Will free-agent quarterbacks fall victim to collusion?

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For the first time since the NFL launched a system of free agency that relies heavily on a salary cap, a healthy complement of veteran quarterbacks soon will hit the open market. And even though recent growth in the salary cap indicates that someone already should be making more than $30 million per year at the quarterback position, there’s a not-so-subtle sense emerging that teams will refuse to overspend.

It could be coincidental, fueled by a mutual realization based on Jacksonville’s decision to keep Blake Bortles at $18 million per year that it becomes impossible to contend if too much money is devoted to the quarterback position. It also could be deliberately coincidental; it could be the product of collusion.

Yes, collusion happens. Yes, it’s hard to prove collusion. (Colin Kaepernick‘s pending grievance may prove otherwise.) Regardless, the league has a built-in structure for communicating to teams cautionary tales of overspending, and for nudging them away from blowing the curve. Coincidentally (or not), reports have emerged in recent days that teams like the Jets won’t give Kirk Cousins a blank check — and that teams like the Cardinals aren’t even interested in joining what could become a runaway bid process for the first healthy franchise quarterback under the age of 30 to hit the open market.

This dynamic could impact other quarterbacks, like Drew Brees. A team intent on competing to win the Super Bowl this year should offer him $30 million per year. Don’t be surprised if people start talking about his age or otherwise picking nits about the current state of his game, as a precursor to no one offering dramatically more than whatever the Saints will pay.

Ditto for lesser options like Case Keenum and A.J. McCarron. Some now believe that each guy will be hard pressed to get more than Bortles got from the Jaguars.

Then there are the red-flag veterans, competent players with lingering knee problems. The money simply may not be there for Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater, if the money isn’t as big as it was expected to be for Cousins, Brees, Keenum, and McCarron.

The ultimate leverage for most quarterback-needy teams will be the draft, where potential quarterbacks can be found at very affordable five-year deals. Look at the list of annual pay rates for quarterbacks; the bottom third of it is full of players operating under the terms of assembly-line deals crafted by a system aimed at preventing busts from stealing money — and that also allows teams to squat on talented players for four or five years at well-below-market rates.

52 responses to “Will free-agent quarterbacks fall victim to collusion?

  1. not one of the qbs mentioned other than brees has won consistently in their career. brees wants to stay in new orleans. the other qbs are at the mercy of what any gm/team will pay for them. the teams have every right to pay or not pay whatever they want, regardless if they agree to not overpay for an inconsistent producer. this is not collusion.

  2. Sometimes a bunch of people each deciding to not do something stupid is not any actual plot or collusion on anyones part. Sometimes its just a bunch of people each making a decision against doing something stupid.

  3. The smartest quarterback in the NFL is Tom Brady. Tom takes less money than he could have because he knows that to win consistently if one player makes too much you can’t put a quality team around him. And Tom wants to win Super Bowls not become the richest player in football.

  4. I don’t understand how healthy market criticism of these player’s about their ability to play and how well they fit each team’s financial situation is “Collusion”.

    Teams making rational decisions for their own team effect other teams in the market…yes that happens in any specified market environment. That’s not collusion. That’s simply market forces at work.

    COLLUSION WOULD BE THE TEAMS INTENTIONALLY WORKING TOGETHER to specifically effect the FA market.

  5. Thank you for the laugh about Kaepernick. He has not found a team because he is not that good, is a distraction, and would offend near three-quarters of the NFL fan base.

    Common sense and not collusion keeps Kaep unemployed.

  6. If the NFLPA was led by anyone competent, they would just push to RAISE THE SALARY FLOOR spent per team under the Cap.

    That way, collusion of any kind would be worthless because the money would be spent on one of their members regardless.

  7. Maybe it’s because none of these guys are worth $30 million per season and somehow, against all odds, teams have finally smartened up and realized it’s not worth paying a ton of money for mediocre talent. If you miss on one of these signings you’re stuck in a ditch for 5-10 years.

  8. Good article Florio. While I don’t think CK’s case will prove anything (it’s just one case), I do think collusion happens and it is hard to prove. I believe there is a real chance that people are talking behind the scenes and deciding the caps on some of these players – but I also have to admit I am not sure that is a bad thing. When you have players out there with no portfolio, like McCarron (Case Keenum had a great year, but his body of work suggests he could be in the same boat), why should they get the benefit of market value without having to prove they can be a franchise QB?

    I still think incentive laden contracts can solve the problem. Pay them $16M. But give them $9M in incentives if you hit certain milestones – one of which might even be a playoff win if you are say…..Andy Dalton.

  9. If all the team is doing is publicly stating they won’t overpay for a particular player or position, that is not collusion. If they are working behind the scenes with other teams to artificially keep the salaries down, then that is collusion. But as Florio said, going to be hard to prove that unless you have an email or tapped phone call stating it.

  10. Of all the QBs talked about this offseason, the only ones that would excite me are Garropalo (sp?) and Brees, and they’re both staying with their teams. The rest of the QBs will be overpaid, which would simply make me turn to the draft.

  11. Why is it collusion that the teams are starting to get smarter?

    Here are the currently highest paid QBs

    1. Matt Stafford – 27 million
    2. Derek Carr – 25 million
    3. Andrew Luck – 24,594,000
    4. Carson Palmer – 24,350,000
    5. Drew Brees – 24,250,000
    6. Kirk Cousins – 23,943,600
    7. Joe FLacco – 22,133,333
    8. Aaron Rodgers – 22 million
    9. Russel Wilson – 21,900,000
    10. Ben Roethlisberger – 21,850,000

    1/2 of these QBs have never been past the 2nd round of the playoffs. You have to get to #5 before you see a QB that has made it to the SB.

    And the top 4 when they got their big contracts really didn’t add up to the money that was spent on them. Why should they have the banks broken for them?

    That isn’t collusion, that is common sense.

  12. Brees should get paid, the Vikes should sign Cousins to a heavily incentive laden contract, then sign Keenum to a 2 year nice sized contract, the rest will be out of the league in 2 years

  13. Well, I’ve colluded with my wife to not pay any of these guys. We’re not renewing our season tickets after many years of owning them. Sick and tired of all the BS – the horrendous officiating that’s dismissed as “just another bad call”, the kneeling, the prices & salaries that escalate at exponentially faster rates than any fan’s own income rises, etc. At some point you hit a wall – the NFL has hit it for a LOT of people.

  14. 10-15 years from now we are going to look back at Drew Brees one Super Bowl win and say “I wonder how many Superbowls he could have had if he was taking Tom Bray money rather than strangle the roster money.”

  15. This article is pure speculation designed to gin up collusion talk because there is nothing else to talk about right now.

    Each of the quarterbacks mentioned in this article has question marks, including Blake Bortles. Bortles has been consistently inconsistent throughout his four years in the league.

    Brees isn’t going anywhere, and the idea that the Saints aren’t going to give him a worthwhile salary will soon be proven wrong.

    Keenum had a great season, but at age thirty, it took him quite a long time to put that season together. Viking fans remember all too well the last time an experienced QB put together a season like that, Randall Cunningham was given a (for that time) high-end money, and was benched six games into that five year contract.

    McCarron is unproven as a professional and shouldn’t expect megabucks until he proves he’s worth it. Bradford is too injury-prone to keep getting $15 million a year. Bridgewater is going to have to prove himself again, right or wrong.

    Kaepernick carries too much baggage and would harm the brand of any team which signs him. He alone is responsible for his current plight. That collusion lawsuit is a joke; a desperate attempt to salvage a career he frittered away.

    Meanwhile, Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and other franchise QBs who have proven their mettle will continue to jockey for the highest paid player in the league.

  16. So when does common sense become collusion? If the cap ceiling were raised even more teams would be more generous, however, using 1/6 of your budget on a QB is ridiculous. Especially a QB who didn’t come into the league as a franchise QB.

  17. Reports were that the Jets would break the bank. Then the Jets realized they had a leak that just destroyed negotiating position so they “leaked” that they won’t give Cousins a blank check. Which shows how utterly worthless these reports are.

    Cousins is in line to get $30 million a year. The Jets, Browns, Vikings all have the cap space to get it done. Denver and Buffalo can get there easily if they make a cut or two. The Cards wish they had the cap space to give him $30 million given their draft position.

    This article is going to look silly when Cousins signs for close to $30 million a year.

  18. The concept that the next guy has to make more than the last guy needs to end. It simply isn’t sustainable.

  19. There is an adage in auctions that the true value of something is what the second place bid wsa worth.

    Sportswriters and talking heads keep throwing out more than $30 M per year for Cousins. That marketplace likely has only one team in it and that team may change its mind about QB needs (draft position has a lot to do with that). The marketplace at $25 M is much broader.

  20. dolphins4 says:
    February 26, 2018 at 12:03 pm
    The smartest quarterback in the NFL is Tom Brady. Tom takes less money than he could have because he knows that to win consistently if one player makes too much you can’t put a quality team around him. And Tom wants to win Super Bowls not become the richest player in football.

    _______________

    Stop with this myth. Tom Brady took less money because he doesn’t need it. His wife has more money then he will ever sniff. Tom Brady could play for the league minimum and it wouldn’t both his family financially one bit

    99.9% of NFL players are worried about setting their families up, in many cases, for generations to come. Brady is part of the 0.1% that does not factor in for

  21. It would not surprise me if this was true. I think the old boy network is alive and well in the NFL. it is amazing what goes on behind doors and you find out 18 years later…case in point check out the 30 -30 Bill and Bill episode…. it is very telling that the NFL wanted Parcells to go to NYJ and that was a fix if ever there was one. So this isn’t surprising at all.

  22. I agree that QBs are a key part of a team. But paying a guy so much that it hampers a team’s ability to keep talented players around him doesn’t make sense. Thirty million? Seriously? How do you keep a good O-line, 2-3 WRs, two TEs, and 2-3 RBs around him in order to win consistently? And we’re not even talking about the defense. Even at a cap of $175M, paying one guy $30M is nuts.

    I’m not sold on all the Cousins mania. Foles makes more sense. Keenum is one big ‘If’.

  23. “Haha this has to be a joke, you are only worth as much is someone is willing to pay, I would not go over 25 mil a year for Cousins. He is not worth 30 mil a year.”

    So if someone pays him 30, is he worth 30?

    Me, I don’t think he’s worth 25 or 30 mil a year…he’s not one of the best QBs in the league so he shouldn’t get paid the most or top 3 or whatever. BUT…someone will probably pay him that because they’ll have to overpay to land him.

  24. I guess there is collusion in every market as well? Teams aren’t as desperate as others. Most want to overspend to lock in the future, not pick someone up to maybe? win now.

  25. Good grief. So not paying McCarron or Keenum or Bridgewater is evidence of collusion? I say it’s evidence some owners aren’t as dumb as they appear to be. This isn’t Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, and Steve Young shaking loose. Outside of Brees it’s a bunch of guys who have yet to prove they can win on a consistent basis.

    Of the top ten paid QBs in the league only one has been to multiple SBs. One. So why exactly would you be willing to set a high water mark for a guy who possibly hasn’t even played a full season yet?

  26. What nonsense. CNNSI looked at QB salaries from 20 years ago. Farve was at 15.7% of cap at $6.5m as was Bledsoe at 15.2% of cap at $6.3m.

    Today’s QB are at the same level of the salary cap as before. Staffords’s deal ($27m) was at 15.6% of last year’s cap and Derek Carr ($25m) was 14.7%. Franchise QBs are getting the same. It’s not their fault the salary cap has risen from $42m in 1997 to $170m last year.

  27. The owners don’t need to Collude. There is a Hard Salary Cap built in that does the “Collusion” for them.

    There are Cap experts that advise GMs, Presidents and Team Owners where and how to spend their money, and how high to go on a single player.

    Cousins will get paid just like Stafford and Jimmy G got paid.

  28. Or perhaps more teams have come to realize that since the inception of the cap the SB has only been won by one team paying their quarterback more than 13% of their cap allotment and that was Steve Young (13.1%) in the very 1st year of the cap. If the cap is set at $178m 13% would be $23m.

  29. reddzen says:
    February 26, 2018 at 12:09 pm
    Why should they get the benefit of market value without having to prove they can be a franchise QB?

    And I don’t get how everyone is saying Cousins IS a “Franchise” QB when has never won more than 9 games in a season.

    Keenum has proven more already than Cousins has.

  30. Anyone who is a baseball fan knows this same argument is happening right now during free agency period for baseball. I’m not for the owners but they can’t win. The media mocks and laughs at them for their bad contracts that they gave out for years. The fans and media cite advanced stats to show that these players aren’t really worth it for that much money.

    The owners then change their front office and start to employ GM’s with knowledge of how to use the cap wisely and take advantage of these advanced stats. They then stop so easily giving out these horrible contracts and they are then accused of collusion by the same media that told them to stop giving out the bad contracts to begin with.

  31. Kaepernick just flat out made a bad business decision and doesn’t own it. He took a knee during our National Anthem and angered many of the NFL fan base. He OPTS out of a $12.5 million dollar contract and immediately comes out through his agent and says he will now stand for the national anthem (as if all the issues he was kneeling for were suddenly fixed). He wasn’t hired by an NFL team because of all the baggage he created for himself and he became extremely polarizing. What team wants or needs that? If he would have just done NOTHING and stayed with the 49ers he would have been fine. It’s not collusion when nobody wants you because of the position YOU put YOURSELF in. It’s called taking responsibility for your actions and so far he has yet to do that.

  32. >.Ditto for lesser options like Case Keenum and A.J. McCarron. Some now believe that each guy will be hard pressed to get more than Bortles got from the Jaguars.

    What GM is going to pay AJ 54MM for 3 years? Why would you do that, rather than paying Keenum the same.
    Or someone else a lot less.

    How is AJ not getting paid evidence of collusion?

    Keenum had a good year, his first after many bad ones.
    Is it wrong to be skeptical he can do it again?

    Any money not spent on mediocre QBs must (not may) be spent on the other players due to the CBA. There is a salary floor.

  33. thetooloftools says:
    February 26, 2018 at 1:36 pm
    Kaepernick just flat out made a bad business decision and doesn’t own it. He took a knee during our National Anthem and angered many of the NFL fan base. He OPTS out of a $12.5 million dollar contract and immediately comes out through his agent and says he will now stand for the national anthem (as if all the issues he was kneeling for were suddenly fixed). He wasn’t hired by an NFL team because of all the baggage he created for himself and he became extremely polarizing. What team wants or needs that? If he would have just done NOTHING and stayed with the 49ers he would have been fine. It’s not collusion when nobody wants you because of the position YOU put YOURSELF in. It’s called taking responsibility for your actions and so far he has yet to do that.
    —————————————————————————————-

    Totally Agreed, and people were also like, well he is just expressing his 1st amendment rights.

    Not really, he was doing this as an employee of the NFL and the San Francisco 49ers. They ALLOWED him to do this, but they also would be well within their rights to tell him, or any Player NOT to do this.

  34. Keenum blew it in the playoffs. That’s when you want a guy to elevate his game, not lower it. Can’t see how a 30 yr old QB with a lot of mediocre years and one good season gets big, big money. As a Packer fan I was hoping the Vikes would franchise him.

  35. Collusion between sports and politics has seemingly lost all it’s meaning.

    Players not getting what they wanted is not an automatic sign of collusion.
    A player wanting say $20 million dollars but only getting offers of $16, $17, and $18 million doesn’t mean they conspired together to not give him $20.

  36. collusion or are teams just figuring out that over spending on ANY position may well cost you in the long run. The Patriot way is all about not overpaying at any position and I don’t think anyone can argue that it has been the most consistent franchise over the last 20 years. Granted they have a quarterback that would rather take less and win but Brady has been paid well over the course of his career. This is a copy cat league so teams see what works and try to emulate that on their own team. Too bad so many teams don’t have the will power it takes to let “stars” walk out the door….. maybe then there would be more parody in the league.

  37. It really depends on if 1 or 2 players sign/agree to terms early it puts the market on a squeeze because there are multiple free agent qbs who have started games but limited startimg spots. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mccarron agrees quickly with the Browns and Mccown goes back to the jets which would only leave Arizona, Minnesota, Denver and possibly Buffalo in the hunt for a qb with Cousins, Bridgewater, Bradford and Keenum available as well as Buffalo keeping Taylor. It’s just an oddity to have this many qbs with starting experience and some with youth on their side hit the market. They all have question marks as well which between a flood of the market and teams questionable about certain players long term prospects it may keep the price down but that’s not collusion that’s the free market.

  38. thegreatjimbrown says:
    February 26, 2018 at 1:53 pm
    Keenum blew it in the playoffs. That’s when you want a guy to elevate his game, not lower it. Can’t see how a 30 yr old QB with a lot of mediocre years and one good season gets big, big money. As a Packer fan I was hoping the Vikes would franchise him.

    —————————————————————————

    I’m hoping they sign Teddy to a huge contract.

  39. I like a lot of posters here believe that this isn’t collusion it is a case of GM’s being smarter and not screwing up their salary cap for QB’s who have been average over their careers or haven’t played much at all.

    Nothing against a guy like McCarron but who in their right mind would pay him starter money?

  40. Cousins is going to make a lot of money 28-30 mill a year. He will be earning more than any other QB even though everyone agrees there are 5-15 QBs better than him.

    Brees – who is old_ is also going to make a lot of money unless he takes less on purpose.

    None of the other guys are close considered to be be close to “elite.”

    In a market with 6 free agent starters and 3 desirable rookies – the average guys are not going to get over paid.
    That isnt collusion – its just reading the market.

  41. Are people in the pit of the stock exchange colluding when they don’t buy when others aren’t buying and they rush to buy when other buy? Explaining why Kapernick isn’t on your roster is easy – his disparaging remarks about law enforcement and the United States, or his ineffective play, but explaining why a respected member of the community like Kirk Cousins isn’t on your team while your drafted rookie can’t read defenses is another thing. The market will work this out, the collusion is built into the system in the form of the franchise tag.

  42. dlr4skins says:
    February 26, 2018 at 1:18 pm

    Maybe the Redskins weren’t so stupid after all!?
    ————————

    They were and are. They have completely mismanaged the Cousins situation, and are now looking at starting over at quarterback.

  43. With the cap being $178 million, it doesn’t make much sense to spend 16.8% of your cap on one player when you still have 50+ guys to pay. I agree it’s justified for Brees, but Kirk Cousins is no Drew Brees. I like Cousins too, but to put him in the same class as Brees right now is unwarranted.

  44. It really isn’t going to matter when the next two generations are born and current ones die, 35-40 years, Kids are growing up not going to games because their parents cannot afford to take them. This is going to get worse as this “buy yourself into wealth” lack of American jobs economy runs out of money. The NFL will be a distant memory the next turn of the century.

  45. And none are Nick Foles…
    ——-

    Here are the currently highest paid QBs

    1. Matt Stafford – 27 million
    2. Derek Carr – 25 million
    3. Andrew Luck – 24,594,000
    4. Carson Palmer – 24,350,000
    5. Drew Brees – 24,250,000
    6. Kirk Cousins – 23,943,600
    7. Joe FLacco – 22,133,333
    8. Aaron Rodgers – 22 million
    9. Russel Wilson – 21,900,000
    10. Ben Roethlisberger – 21,850,000

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