BRONCOS

What Kyler Murray’s contract means for the Broncos and Russell Wilson

Jul 21, 2022, 2:41 PM | Updated: 2:42 pm

The budget-blasting contract Patrick Mahomes received just 24 months ago now seems a bit quaint by comparison.

In July 2020, Mahomes signed a contract extension that kicked in last year. It could be worth up to $450 million, although the full guarantees on the deal registered $63,081,905. The Chiefs guaranteed $141 million of Mahomes’ deal, but there is a difference between full guarantees and guaranteed money. “Full guarantees” assure every dollar injury and performance, no matter the roster status.

We don’t yet know the fully-guaranteed money that the Arizona Cardinals gave Kyler Murray on Thursday. Per current reports, Arizona guaranteed $160 million of his five-year, $230.5 million deal.

This will launch Murray into the stratosphere of quarterbacks — even though the five-year deal doesn’t kick in until 2024.

And with the salary cap expected to rise between $18 and 20 million in the coming years from its current $208.2 million figure, that means the salary cap could be nearly $250 million by 2024.

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2024 is significant for the Broncos. Wilson’s current contract expires after the 2023 season. And if the contract Murray signed is worth $46.1 million a year, what would Wilson’s be worth?

A $50-million annual outlay for Wilson is well within the cards, and something for which the Broncos’ new ownership and salary-cap gurus must plan.

That said, the number that truly matters is the guarantee.

Almost all NFL contracts do not have every dollar guaranteed. But Cleveland’s deal for Deshaun Watson did.

That means every dollar not paid before April 1, 2023 must go into escrow. According to Pro Football Talk, that means Browns owner Jimmy Haslam will put $169 million into escrow, with $61 million in cash paid to Watson before then.

Haslam’s net worth is $3.8 billion, per Forbes. He possesses the liquidity to put that cash into escrow. New Broncos owner Rob Walton, the primary financial thrust of the Walton-Penner group, is worth $61.5 billion. Cash into escrow will not be an issue in the new Broncos regime.

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But there is risk on both sides of the Wilson-Walton pas de deux.

If Wilson doesn’t sign an extension immediately, he would be betting on himself. A season that is at least at his recent norms would make this gamble successful. But if he suffers a significant injury for a second consecutive season, struggles in his first year working with Nathaniel Hackett, or both, a Watson-like deal might not be in the cards.

If the Walton-Penner group makes a Wilson extension their first priority, they can lock in his price at current levels. Their risk is if Wilson’s play declines precipitously — and unexpectedly — over the next few years.

In baseball — where all contracts are guaranteed — you might recall the Rockies’ 9-year extension to first baseman Todd Helton. He signed the $141.5-million contract in 2001. It kicked in for the 2003 campaign. During the first two years, the contract seemed prudent. Helton posted total WARs (Wins Above Replacement) of 5.4 and 7.4 in 2003 and 2004, respectively. The outlays of $10.6 million and $11.6 million in those years were reasonable.

By 2008, his WAR dropped to 0.6. It was 2.4, -0.4 and 1.5 in the following seasons. Colorado paid him between $16.6 million and $20.275 million for those seasons. The contract became an anvil on the roster as his OPS slid below .800.

Most NFL contracts don’t come with that risk. Take Von Miller’s recent deal with Buffalo. The reports said it was a six-year deal, but it is effectively a three-year contract. The 2022-24 campaigns are the only ones for which his salary is guaranteed. Just $45 million of the $120 million deal is fully guaranteed.

But in an environment in which every dollar of Watson’s deal was fully guaranteed and potentially 69.4 percent of Murray’s $230.5-million contract has the same guarantee, the Broncos can expect the more accomplished Wilson to push toward and past the outlay for those two quarterbacks — especially if his play in Denver resembles his work as a Seahawk.

The longer the Broncos wait, the more Wilson’s price could soar past that of Watson and Murray.

And meanwhile, Mahomes’ contract will begin looking more like a value … until he decides that he wants a new deal to reflect the rising cap, too.

Elite quarterbacks have hand. And while the Broncos might be wise to do something with Wilson soon, he knows that if he remains at his current stratum, his price will only rise.

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