English rugby star Maro Itoje may be leaving Saracens at the end of the season after he was reportedly offered a significant pay cut to extend his contract with the Premiership champions. Itoje currently earns around £800,000 per year, but Saracens' new salary cap regulations only allow one marquee player per club, with captain Owen Farrell expected to retain that category.
According to the Daily Mail, Itoje and Farrell are currently the two marquee players for Saracens. However, with both players' contracts expiring at the end of the season, the club cannot afford to pay them their current salaries under the new regulations. Despite the salary cap returning to pre-Covid levels next season, increasing from £5 million to £6.4 million, Saracens still cannot offer both players lucrative terms as they have in the past.
This has resulted in Itoje being offered a significant pay cut to continue playing for the club he has represented throughout his career. If he does not accept the offer, Itoje may join other English internationals who have moved to the Top 14 league, such as Parisian club Racing 92. However, this move would likely mean he no longer qualifies for the England national team and potentially the British and Irish Lions in 2025, should he be chosen.
To potentially keep Itoje in the Premiership, the RFU's hybrid contracts may come into play. These contracts would allow Itoje to earn additional income as an England international. However, it remains to be seen whether Saracens will make a comparable offer to what other high-profile players like Bath's Finn Russell and All Blacks' Richie Mo'unga are earning, around £1 million per year.
It is unclear which players hold marquee roles for each Premiership club, but it is speculated that Marcus Smith for Harlequins, Finn Russell for Bath, Zach Mercer for Gloucester, Handre Pollard for Leicester Tigers, and George Ford for Sale Sharks may fill those positions. This leaves limited opportunities for other Premiership sides to secure the services of the talented second-row player.
If Itoje does depart for an overseas club, it would be another setback for England head coach Steve Borthwick, who has already lost players like Jack Willis (Toulouse), Joe Marchant (Stade Francais), Dave Ribbans (Toulon), and potentially Henry Arundell (if he doesn't return to the Premiership) due to current RFU regulations. Other players like Sam Simmonds, Jack Nowell, Kyle Sinckler, and Lewis Ludlam have also been linked with moves to Top 14 clubs, posing a challenge for the national team in the future.