The salary bar keeps inching higher for NFL quarterbacks. It happened in June with Derek Carr. It happened in August with Matthew Stafford. And it happened again Thursday with Jimmy Garoppolo.
The San Francisco 49ers and Garoppolo agreed Thursday to a five-year contract worth about $137.5 million, a person familiar with the situation confirmed.
That is up from the five-year, $135 million deal struck by Stafford with the Detroit Lions, previously the richest contract ever handed out to an NFL player in terms of average annual value. Stafford’s deal pushed the bar higher from Carr’s five-year, $125 million pact with the Oakland Raiders.
It made sense for Garoppolo to be the next to move the needle, even with his dearth of NFL experience at just seven career starts. He was eligible to hit the market at the right time, fresh off demonstrating he could be the league’s next big thing.
The 49ers sent a second-round draft pick to the New England Patriots to get Garoppolo in a trade-deadline deal, then kept him under wraps and on the bench temporarily while he learned the nuances of Coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense. But when Garoppolo finally played for the Niners, he looked every bit like a franchise quarterback. The 49ers, with a record of 1-10 to that point, won their final five games of the season with Garoppolo at quarterback.
There was no way that the Niners could afford to lose Garoppolo, making it inevitable that he would be re-signed to a long-term deal or franchise-tagged before hitting free agency. The 49ers made the more permanent arrangement happen, and now Garoppolo is under contract for the same duration as Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch, who are one season into six-year contracts. They are the cornerstones of the Niners’ quest to regain relevance, and their contracts reflect that.
The market seems set for Cousins — who has started 50 more games than Garoppolo — as he prepares to hit free agency in March. The Washington Redskins already have put his replacement in position by agreeing to trade a third-round draft choice and cornerback Kendall Fuller to the Kansas City Chiefs for Alex Smith. That deal cannot become official until March 14, the first day of the new league year. That’s also when Cousins is set to hit the free agent market.
The Redskins reportedly are considering franchise-tagging Cousins to trade him, but that would carry considerable risk. Cousins could not actually be traded under that scenario until he signed the franchise tag. He could refuse to sign his franchise-player deal and the Redskins, with $34.5 million counting against their salary cap, would have their hands tied in free agency. No team would want to trade for Cousins without him agreeing to a new contract as part of the deal. If Cousins refused to negotiate a new contract, it’s unlikely the Redskins could get much in return for him.
So the easiest thing for the Redskins to do is allow Cousins to depart and receive a compensatory draft choice in 2019, perhaps a third-rounder, for losing him in free agency. That also would be a welcome development for Cousins, who would be available to a group of bidders that might include the Denver Broncos, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals and maybe the Minnesota Vikings.
The scene in Philadelphia as the Eagles celebrate their Super Bowl victory
It then would be reasonable to suspect that his deal would top Garoppolo’s contract, just as Garoppolo’s topped Stafford’s and Stafford’s topped Carr’s. The progression has become clear and orderly.
Brees also is eligible for unrestricted free agency in March. But he seems likely to work out a deal to remain in New Orleans, and it is not clear whether he will be seeking at this point in his career to set new salary records.
From there, it could be on to Ryan and Rodgers, both former league MVPs. Ryan is signed with the Atlanta Falcons through the 2018 season. Rodgers’s deal with the Green Bay Packers runs through the 2019 season. Extensions are in order for both, and Rodgers, in particular, could be the one to push the salary record considerably, rather than incrementally, higher.