As we think about potential new deals for Buffalo’s Josh Allen, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield, it begs the question: Why would any of these three quarterbacks step on the field without a new deal?
All of the young quarterbacks that have been playing well have gotten deals after three years, whether that was Carson Wentz in Philadelphia and Jared Goff in L.A. before 2019, or Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson last summer. So why would any of these top three guys step on the field without a new deal? They are not making much money right now under rookie deals and are probably walking away from at least $80-100 million in guarantees. It is a massive risk for all three of these guys as the offseason progresses and we move toward training camp. If we get to that point and deals are not done, these teams are basically telling their players, “We still have doubts in you,” because all the player would be asking for is the precedent that has already been set.
It does seem like all three are showing up to team activities and saying the right things publicly. Each one has also shown massive improvements since coming into the league, so I assume they will get deals done. I also believe conversations have started with some of them, but I am surprised, as of now, that the players have not been more adamant about getting a deal done. It is not necessarily being provocative, but if I was representing these guys, I would expect a contract by the time training camp opens, or I would have a hard time advising my client to participate in camp.
For the quarterback market, I think this offseason is different from last year. I could have understood waiting as a player last year. There were a number of deals waiting to get done like Mahomes, Dak Prescott and Watson, who were certain to reset the market above the $35 million annual contract that Russell Wilson signed in the spring of 2019. Now that Mahomes has pushed the market to $45 million over a 10-year period and Prescott was able to reach the $40 million threshold, there is no need for the player to wait. The market has been reset, and I do not really see a deal that will get done soon that will blow through those numbers, so I do not see the benefit of waiting in this scenario.
A look at the three situations:
Josh Allen, Bills
All three of these guys are very good, but in my mind, Allen is the one that is as good as some of these other guys that have signed like Prescott and Watson. Outside of Mahomes, I think I would consider Allen the top guy if I were choosing a quarterback today to build a franchise around. If I view him in that light, and these other guys are around $40 million, that is where he should be, instead of the $3.5 million he is set to make in 2021. If I am his agent, and an offer comes in at $38-39 million, I take it. If it comes in above $40, I feel like I just hit a home run.
For the team, if he continues to play well, his price will not decrease. He could also suffer a season-ending injury and barring the rare possibility there is long-term damage, he is still going to demand top of the market money. That is why I think both parties should work to get the deal done.
Frankly, the team has to sign him; he holds a massive amount of leverage by withholding his services. With a deal on the table, with a guarantee structure that is similar to some of the other guys, I would not hesitate to sign. I think Allen is in a great situation. He has an owner that cares about winning, a general manager that has done an outstanding job, and a head coach that I think is one of the better coaches in the NFL. Really, the only challenge with Buffalo moving forward is how are they going to manage their cap with Allen, Tremaine Edmunds and Stefon Diggs all eventually wanting new contracts. If they can do that, and continue to draft like they have recently, they should be pretty formidable for a long time.
Lamar Jackson, Ravens
Jackson is in a very similar circumstance as Allen. He is in a group of quarterbacks that stand to get paid if they are playing well after three seasons and the team is having success. He should be paid in the same $38-$40 million ballpark with a substantial guarantee, because that has been what is established for difference-making quarterbacks.
He does need to continue to progress passing the ball, but he has proven he is an elite, difference making player. Whatever people thought about him during the draft, really does not matter, when he has proven over a three-year period he can lead his team to a lot of victories. In three seasons, Jackson is 30-7 as a starter, and I think he is the difference between this team being just okay as opposed to very good.
For the Ravens, I would be concerned about putting a massive guarantee into a smaller quarterback that so clearly relies on his legs, so in this situation, the best case for Baltimore is to play it out for as long as possible. There will not be a massive jump in the quarterback market, and it gives you the longest time possible to evaluate the player and his health before awarding him a massive amount of wealth. The reality is, if Jackson demands it, they really have no choice. At that point, I am just trying to negotiate the best deal. The rest of this roster is built to have success now, and Jackson gives them a much better chance to win games over their current backup, Trace McSorley, even if it costs them close to $40 million annually.
Baker Mayfield, Browns
Baker Mayfield is slightly different from the other two. I think, for the player, he should insist on a deal now. The reality is, though, that he has really only played well in one season, and he was aided massively by the scheme and the personnel around him. That is why I expect him to get slightly less than the other two, but if he is insisting on being in the $38-40 million range this offseason, Cleveland will not hold a lot of leverage. Paying Mayfield $38 million a year is better than the alternative of starting over, because I think Mayfield can lead the Browns to the Super Bowl, but I do not think he can carry a team like some of these other guys can.
For the team, I cannot imagine them not acquiescing if he demands a new contract. They have spent the better part of this century looking for a franchise quarterback, and they would be left with very little options if they decided not to pay Baker. The best case for the Browns is that Mayfield expresses his commitment to the team and says he would be willing to do a deal next season. I just do not think that will be the case, and I would not advise him to do that.