“You need a great franchise quarterback to win a championship” might be the most popular fallacy in professional sports. It is paraded by media pundits, analysts, broadcasters and fans alike. The position is likely the most worshipped in the arena of athletics and not by a close margin either. Quarterbacks are automatically leaders of their team regardless of overall performance or character and all victories and defeats are brought to their doorstep. In exchange for this undeserved attention, franchises throw bank vaults at them, which is not sound financial strategy. Franchises are hamstrung by disastrous quarterback contracts regularly, a problem that they themselves are responsible for manifesting. We saw a new one occur this summer.
The Falcons signed 33-year-old Matt Ryan to a five-year deal with an annual average value (AAV) of $30 million, including $100 million guaranteed. A reminder that the current salary cap number for teams is 177. Starting in his age 35 season, Ryan will have a cap hit above $30 million for the final four seasons of the deal, meaning Ryan will take up a penny under 17% of the team’s finances.
To give that type of money to a player that isn’t even the most valuable athlete on his own offense is financially irresponsible. Matt Ryan is the Andy Dalton of the NFC but with more talent. Dalton will never win an MVP award or have the ceiling that Ryan has, but it’s also true that Ryan, like Dalton, has made a career of chucking the football to a top-five receiver. Colin Cowherd did a segment on this last year. Matt Ryan and Andy Dalton had virtually the same season in 2017, the season after Matt Ryan led an air strike on NFL defenses. Look at the stats comparison if you remove Ryan’s MVP season:
In nine seasons (minus MVP), Ryan averages 7.29 yards per attempt, 64% completion, 24.7 touchdowns,13.2 interceptions and a passer rating of 90.5.
In seven seasons, Dalton averages 7.21 yards per attempt, 62.8% completion, 23.9 touchdowns, 13.3 interceptions and a passer rating of 88.7.
Eerily similar numbers, eh?ill
I’m a Matt Ryan fan myself and follow Atlanta but this is a contract that will hamstring the franchise from reaching another chance at a championship. Investing that much into one player simply isn’t smart business.
If we take a look at 2017 cap hits, we’ll find that 13 of the top 20 highest cap hits belonged to quarterbacks. Of those 13, take a guess how many made the playoffs. 13 is nearly half the league and we’re probably talking about the best guys at their position. If quarterback is truly the most valued position, it’s probably high. At least seven, right?
Four. The answer is four.
- Joe Flacco tops the list at $24.5 million and threw for barely 3,000 yards, only 18 TDs to 13 INTs, and had a yards per attempt average of 5.72 (32nd).
- Carson Palmer. Arizona paid 37-year-old Carson Palmer $17.5 million ($24 million cap hit) to play six and a half games and produce old man numbers during them. *Vomits off stage
- Kirk Cousins performs at an above-average level (over 4,000 yards, 27/13 TD/INT) on yet another franchise tag ($23.9) and the Redskins go nowhere.
- Matt Ryan ($23.75) makes the playoffs with a rich Atlanta roster before they implode on their final play of the divisional round against the Eagles. If you’re just now reading, Ryan is rewarded with the richest contract in NFL history.
- Aaron Rodgers ($20.3) predictably breaks after getting slammed to the turf repeatedly with no offensive line help. Packers have no team past Rodgers and detonate.
- Ryan Tannehill ($20.3) considers himself a doctor and decides not to get surgery on a knee injury following the 2016 season. He promptly tears it before the 2017 preseason. Rest in peace, Miami. Hopefully you can find a better quarterba-Jay Cutler?!
- Cam Newton ($20.16) continues his trend of attending the playoffs every other year. He ends the regular season with a completion percentage of 59.1 and 22 touchdowns with 16 interceptions. Not exactly super, though he did run for 754 on a 5.4 clip.
- Poor Eli. ($19.7) Young Eli’s receiving core is murdered and Eli is left throwing the ball for the remainder of the year to chicklets Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram. Left tackle Ereck Flowers impersonates a chew toy and his coach becomes a dark hole sucking all kinds of garbage into the orifice on his face. 3-13.
- The Colts front office is still dealing with the repercussions of not protecting their franchise quarterback who took them from winless to 11-5 in his rookie year. Cheer up, Indy. Maybe Andrew Luck ($19.4) will throw a football again this decade. *chatter off-screen. Wait, he threw a football?! He played in a preseason game?! Indy, you might be back in business!
- Drew Brees ($19) throws for a little over 4,300 yards, his fewest in over a decade, and only 23 touchdowns, his fewest since 2003. Sean Payton finally figures out that putting a defense on the field might be a formula for success. And look! They found running backs, too! What an insane carriage of ideas. Too bad about the Minneapolis Miracle, huh?
- Big Ben ($18.2) spends the first half of the season looking like he just came out of a nursing home, completing a smidge over 61% and throwing 10 touchdowns to nine picks in his first eight games. Ben gets his act together for the second half, the Steelers go 13-3 and then go full Steelers and blow a playoff game to Jacksonville in which they give up 45 points to Blake freaking Bortles. Ben, to his credit, threw for 469 yards and five tuddies in that game.
- Rivers ($18) finishes second in the league in passing (4,515 yards) and throws 28 touchdowns to 10 picks. However, the Chargers can’t find anyone who can kick a field goal at the beginning of the season, losing them two games in the final seconds. They also started 0-4 to miss out on a playoff spot. It’s 2018 and Philip Rivers has twice as many kids as he does playoff wins in his 14-year career.
- Sam Bradford? Oh, Jesus, seriously? Yup, the china doll of the NFL had an $18 million cap hit. Say what you will about Bradford, he gets paid an enormous amount of money to spend time on injured reserve every year. Don’t worry, the Cardinals didn’t learn a damn thing from Palmer. They gave Bradford $20 million to spend a year on their IR.
If you look further, you’ll find only six of the top 20 highest cap hits for quarterbacks made the playoffs. Those other seven names?
- Alex Smith ($16.9) has a career year only for Kansas City to go full Kansas City in the playoffs and blow an 18-point lead in yet another home playoff game.
- The first year of Matt Stafford’s megadeal only brings a $16.5 cap hit, but with Detroit still not knowing what a running back is, the Lions predictably miss the playoffs again. Cheer up, Detroit. This season Stafford’s cap hit jumps to $26.5.
- After an MVP-caliber season, Derek Carr ($15.7) returns from injury to play average football, throwing for just under 3,500 and a touchdown-interception split of 22/13. Next season, his cap hit jumps to $25.
- The Cincinnati front office learns you need an offensive line to play football. Andy Dalton ($15.7) gets sandwiched all season and the Bengals look to be worse than Cleveland this upcoming campaign. The Bengals could cut Dalton and start McCarron, oh wait.
- Russell Wilson ($14.6) is a one-man offense behind an offensive line that’s still garbage and a defense that is losing cohesiveness. Our franchise quarterback looks far less important when his defense can’t stop DeShaun Watson from turning them into a fajita. Seattle will spend the offseason dismantling the Legion of Boom. At least they drafted a lineman…in the fifth.
- Mike Glennon (man, this one didn’t age well, huh?) takes his $14 million cap hit behind and sits it on the bench behind novice Mitchell Trubisky. Money well spent!
- Tom Brady ($14.0) does Tom Brady things, wins MVP, takes team to Super Bowl. Give that man all the money.
If you look at production, you could argue most quarterbacks weren’t even the best player on their own team this past season. The list of signal callers who were is rather short:
Rivers, Smith (this one is debatable given Hunt led league in rushing), Brady, Stafford, Wilson, Wentz, Cousins. Only three (Smith, Brady, Wentz) made the playoffs.
A team built around a quarterback is not a guaranteed victory for front offices, even if that quarterback delivers in effectiveness. Rivers has been an above average quarterback nearly his entire career and has only four playoff wins to show for it. Teams seem to forget that building around said quarterback is vital and if you devote too much of your deposit box to them, it’s difficult to do that.
Other teams simply don’t build for some reason. The idea Aaron Rodgers has made only one Super Bowl is inexcusable. Maybe if Green Bay could’ve looked at a stat sheet years ago and realized defensive coordinator Dom Capers was disastrous in big games and the running game was dwindling, they could have changed that. Instead, Cheeseheads are left watching Green Bay get ousted too early in the playoffs or seeing how incompetent their coaching staff/team really is when Rodgers is taken out of the picture. Green Bay is an example of what goes wrong when you get a franchise quarterback and then don’t do anything of substance after that. A team this fully reliant on one player is doomed for failure (See Indy, and God bless Detroit if Stafford ever misses a season.)
At this point, Green Bay and Detroit are carbon copies of each other. Green Bay has seen its death grip on the NFC North slip away to a more complete roster in Minnesota. Rodgers will get an extension and stay in Green Bay (called it) and then Matt and Aaron will try to throw their teams to victory single-handedly for the remainder of their careers while Minnesota finally discovers the formula to playoff success and makes an appearance in a Super Bowl. Giving Kirk Cousins a fully-guaranteed contract is risky but a necessary signing if the Vikings want to get over the hump. Also, the team isn’t putting its entire body weight on Cousins’ shoulders and has shown it can win with a backup quarterback and runner on the field for a majority of a campaign. Imagine the level of lethality this team can reach with a healthy Cousins and Dalvin Cook. Also, Cousins contract is only three years, so if the signing doesn’t go as planned, Minnesota can move on to another option without putting their piggy bank in a vice grip.
Football is a team sport, not a quarterback one. Complete teams win championships, not quarterbacks. That is not to say a team can’t win a championship with a great quarterback. Great quarterbacks have been winning titles for a while but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a plethora of examples where they did it by themselves. The great John Elway couldn’t win one without Terrell Davis’ help. Dan Marino went on a historic passing tear in his sophomore season, won MVP and took his team to a Super Bowl before getting pounced on by the 49ers dyansty. He never got to another one.
It’s actually far easier to find a team who carried a quarterback to a Super Bowl: 2015 Broncos, 2006 Steelers, 2003 Bucs and let’s not forget about Trent Dilfer and the 2000 Ravens.
Teams predicated on quarterback success often falter in big moments because it’s difficult for one man to do it all. Look at the Colts with Andrew Luck. Drafted first overall by a winless team, he took Indy to 11-5 and a wild-card game. The next season, he advanced them to the divisional round and the year after that to the AFC Championship game, one of the most impressive starts to a career in quite a while. He was given a massive extension, which he had earned and which was the right move for the franchise. Problem is, during all these playoff runs, Indy management had done little to build the team around Luck. In 2013, they drafted defensive end Bjoern Warner, a bust. In general, the entire class was a robust failure. In 2015, they reached for receiver Philip Dorsett, a receiver that didn’t play out his rookie deal with Indy he was so unwanted. Their second choice, cornerback D’Joun Smith, played a total of five game for the Colts. At one point, general manager Ryan Grigson blamed Andrew Luck’s extension for his inability to put together a competent defense.
This claim was complete nonsense. These were their defensive rankings, beginning during Luck’s rookie year:
2012 26th 21st 29th 21st
2013 20th 13th 26th 9th
2014 11th 12th 17th 16th
2015 26th 24th 25th 25th
2016 30th 27th 25th 22nd
You’ll notice the year they were passable, in 2014, is the year they made it to the AFC Championship game, once again, on the shoulder of one Andrew Luck. Without Luck, we’ve seen what the Colts are: garbage. Quarterbacks hide a team’s flaws. They don’t cure them.
Drew Brees has had a similar problem with the Saints. A player of his caliber should have made it to more than one Super Bowl by now.
Look at those defensive rankings!
’06 11th 3rd 23rd 13th<—-Nice start!
’07 26th 30th 13th 25th<–Straight to garbage, huh?
’08 23rd 23rd 17th 26th<–Not trying anymore?
’09 25th 26th 21st 20th<–We have Brees! What is defense?
’10 4th 4th 16th 7th<——Got to be a Super Bowl here, right? No? It was the ’09 season?
’11 24th 30th 12th 13th<–Nice PPG! Lose to a better defense in the 49ers.
’12 32nd 31st 32nd 31st<-Here’s where it gets a lot of fun.
’13 4th 2nd 19th 4th<—–Good defensive year lost due to running into Legion of Boom.
’14 31st 25th 29th 28th<–Back to not trying again, I see.
’15 31st 31st 31st 32nd<–Sean Payton is a great coach!
’16 27th 32nd 14th 31st<-Why run on this team when we can throw them into oblivion?
’17 17th 15th 16th 10th<-Minneapolis Miracle time!
Imagine what the Saints’ reputation would be if Drew Brees didn’t throw for 4,500 nearly every year during his time in New Orleans. Remove Brees from Louisiana and Payton doesn’t have a job in three years, maybe less, and Saints fans’ only respite is watching who they pick with their top-five slot in the draft. People aren’t kidding when they call Brees the heart of New Orleans. If he wasn’t there, New Orleans would be a corpse.
Sadly, Rodgers, Luck and Brees have seen their careers mostly wasted to this point. Rodgers and Brees are likely going to visit Canton and yet they both have only one Lombardi. Luck still has time to change his fortunes if he can ever get his shoulder to operate again. I’m rooting for it, even if the Colts franchise clearly doesn’t deserve him.
Stafford also belongs on this list. Not a Hall of Fame talent, but a gunslinger who has deserved better. Detroit wasted the prime years of Stafford to Calvin, including taking one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game into a winless season and so much turmoil that Megatron would rather not play football than continue to play in Motor City. The last time the Lions were tenth or better in rushing, Barry Sanders was playing football. Let’s see how the Lions have done since then.
’98 10th<—–Man, that Barry dude is so good. Hope he never retires. *Immediately retires
’99 28th<—–It will take us some time to recover from the loss of Barry.
’00 20th<—–See, improvement! We’re gonna be fine.
’01 28th<—–Oh, God. 2-14. Hope this doesn’t happen again any time soon.
’02 29th<—–We’re gonna be fine. Joey Harrington is the future!
’03 32nd<—-Man, we’ve spent four of five years in the bottom five in rushing. Starting to miss Barry, now. Receiver Charles Rogers at number two will help us though!
’04 19th<—–Roy Williams looks like an elite receiver. Kevin Jones is the savior of Detroit!
’05 26th<—–It’s just a sophomore slump for Kevin. He’ll be fine.
’06 32nd<—-Oh geez, we need some help. How about Brian Calhoun! *tears ACL, ends career
’07 31st<—–Look, we’ve gone from 3-13 to 7-9. We’re on the verge of greatness!
’08 30th<—–Oh, God. A winless season. Where did it go wrong? We better get Calvin some help. He looks pissed.
’09 24th<—–Matt Stafford is a generational talent. Stafford to Calvin is gonna be one of the greatest connections in pro football history.
’10 23rd<—–Suh is a tank and Jahvid Best is a phenom. The days of not having a running game are finally behind us.
’11 29th<—–We made the playoffs for the first time since Barry! We got Mikel Leshoure! We are bound for great-(demolished by New Orleans).
’12 23rd<—–10-6 to 4-12 was quite a fall but Ryan Broyles is the best receiver college football has ever seen. We’ll finally have another option for Matt!
’13 17th<—–Reggie Bush is gonna become the GOAT for us. This is the team to break the streak!
’14 28th<—–We haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. We’re finally gonna (Cowboys crush Motor City dreams 24-20).
’15 32nd<—-Last in rushing again? Geez, starting to think this might be the problem. Oh, no. We made Calvin quit, too?
’16 30th<—-We got Nebraska star Ameer Abdullah! The streak will finally… *placed on season-ending IR.
’17 32nd<— *flips table, exits stage left
12 times in the bottom five in the last 20 seasons and seven times in the bottom three in the last 15. Gross mismanagement, plain and simple.
Build around your team. There’s more to the game then quarterbacks.
Teams with quarterbacks on their rookie deals are the easiest to manage because they don’t have the money invested in their signal caller. Look at the Eagles. Wentz had a cap hit of a little over $6 million in 2017 and was my MVP for the season. In addition to the incredible value they got from his performance, they allocated their savings in the trenches and now have a top-five offensive and defensive line.
Dak Prescott’s entire rookie deal will cost the Cowboys less than $3 million, savings they’ve invested in Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick. Extensions for these three stalwarts wouldn’t have been possible if Dak had Jimmy Garoppolo’s 2018 cap hit of $37 million.
And let’s say, for sake of argument, that Dak ends up being average over the course of his deal. (In 2017, Dak threw for 3,324 and a 88.6 rating (16th), regressing from a rookie year that made him a candidate for offensive player of the year.) It still would be a win for the organization because they now have three regular All-Pro players locked on their roster.
Deshaun Watson has a cap hit of $6 million and if he performs like he did during his unfortunately short rookie year, the team will have a serious shot at a playoff run by the end of his rookie contract.
This is how you build a football team. You want to be the 49ers and go mad spending on an unproven commodity? Be my guest. You’re gonna have a hard time building a roster. Yes, that quarterback might bring you out of the swamps of depression but one player will have a hard time pulling you out of the quicksands of mediocrity. You want $30 million quarterbacks? Go for it. Just know history and the numbers aren’t on your side.