Connect with us

NFL

Trevor Lawrence contract: Here’s why Jaguars QB landed record deal despite underwhelming start to career

On Thursday, the Jacksonville Jaguars handed Trevor Lawrence an absolutely massive contract extension. The five-year deal pays him a total of $275 million, $142 million of which is fully guaranteed, and the $55 million average annual value ties him with Joe Burrow as the highest-paid player in league history. With the exception of Patrick Mahomes, who signed a remarkably unique 10-year deal, nobody has even been paid a higher total dollar amount, either. 

At first glance, it seems a bit ridiculous that Lawrence would get such a deal. He’s been pretty good since being drafted with the No. 1 overall pick back in 2021, but it’s also fair to say that he hasn’t yet lived up to the billing as one of the top quarterback prospects in recent memory. His rookie season under Urban Meyer was a disaster. He took a significant step forward in Year 2, then seemingly plateaued a bit, along with the rest of the Jaguars offense, last season. 

Across the two seasons in which he has had real coaching, Lawrence completed 65.9% of his passes at an average of 7.1 yards per attempt, with 46 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. His 91.9 passer rating during that stretch is ever-so-slightly above the 91.5 league average, and his 0.04 EPA per dropback mark, via TruMedia, checks in 14th leaguewide. He’s done a very good job of limiting sacks (his 5.1% sack rate is 7th-lowest in the league) and has been a very successful scrambler in terms of both volume (17.2% of pressured dropbacks, 7th in the league) and efficiency (8.4 yards per scramble, also 7th). But has struggled to access the deeper parts of the field (his 8.2% explosive-pass rate ranks 18th) and he’s also missed his intended target more often than you’d expect for someone with his arm talent (12.0% of passes, 24th in the league).

In other words, he has been a slightly above-average quarterback in Years 2 and 3 of his career, at least in terms of his performance. There are reasons to think his raw talent is better than what he’s been able to get out of it, but the results on the field have been a bit more mixed than what the Jaguars likely hoped to get when they made him the top pick in his class.

But here’s the thing: They were still almost surely correct to give him this deal, right now. Yes, even a deal that made him the highest-paid player in league history despite the fact that he is pretty clearly not the best quarterback in the league, and that you have to squint pretty hard to make a case for him being in the top five. 

The reason why is pretty simply. The idea that Lawrence “doesn’t deserve” to be the highest-paid player in the NFL is simply not relevant when it comes to quarterbacks. Given a certain baseline of talent (essentially, above-average starter level), the next quarterback up for a new deal is almost always going to become the highest-paid player in the NFL. This is the way it has gone for years now. On an episode of the Pick Six Podcast several years ago, I explained this concept as it related to the Dallas Cowboys‘ failure to get a deal done with Dak Prescott

He doesn’t deserve to be the highest-paid player in the league. Since when has that literally ever mattered in quarterback contract negotiations? Like, ever? Joe Flacco was the highest-paid player in the league. Matt Stafford was the highest paid player in the league. Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, they were each the highest-paid player in the league. That’s just how this works.

Since then, seven other quarterbacks (Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, Burrow and Lawrence) have become the highest-paid player in the league. Notably, none of them are the best quarterback in the NFL, because none of them are Mahomes. But, for example, Jackson’s ($52 million per year) and Burrow’s ($55 million) deals already look like bargains, simply because they have been matched or exceeded by contracts given to Herbert ($52.5 million), Goff ($53 million) and Lawrence ($55 million).

And it won’t be long before Lawrence’s deal is surpassed by one handed to Jordan Love or Tua Tagovailoa; and the next deal Prescott gets, whether from the Cowboys or somebody else, is going to blow all of them out of the water. He has more leverage than any quarterback in the history of the league, coming off a Second Team All-Pro season during which he finished second in MVP voting, and he’s heading into the final year of his contract that contains both a no-tag and no-trade clause. The Cowboys either have to meet every single one of his demands, or allow him to leave for nothing next offseason, where there will assuredly be a massive bidding war for the services of a 31-year-old quarterback who has consistently been a top-5-to-10 player at the position. (Incredibly, the Cowboys have backed themselves into the exact same situation they were in four years ago. Real bang-up job of cap management by Jerry Jones & Co.)

And even after he gets paid, it’ll likely be less than a year before C.J. Stroud gets a market-setting contract, and then the deals for Mahomes or Josh Allen or somebody else get redone to top that one, and on and on the cycle will go. That is the way things work at the quarterback position, and it is the way they will continue to work as long as quarterbacks have more effect on their team’s ability to win or lose games than any player at any position in all of sports. Again, this was part of the argument I made relating to Prescott in 2020:

It would look like even more of a bargain when Watson and Lamar got paid, presumably more than Dak, because again, that’s just how quarterback contracts work. And it would have been like a massive bargain to begin with. We’re talking about $35 million a year. That’s 17% or 18% of the salary cap. Is there anyone anywhere who thinks quarterbacks account for only 17% or 18% of a team’s chances to win? Does that seem right? If there’s anyone that thinks that, like, I want literally every other team in the NFL to hire them because they’re an idiot. Quarterbacks are the biggest bargain in the league right now, and it’s not close. 

The share of the salary cap that these deals account for has risen in the time since then. At the time he signed it, Burrow’s deal was for the equivalent of 24.5% of the cap. But as long as the cap keeps going up, that share is going to go down. And if you think quarterbacks only account for even 24.5% of a team’s ability to win games, well, you’re wrong. These deals are still likely bargains compared to what the players are actually worth in a salary cap league. That’s why it’s best for teams to do their work early. Waiting only costs you more money in the end. The price of the brick never goes down.

If they didn’t want to make him the highest-paid non-Mahomes player in the league, or they didn’t want to hit those numbers, they should have paid him before the Seahawks paid Russell Wilson and before the Eagles paid Carson Wentz and before the Rams paid Jared Goff so that he would be overtaken as the highest-paid player in the league very quickly. But they didn’t do that. So, there was no choice. And there was never a situation where, if he was going to agree to an extension, that he wasn’t going to be the highest-paid non-Mahomes player in the league.

The Jaguars getting this deal in before Love, before Tagovailoa, and before Prescott, likely saved them a bunch of money on the back end. And realistically, as we have seen in the past, it is just not all that difficult to get out of deals like this even if they end up being overpays. The Eagles got out of Wentz’s deal fairly quickly, and the Rams did the same when it looked like Goff wasn’t the answer for them. Unless you hand a player a Watson-style fully guaranteed contract, you always have outs as long as you don’t continually restructure it to push dead money into the future. 

And because it is so hard to find great quarterback play, there will almost always be some other team in an even worse quarterback situation that is interested in the player on whom you are determined to find an upgrade. Being in the quarterback wilderness is such an off-putting prospect for teams that they do things like “four years and $160 million for Daniel Jones” or “four years and $150 million for Derek Carr” or “trading draft picks for Sam Darnold” or “mortgaging the entire future of the franchise for a player who hasn’t played in over a year and is about to be suspended after he was accused by two dozen women of sexual misconduct.”

It’s not like Pro Bowl or especially All-Pro quarterbacks grow on trees. Since Prescott entered the league in 2016, NFL teams have drafted 95 quarterbacks. Of those 95 players, 65 have appeared in at least one game. Just six — Prescott, Wentz, Mahomes, Jackson, Allen and Hurts — have made at least one All-Pro team. Six out of 95, over an eight-year span. That’s how difficult it is to find high-level quarterback play, even now, when teams have more resources at their disposal than at any time in the history of the league. And that’s why, when you find one who is good, and who you think has even a chance to be great, it’s worth it to retain him and do your level best to put him in position to succeed. If you don’t, there’s no telling how long you might have to wait to get another chance at that type of talent, and what you might have to give up in order to land him.

Go to Source
Author: Jared Dubin
June 14, 2024 | 1:31 pm

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

More in NFL