Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
Kirk Cousins, of course
Not only did the 29-year-old quarterback become the highest-paid player in NFL history by agreeing to a three-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings worth $28 million per season, but all $84 million are guaranteed (per ESPN’s Adam Schefter). That means that Cousins will make at least $128 million over a five-year period between 2016 and 2020.
Not bad for a fourth-round pick who started just nine games during his first three seasons and has seen most of his rate-based numbers decline ever since a strong first full campaign as Washington’s starter in 2015.
Cousins is good, but he hasn’t experienced a playoff victory, he’s been to just one Pro Bowl and it’s possible he benefited from the system he played in and the weapons that surrounded him during his first two seasons as a starter.
Sean McVay was Cousins’ offensive coordinator when he broke out in 2015 and made the Pro Bowl in 2016, and he was lucky to have a top-notch receiving corps and one of the best offensive lines in the league. With McVay, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon gone and the line ravaged by injuries in 2017, Cousins had his worst season as a regular starter.
But that didn’t stop the Vikes from giving him more money per year than any player in the history of professional football.
And basically every other quarterback in the world
That Cousins deal set the market going forward, but it’s not as though the rest of the quarterbacks scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on Wednesday fared poorly during the legal tampering period.
Case Keenum, who was middle-of-the-pack backup until 2017 and has one good season under his belt, is signing a two-year deal with the Denver Broncos that is worth at least $36 million (per Mike Klis of 9 News).
Sam Bradford, who has made a habit of failing to deliver on big contracts and has missed the vast majority of three of his last five seasons, managed to convince the Arizona Cardinals to give him a one-year, $20 million deal (according to Albert Breer of The MMQB).
Drew Brees got $27 million guaranteed from the New Orleans Saints at the age of 39 (Schefter). And you know that if Teddy Bridgewater finalizes a deal with the New York Jets it’ll pay him at least $15 million a year despite the fact the 25-year-old hasn’t completed an NFL pass in two years.
And non-free-agent quarterbacks are also undoubtedly thrilled with these numbers. Because now Aaron Rodgers is criminally underpaid at $22 million a year, as are Matt Ryan at $20.8 million, Tom Brady at $20.5 million and of course Jared Goff and Carson Wentz (both of whom make just shy of $7 million per season on entry-level contracts).
It’s only a matter of time before several of those guys surpass the $30 million plateau.
Keenum is coming off a better season than Cousins, they’re basically the same age and Keenum probably has more tread on his tires, and yet he’ll cost Denver far less than Cousins will cost Minnesota. That’ll give general manager John Elway more room to breathe on the market.
Put another way, you’re better off with Keenum plus a $10-million-a-year player than Cousins on his own.
Watkins is a 24-year-old top-five draft pick with the ability to become a top-end No. 1 receiver, but it’s pretty amazing he and his agent were able to land a top-end No. 1 receiver contract from the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs already have Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt on offense, and they aren’t cap-rich. Yet they’re giving Watkins $16 million per season over the next three years (per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport), even though the Clemson product is joining his third team in as many seasons.
Watkins might finally emerge as an elite weapon, but his NFL resume certainly doesn’t explain why he’s about to become the fourth-highest-paid receiver in the NFL. He’s caught just 55 percent of the passes thrown his way the last two years, he hasn’t played a full season since he was a rookie in 2014 and he’s coming off the least productive season of his career in terms of catches and yards per game.
Teams don’t simply pay players for what they’ve done, but this is a little ridiculous.
Mitchell Trubisky and the Chicago Bears
Meanwhile, the Bears came to an agreement with the other big-name wide receiver on the market, adding Allen Robinson for a more reasonable $42 million over three years (per ESPN’s Josina Anderson). Robinson is Watkins’ age and coming off a lost season due to a knee injury, but the 2014 second-round pick is just two years removed from a Pro Bowl campaign in which he put up 1,400 yards and a league-high 14 touchdowns.
Chicago had more money to spend than Kansas City and still managed to give up less in order to add a receiver with a better track record. That’s good news for the team as a whole but Trubisky in particular. Not only will the 2017 No. 2 overall pick have promising young wideout Cameron Meredith back from injury in 2018, but now he’ll have Robinson as well as high-upside former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Trey Burton (who also jumped on board with a four-year, $32 million deal on Tuesday, per Schefter) and speedy former Atlanta Falcons wideout Taylor Gabriel (per former teammate Andrew Hawkins).
Trubisky’s supporting cast will be a hell of a lot better in 2018 than it was during his rookie season.
Five years and $40 million with $20 million guaranteed from the Washington Redskins (per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo)? That’s a hell of a haul for a dude with eight touchdowns in four NFL seasons. The 2014 second-round pick has a lot of potential, but he’s never caught 50 passes or hit the 750-yard mark and he caught a career-low 55 percent of the passes thrown his way during his first relatively full season as a starter in 2017.
Richardson owes his agent a nice bottle of wine, in addition to his commission.
The blockbuster deal guard Andrew Norwell agreed to with the Jacksonville Jaguars makes a lot of sense. Interior offensive linemen have been striking gold in recent years and Norwell is a 26-year-old who has gotten better in each of his four NFL seasons. Coming off an All-Pro campaign, he was bound to become the highest-paid guard in league history, and that will be the case when he signs the five-year, $66.5 million deal he has in place with the Jacksonville Jaguars (Schefter).
That undoubtedly makes him a winner.
In many cases, a perceived free-agent winner signs with a perceived free-agent loser because it appears he’s been overpaid, or a perceived free-agent loser signs with a perceived free-agent winner because it appears he’s been underpaid.
But Norwell is being paid just right, and the already-comically-talented Jaguars got even better by sweeping in and stealing him from desperate counterparts (the Giants, Colts and 49ers were all in the mix, according to Art Stapleton of NorthJersey.com).
That’s gotta feel good.
And yes, they lost Robinson, but he wasn’t a factor last year anyway and they at least brought back Marqise Lee ().