The NFL is famously the only major sports league in North America that does not customarily guarantee the full amount of player contracts. But contrary to popular belief, the players' unions in the NBA, MLB, and NHL did not establish a pattern of guaranteed deals through the collective bargaining process. Instead, individual players used their negotiating positions to secure guarantees across multiple seasons. That set a precedent that other players soon followed.

All first-round picks now receive deals with full guarantees, but the length is set at four years (with a team option in Year 5), and the salary terms are non-negotiable and well below market value. Any undrafted or veteran NFL player is free to broker a multi-year, fully guaranteed, market-level contract like the one the Cleveland Browns gave quarterback Deshaun Watson in March. But several structural problems typically prevent this from happening, and that probably won’t change any time soon.

Watson's deal was indeed an eye-opener - and not just because he still faces lawsuits from 22 women who say he committed sexual misconduct or sexual assault. The terms of the contract - five years, $230 million, all fully guaranteed - broke all sorts of financial norms and evoked strong reactions from around the league.

NBC's Peter King reported that "the guarantee for Watson stunned GMs and club presidents." Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti called the deal "groundbreaking" before quickly adding that "it'll make negotiations harder with others." NFLPA president JC Tretter blogged that the deal could be "a "turning point" in creating a new standard.

If only if were that simple.

For starters, Watson had unique leverage. He's one of the league's best players at a position where quality tends to be in short supply. And before the lawsuits were filed, he had made it clear he no longer wanted to play for the Houston Texans, who were eventually compelled to trade him. Once the first of two grand juries decided not to criminally charge Watson, the bidding war escalated - and the Browns were willing to fork over six draft picks in addition to handing him a long-term contract with full guarantees.

"Watson was effectively operating as a free agent given his situation, and we don't really see top-five, top-10 quarterbacks ever reach free agency," Pro Football Focus salary-cap analyst Brad Spielberger told theScore.

The closest analogue is Kirk Cousins, who defied convention by bargaining for a three-year deal with $84 million fully guaranteed when he joined the Minnesota Vikings in 2018. Like Watson, Cousins had unique leverage: He was an unrestricted free agent who had played on back-to-back franchise tags during his final two seasons with Washington.

"The talk in our locker rooms," Tretter wrote, "was a hope that other top free agents - especially QBs who were negotiating immediately after Cousins - would demand the same."