Brian Costello wrote an article yesterday that indicated that the Jets were hot for Kirk Cousins and might be willing to do whatever it takes to get him. The number of $150 million over 5 years was mentioned and I think that is feasible for a team to consider. However the number that did really surprise me was when a source indicated that $60 million in the first year might be what it takes to get a deal done. So I wanted to explore that number and how it could possibly work for the Jets or any other team.
$60 million is a massive first year payout and I have to believe if anyone got to that number Cousins would sign with that team. $60 million in first year salary would represent a raise of nearly 18% from Matt Stafford, the current top earner in the NFL. It would be 29% higher than Derek Carr’s and nearly 41% higher than Jimmy Garoppolo’s first year salary. I would imagine you would have to go back to Peyton Manning’s 2004 record setting contract to see that kind of jump at the position.
What also struck me about that is how you could feasibly structure that on the salary cap. One of the points made about the Jets is how they would frontload the cap portion of the contract, similar to what the 49ers did with Garoppolo. But here we are talking about a salary $17.4 million higher than his number and that would add a new challenge.
The question then is what do the Jets want to do with his 2nd and 3rd year salary. The Stafford numbers there are $70.5 and $92M. I would not think that the Jets would want to continue on the 17% raise path and would prefer the more moderate 11% increase that would be indicative of the overall contract APY increase. How does that work out on the cap? Here would be a basic breakdown to comply with the CBA rules.
* Dead money just from the signing bonus not guarantees
The reason the signing bonus is $20 million is to comply with a rule in the CBA that the cap has to be at least half in the 2nd year to avoid the difference being treated as a signing bonus. You can decrease that number by increasing the 2nd year salary higher than $18 million, but a team is already a bit compromised by doing the large first year salary.
If you go to the higher year second salary and maintain the same 17.6% raise over two years what would that look like?
This frontloads the contract a bit better but does require more real payments in the second year.
Are either of these feasible? The Jets should have over $90M in cap room with some basic cuts so a contract like these would give the team between $42 and $46 million in cap space to spend. They would lose close to $6M for rookies, so $36 to $40 million. That would rank in the upper middle tier of the NFL. So they could theoretically still add a few pieces to improve the team.
If the Jets did want to improve the team further I would imagine it would also require the team to spend more on the roster than they ever have. With $60M in cash committed to Cousins and then around $21 or $22 million for rookies, it would bring the Jets cash payroll to around $150 million, give or take a bit, after the expected cuts of Wilkerson, Forte, etc…The only year where the Jets significantly exceeded that number was 2016 where they had a payroll close to $170 million. So it would take a departure from their norms to add a second major piece to the team as well as some other small pieces.
So I think this outlines what a deal might look like between the two sides and how it would work with the team. That said it still would surprise me if the Jets went that high. In my opinion we really have not seen the Jets spend this way on players since the Mike Tannenbaum days when they brought in players like Alan Faneca. They did some big extensions too but post 2011 I can’t really think off too many times where they really went all out for someone to this extent.
Some would say Darrelle Revis in 2015, but Revis’ 1st year cash was well below that of Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson. Even by the second year he was under those players, though by a lesser amount. The Jets bridged that divide by offering an outlandish guarantee to get the deal done. Wilkerson’s extension in 2016 would be another high priced contract but again they were under some true market setting deals on that up front money. He wouldn’t make up that difference unless he made the team in year 3, which we will not do. Other names they were rumored to be after through the years, such as Olivier Vernon, they dropped out as soon as the deals got beyond a reasonable point.
So it would really be a change for the team to do that kind of 1st year valuation for a player. Doesn’t mean it won’t happen just that it really requires the team to go in a different direction than where they have been. Clearly there is more value in drafting a QB but sitting at 6 may have the team thinking it’s not possible to find one.
If they do sign Cousins it would likely also have to change the narratives coming out of Florham Park about the slow build and how the playoffs are not an immediate goal. I don’t think there is a way to downplay expectations if you sign a $30 million QB so they will really have to add more in free agency to try to meet those objectives. That isn’t really the way they operate but that change should happen if they were to do this contract.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.