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The Jacksonville Jaguars selected a generational prospect with the first pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. And unless things go terribly wrong, Trevor Lawrence should become one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks in short order.

With the former Clemson star taking over as the face of the franchise, it makes sense for the Jaguars to do everything possible to make Lawrence happy. And even though he joined the organization only a few months ago, it hasn’t taken long for the long-haired, rocket-armed signal-caller to change the way business gets done in Jacksonville. In fact, Lawrence has convinced the Jaguars to abandon conventional wisdom with the thing that matters most: his money.

Going No. 1 overall in the NFL draft doesn’t pay quite like it used to

The way rookies get paid has changed a lot over the years. Not long ago, a top-five draft pack would enter the league and instantly become one of the highest-paid players at his respective position.

That proved to be the case in 2010 when Sam Bradford went number No. 1 overall to the then-St. Louis Rams. Despite having never thrown an NFL touchdown pass, the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner signed the largest rookie contract in league history. However, his six-year, $78 million deal (which included $50 million guaranteed) didn’t turn out to be a great investment for the Rams, as Bradford never came close to living up to expectations during his disappointing five-year stint with the franchise.

Everything changed in 2011.

The new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) dramatically changed the way the NFL pays rookies. A slotted salary system became the new standard, which made it more equitable for veterans. Although that meant future No. 1 overall picks like Joe Burrow did not instantly become one of the richest players at their respective position, the rookie wage scale has helped many talented players become instant millionaires.

After the Cincinnati Bengals made Burrow the first player taken in the 2020 NFL Draft, they signed the former LSU star to a four-year, fully guaranteed $36 million contract. So even though Burrow didn’t get Bradford-like money on his first deal, he still became a wealthy young man once he put pen to paper.

However, although they went No. 1 overall in back-to-back drafts, Burrow and Lawrence signed vastly different rookie contracts.

Trevor Lawrence convinced the Jaguars to go a much different route with his rookie contract

Special circumstances dictate special responses. So when it came time to get a deal done with their new franchise quarterback, the Jaguars abandoned conventional wisdom at the negotiating table.

Let’s just say that worked out well for Lawrence and his bank account.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Monday that the No. 1 pick signed a four-year, $36.8 million contract with $24.1 million in guaranteed money. However, like any NFL contract, the devil is in the details. And when you look at the stipulations of Lawrence’s first contract, it’s clear the Jaguars feel highly confident about his chances of becoming a superstar.

Schefter reported that Lawrence’s signing bonus will get paid within 15 business days. In addition to having no offset language in his contract, the majority of his compensation from 2022-24 will come in the form of a roster bonus. According to Schefter, Lawrence will earn the bonus if he’s on the 90-man roster on the third day after the reporting date for mandatory minicamp. Plus, Lawrence will earn a roster bonus even if he’s on the active NFI (non-football injury) list. Overall, his rookie contract contains unprecedented language that reflects how special of a prospect he truly is.

But just because the Jaguars made a massive upgrade at quarterback doesn’t mean Lawrence will enjoy his first year in the NFL.

Setting expectations for Lawrence’s first year in Jacksonville

Trevor Lawrence gets ready to receive the ball during Jacksonville Jaguars practice.
Trevor Lawrence gets ready to take a rep in practice for the Jacksonville Jaguars. | James Gilbert/Getty Images

What should Jaguars fans expect from the team during the 2021 NFL season? That largely depends on whether Urban Meyer starts trending in the right direction. The first few months of his tenure have raised concerns about what lies ahead. From hiring controversial assistant coach Chris Doyle to signing Tim Tebow to costing himself $100,000 for violating OTA rules, Meyer certainly hasn’t gotten off to the strongest start. 

From a roster perspective, the Jaguars do have some pieces to get excited about. Lawrence tops the list, and he should provide stability and All-Pro ability at the most important position in sports. Meanwhile, college teammate Travis Etienne brings dynamic playmaking ability as a runner, receiver, and returner. Wideouts D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault Jr. have the physical skills and pass-catching chops to form one of the league’s top receiver duos. 

Unfortunately for Jaguars fans, the defense doesn’t have quite the same level of talent. Sure, defensive end Josh Allen has flashed Pro Bowl potential. And 2020 first-rounder C.J. Henderson may develop into an elite corner. However, the rest of the unit looks undermanned, particularly in the secondary. 

The offense should have a few games with big point totals, but don’t expect the Jaguars to make the playoffs in the first year of the Meyer-Lawrence era. Until the defense shows it can get stops on a consistent basis (31st in points allowed in 2020) and get after the quarterback at a higher rate (only the Bengals recorded fewer sacks), Jacksonville will struggle to climb up the AFC South rankings. 

If there’s any saving grace, at least they have the best quarterback in the division. 

All contract data courtesy of Spotrac.


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