Most people are aware of which quarterbacks are playing well, but how are they playing relative to their contract? I take a look at overpaid quarterbacks, those who get paid as franchise QBs who aren’t. And valuable contracts, mostly quarterbacks who are on their rookie contracts.
The graph below represents each quarterback’s QBR compared to their 2014 cap hit. Based on the graph, quarterbacks are sorted into two categories, overpaid or valuable. Note: I used Spotrac for all contract information.
When looking at the chart, the first thing to notice is the huge cap hit from players with a QBR less than 60. It’s commonly believed Jay Cutler had the worst season among starting quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. Not true! Although he was very turnover-prone, take a look at how this season compares to his previous seasons as the Chicago Bears starting quarterback:
Cutler did not play well this year, but far from the worst season of his career. The problem was Cutler’s mammoth contract from the Chicago Bears that placed unfair expectations on him. Cutler actually threw for more passing yards and touchdowns than in any other season in Chicago! He also stayed healthy for a full season. Cutler was never an elite QB in this league, but was paid like one with a 18,500,000 cap hit, the 3rd highest of any quarterback.
Andy Dalton has already received his fair share of criticism this year. After receiving a big contract last offseason, Dalton’s numbers declined this year. Although he threw for a higher completion percentage, Dalton’s numbers dropped from 4,293 passing yards to 3,398, 33 touchdowns to 19, and a small drop in QBR from 55.8 to 55.2. With 104 fewer pass attempts the Bengals obviously relied on the running game a lot more this year, but Dalton’s numbers this year don’t inspire confidence. After a couple of early playoff exits, Dalton needs to lead the Bengals on a deep playoff run.
A QB that has mostly avoided criticism is Matthew Stafford. Owning the 10th highest cap hit at 15,820,000, Stafford played poorly this year. After throwing for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns in 2011, he threw for 4,257 yards, 22 TDs, and 12 INTs this year. The Lions are in the playoffs because of their incredible defense, not Stafford’s arm. Their record and Stafford’s high yardage totals hide his poor accuracy (60.3%), and QBR (55.1) which sits between Dalton’s and Cutler’s.
Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson are two of the best young quarterbacks in the league playing on their rookie contracts. Luck was an MVP candidate this year, led the NFL in passing touchdowns, and was 3rd in passing yards. The definition of a franchise QB, the Colts rely on his arm to make plays down the field. Russell Wilson’s numbers do not impress when compared to Luck’s, but he led the Seahawks to home field advantage once again. Without many playmakers, Wilson ran more this year and Seattle is easily the #1 rushing offense in the league. As the number one overall pick Luck had a significantly higher cap hit than Wilson, 6,029,454 to 817,302. Both will receive massive contracts in the offseason.
Ryan Tannehill put together the best season of his young career. On his rookie contract, with a 3,455,046 million cap hit, Tannehill had career -highs across the board. He had a 66.4 completion percentage, 4,045 yards, 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and a 59.1 QBR. After a rough start, and almost getting benched, Tannehill narrowly missed the playoffs with untimely losses late in the season. His first two years were uneven, but 2014 was the first year that Miami fans felt a little more comfortable saying “Ryan Tannehill and franchise QB” in the same sentence. With his head coach Joe Philbin to stay for another season - Tannehill has a chance to improve on his numbers and land a big contract extension - or have the Miami Dolphins pick up his 5th year option.
The Philadelphia Eagles have two starting quarterbacks on their roster. After an incredible half year in 2013, Nick Foles contract was considered one of the most valuable in the NFL. However, he struggled at the start of the season and was lost for the year due to injury. His cap hit this year was 770,880 and he has one year remaining on his deal. Mark Sanchez, on a one year deal worth 2,250,000, came in and put up the same, if not better, numbers:
The Eagles got great quarterback play from cheap contracts, but they need to decide what direction they’re going in. Is Foles the product of a Chip Kelly offense? As a backup who struggled for years as a starter, Sanchez had similar numbers in the same offense. No one sees Mark Sanchez as a franchise quarterback anymore, but do they bring him back? Fans may think Sanchez was a failure because they missed the playoffs, but a 10-6 record normally gets in.
Quarterbacks on rookie contracts are extremely valuable because they allow teams to spend money on improving other parts of the team. The Seahawks have been very successful the last couple years because of Wilson’s small cap hit, a fraction of other elite quarterbacks. With some quarterbacks due for big extensions teams need to be careful, just ask the Bengals and the Bears.