Less than 24 hours after becoming the NFL’s highest-paid quarterback by annual salary, Justin Herbert’s first training camp practice on Wednesday didn’t appear different from past seasons.
The Los Angeles Chargers signal-caller had his share of dynamic throws and then for nearly 25 minutes went up and down the sidelines signing autographs for fans and posing for pictures. Herbert then chatted with owner Dean Spanos for a couple minutes before being interviewed by reporters about his five-year, $262.5 million extension.
Besides an immense amount of gratitude, Herbert was relieved that the extension was able to be completed before the start of camp.
“Words are hard to find for this process. I’m still trying to process the whole thing,” he said. “I feel free and just excited to go play football. That’s the biggest focus right now, is just football. I don’t have to worry about anything else. I’m exactly where I need to be with this team. We have the right guys in that locker room. This offseason was a lot of fun with them.”
Herbert celebrated with teammates on Tuesday once the deal was announced. He intimated that with the extension, the one area where he is hoping to develop more is being one of the team leaders.
“I think I owe them a lot of dinners. Khalil Mack has done an incredible job (last year) of taking care of our offense and taking care of the defense, as well,” Herbert said. “We know there are some really selfless guys on this team. I’m just so loyal to them and so thankful to their support along the way. I think it might be my turn to make up for some of that.”
Herbert’s total value and $52.5 million average per season surpasses the $260 million, five-year extension ($52 million average) Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson signed three months ago.
Spanos has not shied away from handing out large contracts to his top players since he moved the franchise from San Diego to Los Angeles in 2017. Derwin James became the league’s highest-paid safety last season and is averaging $19 million per year.
The Bolts also have wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams averaging $20 million per season, while edge rushers Joey Bosa and Mack, who was acquired in a trade from Chicago, average at least $23.5 million per year.
“We try to leave upstairs business out of our locker room and stick to what we can control on the field,” James said. “As a team, it’s definitely exciting that’s out of the way and we can move forward.”
Even though he received plenty of questions about Herbert’s extension during the offseason, coach Brandon Staley said it wasn’t hovering over the team as a distraction.
“The respect on both sides was really high. The communication was really good. I thought that it was a really good contract for both sides,” Staley said. “I think that the history of this team will tell you that this franchise knows how to find quarterbacks — when you go all of the way back to (Hall of Famer) Dan Fouts and Stan Humphries, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees, and, now, Justin — we’re very, very fortunate. To have a young player leading your team that is made up of all the right stuff, most importantly, and then, who can play the game like few who have ever played the position can, it’s just really exciting for us.”
Herbert and the rest of the unit appear to have an early grasp of the system new coordinator Kellen Moore is installing. Moore, who is Herbert’s third offensive coordinator in four seasons, directed the Cowboys offense for four seasons.
Besides a change in offensive philosophy, which many hope results in the Chargers throwing downfield more, Herbert thinks the extension will result in less pressure. Since entering the league as the sixth overall pick in the 2020 draft, Herbert is second in the league in completions (1,316), third in passing yards (14,089) and sixth in TD passes (102).
“I think I just get to play football now. I think that’s the best part about it, is that I get to play free. I get to play fearless,” he said. “We go out there and get to play our type of ball. I know when we’re playing at our best, we’re a tough team.”
Herbert is the second member of the 2020 draft class to sign a big extension, after Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts signed a five-year extension worth $255 million.
Herbert’s contract also sets the playing field for the Cincinnati Bengals and Joe Burrow. Bengals owner Mike Brown on Monday said talks are ongoing.
“I’m rooting for Joe. He’s done such a fantastic job playing football and I’ve got so much respect for him as a quarterback. I know he’s a competitor and he’s earned every penny,” said Herbert of Burrow.