The top of the 2021 NFL Draft unfolded as expected with the Jacksonville Jaguars selecting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence No. 1 overall. The pick surprised no one—witness DraftKings’ betting odds, which required a $10,000 wager to win $100 on the pick.
Jags fans are googly-eyed that Lawrence and his flowing blond locks can revive a franchise with only one winning season in the past 13 years, including a league-worst 1-15 record in 2020. They flocked to his wedding registry to buy gifts for the QB and his longtime girlfriend, Marissa Mowry, who were married this month.
Thank you @Jaguars fans. We really appreciate the wedding gifts and donations for charities of our choice! In addition to the donations, Marissa and I will also be donating $20K to charities in Jacksonville. Thanks again, we hope to be a part of your community soon🙏🏻
— Trevor Lawrence (@Trevorlawrencee) April 18, 2021
Lawrence obviously appreciated the fan outreach but can afford all the toasters he wants as the top pick in the world’s richest sports league. His four-year contract is expected to pay $36.8 million, headlined by a $24.1 million upfront signing bonus.
It’s many lifetimes of earnings for most people but just a fraction of the deal Lawrence would have signed before the 2011 NFL collective bargaining agreement slashed rookie contracts and tied them to a draft slot. Quarterback Sam Bradford signed a six-year deal, $78 million deal in 2010, while fellow QB Matthew Stafford signed for $72 million the prior year as the No. 1 selection. Cam Newton was the first to feel the impact of the new CBA. The 2011 top pick signed for $22 million over four years, including a $14.5 million bonus.
Contracts for draft picks are pre-determined by a formula tied to the NFL salary cap and “rookie compensation pool.” The 2021 cap is down 8% to $182.5 million after the league’s revenue shortfall last season with few fans at games. It is the first drop since 2011, but rookie contracts are up this year as agreed to in the 2020 CBA. That deal called for a 1% increase in rookie signing bonuses—even if the cap went down—and an increased minimum salary. The 2020 minimum salary was $610,000 and rises to $660,000 this season, goosing each rookie contract roughly $300,000 on top of the signing bonus gain.
Lawrence will add to his 2021 Jacksonville payday of $24.8 million—which includes his base salary—through endorsements with Adidas, Gatorade and crypto firm Blockfolio. He is the most marketable rookie entering the draft after three straight trips to the College Football Playoff, but a case can be made that No. 2 pick Zach Wilson will ultimately out-earn Lawrence off the field playing in a much bigger market for the New York Jets.
Rounding out the top five picks Thursday night were Trey Lance (San Francisco 49ers), Kyle Pitts (Atlanta Falcons) and Ja’Marr Chase (Cincinnati Bengals). The No. 32 pick will get $11.2 million over four years, including a $5.5 million signing bonus.
Draftees can participate in minicamps and offseason workouts before signing their contracts and not risk missing out on their huge payday. The NFL has a rookie participation agreement that essentially guarantees the same deal allocated to their draft slot even if a player is injured, as was the case with third overall pick Dante Fowler in 2015.
The 32 first-round picks will collectively earn $588 million in salary over the next four years, with 58% of the total paid upfront in the form of a signing bonus. The deals will all typically carry a fifth-year option that is at the discretion of the teams to pick up or not.