The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, in many ways. And the quarterbacks need to realize it.
Quarterback is the most important player on the field, obviously. He runs the show for the offense. He makes decisions and exercises a wide range of discretion, before the play and — more critically — during the play.
Off the field, the best ones act like another coach, setting an example for work ethic and/or holding teammates accountable and/or actively participating in the process of designing plays and assessing the manner in which other players could be best utilized.
The quarterback also is the drawing card, or not, for the team on which he plays.
We already knew this. It became even more clear on Friday, when the NFL conducted a conference call to discuss the new schedule. Regarding the impact of the Aaron Rodgers uncertainty on the configuration of the games, NFL V.P. of broadcast planning Mike North made it clear that quarterback movement impacts the process of picking games, significantly.
North explained that the NFL currently has the flexibility through its computer system to re-set and restart the process “on a moment’s notice.”
North mentioned that, back in 2010, the Donovan McNabb trade on Easter Sunday required “last-minute patchwork on an almost-finished schedule.” Ten years ago, Peyton Manning’s free agency resulted in the schedule-makers working on schedules while watching his private jet land in Miami, San Francisco, Nashville, Denver “and thinking about how we were gonna change our process.”
Three years ago, after Tom Brady picked the Buccaneers, it was “all systems stop, re-evaluate all your Tampa Bay games.” When he retired in 2022, it was time to “re-evaluate all your Tampa bay games.” Then, when he unretired, it became important to once again “re-evaluate all your Tampa Bay games.”
Also last year, the Russell Wilson trade to Denver made the Broncos a staple of standalone games, even though that didn’t exactly go very well for Wilson or the Broncos or the league. (The Christmas Day game still generated a huge audience.)
Is there any other player at any other position that moves the needle like this? Maybe the Tyreek Hill trade last year resulted in a closer look at Miami’s schedule. To a lesser extent, Davante Adams to the Raiders could have been impactful.
But that’s it. When defensive players change teams, it doesn’t cause 345 to start pounding keys on Harvey. The quarterbacks drive the bus, in every possible respect.
So that raises another question, not specific to any one quarterback. Should they generally get more than they do?
Perhaps not across the board, but the stars have a different sort of value than the rest of the quarterbacks. There’s a rule of thumb among agents that a player is a star if fans automatically know the number he wears. For quarterbacks, the rule of thumb should be that it your comings and goings could impact, would impact, or have impacted the scheduling process, you have value separate and apart from the effort to win games.
That’s where teams benefit. The best quarterbacks don’t want to be perceived as pigs at the trough, because it impacts their ability to win. So the best quarterbacks subsidize the rest of their own teams — and arguably the rest of the league — bringing to the broader table far more than they’re taking away.
Remember when the Commissioner’s pay was public knowledge, and he was making more $40 million annually while the highest-paid quarterback was at $20 million? Now that the league office is no longer a tax-exempt organization, we don’t know the Commissioner’s annual compensation. Whatever it might currently be ($60 million, $80 million, etc.), no one is reconfiguring a single game on the TV schedule based on whether his contract extension is, or isn’t, finalized.
Maybe there should be a separate fund to compensate quarterbacks. Maybe quarterbacks should have their own union, a la the old Quarterback’s Club of the 1990s. (Someone tried to separately unionize running backs a few years ago, and it didn’t get very far.)
Whatever is done (and chances are it will be nothing), a system that can support more than $60 million per year for the Commissioner surely supports paying the most impactful quarterbacks significantly more than they receive. That’s especially true for those quarterbacks whose potential hopscotching from city to city is enough to throw a wrench in the process of figuring out which games to put under a spotlight, and which games to tuck in the cluster of 1:00 p.m. ET kickoffs.
So the next time you’re wondering how much one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL is making (Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Aaron Rodgers, Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen, etc.), here’s the real answer: Not nearly enough.