There are a number of different ways to talk about the actual “value” of an NFL contract. Some do so in average annual value and others in how much guaranteed money there is. In one of those two ways, LA Chargers rookie Justin Herbert is going to be paid more than the quarterback he’s replacing, Philip Rivers. But it is interesting to consider just how much rookie contracts changed with the 2011 CBA.
Because Rivers’ total value on his rookie contract is still more than what Herbert is expected to receive 16 years later.
As the fourth overall pick in the draft and open to negotiate whatever he wanted, the Chargers and Rivers eventually settled on a six-year, $41.25 million deal with $15.5 million guaranteed. Rivers played on that deal for five years until signing a six-year, $91.8 million contract extension in 2009. That contract had $33.3 million fully guaranteed and of course Rivers earned all of it and then some after signing another extension in 2015.
For the first time since Rivers, the Chargers drafted a first round QB, this time taking Herbert with the sixth overall pick. Because contract values are now pre-determined, there’s not a ton of negotiation to be done and nothing having to do with total value or annual value. In those cases, Herbert is looking at a four-year, $26.5 million contract, an average of $6.6 million per year. If he plays well enough, Herbert will get a fifth-year option exercised that bumps his salary considerably. But that is far from guaranteed.
Rivers AAV on his rookie deal: $6.8 million.
What is guaranteed is all $26.5 million and that’s one advantage for Herbert. However, it’s not as though San Diego was going to draft Rivers and then cut him as soon as they had the chance. As you know, they even waited for two years until Drew Brees left before starting him. He was going to earn more than $15 million regardless.
The other good news for Herbert is that he’ll have the chance to make way more than Rivers did. Should he play as well as Rivers, Herbert will far surpass the $15 million AAV and $20 million AAV that he signed on his two extensions. The fact that he’s not being paid as much as a rookie before he’s shown what he is beyond a draft evaluation has probably had a positive impact on the league. Once they figure out how to offset that by adequately playing their bargain rookie contract players for what they’ve done — not everyone is as lucky as Austin Ekeler to actually get extended — it’ll be even more fair.