The Cleveland Browns went all out in order to acquire former Pro Bowl quarterback and current suspect of sexual misconduct Deshaun Watson. As part of their efforts to acquire him via trade, they signed him to a new contract, a five-year deal worth $230 million, which is fully guaranteed and includes language that prevents a suspension from voiding said guaranteed status. His year-one base salary was also minimized to reduce financial harm from a possible (extremely likely) suspension.
It’s also extremely likely that teams around the league are pissed at them, primarily for that fully-guaranteed contract. Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti remarked on the Browns’ decision to sign him to such a deal yesterday, and his comments certainly gave that impression, while acknowledging the inevitable that that is the direction contracts are heading anyway.
“It’s like, ‘Damn, I wish they hadn’t guaranteed the whole contract’”, he told reporters yesterday at the annual league meeting while describing his reaction to the news. “I don’t know that he should’ve been the first guy to get a fully guaranteed contract. To me, that’s something that is groundbreaking, and it’ll make negotiations harder with others”.
Aside from the fact that he is currently facing 22 civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual misconduct, ranging from indecent proposals to non-consensually kissing, groping, and ejaculating on massage therapists, occasionally coercing them to perform fellatio on him, there is also the fact that he has a total of one postseason win in his career.
Fully guaranteeing a five-year contract seems like a lot for any quarterback, no matter how good he might look on film, whose talents have only somewhat minimally translated into on-field, tangible productivity, measured by such things as postseason appearances and victories.
Granted, he only has a four-year playing career, in one of which he missed most of the season due to injury. It’s an obviously limited sample size. But, again, $230 million, fully guaranteed. An unprecedented deal for a player with 22 times the number of formal sexual misconduct accusations than postseason victories. One would expect the ratio to be better than that.
Bisciotti is, of course, in the midst of negotiations with his own quarterback, four-year veteran Lamar Jackson, who also only has one postseason victory, admittedly, but also has a unanimous MVP season under his belt.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to play that game, you know?”, he said as he transitioned from discussing Watson’s deal to what his own business might entail. “We shall see. If I was in bogged-down negotiations with Lamar, then maybe I would have a quicker reaction to that news”.
Jackson has been rather patient about a potential contract extension this offseason, acting as his own agent, and frankly at a much slower timeline than the Ravens seem to want to work on. In fact, he doesn’t appear to be convinced that Jackson doesn’t intend to play out this year and play under franchise tags the next two seasons.
That is how, whether intended or not, Kirk Cousins ended up with his three-year fully-guaranteed contract. Any player would hold all the leverage after two franchise tags, but it would take three more years to get to that point, and a lot can happen in that time. Still, I think Bisciotti’s reaction makes it clear that there is an understanding around the league that fully-guaranteed contracts, at least for top quarterbacks, are at the doorstep at this point.