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Kirk Cousins could set record for fully guaranteed money next offseason

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If Cousins is patient and can build on his last two seasons, he could set NFL contract records.

The Oakland Raiders agreed to terms on a five-year, $125 million contract with quarterback Derek Carr on Tuesday, setting a record for average per year at $25 million. APY is always the first thing reported, but it is often the least important aspect of a contract. Guaranteed money, and more specifically, fully guaranteed money at signing is the real number to watch.

Carr’s deal can max out at $125 million, but only $70 million of it is guaranteed for injury, and $40 million of that is fully guaranteed at signing. That puts him behind Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, and Cam Newton in that category. It’s a whole lot of money, but there is some context within the quarterbacks.

Carr was negotiating from a disadvantage when it came to guaranteed money. The Raiders have him signed through the 2017 season, and then have the option of using the franchise tag in 2018 and beyond. The franchise tag is fully guaranteed, but it limits a player’s ability to negotiate a long-term extension. We’ve seen this happen with Kirk Cousins each of the last two years.

Most other leagues fully guarantee contracts, but NFL owners have avoided that thus far. They fight against that because of injuries, but also because it allows them to easily get out of contract mistakes they might make. NFL players have been unwilling to push for it in labor negotiations, and it would likely take a strike to get more guarantees in contracts.

We rarely see a big name quarterback hit free agency, and thus have his own leverage to get more guaranteed money. The best recent example would be Peyton Manning. After his neck injury with the Colts, he was released and eventually signed with the Denver Broncos. The deal included $58 million fully guaranteed upon completion of a physical to determine if his neck was fine. $18 million was guaranteed at signing, and $40 million more was guaranteed if he passed the physical.

Prior to that, the most notable free agent quarterback was probably Drew Brees. Following a 2005 season played under the franchise tag with the San Diego Chargers, the two sides could not come to terms, and he signed a six-year $60 million deal with the New Orleans Saints. He got an $8 million signing bonus, and I can’t find what additional guarantees were in the deal.

The record for fully guaranteed money is the $59,955,000 Ndamukong Suh received from the Miami Dolphins two years ago. I bring this up, because with Kirk Cousins potentially hitting free agency next year, he would seem to be in a position to surpass it. I don’t think he’ll convince anybody to give him a completely guaranteed contract, but if he has another strong season, he’ll be a quarterback with rare unrestricted leverage.

One reason NFL teams don’t fully guarantee deals is a clause negotiated into the CBA. Article 26, section 9 requires teams fund the fully guaranteed amount in an escrow account. A team pays a signing bonus up front, but any future guarantees must be funded. So, if a team has guaranteed a player’s salary the next three years, they have to set aside that cash when the contract is executed. The 49ers have a ton of cash flow from the new stadium, but owners are reluctant to potentially mess with their cash flow in such a way.

If Cousins does not come to terms with Washington, and if they do not use the franchise tag on him next offseason, it is going to be fascinating to watch his market develop. Cousins is not in that top echelon of quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Andrew Luck. But, he’s done enough the past two seasons to build a nice market for himself. Jimmy Garoppolo could hit the market as well, but if Cousins is the clear cut best option on the market, he’s going to cash in in a big way.