This offseason has been a wild one across the league. We have seen multiple big-name quarterbacks and wide receivers change teams. There have also been countless teams going “all in” by adding talented defenders to put their defense over the top.
The Cincinnati Bengals have had a much more low-key offseason, all things considered. They did what they needed to do by retaining quite a few key pieces from last season while adding three new starters along the offensive line, which was a huge issue yet again last season.
Despite this low-key offseason for Cincinnati, they still have been impacted by at least one of the bigger deals made this offseason. The Cleveland Browns made history by trading for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson while simultaneously giving him a five-year $230 million fully guaranteed contract. That is $80 million more guaranteed than any player has ever been given in NFL history.
While everyone has been talking about the deal, Blackburn admits she hasn’t poured over the deal quite yet.
“All contracts can have a ripple effect,” Blackburn told the Athletic’s Jay Morrison. “I haven’t looked at the (Watson) contract closely enough, so I don’t know if there are ways the guarantees can void if certain things happen. Maybe that’s not something that can happen. We’ll see. I have not had the chance to really study it yet or look at it to be fair. It’s on my list, but I’m behind.”
The Bengals are still viewed as one of the few remaining teams who have issues giving out huge amounts of guaranteed money to players. There is no question that has limited them in some negotiations, especially with free agents on the open market. It still seems like that is very much a philosophy the team holds, but it isn’t lost on her that they need to be willing to be flexible with that when the market demands it.
“I don’t focus on the guaranteed as much because in theory, if the player gets the money at the end of the day, that’s what’s important to him,” she said. “So if the player is good enough and plays out the contract, he gets the money.
“The thing that has always given us some pause is if for some reason things go badly,” Blackburn continued. “It’s not fair for the team in the future if there’s a large amount of money going to someone else with the way system works today. So we’ve always tried to balance that out. But we work in a world where we realize other contracts have some effects, so we’ll just have to see where that all stands when it comes to be that time. At some point, we’re going to pay the cap amount, so we just have to find a way to make that work that’s in the best interest of the team.”
It is hard to ignore the situation surrounding the Watson contract. He was in a position where he had a no-trade clause in his contract with four different quarterback desperate teams courting him. He may as well have been on the open market.
Watson is still dealing with a possible suspension related to 22 allegations of sexual assault. One thing that may have given the Browns the edge was the willingness to give him a contract that will pay him regardless of if he is suspended for any amount of time.
Prior to the Watson contract, the most guaranteed money given to a player was roughly $150 million just given to the Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen was also in the range of Rodgers’ $150 million guaranteed money, while the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes received $141 million guaranteed.
The point being here is that Cleveland’s contract with Watson will undoubtedly be used as a bargaining tool by agents, but there is far more reason to expect a more gradual climb from the $150 million mark than the $230 million being the least acceptable amount.
Furthermore, it obviously isn’t too much of a concern for Blackburn if she hasn’t already poured over all the details of the deal yet. Joe Burrow is also just entering his third season of his five-year rookie contract. The team can’t even extend Burrow until this season is over. Even then there is no telling how soon each side will want to negotiate an extension. One thing you can feel confident in is that the Bengals and Burrow are going to make things work.