Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

03 May 2018

Falcons Make Matt Ryan NFL's Highest-Paid Player

The Atlanta Falcons have agreed to a contract extension with quarterback Matt Ryan that will make him the highest-paid player in the National Football League.

The terms of the deal:

  • Five years, lasting through 2023.
  • Worth up to $150 million.
  • $100 million guaranteed.
  • The first player to average $30 million a year.

Ryan's guarantee shatters the record of $84 million set earlier this offseason by Kirk Cousins.

There is a good chance Aaron Rodgers will break some of these records by signing a new deal with Green Bay before the season starts. And then a year from now, Russell Wilson will likely sign an extension before his contract with the Seahawks expires after the 2019 season. In short, the NFL continues to be very successful and there is still plenty of cash to go around, thank you very much.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 03 May 2018

153 comments, Last at 1:20pm by ssereb


by theslothook :: Thu, 05/03/2018 - 6:42pm

Hmm..hard to fault this move honestly, though I would say - if you are committing this much cash to your qb, then draft resources must no longer be devoted to the pass game whatsoever. Between Ryan and Julio, you make do.

Its easy to say you go for a Case Keenum type and spend your resources elsewhere, but players like Watt and Von Miller rarely make it to free agency and you end up overspending on the few lower tier veterans who do.

The real problem is - paying Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers that kind of money is more palatable because those players can overcome deficiencies across the o line or receivers or running backs. Ryan isn't that type of player. He's very good, but not the sort of guy who can maintain offensive efficiency with below average talent.

by langsty :: Thu, 05/03/2018 - 8:18pm

"The real problem is - paying Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers that kind of money is more palatable because those players can overcome deficiencies across the o line or receivers or running backs."

So that's why they got paid a lot of money? Because their teams saw a potential advantage in that they wouldn't have to construct a good offensive roster around them?

I don't think that's how it worked. Brady had that one season in 2006 where he rightly complained about having to throw to Reche Caldwell & lost to the megapowered Colts in the biggest comeback in AFC Championship Game history - and Belichick promptly responded by making sure he's had great receiving options and protection for the rest of his career.

I really don't see any indication at the roster building level that the teams these guys played on planned for anything other than 'let's make sure our budget busting QB has great players around him who can help him succeed'

by theslothook :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 1:15am

I think you misunderstood my point. Every year, every team tries to maximize the amount of talent that they have. Draft picks and cap space limit how much money teams have to spend on players. If you have a qb soaking up most of the cap, that reduces the amount of money left elsewhere to spend. Thats the result of a hard cap and basic economics more broadly.

by MC2 :: Thu, 05/03/2018 - 8:06pm

I don't see where the Falcons had any choice here. Ryan is a HOF-caliber QB (whether he actually makes it to the HOF or not is a much different question).

You don't let a HOF-caliber QB get away, unless you think he's nearing the end of the line, and there's no evidence of that being the case. So, they pretty much have to pay whatever it takes to keep him.

by The Ninjalectual :: Thu, 05/03/2018 - 9:39pm

Huh. Apparently everyone from Matt Stafford to Matt Hasselbeck to Drew McQueen Bledsoe are also "HoF-caliber" then

by Independent George :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 12:13am

I'd agree he's a borderline case at best, but he's far, far better than those other players you listed. Ryan's been consistently good across his entire career:

2017: 10-6, 1,079 DYAR (7), 19.2% DVOA (9)
2016: 11-5, 1,885 DYAR(1), 39.1% DVOA (1)
2015: 8-8, 389 DYAR (19), -1.9% DVOA (18)
2014: 6-10, 1,101 DYAR (7), 14.9% DVOA (9)
2013: 4-12, 1,124 DYAR (4), 13.3% DVOA (9)
2012: 13-3, 1,196 DYAR (5), 16.5% DVOA (8)
2011: 10-6, 1,118 DYAR (6), 18.7% DVOA (7)
2010: 13-3, 1,120 DYAR (5), 18.0% DVOA (7)
2009: 9-5, 702 DYAR (13), 12.4% DVOA (15)
2008: 11-5, 1,012 DYAR (7), 25.3% DVOA (4)

Had he won the Super Bowl in 2016, he'd be a quality candidate (though I personally wouldn't vote for him). Since most of us here are pretty leery of "Rings!!!" being a qualifier, the question becomes how valuable this level of consistency from a QB is (assuming he keeps this up for another 5+ years).

Again - I tend to weigh in favor of peak value over career value, so I'd rate Philip Rivers and Tony Romo ahead of Ryan. But if he keeps at it, I think Ryan is at least quarter-finalist material, maybe semi-finalist. But in terms of his contract, I think he's absolutely worth every penny the Falcons just paid him.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 9:44am

Wouldn't you rate 2016 as a pretty good peak? If the Falcons hadn't blown that Superbowl, and he maintains his usual level of consistency for several more years, I feel like he would get in easily, and in my opinion, deservedly so.

by ChrisS :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 11:35am

I'm not sold yet. His average DYAR rank is a little below 7th and his average DVOA rank is a little above 9th (averaging ordinal rankings is pretty crappy but easy). He was in the top 5 for DYAR 4 times and twice for DVOA.

by Independent George :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 1:07pm

2016 was a great peak. But when I mean peak, I was thinking best 4-5 seasons, not just a single one - especially for a QB. Looking at his career so far, I see one genuinely great season (2016), one very good one (2008), and a lot of good-very good ones. Except for 2016, none of them really makes me think this is one of the best 3 QBs in the league.

I guess it depends on what you think his peer group is - it's possible that Brady/Brees/Manning spoiled us raised the bar too high for what we might consider a HoF QB, especially if you add Rivers/Rodgers/Roethlisberger to the cadre that came very shortly after them. Ryan way at the very top of the Flacco/Luck/Newton/Wilson group, but at the bottom of Rivers/Rodgers/Roethlisberger/Romo.

What the heck is with all the R's from 2004-2008?

by MC2 :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 2:42am

I do think the "R" guys (with the exception of Rodgers, who I would put in the top tier with Brady, Brees and Manning) suffer from playing in an era of historically great QB play. Brady, Brees, Manning and Rodgers are all certain to go down as among the 10 best ever (at least to this point). That's a remarkable concentration of talent at the position, and it makes it very easy to overlook how good guys like Rivers, Roethlisberger, Romo and Ryan have been.

It reminds me of tennis, where the last 15 years has seen the primes of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, all of whom are easily among the top 10 of all time. Even someone like Andy Murray, a slam dunk HOFer in his own right, has had a hard time hanging with those guys, and it has been even harder for the next tier. Guys like David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych almost certainly would have won a major if they had played in any other era, and guys like Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt would have won more than 1 or 2 of them. The same is true in the NFL. The "R" guys would likely have a lot more All-Pro selections, MVPs, and even "RINGZZZZZ" if they had played in a different era.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 10:19am

Slightly less than $30 million a year is the going rate for QBs with far less a record of success than Matt Ryan, so I have a hard time seeing how him getting $30 million a year isn't a fair deal. Ryan hasn't done enough for the HOF yet, but he's got potentially years left, so could happen, but, yeah, I don't see how he's not worth this contract considering comparable contracts for less-proven players and the endless quest to make the NFL more of a passing league every year.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 10:57am

Exactly - people should be looking at the differential cost here. This is a league where it costs you $18M a year to get a guy like Blake Bortles.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 11:29am

Or even QBs better than Blake Bortles, which is admittedly not tough to do. There was much pearl-clutching when Stafford got a contract averaging $27 million/year; Matt Ryan isn't worth 11% more on average than Matt Stafford?

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 11:40am

Or going the other way, it costs you $6 million guaranteed to get Chase Daniel (who has started a grand total of 2 games and attempted 78 passes in 8 years) to be your backup.

In other words, the economics of the quarterback market are screwed up.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 1:49pm

As CEO of The Planetary Chase Daniel Fan Club, I find your remarks highly offensive!

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 5:27pm

Hey, I bear no I’ll will towards Chase Daniel, despite being somewhat envious of him!

by Will Allen :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 9:03am

The man is a Titan of our Age!

by The Ninjalectual :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 12:55pm

More like titan, until he backs up Mariota (which is probably just a matter of time).

Eight or nine more comments like that and you'll have to turn in your PCDFCP card for a PCDFCVP one, bringing shame on your family.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 1:01pm

$30mm likely will be very cheap in 2023. Five years ago in 2013 the avg of top 10 QBs was around $15m, in 2018 it's now $25m. So in 2023 you could probably predict it as being $35m if you just add a straight $10m, or $42m if you think it'll rise by 60% again !!

More tellingly it was 12% of the salary cap in 2013 and 14% this year. So whatever the salary cap is in 2023 you can expect the top QBs to be taking home about 15% of max. This year, Ryan will be worth 17% but there has to be some kind of limit to QB spending to allow for the rest of a roster.

By 2023, the salary cap only needs to be $200 for Ryan to be earning 15% of it - it's currently $177 and been going up by roughly $10m per year. I'm sure it'll be more like $230m by 2023 although the next CBA might screw things.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 1:52pm

Yep, lemme know when the t.v. packages stop being auctioned for more money, and then I'll start saying with confidence that teams are overpaying for qbs.

by BJR :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 6:31am

Matt Ryan was MVP of the league in 2016. Leaving aside any statistical comparisons, it's impossible to have a higher peak than that.

by MC2 :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 6:40pm

With regard to Matt Ryan's Hall-worthiness, I don't doubt that he may get left out, but here are a couple of "quick and dirty" arguments for why that would be a travesty.

First, consider Ryan's case vs. that of Frank Gore, who most people, including many here at FO, seem to view as a HOF lock. Here are Gore's FO numbers (Year, DYAR Rank, DVOA Rank):

2017 - 18, 23
2016 - 12, 16
2015 - 36, 36
2014 - 10, 13
2013 - 20, 24
2012 - 4, 4
2011 - 47, 44
2010 - 33, 34
2009 - 21, 20
2008 - 24, 27
2007 - 14, 22
2006 - 7, 12
2005 - 20, 14

Compare these to the numbers for Ryan that Independent George posted above. If you go by DYAR, Ryan has been consistently elite (Top 10 in 8 of 10 years, Top 5 in 4 of 10 years), at by far the most important position in the game, while Gore has been far from elite (Top 10 in 3 of 13 years, Top 5 in 1 of 13 years) at a far less important position. And bear in mind, Ryan probably has at least 5 more years left, while Gore almost certainly has no more than 2 more years left, if that. Simply put, Ryan is far more deserving of induction than the supposed "lock" Gore.

Second, if for whatever reason FO's numbers don't float your boat, consider PFR's Weighted AV (https://www.pro-football-reference.com/leaders/career_av_career.htm) It has the advantage of going back to 1960 (much further than DVOA), and including all positions, instead of just offensive skill players. It's not perfect, but if you're trying to compare players from all different positions, and from multiple eras, it's the best single number that you're likely to find.

So, if you click the link above, you'll see that Ryan is tied with Roethlisberger (himself a very likely HOFer) for 36th since 1960. Of the 35 players ahead of him, 28 are already in the HOF. The other 7 are Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Julius Peppers, Aaron Rodgers, and Ken Anderson. 5 of those 7 are locks to make the HOF. The other two are Anderson and Rivers.

If Ryan doesn't make the Hall, it will undoubtedly be for the same reason Anderson hasn't made it, and Rivers may not make it: the unreasonable determination of many voters to "COUNT THE RINGZZZZZ!!!!!!!!!!"

by Independent George :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 2:11pm

Context matters, especially when comparing a RB to a QB. Gore was a heck of a RB who spent his prime playing on a lot of genuinely awful teams, and had the longevity to finally play on some good ones while he was still productive. Honestly, I'm still not 100% on Gore, but I think RBs are harder to judge largely because of those team effects.

I mention this above, but I think part of the difficulty might be that FO's start coincides with the era Brady/Brees/Manning, and our view of what constitutes a 'HOF' QB is a little skewed by our metrics being calibrated on some all-time greats. Let's look at the best QBs by the year they entered the league (I didn't count 2016 or 2017 because it's way early to judge them):

1998: Matt Hasselbeck, Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner
1999: Daunte Culpepper, Donovan McNabb
2000: Tom Brady, Chad Pennington
2001: Drew Brees, Michael Vick
2002: Umm...
2003: Carson Palmer
2004: Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub
2005: Matt Cassell, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Aaron Rodgers, Alex Smith
2006: Jay Cutler
2007: Er...
2008: Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan
2009: Matthew Stafford
2010: Sam Bradford
2011: Andy Dalton, Cam Newton
2012: Kirk Cousins, Nick Foles, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson,
2013: Hell if I know.
2014: Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Jimmy Garappolo
2015: Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota

Ryan is a standout in the middle of a dark period of QBs; he reminds me of Mark Brunell in the 90s. If you compare him to class of 2004-2005, he's in the middle, behind Rivers/Rodgers/Roethlisberger but ahead of Manning, Smith, and (maybe) Romo.

If you compare him the guys that came later, he's well ahead of Luck/Newton/Wilson. He's easily the best of the QBs from 2006 onwards, but the previous generation set the bar really high and is skewing how we see things - especially since some of those guys are still around and productive while he's at his prime.

by Will Allen :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 2:51pm

I think the Ryan contract is fine, but I also think Luck's career is fascinating, perhaps in a very ugly way, depending on how it turns out. After his rookie year, when Arians left, Luck faced the toxic situation of crappy ownership, crappy coaching, crappy pass protection, and usually a defense that meant the offense had to score a lot. The percentage of QBs who will be productive in that environment is very, very, very low. In contrast, if a qb has sound coaching, good ownership, decent protection, and a defense that allows patience, for the first 5 years of the qb's career, a qb would have to really, really, really bad to not look at least decent in that environment.

by Independent George :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 3:25pm

I agree the Ryan contract is fine - people keep seeming to forget that the salary cap has been increasing every year, and things today cost more than they did before.

I have to admit to hoping that Luck would have held out and insisted on free agency. The Colts are just not a very good organization.

by theslothook :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 3:54pm

But organizations can change. Irsay is a loud mouth, but he is willing to be patient and is generally not super meddlesome in football operations unlike Haslam, jerrah, and Snyder.

by Will Allen :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 4:09pm

Being patient is not always a virtue. See William Ford and Matt Millen. I know if I had an athletic career with perhaps 300 million depending on my health and productive working environment, I'm getting away from the billionaire who is arrested for driving around intoxicated with a stash of illegally obtained prescription drugs, and a brief case full of cash. Athletes like Luck frequently underestimate the power they have to select their boss. Eli Manning's NFL qb father had better insight into this than most.

by ssereb :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 9:35pm

Oliver Luck isn't exactly without insight. He was also an NFL QB, as well as a former executive with the league.

by Will Allen :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 10:54pm

Which is why he should have had enough insight to advise his son to get the hell away from Irsay & Co.

by Independent George :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 12:33am

Well... if you get a reputation as a head case, that also negatively impacts your paycheck. Even if deserved, calling out the likes of Irsay or Halan has got to make other owners nervous; they've all got their own skeletons.

That said, I agree that this is was probably a special case and well worth whatever headaches it might cause.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 2:08am

It didn't hurt John Elway any to refuse to work for Jimmy's daddy Robert. It didn't hurt Eli any to refuse to work for the Spanos family. If Luck had simply said that he wasn't going to work any longer for Jim Irsay, that the rookie contract was imposed on him by a CBA he never agreed to, he might have had to sit out a year, but I think a trade would have been made, and Luck's market value would not have declined a bit.

by Independent George :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 8:40am

I have to admit - a part of me had a dream of Luck signing with Denver, so that he, Peyton, and Elway would sit around the office and gripe about the Irsays.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 11:03am

Hey, I want to fair to Jimmy. He just inherited his fortune, in contrast to his daddy, who flat-out stole it.

by JimZipCode :: Fri, 05/18/2018 - 12:56pm

No one gripes more about the Irsays than Baltimore football fans.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 9:15am

Another example is Carson Palmer using his leverage to get away from Mike Brown. Palmer had to miss half a season, but ended up having a fine back half of his career. If Luck did something similar, I have no doubt there would be at least one team that would throw draft picks at the Colts in order come up with an offer they can’t refuse.

by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 3:07pm

Ask Kirk Cousins about getting out of a toxic situation. He's been trying since 2012! We really need to abolish the franchise tag.

by Will Allen :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 4:17pm

To further clarify, in early September 2013, red alerts were sounded that Ryan Grigson was not deserving of a patient approach. By the end of the 2014 season, it should have been obvious that it was time to lower the life boats, and get way from the swirling vortex of suck.

by theslothook :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 6:43pm

Grigson was a bad higher, no question. Keeping him and Pagano were horrible, unjustifiable moves. That said, there's nothing to suggest that new management will suffer the same date as it's predecessors. This is decidedly different from Cleveland and Washington.

by Will Allen :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 4:47pm

To further illuminate, Rivers has had a great career, with a crappy owner, but the guy who saw Spanos as a crappy boss from the day he was drafted, Eli, has earned 30 million dollars more, and enjoyed a couple of championships, despite Rivers being clearly the better qb.

by theslothook :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 6:40pm

It's hard to completely fault Spanos. The chargers have been one of the more snakebit franchises, competing in an era of Brady and Manning and an overall rugged AFC. Their story reads a lot like the Romo led cowboys... competitive but not as great as the big boys and never had that magical run a la the Giants and ravens.

Not every team will be lucky enough to win titles and not every franchise will be strong enough to make the playoffs year after year. That's less a fact about poor ownership but more the reality of a very very competitive business. In fact, only a certain subset of QBs(basically three I've seen in my lifetime) can keep a team good every year without needing much. And even within this subset, I'm only certain about one of them.

by Will Allen :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 6:57pm

When you fire Schottenheimer after 13-3, a fumbled int away from beating the Patriots in the playoffs, because Schotty and A.J. Effin' Smith are in a coaching staff dispute, and A.J. Effin' Smith's first move, even before replacing Schotty, is to install Ted Yakety Sax Cottrell as defensive coordinator, you've got an owner who has cranked the imbecile control to 11.

by Independent George :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 7:14pm

There's a clip of Marty talking to the defense during practice that week, telling them to fall on the ball in the event of the exact situation that occurred against the Pats. About the only thing worse than firing Marty after going 14-2 is firing him because you want to hire Steve Spurrier...

I still consider Marty to be one of the single greatest coaches of all time. Everybody knows his playoff record, but I consider his 21 seasons as a head coach to be far more significant. 21 seasons across four franchises, and he had exactly two losing seasons: 7-9 record in his final season in KC, and 4-12 in his second year in SD. That does not happen by accident.

by Will Allen :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 7:18pm

He's pretty much the coach I had in mind when I said a good coach with outside linebacker who is a good edge rusher, an All pro guard, an excellent all purpose back, and a Nick Foles type at qb, will reliably win 10 games nearly ever year.

by Will Allen :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 4:02pm

If his agent or father (few fathers of NFL QBs are as well equipped to give career advice) did not tell Luck, after the 2013, or certainly the 2014 season "You really need to start mapping out a strategy to separate your career from the likes of Irsay, Grigson, and Pagano", then they did him a disservice. As a football fan, I really wanted him to refuse to report, and demand a trade. Maybe somebody did advise that, and he ignored it. What a shame.

by BJR :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 3:24pm

That's actually a really good point that I had never considered. You could possibly make an argument for Wilson or Luck (given context), and it's still too early to judge the likes of Mariota and Carr on the same scale, but yes, Ryan is almost certainly the best QB to enter the league since 2006.

by Independent George :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 12:51am

That time span is a pretty good long stretch, too. This would be an interesting research problem - what's the typical span between HoF entering the league? I'm too lazy to do a proper PFR database search, but off the top of my head, I feel like long stretches without HoF QBs arriving is the norm, and the 1998-2005 period is what is actually unusual.

How much of what we consider inflation of passing stats is really just an unusual concentration of passing talent arriving in the league in the early 2000s?

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 8:34am

SWAGing it, it looks like there is a cluster every decade or so.

8 guys from 1945-1949.
4 guys from 1956-1957.
3 guys from 1969 to 1970, with one each in 1967 and 1973 if you want to expand the group.
4 guys from 1983-1986. (5 if you include Moon, who was undrafted)
This is an interesting stretch. 3 of the 5 guys didn't start in the NFL. Young and Kelly started in the USFL. Moon in the CFL.

Warner is in from 1998. The 1998-2001 stretch also includes Manning, McNabb, Brady, and Brees. This will likely be a 4 HOF cluster, with an outside shot at 5.

What's off is that they are immediately followed by the 2004 cluster of Roethlisberger, Rivers, and Rodgers, with Eli also a 2004 draftee. Romo was an undrafted player in 2004. This group will also likely have 3-4 HOF members.

Basically, the 1990s cluster came late and the 2000s cluster came early, so they ended up being contemporaries at their peaks. That hadn't really been seen before.

I'm curious how the rule changes to emphasize QB play will turn out, once we get back into a more typical stretch of non-superhuman QB play. Alternatively, the rule changes have made it a ton easier to look like a HOF QB.

by MC2 :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 3:04am

First, as far as Gore, I think his whole case is based on longevity. Not only was he very rarely in the Top 10 of DYAR, and almost never in the Top 5, but in 5 out of his 13 years, he wasn't even in the Top 20. And yes, he played on some bad teams, but that cuts both ways. He was often the focal point of the offense, in a way that he would not have been if he had been surrounded by great players. He got a lot of touches, which, combined with his durability, allowed him to pile up huge career numbers, even though he wasn't nearly as good as a lot of backs with much lower career totals. The bottom line is it makes no sense to induct a consistently average RB like Gore, while snubbing a consistently excellent QB like Ryan. Give any GM a choice between drafting a Frank Gore clone or a Matt Ryan clone, and all 32 are going to pick Ryan. Do you disagree?

Second, as far as where Ryan stacks up with his peers, as mentioned above, he's sort of a victim of his era. Look at where he ranks across eras. According to Weighted AV, he's already tied for 14th best QB since 1960. And that's having only played 10 years. Within the next couple of years, barring major injuries, he will certainly pass Anderson, Fouts and Montana. That would make him the 12th best QB of the last 60 years. That doesn't make him a HOFer?

by Tim R :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 11:47am

I do wonder at what teams decide theyre better off paying a scrub qb $2m amd investing elsewhere, than paying bortles or someone 20 plus.

by theslothook :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 12:27pm

The issue here is, elite FA from other positions don't become available enough to buy them. It's usually a tier or two below, all expecting an overpay. I wish the nfl association did a much better job shortening rookie contracts and encouraging more guaranteed money early.

by Tim R :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 1:51pm

Sure but at what point are you better off overpaying for non-qbs than overpaying for a qb?

by Steve in WI :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 1:22pm

I have often thought along similar lines, but with two major caveats. One, it can't be a scrub QB - we know what scrub QBs look like and the ceiling for teams that employ them as starters, and it's bad. You need guys like Case Keenum in 2017 - guys who have been previously viewed as scrubs, but through some combination of improvement, being in the right system, and having an outlier season play at a much higher level.

Two, there's a big difference between saying we won't pay Bortles and we won't pay Matt Ryan. A team one year removed from the Super Bowl with a QB of Ryan's caliber simply saying "it's not worth it" and letting him walk would be one of the most shocking moves possible in pro sports right now. If it wasn't orchestrated specifically by the owner, it alone would probably be a fireable offense for a GM.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 3:19pm

"there's a big difference between saying we won't pay Bortles and we won't pay Matt Ryan."

I think few people disagree about that. You're right that letting Ryan walk would have been an idiotic move. The controversy comes in when you're talking about the Kirk Cousins-Derek Carr-Matt Stafford range of quarterbacks.

by Tim R :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 3:29pm

Im very interested as to how Keenum does in Denver. If he goes back to being mediocre it lends credit to the idea that with the right other players and system then there are probably other cheap viable starters.

by Lebo :: Tue, 05/08/2018 - 12:03pm

Or that Keenum had an incredibly streak of luck. It's pretty hard to separate one from the other when looking at only one case. And I can't imagine we're going to find a similar case to study anytime soon.

For what it's worth, I think that, after Minnesota, Denver was the destination that best set Keenum up for success: good WRs (who can catch his inaccurate throws), good defence (who can reduce the pressure on Keenum to score heaps), decent running game. I also thought that Keenum was the QB who gave Denver the best chance at success, since his scrambling ability should help mitigate the crappy o-line.

by cjfarls :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 2:07pm

I certainly think there is a strong argument that teams would be better off rolling out a rookie and seeing what happens rather than spending $20m on a known below-mediocrity. If you can get even 15-20th-ranked performance out of the kid, the rest of the team can push to make you competitive. If they suck more than that, you get a high draft pick the next year to try out someone else.

The problem though is that bad QB play is really the only thing the rest of the team can't make up for. If you have an otherwise solid-to-elite roster (e.g. JAX, DEN, etc.), its really hard to throw a season away... because even mediocre play makes the team a playoff contender, and once you're in the playoffs it only takes 3-4 hot/lucky games to win it all. E.g., if you're Denver - how many of Von Miller's prime seasons are worth sacrificing, when you know he can put the team on his back for a few games and potentially win it all if you can get him there.

to me, QB play explains 30-40% of the variability in W-L outcomes (if you know which QB plays better in a game, you can predict which team will win 40% of the time even knowing absolutely zero about the rest of the teams). Its just almost impossible to be successful if you have the worse QB in 80%+ of the games you play, and if QB play is that important, maybe paying 20% of the cap isn't overpayment at all (if you know you're getting a guy that can be top-10/top-5 consistently).

by Will Allen :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 4:39pm

I do think we overrate the centrality of good qb performance to playoff success. In the past 20 years we have seen at least two teams win championships with poor QB play in the regular season and playoffs. We have seen at least one team win a championship with a qb who was bad in the regular season, then better in the playoffs, and another team win with mediocre regular season QB play, followed by good play in the post season. When it gets to the point that 20% of the championships are being won by teams which didn't get good qb play in the regular season, I think it is time to abandon the notion that all roster goals must be wholly sublimated to getting good qb play.

by LondonMonarch :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 7:50am

2 out of 20 ain't great.

Also, so far as I can tell only 2 titles out of the 20 (2016 Broncos and 2001 Ravens) have been won by teams with sub-Pro Bowl QB performance; you could argue for a couple more (Flacco/Eli).

Put like that, the need for a QB who is good (if not necessarily all-time great) seems pretty overriding.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 8:16am

2000 Ravens, 2002 Bucs, 2015 Broncoes - won by defense with average-at-best QB

2007 / 2011 Giants - won by defense (kept Pats high scoring offense quiet while offense scores 17 and 21 points) - QB happened to be hot in playoffs.

2012 Ravens - hot QBing for a playoff streak.

2001 Pats / 2005 Steelers / 2013 Seahawks - 2nd year game manager QBs with good running games and decent defenses.

Great QBs winning SBs - 2006 Colts, 2009 Saints, 2010 Packers, 2014 / 2016 Patriots, 2017 Eagles.

What's left 2003-04 Pats, 2008 Steelers plus 98/99 Broncos which all have good-great QBing with strong running games and defenses that could likely have won with a lesser QB.

Quibble away!

by LondonMonarch :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 9:00am

We could quibble year-to-year, but the wider point is that you are being dismissive about a lot of the QBing as either:

(i) average QB gets hot in playoffs
(ii) 2nd year game managers

The reality is that bad QBs don't get hot in the playoffs, or game-manage effectively. Look at who those guys that you downplay as mediocrities actually were.

Of the 5 guys you put in that box (Eli x2, Flacco, Brady, Roethlisberger, Wilson:

(a) 3 were 1st round picks
(b) at least 3 will go to the HoF
(c) most relevantly, to get any of those guys on a 2nd contract would have (in today's money) cost vastly more than Bortles.

So the idea that you are going to have really even a puncher's chance by throwing in a cheap FA, or a low-round rookie, is really fanciful.

by Will Allen :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 9:41am

Joe Flacco may be a bad qb who got hot in the playoffs, but I agree that knowingly settling for a bad qb is not the play. However, knowingly settling for a 2017 Nick Foles, who you are not sure of, may be a decent way to go.

by JimZipCode :: Fri, 05/18/2018 - 1:03pm

Don't retroactively grade Flacco's first five years off his last five. Flacco wasn't a "bad" QB 2009-12. He was a decent-to-good QB those years. And he got awfully hot in 2012.

by Will Allen :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 9:35am

Brad Johnson performed at an above average level in 2002. 2011 Eli was good in the regular season, and great in the playoffs. 2000 Ravens had hideous play at qb, with no redeeming qualities. 2015 Broncos qb play was bad, with the redeeming quality of being very, very, smart, despite no physical ability.Ben in 2005 was good, but had a terrible Super Bowl.

by Will Allen :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 9:28am

Eli in 2007 was not a good qb. Not even close. Flacco wasn't either. 20% of the championships of the last 20 years have been won by teams with average to poor play by their QBs in the regular season. The guy who was qb for the winning team in the last game this year was somebody who was thought to be no better than average, until January.

Which prompts the question, in response to "isn't too great"; compared to what? Having an across the board deficit talent, because you are so focused on obtaining the QB of your dreams that you fail to grab more sure bets at other positions, when they become available?

Yes, your chances improve markedly with a HOF qb. Getting one of those is a pretty random event. It makes the most sense to just get as many chances as possible to draft inexpensive talent at whatever positions it is available. Yes, the ties, or close to ties, should go the QBs, but if a player at another position grades out as having a significantly better chance to be a 10 year starter, or multiple all pro, that is the player to draft. Build a good, deep, young roster, and take your chances from there. If nothing else, by being young and good, you have the cash to get the veteran qb of your choice, and will be attractive to that veteran qb.

by LondonMonarch :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 9:43am

You keep moving the goalposts in the analysis. We aren't talking about HoF QBs (which I agree is a pretty random event) but about QB play that is at least average-to-above-average.

To me the much more compelling statistic than "20% of championships have been won with average to poor QB play in the regular season" is that "80% of winners have had above average QBs".

That sure makes quarterbacking look like a priority to me.

by Will Allen :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 10:06am

No, I didn't move the goal posts. I simply stated that the surest path to championships is a path that you will have to be very lucky to find. Which means you have to choose a path which you are more likely to find. I haven't watched enough Blake Bortles to have a strong opinion on him. I had watched enough Nick Foles to know that you could win a title with him. I'm simply pushing back on that cliched qb criticism of "You'll never win a Super Bowl with him".Build a good roster across the board, and the universe of QBs you can win a title with hugely expands.

by LondonMonarch :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 10:20am

But you say that as though building a good roster across the board is somehow easy.

The Ryan contract is a big one, but would they really be better if they had decided not to pay him and spent the money elsewhere? Doesn't seem plausible.

This is what $37m would buy you:

Allen Robinson (14m pa)
Trey Burton (10m pa)
Andrew Nowell (13m pa)

Does that really improve your roster more than a top 10 QB? I don't think so.

by Will Allen :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 10:59am

No, I didn't say that. I said you should draft the football players that grade out highest, with a tie or near tie going to the QB. I said you should not pass on a non-qb who grades out better than a qb, on the chance that you may be underrating the qb.

You seem to be implying that I have stated that I have a problem with the Ryan contract. I don't have a problem with the Ryan contract. He's a really good qb, so pay him. I think there are some instances where the market for some veterans gets out of whack. Bortles may be one, same with Keenum on his new deal.

by theslothook :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 11:46am

Judging by championships I think is too limiting. Performance and consistency over time is why good qb play matters so much.

And reading the list of past sb winners, the common thread seems to be good to great defense. Only the 06 Colts were horrendous and even they flaccod themselves in the playoffs.

by Will Allen :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 12:04pm

Oh, I agree. I was just using Super Bowl wins as a very fast and easy proxy. Yes, the surest way to be consistently good is to have a HOF qb starting for you for 12 plus years. That's nearly a pure random event. Getting cheap talent by maximizing the quantity of draft picks, and then using cap space via judicious free agent signings, and then coaching talent well, is a little less random.

by LondonMonarch :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 12:18pm

This is the sort of logic that leads to picking guards, outside linebackers and running backs in the top 10.

by Will Allen :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 12:26pm

Yes, and a great edge rushing outside linebacker, an All pro guard, and a terrific all purpose back, paired with a Nick Foles type, and a good coach, will probably reliably win 10 games.

by LondonMonarch :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 12:32pm

This I rather doubt.

But more importantly, how are you paying Nick Foles and all those players? If Keenum is getting 18m and Cousins is getting 28m, a free-agent Foles (if he existed) would cost what, 22m?

Not sure how you are then going to pay your edge rusher, all-pro guard and top RB.

by Will Allen :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 12:55pm

What do you think Foles would command prior to this year? The point is that you don't always have to pay free agent value to get acceptable qb play. You also posited drafting good players at those positions, and then didn't factor what the price would be for those players for the first 5 years. I may let them go after that, and get supplemental picks.

I also don't understand why you doubt a good coach with a good edge rusher, an all pro guard, and one of the better all purpose picks, with a Nick Foles type, can't reliably win 10 games. Good coaches nearly always figure out a way to win 8, so with 4 players like that. 10 isn't really a reach.

by LondonMonarch :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 1:06pm

Ha! Classic hindsight bias. The weird assumption behind your theory is that a team picking up a Foles-type for (say) 5m (he had a 2yr/11m deal) is, or is likely to, get above-average QB play out of that. In fact the Eagles were exceptionally lucky (and of course he was not their QB all season, and they likely wouldn't have won the Super Bowl had he been).

In reality, the long history of that particular market tells you that they would be exceptionally lucky to get above-average performance out of a 5m FA QB. Nine times out of ten, if you pay a below average price you get a below average QB.

Even if you look at the handful of players in that market with whom teams have actually lucked out (e.g. Brad Johnson, Trent Dilfer) the vast majority of their seasons have been pretty poor. And there are many other McCowns, Fitzpatricks and Taylors who've bounced around the league at that kind of price, consigning their teams to mediocrity at absolute best.

Your suggestion of using draft capital on premium-non-QBs and then not paying them is even odder. Because there is no position premium on a rookie contract, the rookie contract price-differential-benefit is way lower on those players than it is on a rookie-contract QB. Saquon Barkley is already the 4th highest paid RB in the league, and Nelson the 7th highest LG, whereas Sam Darnold is the 26th highest paid QB. If anything, the cost-benefit logic supports drafting QBs as often and early as you can/need, and getting other pieces through free agency. $5m is vastly more likely to get you a good FA running back or guard, than a good FA QB.

by theslothook :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 1:32pm

I think the relevant question in all of this is just how far do you bend the cost curve and draft pick curve for a QB. Was Ponder, without hindsight, the right pick to make in the 2011 draft?(a massive reach, but he's a QB). Do you really not pay Bottles and go on the free agent dust bin?

Will's point seems to be...ask these questions and eventually everyone here agrees that at some point, the qb value stops.

Where is that point is the subject of debate.

by LondonMonarch :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 2:28pm

Not in all cases. But it is hardly dumb or unorthodox to observe that there are different values to different positions. QBs and pass rushers are much more valuable than guards and non-pass-rushing LBs.

That is both pretty obvious (you don't draft a kicker in round 1, even if he is the best kicking prospect of all time), and apparent from contract numbers as I explained above.


If Barkley turns out to be a top 5 RB, then over his rookie contract the Giants are still not getting much of a bargain, because they are paying him a top 5 RB wage.

By contrast if Darnold turns out to be even a top 15 QB, the Jets are getting a massive bargain compared to what he is paid.

You can do the same comparision with (e.g) Nelson (already the 7th best paid left guard) vs Chubb (39th best paid pass rusher).

In the case of QB vs other positions (especially RB) you also have to add longevity to that comparison. Aaron Rodgers (drafted 2005) is still regarded as in his prime, whereas even the guys who were Pro Bowlers at other positions, like Carlos Rodgers or Jamaal Brown, are basically out of the league by now.

by Tim R :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 11:15am

"You don't draft a kicker in round 1, even if he is the best kicking prospect of all time"

Robopunter on the otherhand......

by Will Allen :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 3:32pm

Anybody who classifies Brad Johnson with Trent Dilfer is not someone with whom I care to discuss this topic. Have a nice day

by LondonMonarch :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 3:40pm

That is a smidgen harsh, but over the preceding 2 years he had thrown 24 TDs and 26 INTs (after a pretty good 1999 season).

by JimZipCode :: Fri, 05/18/2018 - 1:09pm

"A good coach".

I mean, yeah sure; but you're glossing over just how good the "good coach" has to be. A near-HOF guy like a Schottenheimer or Chuck Knox will do that. Not just anyone.

by The Ninjalectual :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 1:18pm

This is the sort of logic that leads to picking guards, outside linebackers and running backs in the top 10.

Why is that a bad thing? Off the top of my head, Von Miller was a fantastic value at #2 overall, as was AP at #7, LT at #5, and Brandon Scherff at #5. Instead you would have teams dogmatically follow some arbitrary rules about where a guard can go?

by theslothook :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 1:42pm

I tend to take the view that guards should not go high in the draft. Their value is simply not there compared with some of the other non qbs

by jackiel :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 8:50pm

That is the wrong way to look at the draft. Getting a 10-15 year starter at nearly any position in the draft should count as a win IMO. Sure, I guess it's not a good use of draft capital to take a guard (or a player who plays a similarly low valued position like safety) very high. However, that implies that you know for certain that the players you passed on were also going to be productive pros with long careers and that there aren't other avenues like trades and free agency to acquire talent on the cheap.

by theslothook :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 2:55am

But isn't it similarly unknown how well the guard is going to end up? It's all about balancing risk and return. In a guards case, the lower(perceived) risk is not worth the return at the very top of the draft.

by Will Allen :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 9:13am

Yes, but it is likely true that there are teams which are tossing their grades aside, and drafting almost purely positionally. That's how Christian Ponder gets taken in the top half of the 1st round. As I have stated many times in this thread, yes, the tie or close to tie should go to the qb, but if you are faced with a situation where the Andrew Luck of guards is available, a certain, barring injury, 12 year starter with multiple All Pro selections likely, and nobody else grades out close to that, take the guard.

Is it likely that you will ever be faced with that situation? No, because such obvious physically dominant talent is unlikely to be playing guard in college. The point is that when you start tilting too much towards positional drafting, you are in danger of ending up with a pronounced talent deficit.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 11:26am

As a storybook aside (and not looking to make any particular argument), I'll recall that back in 2004 the Raiders had the #2 pick. Eli was off to San Diego and everybody said that Robert Gallery would be an All-Pro fixture at tackle for the next decade. So, it was a complete surprise when Al Davis actually picked him instead of falling in love with the fastest WR or CB available.

Of course Gallery was a total failure as a tackle but faired better as a left guard. After seven years he left in free agency, signed a 3-yr contract with the Seahawks, got cut after a year and then training camp in New England before being out of the league.

And to think the Raiders could have used that #2 pick on either Rivers or Roethlisberger to replace 38-yr-old Rich Gannon.

by Will Allen :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 12:22pm

Here's what I don't know. How did Gallery actually grade out, by people employed by NFL teams, compared to, say, Joe Thomas?

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 1:00pm

"Whoever drafts him is going to get a 15-year Pro Bowl player," says Washington Redskins offensive line coach Joe Bugel. "I can't find anything wrong with him."

Shame it's only a short article ... https://www.si.com/vault/2004/04/26/368621/in-a-league-of-his-own-iowas-...

by theslothook :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 1:03pm

Every year it feels like there's a great left tackle prospect. For every Joe Thomas and Tyron Smith, there's a Jason Smith, Greg Robinson, Laremy Tunsil, Alex Barron equivalent. I also don't think rb is as bust proof as people think.

by Will Allen :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 1:38pm

What I need is 32 grades, to get a sense of the consensus.

by theslothook :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 1:01pm

But Joe Thomas is a different topic than a guard. I can justify drafting a top tackle with a high first rounder, but not a guard

by Will Allen :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 12:50pm

Gallery was drafted as a tackle. My point is this. I highly suspect that NFL draft pickers engage in massive, massive, grade inflation, when it comes to top 10 picks. It's just about mathematically impossible for there to be 3 guys each year in the top 10 who are going to be 12 year starters with multiple All Pro selection, but I bet there are NFL drafters who grade three guys a year that highly. Heck, it may be close to mathematically impossible for 2 of the top 10 to have careers that good, but I bet there are NFL drafters who grade two guys like that nearly every year. Now that there is a rookie wage scale, such massive grade inflation isn't nearly as disastrous as it used to be, but it is still harmful

Absent access to 32 draft board grades, going back 20 years, it is really difficult to get a handle on this stuff.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 1:27pm

There's about one guy like this per year.

A fair number of years had 2 such guys, including runs of multiple consecutive years. 1996, 1997, and 1998 each had two.

If I ease the requirements a bit -- to 10 years and 1 All-Pro -- the list is larger.

That actually is about 3 per year from the top-10. 15 guys missed the original list simply because they didn't last 12 years. Very few RBs do, for instance.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 2:30pm

My sense of it was that there was probably about 1 per year. I wonder how many guys a year are getting that grade, from people employed by NFL teams.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 3:10pm

Probably more.

Unless a guy is known to be injury prone, there is probably more than one capable guy in a given draft, but who won't make it due to injuries acute or chronic.

In the case of RBs, they probably aren't projecting out >12yrs+>2APs. There are a bunch of HoF RBs who didn't do that (Simpson, Tomlinson, Sanders, etc).

by jackiel :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 9:07pm

Agreed. At some point you have to trust the player's pre-NFL production. Players like Deshaun Watson and AP - guys who dominated every level of football in football-mad states and at major college programs before coming into league - should receive the benefit of the doubt over guys who just haven't had that consistent level of success but happen to play premium positions. That's how you end up with whiffs like Russell over Calvin Johnson, taking Ponder 12th, Justin Gilbert over Aaron Donald, etc.

by MC2 :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 6:23pm

I agree with most of your comment, but the last paragraph has me more than a bit confused, especially this part: "...if you know which QB plays better in a game, you can predict which team will win 40% of the time even knowing absolutely zero about the rest of the teams..."

Even if you know nothing about either team (QBs included), you can predict which team will win 50% of the time, just by flipping a coin. So, unless you mean that QB quality is inversely related to W-L outcomes, then I don't understand what you're saying.

by Steve in WI :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 1:25pm

I said this when Cousins signed his deal and it's just as true now: Aaron Rodgers has the ability to command basically any amount of money he wants, right? Not only is he a tier above Ryan (who is very good), but the Packers are a garbage team outside of him.

by ssereb :: Fri, 05/04/2018 - 8:42pm

I think he's going to beat Ryan's dollar figures but not by much. He's a year or two older than Ryan and has lost half a season to injury twice in the last five years, whereas Ryan hasn't missed a game since 2009. Rodgers is on another level, talent-wise, but that doesn't do you much good if he's not playing.

by baloo :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 12:05pm

Why is there not greater distribution in QB salaries?

I get that good-not-great QBs have a lot of leverage (as there are ~15 of them and 32 teams), but that should give the best QBs some upward negotiating power.

If a nice starter is worth $15-20 million per year, why don't Rodgers/Brady types ask for $45-50 million a year? Worst case scenario you get franchised for 2 years and then you'll be making more than a long-term deal anyway.

This would also make elite QBs less of an overpowering asset. The best QBs are so valuable not just because it's the most important position in football, but because they are also underpaid. Would the Pats (or another team) really not have been willing to pay Brady the equivalent of three top defensive player salaries the last 10 years?

by apk3000 :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 10:54pm

Well, there is a point where the QB making too much makes it too hard to build a championship team. And really, it speaks to the scarcity of decent QB play that competent play gets you close to top tier money. Basically, there's no middle class of QBs from a salary perspective.

by baloo :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 8:12pm

"Well, there is a point where the QB making too much makes it too hard to build a championship team."

Sure, though I don't think we've seen QB salaries get close to that point yet. The teams with the best QB's tend to be quite a bit better than average most years, even though with a hard salary cap and open market you wouldn't really expect that to be the case.

"And really, it speaks to the scarcity of decent QB play that competent play gets you close to top tier money. Basically, there's no middle class of QBs from a salary perspective."

This is descriptive, but I want to know the normative. Why is that the case? Is there not a team willing to pay Rodgers/Brady $50 million? Once you see a decent guy get $20-25 million, it defies logic that there isn't someone out there willing to pay $15-20 million more for a top QB. Why has no one tried it?

by ssereb :: Sun, 05/06/2018 - 9:45pm

I think there are salaries that have gotten to that point. Joe Flacco's post-Super Bowl salary definitely impaired Ozzie Newsome's ability to put a team together. That doesn't mean that the salary would be problematic if it was paid to Rodgers or Ryan, since they elevate the players around them in a way Flacco doesn't, which means you can get by with a little less supporting talent. But it's not like Ryan or Rodgers could lead your local JC team to the Super Bowl, which is why nobody is willing to turn over something like 30% of their cap space to one QB. In other words, the problem is that guys like Flacco are getting paid too much, not that the actual top tier of QBs isn't getting paid enough. And I think the reason for that is that it only takes one team to decide that Joe Flacco deserves the same kind of money as Ryan and Rodgers.

by baloo :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 1:17am

That might be true. Though it still seems the teams with the best QBs are getting a sustainable advantage, and if these players were truly getting their market value that shouldn't be the case (I believe?).

Let's look at Brady, Peyton, Rodgers, and Brees. I'll say they're the four best passers of the last 20 years (apologies if I'm forgetting someone, they are at least close to the four best though). Their combined record as starters is 618-228, a 68.2% winning percentage.

That does not really make sense to me in a hard salary cap system with no max contracts. Their market value should be bid up to the point where they are no longer providing huge arbitrage to the teams that sign them. It wasn't the rookie contracts where these 4 provided value, it was when they theoretically should be getting paid what they're worth. I think the win percentage shows they are worth far more than their contracts. Perhaps you think the teams they played on were also particularly well run, but I think except for the Pats that wasn't really the case.

An interesting analogy to consider: if the NBA were to get rid of max contracts and the soft cap, would we see the same phenomenon with stars being paid only slightly more than good players (e.g. Lebron and Steph making $3-5 million more than Andre Iguodala or Isaiah Thomas)? I would bet "No", star salaries would escalate even further with Lebron/Steph taking $55-60 million of a $110 million hard salary cap, while Iguodala would remain at $16 million.

It's a puzzling occurrence to me that star QB's cannot capture more of their true value.

by MC2 :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 3:13am

The thing is that if a team paid their QB $50 million a year, they would be totally unable to field a competitive team. They would have a QB who belongs in the Hall of Fame, surrounded by a lot of guys who belong on the practice squad.

That sort of situation would not only suck from the team's standpoint, but from that of the QB, as well. He would have no chance to win, and it would even be hard for him to put up good stats.

The situation in basketball is different, because there are only five players on the court at once, so the impact of great players is much greater in the NBA than it is in the NFL.

by ssereb :: Tue, 05/08/2018 - 3:24pm

There are a couple other reasons that you can't compare the NBA to the NFL that I think may be illuminating here.

First, NBA analytics are more advanced than NFL analytics (no offense to present company intended). In particular, they've become far more adept at separating an individual player's contributions from that of his teammates and, to a lesser extent, the scheme he plays in. The NBA analytics community has gotten very good at analyzing on/off numbers, movement data has allowed us to track how opposing shooters perform when a player is the closest defender as well as how close they are, how much help defense they provide, etc. Additionally, the NBA gives us much larger sample sizes of games to evaluate. So in the NFL, we can compare, say, Aaron Rodgers to his backup, but we didn't really get to see them play the same teams (since a QB and his backup usually don't play in the same game other than the game in which the starter is injured) and we're also going to have a hard time separating out either QB's performance from the performance of their pass-catchers, their blockers, or their scheme. We can count drops and hurries, but these are pretty subjective and again, not a huge sample to work with. Meanwhile, NBA substitution patterns and defensive switches give us way more information about how two players perform in virtually identical situations. So when an NFL player comes to the negotiating table, he has far less information than an NBA player with which to make his case that he deserves 30% of the salary cap because he's providing 30% of the win shares, or whatever measure you like.

The other thing is the franchise tag. In the NFL, most star players can be held out of the free agent market entirely for up to three years. That's a huge amount of leverage for teams to have, especially given the higher injury attrition rates in the NFL compared to the NBA and MLB. There's already a huge incentive for NFL players to get the biggest long-term contract they can. It's almost inconceivable that an NFL player would do something like what Lebron James has done, going year to year with the Cavs in order to maximize his annual earnings while retaining the flexibility to choose what team he plays for. Even the Cousins situation isn't exactly similar, because Washington was the only team that he could go year to year with, and Cousins had no say (other than agreeing to a long-term deal) over whether they'd exercise their right to go year to year.

All of this is made possible, as MC2 points out, by the greater impact an individual player can have on a basketball game than a quarterback in a football game.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 7:24am

LeBron James is vastly more valuable than any QB has ever been.

by BJR :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 8:47am

Ok, so possible explanations why superstar QBs do not chase the maximum possible salary they could command:

- (Tacit) pressure not to from team-mates and the Players Union.

- Willingness to forego salary for familiarity and to chase glory (by helping the team - this is already clearly in evidence with Brady).

- Imperfect knowledge of their $ value. If you're already the highest paid person in your field, how do you judge how much extra you are worth? (Andrew Brandt, former Packers executive, tells of how when negotiating Favre's contract all Brett was interested in was how much he was earning relative to his peers.)

- Fear of being franchise tagged (i.e. valuing long-term security).

None of these explanations would satisfy a rational economic agent, but then humans are not rational economic agents. I agree that there is definite scope for super-star QBs salaries to increase, but for it to happen in one large step would require a particularly brave/ruthless player, not afraid to piss off his team and the wider league by completely disrupting the status quo (who knows, this could about to be Aaron Rodgers). I guess more likely, the % of the total cap occupied by star QBs will continue to creep up slowly towards it's 'true' level.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 8:56am

Arguably the last three would.

In a context of non-guaranteed contracts, NPV calculations are not as straight-forward as inflation-adjusted yearly salary. The Cousins thing happened only because no one thought he could do it, and neither party was happy about it -- Cousins that he had to and the Redskins because he pulled it off.

Imperfect knowledge is a separate issue from rational agent analysis, especially in the context of discrete information (Salary curves, due to player scarcity, are not smooth).

Glory chasing is salary substitution. To completely capture the rationality, you need to be able to create an exchange rate from glory to salary. Also, winner-sauce has long-term value. Does Karl Malone approach Michael Jordan's legacy value if the Jazz win in 1997 and 1998 instead of Chicago? How about if Barkley had won in 1993? Is Shaq as valuable if he had stayed in Orlando and never won anything?

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 8:39am

You should really run that analysis without Brady. It's been known for years he's played for less than his market rate, both because he's paid under the table by the team via contracts to his investments and because he's the secondary breadwinner in his family (Gisele is worth profoundly more than he is).

Brady skews your numbers on both sides.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 5:08am

Re: 85 Flacco

Ozzie got put in a difficult situation when Flacco got hot just at the end of his contract and won a SB. But let's not forget that Ozzie got rid of Dilfer after their first SB win so it's not like he wasn't willing to blow things up if the situation warranted it. But Flacco definitely look like a decent franchise QB (of the 2nd tier) at that point having made the playoffs four straight seasons and finally 'come of age' so he got paid. Think it was also the first QB contract under the CBA which brought the rookie wage scale in, so that set a precedent for where the league was headed.

But I'm also reminded of how Brock Osweiler came up for renewal just after the Broncos won the SB and Elway offered him 'only' $16m. Insulted he went to the Texans for $18m per year which really makes the point about how people will overpay out of desperation. Brock's contract was a stepping stone to some of the QB salaries we're now seeing for others. Clearly Elway's decision with Brock has been shown as justified, in fact he'd likely have looked foolish even paying him $16m. He's lucky enough to get the Browns to have paid the majority of his salary this past year while backed up in Denver.

I go back to that line from Billy Beane in Moneyball ... "You can always recover from the player you don't sign. You may never recover from the player you signed at the wrong price".

by ChrisS :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 10:34am

I think most of the mediocre QB's signing for top-QB salaries are made by teams squinting just the right way and seeing an excellent QB and convincing themselves that he is/will be at that level. I mostly agree with the Beane quote, but taken to extremes it can lead to paralysis.

by ssereb :: Tue, 05/08/2018 - 3:38pm

Yeah, I think there are two key differences between Dilfer and Flacco. Dilfer was signed to be a backup to Tony Banks. After he was released by the Ravens following the Super Bowl win, he was signed to be a backup to Matt Hasselbeck. After that, he was signed to mentor rookies in Cleveland and San Francisco. Nobody saw him as a high-end starter after his Tampa Bay years. He was seen as a guy you would play if your starter got injured, or if your rookie had growing pains, or if you accidentally signed Tony Banks to be your starter. The other difference is that, despite the Ravens defense's reputation, they weren't all that good in 2012 and it was clearly Flacco's incredible playoff performance that won them a Super Bowl. Dilfer played well in the Super Bowl too, but it's pretty clear the Ravens would have won even if he hadn't.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 05/08/2018 - 4:37pm

Dilfer was pretty bad in the Super Bowl, 12 for 25 for 153 yards, and lucky to have a pick six called back on a marginal defensive holding call.

by ssereb :: Tue, 05/08/2018 - 4:50pm

I was 12 at the time so clearly my memory isn't doing me any favors, but didn't he also hit a couple nice deep balls?

by Will Allen :: Tue, 05/08/2018 - 5:37pm

That would mean that he did practically nothing on his other 23 pass attempts, with a pick 6 questionably called back. Like I said, a pretty bad performance.

by ssereb :: Tue, 05/08/2018 - 6:14pm

I'll defer to your judgment on that. Regardless, the case for keeping Flacco around was much stronger than the case for Dilfer.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 05/08/2018 - 7:01pm

With Flacco, there was at least a ray of hope. Even if it proved pretty much meaningless, resulting in drafting a qb fairly high this year.

by ssereb :: Tue, 05/08/2018 - 7:17pm

Well, to be fair, if they had immediately moved on from Flacco, they probably would've used a high draft pick on a QB soon after. I never really had the sense that the Ravens were ready to turn to Tyrod Taylor as a full-season starter. Maybe they would've drafted Wilson or Cousins or even Foles, but it could have just as easily been Weeden or Osweiler. Considering how bad the quarterbacks drafted since 2012 have been, I'll chalk up the bad second contract for Flacco as the cost of doing business (pretty easy since I wasn't the one paying him $20 million a year) and consider myself tentatively fortunate that they got Jackson.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 05/08/2018 - 8:34pm

Hey, I'm a Vikings fan. A team which hasn't had one main starter in place, for 5 years in a row, in 4 decades. This stuff is hard.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 05/09/2018 - 4:44am

Geez - that is quite amazing. Sometimes as a fan of other teams you don't see this stuff. You can understand it with franchises like the Browns or Bills who cycle through GMs/coaches/QBs and perpetual losing seasons but Minnesota has generally been successful.

Do you think Culpepper would have broken that streak if he hadn't got injured?

by Will Allen :: Wed, 05/09/2018 - 8:43am

Eh, I made a mistake. Culpepper's knee was torn to shreds early in his 6th straight year as starter. Still, the point stands. It's really, really, hard to have one starting qb in place for a long stretch. Culpepper was about the most context dependent qb the Vikings ever had. Give him Randy Moss and eons to survey the field, and he'd put up HOF numbers. Take those away, and his ability to adapt was really poor. It's no surprise that he destroyed his knee on an ill-advised scramble.

Tommy Kramer was really well above average, but cheapskate ownership really produced a situation where he was thrown to the wolves, and combined with his fondness for vodka, he missed a lot of games, and was used up quickly. The team really has done remarkably well through the years with short term solutions and good rosters compensating for non solutions. Warren Moon was terrific for a couple years. Favre, of course. Brad Johnson gave some decent production. Randall Cunningham. On the other hand, the teams in 87-89 were Super Bowl quality in a very tough era, except for Wade Effin' Wilson at qb. The 2008 team was the best in the league on the line of scrimmage, finally had solved their db problems, and had prime Adrian Peterson. And Tavaris Jackson. Ugh.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 05/09/2018 - 11:58am

You mean that 1987-1989 stretch where you had future MVP Rich Gannon riding the pine?

by Will Allen :: Wed, 05/09/2018 - 4:14pm

The frustrating thing about Gannon was that once he got the field, starting in 1990, the ability was obvious. It took another 8 years to come together fully. Talk about late bloomers!

by theslothook :: Wed, 05/09/2018 - 2:44pm

No wonder Will you have such disdain for the Colts. I suspect they are the inverse of the Vikes, blessed with qb play but incompetence elsewhere. The day they field a dominant run defending defensive line will be the first time. They rarely play with toughness and special teams has been an after thought for decades.

Basically - they double and triple down on the qb.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 05/09/2018 - 4:18pm

Jimmy Irsay was lucky that Polian was available as an obvious hire, lucky that Peyton was there for the drafting, lucky that Dungy came available, then lucky with Peyton's injury coinciding with Luck. Then the luck ran out.

by Roch Bear :: Thu, 05/10/2018 - 5:09pm

I think the Colts with Johnny U. had some quality others. The D line was mildly awesome. Big Daddy and Art Donovan were great fun, and Marchetti was great, period. I know, I know, a reach into dim history

by JimZipCode :: Fri, 05/18/2018 - 1:23pm

That Billy Beane line is great.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 8:36am

I think we have.

New Orleans has been struggling in cap hell for years now, mostly because of Brees' salary. There's a reason NO didn't have a defense in many of his seasons.

by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 3:31pm

After making $7.4M in 2011, Brees signed a contract averaging $20M/yr. That doesn't sound crippling even in 2012

by jtr :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 9:54am

I think ultimately, whether the latest round of huge QB contracts are a good deal or not will come down to whether the cap can keep growing like it has been. In the past year or two we've started seeing the first warning signs that NFL revenue isn't going to keep up exponential growth forever. These big QB deals have ended up working out OK for their teams because the cap has been growing around 6% per year, so by the time you're five years into the contract, the cap is 30% or more higher than it was when you started the deal. For instance, Aaron Rodgers set all the records with his deal in 2013; now his $20M cap hit looks like a huge bargain. Even Joe Flacco's terrible albatross of a contract hasn't been enough to cripple the Ravens, due to the growing cap and smart management of the rest of the roster.

If the cap keeps growing at 6%, I think the Vikings and Falcons will probably be just fine with their $30M quarterbacks. But if that growth starts to sputter, they're really going to be in trouble.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 10:54am


Ratings may be down, but the networks are still desperate for content. The NFL t.v. revenue stream continues to rise at a very nice rate.

by jtr :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 12:24pm

I guess it's ultimately an issue of whether the NFL's attractiveness as a TV property (for instance, that it's DVR- and netflix-proof) rises faster than TV viewership in general sinks. I'm in my mid-20's and I think I'm the only person I know with a cable subscription. It seems to me like these giant NFL TV contracts are a bubble, because TV in general is in for a major reckoning sooner or later. The NFL is uniquely unprepared for that; it's the only of the four major sports in the US that doesn't offer a subscription streaming service. I believe the other three have had online offerings for YEARS at this point, and the NFL just doesn't seem interested in it. I don't know why they don't want my money; I would happily fork over $100-200 per year to get my out-of-market Steelers every week.

I'm not sure when it will level off, but EVENTUALLY the league's revenue has to stop growing at this rate. Every big contract like Ryan's is a gamble by the team that the bubble will continue to grow for at least 5 more years.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 12:48pm

Well, nothing lasts forever, so some day you will surely be right.

by Ivarsson.se :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 1:00pm

The NFL do have a streaming package. It's called Gamepass and I think it is available worldwide except the US (or North America?).

I'd wager their TV deals preclude them from offering it domestically.

by Theo :: Tue, 05/08/2018 - 7:50am

Thats NOT available in the US?
TV is still a strong medium, but not as big as it used to be.
But yes, the NFL should prepare for the future and not put all their eggs in the TV basket.

by jimbohead :: Tue, 05/08/2018 - 11:58am

"I'd wager their TV deals preclude them from offering it domestically."

Exactly this. The last near-decade, the NFL has been using preseason live and gamepass as a way to gain some technical expertise in live streaming sports against this eventuality. DirectTV is paying through the nose to maintain exclusive Sunday Ticket ownership, because that's about the only valuable property they have (their internet distribution is garbage, and their 1000 channels are becoming less valuable).

The NFL will keep taking their billions as long as DirectTV offers value beyond what they could get streaming. It honestly may just be to the end of the current contract.

by ChrisS :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 1:17pm

NFL football is not DVR proof. I watch 99% of football on the DVR skipping commercials and much blathering allows me to watch a 3.5 hour game in 1-1.5 hours.

by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 05/07/2018 - 3:35pm

He could have said relatively DVR proof. I think most people prefer watching live, even if they have a DVR

by Dan :: Wed, 05/09/2018 - 7:07pm

Seems reasonable for the Falcons.

For example, compare these two sets of players:

Matt Ryan, Golden Tate, Cooper Kupp, Mike Wallace, Cameron Brate

Blake Bortles, Sammy Watkins, Golden Tate, Cooper Kupp, Cameron Brate

They cost the same amount, since Ryan ($30M/yr) + Wallace ($4M/yr) = Bortles ($18M/yr) + Watkins ($16M/yr) = $34M/yr. And the Ryan-led offense looks better.

by ssereb :: Wed, 05/09/2018 - 7:46pm

I'm not sure I follow...what do these receivers have to do with these quarterbacks? How does the fact that Sammy Watkins is most likely massively overpaid bear on the question of the relative values of Ryan's and Bortles's contracts? Why are Cooper Kupp and Cameron Brate on both of these teams?

by Ivarsson.se :: Thu, 05/10/2018 - 5:38am

Golden Tate is on both of them too, I think the point was that the QB payscale means shelling out an extra 10M/yr there gives you more in terms of performance than, for example, spending on WR.

Using Bortles and Watkins as the comparison might not be fair though. You could always put in Brady at $15M/yr and it'd be equally silly.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 05/10/2018 - 8:40am

Why? Brady can't catch.

by nat :: Fri, 05/11/2018 - 3:19pm

Doesn't Brady have something like a career 66.7% reception rate, for 20 yards per target?

That's f*cking awesome, man!


In related news: Danny Amendola is almost as good at passing: career 66.7% completion rate, for 19 yards per attempt.

Maybe those guys should have switched positions. I guess we'll never know.

by theslothook :: Fri, 05/11/2018 - 4:45pm

But isn't amendola only 5'11? He'd need to first prove hes got Drew Brees, Russell Wilson level moxie before I hand him the keys to my franchise.

by The Ninjalectual :: Sun, 05/13/2018 - 1:33pm

Tom Brady career receiving (regular season): 2/2, 59 yards
Tom Brady career receiving (playoffs): 0/1

The guy only averages 0.1875 receptions per season. Pathetic! Wait until the HoF voters hear about this

by jtr :: Thu, 05/10/2018 - 9:13am

I don't think Dan put it as clearly as he could have, but I agree with the idea that $30M doesn't go quite as far on non-QB players as people sometimes assume. To put it another way, Ryan's $30M could buy you a top OT (your choice of Okung, Williams, or Armstead for $13M), a top non-Antonio Brown receiver (your choice of Evans, Hopkins, or Watkins for $16M), and a really shitty QB (your choice of Barkley, Savage, Griffin, Cassel, Webb, Smith, Manuel, etc are the non-rookie-contract QB's in the $1M range). I like the offense with Matt Ryan much better than the one with a great LT and WR1 but an awful quarterback, though I think this is ultimately a matter of taste. And the huge Sammy Watkins and Nate Soldier contracts this offseason suggest that prices for those positions are going to be even higher next offseason, when you may need to settle for second-tier players for those prices.

by theslothook :: Thu, 05/10/2018 - 12:33pm

That's a terrific summary. I would go further though. Even if you saved the money on Ryan, you aren't going to find Antonio Brown or Tyron Smith in free agency. You are going to end up overpaying for Sammy Watkins and Nate Solder. So it's really Matt Ryan and some street free agent receiver and left tackle vs Geno Smith, Nate Solder and Sammy Watkins.

by LondonMonarch :: Sun, 05/13/2018 - 12:45pm


by JimZipCode :: Fri, 05/18/2018 - 2:04pm

Jimmy Galapagos and Derek Carr were available in the second round.

If you had a great system of player development, and big brass balls, would it make sense to draft a QB in the first or second every ~4 years -- and NEVER ever extend your starting QB after his rookie deal? So you have a decent starter now, and a good team around him; you draft a decent QB in rounds 1/2, let him sit for one year, then let your starter walk and give the reins to the new guy for the next four years? Rinse and repeat?

Obviously, there are gigantic hurdles there. First cut at a list, you have to:
(A) correctly identifying Jimmy G and Carr, instead of Johnny Football and Deshone Kizer;
(B) have a VERY GOOD team & system around them, Patriots-like;
(C) not lose your QB-whisperer OC and/or QB coach to another team after a few years;
(D) get a little lucky.

But if you can come up with a Colin Kaep, Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton every few years -- and that's a wide range of ability -- doesn't that give you a good chance of using your cap money to field a solid O-line, dangerous receiving corps, capable D year after year after year? If the biggest competitive advantage in pro sports is a capable starting QB on his rookie deal; then hell, ALWAYS have one! Belichick has proven that it's possible to win with Matt Cassel, Jacoby Brisset, et al. So take advantage!

I think a portion of the much-discussed "QB scarcity" is something that teams inflict on themselves. Deshaun Watson is a great talent; but the stuff that Bill O'Brien did with the offense to help Watson have success, is stuff he could have done for his other QBs, but didn't. (At least according to the Tanier piece I read last year.) Teams cling to "average QBs" like a holy relic, a precious commodity. But Tony Romo and Jeff Garcia went undrafted. Last year the Ravens kept Ryan Mallet on the roster, despite overwhelming evidence from preseason and the prior year that he sucked donkey balls, and they cut undrafted Josh Woodrum. Not that Woodrum is necessarily the next Jeff Garcia or anything: but he looked a helluva lot better in preseason than Mallet did. Do size and arm strength matter THAT MUCH more than quick decision-making and accuracy? Are we looking at the right attributes?

A head coach would have to be utterly fearless to try this approach, and not give a shit whatsoever about what the media thinks. I guess he'd basically have to be Belichick. But doesn't this seem to be where the opportunity to beat the market is? Hire a fantastic offensive staff, like the crew they have in Philly; pay them a shit-ton of money so they think twice about taking promotions elsewhere; put together a QB-friendly scheme; and go thru rookie QBs like undershirts. Use the savings to pay bux to offensive linemen and receivers and pass-rushers and corners. Profit.

(Can you tell that I played a shit-ton of Front Office Football in the 00's? In that game it was basically possible to never miss on a high draft pick. This may have colored my thinking more than I realize.)

by theslothook :: Sat, 05/19/2018 - 12:54pm

Who besides the Patriots do you feel has this ability to find and succeed with 2nd round picks? I guess maybe Andy Reid if you squint hard enough. It just seems like your restrictions above are simply too restrictive.

As for coaches clinging to mediocre QBs, I think the Bills example last year shows you the other side of this. They tried to see what they had in Peterman and 9000 ints later, they were universally panned and forced to put Tyrod back.
The Fo boards(mostly filled with astute comments), howled with indignation at what Sean McDermott had done. Mediocrityy is at least a path well traveled. Trying it the other way invites ridicule more often than it produces Tom Brady or Tony Romo.

by ssereb :: Sun, 05/20/2018 - 1:20pm

Yeah, I think the problem with this high-round QB drafting approach is that, right before they drafted Garoppolo and then Brissett,the Patriots were the ones that drafted Ryan Mallett and Kevin O'Connell. The other problem with the approach is getting practice reps for the next guy in the pipeline while still getting the current guy ready to win games.