PFT Monday mailbag question No. 1: The future of the quarterback market

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Lately, I’ve asked for questions and answered 10 of them on Sundays. This past Sunday, I could say I took a break in deference to Mother’s Day. The truth, however, is that I forgot.

So let’s do it today. At first I thought it made sense because things would be starting to slow down. But the truth is they still aren’t, that a lot is still happening, and that when it comes to the NFL plenty still will, with the pandemic actually creating a net gain in news items.

But I’ve asked for the questions, so I’m now committed to providing the answers. That’s not some warped sense of honor talking, just the slight case of OCD.

Of course, I’m not committed to answering them all at once. After hunt-and-pecking more than 500 words in response to the first question, I decided to turn it into a stand-alone item.

From @PFTPMPosse: “With the influx of young franchise QBs rapidly rising in the NFL, where it feels there’ll be MORE franchise QBs than teams very soon, do you see contracts for franchise QBs starting to level off, or even going down? How will this play out?”

Contracts actually had leveled off for three years, from 2013 through 2016, to the point where the market wasn’t keeping pace with the ongoing increases in the salary cap. Starting with Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, that changed in 2016.

Luck, entering the fifth year of his rookie deal, pushed the bar to $24.6 million per year on a new-money averaged. One year later, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr nudged the reverse-limbo stick a little higher, to $25 million.

Carr held the title of enviable highest-paid player in league history for roughly two months. That’s when Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford jumped Carr, landing at $27 million per year. After the 2017 season, the 49ers gave quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo $27.5 million per year to avoid the franchise-tag dance with the player they’d acquired during the 2017 season for a second-round draft pick.

Then, Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins hit the open market after a two-year tag two-step, getting $28 million per year on a three-year deal from the Vikings. Only a few weeks later, Cousins (and everyone else) saw Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan become the league’s first $30 million man.

Ryan was able to wear the belt from early May . . . through late August. That’s when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers blew the curve to the tune of $33.5 million. Rodgers surrendered the title the following April, to Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, at $35 million per year.

Dak Prescott seems destined to get more than Wilson, unless Dak and the Cowboys fail to work out a long-term deal before July 15. With $31.4 million due this year under the franchise tag in 2020 and $37.68 million in 2021, failure to sign him to a long-term deal now will make it even more expensive next year.

Either way, the next guy to set a new bar (before or after Dak) will be Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who should always be the highest-paid quarterback for as long as he’s in the league, frankly.

In time, Mahomes (absent a clause ensuring he’ll always be the highest-paid quarterback or that he’ll receive a set percentage of the cap) will yield to someone. Whether that’s Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson or Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray or the next Russell Wilson contract or Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow or Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa or Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert or Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence remains to be seen. Or maybe Mahomes will move the bar so high that the next five or six quarterbacks who aren’t Mahomes will fall in under him (like Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and Rams quarterback Jared Goff have behind Wilson) on the overall quarterback scale.

Ultimately, it has nothing to do with the proliferation of franchise quarterbacks. Every team that has one will want to keep him, and keeping him will mean paying him — even if it means entering into an ultra-expensive franchise-tag formula, like the Cowboys have done with Prescott. (As explained this morning, the sooner a team signs a young franchise quarterback, the cheaper it will be.)

Would Prescott get more than $35 million on the open market? The Cowboys didn’t want to find out the answer to that question the hard way.

Eventually, someone will be willing to say “no thanks” to their current quarterback and find a new one, or at a minimum to let him see what else is, or isn’t, out there with the transition tag or truly unfettered free agency. Teams will continue to cling to the best ones, however. To do so, they’ll have to pay them.

19 responses to “PFT Monday mailbag question No. 1: The future of the quarterback market

  1. It doesn’t matter if competent replacements are hard to find. Dak’s ceiling is too low. He’s no Rodgers or Wilson. He simply isn’t worth the money and cap space, no matter how starved the market is for QB talent.

  2. The Dak problem is that the ‘Boys are a win-now team. They’re not winning, but Jones has resourced them as if they are. So it’s not a question of Dak being $25M/year better than Dalton, a proposition as yet unproven. Rather, who’s more likely to take a 7-9-type team to 10-6? Probably Dak.
    Two questions remain. 1) Can Dak elevate his role players the way a Wilson can? (No, based on the evidence so far.) 2) Could Dalton + Clowney + some-receiver-in-a-trade be a better use of that $40M in cap space? I think Jones is making a mistake by not finding out, but we have no visibility into what’s happening on the can-we-trade front.

  3. How much you pay your QB has a big impact on how competitive the rest of your roster is, and that is just getting magnified as QB salary cap hits grow. It’s no wonder the Chiefs and Ravens, with high caliber QBs on rookie contracts, have been able to put together great rosters, but teams like the Seahawks, Packers and Falcons struggle with the rest of their roster bc they’re paying through the nose for their QB.

    Dak may be the test case for a team willing to walk away from their QB. If not Dak, it will be Aaron Rodgers.

    And it’s not just QBs. The Bears will dump Khalil Mack and his $27MM cap hit as soon as the dead cap make it possible. Other teams have done similar moves with high-priced, aging linemen or others and the free agent market has definitely cooled after hitting $20 million for top edge rushers, OTs, and CBs.

    You can’t compete with such a top heavy salary cap. Teams are finding that out the hard way.

  4. The Dak dilemma will create alot of sleepless nights on the $25M USS Star super yacht.

  5. If you listen to what Stephen Jones said, it sounded pretty clear that the Cowboys have made the largest offer they are gonna make.

  6. Mahomes, Jackson, & Wilson, will be in the top 5 QBs in pay for the foreseeable future. Who’s on top depends on who signs the latest contract. Guys like Dak will rotate up near the top, dependent on situation & timing, but won’t stay long.

    Brees, Rodgers, Rothlesburger & Brady are at the end of their careers and won’t sign long term, elite contracts, but deserve to be mentioned out of respect.

  7. On the other hand, teams are making the SB with QBs on their rookie contracts (Seahawks, Eagles, Rams, Chiefs) which allows money to be spent on pricey veterans on short term contracts, especially on D. This is an enticing model, as evidenced by Belichick checking it out this season.

  8. “Eventually, someone will be willing to say “no thanks” to their current quarterback…”

    That’s what Washington did, right?

    Dak is better than Cousins but not as good as the top players which is why it is hard for the Cowboys.

  9. Mitch Trubisky, Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota are going to be the top three QBs in the NFL in the next couple years and my Raiders have two of them.

    One Nation, Raider Nation.

  10. Paying a quarterback top money did not get Baltimore anywhere after they won the 2012 Super Bowl. Nor did it work after Seattle paid Wilson. Jared Goff missed the playoffs after he got paid. Defense wins championships. If a team can put together a defense like the Ravens had under Trent Dilfer, even a game mamager can win one a Super Bowl. A game manager like Troy Aikman can win 3 Super Bowls.

  11. What will make a difference is if there are enough so-so QBs who can be had for a cheap price.

    Say you have Dak and he wants >35, well, if you can get Andy Dalton or Marcus Mariota for dirt cheap, and save > 30MM, thats worth considering.

    There is too much money being spent on QBs at the level of Goff. I’ll pay an elite QB, but I won’t pay a good but not great QB almost as much.

  12. californianewton says:
    May 11, 2020 at 7:37 pm
    Paying a quarterback top money did not get Baltimore anywhere after they won the 2012 Super Bowl. Nor did it work after Seattle paid Wilson.

    —————————-
    If that’s the case, the 9ers obviously learned nothing from it, paying an overpriced hack backup the money an actual true franchise starting QB should earn. Second, with such a great defense, why didn’t the 9ers win a SB in spite of JG?

  13. A lot of times I look at Bill Belichick and wonder how he wins so much, but then I look at the other teams and it makes sense. These teams are willing to pay so much money for QB’s that don’t give them a chance to win. It’s as if those teams aren’t even trying to win. I mean, pay Mahomes the moon, and pay Joe Burrow, but guys like Carr and Cousins and Deshaun Watson haven’t shown anything in college or pro. Obviously they’ve shown enough to get some attention, but we’ve seen every play. They’re not elite. The goal is to win the super bowl, and to do that you need an elite QB. At least try to compete. Geez!

  14. I think he NFL is still basically a QB league. The QB sets the tome for the entire offense. However, it still take a “TEAM” to win the Super Bowl. Every team has a scale of what each position is worth. When you over pay one position, you have to underpay another position. If that hurts you overall offense, then you have defeated your chances to make it to the playoff and Super Bowl. It’s a balancing act when you put a football team together. I don’t like what I’m seeing where more and more players are demanding more and more of team salary cap. It’s becoming more ‘me’ league for some players. It’s what I want for me, and screw the team. My needs are bigger than the team needs!

    I think the Cowboys have set a value on Dak of 33-34 mil. Dak wants more. The ‘Boys have been willing to franchise him. Same as the ‘Boys were willing to franchise Zeke. Zeke held out forcing the Cowboys hand. Dak could be using Zeke playbook. I wouldn’t have paid Zeke. You can find good RB. RB don’t have the ball in their hands as many times as a QB does. The Cowboys believe Dak is the man to lead the Cowboys back to the Super Bowl and Dak knows it. JJ created his own monster by paying Zeke. It’s going to be hard to draw a line with Dak. QB’s are more value than RB’s in today’s NFL.

  15. Russell is great, he is worth number one QB money but these QB contracts destroy depth. Seattle needs an elite rusher and another offensive tackle. After paying rookies they will have less than 10 million in cap space.

    Seattle always makes the playoffs but the last time they made the Super Bowl was 2014. You can look back at guys like Rodgers, Ryan and the list goes on.

  16. LBHawk says:
    Second, with such a great defense, why didn’t the 9ers win a SB in spite of JG?
    ————
    It’s simple the 49ers are the copycats of the league. Chris Simms’ beats this drum about once a month when talking about 49ers or the Seahawks. He hates the simplicity of the defensive scheme and he has a point. The biggest leads given up by any team in a Superbowl game have all been the Seattle scheme. Unfortunately it’s been out for so long OCs know how to beat it. Tom Brady doing it twice, and well the next aire to the thrown of the GOAT Pat Mahomey did it. So it’s not Calinewtown’s fault for trying to throw shade at Seattle when it’s worse when his team does it….

  17. californianewton says:
    May 11, 2020 at 7:37 pm
    Paying a quarterback top money did not get Baltimore anywhere after they won the 2012 Super Bowl. Nor did it work after Seattle paid Wilson. Jared Goff missed the playoffs after he got paid. Defense wins championships. If a team can put together a defense like the Ravens had under Trent Dilfer, even a game mamager can win one a Super Bowl. A game manager like Troy Aikman can win 3 Super Bowls.
    ———-
    I guess the Rex Grossman led Bears missed the memo about defense winning Championships when Peyton Manning took them to the woodshed in their last Superbowl.

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