Anytime a premiere quarterback signs a new contract, the ripple effect impacts signal callers across the NFL. So it will be with Dak Prescott’s four-year, $160-million deal with the Dallas Cowboys that includes a record-breaking $60-million signing bonus and $126 million in full guarantees.
As Prescott proved in being the next-in-line behind Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson — quarterbacks who signed ground-breaking new deals over the last eight months — someone is always waiting to take the market even higher.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is keenly aware of the ongoing one-upmanship among upper-echelon quarterbacks. It was only four years ago that he and the Raiders agreed to a five-year extension that set a record with an annual average salary of $25 million.
History has shown the precedent-setting nature of these contracts rarely lasts long. In the blink of an eye, Carr has gone from highest-paid player to a relative bargain. As he prepares to enter the last two years of the contract — neither of which is guaranteed — it raises the question: When should he and the Raiders start earnestly talking about an extension?
Neither the Raiders nor Carr’s representative responded to requests for comment.
From the player’s perspective, it’s always a case of the sooner, the better. In Carr’s case, he is fond of his new home in Las Vegas, has a a great working relationship with the franchise and solid command of Jon Gruden’s offense. All that puts him in position to improve upon the career-best year he produced in 2020.
By most metrics and measures, Carr was among the 10 best quarterbacks in the NFL last season while overseeing the league’s 10th highest-scoring offense.
Everything points to him wanting to stay in Las Vegas beyond the two years left on his contract. And given the uneasy nature of playing the next two seasons on non-guaranteed salaries, the sense is Carr would welcome the chance to open talks about extending the deal.
From the Raiders’ perspective, there are benefits and risks in waiting.
The $19.525 and $19.777 million Carr is slated to be paid the next two years represents great value for the Raiders. With the salary cap dropping by $16 million this year to $182.5 million and no guarantee it will significantly rise next year, the luxury of building a roster around a top-10 quarterback with a cap hit hovering at 15th among his peers is extremely beneficial.
It makes sense the Raiders would take advantage of that flexibility as long as possible.
On the other hand, Carr’s play last year showed he is continuing to grow and improve as a quarterback. The recent history of quarterbacks evolving and prospering into their 30s indicates that positions’ window of effectiveness might be growing wider.
As a result, Carr might just be entering his prime years.
If so, it might behoove the Raiders to get ahead of the process of keeping him in Las Vegas during his peak years by acting faster on an extension. Remember, Prescott’s new deal is likely the prelude to even richer extensions for Josh Allen of the Bills, Lamar Jackson of the Ravens and maybe Baker Mayfield of the Browns.
And it is always worth noting that the higher the ceiling soars for the best quarterbacks, the higher it goes for those just a notch below.
Projecting to 2023 — at which point Carr is scheduled to hit free agency — the annual cash value for the nine highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL ranges from the $40.5 million owed to Mahomes to the $25 million for both Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. But that is not accounting for the extensions to come for Allen, Jackson and Mayfield and perhaps Kyler Murray of the Cardinals, Joe Burrow of the Bengals and Justin Herbert of the Chargers.
The new deals, coupled with the NFL’s looming new television rights deals, will change those dynamics. And with it, the perspective of Carr and his agent.
Using Prescott’s new deal as a barometer, the Raiders could extend Carr by two years at $80 million. However, by adding the two years left on his current deal it would really be a four-year contract for $120 million, with a yearly annual salary of $30 million. Even if the Raiders guaranteed the full amount, it is still six million less than what Prescott just received in guarantees.
The Raiders could opt to wait until next year to extend Carr or even after the current deal expires in 2023. But doing so could mean doing a new deal that would reflect a new market and the addition of the new television money.
There are pros and cons to either approach. However, Prescott might be the perfect example of why acting sooner might be more cost-effective. This time last year, Prescott was reportedly seeking a four-year deal that either matched or exceeded Russell Wilson’s annual average salary of $35 million, then the highest in the league.
The Cowboys preferred a five-year contract. The stumbling block meant the Cowboys applying the franchise tag on Prescott for $31.4 million in 2020.
Had the Cowboys and Prescott agreed on contract length at four years for $144 million — exceeding Wilson’s average annual value by one million — things would look decidedly different.
As it is, when you add the $31.4 million Prescott made last year, the Cowboys will pay him $191 million from 2020 to 2024 with an annual average salary of $38.2 million.
The point being, waiting almost always results in paying more.
NFL QB CAP HIT RANKINGS
According to Spotrac
1. Matt Ryan, Falcons $40,912,500
2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers $37,572,000
3. Russell Wilson, Seahawks $32,000,000
4. Kirk Cousins, Vikings $31,000,000
5. Ryan Tannehill, Titans $29,500,000
6. Tom Brady, $28,375,000
7. Jared Goff, Lions $27,825,000
8. Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers $26,400,000
9. Ben Roethlisberger Steelers $25,910,000
10. Carson Wentz, Colts $25,400,000
11. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs $24,806,905
12. Teddy Bridgewater, Panthers $22,953,125
13. Dak Prescott, Cowboys $22,200,000
14. Derek Carr, Raiders $22,125,000
15. Matthew Stafford, Rams $20,000,000
1. Kirk Cousins, Vikings $45,000,000
2. Matt Ryan, Falcons $41,662,500
3. Deshaun Watson, Texans $40,400,000
4. Aaron Rodgers, Packers $39,852,000
5. Russell Wilson, Seahawks $37,000,000
6. Ryan Tannehill, Titans $34,000,000
7. Dak Prescott, Cowboys $33,200,000
8. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs $31,450,000
9. Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers $27,000,000
10. Teddy Bridgewater, Panthers $26,000,000
11. Jared Goff, Lions $25,500,000
12. Lamar Jackson, Ravens $23,016,000*
13. Josh Allen, Bills $23,016,000*
14. Matthew Stafford, Rams $23,000,000
15. Carson Wentz, Colts $22,001,000
16. Derek Carr, Raiders $19,877,519
NOTE: Tom Brady’s restructured contract extension details are not reflected in these rankings.
* – Represents fifth-year option