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Show Me The Money: Predicting QB Contract Extensions

Lamar Jackson contract

"Show me the money!" is a famous line from the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire. In the coming months, it also will be the battle cry for several of the league's top young quarterbacks.

The Ravens' Lamar Jackson, the Bengals' Joe Burrow, the Eagles' Jalen Hurts, the Chargers' Justin Herbert and the Giants' Daniel Jones all are looking to cash in on big-money deals this offseason.

A sixth quarterback, the Dolphins' Tua Tagovailoa, would also be included in that group. But his concussion issues this season almost certainly have put any discussions about a long-term deal on hold until next year.

Setting the Stage

Jackson and Jones are only two of the five whose rookie deals have expired and who will be eligible for free agency in March. Burrow, Hurts and Herbert were drafted in 2020 and are still under club control but are eligible for contract extensions for the first time. The Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes, the Bills' Josh Allen and the Cardinals' Kyler Murray all signed second contracts during the offseason between their third and fourth years.

"If I were a team with one of these guys, I'd be sprinting to get a deal done," said Mike Tannenbaum, a former front-office executive with the Jets and Dolphins and a current analyst for The 33rd Team. "Because the price is only going to go up."

With the five-year, $230.5 million deal that Murray signed last summer as a guidepost, and the salary cap expected to increase as much as $100 million over the next 4-5 years, Jackson, Burrow, Hurts and Herbert all are believed to be looking for mega-deals in the $47 million- to $53 million-a-year neighborhood.

Tannenbaum feels it would behoove their teams to move quickly, not only because the price is going to keep going up, but also to assure that their quarterback is there for offseason workouts.

"Without a new contract, I don't think any of them will be there for the offseason program," he said. "And given their significance to their teams – both as leaders and players – it's important that they be there. It's one thing if it's a receiver or a left tackle. But it's hard to get a lot done during the offseason without your quarterback."

"These deals are not going to go down," said Joe Banner, who spent two decades as an NFL front-office executive and is an analyst for The 33rd Team. "So, unless you have doubt about your guy, the sooner you sign him, the happier he is and the smarter you are."

Daniel Jones

Jones, a 2019 first-round pick, didn't seem to be in the Giants' long-term plans going into this season. They didn't even bother to exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie deal last spring, which is why he can become a free agent.

But he played well this season under first-year head coach Brian Daboll and helped the Giants make the playoffs. Earlier this week, general manager Joe Schoen said the Giants definitely want Jones back.

"We'd like Daniel to be here," he said. "We would like to have him back. We're pleased with how he played this season."

The Giants are expected to use the franchise tag on Jones, which would give the team another year to evaluate him as Schoen attempts to continue to improve the offensive cast around him. The franchise-tag number for a quarterback this year is expected to be a little north of $45 million based on the projected $220 million salary cap.

Lamar Jackson

The Ravens have been trying, without success, to sign Jackson to a new deal for a while now. The biggest impediment has been the quarterback's desire for a fully-guaranteed deal like the five-year, $230 million one the Browns gave Deshaun Watson. The Ravens reportedly offered Jackson a five-year, $250 million contract last summer, but with only $133 million of it guaranteed. Jackson turned it down.

The Ravens aren't going to give Jackson a fully guaranteed long-term deal for several reasons. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, like all of his colleagues, feels the Watson deal is an outlier born of the Browns' desperation and stupidity. The only other twentysomething quarterback that's ever been given a significant fully-guaranteed contract was the Vikings' Kirk Cousins, who signed a three-year, $84 million deal with the team back in 2018.

"I wish [the Browns] hadn't guaranteed the whole contract," Bisciotti said last year. "I don't know that he should have been the first to get a fully-guaranteed contract. To me, that's something that's ground-breaking. It's going to make negotiations harder for others."

There's also the matter of Jackson's playing style – he has averaged 10.4 rushing attempts per game in his career - and injury history. He missed the final five games of the 2021 season with an ankle injury and missed the Ravens' final four regular-season games this year with a PCL sprain in his knee.

The Ravens thought he would be able to return for the postseason, but he didn't play in their 24-17 wildcard loss to the Bengals, saying his knee still wasn't right. Much to head coach John Harbaugh's chagrin, Jackson tweeted that he wouldn't play in the game before the Ravens announced it. That fueled speculation that Jackson was more concerned about his next contract than he was about helping his teammates win a playoff game. Jackson didn't even travel with the team to Cincinnati for the playoff game.

For their part, the Ravens have refrained from commenting on Jackson's decision not to play against the Bengals and insist they want him back next season. Harbaugh told reporters last week that he is "200 [percent certain]" Jackson will be the team's quarterback next season.

"Everything we've done in terms of building our offense and building our team and how we think of the people we put around him is based on this incredible young man and his talent and his ability and his competitiveness," Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh even said Jackson would be involved to some degree in finding a replacement for fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

Many, including Banner, are skeptical, however.

"If they felt he was capable of playing in that playoff game and didn't, I just don't know how you can repair the damage of trust loss there," Banner said. "If that was the case or if they feel that was the case, I just don't know how you go back and have everybody trust each other again and feel fine and move forward.

"I know the team values him and knows how much better they are with him than without him. Maybe once they're removed from the moment, they'll be able to do that. I don't know.

"My experience in the NFL is that when both sides want something to happen, it almost always gets done. Lamar has been saying for some time that he wants to be a Raven for life. If he was sincere, then maybe they'll figure a way to overcome the frustration and distrust that almost certainly exists in the moment."

Assuming their intention is to bring Jackson back, the Ravens, like the Giants, have the franchise-tag option if they can't agree to a deal.

The 2020 NFL Draft: Burrow, Herbert and Hurts

As first-round picks, Burrow and Herbert's rookie deals both have fifth-year club options, which means they are under team control through the 2024 season. As a second-round pick, Hurts' rookie deal doesn't have a fifth-year option. He will be eligible for free agency after next season.

So, technically, the Bengals, Chargers and Eagles could just sit on their hands this offseason. But that's not likely to happen. All three teams fully understand the downside of not getting deals done with their quarterbacks as soon as possible.

"We're trying to prepare to find a way to keep Joe here and keep (Ja'Marr) Chase here and keep (Tee) Higgins here and keep (Tyler) Boyd here," Bengals president Mike Brown said last summer. "It's going to be a real challenge for us."

Said Chargers general manager Tom Telesco last week: "Obviously, we want (Herbert) here for a long time."

Mahomes signed a 10-year, $503 million extension with the Chiefs in 2020. Josh Allen's second deal with the Bills in August of 2021 was worth $258 million over six years. Murray and Watson's deals both were for five years.

Shorter is Better?

But Banner expects the salary cap to keep going up at a rate of $20 million to $25 million a year and thinks the smart play for Jackson, Burrow, Herbert and Hurts would be to sign shorter deals – three or four years – so that they could get another bite of a much juicier apple sooner.

"I think the most important issue in these negotiations is going to be the length of the contract," he said. "They all are going to be getting top-of-the-market deals. But if I represented any of them, I would fight like hell for a three-year deal and wouldn't sign longer than a four-year deal, no matter what the consequence of that was.

"All of these players – I don't care what all of the naysayers say – are extremely likely to play 100 percent of their next contract, and probably their next two contracts, based on their talent, how young all of them are and the position's ability to have the player play to an older age.

"The cap is going to be going up $20 million to $25 million a year. The longer you sign for, the more you're going to be underpaid as you get into the later years of your contract. And that's going to reduce your potential career earnings.

"If you have quarterbacks making $45 million [a year] and a cap that is going to be 40 percent higher in four years, the longest you should want to sign for is four years, and ideally three years. And by the way, if you do a three-year deal, the idea of the contract being mostly, if not fully, guaranteed is something the teams can swallow a little bit easier."

True, but most players – and their agents – don't think that way. Their top priority is getting as much guaranteed money as possible now. And that means signing a longer deal.

"You get close to a deal as an agent, and the easiest thing to do if you have any insecurities – and we are a very insecure profession – is just get the longest deal possible and lock in a fee," longtime agent Mike McCartney, who negotiated Cousins' deal with the Vikings in 2018, told me last summer.

Tannenbaum understands why top-tier players such as Herbert, Burrow and Hurts might be reluctant to sign three- or four-year deals.

"Look, it's tough to turn down $200-$250 million guaranteed," he said.  "You can have all the confidence in the world that the cap is going to go up and that you're going to stay healthy and play a long time. But when somebody is offering you a quarter of a billion dollars right here right now, that's hard to say no to."

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