Four years ago, Kirk Cousins did something unexpected: He signed a three-year, $84 million fully guaranteed contract with the Minnesota Vikings. It was unprecedented at the time, and many were wondering whether the Cousins trade would forever usher in a new era of super-quarterback contracts.
With Russell Wilson’s extension on Thursday, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Since Cousins signed in 2018, 23 other multi-year quarterback contracts worth at least $50 million have been signed. Until last offseason, only Cousins’ 2020 contract extension with the Vikings was fully guaranteed.
Deshaun Watson reopened the floodgates last March when he signed a five-year, $230 million contract after being traded to the Cleveland Browns. The question then becomes, will the team change its mind and give the quarterback a 100% contract?
Since then, there has been evidence to the contrary. The 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 $1.30 guaranteed. One hundred million U.S. dollars. That’s a lot of money, but not on the same level as Watson. A month later, Derek Carr signed a three-year, $121.5 million extension with the Las Vegas Raiders with a guaranteed $65.27 million — or about 53.73 percent.
Even Kyler Murray, who traded with the Arizona Cardinals for slightly more than Watson’s $230.5 million, was only guaranteed $189.5 million. In the end, the Denver Broncos signed Russell Wilson, whom they traded this offseason, for a 5-year extension worth $245 million…$165 million guaranteed.Murray and Wilson both get contracts worth More than Watson’s, but neither can match his guaranteed money.
So while fully guaranteed quarterback contracts once seemed like the wave of the future, the Cousins-Watson trade doesn’t seem to drastically change the team’s structure.They can still point to Stafford, Karl, Murray and Wilson, and claiming this was their starting point, not Watson.
Will Lamar Jackson get a fully guaranteed contract?
That’s important because there are several high-profile quarterback trades on the horizon that could spark this trend, starting with Lamar Jackson.
Before Murray and Wilson signed this summer, Jackson was asked if Watson’s contract would affect the way he negotiated his contract with the Baltimore Ravens. Jackson publicly denied that would be the case, explaining that he was “my own person.”
“I’m not worried about what those people are going to get,” he told reporters during his mandatory mini-camp in June.
[It’s fantasy football season: Create or join a league now!]
But while reports of his talks are limited, there’s no reason to believe Jackson wouldn’t look at a Watson deal and want the same, or at least something similar. The thing is, historical trends don’t suggest the Ravens will be the latest NFL team to hand the quarterback to a fully guaranteed deal. Teams negotiate with precedent in mind, and Cousins and Watson look like the anomaly rather than the norm.
The other two big-name quarterbacks on the verge of contract talks are Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers and Joe Bro of the Cincinnati Bengals. Both are young, talented and eligible for a new contract after the 2022 season. But unless something changes, it seems unlikely that either of them will get a fully guaranteed contract.
If teams exercise their fifth-year options and label them franchises for consecutive seasons, both companies are under club control until at least 2026. It’s more likely, though, that each will have some form of contract extension with their respective teams before that happens.
There is a world where quarterbacks, and possibly other positions, are starting to see more and more fully guaranteed deals. But even four years after Cousins made NFL history, the idea is still far from reality.