Derek Carr surpassed Andrew Luck as the highest-paid player in NFL history when he signed a five-year, $125-million contract extension with the Oakland Raiders last week, but Carr’s time at the top could be short-lived.
There are a few quarterbacks in line to approach or perhaps surpass Carr’s high-water mark this summer, and more looking to reach the salary summit in the future.
Who will be next to claim the title of highest paid in NFL history? Here are our best guesses:
Kirk Cousins, Redskins
Prediction: Signs five-year, $127-million deal in July 2017
The Redskins have thus far balked at signing Cousins long term, opting instead to use the franchise tag on him in consecutive offseasons. They’ll pay (literally) for not having the foresight to lock him up sooner.
This year, the franchise tag will pay Cousins $23.94 million, the highest base salary in the league. Tagging Cousins for a third consecutive year would be all but impossible, as it would escalate Cousins’ salary to the $34-million range. Cousins can use his 2018 tag price as a baseline for negotiations, giving him major leverage.
Is Cousins a top-5 quarterback? Probably not. But he’s proven to be an above-average starter and the Redskins simply can’t afford to let him go and begin their search for a franchise player anew. They could spend the next decade searching for a player of his quality.
Though there are rumors the Redskins and Cousins remain far apart on a deal (and whispers that Cousins might prefer to get paid elsewhere), there is too much at stake for both sides not to come to terms before the franchise tag deadline July 15. When they do, Cousins should leapfrog Carr as the highest-paid player in league history.
Matthew Stafford, Lions
Prediction: Signs five-year, $128-million deal in August 2017
Like Cousins, Stafford isn’t necessarily an elite quarterback but can demand to be paid like one because of the leverage he holds. Stafford is coming off arguably the best season of his career (in his first year without Calvin Johnson, no less), led the Lions to the postseason for the third time in his eight NFL seasons, and won’t turn 30 until 2018. Without him, the Lions might be a three- or four-win team.
With Stafford due to earn $16.5 million in the final year of his current deal, it would behoove the Lions to extend him before the regular season begins, so they can best spread out his cap hit and reserve the use of next year’s franchise tag for another player (such as Ezekiel Ansah).
Stafford has said he’s in no rush to sign, possibly because he recognizes he can wait until Cousins signs and then use that deal as a framework for his own. The eve of the regular season could be when pen hits paper.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Prediction: Signs five-year, $136-million contract in March 2018.
Cousins and Stafford are obvious candidates to surpass Carr’s record deal, but the next player in line is harder to identify. Blake Bortles was once considered a candidate for the title, but his play fell off badly in 2016 and it’s far from a lock he’ll be seen as a starter by 2018. Jimmy Garoppolo has a chance, but would a team really make him the highest-paid player in history if Tom Brady stays healthy this season and Garoppolo hits free agency with only two career starts? Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are on track for record salaries, but neither is likely to re-sign before 2019.
The best bet is that it will be Rodgers who breaks the record. The two-time MVP still has three years remaining on the seven-year, $130.75-million contract he signed in 2013, but with salaries of $12.55 million, $19.8 million, and $20 million scheduled for the next three seasons, Rodgers is undeniably underpaid.
Rodgers has hinted he wants a new deal and the Packers know they can’t pay the best quarterback in football less than lesser players like Carr, Cousins, and Stafford and expect him to be happy.
Recent salary cap increases have provided the Packers with all the room they need to give Rodgers a healthy raise. They could do it this summer, but it’s more likely they will wait until next year.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)
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