The Illusion of the Quarterback
The ultimate goal of every sports franchise is to build a team to win a championship at all costs. It is commonly believed that the best way to do this in the NFL is to substantially overpay the best player on the team, the Quarterback, to achieve this goal. However, history has shown that this method of team building has come back to hurt teams and their championship aspirations more than it has helped them achieve that goal. Obviously, the Quarterback is the most important in football (maybe even in all of team sports), but it should also be clear by now that spending more than half of your salary budget on one player makes it all but impossible to surround him with the necessary talent he needs to be successful.
One of the most successful franchises in all of professional sports operated against this method and resulted in the longest reigning dynasty in the history of sports. This franchise was the New England Patriots and they built their roster under the belief that while the Quarterback is one of the most important players on the roster, he should be willing to limit his earnings to allow the organization to surround him with the necessary talent needed to reach the “promised land” so to speak. The Quarterback who was willing to cooperate with this method was Tom Brady who is widely considered the Greatest of All Time by many of his peers and those whose careers ended in a Hall of Fame induction.
Scott Davis, a writer for Business Insider, wrote a piece detailing just how Brady negotiated his contracts allowing the Patriots to successfully build the team around him. The article revealed that Brady “sacrificed at least $60 million throughout his career, and maybe as much as $100 million” which resulted in 6 super bowl winning rosters being built around the future Hall of Famer. Now, that may not sound like a lot of money when talking about a man who has been in the NFL for now 21 seasons, but that money given up through his frequent restructures allowed the Patriots to divert their funds to positions of need for team success, such as the signings of key players such as Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.
The 2013 Seattle Seahawks were another team who defied the necessity of paying the Quarterback a crippling amount of money to win championships. This Seahawks team was by all accounts led by their defense dubbed the “legion of boom” for their heavy hitting and lockdown defense displayed on a weekly basis. Something to take notice of with this team was the Quarterback, Russell Wilson, was still under a mid-round rookie contract worth just $526,000 in the 2013 season, per Bleacher Report’s Ty Schalter, which ultimately allowed the team to go out and sign multiple big name free agents along the defensive line which was a big reason for the team’s success that season. The cap flexibility created by the Quarterback being under a ‘cheap’ contract by NFL standards today also allowed the team to survive the catastrophe of some bad signings, such as receiver Percy Harvin who was given a contract worth $64 million over a six year span. Harvin only played one game the entire season, which was the Super Bowl.
This method is something the NFL franchises and Quarterbacks of today have yet to adjust to and work around. In today’s NFL, there are substantially large Quarterback contracts being handed out year after year, each one bigger than the last. Over the past three seasons, there have been 5 contracts given out to Quarterbacks that were worth $130 million or more. 3 of which being Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, and Deshaun Watson are currently not on that team’s roster today or are trying to find a way out of the organization.
Both Carson Wentz and Jared Goff for this upcoming season will still cost their former team $22 and $34 million this upcoming season. These two situations alone should be enough to why paying a Quarterback massive amounts of money to win is a flawed concept as now both the Eagles and Rams are paying their former Quarterbacks substantial amounts of money to play for other teams in 2021.
Deshaun Watson, currently of the Houston Texans, just recently signed a 4-year $156M contract right before the start of the 2020 NFL season. Less than 3 months after signing that contract, because of creative differences between him and the organization, he formally requested a trade because things were not going as he believed they should. The penalty for a potential trade would more than likely deal major damage to the Texans cap space. This is the major downside of dealing massive contracts to players who may or may not perform up to an organization’s standards as no team will be willing to take all of the financial heat for another team’s mistake.
I feel as though the best way around this predicament is for action to be taken on behalf of the NFL league office. At the end of the day, the NFL makes the rules for rookie Quarterback contracts and team salary caps. It would be more effective if the NFL could limit the amount of money given to certain positions, like the Quarterback, in order to avoid this financial predicament. The goal of the NFL is to field the best product possible and since Quarterback salaries today are currently prohibiting teams from fielding that product, it would be in the best interest of the NFL to begin working on setting a maximum salary cap per POSITION rather than per roster.
Overall, the general concept that the Quarterback is the end all, be all of team success is a flawed one. As history has shown, the best way to successfully build a championship team has nothing to do with substantially overpaying one player on a team, but diversifying and more efficiently distributing money to all positions on the roster.
Christopherson, Conner. “Do Massive Quarterback Contracts Limit Teams in the Long Run?” Sports Illustrated Kansas City Chiefs News, Analysis and More, Sports Illustrated Kansas City Chiefs News, Analysis and More, 28 Aug. 2020, http://www.si.com/nfl/chiefs/gm-report/do-massive-quarterback-contracts-limit-teams-in-the-long-run.
DaSilva, C. (2021, February 02). Rams paid the (BIG) price for extending Jared GOFF two years early. Retrieved March 28, 2021, from https://theramswire.usatoday.com/2021/02/02/rams-jared-goff-extension-early-cost/
Davis, Scott. “Tom Brady Sacrificed at Least $60 Million in His Career Helping the Patriots Build Super Bowl-Winning Rosters.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 17 Mar. 2020, http://www.businessinsider.com/tom-brady-contract-discounts-patriots-bargain-2018-7.
Rolfe, Ben. (2021, February 20). Deshaun Watson’s contract DETAILS, salary cap impact, and bonuses. Retrieved March 28, 2021, from https://www.profootballnetwork.com/deshaun-watson-contract-breakdown-salary-bonuses/#:~:text=Deshaun%20Watson%20and%20the%20Houston,fourth%20year%20of%20his%20career.