After a few weeks, or months depending upon who you ask, of negotiations, Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is now the NFL’s highest paid player. His new five-year deal is worth a total of $125 million for an average of $25 million per season. Carr’s new average salary eclipses that of Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck by roughly $400,000. The new contract extension is sure to spark some interesting future contract negotiations, especially those of Washington’s Kirk Cousins and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford. Upon closer examination of Carr’s new deal though, it may not be of that much help.
Derek Carr – The Road to Riches
A second-round draft pick out of Fresno State, Derek Carr signed his rookie contract in 2014. The 6-foot-3-inch Carr signed a four-year, $5.37 million contract that came with a nice $2.2 million signing bonus. Carr won the starting quarterback job as a rookie over veteran Matt Schaub. With a less than stellar roster, the Raiders went 3-13 in 2014. Carr struggled completing just 58.1 percent of his passes. Carr threw for 21 touchdowns but also threw 12 interceptions and was sacked 24 times. He did show flashes of what was to come when he guided winless Oakland to an upset win over Kansas City on Thursday Night Football late in the season. Carr led a seven-minute, 80-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter to secure his first win as a Raider.
In Years 2 and 3, Carr improved dramatically. Last season, Carr went 12-3 as the starter, completed nearly 64 percent of his passes, threw for 3,937 yards, and had 28 touchdowns to just six interceptions. He cemented himself among the elite quarterbacks in the league despite breaking his fibula in Week 16 and missing the Raiders first appearance in the playoffs since 2002. Carr’s performance earned him this new contract. Should he play out the life of the deal, Carr can make $125 million.
Carr's Contract Breakdown
The contract breaks down like this. In Year 1 of the deal, Derek Carr will earn a cool $25 million. His base salary will be just $5 million, but Carr will earn a $12.5 million signing bonus and another $7.5 million on June 30 when he receives a roster bonus. In Year 2, Carr’s salary bumps up to $7.4 million and another $15 million for a roster bonus. He will also receive $100,000 in workout bonuses. All but the Year 2 salary is guaranteed. Carr’s base salary then jumps dramatically to $20 million in each of the final three years of the contract. There are some injury protections built in to the contact as well. However the guaranteed portion of Carr’s contract comes out to roughly $47.5 million.
The ensuing quarterback derby that may be blooming soon may want to take a closer look at Carr’s contract. Carr’s new deal may not be all that helpful for guys like Stafford and Cousins when it comes to negotiating their new contracts. When working on new deals, player agents normally work to get as much of the contract as possible guaranteed and to get that money paid out in the first few years of the deal. Carr’s second-year salary doesn’t become fully guaranteed until after the previous year’s Super Bowl. The injury guaranteed portion of Carr’s 2019 (third year) salary does not become guaranteed until February of 2019. The same holds for 2020. Nothing in the final two years of the contract is guaranteed.
Technically, Oakland could release Derek Carr after the 2018 season and ‘only’ be on the hook for $47.5 million. That is not likely to happen given that Carr has expressed that he does want to be a Raider for life and, if he continues playing like he is capable, Oakland would like to have Carr until he can no longer play. What’s important to note though is that anyone entering the quarterback marketplace in the near future will not have the kind of bargaining power they would prefer. Or will they?
Cousins Cash Tag
Cousins earned the franchise tag for the second straight year, and if he and the Redskins cannot work out a new contract by July 17 the Washington quarterback will earn $23.94 million this season. The unlikely prospect that could arise is the Redskins tabbing Cousins with the franchise tag for a third straight year in 2018. If they would, Cousins would command $34.47 million. That’s over $58 million on the table for Cousins right now. It is also the reason why most believe the former Michigan State star will not be in the nation’s capital in 2018. The San Francisco 49ers and Cousins’ former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan would be at the top of the suitors’ list, but the Niners would have to open up the franchise’s collective wallet and give Shanahan a hefty payday.
Stafford looking to Cash In
The other quarterback looking to cash in is Stafford. He is in the final year of his contract with the Lions. He will make $16.5 million this year. Stafford is coming off one of his best seasons with 4,327 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2016. He also led Detroit to the playoffs despite his top receiver, Calvin Johnson, retiring after the 2015 campaign. Stafford is just 29 and has another strong four to five years left in him. Statistically, Stafford’s numbers stack up with the best in the NFL. He has six straight seasons of 4,000 or more passing yards.
If Stafford is to stay in Detroit, the Lions organization is going to have to pony up a deal that would entice Stafford to retire a Lion. It could be a deal similar to Carr’s, but Stafford could balk at something like that. Carr’s deal is great…if you happened to be making barely $1 million in the last year of your contract (which Carr was). Stafford and Cousins are both among the highest paid quarterbacks in the league already. If the Lions were to apply the franchise tag to Stafford for the 2018 season, they would have to pay him roughly $34 million. It seems that any long-term deal offered by the Lions is going to have to come awful close to that. Add in Carr’s guarantee schedule, which heavily favors the Raiders, and Stafford is unlikely to raise an eyebrow at Carr’s new deal.
$25 Million Guaranteed?
While Derek Carr gets a nice payday, guys like Stafford and Cousins will too. Their new contracts, whenever they may come, will be compared to Carr’s; however, their structure will likely be very different from what the Oakland quarterback signed. Look for Stafford, Cousins, and even Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston (who will be eligible to negotiate their next contracts next year) to earn an average salary of well over $25 million and have a higher percentage of their contracts guaranteed.