NFL: Divisional Round-Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots

Predicting future extensions for 5 NFL quarterbacks playing out rookie contracts

Now that Andy Dalton’s contract extension has been revealed as one that can quickly evaporate with little dead money if things go south in a few years, the outlook on forthcoming extensions becomes more intriguing. Colin Kaepernick’s extension likewise veered toward pay-as-you-go, and for the 2012 rookie quarterback class this thickens the plot as they vie for a lucrative extension when 2014 wraps up.

While Dalton’s deal featuring $16 million per year could potentially establish a new middle-class pay tier for now it’s just below this decade’s franchise QB contracts. What makes evaluating this next wave of young passers uniquely different from previous extension-eligible classes is the reliance on legs, volatile performance and escalating compensation that franchise quarterbacks have come to expect, somewhere closer to $20 million per year.

“When you give a quarterback that kind of money, that extension and that kind of time they better be able to sit in the pocket and do the things that you’re going to ask over the long term,” said Ted Sundquist, who served as Denver Broncos general manager from 2002-2008 and Director of College Scouting for their two Super Bowl wins in the 1990s.

Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill aren’t signing rookie deals for many millions more than later-round picks Russell Wilson and Nick Foles, as they would’ve in the past, courtesy of the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement. This makes the leap in pay—and faith—so much greater in magnitude.

“I just don’t see RG3 and Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick playing the same game five years from now, but then the question becomes: Can they do something different from what you’re seeing right now? And are you willing to pay for that?”

Sundquist, well-acquainted with key front-office personnel of the respective teams and agents, spoke about the realistic scenarios facing the top rookie-contract quarterbacks who become eligible to talk extensions after 2014. Also, check out our chat on the values of rookie-contract passers currently eligible to negotiate extensions, including Cam Newton, Sam Bradford and Jake Locker.

Andrew Luck (#1 overall): Could his new deal eclipse Aaron Rodgers’ contract?

The only major question surrounding the future of Luck is whether his deal next offseason eclipses Aaron Rodgers’ as the new market-setter.

“Indianapolis being the market it is, being the history they have at the quarterback position, the success that (Luck has) had, the way he’s handled himself, I think everything adds up to that,” Sundquist said.

Rodgers’ five-year, $110 million extension kicks in for 2015 and includes $54 million guaranteed. This could require some cap manipulation for Indy to reach even though this regime has consistently maintained space to breathe. The Colts are estimated at a relatively comfortable $13 million under as of August 2014.

“I know they’re a very prudent organization,” Sundquist said. “The caps and contracts guy that’s there now, (Colts Director of Football Administration Mike Bluem), was my guy in Denver, so I know him real well. We’ve never discussed this, but he’s going to present a fair deal and what he thinks is the right deal to (Colts GM) Ryan Grigson and the two of them collaborate very well, as Michael (Bluem) and I did in Denver.” Bluem’s management of the cap has played a huge role in keeping the Colts in good standing.

Luck’s development into a franchise passer was considered the most “sure thing” heading into the 2012 draft and general opinion remains the same heading into the 2014 season, even if there is sensible debate as to where his play ranks among the under-25 group thus far. Barring catastrophe or dramatic regression, Luck appears set to push quarterback compensation to new heights in 2014.

“If you were going to put that kind of money out there, I’d put it on him,” said Sundquist, who considers Luck to be the best long-run option among the NFL’s young quarterbacks. “Will it happen? … It just depends on whether or not (the Colts) can come up with it.”

Robert Griffin III (#2 overall): Shades of Kaepernick deal ahead?

Kaepernick left the board both a round and year later than Griffin yet presents the best available case study for speculating on RGIII’s negotiations with the Redskins next offseason. 

“I think if you kind of tweaked the current system that we’ve got that kind of takes the guaranteed money but also protects the club with regards to other areas with de-escalators, and those types of clauses in there, that we can find a fine line,” Sundquist said.

“And clubs might be a little bit more willing to go ahead and make the commitment that the player wants that gives him the feeling of stability, that gives him the feeling that he’s wanted and that he is the long-term future — but at the same time protects the club. “

Griffin has not learned to protect himself while running quite like Kaepernick, nor does he have playoff wins to his name. Yet the sheer arm talent, foot speed and maddening brilliance-inconsistency tension are very comparable. Will we see the ripple effects of Kaepernick and Dalton; elite QB annual base salary mitigated by low guaranteed money and escalators that give teams an out if expectations aren’t met?

“If players get a little bit more used to and willing to accept that,” Sundquist said. “Those things are written into their contract and they’re responsible for their production in the end and yes I will give back if I don’t produce, then I think you might see clubs be a little bit more willing to do more of these types of things.”

Ryan Tannehill (#8 overall): The ‘New GM’ effect

The Miami Dolphins made a top-10 investment in Ryan Tannehill just two years ago, but new general manager Dennis Hickey was in Tampa then. Working under a new regime with an uneven resume could give Tannehill an uphill climb to a big extension.

“He almost has to throw away everything that he’s done to this point. It’s almost as if he’s a rookie,” Sundquist said. “In fact, he’s a rookie-minus, because the new general manager will come in look at the overall record, it’s 15-17, look at his 36-30 interceptions, he’ll watch the film and he’ll make his own conclusions as to why it happened. But I would think that Ryan’s starting all over.”

The GM who drafted Tannehill and brought on nearly all of his current offensive weapons has been canned, so Tannehill and the leftovers have much to prove along with incumbent Coach Joe Philbin.

“And (Tannehill is) going to have to prove in all kinds of ways in training camp this offseason. How he’s prepared, how he goes about handling the leadership role,” Sundquist said. “All the things that we dissect these guys by he’s starting over, because he really has nothing to hang his hat on.”

Tannehill seemed close to cementing his job as the Dolphins rode into Week 16 at 8-6 despite a train-wreck offensive line and publicized inner turmoil. Tannehill then endured two brutal performances that eliminated Miami from playoff contention. How much the 2014 Dolphins look like the squad that won Weeks 13-15 should determine what kind of deal Tannehill commands.

“He hasn’t fallen flat on his face but he certainly at this particular point hasn’t done anything as a top 10 quarterback to warrant what we’re talking about (Tier I money).”

Russell Wilson (#75 overall, third round): The one with the ring.

Seahawks general manager John Schneider assisted Packers general manager Ted Thompson before moving on to begin successfully navigating the cap in Seattle during the 2010 offseason, as they rose from doormat to Super Bowl champ.

“Schneider comes from the Green Bay way of doing things,” said Sundquist, who calls Schneider friend. “And they always seem to be able to get their guys signed, so I think he’ll be very communicative with all the parties involved, Russell and his agent.” Sundquist noted that with owner Paul Allen they’re unlikely to have cash problems interfere.

Through two seasons Wilson’s contract dealt a combined hit to Seattle’s cap at just over $1 million, with only about $1.7 million combined on the book for 2014-2015. The Wilson camp will be eager to negotiate once he’s eligible next offseason. Down the coast Colin Kaepernick is looking at $17 million against the cap for 2015 alone.

“I think they’re player-friendly. I think (Schneider) is going to certainly do everything that he can possibly do to make Russell happy and feel like he was fairly compensated based upon the fact that he’s coming off a third-round deal.” It’s hard to imagine Wilson will see anywhere near as low as the baseline of $13 million fully guaranteed Kaepernick took in San Fran.

Since 2000, the only other starting quarterbacks to cap their second NFL season with a Super Bowl win are Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, leaving no comparison for such an early-career title within the past seven years. Both extensions off rookie contracts came well before franchise quarterback pay dramatically climbed in recent years. Both Brady and Roethlisberger commanded mostly run-powered offenses prior to their first extension and then a more aerial attack thereafter.

Roethlisberger’s extension totaling more than $100 million over eight years helped push the market in 2008 and Big Ben immediately repaid the Rooneys with a second title that sat on his shoulders offensively. Now imagine if Wilson captures his second title just as negotiations begin.

Nick Foles (#88 overall, third round): System-specific or worth the big bucks?

The major concerns with Foles are the small sample size (615 career attempts), whether Foles’ relative lack of run threat can truly maximize Chip Kelly’s system and foremost whether his production is disproportionately a product of the offensive system he operates in.

“That’s an interesting dynamic there, because you’ve got a relatively new coach who hasn’t been in the pros that long, and you’ve got a general manager (Howie Roseman) who’s a cap guy,” said Sundquist. “So there’s a clear line of delineation between the needs of the football team and the idea of winning with the numbers with Howie.”

If Foles tacks on another strong season and a playoff run, it will be interesting to see if a franchise that isn’t structurally leaning on its quarterback — like the Ravens with Flacco — offers franchise passer money.

“The dynamic itself will be a very interesting one, from the standpoint of the negotiation, not between the club and the player but within the club. If Howie looks at Nick Foles and says ‘I see an average quarterback, who yeah is blossoming under your system but compared to some of the other guys out there we’ve talked about — a Luck or a Wilson, Kaepernick, that sort of thing — my guess is that the general manager’s going to say ‘I don’t see it,’ and therefore going into (Tier I) stratosphere doesn’t make sense.

“But what do you do if the head coach says, ‘Well this is the perfect guy for my system?’ I just don’t know at this particular point in the history of that relationship.”

Sundquist grew to know Foles’ agent, David Dunn, while he negotiated between Jake Plummer and the Broncos. Dunn also serves Jake Locker, who became eligible for an extension this offseason and likewise has millions of dollars on the line predicated on how he performs in 2014.

“If Locker does get a good deal, certainly that’s going to help and Dave’s going to use that to his advantage with the Eagles,” said Sundquist. “If (the Eagles) have a good season and Foles puts up good numbers, Dave makes it difficult on you. …  He’s just going to say ‘Well wait a minute, he’s doing what you’re asking. Compared to the other quarterbacks in the league, why not?’”

We’d like to thank Ted Sundquist for contributing to this article. He is the founder of The Football Educator and author of Taking Your Team to the Top: How to Build and Manage Great Teams like the Pros.

Thomas Emerick

About Thomas Emerick

Merry freelancer. NFL Lead Writer at The Sports Daily, Contributor to Sporting News. May have also seen my work at USA Today, Bleacher Report, Pro Football Focus and the late AOL FanHouse. VT grad. I am also an avid diabetic.