The Josh Allen contract extension chatter got me to thinking about when Jim Kelly signed his five-year contract for $8 million in the summer of 1986. It was the most lucrative deal in Buffalo Bills and National Football League history. And some were screaming bloody murder that a guy who had yet to throw an official NFL pass was making more money than Joe Montana, who already had guided the San Francisco 49ers to two Super Bowl titles. Hey, it wasn’t Kelly’s fault that his timing was impeccable, that he was negotiating with a team he originally spurned and now needed him in the worst way.
The critics eventually would be quelled as Kelly saved the franchise. In addition to guiding the Bills to an unprecedented four consecutive Super Bowls, he helped them lead the NFL in home attendance eight straight seasons despite playing in the league’s second-smallest market. Not a bad return on investment. Money well spent.
All these decades later, Jimbo’s deal seems paltry. Mere pocket change. Heck, it’s now what backup offensive linemen earn. And it’s peanuts compared to what Allen is making. Over the course of his 11-year NFL career, Kelly earned $26 million. The young man who obliterated several of Kelly’s franchise passing marks last season while finishing second in league MVP voting recently had the fifth-year option of his rookie contract picked up, meaning Allen is scheduled to make $23 million in 2022.
And that’s nothing compared to what he will be banking when Bills General Manager Brandon Beane gets around to negotiating a contract extension. Spotrac, a website that breaks down NFL salaries, predicts the 25-year-old Allen will receive a four-year deal in the neighborhood of $168 million. That would make him the second-highest-paid player in league history, trailing only Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs superstar who is in the second year of a 10-year, $450-million contract. In Spotrac’s break-down, Allen would peak during the 2024 and 2025 seasons, when he would pocket $43 million per year.
The most important figure in these contracts is guaranteed money. In Mahomes’s case, that’s about $141 million. And in Allen’s proposed deal, that figure would be about $78 million. Beane assures this deal will get done. And Allen, who loves Buffalo and wants to spend his entire career there, is content to stay put. But the Pro Bowl quarterback also indicated he does not want go the franchise tag route. He’d rather sign an extension. Beane would, too.
Interestingly, there is a minority of fans and salary capologists who would rather Beane wait a year before consummating the deal. They’re still worried Allen’s quantum leap in his third NFL season might have been a fluke. Doomsayers quibble that the highest drafted quarterback in franchise history will be hard-pressed to replicate a performance that saw him complete nearly 70 percent of his passes for 4,544 yards and account for 45 touchdowns (37 passing; eight rushing) while guiding the Bills to a 13-3 record and a spot in the AFC Championship game.
I think Allen is the real deal. The only thing separating him from Mahomes, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson is a Lombardi Trophy. And that could be coming soon. Yes, there always are risks with long-term deals. They upset a team’s salary cap, and force extremely difficult roster reductions.
Before last season, the Houston Texans extended Deshaun Watson’s deal with money in the neighborhood of what Allen’s expected to land, and we’ve seen how that has blown up in their faces. Facing more than 20 sexual assault allegations, it’s questionable Watson will ever throw another pass in the NFL again. Nor should he if these charges are true.
Injuries are the biggest risks with these extensions. Mahomes already has dealt with several that have sidelined him in his young career, as has Allen, another dual-threat, pass-run QB who’s been known to put his body on the line. But as the Bills learned in the nearly two-decade drought that ensued after Kelly’s final season in 1996, franchise quarterbacks are darn hard to find, so when you get one, you better do your best to hang onto him.
This is a calculated gamble worth taking. One, like Kelly, that should pay robust dividends.
This shouldn’t surprise, given his achievements and longevity, but Tom Brady has made the most money in NFL history. His career salary is $291 million, a figure the seven-time Super Bowl champion will add to when he opens this season at age 44. Recently retired New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is second on the all-time salary list, followed by Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers), Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons) and Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers).
Rodgers has cited irreconcilable differences with the Packers, and has hinted he would retire rather than return this fall. I can’t see the Packers trading him, but stranger things have happened, and there certainly would be no shortage of suitors. The defending league MVP has just one Super Bowl ring in his jewelry collection, and Green Bay returns the core of a team that came within one game of the big game last fall. The Packers appear primed to make another run with Rodgers. But QBs hold the power. Rodgers saw how Brady won it all in his first season away from New England, and might decide to follow suit.
Like their NBA brethren, superstar quarterbacks have become more assertive, but this isn’t necessarily new, lest we forget how John Elway forced the Baltimore Colts to trade him to Denver or how Eli Manning refused to play for San Diego and wound up with the New York Giants. Methinks, the Rodgers soap opera will drag on through the summer. I also believe he will be playing football, probably for the Packers, this fall.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.