While the gaudy numbers of $503 million over 12 years surely turned plenty of heads, the true nitty gritty of the deal indicates it’s actually more of a 5-year extension with the guaranteed language in it suggesting an amount of around $141 million due in guarantees over that time period, avergaing out at about $28.3 million per year. While it’s certainly possible that Mahomes plays out the duration of the deal, it’s much more likely that he’ll seek some sort of restructure around 2025 when his guarantees begin to run out, and when other quarterbacks in his age group begin to negotiate their third deal.
Speaking of quarterbacks in his age group, there are a few other young guns around the league that have been or will very soon be looking to wet their beaks in this manner. While there are several names to look at, the general consensus is that Dak Prescott (a 2016 fourth round pick), and Deshaun Watson (a 2017 first rounder) will be next. Germane to the interests of a Ravens fans, like I assume most of the people reading this are, that of course means the next guy that’s currently presumed to be in line after them is Baltimore’s 2018 first-round pick, Lamar Jackson.
When Mahomes signed his deal, people sympathetic to cause of Eric DeCosta and his merry band of salary cap gurus that do their business at 1 Winning Drive immediately started sounding off about how Kansas City’s move to lock up their guy would affect the process in Owings Mills. While it ultimately will, it will be in a more indirect sense. The deal or deals that directly affect Jackson’s will be the ones signed by the two guys we just mentioned.
Prescott has been in what can only be assumed to be heated talks with Dallas brass over a new deal for what feels like an eternity at this point. Per an article discussing Mahomes’ extension via ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, the two sides have been having trouble coming together on the length of the deal rather than the money. Prescott is currently slated to play 2020 on the franchise tag, as his whole contract negotiation process has been expedited by the fact that he wasn’t a first round pick; had he been, the Cowboys would’ve been able to apply the fifth year option to him, granting themselves some breathing room.
Perhaps due to his status as a mid-rounder who’s made very little money in his career so far (especially relative to his value to the Cowboys), Prescott is seeking a shorter deal that includes mostly guaranteed money over the life of it (think Kirk Cousins three-year, fully guaranteed deal with the Vikings a few years ago). Dallas likely sees a longer-term deal with some of the guaranteed money more spread out as a better option for a team who’s books are stacked with some hefty contracts right now and have some other young star talent to pay down the line as well.
This promises to be a similar situation to Deshaun Watson, albeit for different reasons. At 24 years old with a couple of stellar seasons and a playoff win under his belt, Watson’s time to capitalize on his superstardom has come, and there’s no doubt Houston would love to be the franchise to help him do so. They have cap problems of their own at the moment though, and that’s to say entirely nothing of the relationship between the team and their quarterback being somewhat strained as of now to say the least.
Watson has been vocal in his displeasure about the Deandre Hopkins trade, and plenty of word has been leaking out of the team’s locker room about several players being less than thrilled with the way Bill O’Brien has been running things, both from a coach and a general manager perspective.
From an organizational perspective, the short-term deal makes sense with both players as well. Kansas City seems set for a pretty long time as things stand, with Andy Reid having plenty of years left in the tank, and Brett Veach now having cemented himself as one of the league’s top executives thanks to a couple of moves that really put the Chiefs over the top last season. Meanwhile in Texas, the Cowboys are always at the very least a chaotic circus led by the polarizing Jerry Jones, and the Texans haven’t shown much of an ability to surround Watson with the requisite talent he needs to succeed (not to mention a recent ownership change, and all of O’Brien’s antics as well).
So how does Lamar Jackson figure into all of this? It’s about finding out exactly where he falls into the theoretical spectrum of these two types of contracts. With Mahomes and the Chiefs, an unprecedentedly long-term deal - with spread out guarantees resulting in around a $28 million dollar per year average - makes about as much sense as a deal like that could at this point in time. With Prescott and Watson, uncertainty surrounding the franchise’s respective futures, and a desire to cash in now and leave themselves an opportunity to do so again soon seems to rule the conversation.
As far as Lamar goes, his performance in 2020 is first and foremost the absolute paramount to these negotiations - an argument can almost strangely be made that his MVP season came at a somewhat inopportune time for him.
Had he made a slight leap forward in ‘19, and then parlayed that into the massive breakout that we already saw into his 2020 season, he’d assuredly be on his way to signing a deal that resembles Mahomes to a certain extent as soon as the time came. Now with statistical regression almost expected out of him at this point, he has to go out and prove that regardless of whether his numbers drop off slightly, he’s still rolling with the punches at the pace we saw from him in 2019.
And then of course, come the Prescott and Watson negotiations. Prescott could hypothetically have his deal done within a week (his franchise tag deadline is July 15th), and Watson’s could be another year or so out, but no matter when they happen, they will be of importance to Lamar’s representation in a much different way than Mahomes’ ever was.
With the Chiefs and their quarterback, it was only a matter of time, and the question wasn’t about keeping the average annual salary low, it was how high could they keep it from going?
Mahomes’ momentum to the top of the league has been strapped to a rocket ship, and that was thanks in large part to him being in a near-perfect situation. The next guys in line may not quite be on his level as individual players, but they also don’t have nearly the same luck that he does when it comes to organizational competence. As a result, their contract negotiations are no sure thing, and it will be especially telling just how close they come to that $28 million per year figure, and how many years their guaranteed money is spread out over.
In looking at Jackson’s situation, he’s setup well from an organizational support standpoint, and his stock is soaring right now. Keeping his Q Rating as high as possible over the next year will absolutely be his goal so he can make it to the negotiating table and get something done without a hitch a-la Mahomes, but that’s of course the best case scenario.
What happens with his other two contemporaries who play in the Lone Star State will be very important to Jackson’s contract situation provided things don’t go as smoothly as everyone hopes, and that’s why keeping an eye on those two guys over the foreseeable future is going to be extremely interesting as a Ravens fan.
Regardless, if he goes out and wins a Super Bowl in his third season after an MVP campaign in his second, it shouldn’t come as any surprise or displeasure to anyone if he cashes in handsomely like the last guy to follow that blueprint just did.