A number of NFL team owners and executives were taken aback by the Browns' record investment in embattled quarterback Deshaun Watson this offseason -- some of them fearing a future inability to extend their own elite signal-callers. NFL Players Association president JC Tretter, however, is celebrating Watson's reportedly fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million deal as a potential "turning point" in NFL contract negotiations. In an open letter Tuesday, Tretter argued that Cleveland's polarizing move could -- and should -- set a new standard for players receiving guaranteed deals.
"We had an opportunity a few years ago when Kirk Cousins and his agent Mike McCartney wisely used the leverage of the franchise tag and free agency to earn a fully guaranteed contract from the Vikings," Tretter wrote. "They worked closely with our union to make it happen. The talk in our locker rooms was a hope that other top free agents -- especially QBs who were negotiating immediately after Cousins -- would demand the same.
"That did not happen," Tretter continued. "But we may have hit a turning point with the Cleveland Browns and Deshaun Watson. For years, clubs have told agents that a main reason for not guaranteeing contracts was the 'funding rule' -- an archaic league rule that says teams must put into escrow an amount of money equal to what they are guaranteeing a player in any contract beyond the first year. Thanks to (Browns owner) Jimmy Haslem and (general manager) Andrew Berry ... for doing what other NFL owners and executives have mostly been unwilling to do ... we once again have proof that the funding rule is an artificial barrier to guaranteed money, and credit to David Mulugheta, Watson's agent, for working with our union to push past it."
Tretter, who was reelected as union president in March, believes it's now time for agents, players and the NFLPA to "seize an opportunity and set a true standard for future players" receiving fully guaranteed contracts.
Some of the pushback regarding Watson's deal, of course, has to do with the fact the QB is still facing 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault or misconduct. It's one thing for an NFL team to reset the market for a young Pro Bowl QB; it's another to expend lucrative draft capital and give him the biggest guaranteed contract in league history while he faces almost two dozen allegations of serial abuse. Tretter, who was released by the Browns in a salary cap-saving move three days before the team's trade for Watson, did not comment on the QB's legal issues in his letter.