Quarterback Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos agreed to a reported five-year, $245 million contract extension on Thursday, a deal that includes $165 million in guaranteed money, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The deal is the third-most lucrative contract in NFL history in terms of guaranteed money, with only Deshaun Watson‘s $230 million and Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray‘s $189.5 million outranking Wilson’s figure. The deal also stakes the 33-year-old’s career to the Broncos for the foreseeable future — he’s under contract through 2028 — as he tries to join John Elway and Peyton Manning in leading Denver to the Super Bowl plateau.
What type of ripple effect will the extension have for the team, and for an NFL bracing for a spate of new contracts including one for Baltimore Ravens star Lamar Jackson? Is what looks like a team-friendly deal an issue for players in a league without the fully guaranteed contracts seen in other sports? ESPN’s team of Dan Graziano, Jeremy Fowler, Jamison Hensley and Jeff Legwold weighed in on the implications of the deal at both the team and national levels.
What does this deal mean for the broader NFL quarterback market?
Nothing good. Wilson coming in under $50 million a year and not even sniffing Deshaun Watson’s guarantee number is just unequivocally bad for every other big quarterback contract (and, by extension, every other NFL player contract) to come.
If I’m Lamar Jackson right now, I’m texting Wilson, “Dude! You’re killing me!” Wilson did the Broncos a huge favor here, and the Ravens, the Bengals, the Chargers and anyone else who’s eyeing a big-quarterback negotiation over the next 12 months can send him thank-you notes as well. Like Kyler Murray and Derek Carr before him, and Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes… heck everybody but Kirk Cousins before them, Wilson declined to push the envelope on guarantees.
Until the top-end quarterbacks start doing that, there is no chance NFL players see any meaningful progress toward the types of fully guaranteed deals their NBA and MLB counterparts automatically get. The NFLPA and agents around the league had high hopes for Wilson’s deal setting a new standard on guarantees. It’s hard to see how this deal moved the market in any real way at all. And while it’s easy to understand why the top quarterbacks don’t insist on guarantees – they don’t need them, because the top quarterbacks never get cut – until they start getting them, no one else will. What this deal means for the broader NFL quarterback market is, unfortunately for the players, more of the same. — Graziano
How should we expect the Ravens and Lamar Jackson, in the midst of an ongoing contract negotiation, to react to / interpret this deal?
The Ravens will use Wilson’s deal as further evidence that Watson’s record-setting contract ($230 million guaranteed) is an aberration and not market value. Since Watson signed, two franchise quarterbacks reached agreements and neither have come close to Watson in terms of guaranteed money: Kyler Murray ($189.5 million) and Wilson ($165 million).
Jackson can counter that he’s eight years younger than Wilson and more accomplished than Murray, which is why Watson’s deal should be viewed as the benchmark. Jackson and Watson have each played four seasons in the NFL, and Jackson (37-12 record) has won nine more games than Watson (28-25) and has won an NFL MVP award.
Bart Scott breaks down how the Russell Wilson extension puts even more pressure on the Ravens to re-sign Lamar Jackson.
If Jackson doesn’t sign an extension before the season – he set Week 1 as the cutoff point to suspend negotiations – he is taking the risk of getting injured with no guaranteed money beyond this year. But waiting has been a profitable strategy so far for Jackson, who is one of the few high-profile NFL players without an agent.
Since Jackson became eligible for an extension last year, five quarterbacks have signed deals that have exceeded $150 million in guaranteed money and the average per year for quarterbacks has jumped from $45 million (Patrick Mahomes) to $50.3 million (Aaron Rodgers). Jackson won’t hit free agency until 2025, so there is time for the sides to reach a deal. The Ravens can put the franchise tag on him for the 2023 and 2024 seasons. Jackson will make $23.016 million in his fifth-year option this year, and he would earn $45 million under the exclusive tag next season. Throughout the negotiations, Jackson and Ravens officials have remained optimistic about getting a deal done. The challenge is finding a compromise. — Hensley
What are the implications of this deal for young quarterbacks seeking future deals, including Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert?
The Chargers and Bengals are likely pleased that Wilson’s deal, like Murray’s extension before him, didn’t follow the Watson blueprint with a fully guaranteed deal. But Herbert and Burrow won’t sweat that too much. They will have infinite leverage as top-shelf passers with youth on their sides.
As Wilson’s deal showed, the ballpark of $50 million per year is now the norm for QBs. Becoming the highest-paid players won’t be a huge issue for these two. A running joke inside the league is that the Bengals recently selling naming rights for the stadium (now Paycor Stadium) is really a method to “Paycor” Burrow’s future deal.
The bigger issue is whether Bengals’ and Chargers’ ownership groups are willing to front guaranteed money of $200-plus million in escrow. They aren’t known as the biggest spenders league-wide. — Fowler
What’s the risk for the Broncos at QB if Wilson is injured or plays poorly?
The biggest risk for the Broncos, and frankly they took a far bigger one in this regard when they signed Peyton Manning in 2012, is Wilson’s health not holding up despite what has up until now been a fairly healthy track record.
It’s easy to forget now that Manning wasn’t fully healthy when the team signed him and there were questions about how healthy he would eventually be. His four-year run in Denver included 50 regular-season wins, four division titles, two Super Bowl trips and one Super Bowl win.
Marcus Spears breaks down why the Russell Wilson extension puts the Broncos back in “Peyton Manning mode” in their chase for a Lombardi Trophy.
Wilson, meanwhile, has had no significant lower body injury in his career, no significant shoulder injury in his career and no back injury in his career. He’s missed only three games, because of a fractured finger. The Broncos have seen him work on and off the field, evaluated him up close since his arrival in March. They believe the 33-year-old is primed for a long tenure with the team and have also tried to construct an offense that will limit at least some of the hits Wilson has taken in his career — and they’ll have to convince Wilson to do his part on that front as well.
The Broncos are all in, so a significant injury or a sudden dip in Wilson’s play that hasn’t appeared yet in his career would certainly dent the plan. The deal is friendly on both sides, Wilson gets plenty of the guaranteed money up front, within the first eight months of the deal for a big chunk of it, and he didn’t force the Broncos to top Watson’s deal. But moving on from this isn’t really a conversation right now and they won’t plan for that rainy day until they see it rain — a lot. –– Legwold
What are the implications for the Broncos from an overall team construction standpoint?
As we said, the 10,000-foot, real-world view is that Wilson received a generationally life-changing deal for him and his family. But it’s clear he didn’t demand to be the top-paid on any front. It’s one of the biggest deals in league history, but his résumé is far, far, better than Watson’s or Kyler Murray’s, and Wilson and his representatives could have demanded a deal reflecting that. He didn’t, and the Broncos were able to construct a deal that gives them the opportunity to have the quarterback they want for a long time to go with the ability to use the checkbook when they want to in order to bolster the team around him.
Now, the Broncos do now have the richest ownership group in the league and this deal is the first chance for them to flex that financial muscle. Their willingness to do it just 23 days into their ownership tenure is an indication they will be aggressive when they have the chance. Up-front cash is no longer going to be a problem for this team. When they want to spend it, they’re going to be able to spend it.
General manager George Paton surrendered five draft picks to acquire Wilson, including two first-round picks and two second-round picks, so he had to try to find a deal that worked on the cap side especially over the first two seasons of the contract, until he has the full allotment of picks again in 2024. This deal accomplishes that on the business side and it was obviously good enough for Wilson as well. –– Legwold