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.