How one contract changed the NFL’s quarterback market forever


image via Nick Cammett/Getty Images Deshaun Watson at his introductory press conference after he was traded to the Cleveland Browns.

With the Super Bowl occurring over two weeks ago and the NFL free agency period quickly approaching, some teams have a big problem on their hands: paying their starting quarterbacks. 

Why have some teams been struggling to lock up their franchise stars? Signs point back to the 2022 off-season when the Cleveland Browns acquired the most significant question mark of the league: Deshaun Watson. At the time, members all around the league had no clue if Watson would even be allowed to step on the field because of the legal trouble he found himself in, but that was no issue for the famously incompetent franchise in Cleveland. They decided it was a smart idea to pay him $230,000,000 over 5 years ($46 million annually) after he had taken a near two year hiatus from football while facing almost 30 accusations of sexual misconduct. 

The worst part about this deal is that the contract Cleveland gifted him was fully guaranteed, which is nothing like the league has ever seen. Before Watson, the highest guaranteed deal given to a quarterback was Aaron Rodgers, who restructured his deal with the Green Bay Packers a few weeks before Watson’s unprecedented deal that gave him $101,415,000 out of his $150,815,000 (67%) deal to be guaranteed.

After this, there was an uprising in quarterbacks receiving a larger amount of guaranteed money. For example, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, and Josh Allen all received $150,000,000 or more in guaranteed money in the lucrative extensions that they subsequently signed. Seeing this, Baltimore Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson believes he should not only be in the range that these guys are, but he should also get a fully guaranteed deal like Watson.

As a guy who hasn’t been there for his team during the final stretch of the season for back-to-back years now, you would think this asking price would be absurd. But if you compare the two AFC North quarterbacks, Jackson is handily more decorated compared to Watson, receiving an MVP award, having slightly better individual stats, and being the overall more winning quarterback. But if you consider the stat that is highly regarded to be the most important in playoff wins, both stars lack talent, acquiring only one playoff win each in their respective careers. 

You could argue that some quarterbacks may deserve a fully guaranteed deal, but they would need to have proven to be a winner, a reliable teammate, and not toxic towards their franchise. While Watson and Jackson have proven they can win games, their lack of reliability should be considered a deal breaker. 

Considering this, is either quarterback worthy of a fully guaranteed deal? No. However, the Browns’ horrible attempt at becoming relevant again not only backfired on them, but also on every other team in the league, who will inevitably have to worry about paying a quarterback good money.

Looking back at these past few free agencies, none of these quarterback contract negotiations would be a problem if the Browns didn’t sign Watson to the lucrative deal they did, which would inevitably end up setting the league back. From this point on agents will now use this contract as leverage, knowing that there will always be some team that will put their roster into the trenches of the salary cap just to sign a quarterback who might not even show up when it matters most.


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