This was a rare offseason in which we had three starting quarterbacks sign contracts right before the official start of free agency. Derek Carr, who had been released from his prior deal, was the first to sign and his signing was soon followed by Daniel Jones and Geno Smith. Jones and Smith were both considered to be potential tag candidates. Here is a comparison of the three contracts and thoughts on each player’s contract.
Here is a breakdown of the top level contract numbers:
|% Full Guar
|% Inj. Guar
Here are the relevant cash flows for the three players that I’ll be discussing.
Of the three contracts, Jones is the only contract that comes in with numbers like a true franchise QB. His downside value of $40M a year is tied for 7th in the NFL and he has a max value that would get him near the top of the league. His guarantees rank 7th and 10th in the league as well. The cash flows in the contract clearly represent a player who was going to get a franchise tag as the Giants paid significantly more than the tag this year and also give a bump over two tags. 78% of the injury protection is fully guaranteed at signing, which is a strong number.
That said, it is also fair to say that while the contract ranks 7th the structure is different that the higher end players who are at similar APY’s. Dak Prescott for example signed a four year contract and received $75 million in cash in his first year. Matt Stafford was well over $60 million. So while I would consider this a franchise contract it would clearly be on the lower end of the scale.
Jones’ contract represents a figure that is about 80% of the top of the market. Prescott’s deal was more or less the top contract since the Patrick Mahomes contract was such an outlier. Stafford’s was around 90% of the top of the market. Jones’ contract tracks more with a player like Ryan Tannehill whose $29.5 million a year contract was also around 80% of the top of the market at the time.
In that respect I would put Jones’ contract on par with players like Tannehill, Jimmy Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins, etc… While some of these players did set the market, the cash structure of the contracts did not reflect those of the elite level quarterbacks even though the APY’s may have been somewhat close. Jones also did not get the big third year guarantee that many have gotten.
Carr’s contract is close to the low end for a starter. The $37.5 million per year number is clearly a bloated figure. He will only earn 20% of his contract value by the end of the first year (Jones as a comp is at 28.8%) and 40% by year 2 (Jones- 51.2%). His $60 million in full guarantees at signing is lower than some of the older contracts on the market whose APY’s are lower such as Tannehill’s.
The breakdown of Carr’s contract would indicate a quiet market for him, which is understandable since Aaron Rodgers was looming as a trade candidate and this years draft is considered a four deep draft at QB. It is also usually a negative to hit free agency after being cut from your prior team.
The strength for Carr comes from the guarantee structure. $60 million in guarantee’s for a player who was cut from his last deal is by no means small. Carr received the early vesting date for a portion of his third year salary, which brings his guarantee up to $70 million by 2024. This is important because it guarantees he will earn at least $35 million a season if he is cut after the 2024 season. In a sense it works out like a low level version of what we have seen with Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, etc… where a rolling guarantee structure ensures that even if cut their overall earning will average around $50M a season.
Some have made a big deal about a no trade clause, but I don’t see it as meaningful. If Carr is good there is no reason for the Saints to consider trading him. If he is not any good there would be no market for him anyway.
Overall this is one where the Saints probably felt comfortable doing that higher guarantee to ensure that they signed him. If there was clarity on the Rodgers situation and more evals on the draft, the market could have heated up for Carr and this is about as low a contract you could do for someone you are promising a starting job to for two seasons.
Of the three contracts the Smith contract was one that probably came in lower than many expected. While Jones’ contract clearly represented the fact that the Giants viewed Jones as a franchise player, Smith’s contract says the exact opposite. Smith’s first year cash is under the transition tag for 2023 which kind of tells us that the Seahawks were considering (or at least made a convincing argument) to let him test the market.
The contract does contain a numbers of potential escalators which only kick in if Smith has the same exact year as he had in 2022. If he were to accomplish matching four statistical categories and the Seahawks made a similar playoff run in 2023 he would then bump his 2 year from $50 million to $65 million. Basically that would be the earnings had he been transition tagged this year and then tagged again next season. Reaching that upside will be difficult but that is the ultimate upside Seattle saw here.
In many ways this contract is probably a bridge between a “thank you” bonus for 2022 and a low level starter contract for 2023. The $27 million fully guaranteed at signing is less than Teddy Bridgewater received on a $21 million per year contract signed in 2020 and far less than Nick Foles guarantee on a $22 million a year contract signed in 2019. While those contracts were closer to the top of the market at the time relative to Smith’s it should give you an idea of what type of comps the one season breakout performance had the team looking at.
Smith does get an early vesting guarantee in 2024 and also has a non-guaranteed roster bonus due right after the start of free agency. Though it is not injury protected, that early date basically works the same as a vesting guarantee. In that respect it would be fair to look at this as a $50 million guarantee. That would put it on par with the other two deals with around 67% of the deal guaranteed.
While theoretically the early vesting date does force a decision I would not expect the meltdown that we saw with the Raiders and Carr. While Carr had no relationship with the coaching staff, Smith has been in Seattle for a few years now and has a good chance to be a mentor to a young player. I would consider it likely that the two sides would come to an agreement on a reworked contract that would bring Smith back down to backup salary levels before the vesting date comes on the guarantee. So similar to the no trade clause in the Carr contract I do not put a ton of weight on this 2nd year guarantee because Smith is either going to be good enough to earn the salary even if there was no guarantee or will simply come back for a more reasonable salary.