Crucial year in the AFC North in the Battle of 2018 QBs

Crucial year in the AFC North in the Battle of 2018 QBs
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I’ll start this article by reminding everyone that, once upon a time, Joe Flacco was the highest paid player in the NFL. His mammoth contract was $120M over six years, one which sadly he was unable to live up to, and also appears dwarfed by today’s standards.

Eight years later, Bill’s QB Josh Allen signed a six-year deal worth up to $288M, edging out Patrick Mahomes, at least in terms of annual salary if not overall value. The wider point though is that Josh Allen is the first of the 2018 class to sign a contract extension. It appears he will be the only one of the five first round QBs to start the 2021 season with his future secure.

Let’s forget Josh Rosen, who is struggling to hold on to a roster spot in Atlanta. And Sam Darnold, who while heading into a very interesting season, has not lived up to his draft stock. None of the QBs selected outside of the first round have done anything to write home about.

New year, new top dog

That leaves three QBs and it seems fair to split it this way:

Rookie year belonged to Baker Mayfield, on and off the field.

Sophomore year went to Lamar Jackson as he was named the MVP unanimously.

Last year was all about Josh Allen.

Allen’s growth over his three years in the NFL has been exponential, while the other two have experienced a stagnation and stumble or two.

YearPassing YardsTDsComp %RatingYards/ GameSacksINTsRush YardsRush TDsW/L
20182074 (3017)10 (15)52.8%67.9172.828 (41)12 (17)631 (918)8 (12)5-6
Josh Allen’s career statistics

*2018 was based on 11 starts, projected full season in brackets

As impressive, astronomical and interesting as Allen’s progression has been, it is Mayfield and Jackson who have more riding on the 2021 season. Barring the unprecedented, Allen will be the QB of the Bills for the foreseeable future. In all likelihood, Mayfield and Jackson will remain with their teams too. But they are only tied down for this season and, having had their fifth-year options exercised, 2022 as well.

2021: Baker v Lamar

The case for Lamar Jackson is clear. He is one of the top athletes in the league and the linchpin of one of the best offences of the last decade in 2019. And the case against is well laid out too. The Ravens’ offence is limited and can be stopped if the defence stops the run. Not to mention the struggles they have had when chasing a lead, particularly in the playoffs. The entire team has been built to play from ahead. Plus, there is the injury risk and the threat of how limited Jackson will be when his athleticism is not as much of an advantage.

The ideal contract for Lamar would be to offer him a high annual salary, something Baltimore is likely to have to do to get Jackson to sign an extension, while limiting the commitment in terms of years. With Josh Allen maxing out at $48M/year, I would expect Jackson to be the first player to top $50M/year. But, from the Ravens perspective, ideally it would be a three- or four-year deal, or at the very least team options on further years beyond the third year, at which point Jackson would be 29 and (potentially) a very different prospect.

For Mayfield, while he was the superstar rookie, there is little doubt that he is the third amigo at this point. I remember watching the regular season finale for the Browns in 2018 fearing Mayfield playing the Ravens twice a year for the next decade, despite a 6-7 record. Since then though, he is yet to really kick on.

Has Baker been a truck or a trailor?

Yes, the Browns finally ended their playoff drought last season, but the Browns superstar roster arguably underachieved to finish third in the AFC North and as the sixth seed.

YearPassing YardsTDsComp %RatingYards/ GameSacksINTsW/L
20183725 (4585)27 (33)63.8%93.7266.125 (31)14 (17)6-7
Baker Mayfield’s career statistics

While Baker has really cut down on negative plays, with sacks and INTs well down from year two to three, total production as opposed to net production has been relatively stagnant across the topline categories. By far Mayfield’s most explosive season was his rookie year, despite being the least talented of the three rosters he has been on. Year two was clearly Mayfield’s worst year across the board but he only recovered to rookie levels in year three.

What will Browns do?

From the Browns’ perspective, even if Mayfield tops out as a borderline top 10 QB on the Dalton scale, so can they really afford to move on from the franchise’s best ever QB? With the history of the team since returning in 1999, it would be incredibly bold to reset at QB without knowing the replacement would be a step up.

So, while there is little time to negotiate with Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson before they hit free agency, it would be a surprise to see them hit the open market, or indeed be traded. And that brings us back to the start of this piece: Joe Flacco. There is still a whole offseason before they get to that point but would you bet against at least one of them holding firm until the last minute to get the best deal? Or even playing without a contract agreed for the next season.

It’s high risk. But like Joe Flacco proved, it can be an incredibly lucrative decision.

Image: Ebony Bird

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