When it comes to paying a quarterback after the window opens for his second contract, we’ve developed a very careful, specific, and detailed litmus test. If you think he’s your guy for the indefinite future, you pay him ASAFP.
It’s that simple, and only the team that has employed the quarterback for three years knows the answer to that up-or-down question.
We’ve seen the risk of paying guys who clearly didn’t remain the guy, with both Jared Goff and Carson Wentz gone from the Rams and Eagles, respectively, two years after getting paid. It’s easier to defend the Wentz deal; his stunning 2020 regression came largely out of the blue. It’s impossible to defend the Goff deal. The Rams should have known to wait. If they had, they wouldn’t have wasted so much cap and cap space and ultimately slipped an extra first-round pick into the Matthew Stafford trade package to unload the Goff contract.
We’ve also seen the risk of not paying a guy who clearly became the guy. Dallas dicked around with Dak Prescott for multiple years, waiting for him to wake up one day and decide to take a team-friendly deal when, in reality, his resolve simply strengthened. Ultimately, he maximized his leverage and forced the Cowboys to give him the best contract that any player in NFL history ever has received.
Enter the Bills and Josh Allen. Of the three quarterbacks from the 2018 first-round class who became eligible for second contracts as of the completion of the 2020 regular season, Allen stands out as the one who most clearly and obviously has reached a level of no-brainer performance as passer, runner, and play-extender.
But some in league circles think the Bills may actually wait a year to give Allen the reward he has earned. Presumably, the Bills see the bond between Allen and Buffalo, and they assume that, eventually, Allen will agree to a structure and compensation level that helps both player and team.
They may be right. Maybe Allen will do a team-friendly deal. Maybe he’s not determined to make as much money as he can in recognition of his skills, abilities, commitment, and sacrifices. Then again, maybe the Bills are playing with fire.
If Allen has an MVP season, the price goes up next year. Way up. And Allen would have every right, as he moves a year closer to free agency, to say to the Bills, “You had your chance to do the right thing last year. You knew what could happen if you didn’t.”
The fifth-year option makes it harder for Allen to get to the point of maximum leverage. Without an extension, the Bills would franchise tag him in 2023. And again in 2024. But that’s when he’d enter the Prescott phase, one year away from a 44-percent bump in his second franchise tag.
It remains unlikely that Allen would take that approach. That’s surely part of the strategic conclusion the Bills have reached after spending three years with him. But if they take advantage of his good nature and not offer him a contract before the 2021 season, that could change come 2022.
If it does, the Bills will have only themselves to blame.