Andrew Luck’s rich new contract with the Indianapolis Colts is the largest contract NFL history … until the next one. Which might not be too far away.
Luck signed a six-year, $140 million extension on Wednesday that includes $87 million in total guaranteed money, the most in NFL history.
While Luck is in the (rare) air from a financial perspective, plenty of quarterbacks stand to get paid in the next two years and one of them are likely to break the Bank of Luck – at least on an annual average – with an ever-escalating salary cap and the importance of the quarterback position remaining steadily high.
Last year, Luck only played in seven games before giving way to injury, but he still ranks fourth among quarterbacks in NFL history for passing yards in his first four seasons.
Here is look at some of the quarterbacks scheduled to come down the free-agent pipeline, yet likely to get sealed up with a new deal before they ever leak into free agency.
Drew Brees – The New Orleans Saints superstar is scheduled to be a free agent after this season, but don’t count on the 37-year-old reaching the open market. His 2016 cap hit is a cool $30 million, but he earned it (in relative NFL terms) by leading the league with 4,870 passing yards and garnering a 101 passer rating.
Kirk Cousins – The Washington Redskins’ QB value is rising after a solid 2016 campaign, which is a reminder just how quickly fortunes can be built with strong play. Just a year ago, some were wondering if the Redskins would be able to deftly handle the demotion of Robert Griffin III. Cousins’ play shut up that speculation as the 27-year-old threw for more than 4,000 yards in his first season as a full-time starter and produced a 101.6 passer rating. He will be getting paid soon enough because of it. For 2016, his cap hit is $19.9 million. With another good season, he will undoubtedly fall below Luck’s earning power but earn himself a contract that is upper echelon.
Tyrod Taylor – While Brees brings the wily experience of a veteran crusted over with more than a decade of starting experience, the Buffalo Bills have a young quarterback that could make his way into “upper echelon” money. Whereas some of the quarterbacks on this list could be paid on what they have done, Taylor would be paid on the potential he showed if he continues to ascend. He won’t be paid like Brees (if he wants to continue playing) or Cousins, but the 26-year-old Taylor was solid in his first season as a full-time starter for the Bills, throwing for 3,035 yards, 20 touchdowns and only six interceptions. In other words, if he builds on his 2015 season, he could be making about five times his 2016 cap hit of $3.1 million. It really is a "re-prove-it" year for him.
Mark Sanchez – While the first two on this list have their values on the rise, Sanchez will have to prove himself with the Denver Broncos this year to even sniff the sort of money that Brees and, to a lesser extent, Cousins are expected to get. This year, Sanchez is costing the Broncos a very team-friendly $4.5 million, but he hasn’t even been a full-time starter in three years and has never had a passer rating above 90 in his seven seasons.
Matthew Stafford – Welcome to life after Megratron, Matthew. Stafford has 2016 and 2017 left on his current contract, with cap hits of $22.5 million and $22 million, respectively for the Detroit Lions. If he can’t keep up at least his current production without Calvin Johnson, his salary could remain stagnant (although significant) at a time when quarterback salaries are escalating. It will be as hard a pill to swallow as Johnson’s retirement. Still, Stafford hasn’t missed a game in the last five seasons and hasn’t thrown for fewer than 4,200 yards in that span.
Carson Palmer – The Arizona Cardinals signal caller was one of the best quarterbacks in 2016, as he was finally able to stay healthy enough to show how valuable he can be. It was the second time in his last five seasons that he played in all 16 regular-season games, finishing fourth in yards (4,671) and producing a strong 104.6 passer rating. While he is scheduled for free agency in 2018, with $17.9M and $20.7M cap hits in the next two seasons, he could simply decide to retire at 38 years old following the 2017 season rather than go through the free-agent and/or contract negotiating process.
Sam Bradford – The 28-year-old continues his fortuitous timing in relation to contracts. He was the last of the insanely paid rookies before the new collective bargaining agreement altered that salary structure. Now, after moving on from St. Louis to Philadelphia, the Eagles are hit with a $12.5 million cap figure this year, which is actually less than it would cost to cut him ($18 million). But in 2017 he has a disproportional $22.5 million cap figure as a simply average performer. He is scheduled to be a free agent in 2018, but that, or a restructure, will come early if Carson Wentz ascends to the starting role sometime in the next year.
In addition to the aforementioned established guys scheduled for free agency over the next two years, other younger quarterbacks stand to cash in on the heels of Luck’s big deal. In 2018, Blake Bortles, Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater are among the scheduled free-agent crop, transitioning their teams from having the luxury of a quality starting quarterback on his rookie contract to instead taking their quarterback payroll to a place closer to the league average.