Over the last three seasons, the value of franchise QBs has skyrocketed up to $17-22 million per year on average, which puts Bengals fans in a very uneasy place now that Andy Dalton is eligible to negotiate an extension and owner Mike Brown has looped Dalton in with the Colin Kaepernick deal.
Bengals want to pay Andy Dalton like Kaepernick… Since when does ZERO playoffs wins = a $110 million contract
— Kyle Nishida (@Kyle_Nishida) July 22, 2014
Whether quarterbacks are worth breaking the bank for determines their pay tier; often viewed as a necessary cost for the hope of contending over the next three years. Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Sam Bradford and Dalton are all eligible for extensions and none can probably fathom falling to Tier II.
Over The Cap’s Jason Fitzgerald has covered the nonexistent QB middle class separating the franchise passers from journeyman starters and bridge quarterbacks, where Ryan Fitzpatrick sits comfortably and Alex Smith desperately hopes to escape. For the parameters of this study, Tier I and Tier II for vets currently shake out as follows.
Tier 1: Paid elite (not to be confused with “played”) at $17-22 million/year
Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Colin Kaepernick, Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford
(N/A: Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger for signing their extension in a different era; Tom Brady for being a complete anomaly in his relationship with the Patriots.)
Tier 2: Best journeyman, bridge guys at $5-10 million/year
Alex Smith, Carson Palmer, Matt Schaub, Matt Cassel, Josh McCown
QBs Circumventing the Paradigm for Tier I Money
It seemed Matt Stafford might pioneer a new middle class APY (average per season) after the 2012 campaign, coming off a letdown season that followed his only return on investment-equitable year in 2011. A tough investment to gauge, the Lions and Stafford instead circumvented the paradigm by inking Tier I APY while protecting the team with a relatively short three-year extension off his rookie deal – setting Stafford up for another bid at the prime age of 30. Everyone saves face.
Ditto for the Kaepernick deal except with long-term implications and de-escalators. Another sublime talent whose flashed large parts both brilliance and severe concerns, Kaep’s contract stole initial headlines as the biggest deal ever, before it was later revealed that the record-breaking potential earnings were counterbalanced by a surprisingly small amount of security in the form of guaranteed money.
Need more proof Kaepernick did a very team-friendly deal? The Bengals want to pay Andy Dalton in the same range http://t.co/AejnFHuJGb
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) July 22, 2014
Like the Lions and Stafford, the Niners and Kaepernick both save face and put their franchise QB into Tier I APY, which probably comes down to pride as much as paper.
Meanwhile, Jay Cutler’s deal is more in the traditional mold, though he’s also put together a larger sample size and isn’t coming off a rookie deal. Still, a major caveat in pushing Cutler around the $20 Mil Club is the Bears have a pretty clean out at three years in case Cutler never does hit that high ceiling.
Franchises are certainly finding creative ways to put less-proven franchise quarterbacks closer to $20 million per year than that distant chasm down to sub-10 where the stop-gaps reside. It seems you’re viewed as the future or just a competent starter, and the difference is potentially double-digit millions per year. What makes the difference between the two is a grey matter, and franchises are finding ways around black-and-white delineation.
Whether these creative measures become a trend or anomaly could play out in the Newton and Dalton deals, and even the Locker and Bradford negotiations if they manage to meet their draft hype in 2014.
Andy Dalton (#35 overall, second round): How many millions in a playoff win?
Andy Dalton’s camp appears eager to nail a deal much closer to $20-mil than tumble to the quarterback middle class comprised of the top journeyman and bridge quarterbacks.
Former Broncos GM Ted Sundquist shined some light.
“If Cincinnati gets back into the playoffs for a fourth straight year under this guy, and they’re able to make hay or get into the divisional or into the conference championship, then I think you have to address it with him,” Sundquist said. “That’s ultimately what the quarterback is asked to do. Get us through a 16-game season, get us into the playoffs in some form or fashion, and make a run. And that’s what (Joe) Flacco did. … And ultimately as a general manager or owner, that’s what you’re hoping and you’re looking for.”
After compiling an 0-3 playoff record with a 1-6 TD:INT ratio and sub-250 yards per game, could one playoff win next season really mean the difference of 5-10 million per year?
“I think it would give the agent a good argument.,” said Sundquist, adding that he knows [agent] Jeff Nalley well. “He’s a guy that would use that. ‘I’ve got a young quarterback who came in as a rookie and took his team to the playoffs. Turn around, came back the next (two years), took his team to the playoffs. Made the next step deep in the playoffs … so it’s at least one playoff win.
“It would be difficult to argue against it, especially a team like Cincinnati, where they’ve been looking and it’s been a while, and they’ve tried a number of things in there,” said Sundquist. The Cincinnati Bengals have not won a playoff game since January 1991.
There’s also the real possibility that Cincy and Dalton close a deal before this season. Flacco was forced to bank on a playoff run by pushing negotiations to the following year, while Dalton could potentially find Tier 1 quarterback money without that kind of make-or-break season.
Cam Newton (#1 overall): Cutler-style deal?
Cutler’s deal is likely on the Panthers’ radar. The fellow Bus Cook client got an extension totaling Cutler’s contract at $126 million over the next seven years, coaxing Cutler back to the squad instead of free agency. The caveat: the Bears can opt out nearly unscathed in 2016 if the quarterback doesn’t quite realize the full potential the franchise is waiting on.
“I could see Dave doing that (kind of contract),” said Sundquist, who in his pre-GM years served as Director of College Scouting for the Denver Broncos and worked with Gettleman, at the time in Denver’s scouting department. “That would certainly be something that if it benefited the Panthers; Right now Cam’s the face of that franchise and you can’t do anything but get him re-signed. But at the same time, knowing that front office leadership like I do, they’re going to give themselves an opportunity to have a way out.”
Gettleman inherited a bit of a salary-cap disaster from deposed Panthers general manager Marty Hurney, strapped to some fairly brutal contracts upon taking over in 2013.
A combined 13-19 record from 2011-2012 quickly saw a 2013 turnaround to 12-4 NFC South champs thanks in large part to defense that improved from 18th to second in points and 10th to second in yards. The offense leaned heavily on the arms and legs of a quarterback Gettleman inherited but, despite Newton playing well down the stretch, his sole career playoff performance would underwhelm.
As the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, Newton is plenty more well off at his current pay ($7 million in 2014) than what Dalton faces this year at $1.7 million. Newton is set for a cap hit north of $14 million in 2015 thanks to the fifth-year option Carolina triggered this offseason.
“Cam was a guy, if you recall when he took over that job, that Dave wasn’t 100 percent sold and was kind of like, ‘You’re going to have to prove it to me,'” Sundquist said. “(Cam) had a great year, got things turned around, and got them to the playoffs…. Certainly (Gettleman is) aware of what Cam means to that organization and that he has to have a quarterback, but I think he’s always going to be a little bit more tight with regards to his requirements from a club perspective.”
Jake Locker (#10 overall): Most to gain — or lose
The Locker situation seems almost tragic thus far. While there have been performances displaying absolutely woeful accuracy — some key moments at Indy in late 2012 come to mind — Locker also put together a compelling stretch to show a high ceiling in early 2013, before adding another concerning chapter to his injury history in Week 4.
Titans undecided about how to proceed with Jake Locker, who they have felt, at times, is their franchise QB if he didn’t have injury issues
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 14, 2013
Locker boasted a 6-0 TD-INT ratio through four games and a 67 percent completion percentage from Weeks 3-4 as the Titans jumped out to a 3-1 start last season, when Locker fell injured midway against the Jets. Neither Tennessee nor Locker looked the same the rest of 2013 and the Titans forewent the fifth-year option on their 2011 top pick.
Perhaps no quarterback on this list faces a wider range of realistic outcomes than Locker due to his current contract and both the injury and consistent-play question marks.
If Locker manages to extrapolate early 2013 through all of 2014 then he could see some external help next offseason. It’s not absurd to think an extension between the Eagles and fellow David Dunn client Nick Foles would be used to Locker’s benefit if both embark on strong campaigns and one is rewarded after the season.
“Dave is a very good negotiator and able to negotiate those things well,” Sundquist said. “He’s really good at it, you’ve got to work with him.
Sam Bradford (#1 overall): Prolific campaign away from Stafford money?
Matthew Stafford notched one year worthy of a top pick out of four, a span with two injury-marred campaigns, and inked a guarantee-heavy deal last year. The big question is what occurs if Sam Bradford explodes this season — not preposterous — and enters 2015 with a similar resume.
“I would have all kinds of protection things in there with Sam Bradford, from the standpoint of protecting the club,” said Sundquist. “If they’re going demand that kind of money and he has that kind of season. … I wouldn’t go long, long term. For me, with Sam Bradford it would be all kinds of protections, a lot of incentives. A former 1-1. And for me that type of season is St. Louis making the playoffs, in some form or fashion, just downright have to make the playoffs.”
Stafford’s three-year deal pulls in $53 million guaranteed and sets him up for a free agency bid at the prime quarterbacking age of 30. Agent Tom Condon represents Stafford and joins Ben Dogra in management of Bradford, who went first overall the ensuing year. If Bradford manages to assemble a year similar to Stafford’s 2011 – eclipsing 4K and 30 with a playoff berth – the Rams could find sense in probing for a short-term, high APY deal that protects themselves.
“(I would) just say look, Tom (Condon), you’ve got the former 1-1, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy his entire career,” said Sundquist, while also expressing a reservation for citing Stafford’s three-year extension due to the colossal per-year figures. “The Rams, regardless of what’s been around him, and I know they had to change head coaches and this and that, but he hasn’t been the guy. … To put him up in the stratospheric numbers we’ve seen, no. But to do (three years) like you did with Matt, then maybe let’s talk about it.”
While it’s hard to say which quarterback eligible to negotiate off their rookie deal closes on the next massive contract extension, we do know it creates a ripple effect felt by the others.
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.