Quarterback Cap conundrum by Bryan Dickie

Quarterback Cap conundrum by Bryan Dickie
Reading Time: 3 minutes.

He’s the face of the franchise, the offensive general, the leader of the team: The Quarterback. A QB’s importance shouldn’t be doubted, with teams passing over 57% of the time having someone under center to make those passing plays is clearly important. But is spending top dollar on the position a route to success?

A top QB is great, but you need guys up front to protect him, some decent hands to throw to and a nice running back to help share the load would help too. Oh and while you’re at it how about good defense and special teams to relieve any scoring pressure? You need more than just a great QB.

With the Rookie wage scale keeping young QB pay low, numerous teams have used this window to combine the talent of their cheap QB with spending elsewhere. Examples are easy to find: The Rams made the Superbowl last year with Rookie signal caller Goff, the Eagles the year before that with Wentz and you’d assume the Ravens with Jackson or Chiefs with Mahomes will have a shot at it this year.

Beyond the quarterback rookie contracts

The issues come after that. When the star QB’s graduate from their Rookie deals and get their big second, or third contract. The latter two, Wentz and Goff, both signed bumper deals earlier this year each taking home an average of $32m and $35m respectively from 2021 through to 2024.

Lets first touch on the salary cap: in dollar terms it’s risen over 50% since 2009 to it’s current cap of $188m. With the NFL’s increased earnings the cap will continue to increase with many suggesting the 2020 cap to be over $199m.

Quarterbacks getting paid big money is nothing new. Going back to the aforementioned 2009 season where the cap sat at $123m the likes of now “Very Calvari” reality show star Jay Cutler was counting a league leading $22m towards the Bear’s salary cap. Closely followed by Peyton Manning at $21m for the Colts. That’s 17.9% and 17% of the 2009 cap respectively.

Fast forward ten years and your highest cap hitting QBs are Matthew Stafford at the Lions ($29.5m, 15.7%) and Kirk Cousins of the Vikings ($29m, 15.4%).

So QBS are getting paid, good on them! But does this line up with Superbowl success?

The 12% marker

Looking at the last 8 Superbowls, following the uncapped year of 2010 Only four teams have made a Superbowl appearance spending over 12% of the cap on their QBs: The Patriots last year, Falcons in 2017 and the Broncos twice (Payton you rich man) in 2016 and 2014.

This year there are 10 QBs taking up more than 12%, ($22.5m) of their teams cap.

This includes injured stars Roethlesburger, Stafford and Newton and benched Eli Manning: All of whos teams are unlikely to be playing come January.

Top 5 quarterback against the cap club

Of the past 8 superbowls the only winning QB to be in the “top 5” QBs against the cap was Eli Manning back in 2012, with his defeat of the Patriots, the second one, not the helmet catch one.

Since the Giants last ring only two QBs from the “top 5 vs. Cap” club have made it to the superbowl, and both lost: Matt Ryan in the Falcons ill fated 2017 Superbowl appearance against the Patriots and Payton Manning in his first crack at it with the Denver Broncos in 2014. This years top 5 is below, we can already rule out two of those from the Superbowl.

Matt StaffordLions$29,500,000
Kirk CousinsVikings$29,000,000
Aaron RodgersPackers$26,500,000
Russell WilsonSeahawks$26,286,766
Ben RoethlisbergerSteelers$26,200,000

$ Vs. $

The average QB cap % of the last 16 teams in the Superbowl is just 8.5%, the lowest being Russel Wilson in 2014 (0.48%) and the highest Matt Ryan’s 2017 appearance (14.8%)

The evidence isn’t concrete but certainly suggests you don’t need a QB taking up a lot of your cap to get to, or win, a Superbowl.

I can’t imagine Jerry Jones saying to Dak Prescot’s agent “Sorry, I’ve read a great article on Ninety Nine yards that paying loads to a QB far from guarantees success, so lets call it $20m/year?”. Of course Mr. Jones reads all our great articles, but no way is he, or any sensible owner going to seriously low ball a young, still room to improve QB such as current league passing leader Dak Prescot.

Having a top level quarterback behind centre is important, but him being paid as such may not be. By all means pay your QB; they sell jerseys, tickets and you’d much rather have a top QB than a average/poor one, but doing so by no means guarantees success…

Banner image: 2 QB’s who rank in the top 20 highest paid players in the NFL in 2019. Image from USA Today

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