Blockbuster QB Trades Abound: Executives, Insiders Predict NFL’s Future in the Aftermath of Deshaun Watson’s Contract

PALM BEACH, Fla. – Will the Ravens keep Lamar Jackson for the long haul? Will the Bengals do the same to Joe Burrow? How about Kyler Murray and the Cardinals? And Justin Herbert and the Chargers?

Those questions became much more in-depth in the wake of the redefinition of the Browns industry contract given to Deshaun Watson a few days ago, which they completed despite him still facing 22 charges of assault or sexual misconduct in ongoing civil suits and despite facing unavoidable NFL discipline. To call this a game-changer is a total understatement, and, as expected, it was all the talk at the just completed NFL Annual Meetings at The Breakers resort in Florida.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said the silent part out loud — and kudos to him — when he told beat writers beating the team: “Damn, I wish they didn’t guarantee the whole contract. I don’t know he had the first man who got a fully guaranteed contract. For me that is a groundbreaking thing, and it will make negotiations with others more difficult.”

Oh yes, it will. It already has.

And unless the NFL changes its funding rules, requiring owners to write a check for all future guaranteed funds and place it in escrow, the implications of the Watson deal will sink even deeper into the future roster construction most envision. After decades of fighting the NFLPA, while the union tried to eradicate this outdated financing need (what billionaire is going to break a contract?), it’s suddenly the billionaires themselves who are questioning the efficiency of doing business this way.

‘We’ve never seen anything like it’

“Do you think Jimmy (Haslam, Browns owner) fully understands the impact of what he just did?” said a competition source who has discussed the impact of that multi-ownership deal. “Did he stop to think about what he was doing, or did he just plow through to do whatever it took to get that quarterback to Cleveland? We’ve never seen anything like it in league history. It’s like that.” impressive.”

Believe me, because as wealthy as these owners are, the idea of ​​setting aside more than $200 million to complete a contract is not seen as a good thing. That’s money they can’t use elsewhere to help them make even more money. Can’t invest it. Can’t get a dividend out of it. Can’t spend it. That’s not how these cats like to roll. But suddenly the reality of MLB and NBA like contracts is in this league, and the predominant perception of those I spoke to at these meetings is that these owners weren’t ready for something so transformative.

I spoke to several people who know well the owners of the teams most directly affected by the Watson contract. People who understand their philosophies and what they believe in and how they think. And the conclusion many of them came to was that, aside from the fact that the NFL would change this funding requirement sooner rather than later, there will be multiple generations of quarterbacks to be shared or launched in the coming years. To them it seems inevitable.

Several property-level sources believe Chargers owner Dean Spanos would have a hard time forking out a check that could be the $250 million-$275 million in guarantees needed to secure Herbert’s long-term rights. to secure. “I’m not sure Dean could do anything under these circumstances, even if he really wanted to,” said an ownership source. Several others suggested that if they had to hamper the situation, Bengal owner Mike Brown would exhaust the franchise tags with Burrow — putting him through 2026 and his 30-year age — drafting a replacement along the way.

“With that team’s finances and the way they’re run, I don’t believe Mike is going to trade that quarterback,” said a source who has known him for decades. “He will hold it by the franchise tags, by these rules.”

Michael Bidwell and Bisciotti are facing the immediate ramifications of this contract – Burrow and Herbert won’t be able to talk about renewal with their teams until after next season – and those I’ve spoken to in league circles who know them believe neither will be willing to such a check this out of season. They wouldn’t immediately want to embrace the new norm of a $230 million fully guaranteed deal.

“It doesn’t mean we have to play that game, you know?” Bisciotti told the Baltimore media about the prospect of a fully guaranteed deal. “We will see.”

However, I can assure you that both quarterbacks want to continue this trend. They will be adamant about using Watson’s deal as a harbinger of negotiations with them. Duh. Of course they will. Why the hell wouldn’t they?

Jackson was already enamored with how Kirk Cousins ​​played his franchise tags in Washington, according to sources familiar with the situation — even before the market exploded this month. This new precedent only complicates matters for the Ravens. The property sources I spoke to believe that at least one of Jackson, Murray, Burrow and Herbert is being traded — perhaps more — given Watson’s outcome. While there may not be six, or eight, or ten other owners willing to take on that contractual burden, while also mortgaging the future by making concept choices, it only takes a few, with David Tepper (Carolina), Arthur Blank (Atlanta), Stephen Ross (Miami) and the Glazers (Tampa) in a post-Tom Brady world among those whispered as potential suitors.

Blockbuster Trades Galore: Welcome to the New NFL

We’ve never seen trades like this before, with much of the league trying to keep up with the Buccaneers and Rams, contractually going all in to try and win the Lombardi trophy. And succeeded in back-to-back years. Draft picks are not currently valued as top veteran numbers in this league as the climate changes. Never before have owners been so willing to pay the premium for sharing multiple top picks and signing those players to record-breaking deals.

“You’ve seen a real changing of the guard in terms of the aggressiveness of teams trying to get a top quarterback,” said Rams coach Sean McVay, whose untraditional hunt for eventual Super Bowl winner Matt Stafford has fueled this escalating arms race. formed.

Copy cat competition. Blockbuster transactions and contracts everywhere. Welcome to the new NFL.

Meanwhile, agents smell blood in the water like never before. They’ve never felt like they could close more widespread fully guaranteed deals. There has never been an opportunity like this. And we’re less than two weeks into this brave new spending horizon.

“How long will it take to get a fully guaranteed $300 million contract?” a first agent assumed. “It’s a lot closer than you think. If Watson, who may have gone to jail, has raised the bar to $230 million, wait till you see where these other (quarterbacks) take it. Quarterback contracts are going to look like what No 1 starters are earning in baseball The owners may not like it and they may complain about it But they are also making more money than ever before That is where we are now That is where Haslam took them They can better start getting used to it.”

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