The landscape of NFL quarterback contracts has grown wildly out of control. Teams are throwing around $50 million guaranteed deals like they are minimum wage jobs.
The problem is there is not a set criteria for what constitutes a franchise quarterback, so the concept is subjective.
Last year, Jay Cutler signed an extension that guarantees him $54 million. His extension is the type of money Andy Dalton is looking for. That is two more million guaranteed than Joe Flacco who has a Super Bowl on his resume.
Colin Kaepernick just signed a deal with a possible $61 million guaranteed. That is a ton of money to give to a quarterback who in 11 games last season did not throw for 200 yards.
Kaepernick has a ton of upside and was deserving of a new deal, but there was no reason to have to break the bank. The problem with his deal is now Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Andrew Luck will all expect the same thing.
Newton is obviously talented but his team has managed one winning season with him. They lost their best receiving threat and probably will take a step back this season. If the team ends up a sub-.500 team and has to pay Newton franchise quarterback money, it will be difficult to field a contending team.
Wilson is the same situation. The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl with a lot of cheap, talented players. Now all those players including Wilson have earned new deals. If the Seahawks pay Wilson top dollar, what will the team be sacrificing?
In recent years, winning the Super Bowl with a top-paid quarterback has not been easy. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning each led their teams to the Super Bowl while making top dollar but both suffered defeats. Aaron Rodgers‘ base salary was $6 million in 2010 when he won. Eli Manning’s base salary was $8.5 million when he won his second Super Bowl. Flacco and Wilson both were on rookie contracts.
It’s a quarterback-driven league and there is no question if a team expects to win, they need a quality player at the position but they must come at the right price.
Last offseason the Baltimore Ravens paid Flacco $52 million guaranteed. His new contract meant the team could not afford to keep veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Without Boldin, the Ravens offense was not the same during the 2013 season. The Ravens gave Flacco more than he would have received on the open market, which begs the question why? Why do teams feel the need to overpay for a quarterback?
The problem is teams are afraid to start over at the quarterback position. The question general managers are forced to face is, “Who can we bring in that is better?”
The Dallas Cowboys gave Tony Romo $55 million guaranteed, and he has come up small in clutch moments constantly. They paid him because they felt they had no alternative.
That is exactly where the Cincinnati Bengals find themselves with Dalton. They honestly don’t want to pay him top dollar but who is available that could come in and be productive?
There are five quarterbacks currently in the NFL who have the talent that mandates a $20 million or more salary a year. They are Peyton Manning, Brees, Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Rodgers.
Then there are varying degrees for the rest of the quarterbacks who make elite money. Is Matthew Stafford really elite or a product of Calvin Johnson? He threw 40 touchdowns one season, but he has bad mechanics and forces the ball to Johnson too often.
Is Eli Manning elite or simply streaky? His two Super Bowl runs were remarkable, however, he has also led the NFL in interceptions twice, and his team has missed the playoffs four of the last five seasons.
Cutler has one playoff appearance in his career. Matt Ryan has one playoff win in his career.
Let’s be clear, winning playoff games and championships are team accomplishments. However, it matters greatly how players perform in those big moments, especially quarterbacks. Some of the aforementioned players have come up small in those moments.
So how should teams approach the problems of allocating so much money to one position when the player really doesn’t deserve it?
For starters, it wouldn’t hurt to develop backups more consistently. As previously mentioned, teams often feel they have no other option to turn to. If teams developed their backups better, maybe teams could go with the backup rather than overpay due to fear.
Another option is to let players test the market. This is not an option in all cases, but players like Dalton and Flacco only command top dollar from their current teams. A player in those situations would hit the open market and find that their value is far lower than anticipated. The home team could then negotiate a deal at a more reasonable salary.
Thirdly, build teams that are not dependant on a great quarterback to win. The Seahawks and 49ers have laid the blue print for how to build teams that play great defense, run the ball, and contend for Super Bowls. They ask their quarterbacks to make plays but not be the main playmaker. Neither team asks their quarterback to throw the ball 40 or 50 times a game.
It may not be popular to let a player go who helped lead a team to a great season, but fans get over things like that quickly. It seems like a distant memory that except for two untimely fumbles in the NFC Championship game and Alex Smith would have taken the 49ers to a Super Bowl. The play of Kaepernick quickly made fans forget.
If teams want to win they need a quality quarterback, but overpaying that quarterback maybe a hindrance to that goal. Moving forward, teams may want to adjust their approach.
Photo Credit: Getty Images/ Jim Rogash