The 2017 NFL Draft was special.
Myles Garrett, Jamal Adams, Christian McCaffrey, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Marshon Lattimore, Marlon Humphrey, Tre’Davious White, T.J. Watt—and was just the first round. If you go beyond the top 32 picks, you’ll find names like Dalvin Cook, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Alvin Kamara, Chris Godwin, and Kenny Golladay, to name a few more.
Three years in and it has truly turned out to be one of the best draft classes over the last decade. But when young players start to do well—especially that many players—the teams they play for are on the clock, or at least their financial departments are.
Chances are, if you’re one of the best in the league at your position, yet playing on a rookie deal, you’re one hell of a bargain for your franchise.
No position is that more true than quarterback. If you’re picking a quarterback in the top 15 and they become your starter in the first year or so, for the next three or four years you can rest easy knowing your most important position is taking up so little of your cap space—therefore allowing you to build around them with better players.
I said there that you potentially have three or four years, but it doesn’t always work out like that. Let’s say your young franchise quarterback becomes a playoff-caliber signal-caller in their second year. If they are a first-round pick, the team would have another three years for sure and then an extra fifth-year club option after that before their young star hits unrestricted free agency.
But there’s a game of timing that occurs. Just because you have that time doesn’t mean you should use all of it.
Case and point of this: Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
With Watson and Mahomes coming from the same draft class, and with both quickly becoming the best in the league at what they do so early on in their contracts, the clock began to tick for both teams to come up with long-term extensions—the game is often about trying to maximize how long you can keep your guy on a favorable rookie deal while not allowing the market around them to go through the roof before you do.
Mahomes and Watson have both ascended to the top of their position, but Mahomes has done so with more accolades to show for it. At this time, Mahomes has two Pro Bowls, an MVP trophy, and a Super Bowl trophy. Because of this, the Chiefs rewarded Mahomes with a league-record, 10-year, $503 million deal this summer.
So what does that mean for Watson?
Before the Mahomes deal, many looked to the current status of top paid quarterbacks as the starting point for Watson. With Watson being as good as he is at such a young age, there was an expectation that he was going to reset the market. But what did that look like pre-Mahomes deal?
The Rams recently gave their young franchise quarterback Jared Goff an extension off his rookie contract, which, on average, pays him $33.5 million per season. But Goff isn’t the highest-paid quarterback on a per-year basis. That belongs to Russell Wilson, who is getting $35 million per year after his extension in 2018.
Watson was assuredly going to clear that $35 million per year mark. It would have been fair to say $40 million per season was realistic for Watson. Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle has recently reported that Watson’s next deal "could range between $40 million and $42 million guaranteed".
But does that look different now that Mahomes signed his mega-deal?
Initial reaction might be yes, but that might not be the case.
Mahomes’ deal is scheduled to pay him an average of $45 million per season with more than $141 million in practical guarantees during the life of the contract ($63 million guaranteed right off the bat). But Mahomes’ contract isn’t the bar, and that’s what’s important to remember here.
The Texans aren’t going to be offering Watson a 10-year deal—I don’t think anyone in the league is going to see anything like that. Mahomes’ deal may have raised the ceiling of what is possible for a quarterback, but it’s not like record-setting deals of old where the next guy in line can point to it and say “that’s our starting point.”
CBS Sports has taken a stab at what Wason’s next deal might be and landed in the range of $200 million over four or five seasons, which would be an average annual salary of between $40 million and $50 million.
Watson’s deal won’t be that of a 10-year deal. In that, he might have some more leverage per-year than Mahomes since Mahomes has a decade of security built into his. But I still don’t think Watson is going to be getting a contract that will top what Mahomes is making per-year. Remember, Mahomes has already won an MVP and a Super Bowl, Watson hasn’t. It’s a team game, so that’s not to knock Waston too hard (he’s been amazing in his own right). But where Mahomes could point to accolades, Watson simply can’t during his negotiation.
Ultimately, I do think Watson will reset the quarterback market, but I don't think that means he’ll top what Mahomes is making. Mahomes' deal is not to be replicated. Instead, I can see Watson getting something like $40 million per year for four or five years, as CBS Sports suggested.
- Dec 08, 2022
- Dec 08, 2022