Jalen Hurts’ record deal raises price for elite QBs — and perhaps Justin Fields

The Bears have one season to figure out whether Justin Fields is the answer at quarterback — and just as long to figure out what he’s worth. That price went up Monday.

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Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts throws a pass in the Super Bowl.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts throws a pass in the Super Bowl.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

The price of an elite quarterback went up Monday when Jalen Hurts, fresh off leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl, signed a five-year extension with the highest average annual value in NFL history.

Such developments are typically the least of the Bears’ problems.

But for the first time since 2018, the cost of contract extensions for the NFL’s top passers matters inside Halas Hall. The Bears hope Justin Fields — who shares some traits, but not NFL success, with Hurts — can make a similar leap this year that the Eagles quarterback did in 2022. If he does, they’d happily pay Fields the richest deal in franchise history as soon as a year from now.

If Fields struggles this season, the Bears must consider drafting a quarterback with one of their two 2024 first-round picks. As veteran quarterback salaries rise, the reward for getting a draft pick right — and keeping that passer on a cheap rookie deal for five seasons — is skyrocketing.

If Fields falls between both extremes, though, the Bears will have a very expensive decision to make. It’s one thing to pay an elite quarterback a record-breaking salary and another to give almost as much money to someone almost as good. The latter gets GMs fired.

Hurts’ contract will drive up the price of all quarterbacks, not just the ones at the top. He agreed to a five-year extension that includes $197.3 million in guaranteed salary. The deal trails only Deshaun Watson’s contract — which is as much an outlier as an albatross — in injury guarantees.

By Week 1, though, Hurts might not even be the highest-paid quarterback in his own time zone. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow — who led his team to the Super Bowl a year before Hurts — is eligible for an extension and figures to top Hurts’ salary. The Chargers’ Justin Herbert could come close, too, though he has yet to win a playoff game. The Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa will get paid if he stays healthy.

Lamar Jackson could get a new deal in the coming months — from the Ravens or someone else — that would further raise the salaries of upper-middle-class quarterbacks.

Burrow, Herbert and Tagovailoa have what Hurts didn’t — a fifth-year option. As 2020 first-round picks, their teams can pick up their 2024 options by early May — the Dolphins have already done so — even as they look to negotiate extensions. The Bears have to decide on Fields’ 2025 option in 13 months.

The fifth-year option reduces the pressure to hammer out a new deal two years in advance, but it’s rarely discouraged for elite players. The Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Bills’ Josh Allen signed monster extensions in the months before their fourth seasons began.

That would line up Fields for a new deal next offseason, should he prove himself in 2023.

That leaves the Bears with only one season to figure out whether Fields is the answer— and just as long to figure out what he’s worth.

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