The highest-paid player in NFL history will generally be the latest hot quarterback to get a deal.
Derek Carr held that highest-paid title for a little bit, Matthew Stafford took it from him, Jimmy Garoppolo got the belt for a while, then Aaron Rodgers grabbed it. In the early morning hours on Tuesday, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson signed an extension worth $35 million per season, the highest average deal in NFL history.
Wilson’s reign as the highest-paid player in NFL history won’t last long, because nobody holds that title forever. Let’s take a look at the quarterback landscape and who is set to get paid soon (the years listed are when the respective contracts are slated to expire):
2020: Mariota, Winston, Prescott and five legends
How’s this for a potential free-agent class? Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. All five could end up in the Hall of Fame, and all five are in the final years of their contracts.
The Chargers and Steelers have expressed that they want to get Rivers and Roethlisberger locked up, and they’ll get paid well. Brady has been on team-friendly deals his whole career, but this is the first time he’ll be playing on the final year of his contract, unless he signs an extension over the summer. Brees’ deal automatically voids in March 2020 and despite some nervous moments, the Saints and Brees always seem to work things out at a high price tag. As for Manning, well, the Giants seem content to let him start forever. We’ll see what they do in the draft.
It’s hard to imagine any of those five quarterbacks playing with another team, though based on their age, it’s also hard to see any of them beating Wilson’s mark of $35 million per season (unless Brady finally plays hardball, which would set up a fascinating scenario). The more interesting questions come with the younger trio.
For different reasons, the Buccaneers and Titans haven’t locked up Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota to second deals. The top two picks of the 2015 draft are no sure things. Winston has been a problem off the field, to say the least. Mariota can’t stay healthy. One thing they have in common is neither has played well consistently. These aren’t slam-dunk extensions, at least not yet. And Prescott has been up-and-down as well, which complicates things even though the Cowboys have said repeatedly they want to pay him. None of the three seems fit for $35 million per year like Wilson, though we’ll see what happens this season.
Things will get really interesting with that entire group over the next year, and we haven’t even gotten to the potential 2021 free agents who could get signed early.
2021: Cam Newton and first big deals for Carson Wentz and Jared Goff
Goff and Wentz went Nos. 1-2 in the 2016 draft and unlike Winston and Mariota, both have proven worthy of huge extensions. Both could spend some time reigning as the highest-paid player ever, depending when they sign. Especially if Wentz can stay healthy this season. Goff and Wentz are both eligible to sign extensions (players can’t sign extensions until after the third year of their rookie deals).
Newton is a more interesting case. The five-year, $103 million deal he signed in 2015 is a steal now. Newton turns 32 in May 2021, a couple months after his current deal expires. That isn’t old for quarterbacks anymore, but Newton is a different case. He has taken far more punishment than most quarterbacks due to a high volume of rushing attempts, which could be a concern. Newton’s season got cut short last year due to a shoulder injury. Still, it’s hard to believe the Carolina Panthers won’t take care of him. He might even challenge Goff and Wentz for that highest-paid title. Newton’s health is an important piece of that puzzle.
2022: Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Andrew Luck could set a new bar
If we had to guess now, Mahomes will sign a deal that actually might last for a while as the largest in NFL history. The 2018 NFL MVP is going to blow away the market — the NFL’s first $200 million deal? — assuming he continues to play at a high level.
However, we also can’t rule out Watson winning an MVP before he signs his second contract, which would make the dueling contracts between Watson and Mahomes very interesting. They’re both clearly superstars. They’ll both be eligible to sign extensions next offseason. The longer each player waits, the larger the deal will likely be, though there’s some risk in waiting. A potential work stoppage in 2021 complicates matters for them, and many other quarterbacks on this list. Also, given how Luck bounced back last year with the Indianapolis Colts, he’ll be right with Mahomes and Watson among the highest-paid players ever. It seems likely all three will sign for more than Wilson got.
It’s a little too early to project which quarterbacks among a potentially historic 2018 draft class might get the largest extension, though it seems like Baker Mayfield could get as much as anyone by the time he’s due for a deal, if he continues to improve. But we won’t have to worry about that for at least two more years.
Wilson is the NFL’s highest-paid player, but that won’t last too long. A lot of quarterbacks likely paid very close attention to his deal.
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