What is the Future of Guaranteed Contracts in the NFL?


Nov 16, 2023

In a startling revelation within the NFL, Deshaun Watson’s stint with the Cleveland Browns has turned heads, not just for his on-field performance, but for the financial implications of his contract. Watson, having played only 12 games with the Browns, has earned a staggering $7.7 million per game, totaling an all-guaranteed sum. This situation begs the question: what does this mean for the future of NFL contracts, especially regarding guarantees?

Historically, guaranteed contracts in the NFL have been rare, with notable exceptions like Kirk Cousins, who transitioned from the Washington Commanders to the Minnesota Vikings under a fully guaranteed contract. This move, seen as a gamble at the time, proved to be successful for the Vikings. However, Watson’s case with the Browns paints a different picture. The enormity of his guaranteed payout, despite a limited number of games, has sparked debate about the wisdom and sustainability of such contracts in the league.

The key factor in these negotiations is leverage. Athletes with high market value, like Watson, can demand guaranteed contracts, and if a team is willing to take the risk, such deals can materialize. This scenario is not unique to sports; it mirrors trends in other high-stakes professions, like CEOs and broadcasters, where guarantees are more common.

However, Watson’s situation with the Browns raises concerns. Critics argue that guaranteed contracts, especially those with hefty payouts like Watson’s, might not always correlate with the player’s contribution to the team. This concern echoes the broader debate around performance and compensation in professional sports.

The future of guaranteed contracts in the NFL seems to hinge on a delicate balance. If a team believes a player is worth the risk, as the Vikings did with Cousins, then guaranteed contracts may continue. But, as seen with Watson and the Browns, these deals can also lead to controversy and skepticism, especially when the return on investment is questionable.

It suggests that even if most teams shy away from guaranteed contracts, it only takes one team willing to make that bold move for such deals to persist.

In conclusion, the Watson saga with the Browns is not just a story about a player and a team but a reflection of the evolving dynamics of contract negotiations in the NFL. As the league and its stakeholders ponder over this situation, the debate on guaranteed contracts and player valuation continues to be a significant and controversial aspect of professional football.

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Thumbnail photo via Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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