How much is too much to pay your starting quarterback?


Photo courtesy of Primero y Diez

Everyone wants to get paid in pro football and no one gets paid better than starting quarterbacks. The theory behind this is you can’t win a championship without a highly paid one. But is this actually true?

This comes to mind after the announcement of three almost incomprehensible contracts signed this offseason: those of Jimmy Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan.

Garoppolo signed a 5-year, $137.5 million deal with $74.1 million in guaranteed money, which averages out to over $10 million guaranteed per each of his seven NFL starts. Is this brilliant management or bogus blasphemy?

Cousins signed a fully guaranteed three-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings worth $84 million, all of it guaranteed (as, frankly, all NFL contracts should be if they’re to be truly called “contracts). It comes with a cap hit this year of $24 million. Again, brilliant or blasphemy?

And the man called “Mattie Ice’’ (except on the night he melted down against the Patriots in Super Bowl LI) just inked a 5-year, $152 million contract with $100 million of it guaranteed. It carries with it an average salary of $30 million. Bogus or brilliant?

Between them those three quarterbacks are 4-7 in the playoffs. Ryan was the leader of arguably the biggest choke job in Super Bowl history when the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead with 20 minutes to play to the Patriots. Garoppolo has only seven career starts (although admittedly he’s 7-0 in them) and couldn’t finish one of them or play again thereafter in relief of Tom Brady to start the 2016 season. As for Cousins, he is 26-30-1 as a starter, 0-1 in the playoffs and when he needed to beat the Giants in the final game of 2016 to lead the Redskins into the postseason he threw an interception that ended the game.

Oh, and then there was his final audition before being paid by the Vikings in which he threw three interceptions and no touchdowns in a season-ending loss to the Giants last year, thus leaving the Redskins 7-9.

Time will tell whether those huge contracts will be worth the money but Michael Ginitti is a guy who knows more about math, the salary cap and its relationship to Super Bowl championships than I’ll ever know and he has hit upon an interesting stat on his website: spotrac.com.

According to his figures, since the cap began in 1994 the average cap hit of a Super Bowl winning quarterback constitutes 6.9% of the cap. The highest ever was in the cap’s first year when Steve Young commanded 13.1% of the 49ers’ cap. Only 4 QBs have EVER won the Super Bowl when accounting for 11% or more of a team’s cap: Young, Peyton Manning twice, Tom Brady and Eli Manning.

Yet last year 10 quarterbacks accounted for more than 11% of their team’s cap and 20 were paid more than the historic average of the Super Bowl winning quarterback. So where do Garoppolo, Cousins and Ryan now sit with their respective teams?

Garoppolo will consume 17.55% of the 49ers’ cap this year. Cousins is at 12.47%. Ryan, interestingly enough, saw his cap value go down by $3.95 million for the upcoming season to $17.7 million, due to the vagaries of his extension’s math. That ranks him 16th among NFL quarterbacks in cap consumption. at 9.46%. But that figure jumps in 2019 to $22.8 million. That would be roughly 13% of the 2018 cap, although that $177.7 million figure is likely to rise slightly.

But if their quarterback begins commanding twice the average of a Super Bowl winning quarterback, how can the Falcons going forward afford to pay Ryan’s top receivers, Julio Jones and Mohamad Sanu? How do they pay their young defense enough to keep it intact? If they can’t, do they become the Seahawks, whose slide has seemed to coincide almost exactly with the rising value of Russell Wilson’s contract?

Wilson’s cap hit, according to Spotrac, is $23.78 million this year, or 13.2% of Seattle’s cap. What has this led to? An exodus of the Legion of Boom’s foundation as well as the key man in the BeastMode offense that brought the Seahawks to two Super Bowls and one Lombardi Trophy.

Of the top six quarterbacks in 2018 cap consumption only one, Joe Flacco, ever reached the Super Bowl. Looking at the 2018 numbers, which is more overpaid, Garoppolo at 17.55% of his team’s cap or Andrew Luck, who eats up 16.6% of the Colts yet is 10-12 in his last three seasons, including missing all of 2017 with a shoulder injury that has his future unsettled?

It is not wrong to argue that you must have a competent quarterback to win in today’s NFL. But it may be fatal to pay him as much as they’ve been receiving lately if your aim is to actually win a Super Bowl because if that doesn’t happen in a hurry the triggerman soon finds he has none of the posse around him that he needs to win it.

So the question is simple. Is the idea to win the championship or create a cap that fits too tight around one man’s head?

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