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Evaluating the most valuable c...
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Evaluating the most valuable contracts in the NFL

Cian Fahey
Cian Fahey

01:09 11 Jul 2020

NFL teams value quarterbacks more than any other position. They make the most money, carry the most blame when the team loses and get the most credit when they win. As such, teams don't always make rational decisions with the contracts they hand out.

Alex Smith hasn't played in the NFL since Week 10 of the 2018 season. He'll cost Washington $21.4 million in cap space this year. If Washington were to release Smith, they would be creating $32.2 million in dead cap space. Therefore, it's more financially prudent to keep him on the roster even though he's unlikely to play football ever again.

Smith broke his leg and has endured complications in his recovery. Multiple infections and surgeries led to potential amputation. Fortunately, Smith kept his leg. But he's unlikely to play football ever again.

NFL contracts aren't guaranteed. They should be. But there also should be an out for teams when it comes to cap space. Washington is committing the 10th-most amount of cap space to its quarterbacks this season, yet they're going to be starting second-year player Dwayne Haskins. One of the benefits of starting Haskins should be extra cap space while he's on his rookie deal. Washington doesn't get that benefit.

Those are the risk-reward elements of NFL decision-making. Committing long-term money to a specific quarterback might make all the sense at the time, but it only takes one bad tackle. And that's assuming the Smith contract was a good one in the first place. Plenty of teams don't need a devastating injury to ruin their cap space.

As we did in part one, this article is going to look at the value of each team's quarterback relative to their cap hits.

For the purposes of this article, we're going to use a scale to measure each quarterback's value. 10 will be the best value quarterbacks in the league. 1 will represent the worst contracts in the league. 5 will be average and everything in between will be equidistant to each other. We're going to look at the total amount each team spends on its quarterbacks rather than just what they pay their starter. But the evaluation will be weighted to represent the heightened importance of the starter over the diminished value of having the best third-string quarterback in the league.

 

Las Vegas Raiders
Combined Quarterback Salaries: $32.8 million
Combined Quarterback Salaries Rank: 3rd
Salary Value: 4/10

Derek Carr was unnaturally accurate last season. Whether he was throwing short, intermediate or deep, Carr hit his intended receivers in stride often. He benefited from Jon Gruden's offence. It gave him clearly-defined route combinations, played from under centre often and used play action to set up the passing game. Carr's ball placement alone made it the best season of his career.

But there's a lot more to being a quarterback than throwing the ball. Carr's decision-making remains far too conservative. He too often makes the easy decision rather than the decision that gives his team the best chance at winning the game. He's also incapable of hanging in the pocket long enough to make plays passed their design.

Marcus Mariota waits in the wings.

 

Los Angeles Chargers
Combined Quarterback Salaries: $8.2 million
Combined Quarterback Salaries Rank: 27th
Salary Value: 3/10

The Chargers decision to draft Justin Herbert undermines the presence of Tyrod Taylor. The former Browns starter was already in this position with Baker Mayfield. Even if he starts the season, he knows he'll be hooked sooner rather than later. Herbert doesn't promise to be anything special, especially not during his rookie season. So even though the Chargers aren't spending much on their quarterbacks, they're getting even less in return.

It would have made more sense to draft Derrick Brown or Jedrick Willis and then embrace Taylor as the full-time starter. He's already shown he can be an effective starting quarterback in the right situation.

 

Los Angeles Rams
Combined Quarterback Salaries: $30.8 million
Combined Quarterback Salaries Rank: 6th
Salary Value: 3/10

Making Jared Goff one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL was never going to work out. It was a peculiar decision at the time and Goff didn't do well enough last year to ease those concerns. Goff lacks the ability to execute on straight dropbacks outside of a run-oriented offence. The best-case scenario with him as your starting quarterback is not having to use him much.

The Rams need him to carry their offence, in large part because of how expensive his contract is.

 

Miami Dolphins
Combined Quarterback Salaries: $16.4 million
Combined Quarterback Salaries Rank: 17th
Salary Value: 4/10

Drafting Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth-overall pick in the draft was a massive risk. Tagovailoa's hip injury casts doubt over how much he'll play in 2020. The Dolphins should prioritize his long-term health and that might mean not playing him at all this year. That would mean putting Ryan Fitzpatrick front-and-centre for the second year running. That's a nightmare.

Even if Tagovailoa plays, he's going to be a rookie coming off of major surgery in a new system. Those elements don't generally combine to create success.

 

Minnesota Vikings
Combined Quarterback Salaries: $22.5 million
Combined Quarterback Salaries Rank: 15th
Salary Value: 2/10

Kirk Cousins is actually costing the Vikings less money now than he was in the last two seasons. Part of that is an extension and part of it is getting through the chunkier parts of his contract. Even while receiving a league-average salary, paying a quarterback who helps the opposition win more than he helps you win is never a positive. No matter how many stats he puts up.

The Vikings carried Cousins to the playoffs last year by Kubiaking him. They won a playoff game. That's likely their ceiling until someone new comes in.

 

New England Patriots
Combined Quarterback Salaries: $4.2 million
Combined Quarterback Salaries Rank: 31st
Salary Value: 7/10

It's hard to criticize the Cam Newton deal. He might still be hurt, in which case he won't be on the roster. If he's not still hurt, he's at worst a league-average starter for minimal cap space. If Newton returns to who he was during his prime, the Patriots will have cap value as good as the Chiefs and Ravens. Until he proves he is that, we can't assume it.

The Patriots might end up starting Brian Hoyer. That will sink their value at quarterback and likely sink their season.

 

New Orleans Saints
Combined Quarterback Salaries: $31.4 million
Combined Quarterback Salaries Rank: 5th
Salary Value: 6/10

Drew Brees' age is a problem that we've previously discussed. But let's not even focus on Brees. The Saints gave Taysom Hill a two-year deal worth $20.5 million this offseason. Only around $5 million of that counts against the cap this year. Hill and Jameis Winston combine for roughly $7 million. That's not a lot for two backup quarterbacks. The problem is, neither of those players can actually play quarterback.

Brees is still good when his arm is live but he's overpaid and very hard to win a Super Bowl with. The backup option went from one of the best in the league with Teddy Bridgewater to one of the worst.

 

New York Giants
Combined Quarterback Salaries: $11 million
Combined Quarterback Salaries Rank: 21st
Salary Value: 5/10

Daniel Jones is still on his rookie deal so the Giants are getting decent value for their second-year starter. The challenge for the Giants is they still don't really know what Jones is. He didn't have a good rookie season. He had good moments and won the fanbase over by not falling on his face. There were far too many interceptable passes and the limitations of his arm were evident when he tried to push the ball downfield.

Jones is one of the biggest x-factors in the league this season.

 

New York Jets
Combined Quarterback Salaries: $11 million
Combined Quarterback Salaries Rank: 22nd
Salary Value: 4/10

Sam Darnold hasn't done enough to get the benefit of the doubt. His performances have been impacted by injuries but when Darnold has been on the field and fully healthy he's been ineffective. There are far too many inexplicable mistakes and unforced errors to assume he's going to develop next season. He's still very young but his accuracy got worse in his second season.

Without good accuracy, good decision-making or an ability to handle pressure, what is there?

 

Philadelphia Eagles
Combined Quarterback Salaries: $21.3 million
Combined Quarterback Salaries Rank: 16th
Salary Value: 7/10

Carson Wentz didn't finish the season for the Eagles last season. He was unfortunate, suffering a concussion when Jadeveon Clowney fell on him. The Eagles season basically ended when Josh McCown took to the field. Backup quarterbacks have played too much in Philadelphia. Eagles brass decided to spend their second-round pick on Jalen Hurts as both a backup and alternative option to Wentz.

Hurts will likely be sprinkled into the offence as a change-up option. It makes for an intriguing dynamic in an environment with a fanbase that loves Wentz but isn't known for patience.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers
Combined Quarterback Salaries: $26.9 million
Combined Quarterback Salaries Rank: 9th
Salary Value: 2/10

Old, injured and out-of-shape. Not the most flattering profile. Ben Roethlisberger got a contract extension from the Steelers this offseason and it wasn't a pay cut. He remains one of the more expensive quarterbacks in the NFL despite his performances continuing to drop off over the latter stages of his career. The Steelers are expecting him to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, he makes far too many mistakes for that to be the case.

Realistically, this should have been the year the Steelers started over with a new quarterback under center. They didn't even bring in a better backup.

 

San Francisco 49ers
Combined Quarterback Salaries: $29.1 million
Combined Quarterback Salaries Rank: 7th
Salary Value: 3/10

Jimmy Garoppolo did nothing in the playoffs last year except throw interceptable passes. The 49ers ran their way to the Super Bowl and when they needed Garoppolo to make throws in the Super Bowl, he came up empty. Garoppolo isn't necessarily a bad quarterback, but he's elevated significantly by his supporting cast. The 49ers aren't getting good value from his bloated salary.

The problem for Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch is there was no realistic out this offseason.

 

Seattle Seahawks
Combined Quarterback Salaries: $32.5 million
Combined Quarterback Salaries Rank: 4th
Salary Value: 9/10

A high-end starting quarterback earning a high-end salary. The only thing preventing the Seahawks from having a 10/10 rating is the lack of a discount. Russell Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. His consistency over the last two seasons has been impressive, elevating the Seahawks receiving corps with precision passing. Geno Smith is one of the most experienced backups in the NFL. He represents good value for his cap hit.

With Pete Carroll, John Schneider and Wilson, the Seahawks have more continuity at the most important spots than any other franchise in the league.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Combined Quarterback Salaries: $28.1 million
Combined Quarterback Salaries Rank: 8th
Salary Value: 5/10

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers definitely won the offseason this year. At least, that is they won the hype battle of the offseason. Tom Brady is at the centre of that. Brady is a future hall-of-fame player but likely an average starter at present. His physical decline has clearly taken its toll on his ability to push the ball downfield. He's also no longer capable of standing strong in the pocket to deliver the ball against pressure.

Brady is definitely an upgrade over Jameis Winston, but it's a top-10 salary for someone who is unlikely to be a top-10 quarterback. Having a star-studded receiving corps will help though.

 

Tennessee Titans
Combined Quarterback Salaries: $23.7 million
Combined Quarterback Salaries Rank: 13th
Salary Value: 8/10

Ryan Tannehill proved his health last year. He had proven he was a quality quarterback during his time in Miami. The Dolphins' dysfunction held him back before Calais Campbell shredded his knee. A shoulder injury then led to the Dolphins giving up on him. The Titans benefited from that move. First they got a cheap starter last year, now they have a value starter this year.

Tannehill can continue to be a top-10 quarterback and be a strong value starter on his new deal.

 

Washington
Combined Quarterback Salaries: $26 million
Combined Quarterback Salaries Rank: 10th
Salary Value: 1/10

Dwayne Haskins is an unknown. He didn't play enough as a rookie to really be judged. But when he did play, it wasn't good. His ball placement was awful. That was a problem in college too. He will need to take a complete u-turn on his performances from last year and from what he showed in college to become a quality starter. Ron Rivera traded for Kyle Allen as his backup. Rivera had Allen as Cam Newton's backup in Carolina.

When Allen started in Carolina last year, he proved to be a disaster. Washington has one quarterback who mostly resembles Josh Rosen and one quarterback who is clinging onto his place in the league. And they're paying $26 million for the pleasure of it because of Alex Smith's injury.

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