Did the Deshaun Watson contract break the NFL's quarterback market?

Dec 17, 2022; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates after
Dec 17, 2022; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates after / Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
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Enter the Lamar Jackson saga

The main reason that Watson’s fully guaranteed contract with the Browns is in the crosshairs of the media, is because it is allegedly the sticking point for Lamar Jackson getting a deal done with the Baltimore Ravens. Jackson wants the fully guaranteed deal, and Baltimore does not want to give it to him. Rubber meets road.

Baltimore feels so strongly about it, that they gave Jackson the non-exclusive franchise tag and are letting the former MVP shop himself around the league. Only time will tell if another team, or better yet an owner, cares more about winning than they do their standing in the old Billionaire’s Club and offers the fully guaranteed contract that Jackson is seeking.

But one excuse that does not factor into Baltimore’s standoff with Jackson is the narrative that Cleveland’s ability to set money aside in escrow gave them an advantage. According to Forbes, Ravens’ owner Steve Biscotti has a net worth of $6.4 billion and Browns' owner Jimmy Haslam has a net worth $4.8 billion. If the Ravens’ believed that Jackson was worth north of $230 million, they could easily afford it.

The fact that they are letting Jackson test the market before deciding whether or not to match an offer tells you what they believe internally about the quarterback’s long-term trajectory. Blaming the Browns for making their negotiations difficult is their way to disguise the fact that they don't believe that Jackson is worth a fully guaranteed deal. At the end of the day, you are worth what someone is willing to pay you.

Behind Jackson, there are quarterbacks like Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, who both play for teams that notoriously don't throw around large contracts, waiting in the pipeline to begin negotiating their contracts. If their current teams refuse to offer them a fully guaranteed deal, best believe there are teams out there that will trip over themselves to get them under contract.

So, did Deshaun Watson’s contract break the NFL?

No. Watson’s contract is breaking the chokehold that the NFL’s owners had on the way the league’s contracts were structured. In three years, Watson’s contract will be looked at as a steal, and in 10 years fully guaranteed contracts will be the norm and not an outlier. Guaranteed contracts will be the cost of doing business in the NFL, and the franchises that do not conform will be left by the wayside.  

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