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Are Huge Quarterback Contracts Hurting Teams?

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In this past offseason, Baltimore Ravens quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Dallas Cowboys Tony Romo received similar hefty paydays through contract extensions at $120 million and $119.5 million, respectively. These high figures weren’t anything new, just the latest ones representative of a quarterback contracts trend that has been rising in total value as well as guaranteed payouts.

Along with these increasing paydays has come rising NFL salary caps. Beginning with the 1994 cap at $34.6 million, it now sits at $123 for this year. You can’t help but ask after seeing these recent signal caller deals if whether or not they are hurting teams even with the raising cap space for them.

Over at Bleacher Report, Paul Thelen wrote an extensive story about it, reviewing the percentage of an NFL team’s cap space that a quarterback absorbs. For his analysis, he used the five highest paid quarterbacks for one year, along with the No. 10 and No. 20 highest to create a picture of the quarterback payday arena.

Here’s at look at quarterbacks from 2000, 2006 and 2013.

2000 data

Player, Cap Hit (In Millions) and % Of Team’s Cap Space
Drew Bledsoe $8.5, 13.7%
Mark Brunell $7.2, 11.6%
Peyton Manning $6.7, 10.8%
Chris Chandler $6.2, 10%
Jake Plummer $5.9, 9.5%
10. Steve McNair $4.1, 6.6%
20. Donavan McNabb $2.2, 3.5%

Now fast-forward to 2006 when the NFL raised the salary cap by $17 million. This represented the largest increase annually, up from the previous 2005 figure.

2006 data

Player, Cap Hit (In Millions) and % Of Team’s Cap Space

Tom Brady $13.8, 13.5%
Mike Vick $13, 12.7%
Carson Palmer $13, 12.7%
Brett Favre $12.6, 12.3%
Peyton Manning $10.5, 10.2%
10. Jake Plummer $7.3, 7.1%
20. Jake Delhomme $4.5, 4.4%

When comparing the figures of 2000 to 2006, the ceiling stays comparable with Brady going in 2 percent lower in 2006 than in Bledsoe’s numbers. These slight changes didn’t appear to greatly affect teams.

Here’s 2013 figures.

2013 data

Player, Cap Hit (In Millions) and % Of Team’s Cap Space
Eli Manning $20.8, 16.9%
Matt Stafford $20.8, 16.9%
Peyton Manning $20 16.2%
Drew Brees $17.4 14.1%
Philip Rivers $17.1 13.9%
10. Mike Vick $12.2 9.9%
20.Cam Newton $6 4.87%

This where it gets interesting.

With Manning in the top spot, there’s a 3.4 percent jump from 2006, or $4.1 million for cap space. With Rivers, he represents more of the Charger’s salary than 2006’s highest paid quarterback, Brady. Michael Vick’s payday is also glaring as he is in the No. 10 spot for 2013, down from 2006’s No. 2 position.

For this year, Vick’s contract is 3.3 percent greater than Steve McNair’s 2006 number or $4 million for cap space.

Keep in mind that for free-agent players who signed with a team this year, it imposed $4 million versus the cap. This included the St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook and the Seattle Seahawks defense end Michael Bennett. Both of these players have fared well this season and you can’t help but wonder if some fans wished their teams had signed these players instead of paying their quarterbacks so much (see Rivers)

Something to remember is a high cap for a quarterback usually equates to a solid one. Their strong play is vital to today’s game and this contributes to their rising paydays but Thelen notes that after this year, a quarterback’s price will inflate a lot. This comes on the trend for signal caller extensions to sit at the back end of contracts regarding repercussions for the salary cap while their early years will include the usual bonuses for signing and low cap figures. This then enables a team some flexibility come extension time.

If you remember, by extending Romo and Brady, it allowed the Cowboys and Patriots to free up present cap space. In 2014, Romo will represent $21.14 million against the cap and in 2015, $25.15 million. Also in 2015, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees will have the team taking a $26.4 million cap. For Flacco, his 2016 and 2017 seasons will affect the Ravens’ salary cap by $28.5 million and $31 million, respectively.

You can’t help but think that league teams are paying their quarterbacks with the hope that cap numbers will also rise but note that it has only done so by $3 million since 2009. With this rate, Flacco will represent 24.8 percent of the Raven’s salary cap at the peak of his contract noted Thelen.

If the league increases the salary cap in relation to inflation, is still a question mark. Should it not do so, look for these signal callers’ paydays to fall to enable teams to pay for the rest of their rosters.

 

 

Debbie Baratz

Deb has been writing about the NFL and NCAA football for the last few years. She is a full-time writer and an avid sports fan. Follow her on twitter @ldbar.

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