Signing bonus the most important factor in quarterback contracts

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As more and more quarterback contracts become year-to-year propositions, the best and perhaps only way to give these or any other players real security comes from a large signing bonus.  Apart from the magnitude of the cash in hand, a big signing bonus ensures that the player will still be on the team for a few years.

The bigger the signing bonus, the bigger the cap hit if the player is cut early in the deal.  For that reason, big-money contracts used to be evaluated largely by the payout in the first three years, since the deals almost always carried a signing bonus that made it difficult if not impossible to cut the player before completion of third season.  Because signing bonuses spread over time, cutting or trading the player early in the deal triggers an acceleration under the cap.

While more and more teams opt for pay-as-you-go deals, possibly influenced by the annual spending requirements under the new CBA, franchise quarterbacks had been immune from than dynamic.

In 2012, for example, Saints quarterback Drew Brees earned $37 million at signing.  Then, the 2013 flurry of franchise quarterback contracts paid out more than $170 million in signing bonuses, with Aaron Rodgers getting $33.25 million, Tom Brady getting $30 million (so much for “taking less”), Joe Flacco getting $29 million, Matt Ryan getting $28 million, Matthew Stafford getting $27.5 million, and Tony Romo getting $25 million.

This year, the pendulum has swung sharply in the other direction, with Colin Kaepernick getting a mere $12.328 million to sign, and Andy Dalton receiving only $12 million.  While Dalton gets another $5 million up front as a signing bonus, the acceleration will be much lower if he’s cut, making his deal as a practical matter a two-year, $25 million deal with a year-to-year arrangement thereafter.

As the next wave of young quarterbacks moves closer to their second contracts (including Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, and Robert Griffin III), the size of the signing bonus will go a long way toward determining how long of a commitment the team is truly making.  If they can push back against the precedent created by the Kaepernick and Dalton deals.

The potential exception comes from the Jay Cutler structure, which carries a huge amount of fully-guaranteed future salaries, giving the team no reason to cut him loose, since they’ll be paying him whether he’s on the team or not.  Absent that kind of future security (which is rare), the signing bonus continues to be the biggest factor to consider when the next young quarterback signs his new deal.

In the interim, veterans like Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers could help the cause of young quarterbacks by getting huge signing bonuses.  All three players have contracts that expire after the 2015 season, and those deals undoubtedly will become factors for the contracts to be signed by the next wave of franchise quarterbacks.

13 responses to “Signing bonus the most important factor in quarterback contracts

  1. I think we will continue to see a 2 tier contract structure. If Ryan and Stafford hadn’t lucked into the bonuses they received, they would (and should) have ended up in the lower tier (Kap/Dalton). I think franchises can (and will) reward a SB winning QB with the higher bonus tier contract.

    I am all for regular season heroes/post season zeroes not getting ridiculous bonuses and having contracts that can be severed.

  2. Teddy Bridgewater will be the best QB in the NFL based on production and contract.

    We will get 5 years, of cheap rookie contract.

    And production of a pro-bowl level QB.

    He is already a top 5 QB in the NFL, just watch.

    You don’t even have to believe me.

    But you’ll know soon enough.

    The Super Bowl is coming to Minnesota.

  3. You forgot to add Tannehill to this list of the next wave of young quarterbacks about to enter their second contract. But you also predicted Miami to be one of the worst teams in the league this year, so I’m not surprised he wasn’t mentioned.

  4. the word only should never appear before a athlete’s salary or signing bonus. it is a insult to anyone working in the real world who only makes enough to live on and barely support a family.

  5. The amount of the signing bonus is a direct reflection of the team’s belief in the QB as a long-term solution.

    Brees, Rogers, Brady, etc., are all seen as viable long-term options. Kaepernick and Dalton are basically on year-by-year deals, where if the team can more or less end the contract at any time without too much pain over the long term.

    You either have full trust of management, or you have a contract with a bunch of numbers that you may never actually see.

    I fully expect Wilson and Luck to wind up with closer to $30 million than $12 million, because their teams believe in them as long-term solutions.

  6. I still cant believe Flacco got what he did.

    If he is actually worth that much money (which he isnt), then Seattle, Indy, and Philly are in real trouble. Wilson, Luck, and Foles are all much better players than Flacco.

    He fleeced that team completely. He doesnt belong anywhere near that company.

  7. Big signing bonus money is bad for the team. After a year or two, that money is quickly forgotten, and then all anyone (especially the player and media) looks at is they yearly pay of the player. They start whining about being “underpaid”. because they are only (ONLY!!??) being paid 12-15 million, even though they did get that big chunk of cash at the beginning. Some players just should NOT sign anything longer thann 2 year contracts if they are just going to cry as soon as anyone else signs a contract paying more than they do.

  8. I’d say that the mid-tier market was finally firmly established between the Kaep and Dalton deals. Solid deals for the team, with enough cash and future cash waiting in the wings if they perform well enough. For QBs who haven’t made it to that next level, that seems like the best way to reward them, with escalators. Anything else would be frivolous spending towards someone who isn’t worth quite as much.

  9. And isn’t it amazing that Cutler is the exception and is getting paid enormously? He has missed 12 games due to injury, is a career 59% completion passer, and has never had a season in which he passed for twice as many TDs as INTs. He has made it to the playoffs once, and has one playoff win. Somehow he has convinced people to make sure they never look at any statistics when they decide what he is worth to the franchise.

  10. The key is not just signing bonus money but any truly guaranteed money, basically any bonus money or money that is treated as bonus money under the terms of the CBA. This gives the player leverage over the length of the contract.

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