COLLEGE PARK, Maryland–In today’s passing-heavy NFL, many front offices are signing their quarterbacks to lucrative deals.
But many of these players are earning elite salaries despite not ranking among the best at their position, while many top quarterbacks earn lesser salaries, a Capital News Service analysis found.
Washington’s Kirk Cousins and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco are among the highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL, but they do not produce at the same level that top passers, such as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, do.
In fact, of the ten highest paid quarterbacks, only four of them — Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers), Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints), Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) and Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers) — have an average QBR (Total Quarterback Rating) above 68 in the last four seasons. Two, Flacco and Derek Carr (Oakland Raiders), failed to break 60.
The trend of overpaying mediocre quarterbacks shows no sign of slowing down, either.
On August 28, the Detroit Lions and Matthew Stafford agreed to a five-year, $135 million contract extension, according to multiple media reports, worth an average of $27 million per year, making the 29-year old quarterback the highest paid player in the NFL. This comes on the heels of Carr’s contract $25 million per year contract extension, which set a record when he signed it in June.
Stafford posted a 70.5 QBR last season, good for eighth in the NFL but well behind Matt Ryan’s league-best 83.3 mark. He owns a 58.9 QBR over the last four seasons, and is 0-3 in playoff games.
Like Stafford, Cousins and Flacco are among the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league, each making over $22 million a year. Cousins is coming off a strong 2017 in which he threw for nearly 5,000 yards and 25 touchdowns, while ranking in the top third of the league with a 71.7 QBR. He and the Washington front office are at an impasse over contract talks, so he is playing this season under a second consecutive franchise tag worth $23.9 million in hopes of an even more lucrative contract next year.
Last seasons, Flacco eclipsed 4,000 passing yards for the first time in his nine-year career, but struggled otherwise. He threw nearly as many interceptions as he did touchdowns, and his 58.4 QBR ranked in the bottom half of the league. Nevertheless, he makes $22.1 million per year, sixth most in the NFL.
Meanwhile, some of the best passers in the league don’t get paid elite salaries. Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons) and Tom Brady (New England Patriots), who faced off in the Super Bowl in February, ranked first and second, respectively, in QBR last season. However, neither of them crack the top ten in salary, instead sitting 14th and 15th, respectively, squarely in the middle of the pack.
What accounts for this? Are Flacco and Stafford really worth more than Brady and Rodgers?
Some of it can be chalked up to timing. Flacco signed a six-year, $120 million extension with the Ravens in March 2013, just one month after winning a Super Bowl. Carr’s extension came after he led the Raiders to their first winning season and playoff berth since 2002. Despite not posting earth-shattering numbers, these quarterbacks conveniently signed contract extensions after their best performances of their career.
Some teams pay high prices for a quarterback, knowing that the alternative is bleak.
The year before drafting Stafford, the Lions went 0-16. While the 2009 first-overall pick hasn’t enjoyed playoff success, his Lions have earned three playoff berths in the last six years after a stretch of ten straight losing seasons prior to that. In Cousins’ first two full years as a starter, he has led Washington to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since the 1990s.
Quarterback is a premium position in the NFL. As teams such as the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers know, finding a dependable passer is easier said than done. While none of the aforementioned passers rank in the upper tier with Brady and Rodgers, teams would still rather break the bank on them than risk returning to their losing ways.