Fasten those seatbelts, Bucs fans. The Chris Godwin ride to a long term contract just got a little bit bumpier.
On Tuesday, Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams made headlines when he re-signed in Los Angeles. Well, he would have made headlines if Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson weren’t already occupying them all. In a stunning move, the Chargers re-signed Williams to a 3-year, $60 million contract, with $40 million guaranteed. That contract was well beyond the projections of most cap experts, who thought the 27-year old receiver would come in closer to $17 million per year.
But the average annual value is just the beginning of the surprises in Williams’ contract. Also of note is the brevity of the contract, giving Williams the bag for just three years of team control. That means the five-year pro will hit the market again at 30 years old, with the potential to cash in on another strong deal. But the biggest item in Williams’ favor is the fully guaranteed money. Almost 67 percent of the Clemson product’s new contract is fully guaranteed! That is an absurd discrepancy between Williams and the rest of the NFL.
Obviously the 3-year deal is important context, rather than the 4-5 year deals that are typically handed out. But there is no way to look at Williams’ contract and not consider it a massive win for the player. In fact, PFF’s contract expert Brad Spielberger called it “one of the stronger deals for a player in recent memory”.
Impact On Godwin’s Market
That’s great for Williams. But the reality is that he isn’t the best or even second-best wide receiver on the market this offseason. We already know Davante Adams is likely going to be the highest paid wide receiver in the NFL. He’s in a group by himself. But Chris Godwin’s contract was expected to be more in line with Williams’ projected deal. Now, all of that is up in the air.
The Bucs placed the franchise tag on Chris Godwin shortly after Williams’ contract was announced. It’s highly unlikely the two moves were related. Godwin was heading for the tag anyway, with the Bucs determined not to let him hit the market. Also, it’s naive to think the Bucs were stunned by the Williams’ contract. After all, Godwin and Williams have the same agent. Instead, Williams’ contract is a clear indicator as to why it has been so hard for Tampa Bay to lock Godwin into a long term deal.
Godwin wants a contract more in line with the money Williams is getting. That’s well above the $16-17.5 million per year range that most projections had him landing in. Now, Godwin could get the $40 million guaranteed that Williams received. But it would likely come over a four-year contract, with the Bucs wanting control until his age 30 season. Godwin is about a year-and-a-half younger than Williams.
Could Godwin’s Injury Lower Bucs Price Tag?
Now, Godwin’s injury does complicate things. If both players were fully healthy, I think most teams would value Godwin more. He’s more scheme versatile and well-rounded, and has four consecutive 50+ catch seasons. Williams only has one of those. But Godwin tore his ACL and MCL in December. The uncertainty of his injury could result in a lower payout than Williams.
That’s an aspect of free agency Godwin can’t avoid. If there’s any leverage the Bucs have, it’s that they know Godwin doesn’t want to play on the tag again. He did that last year, and suffered a major injury. Now that injury is the only thing standing between him and a pay day like Williams. He may get there this offseason, but if Godwin plays on the tag and suffers another significant injury, his free agency market will plummet. He’ll go from $18-20 million per year conversations to JuJu Smith-Schuster-level deals.
Leverage Is Now Moot For Bucs, Godwin
Godwin needs to sign a long-term deal this offseason. And the Bucs need him to sign a long term deal, soon. Tampa Bay needs the cap space to re-sign other key free agents. There is no longer any doubt about what it will cost to keep Godwin around. Spielberger told me he now projects Godwin to garner a 4-year, $76 million deal with $50 million guaranteed. So a little less annual value, but more in guarantees over a four-year deal.
One caveat here: state income tax. One reason Williams contract numbers are so high is that he’s in Los Angeles. The state income tax in California is 12.3 percent! Meanwhile, in Florida there is no state income tax. So Godwin could make a couple less million per year than Williams, and still probably bring in more money. Of course, the agent may not consider that if he just wants two wide receivers making $20 million per year.
At this point, Godwin and the Bucs are married. The reality is that the Bucs will probably need to pay him in the $19-20 million range. Both sides now know this. It’s not going to be as team-friendly as it originally appeared, but it won’t kill Tampa Bay either. They need to get over the thought that they could keep Godwin for less than Mike Evans’ AAV (average annual value) of $16.5 million. That’s not going to happen. Nor does Evans care.
The Bucs can extend Evans and bump his salary this offseason. Or they can just accept that the market rises, Evans was paid years ago and he’ll someday be paid again. The important thing is that Godwin is back for 2022 and beyond, and that Tampa Bay can re-sign other key free agents. Now both sides need to get the deal done and not let negotiations drag into free agency.