Zach Wilson Could Out-Earn Trevor Lawrence During Rookie Deal

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Trevor Lawrence is widely expected to be the first player chosen in tomorrow night’s NFL Player Selection Meeting. The Jacksonville Jaguars hold the pick. But with the New York Jets selecting second, the player chosen after Lawrence—most assume it will be BYU quarterback Zach Wilson—will have an opportunity to take in more money than the former Clemson quarterback over the course of his rookie deal. While Lawrence will sign a contract with a total value $1.5 million greater than that of the second pick ($34,746,325 vs. $33,204,927), the Jets first-round selection will have the chance to make up the differential in endorsements. Super-agent Leigh Steinberg (Steinberg Sports & Entertainment) said, “The Jets’ corporate sponsors in and of itself provide exponentially more endorsement earnings capacity for Wilson.”

Our Take: “It’s going to be almost impossible” for Wilson to out-earn Lawrence off the field in year one, said Steve Rosner (partner, 16W Marketing, which has represented Jets QBs over the years including Vinny Testaverde, Neil O’Donnell and Boomer Esiason). The fact that Lawrence was the face of college football for the last two seasons and has a large social following (806K IG followers) makes the marketing executive believe that initially “corporate America will lean towards the No. 1 pick at least prior to the draft and for the 2021 season.”

Having Alan Zucker managing his off-field marketing endeavors should help to ensure that is the case. As Michael Ginnitti (founder, Spotrac) noted, Zucker counts Peyton and Eli Manning, Danica Patrick and Taylor Swift among his clients. “While Wilson might have an easier path to the bigger companies because of location, Lawrence has brought in the right people to counter for what may lack in Jacksonville,” Rosner said. The 2019 CFP National Champion has already announced deals with several companies including Adidas, Gatorade, Topps and Blockfolio.

Wilson lacks the household name recognition and social following (126K IG followers) Lawrence has. However, Doug Fillis (founder, Accelerate Sports Ventures, a company that educates athletes on the value of name, image and likeness) said, “Good decisions he’s made to put good representation around him, combined with his rise up draft boards over the last few months, has resulted in tremendous momentum off the field.” Wilson, who signed with Brian Ayrault of William Morris Endeavor (represents: Joe Burrow, Aaron Donald, Joey and Nick Bosa), has announced deals with Nike, Traeger Grills, Panini and Aptive Environmental.

The BYU product should be able to add to his sponsorship portfolio once he is officially a Jet. “The local New York market can drive significant value to Wilson in the form of off-the-field partnerships,” Fillis said. “The sponsorship business the Jets have is significant. Historically, the team is always in the top third of the NFL in terms of sponsorship [partners].” By contrast, the Jaguars tend to fall towards the bottom of the league. That difference is noteworthy, because “the larger the corporate sponsorship program is, the more opportunities there are going to be for the athletes. And [for the sponsor] it is about creating a comprehensive sponsorship integration with the team. So, these are brands that want to activate [their partnership] with the quarterback,” he explained.

Rosner agreed the gap in the teams’ respective corporate partnership bases provide Wilson with far greater upside. But he insisted the BYU quarterback will have to win to realize the potential afforded by the market. “I don’t recall seeing [Sam Darnold] in much of anything,” he said. The competition for marketing dollars for professional New York athletes is simply too strong with nine big four franchises in the market.

The fact that Wilson will likely have to prove himself before he can maximize sponsorship income makes it unlikely he will out-earn Lawrence as a rookie. But if he plays well and the team wins, the New York market gives him a chance to do more in off-field earnings long term. “Zach Wilson performing dramatically for the Jets can make a veritable fortune in the New York market that Lawrence could never match,” Steinberg said. “Product endorsements in internet and phone services, automotive, clothing and apparel, breakfast cereal, and other product categories would eclipse anything Lawrence could generate in Jacksonville.”

In addition to the local advantage he will have, Rosner explained, “If somebody has success in New York they have a better chance at getting national deals [than players in other markets] because the national appeal is there; they are playing prime time games. Just look at Eli Manning.”

Steinberg agreed, adding, “Since New York media has an impact all across the country, a QB playing for the Jets will have much higher visibility and branding opportunities than a QB in Jacksonville.”

It’s fair to wonder how Jacksonville’s efforts to turn London into a second home market impacts Lawrence’s off-field earnings potential. The NFL’s attempts at globalization are certainly worth keeping an eye on. But Rosner said, “There’s little value there at the moment.”

Of course, even if Wilson were to out-earn Lawrence off the field, he would have to do it by a fairly significant margin to take home more total money over the first five years of his NFL career. Robert Raiola (director of sports & entertainment at PKF O’Connor Davies) points out that Florida has no state income tax, meaning Lawrence will net just over $23 million on his rookie deal, while Wilson will clear a little less than $17 million (the top state income tax rate in NJ is 10.75%).

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