It’s been long-established by now in the NFL that huge contracts with big salary cap hits for franchise quarterbacks are the plain and simple cost of doing business—if you’re lucky enough to have one. Ideally, you’ll be able to claim a title or two while you still have him on his rookie contract, as the Kansas City Chiefs and the Seattle Seahawks—and technically the Philadelphia Eagles—have done in the past decade.
The Pittsburgh Steelers know a little something about this, as they were able to win with Ben Roethlisberger in his second season in 2005, though they also claimed a title in 2008, the year after he was given his first extension.
Now the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens are in that position where it’s time to pay up for their young franchise quarterbacks, Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson, respectively. Both were first-round selections in 2018, 1st and 32nd overall. Both have had success, winning playoff games this past season.
Both will likely be soon among the highest-paid players in NFL history. Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta understands this, as he explained in comments recently after fielding a question about how the Dallas Cowboys’ major recent deal with Dak Prescott might affect their negotiations.
“If you got to the Bentley dealership or the Range Rover dealership, you know what the cars are going to cost. You’re not going to get much of a discount”, he said. “They all cost about the same, and you go in there with the idea that you’re either going to buy the car or you’re not going to buy the car”.
“In the end, they’re all very big contracts. They’re outstanding players”, he continued, in addressing the young quarterbacks getting new contracts over recent seasons. “They’re quarterback deals. They’re marquee players and you know you’re going to pay a lot, but you’re going to get a lot in return”.
Baltimore once made Joe Flacco among the highest-paid players in NFL history at the time of signing. They took a gamble, low-balling him with a contract averaging just $16 million per season in the offseason of 2012 in the final year of his rookie deal, and of course he would proceed to orchestrate one of the great playoff runs in history.
And so they ended up signing him to a new six-year deal the following offseason at $120.6 million, averaging $20.1 million per year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NFL history, though only for a few short months before the Green Bay Packers got a new deal done with Aaron Rodgers.
The top of the market has doubled since then, of course, and Jackson will cost substantially more than that. Then we’ll see how many players they can re-sign.