NFL Quarterbacks (Salary Cap Buster or Reliever)


Dec 30, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback

Philip Rivers

at a press conference after the game against the Oakland Raiders at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers defeated the Raiders 24-21. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

By James Fedewa

Paying an established NFL quarterback $15 to $20 million per year is pretty much a franchise standard, for a good quarterback. Quarterbacks are the common “Face of the Franchise” and leader of a team, as it’s the NFL’s most recognized and glorified position in the NFL. So if your team has that “special” quarterback, you are lucky to have him, after all the NFL is allegedly a passing league, so it all starts with the guy that handles and distributes the ball the most.  Quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco are making $19 to $22 million per season in 2013, as good quarterbacks demand big bucks. But so much money invested in one player, in the ultimate team sport (the NFL), can also damage that team taking too much money away from other key positional team needs. Salary balance is the key to an NFL franchise. The money it takes to pay the superstar quarterback can nearly cripple a team with multiple needs, as only four teams that have the twelve highest paid quarterbacks even made it to the 2012 playoffs (P.Manning, Ryan, Flacco, Brady): one third (33.3%)

Since the latest NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (in 2011), rookie draft picks have taken major salary reductions (specifically first round draft picks). These new mutual salary arrangements (within the NLF players association and NFL owners) help remove giant salaries (and possibly dead money) from potential cut draft-busts. This allocation or shift of money from enormous rookie contracts was intended to help reward veteran players with those saved dollars, and pay the veteran, not cripple NFL franchises from bad rookie draftees that were earning too much money, only because salary was made by where they were drafted.  The NFL has basically spread their salary cap and wealth around more evenly, in hopes of teams investing on proven players rather than rookie first round players. Before rookies were granted massive “lottery” type of rewards for a player that has never yet to play in the NFL (like Sam Bradford’s 8 year, $80 million contracts, with $40 million guaranteed or Jamarcus Russell’s 6 year $68 million contract, $32 million guarantee). Russell played 3 years in the league, and has been also out of the league for the last 3 years. Bradford has played three years, but has yet to play for a winning team (15-26-1). Both were massive contracts for rookies that may or may have not actually earned it, but were drafted to big money.

With the new rookie salary cap rules, NFL teams can spend a lot less on drafted player prospects. Quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Cam Newton are both were granted four year $22 million contracts, with about $15 million guaranteed (nearly half in guaranteed money). Robert Griffin’s contract is similar in value.  Russell Wilson’s contract is completely different, as he was drafted in the third round, with a four year $3 million contract. Ryan Tannehill won a four year nearly $13 million dollar contract, still a first round contract.  Andy Dalton & Colin Kaepernick were second round draft picks: both are four years $5.2 million contracts, considerably less than seasons past (but still very nice paydays)…

In the 2012 NFL Playoffs, six first and second year starting quarterbacks were starting for their playoff teams (Luck, Griffin, Wilson, Kaepernick, Ponder, Dalton). That’s half of every playoff team had a starting rookie or sophomore quarterback (at the most “premier” and glorified quarterback position). These six quarterbacks were making significantly less salary than the top 12 highest paid quarterbacks). These new rookie contracts actually freed up premier money and salary cap dollars for their team to spend on other key positions.

The two biggest spenders this 2013 off season has been Miami and Seattle, as they have two inexpensive quarterbacks. Miami bought Mike Wallace and several other key players. Seattle purchased Percy Harvin, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett to an already loaded team.  The 49ers traded Alex Smith, freeing up major salary cap space in favor if their cheaper quarterback Kaepernick, and now can pay their own players to keep them from becoming free agents (like Anthony Davis and trading for A.Bolden.   The Bengals are keeping their current players by rewarding me with extensions and the Vikings are stacking talent though the draft with 3 first round draft picks with big trades this offseason.

The teams with the youngest starting franchise quarterbacks (that were in the playoffs in 2012) are the teams making the most of free agency and draft day trades.  These teams do not have to pay $15 to $20 million mega contracts to their quarterbacks, as their starting quarterbacks making $2 million, or less in 2012 (yet).  Seattle could not have added Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Percy Harvin if they had a $20 million Drew Brees as their quarterback.  The Ravens resigned their superstar quarterback, Joe Flacco, and lost several key contributors (but still found a few ways to add some key free agents).  Most of all, good cheap quarterbacks are allowing their teams to improve in other areas; through free agency, trades and resigning their own players. The Russell Wilson’s, Andy Dalton’s and Ryan Tannehill’s types are letting their teams get better free agents, keep their own free agents and acquire more overall talent with the money they are not paying them.

The NFL is always evolving: New talent, New Trends, New Gimmicks, New Contracts, New Read-Options, New Collective Bargaining Agreements… Hybrids/Lowbrids…  But, in 2013 half of the league might be starting third-year to rookie quarterbacks, and 30% of the league will be starting the mega quarterback (and 20% of the league is in quarterback limbo with shoddy retreads). Young talented cheap quarterbacks look to be this decades new trend, but a mega superstar quarterback has a lot better chance of winning a super bowl (i.e. Brady, Roethlisberger, Manning’s, Brees, Rodgers, Flacco, etc.)

And in comes San Diego… Where will Philip Rivers take the team in 2013 and what is the Chargers backup plan in 2014? Chargers only have three options after this season at quarterback: Rivers, Rookie, Retread, Superstar Free Agent… The Chargers 2013 NFL Draft has a lot of faith in Rivers by not selecting a project/practice squad quarterback until the 7th round.