Jimmy Garoppolo just signed a 5 year, $137.5M contract with the 49ers, and $74M of that contract is guaranteed (with a total average annual salary of $27.5M). Next month, Kirk Cousins is going to sign an even more massive contract. In addition to the 49ers and the team that signs Cousins, there are 12 teams that have quarterbacks with 2018 salary cap values in excess of $20M:
|Quarterback||Team||2018 Cap Value (OTC)|
There is also a very small segment of teams paying sub-franchise level prices for sub-franchise level quarterbacks: the Dolphins with Ryan Tannehill, the Jaguars with Blake Bortles, and Andy Dalton with the Bengals; all three have cap hits of $16 to $20M. That brings us to 19 teams. The teams that sign Tyrod Taylor and the Vikings quarterbacks (Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford) may join that range, too. Mike Glennon, currently in that range, will fall out of it once released by the Bears.
What about the other 13 teams? Well, 8 of them have quarterbacks on rookie contracts from the past three drafts:
That brings us to 16 teams (including the Saints and whoever signs Cousins) with “franchise” quarterbacks, 3 teams in the upper veteran tier, and 8 teams with starters on rookie deals. What about the other 5 teams?
Well, there’s really 6 other teams, because we don’t know which one will sign Cousins. Those 6 are the Broncos, Jets, Cardinals, Browns, Bills, and Vikings (this ignores the possibility the Giants move on from Eli Manning, or the Jaguars/Dolphins move on from their quasi-franchise quarterbacks).
From the college ranks, Sam Darnold (USC) and Josh Rosen (UCLA) are likely top-5 picks and starting quarterbacks this fall; Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) and Josh Allen (Wyoming) may also join them. That would leave just one-to-three spots left for Tyrod Taylor and the three Vikings quarterbacks, to say nothing of Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, Glennon, or veterans like Josh McCown, Jay Cutler, and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Assume Brees returns to New Orleans, Cousins goes to one of those 6 teams, and three of the rookies starts for the other five teams. That would leave the NFL in the following scenario:
- 16 teams paying franchise money to quarterbacks
- 11 teams using a quarterback on a rookie contract
- 5 teams trying to split the difference, with Tannehill, Dalton, Bortles, and likely Taylor and Keenum as their starting quarterbacks.
- This also leaves McCown (who ranked 11th in passer rating in 2017), Foles (SBMVP), Bradford (who has been a regular starter, when healthy, since entering the league), and Bridgewater (also been a regular starter when healthy and is just 25 years old) out in the cold for 2018.
There’s a reason that bucket of “mid-tier” quarterbacks is small and shrinking. In years past, McCown, Bradford, Bridgewater, and Foles would be starters in 2018. But the massive contracts given to guys like Stafford and Carr (and now Garoppolo and Cousins) has juiced up the veteran quarterback market for the Daltons, Tannehills, and Taylors of the world1, which makes the Keenums, McCowns, and Glennons of the world even more expensive… which looks less much less attractive when rookie salaries are so cheap. Consider that Wentz and Goff had salary cap values of around $5M in 2016, while the trio of Mahomes, Watson, and Trubisky totaled just $10.8M in 2017.
If a team can play Mayfield or Allen for $3M, or pay Keenum or Taylor $17M, the choice is going to be pretty easy. By now, it’s crystal clear that NFL veterans screwed over rookies to ensure that proven veterans like Olindo Mare got paid (yes, the random Mare reference is to a 2011 article I wrote). And it’s creating an ever widening divide in the NFL quarterback world, where teams are increasingly forced to either pay out $20M for a quarterback or go to the college ranks to find one.
- Bortles is on a fifth-year option contract. [↩]