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25 Sep 2009

Under the Cap: Top Ten Quarterbacks

by J.I. Halsell

Over the course of the season "Under the Cap" will present a series analyzing the top ten starter contracts at each position. The metrics used to value these contracts are the same metrics that those who are familiar with "Under the Cap" are used to seeing: Total Guarantee, Average per Year and 3-Year Total, amongst others. To kickoff the series we'll start with the most lucrative position in the sport, quarterback.

As I look at the results of the contract analysis below, there are a few items that pop out at me. The fact that Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer remains the second highest paid quarterback on an Average per Year basis on a contract that is nearly four years old is most certainly striking, given that the market has certainly grown since 2005. The Palmer contract was signed nearly eight months after Patriots quarterback Tom Brady received a contract for $12.125 million per year. Despite not reaching the same level of team success under the leadership of Palmer, the Bengals valued Palmer $4 million more than Brady on a per year basis.

The quarterback class of 2004 (New York's Eli Manning, San Diego's Philip Rivers, and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger) account for three of the top four contracts at the position. This young group of quarterbacks have set the bar for elite quarterback contracts going forward. As a result of the contracts signed by this group and the contract signed by No. 1 overall pick, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, the next elite quarterback contracts signed will push total guaranteed money well in excess of $40 million and guaranteed money per year in excess of $7 million per year, not to mention Average per Year in the neighborhood of $17 million per year.

A glaring omission from this list is prolific Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who like Brady and Peyton Manning could be in line for a new contract in the near future. Brees's current contract ranks him 17th in Average per Year, a definite value for the Saints given his remarkable productivity. Since 2004, Brees has ranked in the top eight in DYAR, including his No. 1 ranking last year. Given this productivity, if Brees can lead his Saints to a run in the playoffs, then he has a strong argument for receiving a contract that makes him one of the highest paid players at his position.

The table above ranks quarterbacks based on the Average per Year metric; if one were to rank quarterbacks based upon Total Guarantee, then the top five would be Stafford ($41.7 million), Rivers ($38.15 million), Eli Manning ($35 million), Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan ($34.75 million), and Peyton Manning ($34.5 million).

Here are the top ten quarterback contracts in the league:

Top Ten Starting Quarterback Contracts (in millions of dollars)
Rank Player Club Age at
Guarantee Guar./
New Money
Prev. Year
1 Manning, Eli NYG 28 8/14/2009 6 $35.0m $5.8m 35.9% $97.5m $16.3m $50.9m 9
2 Palmer, Carson CIN 26 12/29/2005 6 $24.0m $4.0m 24.7% $97.0m $16.2m $55.5m 2
3 Rivers, Philip SD 27 8/25/2009 6 $38.2m $6.4m 41.6% $91.8m $15.3m $50.3m 3
4 Roethlisberger, Ben PIT 26 3/3/2008 6 $33.2m $5.5m 38.6% $88.0m $14.6m $52.7m 11
5 Manning, Peyton IND 27 3/2/2004 7 $34.5m $4.9m 35.2% $98.0m $14.0m $45.7m 1
6 Favre, Brett MIN 39 8/18/2009 2 $6.0m $3.0m 24.0% $25.0m $12.5m -- 20
7 Rodgers, Aaron GB 24 11/1/2008 5 $20.0m $4.0m 32.6% $61.3m $12.3m $40.1m 10
8 Brady, Tom NE 27 5/5/2005 4 $26.5m $6.6m 54.6% $48.5m $12.1m $42.0m 4
9 McNabb, Donovan PHI 33 6/12/2009 2 $15.5m $7.8m 64.0% $24.2m $12.1m -- 8
10 Stafford, Matthew DET 21 4/25/2009 6 $41.7m $7.0m 57.9% $72.0m $12.0m $41.7m --

Next week, we'll analyze the top ten starter contracts at running back.

Follow J.I. Halsell on Twitter: @SalaryCap101

Posted by: J.I. Halsell on 25 Sep 2009

23 comments, Last at 26 Sep 2009, 2:08am by Dice


by Temo :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 10:54am

Seriously, 12.5 million per year for Favre? Who were they bidding against, other than Princess's own (BS) reluctance to play? We all knew he was coming back and we all knew what team he wanted to come back to. 12.5 mill per year seems like a good day for Bus Cook (he's the agent, right?)

Despite not reaching the same level of team success under the leadership of Palmer, the Bengals valued Palmer $4 million more than Brady on a per year basis.

I don't know about valuing him at $4 million more, I think it's more like a "Bengals Tax". It's like the much-talked about "Hometown Discount", except the complete opposite.

by Guido Merkens :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 12:53pm

The caveat with Favre's deal is that the Vikes are only bound to paying that for one year. Part of the hidden cost of the longer deals is that if the QB gets injured or can't play up to his contract, they have to eat a lot of cap space for a guy who isn't that productive due to the prohibitive guarantees - like the Palmer deal.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 2:19pm

Yeah, the Favre deal is a one year commitment for a pretty well known quantity, which also drove (to the Vikings) about 1.5-2.0 million dollars, in season ticket revenues alone, within about two days of the press conference. I'd guess that the Vikings probably gained at least 3 million dollars in revenues before they cut the first check to The Jeans Model, since I don't think there was a signing bonus.

by andrew :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 2:53pm

If I didn't know better, I'd say they were bidding against Aaron Rodgers. Coincidence that Favre sneaks in at just a shade higher per year?

by Podge (not verified) :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 10:49am

You know what, looking at that makes it look like the contract paid to the #1 pick, if he's a QB, is actually quite fair. You should be expecting this QB to be around the top 10 at his position, and you get an opportunity to be the only team that ever gets a shot at negotiating a contract with him for his entire career.

Of course if you make a bad pick its a big investment for nothing (hello Mr Russell), but if Stafford is as good as any of the QBs listed above him (or Brees) it seems decent value to me.

by Temo :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 10:56am

It's the guaranteed money that most NFL players care about, and Stafford is getting more guaranteed money and the 2nd most guaranteed money per year.

That said, I'm also not sure that the contract given to Stafford is really that much of a rip-off for the team as some suggest.

by DrewTS (not verified) :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 11:17am

That might be the first time I've ever heard the "only team to ever negotiate with him" argument for why top picks get such huge contracts. I think I'm somewhat pursuaded by it. I still have to think that Stafford is overpaid based on his on-field accomplishments to-date (compared to the other names on that list), but maybe not by as much as I previously would have thought. The first overall pick should, in theory, be one of the best players available in the draft. Having exclusive rights to sign that player should be worth something. And if he pans out the way you expected him to when you drafted him so high, that contract should still end up being a relative bargain by the time it's played out.

by Scott Blair (not verified) :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 11:19am

What's Flacco's contract. I'm assuming a steal...

by D Jones :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 12:00pm

That's a good point. Is there a list of all of the NFL QB contract values out there someplace? Where did this info come from?

I like the idea of looking at DYAR/$/year or something like that, to find the best bargain at QB in the NFL, then look at the same metric for other positions. Seems like it would quickly show you those teams that are the best at talent evaluation and contract structuring...

Also, does anybody have a link to an explanation of "New Money" "Guarantees" etc. it's all a little fuzzy for me. Is the non-guaranteed money incentive based? Or is it just not guaranteed if the player is injured, cut, etc.?

by J.I. Halsell :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 12:08pm

Wassup Scott...here's the bottom five from an avg/yr basis: BLT Flacco (2.37M), SF Hill (2M), TB Leftwich (2M), WAS Campbell (1.5M), BUF Edwards (574K)

D Jones, the source of my data are my sources both on the team-side & agent-side, so they're legit. Regarding the definitions, "New Money" is the new money added to a player's compensation by virute of an extension or renegotiation. For example, Eli's deal is 7 yrs (2009-2015) for 106.9M, but under his old deal he was already under contract for 2009 at a salary of 9.4M. Therefore his new years are 2010-2015 (6 yrs) and his "New Money" is $97.5M (106.9M minus 9.4M, the salary he was going to make anyway under his old contract).

This would be a good time to mention that I'll be hosting a live webinar on Tuesday, 9/29 @ 9pm EST discussing these QB contracts; it'll be an interactive forum where you can ask me questions about these deals. To register visit: www.SalaryCap101.com

J.I. Halsell
Salary Cap Analyst | "Under the Cap"
Twitter | @SalaryCap101

by Kuato (not verified) :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 2:37pm

I heard a discussion on some NFL show the other day, can't remember which one as I watch so many, and the talking heads were in a hot debate about the new P. Manning contract. Several of them thought Manning's new deal this summer would make him the highest paid player in the league, while others though Manning's age would prevent them from signing such a mega-deal (he would obviously still be in the top 5 or so). Just wondering what other people thought about this issue.

Will P Manning become the highest paid player in the league again next summer...and will he deserve to get a deal like that based on his age?

by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 9:40pm

I'm not a Colts fan.

Manning deserves anything the Colts can give him.

I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes the highest-paid by a slim margin and then is overtaken within the next year or two multiple times, but I would be surprised if it blows away what we've already seen.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 3:31pm

I'm surprised not to see Jamarcus Russell in that list, after all he was the #1 draft pick of 2007 ... perhaps the Raiders did a better job than we all thought because despite his performance this far into the season (35% completion rate) they're committed to him being their #1 for the future.

As for Favre, yes I reckon the Vikings overpaid. I can't think of many other 39-year-old veterans who got given contracts that ranked in the top 10 of their position.

by tuluse :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 3:40pm

How many 39 year-old players can you think of receiving contracts at all?

If you start with a tiny population, any subset is going going to be even smaller.

Also, I think there are some longsnappers and kickers who have.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 5:31pm

Although they may be a small population, they're a small population that have excelled. You don't go picking up 35-year-old rookies with no NFL experience, you just want the guys who were standouts.

In fact, I'd venture to say that not many 35+ players get paid really well. Teams know they're on the downside of their careers and just don't pay them for their past experience.

Kerry Collins is 37 this year. He's not on the list. Who's better value for running your football team? Or imagine a 39-year-old Testaverde or Flutie available today? I'd say Favre is better than the latter two but I'm sure there's a 30-year-old who could outperform him.

by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 10:03pm

At age 39 or higher, best QB seasons (no particular order). That statement just made me curious.

1. Warren Moon-Min (1995, age 39)--4228 yards, 33 TD, 14 INT, 6.18 ANY/A
2. Phil Simms-NYG (1993, age 39)--3038 yards, 15 TD, 9 INT, 6.22 ANY/A
3. Warren Moon-Sea (1997, age 41)--3678 yards, 25 TD, 16 INT, 5.85 ANY/A
4. Jim Plunkett-Rai (1986, age 39)--1986 yards, 14 TD, 9 INT, 5.90 ANY/A
5. Vinny Testaverde-Dal (2004, age 41)--3532 yards, 17 TD, 20 INT, 5.27 ANY/A
6. Doug Flutie-SD (2001, age 39)--3464 yards, 15 TD, 18 INT, 5.10 ANY/A
7. _______-NYJ (2008, age 39)--3472 yards, 22 TD, 22 INT, 4.91 ANY/A
8. Warren Moon-Sea (1998, age 42)--1632 yards, 11 TD, 8 INT, 4.83 ANY/A
9. Warren Moon-Min (1996, age 40)--1610 yards, 7 TD, 9 INT, 4.60 ANY/A
10. Len Dawson-KC (1974, age 39)--1573 yards, 7 TD, 13 INT, 3.57 ANY/A

No one else has started at least 8 games.

by Sleeping With Bieniemy (not verified) :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 3:36pm

Palmer deal is a good one even if he looks overpaid now. It was clear he was a franchise type quarterback who was both young and proven (not like Stafford or other recent draft picks). If you have the chance to lock down your franchise QB for a decade plus, it just seems wise to do it since finding one is hard.

Also, you'll notice Carson's guarantee comes in lower than most on that list. Almost 2 mil less than Brady. Nothing is shocking about his deal at all. As a Bengals fan used to horrible decisions from our owner and "GM", I can honestly say this is one time he did right by the fans.

by Your name (not verified) :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 4:37pm

Brett Favre's deal has 3 millions dollars guaranteed per year. It has 6 million guaranteed over two years. The contract is two years long.

Average total salary per year is not the correct way to analyze his salary.
And on top of that, unused cap space doesn't carry over - so paying Brett Favre this year doesn't effect in pretty much any legitimate way the salary cap next year.

by Tracy :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 5:24pm

For a 2 year contract, guaranteed money becomes a insignificant, because a vested veteran gets his entire year's salary guaranteed if he's on the roster in week 1. Unless the Vikings were trying to push some of year 1 salary into year 2, there's no sense in putting any guarantee into the deal, since any guaranteed money would be gotten at the expense of year 1 salary. (Do you really think that the Vikings would be willing to guarantee much more than 1/2 of a 2 year contract to a 39 year old with a history of retiring/unretiring?)

So the only way to evaluate Favre's contract is by looking at salary per year.

by mrh :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 4:37pm

Regarding Favre, MIN has done well in the past managing their cap. If they weren't paying him, would they have been below the floor? In other words, would they have to pay someone more money (or at least commit cap money) anyhow? If so, this looks better from their standpoint.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 5:24pm

True enough ... but which free agent QBs out there could have demanded more money than Favre?

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Fri, 09/25/2009 - 9:26pm

I still wish there was some adjustment for the time value of money here. It's incredibly striking, for instance, to note that Peyton Manning still is in the top 5, even though his contract was signed almost 2 years earlier than anyone else in the top 5. Similarly with Palmer, whose contract really looks out of place by now.

To be fair, it's not like the Bengals knew he was going to shred his knee.

by Dice :: Sat, 09/26/2009 - 2:08am

Surprised not to see Matt Ryan on the list.