Prevailing wisdom in the National Football League proclaims that quarterback is the most important position on a team. Recent results cast doubt on this conclusion.
The ten largest quarterbacks contracts, according to Over the Cap:
- Andrew Luck - $24.6 million average salary per season
- Drew Brees - $24.3 million average salary per season
- Joe Flacco - $22.1 million average salary per season
- Aaron Rodgers - $22 million average salary per season
- Russell Wilson - $21.9 million average salary per season
- Ben Roethlisberger - $21.9 million average salary per season
- Carson Palmer - $21 million average salary per season
- Eli Manning - $21 million average salary per season
- Phillip Rivers - $20.8 million average salary per season
- Cam Newton - $20.8 million average salary per season
The teams who field the ten highest paid quarterbacks in the league have produced a combined record of 33-38 through eight weeks of the 2016 season. Yes, the ten most handsomely compensated signal callers in the NFL combined are five games below .500 so far this season.
Is it possible that franchise quarterbacks are not worth the large investment required to retain them? Based on the average annual value for the ten contracts listed above, these quarterback contracts consume at least 13% of their teams total salary cap. These large expenditures have weakened the rosters for each of these teams. New Orleans and Indianapolis have dedicated significant draft resources to give their quarterbacks weapons in the passing game, at the expense of their defenses. Baltimore, Green Bay, Seattle and Pittsburgh have been unable to retain some of their best offensive lineman, at least in part because of their quarterback contract outlays. The quarterbacks for Arizona and Carolina have not been able to overcome gaping holes in their secondaries.
Does having a franchise quarterback under contract help teams win the Super Bowl? Super Bowl XLVII and XLVIII were won by the Ravens and Seahawks. At the time, both teams had quarterbacks playing under their cost controlled rookie contracts, allowing the teams to spread around the salary cap space to build well balanced rosters. Super Bowl XLIX was won by Tom Brady and the Patriots. Brady is an outlier, because he signed a team friendly contract that pays him less than his market worth to benefit the overall team. New England has proven their scheme is not dependent on an experienced quarterback, they won the first three games of this season with unknowns Jimmy Garroppolo and Jacoby Brissett under center. Last season, the Broncos won the championship more in spite of Peyton Manning than because of him. After Brock Osweiler turned down a lucrative offer, second-year seventh round quarterback Trevor Siemien has led Denver to six wins this season.
Siemien is not the only young quarterback providing exceptional value to his team this season. Dak Prescott, the Cowboys fourth-round rookie, has posted six wins and one loss. Recent top-two draft selections Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Carson Wentz have proven the traditional learning curve for quarterbacks has been greatly diminished in NFL. Mariota, Winston and Wentz have carried their rebuilding teams to a combined record of 11-11, with a total touchdown to interception ratio of 37-to-18.
Just as the NFL has moved past the days of the workhorse running back, franchise quarterbacks with their mega contracts may fall out of favor soon. Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice, Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray and Marshawn Lynch all signed big money running back contracts over the last five offseasons, and all could be considered poor investments at this point. Many of the largest quarterback signings are trending towards the same reality.
Considerable allocation of resources into the offensive line and pass defense has catapulted Denver, Oakland, Dallas and Minnesota to the top of their division’s standings. Front offices around the league would be wise to notice which positional groups are providing the best return on investment in terms of wins and losses. Franchise quarterbacks are not helping their teams win enough to justify the expense.
Cycling through inexperienced quarterbacks has become a practical, efficient strategy and honest market advantage.