2022 NFL contract drama: How an old rule favors wealthy owners and could affect trades Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert

No market swells like the NFL quarterback market. If you are an above average beginner, you will get paid. If you’re a superstar, chances are you’ll soon become the richest player in league history.

This offseason alone proved as much: The Packers extended Aaron Rodgers’ contract for an average of $50 million a year even though he’s approaching 39; The Raiders and Vikings continued with Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins ​​in top-10 trades, respectively, despite their lack of playoff success; The Browns have committed a record $230 million in fully guaranteed money to Deshaun Watson as part of a blockbuster deal, even though the former Texans star faces 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct.

The NFL Players Association has supported Watson and Cousins ​​in recent years for netting fully guaranteed deals. But an old funding rule woven into the NFLPA’s collective bargaining agreement with the NFL may soon dictate that only certain teams can compensate QBs as such. Specifically, only the richest NFL owners can afford the best QBs.

The NFL’s salary cap, which prevents teams from spending more than a certain amount on player salaries each year, was put in place in part to maintain a competitive balance in the league. And that really helps; consider that rebuilding teams like the Bears, Falcons, Giants and Texans are expected to have some of the most money to spend in 2023. But the dynamic changes when you commit monstrous amounts of guaranteed money over four, five, six or , in the rare case of Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs, for 10 seasons. Salary cap or not, it’s possible, if not likely, that certain NFL owners aren’t uncomfortable, but incapable properly keeping up with the market for long-term QB trades.

Here’s why: The aforementioned funding rule requires teams to pay a portion of guaranteed contracts upfront, through an escrow account, with a third party temporarily holding funds until they’re paid out to the player. This practice, ProFootballTalk reports, dates back to a time when NFL owners weren’t as wealthy as they are today, and it’s possible that a franchise ran out of money to meet future guarantees.

That’s why PFT posits that Kyler Murray’s recent extension with the Cardinals contains a reported $70 million less in total guarantees than the Watson deal: “For Watson,” writes Mike Florio, “Browns owner Jimmy Haslam must deposit $169 million in escrow account until March 31, 2023 … (It’s) very likely a check that Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill can’t afford to write.” CBS Sports’ Joel Corey, a former NFL agent, echo this week’s sentimentsnoting that “a fully guaranteed contract never seemed like a realistic possibility for Murray because the Cardinals are not considered a cash-rich team.”

It is unlikely that the NFL and NFLPA will renegotiate the CBA solely to change the funding rule, especially when it was created to protect future guarantees for players outside of the QB position. So what does this mean for the future of QB contracts? Just because the teams with the most liquid assets are in the best position to buy premium pass rushers doesn’t mean elite QBs will always — and only — follow the money. Take the Buccaneers’ Tom Brady, for example, who is currently — and absurdly — the 16th-highest paid QB, relying on additional outside revenue to offset a below-market deal in the name of building a team. Or the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, who signed a four-year extension in 2021 rather than play under a second franchise and then test free agency.

Although title-winning QBs are almost always among the highest-paid players on their respective teams, research also shows that there optimal range for average annual QB salary: somewhere between 10.6% and 12.3% of the team’s total salary cap. Recent history shows that the perfect formula is not avoidance highly paid QBs as far as avoiding an unbalanced distribution of resources. And even better, knowing when to shut down the QB, even if it means entering a season of uncertainty. New Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, unabashedly analytical, touched on this very dilemma in recent comments about his own QB, Cousins, bemoaning the fine line between paying big money for a “good QB” and “burning him” to get find a great one.

Still, it’s easier said than done if you’re the Cardinals, for example, convincing your coaches, players and fans that you’re better off reallocating resources than shelling out big bucks for Murray at QB . At some point, you have to make a gamble one way or another: pay the price of a mega-QB deal, or the price of restarting the QB search worth paying. Lucky teams organically identify and acquire said QB, with a playoff-caliber supporting cast already in place or on the way.

That brings us to the QBs most likely to be affected next, down the road — those who can be loaded or settle for less than the market says they’re worth or win with a franchise ready and capable of meeting the requirements of the funding rule. It’s not hard to identify the candidates, both hailing from AFC ranks: Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert.

Two other AFC stars, Russell Wilson of the Broncos and Lamar Jackson of the Ravens, are also eligible for new deals in the near future. Whether Denver or Baltimore are hesitant to lock up their big names, each franchise is financially prepared to hand out record-breaking guarantees. New Broncos owner Rob Walton, heir to the Walmart fortune, has the highest net worth ($60 billion, according to Forbes) of any NFL ownership group, and Ravens owner Steve Biscotti ($5.7 billion) falls just short outside the top 10.

Burrow and Herbert, meanwhile, could almost certainly command even more money than Wilson and Jackson, given their meteoric rise as young MVP candidates. Still, their team owners aren’t so flush with cash. The Bengals’ Mike Brown, who still relies on “antiquated” contract structures, according to Corey, last had an estimated net worth of about $925 million, the lowest among all owners. The Chargers’ Dean Spanos, who dismissed his sister’s legal claims “financially ruinous” propertyis estimated at $2.4 billion, ranking just outside the bottom ten.

That’s not to say that neither the Bengals nor the Chargers are currently in a position to properly extend their star QBs. The Cardinals, for example, rank among the bottom 10 teams in terms of value of ownership, and they just signed Murray to a huge deal. It’s just that the trend of QB contracts could create significant negotiating difficulties, assuming Burrow and Herbert stay on their own trajectories and seek potentially record-breaking guarantees in their inevitable extensions. And that doesn’t account for any other factors in terms of team building, such as what Burrow and/or Herbert think of their teams’ respective coaching staffs, supporting casts, etc., when it comes time to put pen to paper.

For reference, here’s a breakdown of all NFL ownership groups using Forbes data, as well as their current QB:

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