Trevor Lawrence on What New Contract Means to Him

Vacation’s on deck, but we’re here with one more week of takeaways for you …

I think Trevor Lawrence is in a really good spot going into Year 4. And, yes, that’s even with all the yet-to-be-realized expectations weighing on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ quarterback. And with the 1–5 finish to last year, too.

I especially feel that way after talking to him Wednesday, in the wake of his agreement on a five-year, $275 million extension with the team that made him the No. 1 pick in 2021.

And that’s mostly because of everything he’s been through to get here. The Urban Meyer year. The uneven start to the Doug Pederson era. The way last year went. Through all of that, two things never wavered: Lawrence’s confidence, and the Jaguars’ resolve that he was the long-term answer the franchise has never had at the position. The fact that he had to endure that so early in his career, as I see it anyway, bodes well for where he’s going next.

“I think that experience is probably the best teacher,” Lawrence told me. “Everyone says the big thing is the ‘whys’ learned from other people’s mistakes. I do think that’s true. But I also think there are some things you just kind of have to go through. And you learn a lot when you experience them. I’ve been through all the mixes. A terrible season. A season that started really bad and we finished really great, which was 2022. And last year was the opposite, started great and finished really bad.

“So I’ve experienced all those elements of it, and I understand how this game works. The NFL is just different. It’s a long season; it really is about who’s playing best in December, January, February, not September, October, November. You have to be playing your best at the right time, the end of the year. I think I have a better perspective of all of that. I’d say that’s the biggest thing.”

Along the way, even if it didn’t always show on the scoreboard, he has made strides. In the areas of accuracy and decision making, he’s seen marked improvement and, he adds, “As I’ve gotten better on the field, I really think I’ve just gotten more consistent.” From a football standpoint, because Clemson’s offense was simpler, he was a little more raw than most thought coming into the league (raising my own hand on this one), and he’s taken big steps there, too.

That said, as Lawrence mentioned, the numbers for the team, offense and quarterback really leveled off at the end of last year—turning the Jaguars’ decision on extending Lawrence from an inevitability into a debate show talking point. And while there was never much doubt inside the organization that Lawrence’s deal would get done, or that Lawrence was the guy moving forward, the quarterback does understand the optics of that finish tied to his record-tying extension (Lawrence’s $55 million APY matches Joe Burrow’s).

“Obviously, you’d prefer to finish really strong that year and put yourself in a better position, not necessarily leverage-wise, but just feeling good about the future, feeling really sure about it,” Lawrence says. “I think that left a little bit of a sour taste in all our mouths, the way we finished. But I mean, no, because I believe in the player I am. And now it feels good, and I knew they did already, that the organization believed in me.

“To put it out there, put it on paper, that I have the full faith and belief of the organization, for them to pay me like a top quarterback in the league, and to sign a long-term deal here, and put that faith and trust in me, feels really good. And to be backed by Mr. [Shad] Khan and Trent [Baalke] and Doug and all the people that are involved in making that decision, that feels as good as anything. Obviously, the money is awesome, too, but it’s the respect, and feeling that I’m really backed by the team.”

And that all brings Lawrence back to what’s next, which is to fix what went wrong last year.

That, of course, was always the goal.

Being the rare player whose career really did go in a relatively straight line, until last year, at least—from hyped, young high schooler, to blue-chip recruit, to No. 1 pick, to playoff quarterback—I wanted to ask Lawrence how early he thought a contract like this was possible. His answer gave me another reason to think he’ll get back on his old trajectory, and probably very soon.

Simply put, he never saw getting paid as his arrival as a quarterback. His goals, going back to when he was a kid, were simpler than that. Which, he thinks, gave him a perspective that’s served him pretty well so far, and will continue to do so.

“As a kid, I just dreamed of being a college quarterback,” he says. “Growing up in the South, college football is a bigger deal than the NFL. That was my dream as a kid, so I didn’t even get this far as a kid. I’m grateful, obviously. Along the way, you realize it, as your dreams are coming true, and you keep going forward into the future, and think about how far you can take this. But I don’t know, I try to keep myself in the moment as much as possible. That’s something I’m grateful that I’ve been able to do in my career, not get too far ahead of myself.

“To be honest, I believed I could do this, and here, for the last few years. But I wouldn’t say this is something I’ve necessarily thought about more than that. Ever since I got here to Jacksonville, I knew I wanted to take this team farther than it’s gone before, and I wanted to make this a great organization. I wanted to be a key piece of that.”

And the Jaguars sure showed they see him that way, too.

While we’re here, there is a real difference between Lawrence’s contract, and the one Burrow got a year ago. That’ll start with a mea culpa from me—I read the Jaguar QB’s contract wrong last week and said he was due $170 million over its first three years. That wasn’t right. His three-year cash is actually $114 million. That puts him well behind Burrow, who’s set to get $146.51 million over the first three years of his deal.

Why does that matter? Well, first of all, it matters because the faster you get your money, the better, of course. But it’s also relevant when the time comes to negotiate a third contract, assuming these guys are in position to collect again the way they were this time around. And that, interestingly enough, is because of how these contracts end.

We can start with the year-to-year cash flow:

• Year 1: Burrow $45.55 million, Lawrence $39.00 million.
• Year 2: Burrow $111.26 million, Lawrence $76.5 million.
• Year 3: Burrow $146.51 million, Lawrence $114.00 million.
• Year 4: Burrow $181.76 million, Lawrence $155.50 million.
• Year 5: Burrow: $219.01 million, Lawrence $202.0 million.

So there’s that, and there’s the difference in guaranteed money too. They both have early vesting dates for guarantees in Year 5 and full guarantees at signing through Year 3. Burrow’s are stronger simply because of the above cashflow. Then, there’s the aforementioned back-end effect.

If both guys, for argument’s sake, sign third deals with two years left on these deals, Lawrence will have $104.3 million left unpaid of the $275 million in new money on this one, while Burrow will have $91.03 million left from the same number.

That matters because at that point, what’s left on the contract becomes less relevant, and will be pushed to the end of a new contract. Which means, functionally, with those last two years not guaranteed in either of these guys’ contracts, that if you then add the extra $4 million off existing money that Burrow landed in his fifth-year option, Burrow then will have made $17 million more than Lawrence did off their second contracts.

Should it make Lawrence any less happy? Of course not. But it does illustrate why guarantees and structure are usually far more important than the raw dollar figure that most fans wind up fixating on. It also shows how $55 million per year means different things in two different circumstances, and perhaps illustrates where the Miami Dolphins and Green Bay Packers may seek compromises in their next contracts with Tua Tagovailoa and Jordan Love, respectively.

(And, again, sorry for mathematical deficiencies last week.)

The David Shaw hiring in Denver is fascinating. First, we should take you through the particulars. Shaw interviewed for the Denver Broncos’ head coaching job two Januaries ago, before the Waltons broke the bank to land Sean Payton. GM George Paton, who had a very casual relationship with the ex-Stanford coach before then, was impressed, and resolved to stay in touch with Shaw.

Months later, Shaw expressed to Paton how he had an interest in working in personnel in the league. That conversation progressed naturally, and over the past four months or so, the discussion about Shaw joining the team became real. It didn’t hurt that Payton also knew Shaw pretty well—the two actually worked together on Ray Rhodes’s Philadelphia Eagles offensive staff in 1997. Or that strong figures in ownership, in particular, co-owners Greg Penner and Condoleezza Rice, knew Shaw through their Stanford ties.

In the words of one involved party, as talks continued, it became clear to everyone that it was “too good a fit” not to happen.

Shaw will remain in Northern California and will work from there. But even with the distance, his institutional knowledge of college football, and the players within it, should be a major asset to Denver, in the same sort of way Pete Carroll’s background helped the Seattle Seahawks in the draft over his early years there. And from there, Shaw has a lot of promise to be a really good football executive in time.

Additionally, how this goes could well open the door going forward for similar transitions for other coaches. It’s worked in other sports, for sure—with the most recent example being Boston Celtics coach Brad Steven moving to the front office to take Danny Ainge’s spot three years ago, and winning a championship last week, after a lot of tweaking and adjusting around stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Stevens brought a coach’s perspective to building the Celtics. The hope is that Shaw can do the same for Payton and Paton in Denver. And if it happens, it could be a game changer for more people than just the guys working for the Broncos.


Stevenson all smiles after minicamp at Gillette Stadium / Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t mind Rhamondre Stevenson getting $9 million per year in new money from the New England Patriots at all. You shouldn’t either. Primarily, for two reasons, reasons that apply to plenty of other teams in this sort of situation with their bellcow tailbacks.

1) It’s an investment in your young quarterback. A back you can lean on, who can consistently help you get into second-and-6 or third-and-2, is gold. I remember the Atlanta Falcons signing Michael Turner away from the San Diego Chargers in 2008 for that reason, and how it benefited Matt Ryan. That same year, having Ray Rice in Joe Flacco’s rookie class worked wonders for the Baltimore Ravens. Todd Gurley was great for Jared Goff, Nick Chubb really helped Baker Mayfield, and there are plenty of other examples of this if you just look. Having Stevenson will help Drake Maye. Which makes the spend worthwhile. Period.

2) It’s not that much money. We’ve played this game before, but it’s worth making the point over again: Good running backs have been devalued to the point where they’ve become a value. At receiver, $9 million gets you JuJu Smith-Schuster or Adam Thielen, and not the versions from four years ago. At edge rusher, it’s what the San Francisco 49ers paid for reclamation project Yetur Gross-Matos. So what are we really talking about here? Years ago, a market correction was needed at this position. It happened, and the market is now, well, correct.

And then, if you want to throw this in, there are also the good vibes you get from paying one of your own drafted-and-developed centerpieces.

So, no, I’m not going to pile on the Patriots for giving relative peanuts to a guy who could wind up being awfully valuable in making sure that Maye doesn’t become the second coming of Mac Jones, in how the early parts of his career are managed.

It’s been interesting hearing pretty vehement pushback over the past couple of weeks on the idea of the NFL going to 18 games. ESPN did a larger story on it recently, and while the polling reflected some split across the NFL, the opposing points of view were particularly strong—and strongly worded.

“Why do we keep adding games?” Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick told ESPN. “I think 17 is more than enough, plus a playoff. … Dudes that play 100% of the snaps in the regular season are probably barely playing in the [removed] preseason game, so it doesn’t really do too much.”

“You’re talking about player safety, but how do you have player safety when you add a game?” Steelers lineman James Daniels added in that story. “If they were worried about player safety, it would take away games, but it’s not about player safety, it’s about money and extra games—an extra prime-time game—that brings millions of dollars to the NFL, millions of dollars to cities everywhere. I understand it from both sides.”

Guys who’ve been around for a while, as these two have, feel like the league is pulling a bit of a bait-and-switch on them on one hand (going back in so soon after the players made a 17-game compromise) and flat out being dishonest on another (as Fitzpatrick said, you can’t act like 20 games are equivalent, and you’re just changing one from preseason to regular season, when one is basically a spirited walkthrough for top-end players, and the other is adding to an already grueling season of car-crash games).

That’s why, to me, the players really need to get something significant back if they’re going to back down on this, and something that makes it easier for more players to make more money faster (perhaps by getting guys to free agency after three years, instead of four, and changing some of the tag rules).

Anything less than that, to me, wouldn’t be worth the added damage they’d take on.

As for NFL Media reporter Tom Pelissero’s report on a separate salary cap for quarterbacks, I only see one way it would work. And that’d be not by exempting quarterback money from the cap, or setting max salaries (the franchise tag already, effectively, does that). It’d be by looking at the NBA’s old Larry Bird exceptions.

Essentially, the rule allowed for teams to sign their own free agents at an amount up to a maximum salary, so long as that player was with the team for at least three years.

My guess is you could use this as a way to give teams some cap relief up to a certain price point (rather than having a max salary). And I could see arguments both for and against this. On the for side, it’s fair to say that there are pretty heavy penalties now for getting it right on a quarterback you draft, in that it forces you to build a certain way. On the against side, the structure currently in place does promote parity, in that it makes teams identify elite quarterbacks properly, because quarterbacks paid that way have to be able to carry a team.

I don’t have a strong opinion on what the league should do here, one way or the other. I’d probably err on the side of leaving something that’s not really broken alone.

Matthew Stafford’s desire for a market correction is not news to the Los Angeles Rams. In a certain way, it is a result of how they’ve done business since returning to L.A. in 2016—becoming a very player-friendly team in rewarding their very best.

The one you can drill down on here is Aaron Donald, who got the Rams to blow up the contract he got in 2018. The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year was coming off a transcendent performance in the Super Bowl two years ago. He’d delivered a ring and was still at the top of his game as he approached his 31st birthday. He also had three years left on the six-year, $135 million extension he’d gotten four years earlier.

The Rams then took the unusual measure of ripping up the remaining three years on his contract and replacing them with a three-year deal. That took his number from $55 million over those three years to $95 million, adding $40 million in new money with no new term.

It was the right thing to do, of course, and logical since most folks knew that Donald wasn’t playing past those three years anyway (he made it through two), which would’ve made any new years tacked onto the deal cosmetic. But once you do that for one star player who feels like he’s under market, you open the door for the next one to come hat in hand.

So it’ll be interesting to see where that leaves Stafford, who has three years and $94 million left on the heavily front-loaded deal he signed the same offseason Donald got his market correction. Stafford made $89 million over the first two years of that contract. And now, with the market having gone where it’s gone, and Stafford having proven his worth to the team again, it’s hard to argue the quarterback doesn’t deserve a little of the Donald treatment.

We’ll see whether he gets it.


Hall enters his third season with the benefit of a healthy offseason / Kevin R. Wexler / USA TODAY NETWORK

I’m not big on fantasy advice, but I’d buy on Breece Hall if I were you. The New York Jets’ third-year workhorse had 1,585 scrimmage yards a year ago, and that was coming off a torn ACL. This year, he gets an offensive line that’s welcoming in Tyron Smith, Morgan Moses, John Simpson and Olu Fashanu. And, as he sees it, and told the New York media, he looks at 2023 as a jumping-off point because rehab ate up so much of his last offseason.

“I ended the season on a good note,” Hall said. “Last season, [I was] still not feeling 100% all the time. But now I had my first offseason to not just be trying to get back, but to get better. And I’ve gotten better this offseason. I’m a lot leaner. I feel a lot healthier. My knee feels a lot better. I just feel like I’m back to my old self.”

Accordingly, I’ve heard he had a great offseason.

I don’t think 2,000 yards from scrimmage is out of the question. And if he gets there, it’ll help the team not only keep Aaron Rodgers upright, but make the 40-year-old quarterback even more of a problem for everyone else.

The Sunday Ticket case is one thing to follow over the coming weeks. Because—full disclosure—I didn’t really understand it, I called a couple of lawyers to help boil it down for me over the weekend, so I could boil it down for you.

It’s a class-action lawsuit brought by the same law firm, Susman Godfrey, that represented Dominion Voting Systems in the defamation suit that led to a settlement that forced Fox News to pay $787.5 million in damages after the 2020 election. And it’s alleging that the NFL, CBS, Fox and DirecTV colluded at the expense of the league’s massive viewing public.

Basically, the suit claims that the NFL, CBS, Fox and DirecTV worked together to create an agreement that hurt the customer. The allegation is that the NFL’s working monopoly allowed for those four entities to benefit CBS and Fox by protecting their over-the-air broadcasts with artificially high prices for the Sunday Ticket package, prices that kept the Sunday Ticket audience manageably low for the big networks, and stuffed the coffers of both DirecTV and the league.

The NFL’s basic response, in trying to avoid paying the $7.1 billion in damages the suit is seeking, has been that Sunday Ticket, now held by YouTube, has always been a premium product and was never meant for a larger audience.

It’s hard to say where this will go from here, or what it might do to the Sunday Ticket product (like perhaps forcing the NFL to create more à la carte options?). But it’s certainly a big, important case for the lawyered-up league.

I’d look for the Pittsburgh Steelers to keep pushing Russell Wilson. Through the spring, neither Wilson nor Justin Fields lit the world on fire in Pittsburgh. But what the staff did see was a motivated Wilson, who benefitted from the competition Fields was giving him.

So I’ll be interested to see how long Pittsburgh waits to shut down any notion of one.

Yes, it can help to fully declare your starter. But there is something to the benefit the Steelers are getting from having two guys in contract years battling to get on, and stay on, the field. And if the benefit to this point has been Wilson operating like he’s got horse blinders on, maybe it wouldn’t make a ton of sense to go away from that.

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