There are three NFL quarterbacks — Baker Mayfield (the first pick in the draft), Josh Allen (7) and Lamar Jackson (32) — who all were drafted in 2018 and all three are still with their initial teams and had option years (year 5) picked up. However, they all still have decisions to make on long-term deals and, in my opinion, the timing is different for each.
Plenty has been written and said regarding if, when, and how much these deals should be worth. When you look at the common thread with these three players from an evaluator’s standpoint, the fact is that none of the three came into the league without a lot of league wide consternation and all had very little consensus attached to their evaluation. For example, Baker Mayfield, was a second-round player in my notebook. He lacked the ideal size and pocket passing precision. Lamar Jackson struggled from the pocket but was so athletic that some (HOF GM Bill Polian included) thought he would be best suited as a WR and Josh Allen was viewed by many of the experts as being fatally flawed with inaccuracy when throwing the football.
So much for my theory that the draft IS an exact science if you know what you’re looking at. I guess we all needed to see more, depending on the NFL systems, to develop a true evaluation.
Before you “pay” one of these guys, or any QB for that matter, the kind of money that is being deemed franchise-money, you have to ask yourself many questions. At the top of that list is, do they have a large enough body of work to warrant a long-term commitment? This seems obvious but let’s break it down further. Each player and their current situation is unique, but the common thread for all of them getting paid might just be teams asking themselves this question — “Is our quarterback going to make enough of a difference, game in and game out, that by resigning him, we are good enough to do without elsewhere on our roster and still win?”
Once you get over the $30-35M a year threshold, it’s about the guy being good enough to cover some of the warts you will have on your team, and maybe not being able to afford (salary cap wise) to fill as a team builder.
Most teams feel that this second contract is binding, a true commitment, and the most important part of team building. It’s a giant piece of the salary cap pie that, once in place, you must work around. Its why so much gets said about winning while your QB is on a rookie deal. Obviously, the LA Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles are not among those teams that hesitated to make the jump/commitment. Both of those teams paid an enormous amount of cash and cap to get a long-term deal and both were wrong by their own admission as evidenced by this past off season’s moves. Let’s just say those situations ended with unforeseen circumstances, but I still feel those will be exceptions to the way most NFL General Managers think. Jared Goff was a total misevaluation and Carson Wentz was a swing and a miss with the team/coach/system they put around him.
I think the Dallas Cowboys felt like they had decreased their risk of paying QB Dak Prescott top of the market money by paying others first and assembling (in their minds) a team good enough to win around him beforehand. Time will tell if they got the order right. Most insiders felt they should have paid Prescott first. I actually think Prescott will perform like a franchise QB, but I don’t have the same faith in the Cowboys’ defense that was historically bad in 2020, being improved in a year just by changing coordinators.
There is no question it’s a timing issue with the three guys from 2018. Lamar Jackson actually has the largest body of work, but its been done in the least traditional way. The former MVP has also taken a team to the playoffs and now has been given (in the Baltimore Ravens opinion) ample perimeter weapons for 2021. I think his new deal is pending, based on the new deal for Buffalo’s Josh Allen.
I think Allen gets a deal first because of his skill set, although his is a smaller body of work with only one great year. Allen is of a more traditional flavor and frankly is the safest bet by evaluator standards. He’s big, has top level arm strength, and is comfortable in the pocket. Now he also has improved accuracy to go with his John Elway-type athleticism, both in and out of the pocket. His deal probably fits in right under Patrick Mahomes somewhere.
I also think that both the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills have what they think are “deep playoff” type rosters or, at a minimum, their decision makers feel they can overcome any lack of talent elsewhere because of the game-changing ability of their QBs. They are players that their teams win because of, not just win with them. Said another way, these two can make up the difference of any deficiencies elsewhere.
I think the Cleveland Browns are in a bit of a different position and are perhaps a year behind the curve. Yes, they worked over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs last year and put up a solid fight in KC the following week. They may indeed challenge for a Super Bowl in 2021. I think the Browns are obviously trending in the right direction but they can really only use the last half of last year as the gauge for Mayfield’s body of work question. They must still answer the question of, is the rest of our team good enough OR are we still lacking an ingredient or two that, after we do re-sign Mayfield, we will struggle to fill on our roster? I think this is just as much about the Browns team being good enough as it is about their QB being good enough (to pay $35M per season).
Mayfield’s recent comments of downplaying any rush on an extension tells me, he “gets it”. In fact, I think it would be a mistake for him to make the first deal of the three players. The other two guys will come in as top of the scale and only help Mayfield’s case in negotiations if he is not in a rush. Of course, he’s betting on having a bigger and better season this year and wants to show that how he finished 2020 was no fluke. This also aligns with how Mayfield is wired in being willing to bet on himself. He has never lacked for confidence or bravado.
This is just an inside look from a team builders’ standpoint of determining the value of a player. Each position is different, each team is different and everyone has a different plan in dealing with the cap but in this case, its a very high stakes poker game. At any rate, these three deals will be fun to track over the next couple of months and let’s see if my hunch on the order is correct.