Sean Pendergast

NFL QB Contracts Serve a Familiar Cautionary Tale to Houston Texans

Trevor Lawrence's new contract is the risky cost of doing business in the NFL these days.
Trevor Lawrence's new contract is the risky cost of doing business in the NFL these days. Photo by Eric Sauseda
IN the National Football League, the owners have done a pretty good job of maintaining some level of cost control over labor. The league has a hard salary cap, and the owners have the franchise tag available to them to use on one high level player per offseason for a one year contract, if the two sides can't agree to a long term deal.

That said, some positional markets in the NFL tend to take on a life of their own, when it comes to player valuation, and now more than ever, the quarterback market has shaped up into a mindset of "you better pay a guy, even if he is just average, because average is way better than no QB at all" among general managers.

The Texans have been in the market to extend quarterbacks during their rookie contracts before, specifically with Deshaun Watson back in 2020. They will face this decision, hopefully an easy one, again in a couple years with C.J. Stroud. Some teams are facing very expensive, harrowing decisions on extensions for their quarterbacks right now -- Jordan Love in Green Bay, Tua Tagovailoa in Miami, and Dak Prescott in Dallas.

Well, the Jacksonville Jaguars did not make life any easier for those teams last week, when they gave the average-at-best Trevor Lawrence a market-setting five year, $275 million contract. This made Lawrence an understandably happy man:
I'd be happy, too, if I had won 21 games in my three year career, and my employer decided to make me the league's highest paid player. Trevor Lawrence got over! However, he is far from alone in the group of quarterbacks who have been overpaid by NFL teams, just so they can stay slightly relevant. Courtesy of Adam Schefter of ESPN, here are the top ten quarterbacks in terms of cash flow over the next few seasons:
This list is probably frustrating and terrifying for owners and general managers. Roughly half that top ten list is comprised of quarterbacks who are suspect, at least when the parameters of the conversation involve elite level pay. Let's take them quickly one at a time, and rate them as "ELITE" or "SUSPECT":

Patrick Mahomes, KC, $215.6M -- ELITE
Any argument here is a waste of words. Mahomes is the greatest player on the planet right now, period, end of subject.

Joe Burrow, CIN, $213.9M -- ELITE
Burrow has had injury issues that have ended two of his four seasons prematurely, but in the fully healthy seasons, he's made a Super Bowl and an AFC title game. He is a top five quarterback.

Jared Goff, DET, $193.6M -- Close enough to ELITE
It's crazy to think Goff is this high up the list, and even crazier to think that I'm totally cool with it, when he was a throw-in in the Matthew Stafford trade just three years ago. Gotf has been a great fit in Detroit, and does a nice job using all the weapons the Lions have given him.

Jalen Hurts, PHI, $184M -- Flirted with ELITE, but now slightly SUSPECT
Hurts joined the $50 million club after getting the Eagles to within a minute of winning a Super Bowl in 2022. However, after a 10-1 start in 2023, Hurts was a big reason the Eagles finished the season on a 1-5 stretch and got rolled out of the playoffs by 9-8 Tampa Bay. 2024 is a pivotal season for Hurts, as pertains to his place among QB's in the league.

Deshaun Watson, CLV, $184M – SUPER SUSPECT
Watson got the first fully guaranteed, five year contract in NFL history, and he's been awful. In two seasons in Cleveland, he missed most of 2022 with an 11 game suspension, and missed most of 2023 with a shoulder injury. When he has played, he's been a bottom of the league level performer. The Browns traded  three first round picks for the right to pay Watson for this abysmal performance.

Justin Herbert, LAC, $182.6M --- Kind of SUSPECT
Herbert has all the tools, and he has put up great numbers individually, but in his one postseason trip (out of four seasons) he was part of a blown 27-0 lead against the Jaguars. Jim Harbaugh should do wonders for Herbert.

Kirk Cousins, ATL, $180M – SUSPECT
Man, Cousins is awesome at two things -- being a likable nerd, and getting paid. He is not great at winning big football games, as the Falcons will find out. Hell, the fact that the Falcons drafted a quarterback, Michael Penix, with the 8th overall pick in the draft before Cousins even played a snap for them shows that even THEY lack belief.

Lamar Jackson, BAL, $179.2M -- ELITE
Jackson is the reigning MVP of the league. Like with Mahomes, not much else to say here.

Trevor Lawrence, JAC, $155.5M – SUSPECT
I'll just use this graphic for Lawrence:
Kyler Murray, ARZ, $153.7M – SUSPECT
Murray was able to have his agent strong arm an extension out of the Cardinals, following a playoff appearance (and blowout loss to the Rams) in 2021. Since then, Murray has torn his ACL in 2022, and then returned midway through 2023 to lead the Cardinals to the fourth worst record in the league.

It's two years away, but I'm very confident that Stroud winds up on the Mahomes-Burrow-Jackson part of this list, than the list of "suspects."

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast