Quarterbacks and Salary, 2015
Guest Column by Kevin Kolbe
It has been one year since I first wrote about quarterback salaries at Football Outsiders; here's a link to last year's article in which I first compared quarterbacks' statistical performances to their salaries. A quick reminder: quarterbacks were measured by their TANY/A (Total Adjusted Net Yards/Attempt, including passing, rushing, and sack data) and PAYD (Pay by Average Yards and Demand, which accounts for both quality and volume of a quarterback's plays).
This year, in the ongoing task of determining how much a quarterback is actually worth, I'll be going over a new modifier to PAYD determination. From the very beginning, I knew that part of what I wanted this series to do was take a look at young quarterbacks coming up on the end of their first contracts and see what type of deal they should be expecting, and that the best way to do that was by comparing them to veteran quarterbacks, so that's exactly what I did.
When Ryan Tannehill's extension was announced last year, I was really happy for Miami. By my own formula, though, I shouldn't have been. Tannehill's announced extension of $19.3 million per year was a full $8.2 million over his PAYD for 2014. However, I felt (and still feel confident) that Tannehill, just like many quarterbacks with only a few seasons under their belts, would improve. But is that reality, or just optimism? Also, given that he would be playing on a worse team (because he will be taking a larger share of the cap), would that improvement be cancelled out by a degrading system?
I went back to 2004, which brought us a pretty famous group of quarterbacks, and averaged out how they played in the first four years of their career, and then the second four. I then continued with 2005, 2006, etc., until I ran out of quarterbacks with enough plays in each phase of their career. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority showed improvement, becoming more efficient on a yards per play basis. Of course, with almost every year, the rest of the league showed improvement as well. After accounting for that, I discovered that since 2004, the average quarterback has improved by 0.34 yards per play over the rest of the league from their first four years to their second. All quarterbacks in the first four years of their career (regardless of games played) will have their PAYD calculated accordingly. This was done retroactively for 2014 as well.
Without further ado, here is this year’s PAYD table (players with a * by their name had PAYD calculated as though their TANYA were 0.34 higher):
|2015 Quarterbacks by PAYD (minimum eight starts)|
|* PAYD calculated as though their TANYA were 0.34 higher.|
In the table above, G is short for games played. I arbitrarily set the cut off for eight full games, to prevent 2013 Josh McCown-like situations. Plays/G includes all passes, rushes, and sacks divided by games. TANY/A is Total Adjusted Net Yards/Play, including all plays listed above. This metric was not created by me. BASE uses TANY/A and the cap hits of current starting quarterbacks to calculate "worth" based on per play efficiency. PAYD (Pay by Average Yards and Demand) takes the BASE amount and adjusts it according to number of plays per game.
The Cap column lists 2015 cap hits, and the PAYD-Cap column shows the difference between PAYD and the 2015 cap hit. Full explanations of these stats are available in last year's piece. Obviously, some of these players will have significantly different cap hits in 2016, starting with Kirk Cousins, who goes from less than $1 million on a fourth-round rookie contract to $20 million on the franchise tag.
Let's look at some of the biggest PAYD increases. Blake Bortles saw the largest increase from last year, which isn't saying a lot, since he was dead last in efficiency in 2014. Still, an improvement of 1.7 adjusted net yards per play is something for Jacksonville fans to be very happy about, and his workload stayed about the same. Andy Dalton had a career year, leading to the departure of his offensive coordinator to go lead the Browns. Between Hue Jackson's departure and the losses of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in free agency, it will be really interesting to see his performance in 2016.
Going in the other direction, Peyton Manning saw his PAYD drop by $8.2 million after a disastrous 2015 (only Nick Foles was less efficient). I think most agreed after this season that it was time to retire. Aaron Rodgers, missing a lot of what made his offense effective two years ago, naturally saw a significant drop from his amazing 2014 numbers, losing 2.32 adjusted net yards per play. What's really staggering is that he was able to fall so far and still be in the top 20 for 2015 efficiency.
PAYD values generally went up in 2015, as Carson Palmer's 7.59 TANY/A set a bar far lower for his peers than Rodgers' 8.17 last year. In addition, even though average quarterback plays per game increased from 2014 to 2015, the plays per game of the most efficient quarterback went down. Both of these factors contributed to 2015 seeing FOUR different quarterbacks end up with a higher single-year PAYD than "the standard," which I found very interesting.
As I mentioned in the comments last year, this formula is not finished. Every year, I plan on adding more to it to account for as many variables as possible. Speaking of which, I just want to thank everyone for the amazingly thoughtful comments. I enjoyed reading the questions and responding to them, as well as all of the great discussion going on, and I'll try to be as quick to reply this year as well. So if there is something you would like to see taken into account and have an idea as to how, I will definitely take a look at it. Thanks.
Guest columnist Kevin Kolbe is originally from Houston, Texas, and has been in the Air Force since December of 2001. If you are interested in writing a guest column, something that takes a new angle on the NFL, please email us your idea at Contact Us.