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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:

QuarterbackTeam2018 Cap Value (OTC)
Matt StaffordLions26.5M
Derek CarrRaiders25.0M
Joe FlaccoRavens24.75M
Andrew LuckColts24.4M
Russell WilsonSeahawks23.8M
Ben RoethlisbergerSteelers23.2M
Eli ManningGiants22.2M
Tom BradyPatriots22.0M
Philip RiversChargers22.0M
Matt RyanFalcons21.65M
Cam NewtonPanthers21.5M
Aaron RodgersPackers20.6M

Hey Jimmy, show me the size of your new contract.

There’s also Alex Smith, who is about to sign a four-year, $94M contract with the Redskins, although the cap hit in 2018 is “only” $17M. And, assuming they come to terms with Drew Brees on another mammoth deal in the coming weeks, the Saints will join that club, too (Brees will soon be a free agent).   That will make for half the NFL (the 12 teams in the table above, along with the 49ers, Redskins, and teams that sign Cousins and Brees) paying franchise quarterback money.

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:

2017 Draft Class: Kansas City (Patrick Mahomes), Houston (Deshaun Watson), and Chicago (Mitch Trubisky) have quarterbacks from the class of 2017 on cost-controlled contracts.

2016 Draft Class: The Rams (Jared Goff), Eagles (Carson Wentz), and Cowboys (Dak Prescott) will be starting quarterbacks from the class of 2016 on cost-controlled contracts.

2015 Draft Class: The Bucs (Jameis Winston) and Titans (Marcus Mariota) still reap the benefits from the top two picks of the 2015 Draft.

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.

  1. Bortles is on a fifth-year option contract. []
{ 6 comments }
  • Richie

    I think I’m OK with the money going to a guy like Olindo Mare instead of a disappointing top pick like Greg Robinson.

    • Johhny Ohrl

      Or all those WR busts in DET, or Leaf, or Russell, or, or… iirc all those busts were the reason the rookie cap was first talked about, and then invented. Unproven rookie players got more money back in those days then proven vets who were just short of arthritic joints and knee replacements…

  • Johhny Ohrl

    So a guy who had like what? five good games (which also could be a hot streak only) gets thrown 74 millions of dollars after him. Thats more than the yearly profit GB makes as a whole organisation. Just grotesque. More so than the Flacco deal… Morons in the NFL offices. And the fans have to pay for it. Coin for coin… I am so glad I am out of this theatre and only watch the SB nowadays.

  • Johhny Ohrl

    If I was a GM I´d sign about 7 QBs off the street to training camp and draft another three in late rounds. I am 100% sure one of them will be a hit (for further explanation, look up to: Gladwell, Dave Berri, Rob Simmons). I sign them to minimum money and can use the saved 100 millions of dollars for the OL, receivers, and defense. And if my QB hit one day asks for millions once he becomes a FA, I repeat the tactic, and say good-bye to him. A team is more than one position.

    There is only two things I´d look at: arm speed and accuracy. The rest will be done with practise reptitions, getting the system via learning the playbook, improving (if needed) the throwing technique via coaching, get my QB hit used to NFL game speed via game experience. No need to throw money away just for the sake of it (like in the Galloppopo or whatever his name is case). That is just sick.

    No need of wonderlics, 40 yard dashes, vertical jumps, and other nonsense. Each year there are about 100 good QBs leaving college, but the scouts look only at the big school QBs, thus miss out on the Warners, Bradys, Romos, etc (and those were just the lucky ones that got a chance to prove they can play).

    I´d never sign guys like Frye, Glennon, McNown, and other $hitty butter arms. I know upfront they´ll be a failure, no matter if they threw for 7.000 yards in a single NCAA season…

  • Josh Sanford

    This is a great article because it gives context to the events that we will all watch unfold between now and June or thereabouts. I love it.

  • sacramento gold miners

    In terms of what Keenum or Taylor might net on the open market, Keenum should do better. But both veterans had years to prove themselves, so they’ll have to yield to what the market will bear. I do not believe Mayfield or Allen would be ready to start right away, but that’s the risk a club might take. I do not wish to return to the days of unproven rookie QBs getting huge deals.