The Cleveland Browns shook the NFL world a year ago by trading for quarterback Deshaun Watson and then signing him to a $230 million, fully guaranteed, contract.
There was much finger-wagging and “tsk, tsking” around the league about the transaction, but the underlying truth was fear among the other owners. If the Browns were going to guarantee the contract of their quarterback, what would happen when our quarterback was up for a new deal?
One aspect of any big-money deal in the NFL is that the collective bargaining agreement requires teams to place any future guaranteed money in an escrow account if that figure exceeds $15 million. That was not an issue for the Browns, but other owners may not be in a similar financial situation as Cleveland’s Jimmy and Dee Haslam, which we covered a year ago in this article.
Another impact of Watson’s contract is that every new deal resets the starting point for future contracts, which could lead quarterbacks to want the same level of guaranteed money in their new deals.
The ripple effect of Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson’s $230 million fully guaranteed contract continues being felt across the NFL. https://t.co/TNn7i16qId— clevelanddotcom (@clevelanddotcom) March 23, 2023
The first case study in the post-Watson contract landscape is currently playing out between the Baltimore Ravens and quarterback Lamar Jackson. Unable to work out a new contract despite months of negotiations, the Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson, which allows him to negotiate a deal with another team and the Ravens can match the contract or let Jackson leave in exchange for a pair of first-round draft picks.
Things have not gone well for either the Ravens or Jackson, so far, as no other team seems willing to bail out Baltimore and negotiate Jackson’s next contract, and Jackson appears to have misread the market for a quarterback with just one career playoff win, who has missed five games in each of the past two seasons with injuries, and seen his completion percentage, passing yards and touchdown passes go into a decline since the 2019 season.
The Ravens were essentially bystanders for the latest bizarre turn in the Lamar Jackson situation. But make no mistake, Thursday was a reminder that nobody is looking good in this mess. https://t.co/OLZ3Xheahw— Jeff Zrebiec (@jeffzrebiec) March 24, 2023
Rather than pointing the finger at the Ravens for not being willing to pay market price for their starting quarterback, or at Jackson for perhaps not being realistic about his current value or not having an agent to represent his interest, which led to the NFL sending out a memo on Thursday warning teams to be aware of just who they are negotiating with.
No, it is the Browns who are apparently the ones to blame for all this, at least according to former ESPN host Trey Wingo:
There is a massive difference between a franchise a QB contract and contracts for OTs and LBs. An agent would definitely help him. And once again… blame the Browns. The NFL didn’t set the market, Cleveland did https://t.co/mF2C2jx2b2— trey wingo (@wingoz) March 25, 2023
Cleveland general manager Andrew Berry clearly did what he thought was best for the Browns in acquiring Watson. If Watson’s contract just so happens to be a thorn in the side of the Ravens, or the Cincinnati Bengals when they have to craft a new deal for quarterback Joe Burrow, well that is just an added bonus.
And who can blame Berry for that?