The 49ers need to sign Jimmy Garoppolo to a new long-term contract before the 2018 season starts, for several reasons.
But that raises a big question: How much is Garoppolo worth?
After all, Jimmy G has only started seven NFL games, and while he’s undefeated in those seven starts and was as valuable as any player in the league once he took over as the 49ers’ starter in December, there’s not much work product to work with in negotiations.
But I think I can save the 49ers and Garoppolo’s agent Don Yee a lot of trouble — I have the number.
Ready for it?
The 49ers and Garoppolo should agree to a deal worth $130 million over the next five seasons, with $80 million in guaranteed money and $60 million given up front as a signing bonus.
That’s a lot of money, and the structure is slightly different than recent quarterback contracts, so let me explain how I reached that number:
You have to start with the fact that Aaron Rodgers is going to re-set the quarterback market with his new deal this offseason, and everything is in a bit of a holding pattern until that deal is signed.
Now, there are conversations louder than whispers that Rodgers is looking for a $200 million deal, which could take him to his age-40 season. I don’t know if he gets that. (He deserves it, but that’s a different conversation). At the very least, Rodgers is going to average more than $30 million per season over the next five years (the typical length of a long-term quarterback extension) and he’ll set new records for signing bonus/up-front money and guaranteed money.
Let’s call it five years, $160 million, with $75 million upfront and $125 million guaranteed.
From there, we can fill in the blanks on the three other big-name quarterbacks (and Garoppolo) who are due new deals this offseason.
Matt Ryan is due a new deal. If he signs a deal that’s nearly identical to his last contract, he’ll cross the $30 million-per-season threshold with Rodgers. Ryan’s last deal, which was worth $20.75 million when the salary cap was at $123 million, extrapolates to $30 million today.
Seems pretty straightforward, no? Let’s call it five years, $155 million.
Don’t worry about the guarantees and stuff with Ryan — he’s out of Garoppolo’s class for the time being.
The next quarterback due for an extension is Kirk Cousins — and the Cousins scenario has been a quagmire for a while now.
Few could make the argument that Cousins is as good as Ryan, but he’s probably going to sign a long-term deal worth $30 million a season, too. That’s because Cousins has been franchise tagged twice by Washington already and if he were to be tagged again, he’d be paid $34 million in 2018, with no long-term security or cap manipulation possible for Washington.
Washington bet, incorrectly, that Cousins was a one-hit wonder — twice — and now they have to pay the sharks. Cousins won’t be able to push for the guarantees that Rodgers and presumably Ryan will receive, but my guess is that he lands a five-year, $150 million deal. (Remember when the Niners were going to be the team that gave that to him?)
By the way, this is the future fate the 49ers could face if they opt to place multiple franchise tags on Garoppolo — the tag is implicitly saying that a player is one of the five best at his position the NFL, so he better actually be that good, otherwise, you’re likely to end up overpaying in a negotiation against yourself.
Drew Brees also needs a new contract, too, and his situation is tricky as well, but for a different reason — he’s old.
Brees just turned 39, which means that he’s deep into the quarterback danger zone. Only three quarterbacks in NFL history — Tom Brady, Brett Favre, and Warren Moon — have posted a QB rating better than 80 after the age of 40. (Brady had a QB rating of 102.8 this season.)
Brees just set the NFL’s pass completion percentage record and the Saints’ offense was excellent in 2017 — they can’t let him go, but they can’t exactly give him the largest contract in NFL history, either.
I don’t feel confident in this number because I have no idea what Brees is looking for in his next deal — cash or stability — but let’s just cut the difference and guesstimate that he’ll sign a two-year deal worth $55 million or a three-year contract worth $80 million. Either puts his annual earnings around $27 million a season.
That number is important, because it’s the current high-water mark for quarterback pay, set by Matthew Stafford and his five-year, $135 million deal that was signed before last season ($92 million guaranteed, $60 million up front).
Stafford’s contract beat out Derek Carr’s five-year, $125 million deal, signed last summer. Carr backloaded his deal, taking $40 million in a signing bonus and landing $70 million guaranteed.
When these numbers are put together, they create a logical rubric for Garoppolo’s deal.
That said, the most significant factors in Garoppolo’s contract negotiations are the franchise tag value and his age.
If Garoppolo were to be franchised tagged for the next two years — a reasonable expectation if he and the team can’t come to a new agreement this offseason, a la Cousins — he’d make an estimated $52 million in guaranteed money. If he is tagged for three straight years, he’d make $92 million, all guaranteed, and he wouldn’t yet be 30 years old. Oh, and then the Niners would still have to sign him to another deal — with all the guaranteed money that comes with a new contract. One has to imagine that quarterback values will continue to rise over the next three years, and if Garoppolo is the quarterback I think he is, he could be looking at what would effectively be an eight-year, $300 million deal.
Yeah… it’s probably best for the 49ers to avoid the possibility of such a payout.
Given that Carr and Stafford both turned MVP-caliber seasons into record deals, the year-over-year inflation rate for quarterbacks, and Garoppolo’s established value for 2018 (established both by the 49ers’ turnaround and value the franchise tag), it’s fair to say that he’s worth $26 million per season in this market.
There’s an even easier way to look at it: Garoppolo is worth as much as Carr (if not a bit more), but he’s not worth as much as Stafford (yet).
Split the difference, you have $26 million a year.
Yes, that’s a lot, but the 49ers are in no position low-ball their quarterback here. In fact, they might be buying low at that rate.
Garoppolo might actually be the one pushing to play under the franchise tag in 2017. I know that sounds strange, but if quarterback salaries continue to rise and he continues his tremendous, franchise-changing play, he could easily demand to be paid like Rodgers, Ryan, or Cousins — $30 million a season — this time next year. And because he’s young, Garoppolo shouldn’t have any fear in taking the tag. The 49ers need to buy him out of that bargaining power.
That’s why I set guaranteed money at $80 million — that’s two years of franchise tag money, plus half of the value of a third franchise-tag year. It just so happens to fall between Stafford and Carr’s deals.
As for the up-front cash, I think the number needs to be at $60 million — equal to Stafford’s deal, but $20 million more than Carr’s — because it would entice Garoppolo to sign now and it could help the 49ers’ salary cap budgeting.
The Niners have $115 million in cap space this offseason. They could effectively give Garoppolo a one-year deal worth $60 million and still sign every free agent they want.
Now, if the Niners start contending, other players on the roster will start to get expensive and that massive cap space will start to disappear. Most teams back-load contracts to keep expensive teams together, but front-loading Garoppolo’s contract and using the prodigious space currently on the team’s books would help the Niners manage the salary cap in the future. San Francisco doesn’t have to do this — again, they couldn’t possibly screw up their money this offseason — but it seems like a win-win.
And that’s how we get to the number: the rising tide that is quarterback costs will annually increase Garoppolo’s earning potential, the looming franchise tag has set a baseline for what the 49ers can offer him, and recent history — Cousins’ franchise tag pickle and Stafford and Carr’s MVP cash-ins — bring us to five years, $130 million, with $80 million guaranteed and $60 million paid up front.
Not bad for seven games of work.