Thursday was a good day for Derek Carr and the next several generations of his family. The Oakland Raiders quarterback signed a contract extension that guarantees him $40 million right away, $70.2 million against injury, and offers him the chance to earn $125 million by the time he turns 32. Looking strictly at the deal's full potential value in "new money" -- $125 million over five years -- Carr can call himself the highest-paid player in NFL history. Bravo.
But big-picture questions come with deals like this one, and the one that occupied much of ESPN's SportsCenter and NFL Live discussion Thursday was, "What effect will this deal have on the big quarterback deals to come in the near future, such as with Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins?"
After looking at the Carr contract details, my conclusion is: not much.
Carr's deal is a great deal for a guy whose scheduled 2018 base salary was less than $1 million on the final year of his rookie contract. And while he can claim the symbolic title of "highest-paid player" due to an average salary $400,000 higher than Andrew Luck's per year, his deal falls well short of Luck's in terms of guarantees. Luck got $87 million guaranteed for injury, $47 million of which was fully guaranteed at signing, on the extension he signed with the Colts in 2016.
But if you're Cousins, who's guaranteed $24 million for 2017 right now on the franchise tag, or Stafford, who's making $16.5 million this season in the final year of his contract, Carr's deal isn't one you'd rush to sign.
For one thing, the guarantee schedule helps the Raiders. Carr will make $25 million this year when you combine his $12.5 million signing bonus, his $7.5 million roster bonus and his new and improved $5 million salary. And he gets a $15 million roster bonus in 2018 that's fully guaranteed at signing. But his $7.4 million base salary for 2018 doesn't become guaranteed until after the Super Bowl. The injury-guaranteed portion of his 2019 salary (about $20 million) doesn't become fully guaranteed until February 2019. The injury-guaranteed portion of his 2020 salary (about $3 million) doesn't become fully guaranteed until February 2020. And nothing in 2021 or 2022 is guaranteed.
Which means, technically, that the Raiders could cut Carr healthy after 2018 and end up paying him "only" $47.5 million. That's obviously extremely unlikely, but the point here isn't to predict how the Carr-Raiders marriage will work out. The point here is about the larger quarterback marketplace, and why the only thing that will really blow the top off of it anytime soon is if Cousins and/or Stafford actually plays out the season and becomes an unrestricted free agent next March. In order to get one of those guys to sign this summer, Washington or Detroit is going to have to do something that blows their doors off.
Most of the agents who do these big contracts are looking to get as much of the deal as possible guaranteed and paid off in the first two or three years. Carr's deal pays out gradually, staying pretty much in the $20-$25 million range each year of its life and delaying the conversion of injury guarantees to full guarantees year-to-year. Tom Condon, who represents Stafford and whose recent big quarterback extensions include those of Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, always looks to pack as much guarantee as possible into the first two years. For example, the four-year, $84 million extension Manning signed two summers ago came with a $31 million signing bonus and a total of 82 percent of the deal paid out in the first three years. Put this Carr deal -- even with a slightly higher average annual salary -- in front of Stafford and Condon right now, and they'd say no thanks.
As for Cousins, a fourth-round pick who made $20 million in guaranteed money last year and has $24 million guaranteed in hand for 2017 right now, same thing. Carr's deal is great for Carr, but Cousins would laugh his team out of the room if it came to him with that right now. Knowing Washington would have to pay about $35 million to franchise him for a third year in a row in 2018 (or about $28.8 million to use the transition tag on him), Cousins probably needs to see at least $50 million more in guaranteed money over and above what he already has coming to him before he'd consider signing. If he gets to the market in March, and quarterback-starved, cap-rich teams such as San Francisco and Cleveland get to take their shots at him, his new contract is going to sail past the $30 million-a-year mark.
That's not a referendum on which quarterback is better. It's just a question of market factors. Because of where they stand financially and how much they've already made in the NFL, Cousins and Stafford are in totally different positions than Carr was. Carr could have maybe made more if he'd waited a few weeks, seen what happened with Cousins, and did the deal right before the season. But obviously he was eager to get it done. And while the deal is surely generous, as modern-day franchise quarterback deals go, it's fairly team-favorable.
It doesn't push the quarterback market floor higher for guys such as Cousins and Stafford and Matt Ryan -- another Condon client who'll be looking for an extension this time next year. Those guys already knew they'd beat $25 million a year. When it's time for them to sign their extensions, they're going to be looking for a lot of things Carr didn't get in his. And if they're willing to play out the year and actually hit the open market -- something no healthy franchise quarterback in his prime has done since the franchise tag was instituted -- than that's when you'll see the quarterback market really take off. Remember, while the NFL salary cap has grown by 37 percent since Aaron Rodgers signed his contract four years ago, the top quarterback salary has risen by only about 14 percent over that same time period. It's due for a correction. The question is which player is going to be the one who drives it.
For now, Carr has himself a nice deal, but it's not one that's going to make much of a difference for the big quarterback negotiations still to come.