Derek Carr got his new contract from the Oakland Raiders last week -- a sweet, $25-million-a-year job with $40 million in full guarantees at the time of signing. It's the latest big quarterback deal to be handed out, but it surely won't be the last.
Who will be next? Which quarterbacks will be looking for (and receiving) new contracts in the coming months and years? Let's take a look at the next several guys in line for big quarterback deals and hereby present our best guess as to the order in which they will sign them.
With one year and $16.5 million left on his contract, Stafford and his agent have already had some talks with the Lions about an extension. There's a strong likelihood it gets done before the 2017 season starts, as it would cost the Lions $26.4 million to franchise Stafford next year and more than $31 million the year after that. Having recently seen star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh price himself out of Detroit due to high franchise tag numbers, the Lions know the dangers of delaying this too long.
But Stafford, who has five years and 19,000 yards on Carr, will look to beat that $25 million average annual salary. Agent Tom Condon, whose big-money quarterback client list includes Eli Manning, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, will be paying close attention to the guaranteed money and the schedule for those guarantees paying out. Carr's deal delays the guaranteed payments year to year after the first two seasons. Condon's recent deals tend to make sure the first two and three years house the big money and big guarantees. And since Condon also has Matt Ryan, who'll be due an extension this time next year, he'll be interested in trying to elevate the ceiling here on a Stafford deal.
2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
The Saints' 38-year-old future Hall of Famer did an extension last year that voids after this season, which means he'd be a free agent at 39. Coming off his fifth 5,000-yard passing season (no one else in history has had more than one), Brees doesn't appear to be slowing down. But he does appear content to go year-to-year on his contract at this point and to want to finish his career in New Orleans. It's not a stretch to imagine he and the Saints do another one-year extension before this season starts.
Just putting it here because it's worth watching to see whether Brady gets any new money added to his deal this offseason. He signed a two-year, $41 million extension last offseason that included a $28 million signing bonus. Three years earlier, he did a deal that came with a $30 million signing bonus. So there's precedent here. Brady's current deal runs through 2019, and since he turns 40 in August it's hard to imagine the Patriots adding years at this point. But with a base salary of just $1 million this year, Brady wouldn't be nuts to expect another new-money "extension" that comes with a similarly sized ($25 million-$30 million) signing-bonus reward and reworks the remaining years on the deal. Should this get done soon, it could help set a framework for any new deal Brees might want to do with the Saints, now or next spring.
Bradford's contract runs out after this season, as does that of fellow Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, whose catastrophic training camp injury last summer is the reason Bradford is in Minnesota in the first place. Bradford, who set the single-season record for completion percentage in 2016, is making $18 million this year in salary and bonuses. His future in Minnesota is tied to Bridgewater's: If the Vikings are encouraged by Bridgewater's health this summer and fall, that will lessen their need to do a deal with Bradford that would head off his unrestricted free agency. If Bridgewater's health and/or Bradford's performance give the Vikings reason to believe the 29-year-old veteran is their better long-term option, this is another Condon client who could be in line for a nice extension sometime this calendar year.
The team's designated franchise player for the second year in a row, Cousins is fully guaranteed a $23,943,600 salary for this season and nothing thereafter. If Washington doesn't sign Cousins to a long-term deal before July 17, franchise-tag rules say it cannot negotiate one with him until after the end of its 2017 season. Which means, if they don't get an extension done in the next three weeks, Cousins could become an unrestricted free agent in March. It would cost Washington nearly $35 million to franchise Cousins again in 2018, and $28.8 million to use the transition tag on him. Cousins' 2017 guarantee means he would need much more than Carr to sign by the July 17 deadline, and so far the team has been unwilling to offer him the kind of deal that would entice him away from the promises of unrestricted free agency with multiple teams bidding next spring. The bet here is that he hits the market and gets more than $30 million a year on his new deal, setting a new benchmark for quarterback salaries.
6. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
If Cousins or Stafford or someone gets to free agency in March and blows through that $30 million-a-year barrier, the reigning league MVP would go into next summer with one year left on his contract and looking to do an extension with Atlanta that would elevate that ceiling even higher. Ryan is making $18.15 million in salary and bonuses this year and $21.65 million in 2018. A repeat of his 2016 performance would put him in a position to become the highest-paid player in the league at this time next year, regardless of the deals his peers do or don't get in the meantime.
The Jags hold a $19.053 million option on Bortles for 2018, but that's only guaranteed against injury right now. It doesn't become fully guaranteed until the start of the 2018 league year. If the Jags decide to move on from Bortles before then, he's not likely to get any kind of major extension. But if they decide he's their guy for the long term (or even just for 2018), then he's positioned for an extension sometime next summer or the one after that. And it'll be worth watching even if he's not elite. Bortles' next deal could serve as a floor for contract expectations to come for mid-tier QBs who outperform him.
Yeah, remember him? If you just ranked all the quarterbacks in the league based on quality, Rodgers would deserve to earn the most. But he signed a long-term extension in 2013 that runs through 2019, which means he's probably two years away from being able to demand an extension. By that time, Rodgers' $22 million average annual salary will look antiquated and silly. It's possible Green Bay could look to do a deal sooner than the summer of 2019 if they need cap help or if they just want to do right by their superstar quarterback. But since Rodgers will be 36 at the end of his current contract, they might prefer to wait. And given what could happen to the top of the quarterback market in the next year or two, Rodgers might prefer to wait, as well.
Wilson's deal runs through 2019, as well, which means he'd be looking at an extension two summers from now. Wilson will turn 31 during that 2019 season. He could be in line to score a longer extension than even Rodgers.
OTHERS TO WATCH
2019 Free Agents
Alex Smith could be out after this year with the Kansas City Chiefs, but if that's the case, he likely isn't getting another big deal. Smith's best bet is to play lights-out for the next two years and hit free agency when it's time for Patrick Mahomes II to take over in K.C.
2020 Free Agents
Dak Prescott's deal runs through the 2019 season, and since he was not a first-round pick, the Dallas Cowboys don't hold his fifth-year option. They're not allowed to do an extension with him until after 2018. So assuming Prescott continues to play well, he'll be talking extension with the Cowboys two summers from now, and it could be a doozy.
Marcus Mariota in Tennessee and Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay were first-rounders in 2015, which means 2019 would be their fifth-year-option seasons and they'd be due for extensions either that summer or the summer of 2020. (Andrew Luck signed his extension before his option year.) What's worth watching about the summer of 2020 is that, as of now, there would be only one year left on the CBA. Depending on the labor climate and the expectations for the new deal (assuming it's not in place by then), 2020 free agents could be inclined to wait and risk the franchise tag.
The current contracts of Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady all expire after 2019. While it's not impossible to think one or more of them could get extensions in the meantime, those players will be 39, 38, 37 and 42, respectively, at the end of the 2019 season. There's a strong chance each is already on the final deal of his career, and any extension these guys get at this point would be closer to what Brees is doing than what Carr, Stafford and Cousins are eyeing.
2021 Free Agents
Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, the top two picks in the 2016 draft, would be fifth-year-option players in 2020 and eligible for free agency or the franchise tag in 2021. Obviously, it's far too early for forecast where either might fit into the bigger quarterback-contract picture by that point, but keep an eye on their agents, the California-based Tollner brothers. They represent not only Roethlisberger, but also Wentz, Goff, Mariota, Blake Bortles and Mitchell Trubisky. The way Condon has helped dictate the quarterback market for the past couple of decades, the Tollners could be in a position to help shape the coming wave of QB deals.
Carolina's Cam Newton and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton are the two big veteran quarterbacks whose deals run through 2020 at this point. The Panthers and Bengals can get out of those deals with relatively little pain after 2018. But assuming each continues to perform as a franchise quarterback, Newton would be 31 and Dalton would be 32 when they'd be looking for extensions in the summer of 2020.
The Miami Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill is another one worth watching here. He has signed through 2020 on a deal that averages $19.25 million per year. He's not as established yet as Newton and Dalton are, but he showed promise in his first year under Adam Gase and continued production could put him on a big-contract track.
2022 Free Agents
This would include any quarterback drafted in the first round this year -- Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes II and Deshaun Watson, whose fifth-year-option seasons would be 2021. But again, too early to know on any of them.
The veterans whose current deals run out after 2021 include Andrew Luck, who will be 31 that summer and possibly in line to set a contract record for the second time in his career, and Joe Flacco, who will be 36 and probably has already made his money.
2023 Free Agents
Derek Carr! He'll be 31 in the summer of 2022, when there will be one year left on the deal he just signed. And yeah, that brings this exercise to a close.