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Derek Carr’s Deal: Evolutionary, not Revolutionary

A blockbuster five-year, $125 million extension makes Raiders quarterback Derek Carr the highest-paid player—for now. The real game-changing QB deals—for Cousins, Stafford, Winston and Mariota—are still on the horizon  

First things first. Today is Derek Carr’s day—and he deserves it.

Carr has lived with the family history of his older brother David’s failure as a former first overall pick, carried that history into the 2014 draft, fell to the second round in part because of it, and then overcame it all in immediately winning the starting job in Oakland and never looking back. He deserves to get paid, and get paid he did.

But a game-changer this deal is not, for anyone but the Raiders.

In agreeing to a five-year, $125 million contract extension with the Raiders, Carr will be getting $406,000 more per year on his deal than the previous standard-bearer, Andrew Luck, got on his almost exactly a year ago. That’s a 1.65 percent hike in a year in which the salary cap went up 7.6 percent, and we all know that the highest paid quarterback is usually just the one that did the most recent big contract.


And so, as we stand here on June 22, this one won’t move the earth in Washington or Detroit, where big quarterback deals are being negotiated now, nor does it change much for Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, who will both be eligible for second contracts for the first time starting early next year.

These deals are, most often, about the leverage the players had—and all you have to do is look at what each player would be walking away from to understand the difference between the situations.

Carr, by doing this deal, is forgoing an annual salary of $977,519 and a franchise tag in 2018, while mitigating plenty of injury risk. So signing a life-altering $125 million deal with $40 million fully guaranteed makes all the sense in the world.

If Kirk Cousins does a deal now? He’d be walking away from one of three scenarios. The first would be playing on the tag this year and the transition tag next, which would set his earning floor at about $52 million over the next two years, with a chance to test his market value next March. The second would have him franchised twice, setting the floor at $58 million over the next two years, with a chance to be a free agent in 2019 at age 30. The third is $24 million and unfettered free agency next year.

And if you’re Cousins, and you know Kyle Shanahan and the Niners would be out there for you, and you’ve got a new offensive coordinator, and you lost your two starting receivers, and your organization just flipped things around in its front office, the idea of waiting would have benefits beyond just the economics, too.

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As for Matthew Stafford in Detroit, he’s set to make $16.5 million this year, and it would cost the Lions a minimum of $26.4 million (120 percent of his $22 million cap number for 2017) to put the franchise tag on him in 2018. If Detroit went through with the tag at that price, it would be $31.68 million for the Lions to tag him again in 2019. That’s a little more than $58 million over two years, and Stafford would still be shy of his 32nd birthday after that.

So for both Cousins and Stafford, it would cost their teams an average of $29 million per year to keep them completely off the market for two years without doing long-term deals, and that’s what both quarterbacks walk away from by doing one. And both Mariota in Tennessee and Winston in Tampa have the luxury of waiting for those situations to play out before they do their second contracts.

Also, Cousins will be close to $47 million in career earnings after this year if he doesn’t do a new deal, and Stafford will be just over $127 million. Carr, meanwhile, is at a little over $4 million for his career.

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So congrats to Carr, who now joins Cousins and Stafford, among others, in the set-for-life club. To be there was reason alone for Carr and his people to pull the trigger on a new contract-average landmark for players. And congrats to the Raiders, who are now starting with the high-rent problem of having to build around expensive young stars on second contracts. (Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper deals won’t be cheap either.)

But don’t mix things up. This deal is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Carr’s leverage was never at a place where he could truly shake up the market. As for Cousins and Stafford … stay tuned.

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