While the Alex Smith trade (and impending extension) assured Kirk Cousins’ time in Washington is up, it also ensured that the 29-year-old Smith was finally going to get that big-money, long-term deal he sought before setting on the idea of accepting the franchise tag for a single year.
Indeed, Smith’s four-year extension will be worth $94 million and include $71 million in guarantees when it becomes official on March 14 (when the new league year begins). The average annual salary of $23.5 million would rank as the sixth-highest at the position based on 2017’s numbers.
Smith’s new deal is the latest market adjustment, but it will be followed soon by Cousins’ free agent deal. As an unrestricted free agent, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to expect Cousins to get more than what Matthew Stafford received from the Lions last summer.
And in a more Bears-related way, the deals Smith and Cousins sign will serve as important predecessors for the quarterback contracts of the future.
To be clear, Mitch Trubisky won’t be a free agent until 2021 at the earliest, which means it will be a while before he receives one of those kinds of contracts, but it’s never too early to start thinking about the parameters of such a deal deal – and to do that, we need to examine the deals that’ve come before him. After all, the hope is that Trubisky plays well enough to earn a big-money extension of his own one day.
If all goes well, Trubisky’s second contract will be an expensive one. Competent quarterback play is becoming increasingly rare, and, thus, even more expensive. So by the time Trubisky comes up for an extension, the average guarantee per year for a starting quarterback in the top half of the league will likely start in the $10 million range as far as an annual guarantee. Only eight quarterbacks fall in that category right now, but that number will change soon with Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, and Blake Bortles being among those who will be up for a new deal as soon as 2019 when free agency becomes a possibility.
While other teams will soon be paying robust prices for quarterbacks, the Bears will have Trubisky for the next three years (or four if the team option for Year 5 is picked up) at a reasonable price.
And make no mistake, having a cost-controlled quarterback will allow the Bears to spend more aggressively at other positions than teams who have a higher percentage of cap space tied to their respective quarterbacks. Some teams have already taken advantage of this strategy.
Take the Jacksonville Jaguars, for example. They’re the kind of team the Bears could copycat in the offseasons to come. Jacksonville, which has former first-round pick Blake Bortles still on his rookie contract, has bulked up its defense in recent years with major free agent signings like cornerback A.J. Bouye (who spurned the Bears’ offer and still received $26 million guaranteed) and defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson (who each collected more than $30 million in guarantees as free agents). The Bears could use their cap space to give the offense some much-needed upgrades, while also plugging holes on the defensive side of the ball.
So, basically, keep these QB deals at the back of your mind for now, because one day they’ll be very relevant. But in the meantime, let’s hope that the Bears take advantage of their financial flexibility to surround Trubisky with the sort of team that can play in February.