What does guaranteed money mean for NFL contracts?

They say the only two things in life that are guaranteed are death and taxes.

NFL contracts could argue differently.

Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages

Some argue that guaranteed money is the part of NFL contracts that truly matters. Let's explain what guaranteed money actually is.

NFL free agency is mere weeks away from beginning, and with that will come all sorts of talk about player contracts, which teams overspent, which teams got a bargain and what amount is any given player worth on the open market.

Fans typically take a look at one of two things: the total amount of the contract (i.e. four years, $100 million) or the annual average value (i.e. $25 million per year).

Yet the verbiage, clauses, escalators, de-escalators, bonuses and much more make contract talk much more complicated, and some would argue the total contract value and/or annual average don't matter much at all.

What truly matters is the guaranteed money.

So, what's guaranteed money in an NFL contract?

Explaining guaranteed money in an NFL contract

Not all contracts have guaranteed money. But player agents typically try getting as much guaranteed money into a deal as possible because...

Well, it's guaranteed.

Sort of.

According to the NFL's website, there three categories of guaranteed money, and players don't automatically have to possess all three in their respective contracts:

  1. Skill guarantee
  2. Cap guarantee
  3. Injury guarantee

These kinds of guarantees can be worked into a player contract to guard against the associated designation.

Case in point, if a player is released after suffering a football-related injury, he might receive an injury guarantee if one is worked into his contract. A cap guarantee could be present if a player is cut so a team can get under the salary cap, while a skill guarantee might have to be paid out because a team cuts a player due to diminishing abilities on the field.

In short, guaranteed money is the amount of cash guaranteed at signing.

Now, there are fully guaranteed contracts. Case in point, a fifth-year option awarded to players selected in Round 1 of the NFL Draft are fully guaranteed. Likewise, when a team slaps the franchise tag on a player, and no new deal is negotiated in the subsequent window, the money associated with the tag is fully guaranteed.

Related story: When is the deadline for the 2024 franchise tag (and will the 49ers use it)?

It boils down to negotiations between players and teams. Most teams would be perfectly happy dishing out contracts with zero guaranteed money whatsoever, yet players are always seeking to get as much guaranteed money as possible.

Where's the balance?

That's for teams and player agents to decide on a per-case basis.

Read more from Niner Noise