The quarterback market has spiked over the past couple of years, and that likely will continue when Kirk Cousins becomes the first healthy franchise quarterback on the right side of 30 to hit the open market unfettered. So with guys like Cousins, Matthew Stafford ($27 million per year), and Derek Carr ($25 million per year) getting paid extremely well, more accomplished franchise quarterbacks with gas in the tank eventually will be paid extremely well.
For example: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. But Falcons owner Arthur Blank doesn’t want to break the bank for Ryan.
“I don’t care about the other quarterbacks’ movement,” Blank recently told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “What I care about is taking care of our quarterback in a way that’s respectful to him and in a way that is respectful to the franchise.”
Ryan enters the final year of his contract in 2018, and team president and CEO Rich McKay has said that extending the deal is a priority.
“We want to treat Matt well,” Blank said. “He’s been a great quarterback for us for 10 years. Hopefully, he’ll play another [10 years]. . . . he thinks he’s Tom Brady, and maybe he’ll play to 44. Maybe we are at the midpoint of his career.
“I’m excited that he wants to play longer. But we also have to balance it out and make sure we have enough salary to keep the other critical parts on the team around. You don’t win with one player. It’s not like golf. It’s the ultimate team sport, and you’ve got to have other pieces around him.”
Blank is right, but that hasn’t stopped other quarterbacks from getting paid. Indeed, even though the raw numbers given to specific quarterbacks seem a bit excessive, the market for quarterbacks still hasn’t grown at the same rate as the salary cap over the last six years. So there’s still plenty of cash to go around.
“We have to approach it in a thoughtful way, and thoughtfully I think that Matt is the kind of quarterback and kind of person that will understand, at this point in his life, this is also about what is his legacy going to be,” Blank said. “He wants to win championships, and he wants to make sure the team is in an overall team position that we can compete for our own talent and compete for other free agents. Compete and pay well [for] the draft choices when they get their second contracts. He understands that.”
That sounds good, but it’s not Ryan’s job to manage the salary cap. It’s Ryan’s job to play quarterback — and to get paid accordingly for as long as there’s a market for his services. The moment there isn’t, he’ll no longer have a job.
Frankly, it shouldn’t be a difficult calculation. At a salary of $19.25 million for 2018 and a cap number of $21.65 million, his franchise tender for 2019 will be a 20-percent increase ($25.98 million). For 2020, the tender moves to $31.176 million.
That’s a three-year haul of $78.8 million. To do a deal now, Ryan should want at least that much to be fully guaranteed at signing — especially since a long-term deal based on two years of franchise tags would allow the Falcons to avoid the dreaded third year of the tag, which would push his tender up by 44 percent, to $44.89 million.
It’s Ryan’s right to take a discount based on what his leverage dictates. It’s easy to make the argument that he should take less for the good of the team. But the team has plenty of other devices that work in its favor, and no team ever hesitates to use them. Expecting Ryan to surrender his in the sake of winning championships that are hard enough to win even with all the cap space imaginable seems a little inconsistent, at best.