The Cleveland Browns have opened the door for a discussion on Myles Garrett’s contract extension, as the star defensive end has now completed three seasons on his rookie deal and is eligible for his first extension.
The fact that the Browns are engaging with Garrett’s camp is significant and cannot be overlooked in the wake of New York Jets safety Jamal Adams’ recent trade demand given the team’s heel-dragging on his contract extension. Adams was picked only five selections after Garrett, the first overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and is also looking to cash in as early as possible, having accrued three seasons in the NFL.
This landmark is significant, as few first-round picks play so well that they are immediately worth top dollar following their third season, as teams would certainly rather hit those players with their fifth-year options and pay them on the cheap for two more seasons. Per ESPN’s Rich Cimini, only 16 of the last 223 first-round selections (since 2011) have signed a contract after their third season, and only four such players have played defense. Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, picked 8th overall in the 2017 class, is the only player from the top of the 2017 class to sign an extension thus far, topping out the running back market with a four-year, $64M deal.
The fact that Garrett (and Adams) are pursuing contracts after their third season matters. Those four defensive players who got the extension after three years are Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, Houston Texans EDGE J.J. Watt, then-St. Louis Rams EDGE Robert Quinn, and Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Keuchly. All but Keuchly, who was a 2012 prospect, were drafted in 2011—which is to say, no first-round defender has gotten extended after three seasons in the last four classes before Garrett and Adams.
Those defenders were special for a reason. In July of 2014, the Cardinals offered Peterson a four-year, $70M deal that made him the highest-paid cornerback in the league, immediately topping Joe Haden’s four-year, $68M deal. A few months later, Watt’s deal from the Texans crested nine figures, as he was signed for six years and $100M, topping Mario Williams’ six-year, $98M deal that was the richest non-quarterback contract at the time. Quinn was signed only a few weeks later to a four-year extension worth $66M, fresh off of a First-Team All-Pro 2013 season in which he totaled 19 sacks.
Unlike Watt and Peterson, Quinn didn’t set the market—but Keuchly did, signing a five-year, $62M extension in 2015 that made him the highest-paid off-ball linebacker in the NFL. Of this rarefied crew, then, three set the market for their respective positions, given the combination of their undeniable talent and youth.
Now the conversation turns to Garrett. Garrett is certainly among the cream of the crop of pass-rushers in today’s NFL, but is arguably not the best rusher from his class (T.J. Watt is a good player!), and has a blemish on his record of the six-game suspension following the late-game fight against the Pittsburgh Steelers last season. As Jeff Risdon of The Browns Wire writes, Garrett is more likely to receive longer suspensions from the league for minor infractions in the future—that weakens his negotiating position at the table.
As such, unless the Browns are prepared to make Garrett the highest-paid defensive end in the league, it’s unlikely that a contract gets done at this point. Were it to get done, Garrett would be looking at Khalil Mack numbers, as Mack inked a deal following his famous Bears trade that gave him $90M guaranteed and $23.5M APY over six seasons. On a five-year deal for Garrett, those numbers would be in the neighborhood of $75M guaranteed, $117M total.
That’s a pretty penny. More recent EDGE deals signed under traditional circumstances include Frank Clark’s deal in Kansas City (62.3M guaranteed, $104.5M over five years) and Demarcus Lawrence’s extension with Dallas ($65M guaranteed, $105M over five years). Those figures are fairly close to the benchmarks set by the Mack deal, but there is wiggle room between them for Garrett’s contract to fit.
However, it’s tough to imagine Garrett getting any lower than Clark or Lawrence’s deal. Garrett is younger and has been more productive than both. Since entering the league, Garrett is third only to Watt and Aaron Donald in QB hits per game, and fourth to Donald, Chandler Jones, and Cameron Jordan in sacks per game. With both Clark and Lawrence coming off of quieter seasons following their extensions, there may be some reticence on the Browns’ part to dole out a big deal—but they have opened the door for the discussion, so they’re clearly ready to pay Garrett.
As such, if the deal gets done this season, it has the floor of being the second-biggest EDGE contract in the NFL. I would be stunned if the yearly average isn’t at least $22M, especially if the Browns look to hedge their bet by building the contract to incentivize availability, by hiding guaranteed money in playing time conditions that protect them from a long-term Garrett suspension. As such, the guarantees may come in below $70M at first, but if Garrett is available for all 16 games, I’d imagine his effectual guarantees shoot up into that range.
There’s always the chance that Browns dive in headfirst and finally beat that Mack deal on Garrett’s contract. With how he’s playing, a 16-game season from Garrett in 2020 could give him a more legitimate case than he has now to be the highest-paid EDGE in the league. But a 16-game season is unlikely for the league as a whole in 2020.
There’s a case for waiting; there’s a case for getting on top of it early. But make no bones about it: the Browns’ willingness to start talking with Garrett indicates that they are willing to make him the highest-paid non-quarterback in the league if that’s what it takes.
- Dec 01, 2022
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