Agent’s Take: Breaking down 20 notable multi-year contracts handed out this offseason

NFL teams were acting as if money was burning a hole in their pockets when the free agent signing period opened on March 16 thanks to the salary cap increasing by 14.1% to $208.2 million. The NFL’s financial landscape was changed with landmark contracts by Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson. The Jaguars went on a spending spree, as seven players were quickly signed to contracts totaling $259.5 million with $155.25 million in guarantees. The upper part of the wide receiver market has gone haywire. There were four $20 million per year wide receivers when the offseason began. The number has doubled to eight despite the Titans releasing Julio Jones.

Details on 20 noteworthy multi-year deals from the early part of the NFL offseason are below. Average yearly salary and total compensation are the most common contract metrics but also the most insignificant because of the lack of security with NFL contracts. The overall contract guarantees, amount fully guaranteed at signing, first three years compensation (when applicable) and the earliest realistic contract exit point for the team are also highlighted with each player.

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  • Contract value: $230 million/5 years ($46 million per year average)
  • Contract guarantees: $230 million
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $230 million
  • Three-year cash flow: $138 million
  • Earliest realistic exit point: None

Nobody expected Watson to get a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract in connection with his trade from the Texans to the Browns, especially considering the sexual assault and misconduct allegations he’s still facing. Watson had four years worth $136 million remaining on the four-year contract extension averaging $39 million per year he signed in September 2020. He has the type of guaranteed money typically reserved for the most lucrative NBA contracts. For example, the four-year extension Warriors All-NBA guard Steph Curry signed last August that begins next season is for a fully guaranteed $215,353,662. The five years (including the 2021-22 season) that Curry is currently under contract total a fully guaranteed $261,134,628.

Watson’s deal is potentially the most significant NFL transaction during the salary cap era, which began in 1994. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti acknowledged at the NFL annual league meetings that Watson’s contract complicates the quarterback market. It remains to be seen whether Watson will be the catalyst for fully guaranteed contracts becoming the norm in the NFL (at least for quarterbacks), like in the MLB and the NBA.

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  • Contract value: $186.765 million/5 years ($37.353 million per year average)
  • Contract guarantees: $150.665 million ($40.8 million as fully guaranteed roster bonus)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $101.515 million
  • Three year-cash flow: $150.815 million
  • Earliest realistic exit point: 2025 ($150.815 million earned)

Once Rodgers, who was entering a contract year, decided he wanted to remain with the Packers rather than try to force a trade, he became the NFL’s first $50 million per year player. His new contract is widely considered to be $150.815 million over three years, although there are two additional below-market years in the deal. Should Rodgers decide to keep playing football in 2025 when he is 41, a new contract will surely be negotiated to replace the artificially low $20.9 million and $15.05 million compensation of the 2025 and 2026 contract years, which are considered placeholder salaries. Rodgers established new standards for guaranteed money in football contracts with $150.665 million in total guarantees and $101.515 million fully guaranteed — until Watson’s deal shattered those marks.

Professionals within the industry (agents and team negotiators) typically value deals by new money, which is the amount of compensation in a contract excluding what a player was scheduled to make before receiving a new deal. Rodgers’ contract will be an exception since the new money average is $61,922,206 per year if considered a two-year extension. The placeholder salaries give Rodgers the ability to say he signed a contract averaging $37.353 million per year
or a four-year extension averaging $39,948,603 per year.

The contract contains two option bonuses ($58.3 million in 2023 and $47 million in 2024). The double option bonus contract structure is seldom used by NFL teams. Most notably, the five-year, $125 million extension defensive end Myles Garrett signed with the Browns in 2020, which made him the NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback, contains two option bonuses. The benefit of this structure is the cap numbers in the initial years are more manageable because option bonuses are prorated over the life of a contract (up to a maximum of five years), including the option years, beginning in the league year when the option is exercised. The drawback is the cap numbers will eventually have a big spike because of the extra bonus proration due to the option bonuses. This extra bonus proration can be problematic if a player is traded, released or retires when this structure is used because it can lead to significant dead money, which is a salary cap charge for a player no longer on the roster.

The Packers are going to have substantial dead money with Rodgers regardless of the circumstances. If Rodgers decides to retire after the 2022 season, Green Bay will have $40,313,570 of dead money consisting of $32.640 million of roster bonus proration and the $7,673,570 of 2023 bonus proration that already existed before the new deal. The option bonus proration would come off Green Bay’s books so there wouldn’t be any cap charges associated with the option bonuses. The dead money would be the same with a trade before exercising the option for the 2025 contract year, except the option bonuses would become the financial and cap responsibilities of the acquiring team. The Packers will have to contend with $76,803,334 if Rodgers retires in 2025.

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  • Contract value: $160 million/4-year extension ($40 million per year average)
  • Contract guarantees: $135 million ($60 million as signing bonus)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $89 million
  • Earliest realistic exit point: 2026 ($129 million earned-new money)

Stafford probably had the contract leverage to name his own price on an extension after a stellar postseason in which the Rams won Super Bowl LVI and considering the steep acquisition cost to get him from the Lions. The Rams gave up a 2022 first-round pick, a 2023 first-round pick and a 2021 third-round pick as well as starting quarterback Jared Goff for Stafford. Instead of fully exploiting his leverage, Stafford reportedly wanted a fair deal that would also help the Rams. It’s unlikely there would have been any objections if Stafford had insisted on being put in the same place that Goff, who the Rams viewed as an inferior quarterback, was in the NFL salary hierarchy on his 2019 deal. Goff’s four-year, $134 million extension (worth as much as $147.95 million because of incentives and salary escalators) tied him with Rodgers as the league’s second highest-paid player by average yearly salary. This would have meant $46 million per year for Stafford.

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  • Contract value: $140 million/5 years ($28 million per year average)
  • Contract guarantees: $65.67 million ($19.25 million as signing bonus)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $22.75 million
  • Three-year cash flow: $67.5 million
  • Earliest realistic exit point: 2025 ($67.5 million earned)

The Raiders acquired Adams, who was designated as a franchise player, from the Packers for 2022 first- and second-round picks in a sign-and-trade transaction. On paper, Adams becomes the NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver ahead of DeAndre Hopkins, who signed a two-year, $54.5 million extension with the Cardinals in 2020. The maximum value of Adams’ deal is $141.25 million because of an annual $250,000 Pro Bowl incentive. The deal is really $67.5 million over three years because there’s $72.5 million in the last two years. Adams isn’t going to play 2025 and 2026 for $36.25 million each when he’s 32 and 33 years old.

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  • Contract value: $120 million/4-year extension ($30 million per year average) 
  • Contract guarantees: $72.2 million ($25.5 million signing bonus)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $52.35 million
  • Earliest realistic exit point: 2026 ($75 million earned-new money)

Signability became an issue for the Chiefs with wide receiver Tyreek Hill after the Adams deal. He was dealt to the Dolphins for five draft picks: 2022 first-, second- and fourth-round picks in addition to 2023 fourth- and sixth-round picks. Hill has the distinction of being the NFL’s first $30 million per year non-quarterback with the extension he signed after the trade. Realistically, it’s a three-year extension for $75 million because of $45 million in 2026, the final contract year.

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  • Contract value: $94 million/4-year extension ($23.5 million per year average)
  • Contract guarantees: $53.03 million ($13 million as signing bonus)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $26.515 million
  • Earliest realistic exit point: 2025 ($50.16 million earned-new money)

Crosby was the first member of the 2019 draft class to get a new contract after becoming eligible to sign an extension once the 2021 regular season ended on Jan. 9. When signed, Crosby became the NFL’s fifth highest-paid non-quarterback at $23.5 million per year tying with Chargers edge rusher Khalil Mack.

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  • Contract value: $120 million/6 years ($20 million per year average)
  • Contract guarantees: $51.435 million ($18.525 million as signing bonus)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $45 million
  • Three-year cash flow: $52.5 million
  • Earliest realistic exit point: 2025 ($52.5 million earned)

Technically, Miller has gotten a bigger contract than when he was franchised by the Broncos after the 2015 season. Miller signed a six-year, $114.5 million deal containing $70 million in guarantees to become the NFL’s highest-paid non quarterback in 2016. The 33-year-old won’t be completing this contract like he did his last one, which just expired. The last two years are worth $50 million, with $30 million in 2027.

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  • Contract value: $60 million/3 years ($20 million per year average)
  • Contract guarantees: $40 million ($21 million as signing bonus)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $40 million
  • Earliest realistic exit point: 2024 ($40 million earned)

The Chargers signed Williams before the March 8 deadline teams had to designate franchise players. Williams’ franchise tag would have been $18.816 million. His deal was first of the new wave of wide receiver contracts averaging $20 million per year. The Chargers are the only NFL team with two $20 million year wideouts. Keenan Allen signed a four-year extension averaging $20.025 million per year with $50 million of guarantees during the 2020 preseason.

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  • Contract value: $60 million/3 years ($20 million per year average)
  • Contract guarantees: $40 million ($18.75 million in fully guaranteed 2022 roster bonuses)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $40 million
  • Earliest realistic exit point: 2024 ($40 million earned)

Conventional wisdom suggested Godwin would hit the open market when he tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee late in the 2021 regular season. Instead, the Buccaneers franchised Godwin for a second straight year at $19.18 million. He signed a nearly identical deal to Williams’ shortly after quarterback Tom Brady unretired. Godwin and Williams are both represented by Tory Dandy.

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  • Contract value: $49.5 million/3 years ($16.5 million per year average)
  • Contract guarantees: $30 million ($17 million as signing bonus)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $30 million
  • Earliest realistic exit point: 2024 ($33 million earned)

Scherff was assured of hitting the open market after playing the 2020 and 2021 seasons with the Commanders for $33.066 million on two franchise tags ($16.533 million per year) because a third designation would have been at the $29.703 million quarterback number. He continued the trend of a Pro Bowl-caliber guard in his prime becoming the position’s highest-paid in free agency (Andrew Norwell, Kelechi Osemele, Joe Thuney, Kevin Zeitler). Thuney was the standard with the five-year, $80 million contract containing $46.89 million of guarantees he received from the Chiefs in free agency last year. An annual $1 million Pro Bowl incentive makes Scherff’s deal worth a maximum of $52.5 million. Scherff has been named to five of the last six Pro Bowls.

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  • Contract value: $82.5 million/5 years ($16.5 million per year average)
  • Contract guarantees: $40 million ($25 million as signing bonus)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $40 million
  • Three-year cash flow: $54.375 million
  • Earliest realistic exit point: 2025 ($54.375 million earned)

The speculation about Jackson getting a deal in the same salary stratosphere as Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore was wrong. Lattimore signed a five-year, $97 million extension worth up to $99.5 million through incentives right before the 2021 regular season started. Jackson essentially signed the same deal that Byron Jones received from the Dolphins in 2020 free agency to briefly become the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback. The big difference is Jones’ $14.375 million third-year salary in 2022 had the ability to become fully guaranteed while Jackson’s third-year salary in 2024 for the same amount doesn’t have any guarantees.

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  • Contract value: $72 million/4 years ($18 million per year average)
  • Contract guarantees: $37 million ($20 million as signing bonus)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $37 million
  • Earliest realistic exit point: 2024 ($37 million earned)

Kirk’s deal easily exceeded all reasonable projections of his contract. Incentives make the deal worth as much as $84 million. Kirk will be a $21 million per year wide receiver if he can consistently have seasons with 100 catches and 1,200 receiving yards.

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  • Contract value: $61.884 million/3-year extension ($20.628 million per year average)
  • Contract guarantees: $41.61 million ($19.5 million as signing bonus)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $41.6 million
  • Earliest realistic exit point: 2025 ($45.834 million earned-new money)

Kirk’s contract seemingly was an important data point for Drew Rosenhaus, Moore’s agent. Moore was scheduled to play the 2022 season under an $11.116 million fifth-year option. He is under contract over the next four years for $73 million, which is $1 million more than the base value of Kirk’s deal. When the existing $11.116 million is subtracted out, there’s $61.884 million of new money for three new contract years.

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  • Contract value: $85 million/5 years ($17 million per year average)
  • Contract guarantees: $35 million ($19 million signing bonus)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $35.25 million
  • Three-year cash flow: $52.5 million
  • Earliest realistic exit point: 2025 ($52.5 million earned)

The only way the Titans were going to keep Landry from hitting the open market after 12 sacks in 2021 was to top Bud Dupree’s contract. The Titans signed Dupree to a five-year, $82.5 million contract (worth up to $85 million through incentives) with $35 million of guarantees in free agency last offseason to help give the pass rush a boost. Dupree had a challenging 2021 coming back from the torn right ACL he suffered towards the end of the 2020 regular season while playing for the Steelers.

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  • Contract value: $50.5 million/3 years ($16,833,333 per year average)
  • Contract guarantees: $31.5 million ($12 million as signing bonus)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $31.5 million 
  • Earliest realistic exit point: 2024 ($33.5 million earned)

The Raiders trading edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue to the Colts for cornerback Rock Ya-Sin paved the way for Jones to come to Las Vegas. Jones’ familiarity with Raiders brass brings comfort. He was drafted in first round by the Patriots in 2012. During his four years with the Patriots, new Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels was New England’s offensive coordinator. New general manager Dave Ziegler was a Patriots front office executive and new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham served as New England’s defensive line coach before shifting to linebackers coach. The deal is worth up to $52 million because of a $500,000 Pro Bowl incentive each year.

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  • Contract value: $75 million/5 years ($15 million per year average) 
  • Contract guarantees: $43.73 million ($12 million signing bonus)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $30.12 million
  • Three-year cash flow: $46.37 million
  • Earliest realistic exit point: 2025 ($46.37 million earned)

Armstead’s market didn’t develop as anticipated. His lack of durability was an obvious concern. Armstead has played 97 of a possible 145 regular season games in nine NFL seasons. He only played eight games in 2021 and had knee surgery in January. That’s why his contract contains $1 million in annual per game roster bonuses where he gets $58,823.53 for each time he’s on Miami’s gameday active roster. There are $2.5 million of incentives in every year that make the deal worth up to $87.5 million.

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  • Contract value: $45 million/3 years ($15 million per year average)
  • Contract guarantees: $28 million ($17 million as signing bonus)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $28 million
  • Earliest Realistic exit point: 2024 ($30 million earned)

Oluokun has the second biggest contract for an off-ball linebacker ever in free agency (by average yearly salary). It only trails the five-year deal averaging $17 million per year C.J. Mosley signed with the Jets in 2019 free agency. Oluokun’s deal is worth as much as $46.5 million thanks to an annual $500,000 incentive for being selected to the Pro Bowl.

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  • Contract Value: $70 million/5 years ($14 million per year average)
  • Contract guarantees: $37 million ($14.965 million signing bonus)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $32 million
  • Three-year cash flow: $44 million
  • Earliest realistic exit point: 2025 ($44 million earned)

Williams got the top safety contract in free agency. It’s on par with the deals Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu and Earl Thomas signed in 2019 free agency for $14 million, $14 million and $13.75 million per year, respectively, with the Chiefs, Commanders and Ravens.

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  • Contract value: $39 million/3 years ($13 million per year average)
  • Contract guarantees: $26.5 million ($12.5 million in fully guaranteed 2022 roster bonuses)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $23 million
  • Earliest realistic exit point: 2024 ($26.5 million earned)

Jensen was the first Buccaneers player with an expiring contract to return after Brady ended his brief retirement. He gave the Buccaneers a slight financial break on the deal. Mike McCartney, Jensen’s agent, felt confident he could get $15 million per year on the open market from another team, which would have made Jensen the league’s highest-paid center. Jensen’s contract is worth as much as $42.3 million with incentives.

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  • Contract value: $31.65 million/3 years ($10.55 million per year average)
  • Contract guarantees: $17.5 million ($8 million signing bonus)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $14.5 million
  • Earliest realistic exit point: 2024 ($21.6 million earned)

Ertz showed there was plenty of gas left in the tank after being traded from the Eagles to the Cardinals during the middle of last season. The Cardinals felt comfortable making Ertz one of seven NFL tight ends with a contract averaging more than $10 million per year although he turns 32 in November. Ertz can earn as much as $36.15 million over the three years because of $1.5 million in annual incentives.

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