PHOENIX — Jalen Hurts has nothing left to prove when it comes to his contract extension viability. But something left to earn? That’s a whole different matter.
There’s zero doubt that Hurts’ performance in the Super Bowl and whether the Philadelphia Eagles win or lose against the Kansas City Chiefs could creep into the granular details of his forthcoming extension talks. Heading into the final season of his four-year rookie deal and with no fifth-year option to exercise, Hurts will come off the most important game of his life (to this point), only to be confronted with the most important financial negotiation of his life (to this point).
What that will look like remains to be seen, but the two sides will have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to Hurts’ peers. The top question is what the appetite will be for the Eagles and their starting quarterback, and how the two sides reach a financial bottom line and structure that allows both to feel satisfied in the coming years.
The one sure thing: It’s going to be a very big deal, making it the second time in four years (including Carson Wentz’s extension in 2019) that the Eagles sign a massive extension to a quarterback. The first didn’t turn out well. But that doesn’t sound like something that will have an impact the second time around.
As Eagles team owner Jeffrey Lurie told Yahoo Sports this week, “When these [extensions] come around, you can’t be afraid to do them. You just can’t be afraid. You make the decision and the commitment and move forward. And we feel great about where we’re with Jalen right now.”
If recent history is any indicator, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman will seek the same route he did with Wentz, which ultimately produced a deal that slotted him behind Russell Wilson in 2019 in average contract value (Wilson was at $35 million and Wentz landed at $32 million), but also included $66 million in full guarantees and $108 million in total guarantees. The upside to the deal was that Roseman got ahead of an aggressive extension market as the Los Angeles Rams signed Jared Goff later that summer to a deal that put him ahead of Wentz but trailed Wilson. One offseason later, Patrick Mahomes reset the entire quarterback market with a gargantuan deal that was remarkable in numbers and team control.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the deals that factor into QB extensions now, along with the likelihood (in parenthesis) that the deal will factor into the Hurts negotiations.
The Patrick Mahomes team friendly deal (least likely extension)
Many NFL team owners would love to see elite quarterbacks go the “max control” route of Mahomes, who signed a 10-year, $450 million extension with roughly $141 million practical guarantees in 2020. The max value of that Mahomes deal can land over $500 million and it includes rolling guarantees that backload significant salary cap hits late in the contract. It doesn’t render Mahomes uncuttable at the tail end of the contract, but it can’t be exited without incurring some significant dead cap pains for Kansas City. The deal effectively guaranteed Mahomes a massive sum of very achievable salary in exchange for 12 years of control for the Chiefs, who tacked the 10-year extension on to the final two years of his previous deal.
NFL franchise owners loved the deal. Agents and the NFL Players Association groaned about it. They did so largely because Mahomes is the caliber of player who could have (if he remained healthy) commanded multiple four-year deals that were close to fully guaranteed — while simultaneously vaulting his average salary to the top of the NFL at each subsequent negotiation. Basically, he could have repeatedly moved QB salaries to new heights and raised all elite quarterback boats alongside his deals. Instead, he took a team-friendly contract that already has him lagging behind four other quarterbacks in annual salary: The Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, Denver Broncos’ Russell Wilson, Cleveland Browns’ Deshaun Watson and Arizona Cardinals’ Kyler Murray. Mahomes will likely slide further down that list following the contract extensions of Hurts, the Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson, Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow, Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert and Jacksonville Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence.
It’s hard to believe Hurts — or any other top-end quarterback — does the max control deal ever again. Most quarterbacks are going to choose the business route of getting as close as possible to squeezing their max value, preferably inside a four- to five-year window. It will basically happen only when an elite player decides to go that personal route, similar to Tom Brady repeatedly taking sub-market deals over the course of his career. But for the sake of consideration, if Hurts did do the deal, a handful of agents with experience negotiating high-level quarterback contracts said a decade-long extension for Hurts would likely fall somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 years for around $600 million with practical guarantees around $200 million. The deal would also include rolling guarantees similar to Mahomes that make it difficult to cut him later in the contract without a sizable cap hit. In this particular negotiation, it’s unlikely Hurts would be interested in locking himself up for that long. Conversely, Hurts’ playing style (which subjects him to some punishment) would likely make the Eagles reticent to commit to that kind of long-term risk.
The Deshaun Watson player friendly deal (second least likely extension)
Have NFL club owners colluded to shadow ban another Watson deal? It’s doubtful there was any real coordination on this, but it’s striking that Kyler Murray’s deal with the Cardinals (we’ll get to that later) and the current negotiating impasse between the Ravens and Jackson have effectively set Watson’s massive guaranteed contract to the side as an outlier. For those who might have been living under a rock in the past year, Watson signed the most one-sided player deal in NFL history in 2022 with the Cleveland Browns, locking in for five years and a fully guaranteed sum of $230 million. Other team owners weren’t upset about it — they were pissed. It planted a grenade into the middle of every high-end quarterback negotiation moving forward, with other quarterbacks (like Jackson) looking to pursue their own titanic deal.
Could Hurts, Jackson or other quarterbacks achieve the Watson structure? Yes, but it would require a similar set of circumstances to make it happen. Not only would that mean potentially refusing to play for as long as a year (as Watson did), but it would take a franchise owner motivated enough to effectively surrender any and all leverage. And as unpopular as Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is among his peers for doing the Watson deal, a second team owner doing the same thing would likely face excommunication for stamping the Watson structure as a recognized standard.
For Lurie to ever consider giving Hurts the same kind of deal, it might take the Eagles winning the Super Bowl, Hurts winning the game’s MVP award and then Hurts refusing to play again until he gets offered a fully guaranteed deal. It’s hard to see all of that materializing. But not impossible. And if it happened, the deal would likely mirror Watson’s deal. That reflects how truly unprecedented Watson’s deal was last offseason, because you could replicate the same numbers one year later, or possibly even two years from now, and it would still be pretty close to a top-of-the league contract.
The Josh Allen tradeoff deal (50-50 shot in extension talks)
The Allen deal is where you start to see quarterbacks finding some real traction moving forward. Allen signed a six-year tack-on extension that ultimately gave the Buffalo Bills eight years of control. The tradeoff for Allen was a deal that got him over $100 million guaranteed at signing and practical guarantees that will put his five-year cash earnings at nearly $165 million from 2021 to the end of 2025. The deal becomes more team friendly after that point, with Allen’s dead cap hit falling to essentially nothing after 2025.
The eight years of total control is steep, which is why most agents would rather have shorter term tack-on deals in those situations. But the influx of money on the front end of the deal and the lack of guaranteed money at the back end typically motivates players with gravitas to push for new deals once their guarantees start running out. It’s a gamble, but in the case of players like Allen, teams are usually open to doing a new extension a little earlier than normal, depending on the circumstance. Hurts could do this kind of deal this offseason and ultimately surrender seven years of control if it’s a tack-on extension. That’s still a sizable chunk of Hurts’ career to give up before hitting free agency again, but the tradeoff would likely come with vastly more practical guarantees than Allen received. Possibly even as much as $190 million, which would be about $40 million more than Allen.
If Hurts wins this Super Bowl and plays well, that’s in reach. In exchange for that, the Eagles could eliminate guarantees later in the deal and give themselves a trapdoor to exit the contract (if something goes sideways with Hurts) with one or two seasons left without a massive cap hit. Conversely, if things are going well, the lack of guarantees at the end of the deal could push the two sides back to the negotiating table a year or two early.
The 5-year Kyler Murray sweet spot deal (most likely extension)
Many of these elite quarterback negotiations appear destined for five-year deals if the guarantees and structure are where they need to be. Teams typically want at least six years of control and players usually want to surrender only four. The compromise becomes the five-year tack-on extensions of Murray and Wilson. Murray is probably the most applicable player in this instance because his age is comparable to Hurts and it’s a scenario where he’s being re-signed to his current team rather than forcing a trade (like Wilson did) and doing a contract in the wake of it.
Murray gave up seven total years of control with the tack-on, which is one less than Allen. That’s still a long stretch, but his practical guarantees were almost $190 million, whereas Allen slotted in at about $150 million. That’s not a small difference. In fact, Murray’s deal was strong enough that it should have a striking impact on the next few quarterback deals, from Hurts to Burrow, Jackson, Herbert and Lawrence. The practical guarantees in those deals will be significantly ratcheted up in the wake of what Murray landed.
Unless another quarterback does a deal before Hurts and the Eagles agree on an extension, Murray’s five-year, $230.5 million extension sets the table as a starting point for negotiations. The cap on the top end theoretically would be Wilson’s five-year $242.5 million tack-on extension with the Denver Broncos. The difference between those two deals is that Murray did better in practical guarantees, while Wilson’s cash flow was better at the front end of the deal (Wilson netting $124 million guaranteed at signing, while Murray netted $103.3 million).
If the typical negotiations unfold, somewhere in that total money, practical guarantees, cash flow and structure is Hurts’ extension. A slightly stronger version of the Kyler Murray deal, basically.
But there is also the unforeseen in all of this that could alter the course. What if Hurts has a career game in the Super Bowl and the Eagles win? What if he flops and Philadelphia loses? While neither should impact the question of an extension, it would be foolish to assume the outcome of the Super Bowl won’t factor into the finer details.
It did for Mahomes back in 2020, but he chose a lefthand turn and did a deal that left many dumbfounded. That alone shrouds this negotiation in mystery because there is still one other unknown element to Hurts: The fact that we don’t know how much he’s willing to compete in negotiations. Some players, like Murray and Watson, were unmerciful and walked away with landscape-impacting deals. Mahomes and Brady chose different routes and gave up something at the table. A multitude of other QBs settled in between.
For the Eagles, this will be the Super Bowl that comes after the Super Bowl. Unlike what happens Sunday, this game will have ramifications that shape the franchise for years.