranteed. Both Murray and Wilson were given contracts worth more than Watson’s, but neither could match his guaranteed money.
So while fully guaranteed quarterback contracts might have once seemed like the wave of the future, Cousins and Watson’s deals don’t seem to have drastically altered how teams structure them. They can still point to Stafford, Carr, Murray and Wilson and claim that’s their starting point, not Watson.
Will Lamar Jackson get a fully guaranteed contract?
This is important because there are several high-profile quarterback deals on the horizon that hypothetically could start the trend, beginning with Lamar Jackson.
Before Murray and Wilson signed this summer, Jackson was asked if Watson’s contract would affect how he negotiated his contract with the Baltimore Ravens. Jackson publicly denied that it would, explaining that he’s “a man of my own.”
"I don't worry about what those guys get,” he told reporters at mandatory minicamp in June.
But while reporting on his negotiations has been limited, there’s no reason to believe Jackson wouldn’t look at Watson’s deal and want the same, or at least similar. Problem is, historical trends don’t indicate the Ravens would be the latest NFL team to hand a quarterback a fully guaranteed deal. Teams negotiate with precedent in mind, and Cousins and Watson look like anomalies rather than the norm.
The two other big-time quarterbacks with impending contract negotiations are Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert and Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow. Both are young, incredibly talented and eligible for a new deal after the 2022 season. But unless something changes, it seems unlikely either of them earns a fully guaranteed contract, either.
Both are under club control until at least 2026 if the teams exercise their fifth-year options and place the franchise tag on them in consecutive seasons. More likely, though, each will come to some sort of contract extension before then with their respective teams.
There is a world where quarterbacks, and maybe even other positions, start to see more and more fully guaranteed deals. But even four years after Cousins made NFL history, that idea is still far from being realized.