The fully guaranteed contract that the Cleveland Browns gave Deshaun Watson has been a fiery subject on social media recently. The discourse surrounding the contract has been all over the map; from the morality of the deal, to whether or not Cleveland created a competitive advantage, and ultimately just publicly shaming the Browns. The one constant has been the moving of the goalposts to avoid the true crux of the issue.
So, did the Browns and general manager Andrew Berry do something wrong by offering Watson a fully guaranteed deal to become their franchise quarterback? Would it have been wrong if they offered the exact same deal to Patrick Mahomes? Or was it just wrong because it was Watson? Is it the money or the morality? Both? Neither?
Did Deshaun Watson's contract break the NFL?
Clearing up the misconceptions
The mouthpieces of the league would lead you to believe that Watson’s deal was the first of its kind. That would be categorically false.
Watson’s deal may be an outlier now because of the total sum of the contract, five years and $230 million, but it is far from the first of its kind. Tight end Ricky Dudley signed a guaranteed deal for $8.8 million back in 1996, although he had to forgo a signing bonus to accomplish it.
But in 2011, with the finalization of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA fully guaranteed deals have become a much more common occurrence than the media would lead you to believe. In the first year of the agreement, 17 rookies signed guaranteed contracts.
Fully guaranteed contracts are now commonplace for players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, but because of the salary slotting put in place in the CBA, there is a ceiling for how much a player can make based on where they were drafted. However, due to the language of the CBA, fully guaranteed deals were not limited to rookie contracts.
That's where things got interesting. In 2018, Kirk Cousins signed a three-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings for $84 million, all fully guaranteed. Since the Cousins deal, two quarterbacks other than Watson have signed fully guaranteed contracts, with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers each signing two-year deals.