It’s all about the guarantees

Whenever Kirk Cousins signs a long-term deal with whatever team he signs with, the numbers are going to shock some people. They shouldn’t, but they will. I don’t know exactly what deal Mike McCartney is trying to get for his client, but it’s fun to speculate.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that Cousins signs a five-year deal totaling $125 million and $75 million  guaranteed – this would give him an average annual value of $25 million. I’m aiming for the “Andrew Luck ballpark” here, because that’s what it’s going to be. Keep that $75 million figure in mind, as that’s the crucial number in all of this. I don’t know for certain Kirk would accept $75 million in guarantees, but it’s a good number to start with.

Here’s how Kirk would stack up against the rest of the league with this deal:


Numero uno in terms of average value.

But – and this is a big but – if an NFL contract isn’t 100% guaranteed, does it really matter what the total value is? Well, the short answer is no, not really. The headline number in this scenario would blow some minds, sure, but if only 60% of it is truly guaranteed then it makes the fact Kirk would lead the league by this metric a pretty hollow fact.

Here are the same 21 Quarterbacks, but this time sorted a different way. This sorts by Practical Guarantees as a Percentage of the Cap at Signing. I know, I need a snappier title, but essentially it works like this:

Practical Years – these are the years of a players contract where it would be highly improbable he could be cut from the team. To do so would come at tremendous cap cost, or incur an unfeasible amount of dead money. Conversely, if the final year(s) of a deal comes with zero or near-inconsequential amounts of dead money, it isn’t considered a practical year.

Practical Guarantees – this is the money the player is considered very likely to earn. It will include signing bonuses, guaranteed base salaries and other roster bonuses. It differs from “guaranteed at signing” in that some level of logic is taken into account. For example, Andrew Luck only technically has $47 million in 100% fully guaranteed money, but the other guarantees are made up of roster bonuses that the Colts really can’t avoid paying unless something truly unforeseen were to happen.

Practical Guarantees Per Year – the average Practical Guaranteed Money for each Practical Guaranteed Year.

Practical Guaranteed as % of Cap – this metric takes whatever the total cap space was for the year the player signed, and works out the players Practical Guarantees Per Year as a percentage of it. Because it’s based off the year of signing, it remains static.


In this case, Kirk wouldn’t even crack the top five. Drew Brees is the runaway leader, though his number is slightly misleading as he signed a one-year deal. It also reinforces how terrible the deal the Texans gave to Brock Osweiler, and just how lucky the Patriots are to be getting such team-friendly numbers from Brady.

Here are two other things to take into account:

  1. Kirk is currently playing a lot better than at least three of the guys above him here, in my opinion at least.
  2. There are guys below Kirk that will leapfrog him soon after. In the cases of Matt Ryan and Matt Stafford – two former first round picks – that’s coming very soon, and you can bet they’ll be looking to top whatever benchmark Cousins sets before them.

If the Redskins are responsible with how they structure the guaranteed money, there’s no way Cousins can be a ball and chain on the cap. Tony Romo is an example of a team not acting responsibly with the structure of a contract. The Cowboys kicked that can down the road long enough, and it’s resulted in them having to eat $19 million worth of dead money.

I doubt very much the Redskins are able to work in any easy exit-ramps in this deal. Firstly because Cousins and his agent are likely to just flat-out reject any such deal. But also, as I pointed out in the addendum in this post, the Redskins tend to structure deals with signing bonuses rather than roster bonuses or multiple base salary guarantees. I anticipate they’d try the same kind of strategy with Cousins.

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