Kyler Murray agreed to a $230.5 million contract which would make him the second highest paid quarterback in NFL history today and Pro Football Talk has the full details of the contract. So with all of the key number more or less out at this point let’s take a look at the contract and how it compares with the rest of the market.
Cash Flow Analysis
Here is the running cash breakdown of the quarterbacks who earn in excess of $40 million per year on multi year contracts on a new money basis.
|Player||APY||Year 0||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Year 4||Year 5||Year 6|
Murray received a relatively strong contract in this respect. While his raise for the next two years will rank just third, that number jumps to 2nd by the end of his first new year, trailing Dak Prescott’s massive $75 million haul from the Cowboys. Through two years Murray will rank 1st in the NFL before dropping behind Aaron Rodgers in year 3. Murray will earn slightly more than Deshaun Watson in the final two years of the contract.
This is a different level than the Allen and Mahomes contracts, both of whom will have to play, at the least, into a 6th year. Murray likely has Watson to thank for that as Watson pushed the market beyond Mahomes’ and Allen’s average annual values a few months ago. This allowed Murray to take the approach of being the “next man up” when it came to his contract. Had the Cardinals done this deal earlier than the Watson contract I feel confident that he would have maxed out at no more than $44 million and possibly as low as $42 million per year as comparisons to Mahomes and Allen are very difficult to make. This is not a critique of doing the deal earlier as no rookies are usually extended that early and the Browns doing what they did with Watson was completely unexpected, but it is worth pointing out.
Also worth pointing out is that it appears that Murray did give up his 17th game check as part of this negotiation. Allen also did that when he did his extension. It is not an insignificant number as it is about $1.75 million. I don’t factor those into my analysis of the contracts unless it is clear they were negotiating with them in place, but some agents have been more forceful on including them in any new contracts.
Murray looks to have about $104 million fully guaranteed at signing and $162 million guaranteed for injury. It looks as if there will also be a rolling guarantee structure based on Florio’s breakdown of the contract similar to Allen’s and Mahomes’ where some non-guaranteed money will become guaranteed during the course of the contract. About $65 million of the guarantee will come in the way of prorated bonuses which will rank 3rd behind Prescott ($66 million) and Rodgers whose whole contract is effectively signing and option bonuses. I always like these structures for a player.
Needless to say the contract is not fully guaranteed and I think we can stop the speculation, at least for now, that the Watson contract was any more meaningful in that regard than the Kirk Cousins contract signed back in 2018. Both of those were situations where the teams were extremely leveraged due to needs and willing to do anything. Extensions are not the same situation and likely never will be unless you get a weird situation where you have a great young QB who somehow is still on a bad team and he is threatening to not play.
While the main focus of this guarantee will be on the total dollar figure, which trails only Watson, I’d rather try to add some context to the numbers. For whatever reason nobody wants to discuss guaranteed salary in the way they do new money. Basically teams are sometimes able to get a massive guarantee discount via extension but it is hidden due to the way we report the guarantee.
Two of the better ways to look at the guarantee package are to compare it to the total years given up by the player in the contract and the percentage of the total contract value. In both cases we look at the effective contract length and value which includes the money that existed in prior contracts.
|Player||Team||Total Years||Total Value||Injury Guarantee||Full Guarantee||Inj. Guar/Year||Full Guar/Year||% Inj. Guar||% Full Guar|
Despite the big number here Murray ranks 4th in full protection per year and percentage of contract fully guaranteed and 5th in injury protection per year percent of contract guaranteed for injury. Now perhaps the rolling mechanisms (I don’t have those particulars) make up for this but this contract is definitely lighter on the injury side. Even if we go back a few years and look at players like Jared Goff (68.3% guaranteed for injury), Carson Wentz (69.6%), and Russell Wilson (68.2%), this one is a step back from where contracts had been even on extensions. It is relatively on target with the full guarantee.
Now I think guarantees, especially for QB’s, are a bit overrated since the early cut rates are still pretty low but it is important to consider the scope and size of the total contract when we look at these things rather than just eyeballing the total guarantee number.
Other Contract Mechanisms
There are two things that stick out with Murray’s contract. One is that he has $9.3 million tied up in workout bonuses, about 4% of his contract. This to me was a strange addition unless it was requested by Murray’s side. I personally like the workout bonus for a player since its easy offseason money to earn unless he just has no desire to remain in the city in the offseason, but ideally you would get this money as a roster bonus at the start of the league year. As far as I know Murray has always attended workouts so its not as if this is holdout protection and they didn’t include camp bonuses each year so that doesn’t seem to be a concern for Arizona. Arizona also has no players under contract to my knowledge with a workout bonus so it is not as if this is the Packers where the teams want’s everyone to have the workout money. So I will lean toward this being a Murray suggestion.
Murray has $4.25 million tied up in per game bonuses which is a real weird thing for a QB. Of all the QB’s in the NFL I only have a record for 10 players with a per game bonus, and 8 of those players have contracts that average under $4 million a year. The other player is Jimmy Garoppolo of the 49ers, a team with a big commitment to per game bonuses. In the grand scheme of things it is not a lot relative to the size of the contract but it would seem to indicate a bit of worry by Arizona that he won’t hold up 17 games and this at least reimburses them a few dollars a year. Arizona has used per game bonuses in the past so this should also help them in future extension and free agent signings in looking to max compensation tied to per game play.
About $50 million of Murray’s salary is tied to roster bonuses which is a great get for him. While not at the level of Mahomes and Allen, the $10 million a year in roster bonuses would rank 4th among QBs (Goff is third). These are great because they force the team into early decisions and often lead to conversions to signing bonuses which are only more helpful for keeping a player employed by the team.
Another $7.5 million in incentives are available to Murray. At $1.5 million a year that is fifth among active QB’s earning $30 million or more a year on multi year contracts. He trails Allen, Wentz, Goff, and Mahomes. I would imagine this is on the lower end because the contract value is probably higher than where Arizona wanted to be a few month ago.
Salary Cap Impact
Murray’s cap hits should be as follows (give or take a few bucks)
The new contract only increases the cap charge this year by $1.28 million, assuming that his workout does not prorate(which it may depending on contract language, but it would be a minor change). His cap next year will drop by $13.7 million. While the $51.86 million charge in 2024 is eye popping, that is the year that we would expect the salary cap to increase significantly as new TV deals roll in and all the Covid stuff should be paid back. So this wont be $51M on a $220M cap but probably on a $250M or $260M cap. While high it is not outrageous and currently would rank 3rd in the NFL. The Cardinals could bring that number down significantly with a restructure as they have maximum proration years remaining in 2024 without the need for void years. As long as Murray doesn’t implode that should not be a concern.
As the contract stands right now a franchise tag in 2029 would cost a minimum of $55.6 million which is probably a fair number from the Cardinals perspective. A max restructure in 2024 would bring that number way up to around $64 million which would be great for Murray if it occurred.
Thoughts on QB Market Impact
After the numbers came in for Watson I would guess that this is probably mildly disappointing. If we throw out the Rodgers contract as meaningful this would represent a 0.2% raise over Watson. Watson raised the market over Mahomes by 2.2% and Allen by 6.9%, which is a contract closer in length. This would be the most minor market increase by a QB in modern history (Joe Flacco was around 0.5% on his two contracts). The average has been in the ballpark of 7%. While nobody expected him to hit the 10%+ mark that the elite players have, I think it was fair once the Mahomes mark was surpassed to think a 2-3% raise was possible as the “next man up”. That was the range for players like Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins. Clearly if there was any hope for QB guarantees to get easier that was gone with this deal.
I think as we look forward to Lamar Jackson’s new deal the Ravens are probably happy with the level of injury protection in the contract, the per game bonuses, the workout numbers, and incentives. Id guess that they would offer $46.2M a year based on what went down here even though Jackson has had a better career than Murray.
Thoughts for Arizona
Despite what I said about the raise being low, the fact is I would not have projected Murray to get any raise over Mahomes a few months ago. Even the Rodgers contract I think would have been meaningless. While I like Murray and have at times said he should at least have been in MVP discussions during the year, the fact is his seasons have seemingly trailed off after the first month or two of the season. It may be more of a team thing as Arizona has had some older players on the team but rightly or wrongly QBs get the credit and blame when a team flames out.
To me Murray right now is not a sure thing. Dead money on QB’s has skyrocketed in recent years as teams have committed million of guaranteed dollars with the assumption that he will just get better but often it doesn’t happen. The Cardinals decision to double down on the coach, GM, and QB in the same offseason for so many years is quite risky in my mind, but I guess once you sign the first two you may as well do the QB at the same time.
Arizona has more or less been an average spender in the NFL and have had the benefit of a cheap QB. They are a team that in recent years has looked more like the Ryan Grigson Colts struggling to put a long term competent roster around a young QB and instead taking fliers on veteran free agents and trades while going year to year on most of their contracts. They have to find a way to get more continuity to their roster and I would imagine with a high priced QB that is going to mean they have to rely on the draft more than before with the free agents likely falling more toward veteran minimum territory. If the close of the season is a precursor to what the results will be the next two years this will wind up being looked at negatively the same way that Wentz and Goff were even if it is not entirely Murray’s fault.
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.