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Many of the NFL’s highest-paid QBs simply are not good, and it’s killing those teams

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been two years since the Seahawks signed Russell Wilson to a four-year, $87.5 million extension, with 2017 being the second of those seasons. As we’ve seen recently with Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford though, you don’t have to be the best quarterback to be the highest-paid quarterback. Oftentimes, you just need to be the most-recently paid quarterback.

Wilson’s $21.9 million AAV ranks as the eight-highest in the NFL, behind players who perhaps deserve more if QBs were paid based on play alone, like Drew Brees and Tom Brady ... plus five others.

However, in terms of 2017 salary cap hit, Wilson ranks 11th in the NFL at $18.8 million. But this isn’t about Wilson and where he “deserves” to rank in pay, especially with him looking slightly off to start the year (or at least under pressure on about half of his dropbacks) and averaging just 6.9 Y/A thus far. This is just a look at how interesting it is that many of the highest-paid QBs in the league right now are also among the most disappointing, most disappearing, and most bad.

The follow hits are based on 2017 salary, courtesy of

NFL QB Cap Hits -

Player Team Salary Cap Value Cash Spent
Player Team Salary Cap Value Cash Spent
Joe Flacco Ravens $24,550,000 $6,000,000
Carson Palmer Cardinals $24,125,000 $17,500,000
Kirk Cousins Redskins $23,943,600 $23,943,600
Matt Ryan Falcons $23,750,000 $15,750,000
Aaron Rodgers Packers $20,300,000 $13,650,000
Ryan Tannehill Dolphins $20,300,000 $18,000,000
Cam Newton Panthers $20,166,000 $13,660,000
Eli Manning Giants $19,700,000 $13,500,000
Andrew Luck Colts $19,400,000 $13,000,000
Drew Brees Saints $19,000,000 $13,000,000
Russell Wilson Seahawks $18,800,000 $12,600,000
Ben Roethlisberger Steelers $18,200,000 $12,000,000
Philip Rivers Chargers $18,000,000 $14,000,000
Sam Bradford Vikings $18,000,000 $18,000,000
Alex Smith Chiefs $16,900,000 $13,300,000
Matt Stafford Lions $16,500,000 $51,000,000
Derek Carr Raiders $15,731,691 $25,175,000
Andy Dalton Bengals $15,700,000 $13,300,000
Tom Brady Patriots $14,000,000 $1,000,000
Mike Glennon Bears $14,000,000 $16,000,000
Jay Cutler Dolphins $10,000,000 $10,000,000
Tyrod Taylor Bills $9,713,334 $14,500,000

Let’s make some considerations and notes for the top-paid players in football.

  • Joe Flacco has parlayed a single successful Super Bowl run to an empire of cash flow, the likes of which could definitely make Flacco the most prominent donor at his Delaware alma mater, if not enough for him to fund and make a movie set at the college with Flacco casting himself as the mean old dean trying to put a stop to the antics before getting his comeuppance in the final act. Since signing his 2013 contract, Flacco ranks 35th in passer rating (minimum 500 attempts) and if you up to to, say, 1,500 attempts, only Blake Bortles has a lower rating in that time.

He’s thrown a TD on 3.5% of his attempts since 2013, which ties him with Brian Hoyer and Matt Cassel. And behind Bortles, Sam Bradford, Josh McCown, and Trevor Siemian. His yards per attempt of 6.6 ranks 35th, behind Robert Griffin III, Bradford, Geno Smith, and Case Keenum.

Joe Flacco is .... THE HIGHEST-PAID QUARTERBACK OF 2017. He signed a three-year, $66 million extension in 2016, keeping him under contract through 2021.

This season, Flacco has four touchdowns, six interceptions, 5.7 Y/A, and he’s got a rating of 71, which ranks 31st in the NFL, ahead of only DeShone Kizer, who is historically bad.

This is just the beginning.

  • Carson Palmer is making $24.1 million, second-most on the list. He’s 24th in passer rating (80.5), 28th in completion percentage, and at 38 looks completely incapable of leading a team to victory — and yet he leads the league in pass attempts. Palmer is under contract for one more season, at $20.6 cap hit with $6.6 million in dead money if released or retires.
  • On the franchise tag for the second year in a row, Kirk Cousins ranks as the third-highest paid QB in 2017 at $23.9 million. Cousins is definitely the best QB on this list so far, and he’s playing so well that Washington may really be stuck between paying him in the $30 million/season range or letting him go.
  • Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers are good. Ryan is a free agent in 2019, with the expectation being that the Falcons will extend him in 2018. Rodgers is also in contention for a new deal next year.
  • Ryan Tannehill ranks sixth at $20.3 million, and he is out for the season. Even absent of any injuries, Tannehill was often in the bottom third of some of the most important QB categories. From 2014-2016, he ranked 18th in rating, 20th in TD%, 19th in INT%, and 21st in Y/A. He posted career-highs in comp%, rating, and Y/A under Gase in 2016, but the numbers still weren’t great overall.
  • Cam Newton has the worst completion percentage in the NFL since entering the league in 2011, out of 21 QBs with at least 2,000 attempts. If you take back to the start of 2014, Cam ranks 37th out of 37 in completion percentage, just behind Blake Bortles. Sorry for smirking, I just kinda find it funny to hear a Cam Newton talk about routes.
  • With Odell Beckham, Jr., Eli Manning is maybe the 20th-best QB in football. Without him, he’s barely good enough to start, as we’re about to see. $19.7 million.
  • Andrew Luck is gonna end up missing at least half-a-season for the second time in three years. At $19.4 million, he’s not a bargain for a guy who is 17th in passer rating since 2014 and 10-12 over his last 22 starts (compared to 8-7 for other Colts QBs), but at least he’s not out there on the field hurting his team.
  • Then Brees and Wilson.
  • Ben Roethlisberger could qualify as a bargain at $18.2 million if his five-interception game on Sunday was a fluke. But you get the sense that he was contemplating retirement in the offseason because he knew this was coming.
  • Philip Rivers, who has thrown an NFL-high 57 interceptions since the start of 2014, with a passer rating of 91.3 that ranks him 19th, behind Tannehill, Luck, Andy Dalton, Tyrod Taylor, and Sam Bradford, has at least taken some of the guesswork out of whether or not the Chargers would make the postseason this year. That comes at $18 million this year, $22 million next year, and $23 million in 2019, when he’ll be 38.
  • Bradford is also at $18 million. Regardless of having a higher passer rating than Rivers, Bradford making the same as him is still up there as with the biggest heists in NFL history. He’s thrown 60 fewer touchdowns than Rivers in that time, partly because he’s missed games, partly because he’s the kind of guy who gets replaced by Case Keenum because of a hurt knee and then you find out that Keenum may also just be better.
  • Just through 13 QBs at this point, there are clearly some examples of the most egregiously mis-paid players in the game, most jarringly Flacco, Tannehill, and Bradford, but Palmer, Newton, Manning, Roethlisberger, and Rivers could be on the lower-end of passers this season, while Luck isn’t even playing. Plus Cousins gets to be the third-highest paid quarterback in the game; though he isn’t protected past this year, it would be a little shocking if he doesn’t get a huge deal by some team in 2018. Are the following players, then, “bargains”? Maybe yes, but also some, not for long.
  • Alex Smith at $16.9 million is a pretty sweet deal. He’s on the safe side, ninth in passer rating, but not an explosive, take-the-game-over type. He’ll get $20.6 million next year, the last of his deal, and Kansas City has Patrick Mahomes stocked away for the future. The Chiefs are 5-0, the best team in the NFL, and they’ve managed to do it by saving money at QB even though he’s a very proven veteran. It is a mini-version of the Tom Brady situation in New England.
  • Stafford and Carr are next and at the 15th and 16th position, that seems about right for Carr, a little low for Stafford. Low not much longer. Stafford has a cap hit of $26.5 million, more than any QB is making this year by $2 million. That cap hit then goes to $29.5 million, $31.5 million, $30 million, then down to $23 million. But by then, it’s probable that Detroit will be pushing back some of his salary to save cap room because they’re out of it because they’re paying one player $31.5 MILLION. Now, Derek Carr....
  • Since coming into the NFL in 2014, Carr ranks 36th in yards per attempt. Only Brock Osweiler has a worse Y/A than that in that time. His passer rating is 22nd. He has the best offensive line in the league at protecting the QB over the last couple of years. This season he ranks sixth in rating, but his Y/A is still just 6.9, which is not nice. Okay, that’s fine for 16th-paid, right? His cap hit is $25 million next year, more than any QB this season. Then he remains between $21.5 million and $22.5 million, but I still wasn’t all that convinced that he’s going to turn out any better than Joe Flacco, and at least Flacco did win a bunch of playoff games. Carr has helped the Raiders reach the playoffs once, and then obviously missed it with a broken leg. He’s been hurt again, though Jack Del Rio insists that Oakland will be rushing him back.
  • Dalton’s maybe good enough at $15.7 million (good God, we live in a world where I think it’s reasonable for a bottom-10 QB to be paid an amount of money that at my current pace, I’d be able to make in total between now and around the turn of the next century) but given the lack of guarantees, could still get cut by the Bengals next year with his midtier salary. I mean, really what are your standards if Andy Dalton is your long-term answer at QB?
  • Tom Brady is next at $14 million. His “massive raise” is $22 million over the next two years. Guess what, the Patriots are going to continue to compete because of this.
  • Mike Glennon is tied with Brady at $14 million. Guess what, the Bears are never going to compete. Ever. That’s a $14 million “mentor” for Mitchell Trubisky, despite the fact that Glennon bypassed the whole part of him being an established veteran with a track record for starting.
  • Jay Cutler is next at $10 million. And even at that, he’s massively overpaid. The Dolphins are spending over $30 million at the QB position. Most in the NFL. And their production at QB is the worst in the NFL for any team besides the Browns, though that’s still a very heated competition. Miami could easily win that competition, and by win, I mean not at all win.

So where are your biggest bargains?

  • Tyrod Taylor at $9.7 million.
  • Jameis Winston at $6.9 million.
  • Marcus Mariota at $6.6 million.
  • Josh McCown at $6.5 million.
  • Jared Goff at $6.3 million.
  • Carson Wentz at $6 million.
  • DeShaun Watson at $2.5 million.
  • Dak Prescott at $635,000.
  • Trevor Siemian at $628,000.
  • Finding a good rookie starter or starter still on his rookie deal. Smart veteran pickups at low-cost deals. Shafting Tyrod Taylor. The Seahawks definitely won a Super Bowl because of the amount that they saved at QB with Wilson on his rookie deal. The same for the Patriots by finding ways to not pay Brady a lot of money relative to other QBs. Flacco was also on his rookie deal when the Ravens won a Super Bowl with him, and they’ve been a lot less competitive since.

Now Wentz is 4-1. Goff is 3-2. Taylor is 3-2. McCown is 3-2. Smith is 5-0. Siemian is 3-1. I mean, you could also call Brady, Ryan, Rodgers, Brees, Wilson all bargains or relative bargains. Bortles is not a bargain, but Jacksonville has saved money at QB and is looking like a pretty good team. The closest thing to a team, in my opinion, that I’d say is overpaying its QB and successful right now is the Panthers. And I know a lot of people who would argue with me on that one.

All of which is to say that the thought of losing your “franchise QB” is terrifying, but paying a QB that much money can also, in many cases, be detrimental to your actual franchise. Wilson will be a free agent in 2020, so the talk of his next deal will start to come in 2018. We know it will probably be pricey ... but at what cost?