What are Quarterbacks Actually Worth?
In football and any other professional sport, there is a common misconception that paying a certain player more than half of the salary cap or very close to it is the best way to build a championship roster. This belief, however, is flawed in many ways as history has shown it has actually done more damage to sports franchises than actually assisting them in achieving their goal of winning a championship. The most popular examples of this generally occur in the NFL where there is a set amount of money a team can pay its players without having to pay a hefty fine for going over it. Each year, there is seemingly a new case of this scenario playing out against the hopes of the organization taking a gamble on something they see as the end all be all of team success.
In the NFL, there has been a growing belief that if you heavily pay the Quarterback of your team, he will lead you to the promised land. Contrary to this increasingly popular belief, there have been more situations where the teams who either get to or wins the Super Bowl actually do it with a Quarterback on a rookie deal or one on a cheap deal as a veteran backup. There has been one instance within the past 4 years where a verteran Quarterback on a cheap contract has won the Super Bowl for his team. In 2017, the Philadelphia Eagles lost their young franchise Quarterback in Carson Wentz due to a complete ACL and PCL tear. The offseason prior, they brought back a familiar face in Quarterback Nick Foles who was originally drafted by the Eagles but had become a journeyman and bounced around to a few teams before being brought back to Philadelphia. After Wentz went down with his injury, Nick Foles was able to come in and lead the Eagles on an incredible 6 and half game stretch which culminated in a 41-33 win vs the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52.
Back in 1986, the New York Giants drafted Quarterback Jeff Hostettler in the third round. After their starting Quarterback Phil Simms got hurt in 1991, Hostettler was also able to come into the starting lineup and lead the Giants to a Super Bowl victory over the Buffalo Bills and their Hall of Fame Quarterback Jim Kelly. In 2003, the Carolina Panthers signed Jake Delhomme, an undrafted free agent, to a short term and low money contract and led the Panthers to their first Super Bowl in franchise history later that season. They ended up losing that game to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Two of the situations above involved the signing of cheap free agent Quarterbacks in Jake Delhomme and Nick Foles, and both of them played against Tom Brady who is known for restructuring his contracts and taking less money for his team to build around him and give him the help he needs to win. Jeff Hostettler, a third round pick in a draft three years prior to the 1991 season, beating Hall of Fame Quarterback Jim Kelly in the Super Bowl is also a great example of why you don’t need to commit close to 50% of your salary cap just to win a championship. Many of the franchises today who are falling victim to this flawed concept, are either in a deep hole financially in regards to the salary cap and are setting themselves up for failure for years to come.
For example, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Carson Wentz to a 4-year $128M contract with over $100M in guaranteed money over that time span in the summer of 2019. Sitting here two years later, after some poor roster construction around their franchise Quarterback and lack of money to do so due to Wentz’s contract taking up $30M+ per season, the team quickly deteriorated and fell apart. Carson Wentz as of February in 2021, currently resides in Indianapolis while the Eagles are going to have to pay him $34.7M to play in Indianapolis which currently stands as the largest dead cap hit in the history of the National Football League. With the financial debacle the Eagles currently face with Wentz along with the other bad investments they made in certain players, the Eagles are in a never ending string of contract restructures and being double digit millions above the salary cap for years to come as it stands today.
The Los Angeles Rams are currently in a similar situation to the Eagles with their now former Quarterback, Jared Goff. Also in summer of 2019, the Rams signed Jared Goff to a 4-year $134M contract worth an astounding $110M in guaranteed money per Cameron Desilva of USA Today. Not even two years after that ink dried, the Rams traded him away in February of 2021 to the Detroit Lions. The contract given to Goff was so financially crippling for the Rams, that they had to give up extra compensation to Detroit just for them to take on more of Goff’s contract.
Between both the Rams and the Eagles now incurring both $20M+ and $30M+ in dead money against their cap to pay their former Quarterbacks to play against them for different teams, the flaws of this belief as well as the alternatives are starting to come in to light more and more as the years go on while Quarterback contracts continue to become increasingly crippling to a team’s financial outlook.
As you can see, there are many more alternatives to paying Quarterbacks big money to have success. Between the signing of veteran free agent Quarterbacks to cheap deals, successful drafting of mid-low round Quarterbacks, and Quarterbacks being willing to financially cooperate with the team, offers plenty of alternatives to paying ONE player close to half of their salary cap and allow them to build an entire team of talented players to help the Quarterback rather than overpaying for him and sending him out under equipped to succeed.
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