Big Money Quarterbacks Are Not Beneficial to NFL Teams
Many may think that NFL games are won on the field. Which obviously is true, but what if I said NFL games are truly won in the general manager’s office. Every team works with the same limitations and numbers when it comes to “cap space.” No team is at any disadvantage. But somehow there are teams that have 3 win seasons, and others who are crowned Super Bowl Champs at the end of the season. Some general managers stick to the idea of paying one player 50 million dollars a year out of 53 on a team, and decide to ride it out there. Smart general managers have cracked the code to an ideal payroll, and have found success for years to come.
In the article, “The Ideal Cap Hit for a Superbowl QB,” it is stated, “The average cap number for title-winning signal-callers in that time is $9.81 million. In terms of share of the cap spent on a quarterback, 7.47 percent is the sweet spot across the past two decades, with just seven Super Bowl champions using at least 10 percent of their cap on the man under center.” In other words, Superbowl winners have found to obtain a great quarterback without an onerous cost. “Ideal Cap Hit for a Superbowl QB,” also mentions, “that balance is further illustrated by the average quarterback salary rank for Super Bowl winners – 16th.” So the average quarterback salary rank for Superbowl champions is 16th out of 32 total teams in the league.
Now, there has to be losers of the big game as well. We may think of the losers of the Super Bowl to be unsuccessful and a failure, but in essence, they made it there too and came up just short. The losers have seen similar numbers to the winners however. The same article, “Ideal Cap Hit for a Super Bowl QB,” specifies that, “Super Bowl runners-up since 2001 have spent an average of 7.17 percent of their cap on the quarterback. The average quarterback salary rank for those teams is just one spot below that of victorious franchises, 17th.” Meaning, if you make it to the big game, you know what you’re doing as a general manager. No one wants to grind all the way to come up short, but it’s part of the game. With that being said, the ideal percentage of a team’s salary for a quarterback should be around 7 or 8 percent.
A quarterback isn’t a whole team however, no one can win by themselves. A team must have good pieces around them in order to succeed as well. Many may be familiar with the slogan, “defense wins championships.” Which ultimately is true. “Spotratic” writes, “In 2022 the NFL average salary the defense of an NFL roster was 40.64 percent.” The Los Angeles Rams, superbowl champion this year, even had two players in the top ten in highest paid players on defense, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. They account for 24.84 percent of the Rams’ entire cap space, “Sporadic” lists.
Starting with the defensive line, Patrick Schilling in the article, “The Art of Positional Spending in the NFL,” mentions, “the entire defensive line ranks fourth lowest in the overall highest paid position group. Only three teams in the last ten winners have had an offensive and defensive line that were both inside of the top ten in cap hits (Seattle, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh).” An elite defense line possesses the ability to throw off a quarterback, and stuff a run game. Schilling also touches on linebackers and the secondary. He mentions, “The linebacker position was overall the second highest paid position group on the entire team, one spot behind the wide receiving corps. Along with that, it also had the largest gap between what the last ten SB winners averaged in cap hit for their linebackers versus what the average was of the bottom ten teams from the last ten seasons paid in terms of their cap hits.” Having linebackers is essential. But it seems over the last 10 seasons, NFL teams either choose to pay the defensive line or the linebackers. Schilling also writes, “In the last four years or so, however, the number has really steadied. Just one champion of the last four has had a cap hit for their linebackers that were less than $20m (the Eagles at $14m).” The trend for the league seems to be favoring linebackers over the defensive line however.
When it comes to the secondary of the defense, having a star cornerback or safety could prove to be essential in a championship run. However, Schilling writes, “With an average cap hit of just sixteenth that puts it at third lowest of all positions ahead of just special teams and quarterbacks.” Meaning cornerbacks are the lowest paid skill position in the league. Schilling also mentions, besides this past year, “None of the last ten SB winners have had an individual cornerback with a cap hit of higher than $10m and the highest cap hit in the league has never been less than $10m.” Interestingly enough, being the one exception Jalen Ramsey of this year with the Rams, corner seems to be an undervalued position. Having a lockdown corner that can follow the other team’s best wide receiver could be huge in determining the outcome of a game. Having at least one very good cornerback should be essential to NFL teams. Overall, a team’s cap space for defense should account for forty to forty five percent of the cap. With options being up to the general manager. Stacking the defensive line, having an elite secondary, or an elite set of linebackers can be considered. Obviously, it would be very challenging to have all three, but having no glaring weak spots on your defense is widely important.
With the offensive side of the ball, a team should be prioritizing wide receivers and the offensive line. A team should never invest big money into a running back. Injuries are the main reason why. Today’s NFL has seen running backs such as Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffery, and Ezekiel Elliot who were known as stars for a short while before injuries caught up to them. Barkley has been out for two years already in his career, McCaffery has played 10 games in the past two seasons, and Elliot has been battling injuries since last year. SB Nation writes, “six of the top 10 rushers in 2022 made less than 5 million dollars per year.” Making running backs a risky position to pay. Two rookies were even seen in the rushing top ten. So running backs can be “recycled” on cheap deals in free agency or later in the draft. Running back over should be a cheap position for a team, and should account for no more than two percent of their cap space.
Wide receiver is a different story. This is where you should look to spend with no hesitation. Patrick Schilling states, “Of the past ten Super Bowl champions, just one team had a WR payroll that was outside of the top fifteen in the league.” Elite wide receivers make things much easier for a quarterback to hit throws accurately. Creating separation for a wide receiver is an elite tool that can be a huge beneficiary to a team in the long run. Schilling also writes, “In the last ten years, only three times has the last place team had a higher cap hit for their highest paid wide receiver than the Super Bowl Champion.” Along with that, “the averages for the cap hit rank between Super Bowl teams and bottom of the ladder teams are not even close. The overall average the past ten seasons is about twenty-eight spots. The average cap hit position for a Super Bowl winner was twenty-ninth versus the fifty-seventh place that the bottom team had.” Making receiver a virtually important position for a team to have. A team should definitely have a clear cut number recover, with a solid two and three around him. With this being said, receivers should account for almost 20 percent of teams salary cap space.
Ending off in the trenches of the offensive line, another important position. They do not get the credit they deserve. They are fast for their weight and very athletic. That being said without a good offensive line, you can’t go very far. Schilling writes, “As for entire position groups, the offensive line is one of only two groups that have four of the past ten Super Bowl Champions in the top ten highest paid groups.” Smart teams pay the line. “Offensive linemen also ranked tied for third as the highest group of all the positions with the highest average cap hit at fourteenth.” An elite offensive line gives a team a run game, and makes them two dimensional on offense instead of one dimensional. With a passing league nowadays as well, teams that do pass a lot need to protect their quarterback to prevent injuries, instead of him just getting beat up the whole game. The big guys need their respect and if you don’t value them, you won’t win. Offensive line should make up for at least 15 percent of the team’s cap space.
Every team wants to be a Superbowl Champion. But that obviously can’t happen. The top tier of the league follows these protocols. Trying their best to emulate their perfect cap space. I have found it to be 7 percent to the quarterback, 40 to 45 percent to the defense, and 40 percent to the offense. These standards create superbowl champions. General managers don’t share their secrets, but they aren’t hidden, they are for everyone to see. There is nothing wrong with being a copycat, and seeing what other teams do to be successful. There is one goal in the league, and that’s to win.
12 NFL quarterbacks now earn an average salary of $30 million a year or more, but their teams are not thriving as they should. The Patrick Mahomes contract, $450 million over 10 years, shocked the league in 2020. Since then, the Browns have demonstrated even more recklessness by guaranteeing Deshaun Watson $230 million over 5 years, all based on the hope that he can single-handedly save their franchise. But nobody has tricked a team about his value as well as Aaron Rodgers, who bullied the Green Bay Packers into paying him $50 million a year over 3 years on the heels of a decade of disappointing underperformance. He did win the Super Bowl in 2011, but since then, the “perennial contender” has gotten his team to four NFC championship games and lost them all. Someone must have hypnotized the Packers to pay $200 million to a player whose last real success was 11 years ago. This madness has to stop.
None of the five highest-paid quarterbacks in 2018 by average salary—Rodgers, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins, Garoppolo, and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford—made the playoffs,” Kevin Clark writes in “The Curse of a Salary Eating Quarterback.” Dating to this year none of the top ten highest paid quarterbacks for the 2021-2022 season made the superbowl. The article, “Who is the Highest Paid Quarterback?” Lists the top ten highest paid quarterbacks in the league. Deshaun Watson who is fourth didn’t even play this year due to legal issues. Jared Goff, Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz, and Matt Ryan highlight seven through 10 and none made the playoffs.
With that being said, smart teams capitalize on a young quarterback’s salary. When paying a quarterback tons of money against the cap, it limits a team’s ability to load up at other positions. Leaving holes in their team and causing teams to exploit them. As a lifelong Eagles fan, they have been far from perfect. However, the one time they were borderline perfect was the 2017-2018 season. The Eagles drafted quarterback Carson Wentz a year prior to this. Leaving him on a rookie deal which was four years spanning 26 million dollars. This allowed general manager Howie Rosemen to build a team around his rookie quarterback. Signing free agents such as Alshon Jeffery, Lagarette Blount, Patrick Robinson, and perhaps the biggest was quarterback Nick Foles.
Carson Wentz played at an MVP level the entire season, until week 14 of the season he blew out his acl. This left backup quarterback Nick Foles on a measly 4 million dollar deal to take the reins. Long story short the Eagles win their first superbowl in franchise history. The year after this they made the huge mistake of falling into the trap of overpaying for a quarterback. Quarterback Carson Wentz received a four year 128 million dollar extension, NBC sports writes. Fresh off his acl tear Eagles had no hesitation singing him. Wentz continued to get injured year after year and was never the same after the extension. He was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in 2020, and then was traded from there after a mediocre one year with the Colts. The Washington Commanders were the next to bid on him, where he looks to play his first season with the team this year.
In “The Curse of a Salary Cap Eating Quarterback,” Kevin Clark writes, “The two highest-paid players on the Eagles’ Super Bowl–winning team last year combined for 11.6 percent of the cap.” An extremely low and rare number for a superbowl winner as that number is usually hovering in the 15-20 percent margin. The Eagles cruised to victory, being able to pay their rookie quarterback little amount of money, and left all the rest for position players. Clark also mentions that, “The only team to win the Super Bowl while having its two highest-paid players make more than 21.6 percent of the salary cap is the 49ers in 1994 with Steve Young and Jerry Rice.” This is an extreme amount of money to just two players. Only occurring once between two hall of fame players. It is let alone rare to have 2 hall of famers on your team at once. But for them to also make for over 21 percent of your team’s cap space is insane.
A great example of a great team around a quarterback was the “Legion of Boom,” for the Seattle Seahawks from 2013-2017. The team consisted of a great young quarterback in Russel Wilson. Their core on defense consisted of hard hitting safety Kam Chancellor, safety Earl Thomas and shut down corner Richard Sherman. Matt Bowen wrote an article about the legion of boom mentioning, “The Seahawks play fast; close on the ball and they will tackle. Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane: a group that loves to compete, challenge receivers and dictate the overall flow of the game.” Thomas was a first-round player, a top-15 pick out of Texas. But Sherman went in the fifth round. Chancellor, too. And both Maxwell and Lane were sixth-round picks. Seattle built a team around a rookie quarterback and capitalized in 2013 beating the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl 43-8.
The Kansas City Chiefs in 2019 did something similar. Although they got very lucky with drafting Patrick Mahomes in the first round back in 2018. Kansas City capitalized on a young quarterback with potential. With a great defense throughout the playoffs Kansas City won the Superbowl against the San Francisco 49ers 31-20. Kevin Clark writes in “The Curse of a Salary Eating Quarterback,” “Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes II, this season’s presumptive MVP, is earning $3.7 million this year, making him the 400th-highest-paid player in the league. He gets about $800,000 less than Falcons backup Matt Schaub and is under contract until 2021.” Mahomes made less than a backup quarterback and won the superbowl! The Chiefs obviously had to sign him, but 50 million dollars a year should have been decreased as they will see the effects from this contract in the future. Mahomes is perhaps most known for his famous half a billion dollar contract, but he didn’t make this money back in 2019, and the Chiefs capitalized.
There is a pattern here. Build around the young quarterback. This not only benefits a team now, but also in the future. Being able to have players for your quarterback to throw to, and a championship caliber defense should be the main focal point of NFL teams. Now it’s easier said than done, but it is more effective than paying 50 million a year to one player. With great talent surrounding you, it’s hard to not perform.
NFL teams seem to be so confident in their big money quarterbacks. Imagine getting paid 50 million dollars a year to come up short consistently in the playoffs. Even 30 million dollars. All that money a year just to fail every-time. Seems like a gig everyone would want. Get paid no matter how you perform. Names such as Aaron Rogers, Patrick Mahomes, and even Deshaun Watson all make big money for years to come. Watson, who is even fresh off not playing for a year due to sexual harassment charges makes 80 more million dollars than his previous contract. You don’t even have to play, get in legal trouble, and even make 80 more million dollars than you previously would have! Watson now has a five year two hundred 30 million dollar contract with the Cleveland Browns. They even traded 3 first round picks for him. NFL teams seem to have supreme confidence in big name quarterbacks who may not even have a superbowl ring. The top ten list of highest paid quarterbacks accounts for a total of 4 superbowl rings, and each of those rings belongs to a separate player. Meaning, 4 players on the list all have one championship. Five out of the 10 highest paid quarterbacks in the league don’t even have an appearance on their resume. NFL teams have a wide amount of confidence in their big money quarterbacks, too much to be exact.
Kevin Patra exposes the lunacy of Aaron Rodgers newly signed and absurd 150 million dollar contract. The Green Bay Packers general manager confidently claims, “We are very pleased to be able to come to an agreement with Aaron that keeps him in Green Bay.” His play on the field and leadership in our locker room remain vital in our pursuit of another Super Bowl title. The agreement also allows us to maintain and enhance what we feel is already a very competitive roster.” Interesting knowing that Rogers has been 1-5 in NFC championship games, and has one superbowl title. Because the team wanted to give Rodgers all their payroll, star wide receiver Devante Adams demanded a trade and was traded to the Los Vegas Raiders. Adams didn’t get the money he felt he deserved for being a vital part for the Packers for years. Adams, an 8 year Packer, seemed inseparable from the team. Arguably the best wide receiver in the game, he has put up over 1,300 yards in back to back seasons, with 18 touchdowns in 2020, the highest of his career. Adams wanted more money than the Packers were offering because of Rodgers contract and paid the Ultimate price. Their best receiver now consists of a second round rookie from North Dakota state. With their other receivers consisting of 31 year old, Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard who has a tick over 1,000 yards in 4 seasons, and Sammy Watkins, who hasn’t posted a 1,000 yard season since 2015.Huge downgrade.
Rodgers may have even put too much pressure on the Packers to sign him. An ESPN article written by Demovsky, he states, “Rodgers called his future a ‘beautiful mystery’ late in the 2020 season and shortly after the Packers’ NFC Championship Game loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers included himself in a group of players with uncertain futures. What followed was an offseason-long boycott — he missed workouts, organized team activities and minicamp.” ESPN even reports he told the Packers, “he would never play for them again.” Rodgers, pulling the ultimate diva move, decided to eventually stay when he bullied the Packers into giving him 50 million dollars a year. No one can turn that money down. Packers may have panicked not wanting to lose Rodgers, and instead lost the best receiver in the game.
Moving on to the half a billion dollar man, Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes came into the league on fire. In his sophomore season he posted over 5,000 passing yards, 50 touchdowns and an MVP award. Pretty damn good. The Kansas City Chiefs proceeded to win the superbowl the next year on his measly rookie deal of 4 million dollars a year. The Chiefs then proceeded to fall in the dreadful hole of paying a ridiculous amount of money to the quarterback. The Chiefs offered the quarterback a 10 year 500 million dollar contract. Hard to blame the Chiefs for locking him up, but 50 million dollars a year? Abominable. In another article written by ESPN, the Chiefs general manager, Clark Hunt, is quoted, happily saying, “With his dynamic play and infectious personality, he is one of the most recognized and beloved figures to put on the Chiefs uniform. He’s an extraordinary leader and a credit to the Kansas City community, and I’m delighted that he will be a member of the Chiefs for many years to come.” Nothing too bold here, however the Chiefs are already starting to see the effects of quarterback’s contract. Almost a carbon copy with Rodgers signing, losing his star wide receiver, Mahomes lost his. Tyreke Hill, perhaps the fastest player in the league, and stud wide receiver has put up over 1,000 yards in his four of six years with the Chiefs. A former fifth round pick, proved himself on the field, and wanted his share of big money. Hill demanded the money he deserved, but Chiefs may have forgotten over the next 10 years their quarterback is getting 500 million dollars. Kansas City was forced to trade the star wide out to the Miami Dolphins. Where he now happily makes 30 million dollars a year. A big part of the championship run, the wide receiver will never wear those Chiefs uniforms again.
Finally, Deshaun Watson, Cleveland Browns quarterback. A borderline sex offender, Watson was formerly the quarterback for the Houston Texans. He didn’t play the whole 2021 season due to sexual harassment charges. He was recently cleared of those charges, and it was all in for NFL teams to try and trade for him. Watson, who was unhappy with the Texans organization, vowed to never play for them again. “Cleveland traded three first-round picks, a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick.” Cole Thompson from “Si.com,” writes, “Watson is set to waive his no-trade clause and will receive a new five-year, $230 million contract, $80 million more than the original deal agreed to in Houston.” So a player fresh off 22 civil charges is now making 80 more million dollars than his previous contract. A player who didn’t even play last year was granted 80 more million dollars than he previously had. The worst part about this contract, all this money is guaranteed, Cleveland has no way of getting out of it.
In another “Si.com,” article, Browns owners, Jimmy Haslem and Dee Haslem were quoted saying, “We spent a tremendous amount of time exploring and investigating the opportunity to trade for Deshaun Watson. We are acutely aware and empathetic to the highly personal sentiments expressed about this decision. In our conversations, Deshaun detailed his commitment to leading our team; he understands and embraces the hard work needed to build his name both in the community and on the field.” The Browns for some reason have so much trust in a guy who was accused of 20 plus civil counts of sexual harassment. Cleveland this is who you know trust to go get you your first superbowl ever. So much that they made him the second highest quarterback in the league, accounting for 230 million dollars, all of that guaranteed! Watson is doing almost nothing to deserve 80 more million dollars than his previous contract, is fresh out of court, and makes way more money than he could have ever imagined in the next few seasons. Watson could also still face a suspension from the league, so he is not fully off the hook. However, as mentioned previously, the Browns have no way of getting out of this if this backfires, all 230 million dollars is guaranteed, meaning they have to pay him and have no way of getting out of it. Cleveland also recently signed their cornerback, Denzel Ward, to a 5 year 100 million dollar contract. I’m not sure where Cleveland thinks their roster is going to go in the next few years giving two players 70 million dollars a year.
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