NFL

How Carson Wentz’s contract impacts NFL, power rankings and more

The Philadelphia Eagles gave Carson Wentz more than $100 million in guarantees. It’s a benchmark that will reverberate around the league.

Carson Wentz got paid. He also set the standard for the next wave of quarterbacks.

On Thursday, Wentz signed a four-year, $128 million extension with $107 million guaranteed. The $32 million annual average ranks fourth among quarterbacks, behind only Russell Wilson ($35M), Ben Roethlisberger ($34M) and Aaron Rodgers ($33.5M).

More importantly, Wentz tied Wilson for the most guaranteed money on a single contract. Considering he’s missed eight regular-season and five postseason games over the last two seasons, Wentz walked away with quite the haul.

Two general managers spoke to me about the contract, and both had the same thought. The Eagles were smart to extend Wentz despite the injury concerns, as these contracts only get more expensive.

Now, Dak Prescott and Jared Goff are the next in line.

Prescott’s deal runs out after this season, and the Dallas Cowboys have been vocal about their intentions to sign him deep into the future. After seeing Wentz’s figures, agent Todd France of CAA will use them as a baseline. Point of fact, Prescott has thrown for more yardage than Wentz, been a two-time Pro Bowler (Wentz made it once) and won a playoff game.

As for Goff, the Los Angeles Rams will expend massive resources to retain the former No. 1 overall selection. Goff has been terrific over the past two seasons, winning a pair of NFC West titles and reaching the Super Bowl in February. Over that span, he’s thrown for 60 touchdowns against 19 interceptions. It’s hard to fathom Goff taking less than Wilson considering age and leverage.

For both Prescott and Goff, it’s probable each gets paid more than Wentz in both total value and guarantees.

Then there’s the Class of 2017. Specifically Patrick Mahomes.

Kansas City should be waiting with a blank contract the day it becomes legal for Mahomes to sign his new deal. Again, the price only goes up.

General Manager Brett Veach will be negotiating a record-setting deal, one that almost certainly pays north of $40 million annually. If the extension winds up being five years and $200 million, Mahomes will shatter the guarantees record. Paying out $150 million in that realm seems both stunning and fair.

For years, the custom has been that the good player signing now gets more than the great player who signed yesterday. When Mahomes signs, he’s likely to be the benchmark for some time. While Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky are both eligible to sign extensions when Mahomes can, neither will cash in to the same extent.

Still, Watson has proven himself to be a top-flight talent. If Mahomes signs first, he’ll slot in behind him but perhaps in front of every other quarterback in the league. Only 23 years old, Watson has already reached the Pro Bowl, won a division title, thrown for 45 touchdowns and done so behind the league’s worst offensive line.

Trubisky is a more intriguing case. The Chicago Bears are a Super Bowl contender, but largely because of their menacing defense and the coaching of Matt Nagy. The former No. 2 overall pick has been average, throwing for 208.3 yards per game with 31 touchdowns against 19 interceptions in his career. Although contract figures rise with the exploding salary cap, it might make sense for Chicago to play Trubisky’s deal out for another year or two.

With Wentz becoming the first quarterback of the next wave to be paid, the subsequent contracts have been given a starting point.

Power rankings

Top 10 players under the most pressure in 2019

1. Philip Rivers, QB, Los Angeles Chargers – Time to win a Super Bowl
2. Antonio Brown, WR, Oakland Raiders – Prove the drama to leave Pittsburgh was worth it
3. Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota Vikings – Was that $84 million guaranteed a mistake?
4. Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams – Is the knee going to hold up for a full season?
5. Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Only the fifth-year option remains on his deal
6. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Cleveland Browns – If Cleveland flops, he’ll get crushed
7. Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans – See Winston
8. Le’Veon Bell, RB, New York Jets – Is that $52 million a steal or an albatross?
9. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers – Prove that you can perform at the highest level
10. The Cardinals’ trio of Kyler Murray, Cliff Kingsbury and Steve Keim – It better work

Quotable

“Ten. Ten or more.”

– Cleveland Browns receiver Antonio Callaway on how many touchdowns he’ll score in 2019

Always good to have goals. Coming out of the University of Florida, talent has never been a question for Callaway. It was the off-field stuff that concerned teams, allowing Cleveland to snag him last spring in the fourth round.

After recording 43 catches for 586 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie, Callaway is shooting for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns as an encore. While those numbers would be terrific, they’re also unlikely. With the Browns acquiring Odell Beckham Jr. from the New York Giants, both he and Jarvis Landry will get the bulk of Baker Mayfield’s targets.

A more realistic stat line for Callaway? Give me 55 receptions for 675 yards and four touchdowns.

Podcast

Mailbag

Each Friday, Verderame puts out a new mailbag covering all things NFL and then a little more. Make sure to submit your questions to him via Twitter or email!

Random stat

The New England Patriots are the only team to win multiple Super Bowls and have the same starting quarterback for each one.

Info learned this week

1. Daniel Jones could push Eli Manning this summer

The New York Giants were ceaselessly mocked for taking Daniel Jones at No. 6 overall in the draft. With OTAs wrapped up for Big Blue, the jeers have quieted.

While OTAs and minicamp are no-contract practices (corners aren’t even allowed to play press coverage), Jones has surpassed the modest expectations laid him.

The belief at Giants camp is Jones could push Eli Manning for the starting role as soon as Week 1. While it’s still far more likely that Jones becomes the starter in October or November, he’s shown enough to at least ignite the conversation around the team. Meanwhile, Manning has struggled, consistently lacking zip on throws to the outside and deep downfield.

Jones may still end up being a horrible pick at sixth overall. However, early returns have New York pleased.

2. Hill likely returns for training camp; suspension could have precedent

On Friday, we learned the investigation into whether Tyreek Hill and fiancé Crystal Espinal abused their 3-year-old son has been closed without charges. While Hill may face punishment from the NFL, it appears the Chiefs’ star wide receiver won’t be in legal trouble.

Currently, Kansas City has barred Hill from all team activities. My understanding is that while Hill is not likely to be welcomed back for this week’s mandatory minicamp, it’s very likely he comes back in time for training camp.

Eventually, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will meet with Hill and his attorney before deciding on punishment.

One precedent to consider is the ban levied on Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith. Last year, Smith was suspended four games for “threatening and emotionally abusive behaviors” towards an ex-girlfriend. Neither Smith nor the team appealed the ruling. Considering the audio tape that surfaced of Hill calling Espinal a “dumb bi*ch” and saying “you need to be terrified of me too,” this might be a baseline for the ruling on Hill.

3. Dolphins have pair of young receivers worth watching

The Miami Dolphins might have a better passing attack than you think.

Miami is in the midst of a full-blown rebuild, but it has a pair of pass-catchers to be excited about. While DeVante Parker has been a disappointment since being a first-round pick in 2015, the former Louisville star is entering a contract season. It always matters.

The less-heralded name to watch is Preston Williams. When I was in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, a veteran scout gushed about Williams, saying that if not for his off-field maladies, he’d be a second-round pick at worst. The Dolphins signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Colorado State, where he totaled 96 receptions for 1,345 yards and 14 touchdowns. At his Pro Day, Williams measured 6-foot-4 and 211 pounds, running a 4.53 40-time.

Watch for Williams, who could be one of the breakout rookie stars in a few months.

4. Texans fire Gaine with Clowney negotiation looming

The Houston Texans shocked the football world on Friday, firing General Manager Brian Gaine.

Gaine still had 3+ years remaining on his five-year deal, but Owner Bob McNair decided to make the change anyway. Houston twice reached the playoffs during Gaine’s tenure, but criticism about his inability to build an offensive line in front of Deshaun Watson has been sharp. Houston also is without a top weapon to accompany DeAndre Hopkins, despite having the second-most cap space in football at $40.826 million.

For the new general manager, the first question will be about Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney is on the franchise tag, with a deadline of July 15 to sign him long-term. Within NFL circles, the belief is that Clowney wants a contract similar to Frank Clark’s, which paid $105 million over five years. However, Clowney has never registered a season of double-digit sacks.

All told, the Texans’ job is good considering the young, franchise quarterback and oodles of cap space.

5. Teams should follow lead of Packers in how to memorialize great

The Green Bay Packers are remembering Bart Starr the right way.

Starr won five championships with the Packers during his 16-year career. On May 26, Starr passed away at 85 years old. To remember and honor him, Green Bay will wear helmet decals with the No. 15 on them. More importantly, the Packers granted $250,000 to the Bart and Cherry Starr foundation.

As has been said before, being remembered at all is a nice thing. Still, teams have deep pockets. When a franchise legend passes away, a spot on the helmet or field is a good gesture. Donating to a cause that meant a lot to them is much better.

History lesson

Doug Williams should always be remembered as a trail blazer in the NFL.

After being drafted out of Grambling by the Buccaneers in 1978, Williams bounced around until 1987, when Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs lured him to the nation’s capital.

During a year in which Williams and Jay Schroeder split time as the starting quarterback, Williams won the role for the playoffs and excelled. In Super Bowl XXII, the former first-round pick became the first black quarterback to win it all, earning MVP honors in the process. Against Denver, Williams threw for 340 yards and four touchdowns.

Parting shot

The Pittsburgh Steelers are the AFC’s ultimate wild card.

The offseason was largely rough in Pittsburgh, losing Antonio Brown and finally, Le’Veon Bell. General Manager Kevin Colbert did little in terms of free agency, only signing cornerback Steven Nelson and receiver Donte Moncrief as impact players.

Still, there’s reason to believe the Steelers could be a force come the fall. Most importantly, the motivation of proving everyone wrong.

Ben Roethlisberger is 37 years old, but he’s the reigning passing champion and a future Hall of Famers. Head Coach Mike Tomlin is entering his 13th season and has reached the postseason in eight times. The offensive line is exceptional, ranging from David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey to Ramon Foster and Alejandro Villanueva.

Despite all that, many have already crowned the Browns as AFC North champs. It’s a tough argument to say Pittsburgh has more talent than Cleveland. It’s an equally tough argument to say the Browns will certainly thrive under the weight of expectation.

For the Steelers to succeed, they need Roethlisberger to be terrific. They need the drama to cease. They need JuJu Smith-Schuster to be a superstar even without Brown on the other side. They also need the defense to be adequate, led by youngsters T.J. Watt and Devin Bush.

Pittsburgh might be a middling team not worth remembering by early December. It might also be the team nobody wants to play in January.

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